Friday, March 03, 2006

In the Oscars homestretch...

With the Oscars just three days away, the time is drawing near for all of us wannabe movie pundits to make those last calls. The beauty of blogging, of course, is that it allows me to change my predictions up till the very last minute, and even beyond...but I probably won't. I stand by my predictions, such as they are.

Every year there's a pervading theme in the mainstream media Oscars discourse, and this year it seems to be all about how no one's seen any of the Oscars contenders this year and therefore no one will tune in to watch the awards. I find this an interesting rather than distressing cultural phenomenon (but then again, my career doesn't rise and fall by box office or TV ratings). This was the year of what I call the pseudo-indie movie - i.e., the well-made, well acted, upper-middlebrow film, thoughtfully put together by the "arthouse" division of a major studio, and controversial on a purely political, as opposed to aesthetic, level. The funny thing is that this is exactly the kind of movie I tend to see, as opposed to edgier, more obscure fare that requires greater effort to seek out and appreciate.

So it's no coincidence, perhaps, that four of the five Best Picture contenders made my personal top ten of 2005. Yet it's also no coincidence that none of them really blew me away. They struck me as films of very good quality that somehow fell short of either opening up a whole new world-view or striking that deep emotional chord that for me usually ends up being the real measure of cinematic greatness. Still, they were all solid achievements, and I'm happy to see them do well. The one glaring exception is "Crash," which for me has to be the most schematic, intellectually sloppy, and emotionally half-assed attempt at thought-provoking I've seen in a while. Many of the films up for Oscar recognition this year have been excoriated as exercises in liberal guilt; I think only "Crash" really falls in that category. Sad to say, it stands a pretty good chance of winning some of the major awards.

But enough of that. It's time to bet the farm!


Will win: "Brokeback Mountain," by a nose, over "Crash." At least, I hope so.
Should win: See comments above - basically I have no real preference among "Brokeback," "Capote," and "Good Night, and Good Luck," though I technically ranked GN/GL the highest. And with reason: it's crisper and more tightly crafted than the others, and poses some highly resonant observations not so much about politics or even reporting as the gradual fusion of news media and pop culture that's been taking place over the past fifty years.


Will win: Ang Lee for "Brokeback Mountain." He's practically a lock.
Should win: I'll have to say Ang Lee, for the sheer genius of making the taboo mainstream - in a good way. He turns what could have been a turnoff premise for many into something emotionally recognizable by all - yet preserves the différance.


Will win: Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Capote." It's in the cards, though Heath Ledger still has a sporting chance.
Should win: Ralph Fiennes, "The Constant Gardener." Yes, I know he wasn't nominated. My point exactly.


Will win: Reese Witherspoon, "Walk the Line." An upset by Felicity Huffman is possible, but I don't think it'll happen.
Should win: I haven't seen either Charlize Theron in "North Country" or Judi Dench in "Mrs. Henderson" presents, but among the three I have seen, I'd give it to Reese. She showed an emotional depth and range that ended up being the only truly memorable thing about "Walk the Line."


Will win: This, without doubt, is the hardest race to call. Paul Giamatti, Jake Gyllenhaal, and George Clooney all stand equally good chances of getting it, and even Matt Dillon isn't out of the running. Because the supporting actor races are where the Academy likes to recognize newbies, I'll pick Jake for now...but I actually have no idea how this one's going to go.
Should win: I'd be happy with Giamatti, Gyllenhaal, or Clooney; they were all great. However, I remember being especially impressed by Giamatti, who stood out in the otherwise unremarkable "Cinderella Man" by doing the unthinkable - he outshone Russell Crowe.


Will win: Rachel Weisz has a slight edge and will probably win it. However, Michelle Williams runs a close second, and Amy Adams could conceivably pull an upset.
Should win: An even tougher call. Weisz was wonderful as the heart and soul of "The Constant Gardener" and the hidden spark that galvanizes Ralph Fiennes, but Adams wrings the heart as the in-law whose chatterbox ways mask a fierce desire to hold a drifting family together. Therefore, Adams, for my money.


Will win: Probably "Crash," though "Good Night, and Good Luck" also has a lot of goodwill in stock.
Should win: Anything besides "Crash" (except for "Match Point," which was even worse). I'd give it to "Good Night, and Good Luck," with "Syriana" a close second. GN/GL has a certain simplicity that some see as a flaw, but I think contributes to its crispness and masks more intellectual depth than it's been given credit for. By contrast, "Syriana" has a surface byzantine complexity that really boils down to a few simple, recurring ideas. Both approaches get the job done very effectively.


Will win: "Brokeback Mountain."
Should win : "Capote," for its probing examination of both the snake's-charm fascination and the baffling banality of evil (pace Hannah Arendt), and the moral quandary of any writer who tries to wrap his own head around it. Smart and chilling.

And there you have it, folks. Don't quote me on any of these, but feel free to send me any percentage of your office pool winnings. Stay tuned for my post-Oscars recap...


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