Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Best of 2007: Supporting Actor

Did anybody, besides John McCain, have a good day yesterday? Lots of winter doldrums and midterm grumpiness in my neck of the woods, which is part of why this tantalizing glimpse of spring did my spirit so much good, and why I also seized the chance, at the price of staying up later than I wanted to, of relishing these five performances. Even running through all the runners-up, any of whom would have been proud additions to my final five, reminded me of how much inspired thesping was made available on movie screens in 2007; for even more evidence, notice how much trouble Mainly Movies had leaving off these honorable mentions when he whittled down his own performance hall of fame for the year. Two of his finalists are two of my runners-up, and one of my other runners-up gets a P.S. mention in Tim's rundown, though he thinks this fellow is a lead (and I can see why that might be right). Also, I only have one of Oscar's anointed five as a near-miss from my own list, and Tim has none. So, three rosters totaling about 30 performances, with only four overlaps? How delicious to have so much excellence from which to choose.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Weekend at the Races

Quick SAG Awards reactions. Bardem and Christie look all locked up. Day-Lewis is 90% of the way there. Okay, 95%, but he wasn't competing against Johnny Depp here, and the sentimental hook to give Depp an Oscar outweighs any need to give him an Actor (one of which he already owns, anyway). Things look great for No Country for Old Men, too, which also picked up the DGA Prize this weekend, but Juno wasn't the force among SAG nominators that it apparently is among the Oscar crowd. Then there's the Ruby Dee thing: yep, she's the one "surprise" winner of the night, but Lauren Bacall won here, too, and Gloria Stuart tied. Sentiment hasn't carried the day at the Oscars quite so much, and I just don't think voters will see this as an "Oscar" performance. Still, I think anyone in that category who isn't Saoirse Ronan could win. Will be fun to watch.

Shifting from the essentially trivial to the profoundly important, after much hemming and hawing, a fair amount of reading around, and continued tracking of the primary trail, I'm officially casting my lot with South Carolina victor Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination for President. I don't think Hillary Clinton is the Machiavellian demoness that she's sometimes (read: often) made out to be, but I have been extremely unimpressed with her rhetoric and her mystifying decision to afford her husband such a prominent (and increasingly aggressive) role in her own campaign. Beyond the distastefulness of their behavior this week, I just don't like the omens of insecurity, recklessness, and swift reflexes toward antagonism that these choices embody. (I'm also talking about that cynical and retroactive "Let's count those Michigan delegates after all" announcement that she made last week.)

What these behaviors say to me is, she's panicked about whether she's going to be elected, and therefore highly provoked... while, for all of Hillary's "Day One" allusions to preparedness and pragmatism, Barack is the one who (to me) speaks, debates, and operates as though he's thinking about holding the office as much as obtaining it. I appreciated that Guardian article that ModFab linked to as yet another index of why neither Hillary nor Barack wins the Flawless Liberal Award, and his voting record should be scrutinized as thoroughly as hers or anybody else's. But as much as I still believe that Hillary is for change and Barack is experienced, and as hard as I'm working to avoid succumbing to mass-media pitches, I trust more in his longer view than in hers, and my old doubts about the Clintons as tacticians and as judges of character have resurfaced. Hearing Frank Rich spell out with galvanizing force and precision what a lot of us have worried about for weeks or months was also a big kickstart in finally getting me to commit.

What I think about John Edwards holding on is still less clear to me. Frankly, I don't understand the protocols of a Democratic Nominating Convention without a pre-given anointee well enough to grasp the mechanics of "leverage" or "king-making" that Edwards might be affording himself if he can actually recruit enough delegates in the remaining primaries to be any kind of a force. But meanwhile, I'm so convinced that, given the choice, Edwards voters would flock to Obama over Clinton that I kind of wish he'd bow out while he can still accomplish something big for the rival he clearly prefers. A thought that considerably exceeds my own credibility or wisdom, but if I'm not going to speak off the cuff here, where am I going to do it?

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Decade Under the Influence, aka Song of Myself

In which Nick's Flick Picks disappears up his own wazoo, but it's only due to the excitement of a personal milestone, not a case of total, lethal narcissism. Though it does seem like exactly that. Apologies.

