Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I Drink Your Milkshake: Ruminations on the 2008 Oscar Nominees, Omissions, and Bastards in Baskets

Forethought: Heath Ledger's performance in Brokeback Mountain was one of the best male leads of the decade, right up there with Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York , Ken Wantanabe in Letters From Iwo Jima, and Russell Crowe in Gladiator. He did good work with what little time it turned out he had, and that counts for an awful lot as far as I'm concerned.

Now then. Oscars.

* Regarding the special effects nominees The Golden Compass, Pirates, and Transformers: Has anybody seen that episode of South Park, "Imaginationland," in which cartoon Michael Bay describes an invasion plan he's cooked up, "And then it'll be like POOOWWWRRGGHH!!!! And then these trains will fall off the tracks and it'll be all GGRRRAAGHGHGHGHGH!" That sums up my feelings toward the three nominees, and it made me a little nostalgic for the simpler yet infinitely craftier innovation of, shit you not, Death Becomes Her.

* Atonement did not surprise me. Juno did.

* What do Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Sound Editing, and the number 8 have in common? They are all nominations received by No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood. This, you may be surprised to realize, is one exciting and close race.

So does either film have an edge? Well, lest I misread the scent in the wind and/or the New York Times be lying to me, "I... drink... your... milkshake!" is hurtling toward "Show me the money!" catchphrase ubiquity, and your one friend who still says "Call it, friend-o" may now be regarded by some as if he'd let loose a world-historical "Who let the dogs out?!" But that's only the way of the wind this morning. Keep in mind that had Jonny Greenwood's score not been ruled ineligible (much more on that later), it would have surely been nominated and TWBB's nomination tally would have been brought to nine. Bam, front runner status. I'm not the only numbers cruncher drawing this conclusion by a damn sight.

That's all the prognosticating I'm going to commit to print for the Best Picture dogfight at this juncture. I was very wrong about The Departed last year, and I'd like not to break my foot off in my mouth again.

I will say with great certitude that Anton Chigurh would own Daniel Plainview in a steel cage death match. Feel free to discuss.

* I said back when I saw it that Sarah Polley's beautiful, touching script for Away From Her should be remembered come Oscar time. Honestly, I didn't think it would be. This was the nicest surprise of my morning.

* You, the naysayers, the cynics, the haters. It was released too early in the year, you said. The Academy typically shuns comedy, you said. The fat suit was inferior to that of Hairspray, you said. Or Big Momma's House, you added. Well saddle up for your heaping helpings of crow, hipster douchebags, because as I write this the ink is barely dry in the history books proclaiming the DGA, PGA, WGA, and SAG-lauded Into the Wild as having only one more Oscar nomination than Norbit.

Norbit managed to score its single nomination for, let's face it, a fat suit. It's the kind of movie whose makeup could have been credibly nominated had Dogme 95 been a trend that not only outlasted the popularity of Pogs, but had mushroomed from its quiet beginnings into a stable mainstream genre. Meanwhile, the Academy snubbed the widely acclaimed Into the Wild and nominated it only for editing and supporting actor (Hal Holbrook).

This side-by-side comparison means nothing, but it's just one of those things that makes me a little sad. If only Sean Penn had put Emile Hirsch in a fat suit.

* Ruby Dee is the only black acting nominee this year and as much as I love her, she absolutely will not win. Ha ha, Jesse Jackson.

* Bad news: Amy Adams was stiffed out of a Best Actress nod. (Cate Blanchett again? Really? Anybody who makes a career out of doing that many impressions and isn't a stand up comic is not worth my time.) Good news: Three - three! - songs from Enchanted were nominated for Best Original Song. If God wants to take one opportunity to smile His brightest smile down on the Oscars, then He will fly straight down from Heaven and whisper into Gil Cates' very ear the idea to do a "Happy Working Song," "So Close," "That's How You Know" Amy Adams Good Old Fashioned Production Number Medley!

I know that I don't have much credibility as a critic or Oscar prognosticator. But I also know that I have more than most of you readers. That said, I would like to squander it right now by offering the following assessment of any potential Amy Adams song medley: Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!

* You know what? Getting back to fat suits, Hairspray's fat suit should have been nominated simply by virtue of it having a better actor stuffed inside.

