1) The Lives of Others (technically 2006, but released in the U.S. in 2007)
5) Michael Clayton
6) No Country for Old Men
7) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
10) 3:10 to Yuma
As you can see, There Will Be Blood did not make the list. I remember in the theater being impressed but bored, which was not the case for its Oscar “rival” that year, No Country for Old Men. Because of that I predicted Blood wouldn’t win Best Picture; compared to the tight plotting and propulsive thrills of No Country, its sprawling scope and tonal opacity would be a tough sell in a popularity contest.
I’d still give Best Picture to No Country. But a second viewing of Blood brought it way up in my estimation. What P.T. Anderson’s films lack in scrutability they more than make up for in production design, soundtrack, and acting prowess. What superlative could I use for Daniel Day-Lewis that hasn’t already been beaten to death with a bowling pin? The man is mesmerizing. In a 158-minute movie, I couldn’t take my eyes off him for one of them. He shares MVP with the cinematographer Robert Elswit, who similarly has earned the hyperbole around his work.
So where would I rank There Will Be Blood now? Making a new list without rewatching all the films I rated highly but haven’t seen since then, like Waitress and Michael Clayton, is a bit of a fool’s errand.But as it stands now, including the 2007 films I’ve seen since making the list, here’s what it looks like:
1) The Lives of Others
4) No Country for Old Men
7) There Will Be Blood
8) Michael Clayton
10) Into the Wild
Sorry, Juno, 3:10 to Yuma, and Sweeney Todd, but I had to make room for There Will Be Blood,Into the Wild, and Munyurangabo. Honorable mention goes to The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Hairspray, and Enchanted. Pretty great year overall!
In the back corner was my favorite part of the press room: the librarians’ table, where the Academy librarians are on hand to answer questions. Under a sign that said “Reference,” a librarian named Lucia Schultz had a thick binder of Oscar history and another of credits for the nominated films. Reporters came by to ask questions. Had there previously been two African-American acting winners in the same year? (Yes, in 2002, 2005, and 2007.) If Lin-Manuel Miranda won Best Original Song, would he be the youngest-ever “EGOT”? (Depends on whether you count noncompetitive awards. Barbra Streisand was younger, but she won a Special Tony Award.) Was Mahershala Ali the first Muslim to win an Oscar? (They couldn’t say, because the Academy doesn’t keep records on winners’ religious affiliations.) After Colleen Atwood won for Best Costume Design, a Metro.co.uk reporter rushed up to Schultz and asked if any other British people had won four Oscars. “Yes, but Colleen Atwood is from Washington State,” Schultz said.
Later on, as the Best Picture snafu was happening, Schultz had what we could call a run on the reference desk:
On the monitors, a guy in a headset was onstage, and the “La La Land” producer Jordan Horowitz was saying, “This is not a joke. ‘Moonlight’ has won Best Picture.” When the camera zoomed in on the envelope, the press room collectively screamed. A reporter ran up to Schultz and asked, “Has anything like this ever happened before?” Schultz, who had not prepared for this scenario, was frantically searching her records. “I cannot think of a case where this has happened,” she said. “There are times when people thought it happened.” More reporters lined up with the same question—it was the most attention Schultz had got all night. She remembered something about Quincy Jones and Sharon Stone forgetting the envelope for Best Original Score, in 1996, but no other precedent came to mind. (In fact, Sammy Davis, Jr., once read from the wrong envelope, in 1964.)
…the most predictable Oscars ever. Every year it seems like the suspense is sucked out of the actual awards ceremony with the months of speculation and campaigning and Oscar ballots. This year, sadly, was even more predicable than previous ones because of the incessant and overrated Slumdog Millionaire cleaned house just as every one predicted it would.
I’ve been bitter since the nominations were announced in January because of the stunning omission of Wall-E from the Best Picture race. Logically, the best reviewed film of the year would at least be in the running for the category that supposedly recognizes the best film of the year. But instead, we’re forced to suffer through preening “issue” movies like Frost/Nixon and The Reader.
