so first a rant, and then some rumblings.
so here's how i feel bout things (steps on soapbox): the disparity between the quality of the oscars in theory and the oscars in execution is roughly akin to the disparity between... two, um, things that are very far apart. whereas a unified body of professionals that perennially encourages filmmakers to wring the most from their chosen medium should by all rights be a pure good in the schindlerian sense of the term, the bureaucratic fumbling of the organization behind the awards in question only works to stifle individual vision and industrial ambition.
to wit: an Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences member is not required to have seen all nor ANY of the eligible films in order to cast their vote. now, it's unreasonable to expect every member to attend academy screenings for each of the 300+ films per year that earn themselves some means of distribution, but - and i'm just spitballing here - if you made it mandatory to attend such screenings for all of a given year's films that have a certain % score on rotten tomatoes, we're entering the realm of feasibility. that hundreds of past and present members of the film establishment can / will cast a vote for SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE without seeing the staggering BLIND MOUNTAIN is absurd and completely discredits the entertainment world's most esteemed awards show south of the pulitzer. and - logic follows - screeners should be nixed as well, as not only is there no way to prove they've been watched, but they also provide an implicit advantage to any film the voter caught at a screenING. and come this time next year when blu-ray screeners are making their first awkward baby steps into the world, it's going to place the dvds put forth by smaller distribution companies at an even greater disadvantage.
and speaking of blind mountain... don't worry bout it, cause it's not even eligible. because for some silly reason countries must select a formal nominee (singular) from their indigenous cinema each year, and most of the more brilliant chinese films since, i dunno, the birth of the motion picture have been damning indictments of communist government's cultural and economic failings (blind mountain being particularly hostile), methinks china - with their unparalleled concern with national image - won't be sending AMPAS anything revolutionary any time soon. but that's okay, cause a film of blind mountain's origin and caliber could always be nominated for best picture, right? RIGHT? not effin likely. in the 80 year history of the academy awards, guess how many best picture winners have been American? 79... just kidding, it's 80. so according to AMPAS the best film in any given year between 1929 and 2008 has been of American origin. if i type "fat man falling" into youtube, within 5 seconds i can be watching a better film than 1952 best pic winner "the greatest show on earth." to find a better film than akira kurosawa's 1952 classic "ikiru" i'd pretty much have resurrect orson welles, use his dna to somehow clone from him a baby girl, and then have paul schrader circa 1985 impregnate said baby. and that process would not be easy or pretty. or legal. or possible. YET. blah blah blah great films are consistently ignored by distribs here because more commercial films from their respective countries are already in contention, etc... and don't get me started on the mad fall season oscar push and it's widespread ramifications, how ludicrous the documentary shortlist is, etc...
the oscars stink. so obviously i'm totally fascinated by them.
at this point i've seen just about everything that's likely to attract any awards consideration with the two glaring exceptions being rev road (next friday) and che, which i'll catch at the ziegfeld when it opens in early december. and it's been a prettttyyyyyyy disappointing year thus far. my fave films have been, in quasi-chronological order - paranoid park, blind mountain, pineapple express, encounters at the end of the world, the fall, wall-e, man on wire, let the right one in, waltz with bashir, hunger, the edge of heaven, rachel getting married, a christmas tale, the curious case of benjamin button, and maybe sort of the wrestler. also, hellboy 2 was the bee's knees. that's a pretty poopy list, but these things don't firm up until about april of the following year when you can finally catch all the stuff that slipped through the cracks.
anyhoo, BEST PICTURE. slumdog millionaire appears to be the frontrunner at the moment despite relying on its fairy tale nature to deflect attention from its suffocatingly trite narrative turns and eye-poppingly obvious characterizations. i guess when you jazz up some third-world cinema with broad trappings, that just plays. it's a film with emotions that are as big as they are cavernously hollow... so it's pretty much a lock for a nod. sigh... and i LOVE danny boyle. sunshine was magical. alas...
