Saturday, February 24, 2007

The gold rush

Is it really Oscar time again? Granted that "Oscar time" seems to be a perpetual condition anymore, with the 2007 cycle of statuette blogging due to start on Monday once the dust has settled over 2006. But here it is, and I note that Oscar fever in part inspired me to start this blog almost a year ago, so the condition is catching.

Now to attend to my ballot. I just found last year's, in crumpled condition, among a stack of papers, and surely I can improve upon last year's dismal total of 16 out of 24 categories correct. (My personal best, and only the second time I had won in a pool that I've been a part of for 12 years now, was 22 for 24 in 2003, the year Return of the King swept the night.) My real time choices, with annotations, follow.


A tough one this year, in a race where there are no nags, but no thoroughbreds, either, save for The Queen, which seems an also-ran to win. I have no strong feelings for any of the five films nominated, and while a mild discomfort will come over me if Babel wins so be it. (I've made my peace with Little Miss Sunshine winning.) I watched The Departed again and agree with Lora's assessment, that it's no more, and no less, "good entertainment." Martin Scorsese's own assessment, that it's a "B-movie" and meant as film buff praise, is spot-on, too. His likely, long-coming win could just put it over the top, so let's say:

My prediction: The Departed
My choice: The Queen


I don't see anything interrupting Forest Whitaker's Last King of Scotland momentum. This does pain me a little; it's a solid but unexciting and depthless performance in a mediocre movie very few people outside of critics' circles have seen. I would go so far as to say that it's the weakest of the four nominated performances I did see (sorry, Will Smith). But there it is.

My prediction: Forest Whitaker
My choice: Leonardo DiCaprio (an underrated effort in the best of the Africa pictures to date, Blood Diamond. He's also fine in The Departed.)


No doubt about it: My long-time favorite, Helen Mirren, will be touched by gold this year, a remarkable 2006 for any performer and in this instance against competition that would have been fearsome had she not so thoroughly invested herself in her performance. Naysayers can Netflix the one 2006 credit likely to disappear from her resume, the bizarre Shadowboxer, in which she hangs with Cuba Gooding, Jr., Macy Gray, and Mo'Nique.

Prediction and choice: Mirren


No one likes him. He doesn't like anyone. He doesn't care. Norbit sucks. But at the end of the day Eddie Murphy, a reliable Hollywood hitmaker (despite a few misses, Norbit not one of them where the boxoffice is concerned) for a quarter-century, will win and should for his outstanding Dreamgirls portrayal, a fuller, richer role than the others. I'm a big Alan Arkin fan, too, and can't rule out old-timer sentiment, but he's risen to significantly greater challenges in under-the-radar releases (like Slums of Beverly Hills and 13 Conversations About One Thing) that Oscar never saw.

Prediction and choice: Murphy


See above. I can't believe an American Idol contestant is about to win an Oscar, either, but Jennifer Hudson had the golden part and nailed it to the floor. What next for her, I wonder?

Prediction and choice: Hudson


At long last, the stars are in alignment, and Martin Scorsese will get the Oscar that should have been his many years ago, certainly for Goodfellas; really, it's a stain on the Academy's reputation that he hasn't gotten something for his commendable work on film preservation, which is more the mission of the organization than other causes. True, The Departed is not his best work, but better him winning for this than another actor-turned-director winning in his rightful place the next time.

Prediction and choice: Scorsese


A strong field, with the exception of Borat, not that it's not good, but because its improvisatory nature doesn't really fit either screenwriting category. Notes on a Scandal is a superior adaptation; my problem with Little Children was more the material, and I see more love for Children of Men in the technical categories than in the top tier. So I'll go with The Departed.

Prediction: The Departed
Choice: Notes on a Scandal, on the cover of the Spring issue of Cineaste, below


If Little Miss Sunshine is to win something, it's this. I'm still not convinced that it's such great writing but it's clearly struck some sort of chord, which counts for a lot. Me, I'll go with The Queen, another case of an artist (in this case, writer Peter Morgan) having a banner year (his other credits were The Last King of Scotland, the good HBO/BBC film Longford, and the Broadway-bound Frost/Nixon.)

