Sunday, February 27, 2005

I’d Like To Thank The Academy…

Finally, Oscar Sunday, and with that, it means I’m a scant four days from returning home to beautiful Western PA for Spring Break, with a side-trek to the Great White North of Boston and Duxbury thrown in for kicks. I’m very ready for break, especially with the 4th Floor Welsh Fam gals capping off this portion of the semester with a lovely little “What’s Your Fantasy?” party, meaning all the ladies got to dress up in smoking hot costumes and it gave us gentlemen a change to get classy. No matter how poorly anything else went in the evening, any night where I get to wear my Shiny Shoes is a good night

Now for some reason I’m up before nine, meaning the six hours of sleep should catch up with me mid-way through the UCLA game today. I really have no opinion on this game, other than that we better be winning to avoid any “bubble” talk. After this, we sweep our last two Big East home games against Rutgers and Pitt, finish 10-6 in the conference and head on into NCAA Land. But today is not about college hoops, despite the big OK State/Kansas game at 4:00, for it is about Hollywood and the best movies of the year.

Despite my best attempts, laziness, business and length of movie have kept me from seeing The Aviator and Hotel Rwanda, which means I’ve seen every other movie relevant to the Best Picture and Best Actor categories, a quite a few involved with Best Actress and Best Supporting Actors/Actresses. I don’t really understand the concept of direction, and since I didn’t see Aviator, it’s hard for me to compare Scorsese against Eastwood, or even Payne for that matter.

(For the record, Andres said Aviator was really good, Pete said it was alright and Meg was completely blown away, and not just because she loves Don Cheadle –who doesn’t? – by Hotel.)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

I’m looking at this as a two-horse race between Cate Blanchett, for not making any of the Tinsletowners shake their head in shame with her portrayal of Katherine Hepburn in Aviator, and Virginia Madsen, for completing her comeback with some quality work in Sideways. As maybe the only “good” person in the wine-tasting quartet, she provides a lovely little moral compass to the whole thing, and I’ll say that contrast to the other, more-flawed characters in the movie give her the edge over the Hollywood beauty queen.

Also, and I’m not one for judging and condemning, but if the Academy lets Natalie Portman win for saying that her cunt tastes like heaven, well, then perhaps we should hold a re-vote or something. Then again, it may also inspire more hot young actresses to get involved in movies where it’s like you’re watching two people have phone sex when they’re standing next to each other. Again, I don’t even know if that’s good or not, but it could be the trend.

Pick: Virginia Madsen in Sideways.

(And yeah, I just added cunt to my SpellChecker’s dictionary, incase it ever pops up again in something I’m writing.)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

This will be the first fun one of the night, as the three Best Picture candidates all have a representative here. I’d have to say Morgan Freeman wins this, simply because he had a really good performance and he’s never won an Oscar, so the Academy will definitely take that into consideration. If Virginia Madsen was the moral compass of Sideways, then Thomas Haden Church was the man most in need of it, cheating on his wife during the week before their wedding and then realizing what he almost screwed up. Alan Alda isn’t getting any hype at all for his performance, and apparently a loss here for him doesn’t mean the lack of overall support like it would if Freeman lost or Blanchett lost in the previous category.

I don’t think Foxx will win this one, as he’s getting much more publicity for the Lead Actor statue, but how insane would an Oscar sweep be for a guy whose IMDB profile lists hosting Rock and Jock Basketball as one of his early career highlights? Plus, after his rambling speeches at the SAG and Golden Globe awards, seeing just how many spiels Foxx has ready would be a good test for the young actor.

And Clive Owen? Well, if he wins, there’ll be a run of actors trying to find scripts in which they get to ask Julia Roberts to have sex on their new operating table after instructing Natalie Portman to drop their gear, bend over and touch the floor. If it wasn’t 9:13 in the morning and Brendan probably wasn’t dead from going to the Swim House Blowout Party last night – he, Tommy and MacKrell skipped out last night without informing me of their departure, I’m a little slighted, to say the least, as it would have avoided a whole lot of stomach-turning – I would drag him out of bed and get a comment from him, because it’s really hard to describe how funny Closer is at 5:00 in the morning by yourself.

