Thursday, March 02, 2006

If I Ran the Oscars

With the Academy Awards upon us, I am taking personal privilege to offer what would have been my nominations and winners. I know, I know -- it's a wild, far-out concept.

Best picture:

The Constant Gardener
Brokeback Mountain
The Squid and the Whale

And the Oscar should go to: Brokeback Mountain

All of the aforementioned are great movies, but any motion picture that enters the rarefied air of cultural watershed without actually trumpeting a social or political agenda must be recognized for what it is: a bona fide masterpiece. It is rare to find a movie that can change hearts without tugging on heartstrings, but Brokeback Mountain works precisely because it does not bask in its own daring. Sure, the movie has generated lots of media buzz -- so much, in fact, that the title has already transmogrified into a cultural punchline -- but you can't blame the film itself for that. Director Ang Lee and screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana truly made art with this beautiful, poetic and ultimately tragic picture.

But the Oscar will go to: The same

The Academy will get it right this year.

Best Actor:

Russell Crowe, Cinderella Man
David Straitharn, Good Night and Good Luck
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote
Terrence Howard, Hustle & Flow
Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain

And the Oscar should go to: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote

Hoffman's performance is the kind that lives on for decades. If he had done nothing more than perfectly mimic Truman Capote's baby voice and effete mannerisms, that would have been enough to impress audiences. But Hoffman did much better, inhabiting the iconic character and conveying all the competing complexities -- self-aggrandizing and vicious, sensitive and self-loathing -- that made him human.

But it will go to: The same

Like I said, every once in a while the Academy does do the right thing.

Best Actress:

Joan Allen, The Upside of Anger
Toni Collette, In Her Shoes
Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line
Clare Danes, Shopgirl
Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener

And the Oscar should go to: Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener

Inexplicably, the Academy actually nominated Weisz for a best supporting actress Oscar, even though she is obviously a co-lead in the movie. Weisz is pure charisma in Constant Gardener, a flirty force of nature who does what she needs to do for the crusade she champions. It is the sort of performance that should catapult someone to A-list status. Alas, it hasn't happened for her -- yet.

But it will go to: Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line

Since Weisz is nominated in the best supporting actress category, I would concede that, given the nominees, Witherspoon is deserving of the honor here. That said, I have to admit that, as of this writing, I have not seen Felicity Huffman in Transamerica.

Best Supporting Actor:
Paul Giamatti, Cinderella Man
Matt Dillon, Crash
Terrence Howard, Crash
Jeffrey Wright, Broken Flowers
Ben Kingsley, Oliver Twist

And the Oscar should go to: Matt Dillon, Crash

In a movie overflowing with outstanding performances, Dillon was a standout as a racist cop harboring more humanity than he cares to admit. Granted, the script provided the character with shades of ambivalence, but it was Dillon who can sell a monologue about his dying father. In the hands of a lesser actor, the dialogue would have sounded like speechifying. As it is, the scene is spellbinding.

But it will go to: George Clooney, Syriana

The Academy, like God (probably synonymous in the minds of many Academy voters), moves in mysterious ways. The reasoning goes that Clooney, because he won't win for Good Night, and Good Luck, will receive the recognition for his competent, but hardly award-worthy, work in Syriana.

Best Supporting Actress:

Glenn Close, Heights
Tandie Newton, Crash
Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain
Maria Bello, A History of Violence
Amy Adams, Junebug

And the Oscar should go to: Amy Adams, Junebug

Adams was the best thing about Junebug with a performance that straddles the line between daffy and heartbreaking. Hell, I ended up getting a crush on her character, and that hasn't happened to me since I caught Dyanna Lauren in Bad Wives, so that's gotta count for something.

But it will go to: Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener

Of course, she'll get the award, since it's a lead masquerading as a supporting role.

Best Screenplay (adapted):

Jeffrey Caine, The Constant Gardener
Dan Futterman, Capote
Tony Kushner and Eric Roth, Munich
Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, Brokeback Mountain
Gregg Araki, Mysterious Skin

And the Oscar should go to: Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, Brokeback Mountain

There isn't a single false note in the McMurtry-Ossana script for Brokeback Mountain, as the screenwriters unfold the doomed love story with patience and precision. At every turn, the pair avoid what surely was a temptation to make the Big Statement. Instead, they settled for richly drawn characters who act in ways wholly believable.

But it will go to: The same

Best Screenplay (original):

Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco, Crash
Guillermo Arriaga, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman, Cinderella Man
Woody Allen, Match Point
Noah Baunbach, The Squid and the Whale

And the Oscar should go to: Noah Baunbach, The Squid and the Whale

Baunbach's quasi-autobiographical screenplay is so scorching, it might just cause lesions. Bitterly humorous and humorously bitter, it rings with the authenticity of what happens when narcissists go bad. For my money, this is the toughest category of the year, since Guillermo Arriaga and Woody Allen also produced amazing work in 2005.

But it will go to: Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco, Crash

Hollywood likes slightly didactic message movies -- even when the message is that they're all racist pricks.

