February 27, 2005

Lewis' Oscars

[Morning After Score: Nine out of 18 for Lewis-- Ed]

by JEREMIAH LEWIS, American Digest Film Editor

TWO WEEKS AGO I COULDN'T STOP THINKING ABOUT what I was going to wear to the Oscars. At first I was thinking I could go with the casual chic that has so marked Michael Moore's career: trucker hat emblazoned with a Gothic 'B', large button-up number, brown, extra-wide pockets, XXXXL blue jeans (slightly worn at the thighs), tennis shoes from Payless, and a trademark leather airman's jacket.

But since he and his lamentable Fahrenheit 9/11 got burned by the Academy, Hollywood, all of Flint Michigan, and Clint Eastwood, Moore has shaved, got himself a ocean liner sized tuxedo, and even styled his hair. My counterculture hero has gone mainstream. I mourn the loss.

Then it came to me. A large, white, linen robe, a sash, sandals (made with real camel leather), and the coup de grace, a wooden cross around my neck, signifying my allegiance to Mel Gibson. I could call it "Fashion of the Christ". But then I remembered that The Passion only got three technical nods, barely worth tuning to, much less attending in person. What kind of Jesus movie can't at least get a Best Picture nomination? Especially in this golden age of tolerance.

So I decided to watch from home (actually a friend's home, since I don't get cable). In lieu hearing Hilary Swank give yet another Oscar acceptance speech wherein she forgets her husband, that she's a woman, and even an actress, I've decided to provide you, the non-homogenized milk of Oscar prognostication.

Performance by an actor in a leading role (NB: I was unable to view Hotel Rwanda.)
      Clint Eastwood continues to wow us with his acting chops at age 74, and his grizzled Frankie Dunn in Million Dollar Baby is a finely crafted mixture of enigma and emotion. DiCaprio easily fills the shoes of billionaire Howard Hughes in The Aviator, giving us a taste of genius and madness, whilst Johnny Depp was less than impressive in Finding Neverland, sporting an inconsistent accent and sleepwalking through the role of J.M. Barrie. The standout is Jamie Foxx, whose portrayal of Ray Charles is not merely dead-on celebrity imitation, but a role infused with depth of character and conflict. Foxx makes Foxx invisible; only Charles is onscreen. Best Actor to Foxx.

Performance by an actor in a supporting role
      Alan Alda pulls a prickly performance out of a career defined by playing the rebellious hero. His portrayal of the slimy Senator Owen Brewster in The Aviator is a marvelous counterpoint to DiCaprio's Hughes. Thomas Haden Church comes out of nowhere to snag a nomination out of a dim sketch of an immature man looking for love and stability in the chaos of impending marriage in Sideways. Jamie Foxx puts in an interesting, if not wholly deserving performance as a cab driver who must ferry around a hitman in Collateral. Morgan Freeman does what he does best in Million Dollar Baby, presenting audiences with the oracular, battle-scarred, wise old boxer. However, Oscar wants intensity this year, and no more was that displayed than in Clive Owen's Larry from Closer. Best Supporting Actor to Owen.

Performance by an actress in a leading role (NB: I was not able to view Being Julia or Maria Full of Grace.)
      Imelda Staunton ought not to have been nominated for her wooden portrayal of a 1950's lower middle class cleaning woman who performs abortions on the side in Vera Drake, yet here she is. She may well receive the statue, though, based on the subject matter. Kate Winslet is plucky Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, proving she is at least able to handle Jim Carrey. Hilary Swank well deserves an Oscar win, for her intensely personal portrayal of Maggie Fitzgerald in Million Dollar Baby. It's an exercise in triumph and agony to watch her go from pulpy beginner athlete to burger boxer, battling her trainer, her family, and her white trash heritage to gain the top of the world. Best Actress to Swank.

Performance by an actress in a supporting role (NB: I was unable to view Kinsey or Hotel Rwanda.)
      Cate Blanchett conquered the difficult role of Kate Hepburn in The Aviator with a broad appeal to memory of gestures and accent. Virginia Madsen took a character without much history or development and made her real in Sideways. Natalie Portman, as the wily stripper in Closer is likely to grab the statue for the tough, revealing material and her honest portrayal. Whilst I'm torn between her and Madsen, my gut tells me that Portman had the better material and pulled it off with class. Best Supporting Actress to Natalie Portman.