Betcha didn't know—in fact, why would you?—but this weekend marks the tenth birthday of Nick's Flick Picks, the site that encompasses but often lives in the shadow of this blog. Finally, and quite unexpectedly, I have some sense of what it feels like to be a Proud Papa, and though my website doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, etc., it's nice to feel like if I threw this website a party, i-i-invited everyone I knew-ew, you would see the biggest gift'd be from me, but the card attached would say... that some other people out there like it, too. For those handful, and for any newcomers who've been enticed by the ongoing Best of 2007 countdown, here is a quick timeline of events in the short, happy life of my pre-teen bundle of joy:

January 1998 Stranded between finishing my fall-semester exams and papers during my junior year of college and beginning the spring semester on the following Monday, and frustrated that my film reviews for the university newspaper were necessarily restricted in topic and length, I took the advice of my friend Kathy that I should build a website, using the automatic bandwidth allotment that Harvard afforded to all of its undergraduates. She taught me basic html writing in the space of about an hour and a half. I still love Kathy. I am still in touch with my Crimson editors, film writer and content editor Nic Rapold (of Film Comment, Stop Smiling, and Reverse Shot) and Lylee (of Lylee's Blog and the recently retired Cinemarati), both of whom I continue to admire and to credit for a lot of what I learned about good film writing. But, ever after, this website became the major repository for what I thought, learned, and was willing to fight about in relation to film.

Trivia: my first grade posted was an A– for The Winter Guest, which I haven't seen since; my first feature was my Top Ten of 1997, which I retroactively drafted along with comparable rankings and comprehensive lists of what I'd seen from 1995 and 1996. My first full review that wasn't written for the Crimson first was for Primary Colors, which I still think is an okay piece, followed by now-embarrassing glosses on Boogie Nights and Titanic. I think my first review of a classic film was for The Passion of Joan of Arc. The original name of the website was "Nick Davis' Movie Archives," and the address was Bear in mind that when I had started college in the fall of 1995, virtually none of my friends and fellow students, including me, knew how to use the internet or even what it was. Very, very few of my friends who hadn't taken the intro course to Computer Science knew html or had a website. Which is to say, it was a weird hobby, and a series of shots in the dark. Or at least it felt that way.

Spring 1999 My fantastic Medieval Literature professor Rebecca Krug, now at the University of Minnesota, was the only professor in the English department willing to sponsor an independent-study course for me during my senior spring, which allowed me to write more reviews, read more film critics of the past (Stanley Kauffman, Pauline Kael, Siegfried Kracauer, Rudolf Arnheim), and expand the website for credit. She was an absolute hero to do this for me, and that's why there are still so many more reviews on average for movies from 1998 and early 1999 than in almost any other year. I was also gobbling up whatever film history and film analysis courses Harvard offered, which weren't many in those days. The best and most educational for me were a German Studies small-sized lecture on "Weimar Cinema" taught by Eric Rentschler and two large lecture courses called "American Cinema" and "Five Directors" (Bresson, Cassavetes, Antonioni, Akerman, and Kiarostami) taught by Charles Warren. Both of these professors, as well as my graduate teaching assistant for the latter course, Sabrina Zanella-Foresi, were huge helps and inspirations, not least by taking my fledgling site seriously. I also thank my undergraduate advisor and personal mentor Elaine Scarry for encouraging me to advertise my internet writing on my graduate school applications rather than treating it as a hobby. And of course, the amazing movie theaters of Boston, particularly the Landmark Kendall Square, the Brattle, the Coolidge Corner theater, the Harvard Film Archive, the Sony Harvard Square, and the colossal but now vanished Sony Chéri downtown (where I saw Boogie Nights, The Thin Red Line, and Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace on their opening days) were an education in themselves.

