Friday, January 16, 2009

Top Ten Fridays - Oscar Edition

With the Oscar nomination announcement six days away, here are ten things I want to see happen for this year's ceremony.

1. Wall-E nominated for best picture. This is unlikely given the existence of the misguided "Best Animated Feature" category, which allows voters to feel as though they are already awarding great work, even though the category usually includes at least one lemon of a nominee. But only Slumdog Millionaire and Benjamin Button seem to have locked up their nominations. In particular, the shine has worn off Frost/Nixon, as the audacity of the film's fictional liberties have diminished its luster.

Wall-E was the best film of the year, and made 172 critic top ten lists, more than Milk, Button, or even presumptive front-runner, Slumdog Millionaire.

2. Robert Downey Jr. nominated for Tropic Thunder. Another Ben Stiller comedy where Stiller himself insists on doing the comedic heavy lifting to the film's detriment. Downey redeems the film with his role as a method actor who surgically dies himself black in order to play a stereotypical black soldier in a vietnam epic. The effect is other-worldly, and any character who takes Sean Penn to task for going "full retard" in Sam I Am (and whose character rather obviously mocks Penn in general) wins with me.

3. Gran Torino Theme nominated for Best Song. This is probably a given, since there was no major musical this year to overrun the category with nominations (Eastwood should have been nominated for "Grace is Gone" last year), but I also want him to sing it. How awesome would that be. If you haven't seen the film, don't download the song. It's placement in the film is absolutely perfect.

4. Kudos for Gran Torino generally. Another film that has snuck into the conversation, Gran Torino deserves credit for more than it's haunting theme. Eastwood certainly deserves an acting nomination (and may get the award), but the surprisingly witty screenplay deserves a look as well.

5. Fewer kudos for Milk. Gus Van Sant does a nice job of replicating the Castro district in the 1970s, and Sean Penn manages to tone down the Oscar preening until the end, but Dustin Lance Black's much-ballyhooed screenplay sucks.

This patently sophomoric effort makes every rookie mistake in the book. Over-reliance on narration? Check. Stealing a motif from another film? Check (viz. opera from Philadelphia). Poorly developed supporting characters? Check. Scenes that end abruptly? Check. Candelight vigil ending? Check.

If there is a category for being gay and growing up Mormon, Black should get that, rather than cheapening an already undervalued category with his nomination.

6. Winslet-Blanchett-Streep for Best Actress. That would make for a heck of a loaded category. With Winslet poised to garner two nominations this year, that would give her seven by the age of 33. It would be Blanchett's 6th, and 4th in three years. Both are trying to catch up the best movie actress in history, who will likely clocker her 15th.

Oh, and Streep is playing Julia Child in a biopic next year, so you can pretty much mark her down for number 16 while you are at it.

7. Kudos for blockbusters. In a down year for indies, major releases more than held their own. Dark Knight's success has been well documented, but Iron Man, Pineapple Express, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Tropic Thunder, Wall-E, and Bolt all garnered critical praise. Hollywood should be rewarded for putting some thought behind its hundred million dollar babies.

8. Ben Burtt nominated for Sound Editing for Wall-E. Probably a given (and he's won the award before, in its various incarnations), but the film deserves special attention in this regard. The sound effects are all the audience hears for the film's luminous opening half.

9. A change in the Best Foreign Film category. Each country can send one nominee for consideration. Does that make any sense? Of course not, and it means that films that have found an audience (Let the Right One In, for example), are never honored as country's seek to increase exposure for other films. The process was changed after voters failed to qualify 4 Months 3 Weeks, and 2 Days as a semi-finalist last year, but the whole category desperately needs a rethink.

10. Viola Davis nominated for best supporting actress. I can't believe it needs to be said, but the other awards programs (notably BAFTA) have neglected to nominate Doubt's scene-stealing performance. Everyone loves Amy Adams, but come on.

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