Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Oscars According To Solon, 2004 Edition

To all my movie-loving mates:

Welcome, or welcome back, to my annual list of Oscar predictions. For the initiates, I started doing this a few years back, and the recipient list has expanded to the point where it now numbers in the thousands. As always, your feedback is encouraged and appreciated.

As happens every year, I couldn't see everything I wanted to see. Here are the list of the ones I missed, in case any of you saw one of these and are wondering why I wasn't sufficiently impressed:

The Sea Inside
Last Life in the Universe
Bon Voyage
We Don’t Live Here Anymore

This was a great year for movies in terms of depth, as good as I can remember. That being said, there aren't too many exceptional movies (unlike, for example, 2001)--but the solid ones outnumber my list below.

1 Before Sunset
2 Hotel Rwanda
3 The Dreamers
4 The Motorcycle Diaries
5 Dogville
6 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
7 Bad Education
8 A Very Long Engagement
9 Kill Bill, Vol. 2
10 Badass
11 Maria Full of Grace
12 Bus 174
13 Closer
14 Young Adam
15 Million Dollar Baby
16 Garden State
17 Sideways
18 Kinsey
19 Ray
20 Vera Drake

The top three films stand above the rest. Keep in mind that any criticism of HOTEL RWANDA and THE DREAMERS is only to illustrate why they aren't #1--because all three of these are fantastic movies.

BEFORE SUNSET For an hour, this movie is just like an extension of its incredible predecessor, Before Sunrise. But it's during the last 20 minutes, starting with the scene on the boat, where this movie becomes great. The themes the characters are dealing with are universal--not necessarily in reality, but conceptually--everyone can relate to them. And, the ending is absolutely brilliant. I look forward to seeing the next installment in 2013, at which point the enterprise will hopefully have generated enough buzz to get nominated for best picture. Also, as to whether one has to see Before Sunrise to fully appreciate Before Sunset, there is no question that one does.

HOTEL RWANDA This is as difficult to watch as Schindler's List, which is a testament to how good this movie is. As much as anything else the movie is a character study of the Don Cheadle character, who stands alongside Atticus Finch and Oskar Schindler as one of the greatest heroes ever portrayed on film. Both Cheadle and Okenedo are both excellent here and the story is compelling and suspenseful throughout. The only thing that keeps this movie from being top is that I wasn't as impressed with Nolte and Phoenix as some seem to be, their scenes struck me as a little forced--kind of like how a self-righteous white person would act now, as opposed to how one would have acted when in that situation, if that makes any sense--not that people couldn't have, or wouldn't have, acted that way, it just didn't strike me as authentic (for the most part the Red Cross worker was better, although she has one scene that's a little trite).

THE DREAMERS A must-see for all the cinephiles out there. Bertolucci meshes sex, politics, and movies brilliantly here, intertwining his movie with clips from older classic movies. I don't think this movie has found it's audience yet, but it is a classic, and might be Bertolucci's best. In truth, I wish he had cast someone other than Michael Pitt in the role of Matthew--for the most part, he does a good job (though not nearly as good as Green and Garrel), but he really blows it in the final scene, which, if it had been better, may have made this movie #1.

THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES Probably the most beautifully shot movie of the year, along with A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT. Surely it disappointed some, as it about Che's early years, but I think this movie about his formative years will probably be more impressive than any movie about his later life (and I say this knowing full well that Soderbergh has a chance to prove me wrong in
2006 when he releases "Che", for which he has assembled a killer cast).

DOGVILLE Not sure why this movie got so much shit. Once you get over the fact that it is on a sound stage with chalk outlines (which I thought was a brilliant move, actually, for reasons that should be obvious if you have seen it, but might spoil it if you have not), you are free to focus on the interactions of the characters, which is what the movie is about anyway. I didn't find it anti-American as much as I found it anti-small town, which is something you'll find anywhere. And the truth is, people in small towns really should be ridiculed, particularly if they act like the people in Dogville. As for how I reconcile what I just wrote with the closing credits, there's really no reasonable explanation other than that Lars von Trier is a bit of an asshole.

