Sunday, February 12, 2006

Oscar handicapping, hurrah!

Is it too early to handicap the Oscars? Absolutely not. Besides, it's much more fun than watching Steve Martin fall down or Harrison Ford shout his way through another by-the-numbers "action" flick.

Can anything stop the "Brokeback Mountain" onslaught? For the big one, best picture, probably not, but there are still plenty of interesting acting and writing awards.

As an omen, the Grammys were definitely not a good sign. Like Oscar voters usually do, Grammy voters this year went for the important (U2, which won big) over the popcorn (Mariah Carey, who won three Grammys but was snubbed in the big categories.) I'm no Mariah Carey fan, but when the people speak so loudly and are ignored, well, I guess we're all used to it by now.

This can already be seen in the Oscar nominations. Is "Brokeback Mountain" better than "King Kong." In my opinion, no. "King Kong," though a bit bloated, is a cinematic accomplishment along with just being a fun flick. If it got any nominations at all, they were only in minor categories. A quick check at confirms it got at least four, for art editing, sound mixing, sound editing and visual effects.

So, "King Kong" looks great and sounds great. That was enough for me, but not for the Academy, obviously. But enough of my grumbling, on to the nominees. In all the categories I feel I can comment on with authority, I'll offer my picks of who will win, who should win and, in some categories, who should have been nominated but wasn't.

Best supporting actress:

Nominees: Amy Adams, "Junebug"
Rachel Weisz, "The Constant Gardener"
Catherine Keener, "Capote"
Michelle Williams, "Brokeback Mountain"
Frances McDormand, "North Country"

Who will win: Weisz, for "The Constant Gardener." How being the second lead in this great political thriller makes her a supporting actress, I have no idea. Regardless, she shines as a doctor who doggedly pursues the truth about what drug companies are up to in Africa.

Who should win: This is the strongest acting category by far. Two other nominated performers are stronger than Weisz, Keener for "Capote" and Williams for "Brokeback Mounain. As Truman Capote's friend and enabler Nelle Harper Lee, Keener is laid back but convincing, but Williams would get my vote if I had one. We feel every ounce of her pain as she finds out about her cowboy husband's secret life, and it's a true breakthrough performance.

Best supporting actor:

Nominees: George Clooney, "Syriana"
Matt Dillon, "Crash"
Jake Gyllenhaal, "Brokeback Mountain"
Paul Giamatti, "Cinderella Man"
William Hurt, "A History of Violence"

Who will win: This one is tough. Clooney, Dillon and Gyllenhaal gave great performances in the kind of socially conscious movies Academy voters love. I'll go with Clooney here, only because he will get snubbed in the Best Picture and Best Director categories for "Good Night, and Good Luck." Put this one on your radar for most tiresome speech of the night.

Who should win: William Hurt, in only about 10 minutes of screen time in "A History of Violence," is menacing, witty yet wounded all at once, and takes over the movie.

Who should have been nominated: Two actors got the big snub from Academy voters in this category. Ludacris, yes, Ludacris, is hilarious as rapper Skinny Black in "Hustle and Flow," and good comedy is a rapidly dying art. Even more deserving is Clifton Collins, Jr. in "Capote," who manages to make us care about the fate of cold-blooded killer Perry Smith. Keep your eye on him.

Best actress

Nominees: Reese Witherspoon, "Walk the Line"
Judi Dench: "Mrs. Henderson Presents"
Felicity Huffman: "Transamerica"
Keira Knightley: "Pride & Prejudice"
Charlize Theron: "North Country"

Who will win: Not even a dame as grand as Judi Dench will be able to stop Witherspoon in this one, and why not? No longer happy with being simply adorable, she makes us believe she is a young June Carter Cash, who OK'd Witherspoon for the part before she died.

Who should win: Hands down, Knightley. "Pride & Prejudice" is the wittiest movie of 2005, and she shows she can keep up as her Elizabeth goes rapidly from snobby to snubbed and finally to being loved. Simply a joy to watch.

Who should have been nominated: Maria Bello, for "A History of Violence." Like Weisz, she might have been considered a supporting actress somehow, even though her reaction as her family crumbles around her is the heart of a truly compelling flick.

Best actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman: "Capote"
David Strathairn: "Good Night, and Good Luck"
Joaquin Phoenix: "Walk the Line"
Terrence Howard "Hustle and Flow"
Heath Ledger: "Brokeback Mountain"

Who will win: Much like Witherspoon, Hoffman has been a lock for this one for a long time. It will be the night's biggest upset if his preening, prissy but persistent Capote doesn't take home the big prize, and he'll be a deserving winner. However ...