* This year there are four nominated feature documentaries roundaboutly or notsomuch roundaboutly condemning something the United States is doing. Last year there were five. (Progress!) It's bad enough that as far as Best Documentary goes, craft has taken a back seat to incendiary current events. But what really, really, really chaps my ass? We're not dealing with challenging subject matter, here. At all. War, sick 9/11 workers, and starving Africans are sad, unpleasant things. Every decent person on earth can agree with this. We all get it, and we have always gotten it. But where was the fearsome and meticulously crafted Lake of Fire this year, which forced us to stare down both sides of the abortion debate for almost three unblinking hours? Where was In the Shadow of the Moon, a stirring story of America's space race triumph? Whither Bukowski: Born Into This, Grizzly Man, 42 Up of years gone by? What of them, Academy? Sigh. And all they really had to do was feature a Dixie Chick calling the president a fucking idiot.

* All of the nominated directors are first time nominees. (Remember, it's "The Coens," not just "Joel Coen.") Cool!

* Where's Jonny Greenwood, you ask? Sidelined for reasons with the "oh come on!"-ness of not answering in the form of a question.

The music of TWBB is a meritage of Greenwood's original work and cuts from Brahms, Arvo Part and others. But as Variety informs us, "The disqualification has been attributed to a designation within Rule 16 of the Academy's Special Rules for Music Awards (5d under "Eligibility"), which excludes 'scores diluted by the use of tracked themes or other pre-existing music.'" Parst plays over a single long sequence if I remember correctly; Brahms over the credits. Thing is, Greenwood's work did not lead the pack screentime-wise. Something like 45 minutes unoriginal music, 35 original. Sorry Jonny, it was just too "diluted. " Ugh. This on top of lethal procedurals that KO'ed 4 Weeks, 3 Months, and 2 Days and Persepolis' eligibility in the foreign film category, the aircraft carrier still stuck in my craw from the Golden Globes telecast, and the fact that Greenwood's score really was so good that I devoted one sentence of my two sentence TWBB top ten list blurb to it... well excuse me for reacting like a bastard in a basket.

The Best Original Song category has lately been notably unforgiving to benders of the by-laws. Just in the last five years, two infamous instances. Moulin Rouge! saw its signature "Come What May" kicked to the curb because despite its originality, it was originally written for William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, and "A Love That Will Never Grow Old" from Brokeback Mountain was disqualified when it appeared in only one scene and didn't play for long enough. Both of these songs, had they been nominated, would have very likely won Oscars. Greenwood's work is no different. When thing like that happen, you'll find cheerleaders like me wandering around like Shi'ites at Ashura. (Google it. There will be blood.) But be that as it may, the notion that the rules should be changed if a potential nominee that many see as inevitable, owed, anointed, whatever, is edged out of the final cut for reasons other than vote tallies is absurd. Certain circles are squawking about the need to do just that following the foreign film category debacle, but the voting system is the issue there as opposed to eligibility requirements. (Angry Lust, Caution boosters definitely have a thick side of beef to bring up concerning the latter, but that's another story.) It's a shame that the Academy didn't spring this technical violation on the TWBB folk earlier so that they could properly appeal it, but that appeal would be likely have been stopped dead in its tracks by little more than a stopwatch. So now what have we learned from all this? Same thing we learn every time. Follow the damn rules, folks.

As a bonus travesty, at the same time that Broadway's version of The Little Mermaid arrives on the express train from hell, Alan Mencken's score for Enchanted was also deemed inelegible at the eleventh hour because - Variety again - "both were disqualified due to the 'predominant use of songs.'" I know he just had three songs nominated but still, doesn't that just sound like your friend's petty, nasty mom that everybody hates?

Okay, writing that got me pissed off again. Academy, I know you're just doing your job, but with all of these mealy-mouthed, HR-sounding reasons for disqualification you're throwing around, are you trying to get me to watch the Oscars telecast like my own sainted mother watches it? Do you want me to watch every second of the Joan Rivers pre-show but read People Magazine during the technical categories? Do you want me to go to the bathroom during best director? Do you? I want to love my gloriously stupid annual Oscar party. I want it to be so good that I wake up the next morning on a bowling lane surrounded by the remnants of my steak dinner, and then make my hair of the dog a one-swallow couple pints of gin. I want this, Academy, and you need to do your part to make it happen too, but you're just not gonna make it easy this year, are you?