No one was talking about those movies this year. Even The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, leading the pack with 13 nominations, was pretty much not a contender for the major awards.
I’ve written about the Academy’s bald-faced bias against animated movies here before, so I won’t wax on about that again. But this year’s Oscar ceremony, despite a great performance by Hugh Jackman, was not fun to watch because I knew that the best film wasn’t there.
Also, they must never do the “5 past nominees talk about this year’s nominees for 15 minutes” thing ever again. I liked having the narrative flow between the awards and such, but trim that dross out next year and the ceremony may actually be done in three hours.
Anyway, I’m so glad Slumdog Millionaire will finally go away. Maybe I’ll watch Wall-E again to cheer me up. Lord knows that robot has more going for him than anything else this year.
Published in the North Central Chronicle on January 30, 2009.
Let me count the ways…
1. You want normal people to like you, but you fail to acknowledge what people like.
In the past, you’ve been excused from this because most of the time the highest grossing film of year wasn’t worthy of awards. But this year is different. The Dark Knight and Wall-E dominated the box office and landed on many top 10 lists. What better combination can there be for awards season? The ratings for the awards ceremony have steadily decline to half the viewers since 1998; giving due props to the high quality popular films would have boosted viewership and proved that Hollywood isn’t always out of touch.
Instead, you’ve acknowledged films that barely anyone except film critics has seen. I know that most of the time, the smaller films are better than the box office winners so they deserve to win awards, but this was the year that broke that pattern. Instead of taking the chance to try something new, you stick with what works but isn’t very exciting.
2. Year after year the studios throw out mediocre Oscar bait like “The Reader” yet you still bite, hook, line, and sinker.
Ricky Gervais was right when told perennial nominee Kate Winslet at the Golden Globes, “I told you; do a Holocaust
movie and the awards start coming.” Everybody knows which movies are being made simply because they have at least one ingredient in the magical formula guaranteed to clean up at the Oscars: angst, lots of yelling, Meryl Streep, or the Holocaust.
But I get it: it’s all about politics. The Reader got in because of the legendary influence of Hollywood heavyweight producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein (the same men who helped Shakespeare in Love upset Saving Private Ryan for best picture back in 1998). It’s not the quality of the film but the quality of the film’s PR that matters in the end. That is ultimately what is exacerbating the problem with how the Academy Awards are run, but I don’t foresee this changing any time soon.
3. You hate animated movies.
I don’t really know why. Maybe you’re afraid that nominating a film like Wall-E because you feel threatened by anything that doesn’t require overpaid humans to do the work. Or maybe you just don’t understand yet that animation is not a genre but simply another way to tell a story. Whatever the reason, you didn’t do animated films a favor by creating a separate category for them; you’re ghettoizing them. You’re saying animated movies do not equal real movies, even when the best reviewed film of the year is a great romantic science fiction adventure film that happens to be animated.
4. You never award people at the right time.
We’ve seen this countless times: an actor or actress or director winning for a film because it was viewed as more of a reward for their body of work rather than an award for that specific performance. Martin Scorsese winning in 2006 for The Departed is an example. Kate Winslet, the youngest actress to get six nominations, will probably win this year for The Reader because voters feel she is owed for having been snubbed before. This practice causes others who actually deserve to win, like Sally Hawkins for Happy-Go-Lucky, to get robbed.
5. For being such a politically liberal town, you get really conservative during award season.
This, too, has a storied history. The so-so Crash won over the heavily favored, gay themed and superior picture Brokeback Mountain in 2005 because it was the safer pick. This year, The Reader, Frost/Nixon, and Slumdog Millionaire — historical or quasi-historical film with obvious messages — are up for the big awards instead of The Dark Knight and Wall-E, two films with powerful political and social commentary that liberals would ordinarily embrace in real life. For being the year for change, Hollywood has failed to change any of their award season habits.
