There's just a week left until the Oscars, and the excitement is building to a fever pitch. It's a very strange year this time, where a lot of the traditional rules don't seem to apply. I for one am pretty much up in the air about a lot of these categories and I thought that writing out my thoughts might help. At the risk of giving away Grandma's secret recipe here's my take on the major contenders one week before the telecast:

  • There is one (and only one) absolute lock: Jamie Foxx as Best Actor for Ray. That this should be so is absolutely amazing to me. Foxx seemed to become established as a serious actor in the short space of a single year. When Collateral came out this summer I was saying to myself, "Wasn't that the guy from Booty Call?"
  • Best Actress: Everyone on the Web is now saying Hilary Swank for Million Dollar Baby (or M$B, to use the Variety abbreviation). I haven't yet seen the film but I find it hard to imagine that even the most fearless of performances could garner this woman a second Oscar. If she wins, we'll have a total Sally Field situation -- where a woman wins two Oscars for basically the only two roles she's ever had that have been good. I mean, come on! What has Hilary done since winning for Boys Don't Cry? The Affair of the Necklace? Maybe Hollywood wants to reward her for returning once again to being butch after she did those Calvin Klein ads. Her main contender is Annette Bening; if Annette wins, we'll have a total Jessica Lange situation -- where a woman wins for a movie that no one has seen because she's Hollywood royalty and the movie was designed purely to showcase her. Anyone who's seen Being Julia (I'm one of the six) comes away with a greater appreciation of Bening's innate radiance (and I thought she was a cartoonish harridan in American Beauty). If she wins, it'll be mostly because people in Hollywood love her for taming Warren Beatty, for being a dedicated Mom, for being a middle-aged actress who's still got it. Don't count her out. And don't count out Imelda Staunton, who could pull a female Adrien Brody, walking off with the Oscar when the vote splits between two bigger contenders.
  • Best Supporting Actor: I had been going with Thomas Hayden Church but now all the sites are saying Morgan Freeman. Seriously? I guess I really have to see M$B. The reviews barely mention Morgan. What role does he play exactly? Sage friend and advisor to Clint? Doesn't he narrate the movie, too, just like in Shawshank? You wonder why a man as talented as Freeman squanders his ability away like that. And not just on those Ashley Judd moives -- even in "serious" films, he's always playing a glorified sidekick. Well, if he wins for this it will seem quite hollow (I think he has a biopic of Mandela in the works, right? Surely that film would be more deserving of a lifetime-achievement win.) The main other contender remains Church, who's very funny in Sideways, but the Academy didn't seem to like that film as much as the Globes or the critics. Dark horse: Alan Alda, as the slimy Senator in The Aviator, but despite being a familiar face to most of us, this is his first ever nomination and The Aviator has very little momentum.
  • Best Supporting Actress: People have got their money on Cate Blanchett and it's not hard to see why. It's a dazzling, fun, technically astounding performance that also has heart. If you didn't already think she could do anything (and I did) her protrayal of Katherine Hepburn should convince you. She's just about the only purely great thing about The Aviator (except maybe the editing). However, Aviator backlash may work against her and it's not the kind of role that typically wins a supporting award (think of other bold stunts like Frances MacDormand in Fargo). I'm going against the grain and saying that you can discount Virginia Madsen -- too understated in a movie that's losing momentum. If anyone challenges Cate it will be young Natalie Portman, who won the Golden Globe. Oscar loves starlets for Supporting Actress.
  • Best Picture and Best Director: these awards are (as per usual) joined at the hip. None of the five Best picture nominees is a universally admired film. The Aviator looked like a good bet a few weeks ago, but the tide seems to be turning towards M$B. Which makes sense. It's hard to imagine that enough people actually enjoyed The Aviator enough to give it Best Picture [I, for one, thought that the equally flawed Gangs of New York had a lot more passion with which to recommend itself.] In another year, Clint's movie would be the serious-this-one-will-win-awards-for-actors-movie (i.e. it would be Mystic River), but this year it could win Best Picture due to a lack of real competition. The Aviator is an epic without the fun of an epic (compare it to Titanic, Gladiator, even The English Patient and it comes up lacking in the enjoyment factor). Which seems to indicate that Marty will be shut out again for Best Director. Which makes sense. I will even go so far as to guess that should The Aviator win Best Picture, Clint might still beat Marty for Best Director. There are certain people that Oscar loves to see suffer and Martin Scorsese, with his Catholic martyr complex, is one of them. If only he'd directed The Passion of the Christ. Oh, wait, I think he already did...

Short on actual predictions, I know. Give me some more time to narrow it down to one choice per category. I'll write again this weekend.


Anonymous emily* said...

Booty Call? Do you not remember Jamie Foxx's breakthrough performance in "Ali?"
THAT'S when he became a serious actor.

Though Booty Call is good too....


4:04 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

all this talk of a film's 'momentum' begs a question (and you're definitely the person to ask this question): when do Academy Members cast their votes? I'm fairly certain that they watch all their videos and then mail in the votes whenever they decide, but when is the deadline? Surely it is at least a few days before the awards. But it seems reasonable to assume that by, say, two weeks before the awards, at least half and maybe well more than half of the votes have been cast. Do measures of a film's momentum then not amount to merely a near-explicit groupthink-formation process for the tabloids? Compare this to the endless weeks of poll-jockeying in the run-up to the November presidential election, when we all knew that essentially everyone had decided who to vote for. But at least there you had the turnout factor, plus the conventional wisdom that the votes hadn't in fact already been cast. In the case of the Oscar's, though, most if not all of the votes have already been cast. Which leads me to my main question: do you foresee a late momentum-surge for Sideways, the only Best Picture nominee I've seen?

By the way, welcome to the blogosphere, BAM.

4:36 PM  
Blogger bam34 said...

In response to your comment, Ben:
Research reveals that the deadline for voting was recently -- Tuesday the 22nd. They have to give at least a little time for those two guys from Price Waterhouse to tally up the votes.

Perceptions of "momentum" change, as I understand it, based on late-breaking events on the campaign trail after the nominations come out. For example, a win in the Screen Actors Guild Awards last weekend gave momentum to Morgan Freeman, who had not received the Golden Globe. Similarly, if people are thought to be doing a dirty campaign -- as many thought Harvey Weinstein did for Gangs of New York years ago, momentum turns against them.

Really, though, perceptions of momentum are probably based on Hollywood insiders talking to more and more people who've already turned in their ballots -- getting a feel for who people are voting for, though of course voters are encouraged not to tell. It's like exit polling.

I think Sideways is a film that has lost momentum -- it got something like 11 Golden Globe nominations, but far fewer from the Academy (Paul Giamatti himself was snubbed) and you heard fewer and fewer people talking about it. Whereas M$B was released initially on only a few screens nationwide; as distribution spread, so did the popularity of the film and its Oscar momentum.

In all the years we've been friends, I still can't believe we've never watched the Oscars togther, Ben. Someday...

6:31 PM  

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