Trivia: Within one week, I got two e-mails about my unenthusiastic response to Billy Wilder's The Apartment. One was from The Flick Filosopher, still a friend even though we don't correspond much, who agreed with everything I said and became a huge supporter later, in introducing me to the Cinemarati crowd (including, in order, Brilliant at Breakfast, ModFab, and Nathaniel) and talking me through the steps of buying and registering my own domain. A generous soul, that one, and a model of self-confidence, reputation-building, and prolific output for web writers everywhere, especially when (again) there were waaaaaaay fewer film sites out there than there are now, a mere decade later. The other e-mail was from a total skeptic of my review and my abilities, who asked, "Do you even know anything about film? Has it occurred to you that movies are more than illustrated stories? Did you think about Wilder's genius in using the widescreen frame for a corporate office setting, or his use of editing, sound, cinematography?" Both the encouragement and the disparagement were equally and enormously helpful in making me go deeper, think harder, write more regularly, and learn more.

Fall 1999 I started my Ph.D. in English and Film & Video Studies, and switched the website over to Then as now, a huge percentage of my site hits came from people who followed links from the IMDb. From these earliest years, the most reliable generators of mail are the vicious, disappointed pans of The Matrix, Sophie's Choice, and Life Is Beautiful. A list of names I have been called in reference to these reviews is too long to get into here. Other consistent flashpoints on the site: Antonia's Line (which, honestly, I owe another, more mature viewing), Braveheart, Diary of a Mad Housewife, Donnie Darko, Eyes Wide Shut, Far from Heaven, FearDotCom (why, I've never been able to figure out), Gangs of New York, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, The Green Mile, Hannah and Her Sisters, Hello, Dolly!, Holiday, Julia, The Legend of Bagger Vance, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Mission, Moulin Rouge '52, Moulin Rouge! '01, Same Time, Next Year, 7th Heaven, Shakespeare in Love, Taste of Cherry, Top Gun (plus this illustrated amendment), The Travelling Players, Velvet Goldmine, The Village, Wake Island, and The Well. As always, my comparative faith in these reviews goes all over the map; reading your own writing is almost as soul-sickening as hearing your own recorded voice, right? The site has always been as fun for me as an archive of what I (apparently) used to think as in its reflection of what I actually do still think.

January 2001 Having exceeded the free bandwidth provided by Cornell, I took the plunge and bought my own domain. If you've ever wondered about the name:,,,,, and any number of other, less tongue-twisty alternatives were already taken. Some of them no longer are (although, to the continued chagrin of my ftp non-Beta Blogger account, is). My partner suggested the name on a train ride in Switzerland, still the most exotic thing we have ever done. I apologize, perpetually, that the name is hard to say, and harder to spell.

Fall 2002 Just as I was starting to feel like I should nix the website to focus only on academic writing, I was invited to join Cinemarati and met a whole host of other film enthusiasts, almost none of them paid for their film writing, and all of them keeping their projects going out of love, commitment, and some extra teaspoon of crazy. My people, beyond question. Induction into Cinemarati also meant an invitation onto Rotten Tomatoes, where I still only agree with the TomatoMeter 66% of the time.

Spring 2003 A totally fortuitous turn of events involving a mutual friend led to meeting Nathaniel in person and, the very next day, taking a 5-hour road trip with him, and then, the day after that, meeting ModFab and MaryAnn. Delicious, and wholly unexpected, to build a circle of far-flung friends via an internet compulsion and a personal passion. Within a little over a year, Goatdog and MainlyMovies sent out-of-the-blue e-mails that turned into warm, eventually in-person, and (I anticipate) lifelong friendships. The best possible side-effect of nattering on in a public space about the things that are important to you.

Summer 2004 Speaking of out of the blue: for the first and, so far, only time, one of my reviews was formally licensed to appear on a mass-market DVD, right next to Roger Ebert's and Peter Travers'. In Bridget-speak: was v.v.exciting, like eating real Belgian chocolate for first time, or shagging Colin Firth, or similar.

December 2004 My first formal interview for a full-time professorship omits a single question about my Ph.D. dissertation, which was then nearing completion ("Do they hate it?" I wondered) but includes a full ten minutes about my internet writing, what it means to me, what kinds of people I tend to hear from, and from where in the world they write. If you listen closely, you can hear the last nail going into the coffin of that old saw, Professionalize Yourself By Hiding All Of Your Personal Interests and Passionate Hobbies and Pretending To Be a Serious Thinker™.

