Monday, January 26, 2009


I'm an optimist. I keep hoping that these little gold bludgeons (in Jim Carrey's phrase: the Lord of All Knick-knacks) will finally go to the right, most deserving person. It seldom happens. This year, it seems less likely to happen than usual. After last year's entirely predictable triumph of the dullasdishwater NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN over the far tastier THERE WILL BE BLOOD, SWEENEY TODD and ZODIAC, and after the previous few years' senseless recognition of MILLION DOLLAR BABY and CRASH and others (THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING being the sole deserving winner in some time) I can finally say that I just don't give a damn anymore.

Aw, fuck. Who am I kidding? Surely not you. I do care. I care deeply. I love this stuff. This hideous award show horror. I do love to bitch and moan and complain about who wins and who loses and who wasn't nominated and what were they thinking and well what can you expect from the people who've given Clint Eastwood two Oscars for Best Director and Brad Pitt nominated for Best Actor Oh my GOD and ha ha they shut out THE DARK KNIGHT and Christopher Nolan so there might be some hope after all. Nothing provokes a good solid rant like the OSCARS.

So here we go, nominations rants.

Best motion picture of the year
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Reader”
“Slumdog Millionaire”

I've only seen three of the nominees: BENJAMIN BOREDOM, MILK and SLUMDOG. Well. It looks like SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE will win. One of Roscoe's Oscar Theories: Each Oscar Is A Reaction To Last Year's, which this year means that an easy piece of feelgood sentimentality (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) will follow last year's easy piece of feelbad sentimentality (NO COUNTRY). I'm not entirely counting out BENJAMIN BOREDOM, as it does have a lot of what Oscar Seems To Like: epic storytelling, thwarted lovestory, big stars, no appreciable content but a clearly stated (more or less) message about something or other, and it does seem to inspire tears in those easily inspired that way. It comes down to this: will they want to give the Best Picture Oscar to a piece of relentless fluff about slumkids in Mumbai? How's that going to look in future Oscar montages? I can't see it going to FROST/NIXON or THE READER, because they've just gotten zero serious consideration from anyone anywhere. MILK would also seem to have a lot of Oscar bait (big true story, martyred leader, big cast, easily digested Big Message) but there's that pesky Gay Angle that will probably keep it from winning the big prize. Going by another Roscoe's Oscar Theories (the most useless of the nominees usually wins) I'll go with SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, with BENJAMIN BOREDOM a possible surprise. I'm not entirely counting out MILK, though, darker horses have won, and it might be a handy response to Prop. 8.

Performance by an actor in a leading role
Richard Jenkins in “The Visitor”
Frank Langella in “Frost/Nixon”
Sean Penn in “Milk”
Brad Pitt in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler”

Well, who can say. I'd guess Mickey Rourke, based on all the hype, but I think there may be a significant population who just can't bring themselves to check off the box next to Mickey Rourke for an Oscar. I haven't seen the performance, largely because I just can't bring myself to look at that hideously disfigured face for the better part of two hours. I'd like to see Penn win, myself, but I don't think it is terribly likely. After all, Penn plays a gay man who actually seems to be possessed of some measurable levels of testosterone, and that never goes over big with Oscar voters who like their gay performances to be as queeny/girly/femmy as possible: Hurt in SPIDER WOMAN and Hoffman's CAPOTE. Ugh. Pitt. My non-nominated choice: Colin Farrell for his funny and moving turn in IN BRUGES.

Performance by an actor in a supporting role
Josh Brolin in “Milk”
Robert Downey Jr. in “Tropic Thunder”
Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Doubt”
Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight”
Michael Shannon in “Revolutionary Road”

I'd say give it to Josh Brolin, who actually had an actual supporting role, rather than Ledger who should be in the Best Actor category for what was for all intents and purposes the lead in that DARK KNIGHT thing. But Ledger will probably win, there's just no way to deny the brilliance of his work as the Joker, try as some might. I'd have liked to have seen Ralph Fiennes nominated for his total scary loon performance in IN BRUGES.

Performance by an actress in a leading role
Anne Hathaway in “Rachel Getting Married”
Angelina Jolie in “Changeling”
Melissa Leo in “Frozen River”
Meryl Streep in “Doubt”
Kate Winslet in “The Reader”

Don't know, don't care, haven't seen any of them, and without the sublime Sally Hawkins from HAPPY-GO-LUCKY it doesn't matter a damn. Toss it to Winslet, she's long overdue, and it would continue the Oscar tradition of honoring the Right Actor for the Wrong Role.

Performance by an actress in a supporting role
Amy Adams in “Doubt”
Penélope Cruz in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”
Viola Davis in “Doubt”
Taraji P. Henson in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Marisa Tomei in “The Wrestler”

As long as it doesn't go to Taraji P. Henson, they can give it to the janitor for all I care. I'm betting it will go to Viola Davis in DOUBT, for what it is worth.

Achievement in directing
Ron Howard -- FROST/NIXON
Gus Van Sant -- MILK
Stephen Daldry -- THE READER

It will probably go to Boyle, I guess. I'd say the most worthy of the batch that I've seen is Van Sant's work on MILK. Oscar-winner Danny Boyle. Hmmmm. Doesn't really roll off the tongue, does it?