FYI, Dogville includes depictions of rape.

All of the movies in the top 20 are recommended, and the top 12 are really solid movies. A deep, deep year for the movies.

RE THE NOMINEES It's hard to imagine how the Academy could have done a worse job. Obviously, movies like Before Sunset and The Dreamers are never going to be nominated, but I have no idea how they couldn't nominate Hotel Rwanda--that is just an egregious snub. To be honest, 4 of the nominated films (not Finding Neverland, which is all right but not anywhere close to
nomination-worthy) are pretty solid, but there were a lot of better options out there.

RE THE WINNER Either The Aviator or Million Dollar Baby. I would guess The Aviator, but the recent so-called "controversy" might help Million Dollar Baby enough to push it over the top.

Also, I'd guess that Scorsese edges Eastwood and finally wins the Best Director Oscar for his (1-Raging Bull, 2-Goodfellas, 3-Taxi Driver, 4-Casino, 5-Gangs of New York) 6th best directing job, even though Eastwood probably did the best job of the nominees this year. In a perfect world (i.e., if I were a one-man Academy), the Best Directing Oscar would have gone to Jean-Pierre Juenet, for A Very Long Engagement.

1 Don Cheadle HOTEL RWANDA
2 Jamie Foxx RAY
3 Mario Van Peebles BADASS
4 Kevin Bacon THE WOODSMAN
6 Paul Giamatti SIDEWAYS
7 Christian Bale THE MACHINIST
8 Liam Neeson KINSEY
9 Leonardo DiCaprio THE AVIATOR

Both Cheadle and Foxx are in just about every scene of their movies, and there isn't much to split them. I give the edge to Cheadle, because his character develops on many levels over the course of the movie and ends up being incredibly complex, which is all down to Cheadle. Foxx blows you away at the beginning of the movie, he doesn't really develop the character too much, even though there are (seemingly) a lot of opportunities to do so.
These are two of the best acting performances in recent memory, and it's too bad they both can't win.

Van Peebles is not too far behind the top two. Those three are better than the rest, but everyone in the top 10 is nomination-worthy.

RE THE NOMINEES This category is remarkably deep this year, and it would have been hard not to find 5 great performances to nominate. That said, Johnny Depp should not have been nominated (Eastwood was good, and his nomination is not undeserved). Paul Giamatti and Jim Carrey have obviously pissed off somebody at the Academy.


1 Nicole Kidman DOGVILLE
2 Annette Bening BEING JULIA
5 Catalina Sandino Moreno MARIA FULL OF GRACE
7 Uma Thurman KILL BILL, VOL. 2
9 Imelda Staunton VERA DRAKE

I really believe that when it is all said and done, people will look at Nicole Kidman's Academy Award for THE HOURS (as opposed to MOULIN ROUGE, THE OTHERS, TO DIE FOR, and now DOGVILLE) the way people look at Denzel Washington's for TRAINING DAY (as opposed to THE HURRICANE or MALCOLM X), or the way they’ll (potentiallly) look at Scorsese’s for the THE AVIATOR (instead of RAGING BULL, TAXI DRIVER, or GOODFELLAS)--inexplicable. Not that she wasn't good in THE HOURS, it was just such a small part (although I personally thought it was one of her weaker performances). Here, not only does she carry the movie, which revolves around her, and give a great performance throughout, she gets to deliver one of the best rebukes in movie history at the end. Good stuff.

Annette Bening is nearly as good as Kidman, and fortunately was rewarded with a nomination for a fairly obscure movie. THE DREAMERS is the film debut for Eva Green, who is excellent. She has an amazing screen presence and I look forward to seeing more of her in the future.

RE THE NOMINEES It's disappointing Kidman didn't get nominated, but once the movie didn't go over well she was never going to get one. It's too bad about Delpy too, BEFORE SUNSET was on the radar (nominated for best original
screenplay) and she drives the movie. In the end, though, the Academy did not do too bad here, really. The 10 listed above are all very good performances, and all of the nominees are among them.