January 2005 By adding this blog as a component and, for many new readers, a first gateway to the website, I instantly start falling behind on my dissertation dramatically increase attendance, catch up with a new(ish) internet platform, and participate in public film discourse through more genres than long, chunky reviews.

February 2007 After nine years of ruining people's eyes with white text on a black background, and making them cast their gaze all the way from the marginless left side of the screen to the marginless right side, I get my act together and do an extreme makeover on the principal pages of the site (though the full archive of reviews and old features are, of course, taking time to update).

I know it's silly and self-absorbed to outline a personal history of my own project, especially when my audience has never been large and my web mojo is still hilariously outdated: I still write my entire site on WordPad, scripting all of the html myself, and then uploading it onto my domain through an FTP software program I got from Cornell in 1999. I have never opened Dreamweaver or PhotoShop in my life. I won't even tell you how I make my graphics. All I'm saying is: I was never good at keeping up with a diary or a journal, I have been struggling to make time for this website almost since the moment I started it, I spend about $1000 per year on movie tickets and don't get any screeners or make as much as a dime from this site, and I didn't think for a moment (and probably couldn't have imagined) all the ways in which this lark of mine would change and enrich my life, so I'm as surprised as I could possibly be that I've stayed committed to this project and kept it running... and even if everyone stops reading or I stop writing tomorrow (hint: I won't), I am so thankful that I've stuck with it.

As the year goes on, I'll be marking this tenth anniversary by revisiting Top 10 lists that are more than a decade old (they'd look a lot different now, and the availability of films I could never have seen in 1995 or 1996 has obviously skyrocketed), and by completing that Favorite Films project that's been stalled at #34 for well over a year. Meanwhile, THANK YOU to anybody who has ever read, linked, e-mailed, asked a question about, said a kind word about, or said a constructively nasty word about this website; I'm even feeling soft today on the full-on haters (well, some of them). By now, I should be well beyond the clichéd and perpetually violated promise to write more reviews, post fewer unexplained grades, etc., but hitting a milestone like this does give me a boost of extra incentive in an insanely busy month of real-job work to keep turning this mutha out.

And of course, the inspiration provided by the great films, including the 10 movies illustrated above that have been my #1 picks from 1997 through 2006, is its own sublime incentive. The #1 of 2007 and the rest of the ranked Top 10 will be announced as soon as my selections in 10 other categories have been posted... so it's back to work for me, and a "Stay Tuned" for you!


Aural Stimulation

Five salutes to the movies that sounded best to me in 2007—and again, aside from No Country for Old Men, none of the other four films were greeted by the crowds of bad-taste aficionados, New Wave enthusiasts, arthouse thrill-seekers, or crime-genre devotees that they respectively deserved. Queue 'em up, if you missed 'em in theaters, and if you didn't, queue 'em up again and take a good listen. (For my own part, to break a bad but longstanding habit of Nick's Flick Picks, I'm including the names of the sound designers, mixers, and effects supervisors. I've ignored them for a long time while I learned the differences among these job titles, and because learning four or even two names seemed so much more cumbersome than learning who Roger Deakins or Sandy Powell was. Embarrassing, but true. In any event, this website now officially and fully enters the Sound Era, a mere 80 years after it began.)


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Best of 2007: Original Screenplay

It's impossible to follow a commemorative post, written in the aftermath of such a premature and uncanny death, and not feel complicit in some enormous cultural process of turning around and moving on. But, with final respects to those who actually knew Heath Ledger, and with due acknowledgment that my onlooker's sorrow isn't anything like their intimate grief, I of course am moving on: moving on, at least, to keep celebrating the same art form that he sustained and celebrated, which is, after all, the root and reason for the unexpectedly emotional claim that yesterday's news had on me, and on so many of us.

