It’s that time of year again, when people debate the worthiness of the various Oscar-nominated films and bitch about which films got overlooked and which nominees have no business being on the list. I should begin by explaining that I don’t really pay all that much attention to the Oscars; only twice in the past decade or so can I say I wholeheartedly agree with the Academy’s choice for best picture of the year, and that’s The Return of the King’s win in 2004 (understood to really be an Oscar for all three of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, which I still consider a genuinely amazing achievement in filmmaking) and last year when No Country for Old Men won. Both times I issued silent ultimatums to the Academy that if those films didn’t win, I would officially write off the Oscars as irrelevant for all time, and both times they actually came through. No movies really blew me away this year like those did (read my best and worst of 2008 post here if you’re interested), and this year, like many years, there’s a pile of multiple nominees that I just haven’t seen. Some are films I’m interested in that I just haven’t gotten around to checking out yet (Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), and a few that, for whatever reason, I’m not really interested in seeing, Oscar nomination or no.
Okay, with that lengthy preamble out of the way, here’s the list of nominees for the Oscars this year, and I’ll follow it with my thoughts:
BEST PICTUREThe Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonFrost/NixonMilkThe ReaderSlumdog MillionaireBEST ACTORRichard Jenkins (The Visitor)Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon)Sean Penn (Milk)Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler)ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLEAnne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married)Angelina Jolie (Changeling)Melissa Leo (Frozen River)Meryl Streep (Doubt)Kate Winslet (The Reader)DIRECTINGDavid Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon) Gus Van Sant (Milk)Stephen Daldry (The Reader)Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLEJosh Brolin (Milk)Robert Downey Jr. (Tropic Thunder)Philip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt)Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road)ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLEAmy Adams (Doubt)Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona)Viola Davis (Doubt)Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler)FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILMThe Baader Meinhoff Complex - GermanyThe Class - FranceDepartures - JapanRevanche - AustriaWaltz with Bashir - IsraelANIMATED FEATURE FILMBoltKung Fu PandaWALL-ESCREENPLAY (Adapted)The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Eric Roth and Robin SwicordDoubt - John Patrick ShanleyFrost/Nixon - Peter MorganThe Reader - David HareSlumdog Millionaire - Simon BeaufoySCREENPLAY (Original)Frozen River - Courtney HuntHappy-Go-Lucky - Mike LeighIn Bruges - Martin McDonaghMilk - Dustin Lance BlackWALL-E - Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon and Pete DocterFirst: I’m stoked that Robert Downey Jr. got a nomination for his amazing work in Tropic Thunder. I reviewed that movie twice for this blog, once in theatres and again on DVD, and repeated viewings have helped me appreciate his performance even more (I also said back in August that he deserved an Oscar nomination, so I'd be lying if I said there wasn't an element of I-told-you-so in my excitement). But he’s in the category that’s been considered Heath Ledger’s since The Dark Knight came out, so he almost certainly won’t win. But I’m happy he got a nomination for the role he did.
I also think The Wrestler should have gotten more love as a film rather than just as a vehicle for great acting work. It’s a goddamn brilliant movie, and I don’t think Darren Aronofsky’s getting enough attention for his work. It’s obviously not as flashy as Requiem for a Dream or The Fountain, in terms of filmmaking gimmickry and special effects, but it’s still a brilliantly made film. That said, both Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei are excellent in it, and I hope they both win.
Like many others, I assume The Dark Knight getting left out for any of the “main” awards outside of Heath Ledger’s nomination will make it the focus of much Internet whining. I loved the movie (though many aspects of its vaulting past “hugely successful movie” into “pop culture phenomenon” grate on my nerves), and I was somewhat surprised it didn’t get at least a token nomination for best picture based on its box office haul alone – the Academy loves them some successful movies, as the still-baffling (to me at least) choice of Gladiator as best picture in 2000 can attest – but I will not be one of the whiners. Ledger's widely seen as a lock for a posthumous Oscar for his work as the Joker, and he deserves it, so that’s okay. As much as I’m a comic book guy, I think The Dark Knight is an amazing movie that just so happens to be about Batman and the Joker, and it would have been a big moment for comic books and comic book movies for it to have gotten some more nominations (read: acceptance as a “real” film). As much as I may dislike that sort of condescending attitude towards The Dark Knight in some quarters based on its genre alone, I won’t be losing any sleep over it not being up for best picture or best director.
The film that seems to have all the momentum going into this year’s show is Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. I still haven’t gotten around to checking it out, though I’ve heard mostly good things – the lone dissenting voice among people I know is the same friend who really didn’t care for Let the Right One In, which was my favourite film of 2008, so I just may not be on the same wavelength as him – and I haven’t disliked a Danny Boyle movie I’ve seen yet, and that’s a list that includes A Life Less Ordinary. (Hell, I’m the only person I know who liked Sunshine.) A similar deal with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – I haven’t seen it yet (I plan to rectify that soon), but David Fincher’s one of the best American filmmakers out there right now. I’m happy he’s getting some attention for this ambitious film, as his previous work, 2007’s Zodiac, was an absolutely brilliant piece of work that seemed to slip under the radar for most people, the Academy included. Will this be a case of a talented filmmaker getting all the attention for the wrong film? I’ll weigh in on that once I’ve seen the film.
I also have a problem with this best animated feature award. As I’ve mentioned here before, I love animation and animated movies, but children’s movies don’t do it for me (because hey, I’m an adult). And while I named Kung Fu Panda one of my top films of 2008, and I stand by that choice, my issue is with what the Academy has done with this category. Instead of taking the opportunity to focus on great animated films, it’s basically become the “best kids movie” category, and the Academy seems to consciously turn a blind eye to animation as a real medium rather than a genre (i.e. cute talking animals). Pixar movies like The Incredibles and Finding Nemo and WALL-E I acknowledge as really top-shelf movies, but….Bolt? Really? A talking-dog movie with Miley Cyrus? A year after Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s Persepolis was nominated (but didn’t win) in this category after not being included in the best foreign-language film category, the Israeli animated documentary Waltz with Bashir (of which I’ve heard nothing but incredibly positive things) is in the best foreign film category, and isn’t up for best animated film. I don’t get it. But then again I included a Punisher movie as one of my top 10 movies of 2008, so really, what the hell do I know.
A blog about movies, by a guy who probably watches too many.