For the record, while watching the first half of VERA DRAKE, I thought Staunton had this award wrapped up--and then she didn't change her expression during the second half of the movie. Is anyone else with me on this?

RE THE WINNER Swank or Bening, just like in 1999. Swank deserved it then, and won. Bening deserves it now, but Swank will win again. No one else has a chance.

1 Clive Owen CLOSER
3 Thomas Haden Church SIDEWAYS
4 David Carradine KILL BILL, VOL. 2
6 Paul Bettany DOGVILLE
7 Eddie Marsan YOUNG ADAM
8 Peter Sarsgaard KINSEY

Owen and Portman are the strongest performances in the very good CLOSER, which, while being minimalistic (because it was formerly a play, I suppose), still is as honest an examination of relationships that has been seen since LANTANA. Owen's plays his role (by far the best of the four leads in
CLOSER) with such passion and force (getting to say things like “Thank you for your honesty. Now fuck off and die you fucked up slag.”) that he gets a slight nod over Freeman, who plays wonderfully the same all-knowing-in-retrospect narrator that he previously played in THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. Church is also strong, but just a little to goofy to be rated in front of the top two.

RE THE NOMINEES Very good job by the academy here, recognizing 4 of the 5 best performances. The other, Alan Alda, is not bad (in fact, he's very good), but it is such a small role that I didn't rank him (and I thought Baldwin was better anyway). There's not much to separate them, any of the other four would be worthy winners.

RE THE WINNER Freeman. Church and Owen have small chances, but they won't be able to overcome the fact that he narrates MILLION DOLLAR BABY and plays a pretty large part for a supporting actor.

1 Natalie Portman GARDEN STATE
2 Laura Linney KINSEY
3 Kerry Washington RAY
4 Natalie Portman CLOSER
5 Virginia Madsen SIDEWAYS
6 Sophie Okenedo HOTEL RWANDA
7 Cate Blanchett THE AVIATOR
8 Emily Mortimer YOUNG ADAM
9 Juliet Stevenson BEING JULIA
10 Tilda Swinton YOUNG ADAM

It happens almost every year, and it happens here this year. Natalie Portman is markedly better in GARDEN STATE than she is in CLOSER, and gets nominated for the weaker role. I do think her performance in CLOSER is very good--it's very nuanced, and what she does with her character in the last scene with Jude Law, where the character is acting (this probably won't make any sense unless you've seen it), is strong, but not nearly as strong as her performance in GARDEN STATE, where she begins as a bit neurotic and annoying but by the end develops into one of the more likable characters in any movie this year. A lot of people didn't like her performance, but it seems like the complaints mostly stem from her not playing what people expect from Natalie Portman--which is exactly why she is so good here.

I have to throw this out there, and I am willing to listen with an open mind with any disagreement on it--I think playing Katherine Hepburn is not difficult, insofar as everyone has a Katherine Hepburn impersonation--she just isn't hard to emulate. So, when someone does their impersonation, I think everyone thinks, "She's just like Katherine Hepburn!", whereas the truth is, just about anyone could do the same thing, maybe not nearly as well as Blanchett does, but at least somewhat legitimately. Just one man's opinion.

Please note that I am not dogging Katherine Hepburn, who is certainly among the 2 or 3 best actresses ever to have lived, in my opinion. I believe, for example, copying Susan Vance (the character Hepburn played in BRINGING UP
BABY) would be damn near impossible for anyone to pull off--but I just don't think copying everyone's idea of "Katherine Hepburn" is all that difficult.

RE THE NOMINEES A good job by the Academy here too, although they picked the wrong Portman performance. All of the nominated performances are pretty good, to be honest, and any winner among them would be just.

RE THE WINNER Blanchett. Piss.

Please note that the Academy Awards are this Sunday, February 27th. Enjoy.

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