Adapted screenplay
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Screenplay by Eric Roth, Screen story by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord
“Doubt” (Miramax), Written by John Patrick Shanley
“Frost/Nixon” (Universal), Screenplay by Peter Morgan
“The Reader” (The Weinstein Company), Screenplay by David Hare
“Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight), Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy

Couldn't care less. Probably SLUMDOG. Whatever.

Original screenplay
“Frozen River” (Sony Pictures Classics), Written by Courtney Hunt
“Happy-Go-Lucky” (Miramax), Written by Mike Leigh
“In Bruges” (Focus Features), Written by Martin McDonagh
“Milk” (Focus Features), Written by Dustin Lance Black
“WALL-E” (Walt Disney), Screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, Original story by Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter

Probably on balance the strongest single category. Who'd a thunk. I'd like to see IN BRUGES win, but it isn't terribly likely. I'd be down with MILK or WALL-E or HAPPY-GO-LUCKY winning, but I think they'll probably give it to MILK as a consolation prize for not giving it one of the big prizes.

And there you have it. I'll watch the show, I guess, but it just all seems to pre-determined now. SLUMDOG seems to be just cleaning up all over the place, like NO COUNTRY did last year. There's nothing really in the way of suspense.

And here's a gratuitous piece of anti-BENJAMIN BUTTONery:

Monday, January 05, 2009


Well, there's just not a lot out there that I'm at all excited in seeing right now. The big Oscar bait is flooding the theatres and I just couldn’t care less about a lot of them. Here are some thoughts about films I've seen and films I haven't seen.

DOUBT and FROST/NIXON -- sorry, just plain not interested. I saw both as plays on Broadway, and was extremely unimpressed with DOUBT and liked the fine performance of Frank Langella as Nixon. There's nothing about either film that really makes me want to shell out NYC movie ticket prices for them. They can wait for HBO, and even then I doubt I'll bother with DOUBT, because I just couldn't care less about it. Didn't like the play, am not interested in La Streep's take on the role, and I'm positively allergic to that Philip Seymour Hoffman person.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY -- a tasty surprise from Mike Leigh. Sally Hawkins has been winning a good number of critics' awards for her performance as Poppy, an almost unquenchably positive woman living in London. Just because she's relentlessly upbeat doesn't mean she doesn't sometimes get pissed off, however. The film hasn't much of a plot, but I'm sure that repeat viewings will reveal a lot more going on than meets the eye. The film mainly consists of Poppy's interactions with assorted people: her roommate, her students, one young student who seems to be the victim of abuse at home, assorted members of her family, and most memorably a driving instructor named Scott. People have differing reactions to Poppy's surface breeziness, mistaking it for a lack of good sense or even a rebuke to their own ways of looking at the world. A fascinating group of character studies, not a dull moment in it. I'd love to see it again.

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE -- One of the best received movies of the year. Probable Oscar nominee, and almost certain winner of Best Adapted Screenplay. Saw it over the weekend. Annoyed the living daylights out of me. A mostly simple rags to riches story of a young man who rises from the slums to India to the final round of the Indian version of I WANT TO BE A MILLIONAIRE. There's a novel narrative gimmick. Having risen to the finals of MILLIONAIRE, the hero has been arrested on allegations of cheating, and the film consists mainly of his flashbacks as he recounts the story of his life to explain to the police how he has acquired such arcane information, before he can go on to the final round. Okay, cool. Neat idea, I'm down with that. The film is certainly well made, and the acting is beyond reproach.

It isn't a bad movie by any means. I just got really really really tired of the non-stop emotional manipulation at work. Director Danny Boyle loads on the MTV Editing (executed with a skill that has eluded certain other practitioners, by the way) and the loud music and fancy hand held camerawork and basically every possible device in his arsenal to Ramp Up The Emotion full blast. I'll admit that I had certain feelings while watching the film, but I wasn't having them because I was getting involved in the story or getting interested in the characters or having my own responses. I was having feelings because my Emotion Buttons were being pushed, and pushed, and pushed again. And then pushed again. Exactly when they started using a jackhammer on those buttons remains unclear to me, but it was about the time that I started to develop a bad headache. Only MAMMA MIA has worked harder recently to push each and every emotional button, over and over and over again, to the point where it ceases to mean anything.

It got simply exhausting, and I've seldom been so glad to see credits roll in my life. Again -- not a bad movie. Its heart is definitely in the right place. It is just pushy to the point of being irritating.

MILK -- I'd been avoiding it, afraid that I was in for a lot of Preaching to the Choir. I'm so glad to have been proven wrong. An all around excellent film, I thought, the kind of thing that makes me wonder why more movies aren't as generally good as this one. A good solid piece of movie, that proves that Message Movies needn't be insults to the intelligence, that emotional responses can be elicited without resorting to drastic SLUMDOG-type measures. The acting is across the board excellent. Sean Penn finally delivers a performance of real grace and humor along with the expected power and intensity: this is what happens when he finally plays a human being, I guess. And Josh Brolin's Dan White is splendid, a sad dumb clueless straight guy who just can't seem to understand why things don't go exactly the way he wants them to. You can just see him Not Getting It. I know there have been some complaints that the film rather sanitizes the story, but it didn't feel sanitized to me. The ugly little subplot with Milk's overly dependent boyfriend was sufficiently messy, it kept me from thinking that Milk was a just plaster Gay Saint.