I say Freeman wins this by a hair over Church, due exclusively due to the fact he’s Morgan Freeman and could tell me anything and I’d believe it if he was narrating a movie. If Foxx wins this, it makes the Best Actor statuette a thousand times more interesting for a long, long list of reasons.

Pick: Morgan Freeman in Million Dollar Baby

Best Actress in a Leading Role

All the Hollywood insiders say this a two-woman race between Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby and Annette Bening in Being Julia. Well, I saw Baby, and while Swank turned her figure into that of a boxer and took on a lovely Southern twang that would make Patrick proud, she didn’t blow me away and she’s sort of limited in her acting abilities the last quarter of the movie. As much as everyone says she’s going to win and as much as I’m going to pick her, it doesn’t mean I want her to.

And what can I say about Annette Bening in Being Julia? Nothing, actually, because no one saw that movie. It wasn’t even available for download anywhere, like any self-respecting film should be if it wasn’t insomniac college students to watch it and get the “street cred”. Sean watched a clip of it yesterday and wasn’t impressed, although that doesn’t mean much since it was only a clip and my roommate fancies himself a Dark Jedi.

Honestly, I saw two other performances nominated that were a lot better than Swank’s. The first one was Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, who nailed the nuanced girlfriend and disappearing memory oh-so-well. If she didn’t get nominated for Spotless Mind, I also thought she was great in Finding Neverland, but since Winslet doesn’t bite off her tongue or beg Jim Carrey to kill her at the end of Spotless Mind, so how could it possibly top the uplifting, exciting final twenty minutes of Baby?

The second performance that was also really good was Catalina Sandino Moreno in Maria Full of Grace. Moreno was the one and only focal point of the movie, and she did an excellent job as the pregnant mother attempting to make some kind of better life for her child by smuggling drugs to New York – inside of her stomach. If Swank wins this, it’ll be because she was the glue girl of the movie, the Rick Fox to Eastwood’s Kobe and Freeman’s Shaq, just making the plays necessary to win the statue. Moreno winning would be a lot like if Jason Kidd had beaten those Lakers back in 2002 – an amazing performance surrounded by a bunch of no-names (only because they were Spanish – they might be amazingly famous, actually, but we had no idea).

So while I want Winslet to win as badly as I wanted Spotless Mind to be nominated for Best Picture, it is not going to happen. If Bening wins, whatever, because then maybe somebody will actually release Being Julia and we’ll get to see it.

And yes, I rambled on for five paragraphs and didn’t mention the fifth nominee, Imelda Staunton in Vera Drake. I know that group of underground Staunton fans who read the blog are going to be pissed, but I’ll take the risk.

Pick, Begrudginly: Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

This is why things get really interesting if Jamie Foxx wins Supporting Actor, which I don’t think he will, but it’s possible:

Foxx has turned himself into a heavy, heavy favorite for this award. He’s done absolutely everything correctly – been gracious and funny in his other acceptance speeches (meaning he’s won a lot of the Oscar “preview” awards), he was at the Grammy’s to support Ray Charles and he never has once seemed arrogant about his impending victory. Then, throw in the fact that in his role as the late, great pianist, Foxx mixed the charming charisma and inner pain so well that you couldn’t tear your eyes away even when everything inside said you wanted to. Maybe the glasses helped, but Foxx became Ray Charles, and he deserves to win this award.

If he wins for Collateral earlier in the night, it means that one of two things are happening. The first is that a guy who was on In Living Color is about to deservedly win two Oscars and flap the unflappable Chris Rock, who would truly be beside himself with all the pumping up he’s doing for Foxx. The second option is that the Academy gave Foxx the Supporting Actor because they’re giving the Lead nod to somebody else.

I can’t see the second option happening. Foxx is much more likely to lose both than to win both, since I give him about a five percent change of winning Supporting, but there’s always a chance. As far as Best Actor goes, this is as star-studded as you’re going to see it. You can really see any of the nominees winning, simply because “DiCaprio”, “Cheadle”, “Eastwood” and “Depp” all look really good on the marquee, but I don’t see Foxx losing this.