Prediction: Little Miss Sunshine
Choice: The Queen


Pixar has I think run out of gas with Cars. Monster House is charming but has no resonance. The inclusion of A Scanner Darkly might have made this a horse race but honoring the delightful Happy Feet is a) worthwhile and b) a way to reward its maker, George Miller, the director of fine, idiosyncratic films that include Babe, the Mad Max trilogy, and Lorenzo's Oil.

Prediction and choice: Happy Feet


This is another competitive field, but I still place Pan's Labyrinth above the rest. As it's also the highest-grossing Spanish-language release in this country I think attention must be paid. An Oscars where Scorsese, Miller, and Guillermo Del Toro walk away with Oscars is not a bad thing.

Prediction and choice: Pan's Labyrinth


With no less than three nominees from Dreamgirls, you can predict that either one will win, or they'll cancel each other out. I suspect the former and think that Beyonce's big number, "Listen," will grab the gold.

Prediction and choice: "Listen"


The best score I heard all last year was Alexandre Desplat's sublime, Satie-inspired work for The Painted Veil. Naturally, it wasn't nominated. But I think voters will hail his compositions from The Queen instead. None of these really stood out, with The Good German and Notes on a Scandal rather obvious scores.

Prediction and choice: The Queen


In a perfect world, the cinematography and the editing of Children of Men would be considered in tandem; the cinematography for its long, unbroken, exquisite tracking shots, and the editing for demarcating them just so. But I have a feeling the clumsy, sentimental transitions in the multi-story Babel will win the day and to hell with subtlety.

Prediction: Babel
Choice: Children of Men


Children of Men had everyone talking, and that should last through tomorrow night. And Emmanuel Lubezki ("Chivo") is a nice guy.

Prediction and choice: Children of Men


I'm either going to be very lazy, very arrogant, or very dumb, but I predict a Dreamgirls sweep in all three of these categories, and deservedly so; all three elements help convey the story through changing times and moods. But in costumes I do favor The Devil Wears Prada, for very sharply defining the characters.

Predictions and two choices: Dreamgirls
Costume design choice: The Devil Wears Prada


With the same two nominees up for Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, I figure they'll score with the more acclaimed Letters, which is more subtly edited than the other choices. They're just loud and/or tend toward bombast, like most nominees in the sound categories.

Prediction and choice: Letters from Iwo Jima


An easy win for the fantasy-laden Pan's Labyrinth. Apocalypto? Click? Click? Get real.

Prediction and choice:


Another cakewalk, for Davy Jones' octo-face and the Kraken in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Poseidon is another inexplicable nominee.

Prediction and choice: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest


If you really think lefty Hollywood won't give Al Gore a crack at the podium, you've got another think coming. Another easy call, for An Inconvenient Truth, which I didn't see. But I doubt it has half the artistry of the beautifully made and moving Iraq in Fragments.

Prediction: An Inconvenient Truth
Choice: Iraq in Fragments

Lest we think this is too easy, it's the final three categories, which go unremarked upon in most Oscar roundups, that tend to throw everyone off. Best Documentary Shorts tend to favor hot-button topics. My Oscar-watching friends see the Best Animated Shorts and Best Live Action Shorts programs, but as they will attest that doesn't really help. These categories work in mysterious ways and cost valued points. The New York Times is as good a resource as any, and a couple of other publications are breaking the same way, so I'm going to predict The Blood of Yingzhou District for Documentary Short (AIDS in China), The Little Matchgirl for Animated Short, and Binta and the Great Idea (Africa-themed) for Live Action Short. Not having seen any of these, I have no choices, just guesses. But I hear some are on YouTube, an ideal venue for them.

Our tie-breaking question this year is, "How many winners will thank God?" My answer is, four. I pray that I'm right.

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