BENJAMIN BUTTON is gonna make a splash of some kind come its xmas release. the film is in line with fincher's zodiac in its stately, matter-of-fact pace and tone. a gentle, cumulatively devastating film about (a) life that almost entirely circumvents peaks and valleys, it's astonishing cg and digital dreamscapes make it play like an elegy for a life not yet lived. it features some of the most practical and seamless effects work of any film ever (EVER), and i'll be more than a little offended if something a bit splashier steals the tech awards. film's unforced grace is not going to work to its advantage come february, so my initial guess is that it'll dominate the nominations (expect it to garner the most of any film with nods across the board from make-up to maybe even actor and of course picture), but perhaps fall short of the podium. SEE IT.
MILK is one big gay pile of underwhelming. sean penn plays the eponymous role as if he were (i am) Sam but liked boys rather than the beatles. that being said, his performance is predictably strong but his nomination will be a result of penn sinking his teeth into a joyful role more than anything else. anyhoo, for a film about such an unconventional and downright revolutionary man, milk is just too bland to really curry any true favor (though reparations for the brokeback mountain losing to crash fiasco might up milk's stock). gus van sant's biopic is rife with absolutely fascinating characters, almost all of which are consistently ignored in favor of redundant stock footage and a cursory and second-rate overview of milk's political achievements, all of which were more indelibly covered in rob epstein's doc "the life and times of harvey milk." van sant's work shines whenever the always-intimidating josh brolin is onscreen and the film threatens to become an intriguing study of a socio-political dichotomy as personified by two riveting individuals but... no. cut to captain of the d-bag brigade, emie hirsch, whining about something or the tragic figure of a crippled gay teenager calling milk directly only at times that impossibly compliment the narrative... ick.
FROST / NIXON is functional, and probably could not have been anything less given the source material. howard makes no strides to elevate it or take full advantage of the cinema's unique narrative offerings, and the whole thing is entirely forgettable. 2 acting nods all but guaranteed, with pic, director, and screenplay likely in the bag as well.
DOUBT is a sliver of what it could have been. busts out of the gate strong but never finds any true footing. the last scene is a real deal-breaker. most likely to be the token film extolled for its performances but omitted from the big 3 categories. and the academy's presentation order be damned, the screenplay awards far outweigh the actor / actress categories as far as importance in my estimation.
GRAN TORINO is the joke of the year. clint eastwood is a hero, but hot fuzz this movie is awful. laughable performances (eastwood's notwithstanding), a script front-loaded with cringe-inducing caricatures, gratingly obvious beats, and a philosophical schema that makes the dark knight look like a pivotal expose on the human condition... are half the problem. the other half is that CLINT EASTWOOD SINGS THE CLOSING CREDITS SONG. yikes. but damn does he give some great q+a.
THE READER... works. it does. daldry knows what he's doing and is abetted by a great turn by newcomer david kross and another stirring kate winslet perf in the vein of "little children." a sumptuous look courtesy of roger deakins, and a strong, lucid script by repeat daldry collaborator david hare don't save the movie from running out steam in the leaden transition into the third act, but the whole thing feels like a class act. look for nico muhly's score to nab some attention.
WALL-E. can't quite close the deal either but when it works it works better than just about any other film this year. i definitely support but by no means anticipate a best pic nod. obviously a lock for the animation win, which is a shame because WALTZ WITH BASHIR is somewhat as deserving. it will get the year's token PERSEPOLIS nod.
THE WRESTLER is a strong, sober piece of work by darren aronofsky that's buoyed by a sure-to-be-nominated perf by creepshow Mickey Rourke and marissa tomei somehow refusing to become un-hot. stirring final moments go a great ways towards erasing rachel evan wood's entirely nauseating character and the forced dynamic between rourke and tomei. wouldn't bank on support for the film, but sure wouldn't mind it. but rourke is made in the shade.
and REVOLUTIONARY ROAD i'm going to go ahead and assume is better than just about all of the aforementioned films.
SO... my big 11/25/08 guess as to which films are gonna be nominated looks a little something like this:
CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
FROST / NIXON
and... the gamble of a 5th spot is a toss-up between the likes of WRESTLER, DOUBT, and WALL-E, but will probably go to MILK.
and as far as the big race is concerned, you can all just go ahead and forget about the DARK KNIGHT.