In spite of my complaining, I still appreciate it when the Oscars showcase the art house pictures that don’t make hundreds of millions at the box office. There are a lot of well made films out there that wouldn’t be seen without the buzz that starts at the film festivals and carries them through awards season.
Still, the Academy needs to do a better job of rewarding art when it deserves it. The Reader doesn’t deserve it. In 10 years no one will remember it. Wall-E, however, will live on for a long time. It’s just a matter of whether the Academy wanted to live on with it. Apparently, they didn’t care that much.
I guess seeing Rachel Getting Married was technically my first dive into this year’s plethora of Oscar bait, but tonight I dove down further by seeing Happy-Go-Lucky and Slumdog Millionaire, two small films that are getting a lot of buzz and landing on some critics’ Best of 2008 lists. Naturally, I have to see them for myself. My pre-viewing expectations were altered after seeing the two — one for the better and one for worse.
First, Happy-Go-Lucky. A British film, it’s about a 30-year-old woman named Poppy who is a naturally happy and bubbly person. I thought this would come off as irritating, but it does not at all. She is hilarious in dealing with the cynics and party-poopers that surround her. But she’s not delusional or masking a secret depression; she’s genuinely positive about everything. I think that’s a nice antidote to the hugely depressing times we’re living in.
The second film in my double-feature adventure was Slumdog Millionaire, the British film about an Indian boy who grows up in the slums of Bombay and makes it on to the Indian equivalent of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? It’s a cool concept: each question on the game show recalls a memory from the boy’s past, centering around his thieving life as a young boy or his life-long crush.
The movie is getting a lot of good press, but I don’t think it fully lives up to the hype. The director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later) creates a hyperstylized look and feel that helps keep the energy up, but ultimately doesn’t sync with the setting of the trash-filled slums of Bombay. It is a love story that is central to this movie, but it feels more manufactured than genuine. I’d still recommend that you see it, but not that it get any major awards.
Originally published in the North Central Chronicle in October 2008.
Are all movies created equal? The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) doesn’t think so. With the creation of the Best Animated Feature category at the Academy Awards, animated movies that deserve to be nominated for Best Picture are unfairly pigeon-holed into this marginalized category.
Only one animated movie has ever been nominated for Best Picture. It was Beauty and the Beast in 1991. Though the AMPAS rules don’t prevent a film to be nominated for both categories, the chances of an animated movie being nominated for Best Picture are greatly reduced because of the animated feature category.
Take last year’s Ratatouille for example. It was one of the best reviewed films of 2007. It currently has a 95% certified fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, which is better than There Will Be Blood. So why wasn’t it nominated for Best Picture? Because an animated movie aimed at kids does not meet the same high-brow expectations as art-house flicks like There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men and so Disney would never try to lobby for a Best Picture nod, even if every member of the Academy loved it.
That’s understandable, I guess, but the real problem is how animated movies as a whole are regarded. Critics and audiences as well as the Academy ooh and ahh over the good ones but never even think Best Picture is in the cards. The Pixar animation studio has put out an unprecedented string of commercial and critical hits since Toy Story in 1995, its first feature film. Three of their films have won the Best Animated Feature award, deservedly so. But the fact that such acclaimed work does not get a fair shot at the biggest possible award for filmmaking shows an implicit condescension and under-appreciation for the animated genre in general.
Brad Bird, director of The Incredibles and Ratatouille, put it bluntly: “People keep saying, ‘The animation genre.’ It’s not a genre! A Western is a genre; animation is an art form, and it can do any genre.” Using animation is simply one way of telling a story. To box it in as a separate entity is to belittle the work writers and animators do to create an entire fictional world from scratch in order to tell a story.