Best animated feature film of the year
      I didn't have to see Shrek 2 or Shark Tale to know that The Incredibles wins, hands down, the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

Achievement in art direction
      The Phantom of the Opera (Art Direction: Anthony Pratt, Set Decoration: Celia Bobak)

Achievement in cinematography
      The Aviator (Richard Richardson)

Achievement in costume design
      Finding Neverland (Alexandra Byrne)

Achievement in directing
      The mark of immaturity tarnishes Sideways' Alexander Payne, and though Mike Leigh's characteristic style in Vera Drake is recognizable, it is not remarkable. Taylor Hackford frames Ray with a lot of love, but his effort is simply not enough to beat the front runners (in my mind) of Scorsese and Eastwood. Martin Scorsese tries again, valiantly, with The Aviator but is a bit heavy-handed and slightly less effective than he could have been. He will lose to Clint Eastwood, whose Million Dollar Baby is a work of subtlety and grace. Best Director to Eastwood.

Achievement in film editing
      Collateral (Jim Miller and Paul Rubell)

Achievement in makeup
      The Passion of the Christ (Keith Vanderlaan and Christien Tinsley)

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)
      Finding Neverland (Jan A.P. Kaczmarek)

Achievement in sound editing
      Spider-Man 2 (Paul N.J. Ottosson)

Achievement in sound mixing
      The Incredibles (Randy Thom, Gary A. Rizzo and Doc Kane)

Achievement in visual effects
      Spider-Man 2 (John Dykstra, Scott Stokdyk, Anthony LaMolinara and John Frazier)

Adapted screenplay (NB: I did not see Motorcycle Diaries or Before Sunset.)
      Sideways ought to win with its just over-the-top dramedy from an unpublished Rex Pickett novel. Million Dollar Baby is a VERY close second, featuring a remarkably insightful recreation of a story from F.X. Toole's collection of boxing stories entitled "Rope Burns". Finding Neverland was effectively translated from Alan Knee's play "The Man Who Was Peter Pan", and will win Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, though my personal preference is for Sideways.

Original screenplay (NB: I did not view Hotel Rwanda.)
      John Logan put some great moments into The Aviator; so much so that it's my personal favourite, though I do not believe it will win Oscar. Brad Bird's outsider script The Incredibles not only gave kids some good clean fun, but food for thought for adults. But Oscar won't look that way either. Vera Drake is at best a script based on improvisation, and is mostly unremarkable. Charlie Kaufman put together another mind bender entitled Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and though it's a quirky pick, I think Oscar likes it this year. Best Original Screenplay goes to Charlie Kaufman and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Best motion picture of the year
      In my mind, this is really only between two films this year, Million Dollar Baby and Sideways. Whilst Ray revels in its biographical honesty, it gets too wrapped up in the former years of Ray Charles' life, especially his dark side, and seems uneven. The Aviator is a hearty biopic as well, but lacks a certain finesse. Finding Neverland is too self-involved and sentimental to make an impression. Sideways has the chops, but its centering is far less extraordinary than what Million Dollar Baby has to offer. Tough choice, but my vote for Best Motion Picture, and I believe Oscar's as well, goes to Million Dollar Baby.

Jeremiah Lewis of Fringe reviews films both at his site and American Digest. Lewis can be reached directly at jeremiah.lewis@gmail.com

Posted by Vanderleun at February 27, 2005 11:55 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Actually, I got 9 out out of 18...and as I noted on my blog, I got most of the "majors" right.

Posted by: Jeremiah at February 28, 2005 7:58 AM

Okay. Fixed. Now your glass is half-full. Would have been more had Sideways not intoxicated you past all reason.

Posted by: Gerard Van Der Leun at February 28, 2005 8:19 AM

Had I gone with my preferences (including best adapted screenplay), I definitely would have gotten more!

Posted by: Jeremiah at February 28, 2005 8:54 AM