If he does, I’m hoping it’s to Johnny Depp, because as you’re about to read, I absolutely loved Finding Neverland. Loved it to death, and Depp was as awesome as he always was in it. To boot, the man was nominated for playing a guy named Captain Jack Sparrow in a movie based on a Disney ride last year, and people actually gave him a shot at winning. Let’s give Johnny Depp and the kick-ass suit/hat combo he’s sure to be wearing some credit.

Pick: Jamie Foxx in Ray

Best Picture

Alright, I’m eliminating two movies from the competition immediately because they’re not going to win. The first is Ray, because every time it or Foxx is mentioned, it’s to the tune of “Foxx’s performance brings life to a dull and repetitive film”, and also because Ray Charles dying doesn’t mean half as much for the Oscar voters as it did for the Grammy voters.

The second I’m taking out of the running is Finding Neverland, and trust me, I do not want to do this. I loved that movie, if only because the Peter Pan concept of never growing up has always appealed to me, especially since they started making Star Wars Legos. It’s light-hearted at times, heart-wrenching at others, and the contrast in theater scenes is a joy to watch, but the movie is under two hours long (an Oscar no-no) and probably isn’t as well developed as it could be.

So now we’re down to the big boys. You’ve got your Hollywood epic, the one that always seems to win, in The Aviator. You’ve got the gritty drama featuring a trifecta of heavy hitters that had everyone talking, for a number of reasons, in Million Dollar baby. And then on top of that, you’ve got the light-hearted comedy with some street cred and the never-to-be-underestimated Paul Giamatti Revenge Factor, in Sideways.

I didn’t see The Aviator, mainly because it’s two hours and forty-six minutes long and the download we got of it was poor quality. I’m not a Leonardo DiCaprio hater, and I really do want to see this movie, but it just screams very loudly that it’s the Hollywood epic, about Hollywood for extra kick, and that it should win the Academy Award. Too stereotypical, too boring, too easy to pick, despite the fact it just may win the dam thing.

Million Dollar Baby was rugged filmmaking at it’s best. It’s gritty, it’s a sports movie about the bloody sport of boxing and it’s got the steely gaze of Clint Eastwood to snap it back into focus anytime somebody starts getting a little too happy. Throw in the fact that Morgan Freeman narrates and you have a pretty quality Best Picture selection. But, and I can’t stress this enough, the movie is absolutely zero fun to watch and if it wasn’t for the great acting, no one in the world would want to waste their time on it. This world is depressing enough as it is, we don’t freak accidents in the ring to lead to paralysis when everything is going great.

If the movie ended in a thousand different ways, I would have no trouble picking it, but it’s like the screenwriter was in a great relationship and writing along merrily. He gets to the championship fight, makes it a couple of rounds in and Swank is starting to turn Rocky on the buffed-up black girl’s Drago. Then, in the middle of the round, his girlfriend calls to break up with him and he decides to take out all of his frustrations on the characters in his script. He doesn’t plan on keeping it that way, as it’s over the top depressing, but the studio needs the final draft and he has no choice but to send it in, so we get Baby in it’s current form. It’s that much of a downer, the anti-Love Actually, if you will.

So that leaves us with Sideways, the light-hearted tale of two buddies going on a wine-tasting road trip before the one gets married that next weekend. It starts off and you’re thinking to yourself “This thing has absolutely no plot” and then you realize there’s no way you want to watch another Lost in Translation, but then as Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church zip through California wine country, the story tightens, you realize who your main characters are and you have a fantastic time.

Sure, this movie has it’s down moments, as Giamatti’s calling card is “the deer in the headlights stare as things unravel around him”, perfected in American Splendor, but the ending gives you some kind of unpolished hope. Church’s Jack matures, Giamatti’s Miles lets go, but there isn’t a tidy bow. The fact that “pinot” is the new “It” word in American society should say something about the underrated effect of this movie on the country. While the oddsmakers say Baby or Aviator wins, I say Sideways gets more credit for their SAG and Independent Spirit award wins than people think and takes this thing in the comedy-upsetting-the-epic, such as Shakespeare in Love knocking off Saving Private Ryan. If Aviator wins, it would be too formulaic, and if Baby wins, it would be too damn depressing.

Pick: Sideways

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