* At least Tyler Perry's fat suit didn't get nominated. I would give Osama bin Laden a nuclear bomb before I gave Tyler Perry an Oscar.

by Andy Hobin


Anonymous said...

I’m glad I’m not the only one miffed that Lake of Fire got snubbed this year, as it is not only the best documentary of the year, but one of the very best of any genre released in quite some time. No film was able to simultaneously repel, shock, insight, and sucker-punch me into submission quite like this one, and its shocking images and powerful moments of pure filmmaking bravura will not quickly be forgotten. I actually considered showing this to my English 100 students, but then realized that (a) it’s a three hour documentary that would most likely put them to sleep and (b) those who stayed awake might start some sort of cultural warfare in the classroom. Still – this is powerful filmmaking, and it’s a damn shame it took the same path of Oscar snobbery taken by Johnny Greenwood and 4 Months.

Still, I was overall pleased with the nominations, particularly when one takes into account that the two front runners are two of the most uncompromising artistic endeavors to come out of the studio system in a long time. We’ve come a long way since the garbage and treacle – The English Patient and Braveheart and Titanic, to name a few – have been replaced with far more deserving and adventurous fare, the sort of films that will be remembered in the many years to come as undisputed masterpieces.

And while all the kids are making milkshakes all the rage, I still contend that another quote from There Will Be Blood deserves canonization:


James Hansen said...

My thoughts...

*Russell Crowe in "Gladiator" as one of the performances of the decade? No thanks. I am a Russell defender through and through, but I'll take his work on "Master and Commander" over the schlock that was "Gladiator." And lest not we jump to things too quickly, but I'll take Day-Lewis in "TWBB" over his "supporting" actor nomination for "Gangs of New York."

*"Into The Wild" may have been wildly hailed by some, but all the noms it didn't get it deserve. F that movie (except for Hal Holbrook who is really great.)

*The forein omissions (4 Months, Persepolis) I feel are bigger errors than the disqualification for "Lust, Caution" if only because Academy voters could have voted for 4 Months and just didn't. I know taste in movies is relative and everyone has their own opinion, but a Russian remake of "12 Angry Men" isn't gonna be beating the wildy hailed by just about everyone "4 Months" without some erroneous members and crappy voting. The Foreign Language committee head apologized for it! They really need some fixing in that category more than any other.

Nostalgia Kinky said...

Few reactions...thanks for mentioning Heath's work in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (easily one of the best performances of the decade).

Love Russell and GLADIATOR so I have no problem with the mention...although I might agree with James that he is even better in MASTER AND COMMANDER. The guy is one of the genius actors in my book...

I wasn't surprised with too many of the nominations. I like Blanchet but I must admit that she is becoming like Meryl Streep in that they seem to nominate her for everything she does and it is getting annoying. Angelina Jolie's turn in A MIGHTY HEART was extraordinary and she should have been nominated.

I think ATONEMENT will surprise everyone and win picture and the Coen's take the directing prize...just my prediction not what I want.

Day Lewis is a shoe in but I bet that THERE WILL BE BLOOD gets nearly shut out otherwise.

I have been a vocal JUNO supporter but I wouldn't have nominated Reitman over Wright. I just don't get that...

oh, and I am thrilled to see Sarah Polley getting some recognition. I haven't seen AWAY FROM HER yet but I have always adored her as an actress and a person.

Laura said...

You know what really pisses me off? It isn't that Cate nominated for best actress, but she was nominated in that stupid, schlocky Elizabeth 2 that might as well have been subtitled "Because you overlooked Cate the last time and period pieces sell well to old people." Surely the Academy could have picked the best of her work this year (obviously I'm Not There) and given that last best actress spot to a very deserving Amy Adams. Come on, Oscar...where's the love?

Anonymous said...

I can't believe Into The Wild was next to completely snubbed. Now, thaaaat is soooome bullsh*t..!!

Laura said...

Also, Andy, that quote about "'I... drink... your... milkshake!' hurtling toward 'Show me the money!' catchphrase ubiquity" was from NY Magazine not the Times.

Anonymous said...

I hate Russell Crowe. And I hate the idea that Atonement could possibly compete with TWBB or NCFOM. And I, like Laura, hate the idea of Cate winning for Elizabeth. And I also hate Tyler Perry. And I hate Juno.

Call me a hater.

Anonymous said...

Ruby Dee won the SAG! Good for Ruby Dee.