And animated movies may not just be for kids. Look at last year’s Persepolis or Beowulf or the Japanese films Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away. Even the more commercial Shrek and all of the Pixar movies appeal to young adults and parents because of the subtle (and not so subtle) pop culture references. I love Ratatouille and the other Pixar movies not just for their artistic shimmer and sly wit, but for their solid storytelling. That, above all, should be the litmus test for Best Picture nominees, which is how Beauty and the Beast earned a nod a decade and a half ago.
The animated feature category may do a good service by acknowledging excellence in that medium, but it does harm by allowing poor movies to be nominated. Because there are only so many feature-length animated films that wouldn’t embarrass the Academy by being nominated (I’m looking at you, Space Chimps), movies that don’t deserve the recognition sneak in beneath the far superior works. Shark Tale and Ice Age have been nominated, as well as Happy Feet, which won unjustly in 2006. The Academy needs to fill the void somehow, so they have to nominate non-Pixar movies to try to make the category relevant.
Film should serve the story. It shouldn’t matter if the film is computer-generated. The stories in Ratatouille and Toy Story 2, another animated film that got short-changed, deserve the recognition that lesser live-action movies often times receive. Pixar’s latest, WALL-E, will no doubt receive the same treatment as its predecessors, even though it was the most daring and exquisite film of the year. It will win Best Animated Feature, but it’s not just that. The level of praise it has garnered from critics and audiences is bested only by The Dark Knight which already has a better chance of scoring on Oscar night because it stars real human beings.
The best films of the year should be recognized as such. Period. Hollywood politics get in the way of this too often, which is how lesser pictures win. But because I’m not an Academy member, I can only sit back and hope the best of best get a shot at the big prize. One can only hope.
I got two of my Oscar picks wrong – not bad. I don’t remember why I didn’t pick Diablo Cody to win, but I’m glad she did.
Yay for Once! It was pretty lame that Marketa Irglova got cut off, but pretty awesome that Jon Stewart gave her time later.
The only reason why the ceremony keeps going so long every year is because of the pointless montages. Besides the standard In Memoriam and a fun one thrown in just for kicks, every one of them should have been cut. Though I did enjoy the “Salute to Binoculars and Waking Up from a Bad Dream” mini montages.
I love Jon Stewart, so I loved him tonight. If you don’t get or enjoy his humor, you probably thought he did poorly. But every one of his wisecracks were great.
I’m glad No Country won. Much has been said about There Will Be Blood, but that movie was Daniel Day-Lewis, and he was properly awarded for it. I think the right choice was made so that in 50 years, when they show another montage of past Best Picture winners, people will still actually like and remember No Country, as opposed to Crash, Around the World in Eighty Days, Million Dollar Baby, etc.
Ahhh, the Oscars. Such a glorious time. I guessed 11 correctly which is pretty good for me.
Things I’m pumped about:
–The Departed winning 4 awards including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and a much deserved Best Director for Martin Scorsese (finally!)
-Alan Arkin blowing everyone away and upsetting Eddie Murphy for Best Supporting Actor
–Pan’s Labyrinth winning a bunch, except for the all-important Best Foreign Film
–Little Miss Sunshine winning a few
Things I’m a tad bummed about:
–United 93 not winning anything
–Monster House not winning Best Animated Feature (Happy Feet sucked!)
–Children of Men getting royally snubbed
Things I’ll look forward to:
-Mark Wahlberg, Ryan Gosling, Will Smith, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Kate Winslet all winning much deserved Oscars in the future
-Martin Scorsese’s next movie
Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the results this year. Ellen DeGeneres was okay…Jon Stewart needs to come back. The Will Ferrell/Jack Black/John C. Reilly number was the highlight of the show, and Martin Scorsese kicks ass.
Here are the must-sees of 2006: United 93, Little Miss Sunshine, The Departed, The Queen, Half Nelson, Children of Men, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Prestige, Thank You for Smoking, Babel, Borat, Monster House, The Pursuit of Happyness, and Blood Diamond…just to name a few. Do yourself a favor and see these films in an medium. Then call me up so we can talk about them.