Who should win: I have this habit, even in public. of sometimes talking to the TV set. I managed to keep quiet during the Oscar nominations, for the most part, but let out a little whoop at work when Howard's nomination was announced. He simmers throughout "Hustle and Flow" until he finally explodes, and it's the best performance by any actor from 2005. 'Nuff said.

Who should have been nominated: I was shocked Jeff Daniels didn't get a nomination for "The Squid and the Whale," which incidentally, is on the schedule at the Macon Film Guild for March. (whoop again!) He's all ego as the pater familias who can't seem to understand how his actions have led to the breakup of his family.

Best Picture

Nominees: "Brokeback Mountain"
"Good Night, and Good Luck"

Who will win: "Brokeback Mountain" will certainly win for two reasons: It makes voters who probably haven't even seen all of these movies feel good about themselves and it is a good, but not great, flick that is as much about the decay of the American West as it is about the tragedy of hidden love. And yes, gay cowboys.

Who should win: Of these, I'll take "Good Night, and Good Luck" by a nose over "Capote." Clooney's look at how Edward R. Murrow took on Sen. Joseph McCarthy is a pitch-perfect example of agenda filmmaking that also manages to be very entertaining. An aside: How the hell did "Crash" end up on this list? What serves for dialogue in this stinker makes Rodney King's "can't we all just get along" seem downright poetic.

Who should have been nominated: My five: "The Constant Gardener," "A History of Violence," "The Squid and the Whale," "Pride & Prejudice" and "KING KONG." Though my heart is with "King Kong," my mind is with "A History of Violence," the best movie of 2005.

Best director:

We'll skip this one altogether, because Ang Lee has it all sewed up for "Brokeback Mountain"

Best animated feature: "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit"
"Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride"
"Howl's Moving Castle,"

Who will win: After previously winning Oscars for his short adventures of "Wallace & Gromit," director Nick Park and Aardman Animation take this home for a movie that was laugh-out-loud funny for both kids and adults.

Who should win: The Academy will get this one right with "W&G." I absolutely adore Hayao Miyazaki, but his "Howl's Moving Castle" was a visually stunning but otherwise vacant tale. I'm embarrassed to say I still haven't seen "Corpse Bride."

Best documentary feature: "Murderball"
"March of the Penguins"
"Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room"
"Darwin's Nightmare"
"Street Fight"

Who will win: Oddly, it takes the documentaries to deliver the people's champ. "March of the Penguins," a French flick with Morgan Freeman narrating, is charming and made mad cash in the theaters. If not, look for "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room."

Who should win: "Murderball," easily the worst name for a movie in 2005, is also the best documentary. It has an almost "Hoosiers"-esque feel as it chronicles the true exploits of quadraplegic rugby players in pursuit of the world championship. I'm not kidding.

If you can bear with me, there's only two more I'll comment on:

Best adapted screenplay: "Brokeback Mountain"
"A History of Violence"
"The Constant Gardener"

Who will win: "Brokeback Mountain" can't be stopped here, and Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana will share credit for adapting E. Annie Proulx's tale for the screen. However ...

Who should win: By a nose over Josh Olson for "A History of Violence," Jeffrey Caine should win for keeping all the suspense in his taut adaptation of John Le Carre's "The Constant Gardener."

Who should have been nominated: Deborah Moggach, for undertanding that along with being an epic love story, Jane Austen's "Pride & Prejudice" is above all else a deep-cutting comedy of manners.

Original screenplay: "Crash"
"Good Night, and Good Luck"
"Match Point"
"The Squid and the Whale"

Who will win: Though I found long stretches of it simply unwatchable, the supposedly deep "Crash" should take this one home, edging out "Good Night, and Good Luck."

Who should win: "The Squid and the Whale." Noah Baumbach's autobiographical script about the break up of his parents is touching, tragic and funny, and it just might upset "Crash."

Who should have been nominated: Not having been a pimp myself, I can only wonder at how Craig Brewer, also a white, non-pimp dude, managed to bring the seamy underbelly of Memphis to vivid life in "Hustle & Flow." Show some love. On a final, rather tangential note, "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," "Hustle & Flow" 's nominee for Best Song, is an earworm like no other, but a very pleasant one.

Finally, a word about this blog: I have been posting only once a week, and those who enjoy it, if you're out there, thank you. I've decided to make it more lively. Along with a review a week (if I can bring myself to see what's out that week), there will be additional postings throughout the week, on new DVDS I like, trailers that get me excited about upcoming movies, or whatever crosses my mind. I'll try and make it three to four times a week, if you want to come along for the ride.


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