Oscars 2009: Predictions & Commentary

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Oscars 2008

[Commentary added after the 2009 Oscars]

I'm a longtime fan of watching the Oscars, but with all the other movie award ceremonies, they seem very anticlimactic. There are usually few surprises on Oscar night. Hugh Jackman should be a great host. I'm not sure the idea of grafting a narrative on the awards show is a good idea, but it may be an interesing experiment. [So far, I enjoy the way the narrative is being used - how to make a movie. And, much as I love Tina Fey, she's hardly made a movie either! The pacing was pretty good, except there were too many commercials over the second half. The show ran just about 3 1/2 hours.]

I saw a few more of the major movies this year because they weren't as violent as last year's (well, Slumdog Mllionaire wound up with a depressing amount of violence). My favorite two movies from last year were Milk and Rachel Getting Married. WALL-E was great fun. Tropic Thunder, Iron Man and Mamma Mia were terrific entertainments. I wound up missing Frost/Nixon and Doubt, mostly because those movies didn't play long in my area.

Generally, though, I found serious flaws in the "major contender" movies. Most of the problems were in the script, and I'll talk about them in the writing awards. I will note what I haven't seen and will go ahead with my predictions anyway. For the last few years, I've been hedging my bets with a "will win" (WW) & "should win" (SW) before the Oscars actually start!

Performance by an actor in a leading role

I know, I know Mickey Rourke has been the comeback kid this year. I despise wrestling and found even the trailer unwatchable. And Rourke is clearly playing a different kind of character than he did 25 years ago. Sean Penn gave such a magniciently spot-on performance in Milk - it was the best performance I saw in a movie from last year. I didn't get the chance to see The Visitor and will Netflix that soon. I've been a fan of Richard Jenkins since the first episode of Six Feet Under. I missed Frost/Nixon too, but Langella's performance didn't impress me in the trailers. Brad Pitt gave an intriguing performance in Benjamin Button, but I don't think that movie will get any major awards. [YAY for Sean!!!!!!!!!]

Performance by an actor in a supporting role

Yeah, I know Heath Ledger will win this Oscar. His performance was wild, but it was very overrated. Josh Brolin gave a very tight performance as Dan White in Milk. But Robert Downey, Jr. was the biggest surprise of last year. When you describe what he did, it sounds completely impossible that it worked as well as it did. I'd love to see Downey win, but I rather doubt he will. (And, no, I normally liked Heath Ledger's performances very much, particularly in Brokeback Mountain.)

Performance by an actress in a leading role

Kate Winslet is so owed...she was great in The Reader. I also liked Anne Hathaway very much in the underrated Rachel Getting Married; she's an actress who gets better with every movie she's been in.

Performance by an actress in a supporting role

I hate to say this but I didn't find the supporting actress category particularly memorable this year. I preferred Tilda Swinton's performance in Benjamin Button and she wasn't even nominated. While everyone is predicting Marisa Tomei, I have the feeling Amy Adams might sneak through. Or maybe Penélope Cruz for "best supporting actress in a Woody Allen movie..." [Which she won. I did like the bit that each nominee was told "we honor you." Lovely bit on "universality" in her speech. And I'm glad the orchestra didn't play her off after 45 seconds.]

Best animated feature film of the year

While the script for WALL-E was very pedestrian, the movie had such visual verve that it ought to win.

Achievement in art direction

While Benjamin Button had some serious script problems, it was a very handsomely produced movie and looked great. However, I get the feeling The Dark Knight could sweep the technical awards (not that it should, but it may). [I'm glad I was wrong about this one!!]

Achievement in cinematography

[The cinematography was certainly very good for Slumdog.]

Achievement in costume design

They don't call it a costume drama for nothing! ;->

Achievement in directing

The direction of Slumdog Millionaire was audacious and inventive. Danny Boyle is the best director of children out there (compare Slumdog with Boyle's earlier movie Millions). That said, I probably enjoyed Milk better, because the casting was so perfect and Van Sant got great performances from his entire cast. Both Fincher and Daldry directed interesting movies with seriously flawed scripts.

Best documentary feature

I've heard nothing but enormous praise for Man on Wire. I love what the wire-walker said - "It's time to remember how beautiful the twin towers were." (Man on Wire was about a French man who clandestinely set up a wire between the two tallest World Trade Center Towers and walked across them in the mid-70s; it was an amazing stunt). There's always the chance that Trouble the Water, a documentary about people trying to rebuild after Katrina, could win.

Best documentary short subject Achievement in film editing

The Dark Knight had horrible editing and I'm shocked to see it in this category. I was looking at my watch after about a half hour. Every "action" scene went on about twice as long as it needed to. On the other hand, the editing worked very well to push Slumdog's frequently frenetic page. However, the editing for Milk and Benjamin Button perfectly fit the story. Benjamin Button is a rather slow, reflective piece, but I never felt bored while watching it. Milk had perfect pacing too. So, in many ways, this is a surprisingly competative category.

Best foreign language film of the year

It's probably between The Class and Waltz with Bashir, but I expect The Class will win. (I'm completely unfamiliar with the winner this time, but it sounds like an interesting movie. I had the same reaction when The Lives of Others won a few years back and really loved it when I finally saw it.)

Achievement in makeup

I'm very torn on this category. On the one hand, the CGI, prosthetics, and make-up in Benjamin Button was very believable. On the other hand, The Dark Knight's make-up, particularly on the injured Harvey Dent, was incredibly good. [Another case where I'm happy to be wrong about the winner.]

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score) Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song) Best motion picture of the year

No, I don't think Milk is going to win, but I thought it was the best movie I saw last year. My problem with Slumdog as a best picture was that it was so graphically awful in places. Maybe too honest? While The Reader had terrific performances, it also had a seriously dumb plot point. Benjamin Button was too much like Forrest Gump, and it was written by the same person!

Best animated short film

Another one for Pixar...um, Walt Disney! [Well, I was wrong about that winner. When I saw the clips from the animated short subjects, I thought it would go to "Oktapodi"]

Best live action short film Achievement in sound editing

I thought the sound effects were too over-the-top in The Dark Knight but were just perfect in WALL-E.

Achievement in sound mixing Achievement in visual effects

[Now that was a very pleasant surprise! Sometimes, the best special effects are not the over-the-top things that happened during The Dark Knight.]

Adapted screenplay

Slumdog was the best of this group, without a doubt.

Original screenplay

Seeing WALL-E in this category also made me scratch my head because I thought the script was the weakest part of the film. People have loved In Bruges so that might sneak in. But I hope Milk wins. Smart writing should triumph once in a while.

[And they are giving out the screenplay awards first! Great! And the smart script won!!! Yes! Even if Dustin Lance Blank looks like he's about 16... FYI - the white ribbon is for marriage equity.]