Best Director:

Fernando Meirelles, The Constant Gardener
Bennett Miller, Capote
Steven Spielberg, Munich
Gregg Araki, Mysterious Skin
Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain

And the Oscar should go to: Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain

Araki and Spielberg contributed powerful films this year, but both are a bit unwieldy, particularly Munich, which could've stood some more judicious editing. Brokeback Mountain's Lee should win for being the year's one pitch-perfect movie.

But it will go to: The same

Like there was ever any doubt.

Best Documentary:

Grizzly Man
March of the Penguins
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
The Aristocrats

And the Oscar should go to: Murderball

There were some tremendous documentaries this year, but none bottled the emotional resonance of this provocative glimpse of the U.S. Paralympics rugby team. Featuring two larger-than-life personalities, Mark Zupan and Joe Soares, Murderball inspires without being brazenly manipulative. It is a movie that registers on a variety of levels. In short, it is magnificent.

But it will go to: March of the Penguins

Now, don't get me wrong -- I really liked this picture. No one can deny the Herculean task it took the filmmakers to follow these birds in their cyclical travails of procreation (the outtakes shown during the final credits really illustrate the pains to which the cinematographers went). Still, March of the Penguins didn't strike me as so different from any number of terrific animal documentaries you might come across on Animal Planet. But who gives a damn what I think? The picture was the sleeper hit of the summer, and no wheelchair-bound thugs -- or Kenny Lay, for that matter -- are gonna get in the way of Academy voters rewarding the one documentary that actually made lots of moolah.


At 9:09 AM, Anonymous Brett said...

Could not agree more about March of the Penguins, which I loved, but which never seemed more than a really, really good episode of Wild Kingdom.
Conversely, could not disagree more about Brokeback Mountain. Just another chapter in the mythology that "true love" is about passion and heat and everything else that's available for people when they don't have to care about anyone else but each other and has nothing to do with honoring commitments, actually building relationships, helping a pledged partner through crises or any of the actual work that needs to happen for love to be real. Take away one of the Y chromosomes here and you have an predictable, pedestrian movie that was made with sharper dialogue, better acting, Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn in 1978.

At 9:32 AM, Blogger Chase McInerney said...

Brett, I kind of agree with the point you're making on "Brokeback," but I disagree, too. How's that for clear?

Certainly, the Jack and Ennis characters do victimize their wives and children. But I don't get that the moviemakers condone infidelity. Instead, I think the film concisely makes the point that the social mores of Ennis and Jack dictate that they cannot allow their relationship to grow organically.

I have a pet peeve with a lot of Hollywood romances that tout "passion and heat" above realistic, work-in-progress relationships, but I don't think "Brokeback" falls in that category. Because of the characters' inability to bring their relationship into the open, it remains in that stunted limbo where "passion and heat" supplant stronger emotional ties. I don't think that's anything more than the result of a social pressure on the characters to live their lie of heterosexuality.

At 10:06 AM, Anonymous turtleboi said...

Apparently you didn't see Transamerica. Felicity Huffman definitely deserves to win Best Actress, and I might have even nominated this surprising knockout of a movie for Best Picture. It's certainly going to make my top ten.

At 12:21 PM, Anonymous turtleboi said...

Sorry, just to grouse some more, I must say that while I liked Brokeback Mountain, it wasn't perfect. My problems are with the screenplay. First of all, I found the initial seducation scene (which for this story must be the most crucially belivable scene in the movie) a bit implausible. For where did Jack ever get the notion for one minute that he could pull a stunt like that on Enis without getting his neck broken? Another problem I have was the plot twist involving the wife planting the note on the fishing pole. Are we to believe that these two rugged cowboys would spend an entire week in the mountains and never once touch their fishing poles? No, I guess not. I guess they just fuck, fuck, fuck, 24 hours a day. That notion is in itself insulting to gay people. Would a man who goes camping by a river in the mountains with his wife never think to actually fish? Hardly.

Also, while I enjoyed Match Point, I'm getting tired of seeing Woody Allen repeat himself so often. The thematic retreads are bad anough without lifting entire scenes ("I wish to speak to Miriam! If you don't tell her, I will!") from his earlier films.

Squid and the Whale and Three Burials are both excellent, underrepresented movies this year.

At 1:53 PM, Blogger Chase McInerney said...

Interesting points on "Brokeback." I hadn't really considered that before about the fishing pole.

At 7:57 PM, Anonymous Brett said...

Chase --
I will agree and disagree right back at you ;-)
I can grant that the love affair between the two men remains in the emotionally immature stage of all fire and no depth because society won't allow them the chance to explore it and allow the maturing process to take place. Jack and Ennis aren't the only people to face that problem, though. Society puts barriers in front of a lot of different kind of relationships, and I hear Brokeback asking me to give the Jack-Ennis affair a pass because they're gay. That may not be the message others take home from it, but for me it's a glaring misstep, and for my money it lumps it in with the mindset I mentioned in the first post.

At 10:34 AM, Anonymous Gareth John said...

Could not agree more with crash, one of the most moving films i have ever seen... i cried my eyes out!


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