So: I don't agree with the perennial axiom that a great movie starts with a great script. Not all great movies have great scripts; most scripts are rewritten and retro-fitted during filming; it's impossible for a filmgoer to parse the screenwriter's labor from spontaneous improvisation, or from the re-architecture of editing, or the other happy accidents of filming. I'm more likely to love a movie for its cinematography or its editing than for its script—but I do, of course, still thrill to the artistry of a great screenplay. And from the best of what I can tell, even in relation to one nominee that doesn't even have a credited script, the arc, the words, the sequencing, and the structure of these five films fully warrant our warmest admiration.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

R.I.P. Heath Ledger

Committed, brave, ready to take the leap, forthcoming about his errors, poised to reach a new plane, maybe a little reckless, hard to know (at least on screen), grimly gifted at grueling implosions, closed off by love (Brokeback Mountain), doomed by self-recognition (Monster's Ball), but alluringly goofy even when he was Grimm. A promised slash of color in The Dark Knight, overexposed, ironic, blurry, splotches and shadows where a face should be, only just beginning to come into focus. He was suddenly, recently, out of a "nowhere" of interchangeable actors and out of a "nowhere" of movies he publicly wouldn't or couldn't love, he was suddenly, abruptly good. He was here, to the delight and with the support of so many, and now, with no good explanation, he's not there.


More Oscar Thoughts (Let Me Have My Thoughts!)

As a commenter on Nathaniel's site noticed at lightning speed, no film save Michael Clayton received more than one acting nomination. Beyond being an Academy first, this is actually astonishing. Coattails just didn't exist this year. I hope it means that the voting actors actually watched lots of movies and weighed all the different performances, even if the truth veers somewhere closer to the notion that the hype of awards season managed to accrue around various performers in lots of different films. Either way, Academy types could have ignored all that hype and jotted down all the names they remembered from the one or two movies they liked, as they often do. But this time they didn't. Applause is due.

Composer James Newton Howard receives his seventh nomination, and has probably got to win at some point (though more famed composers than he have gone to the grave trophyless). He happens to be tapped for Michael Clayton, a movie that the Academy obviously loved and which is unlikely to win anywhere else, which should help; the Score category is often used to bouquet a movie that's shut out everywhere else (see: Il Postino, Babel, etc.). Still, he'll probably lose to Dario Marianelli for going TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP TAP amidst his admittedly nice melodies. Oh, well.

A bigger threat to break a bigger losing streak: sound designer Kevin O'Connell, who, let's remember, has lost 19 times, including in two years when he made up 40% of the nominees in his category. Now, in his 20th go-round, he's up for a loud Michael Bay movie that was an enormous hit. That would give him a significant boost in any year, but unless Oscar suddenly feels more sensitive than usual in this category to dramatic effects (No Country, There Will Be Blood) rather than loud spectacle, O'Connell shouldn't have too much trouble hurdling over Bourne and 3:10 to Yuma, especially with his well-publicized series of losses working as an extra voting hook. Could it be his year?

Also: I have seating ideas. I would like Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman to sit next to each other, and experience the whole ceremony in character as the Savages. I would like Ruby Dee to sit next to an empty seat, to commemorate Ossie Davis; I'm thrilled for Ruby (and for Hal Holbrook, I might add), but it makes me sad that neither Ruby nor Ossie was ever nominated in time for them to share this event together. I would like George Clooney and Viggo Mortensen to attend as each other's dates, as they did to the Globes. (Hush. You don't really know what happened, either.)

I would like Sarah Polley to sit next to Julie Christie. What a feat they pulled off. I would like for Sally Kirkland to sit behind the two of them. Sally (pictured left) has this to say: "I was IN Away from Her! I was demented, in the background!! You must have seen me! You probably forgot me! You probably have Alzheimer's! See you at the ceremony!!!"

Waking Up with Oscar

Why even front? You don't want any small talk.

BEST PICTURE (4/5 correct)
Atonement, Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood
I'M HAPPY that sticking with Atonement was worth it, and that Juno is a movie I savor more than Diving Bell, which I thought would be here in its stead.

BEST DIRECTOR (3/5 correct)
Anderson, Coens, Gilroy, Reitman, Schnabel
I'M GIGGLING at my certainty that this would be Auteur Year when Gilroy and Reitman are here instead for movies that Hollywood just liked more than I guess they did Zodiac or Eastern Promises or (holy freezing temperatures, Batman!) Into the Wild. I'm sure Reitman will get a lot of flak for being here when his visual and technical ideas are pretty minimal, but he choreographed his ensemble better than any of his peers in this category.

BEST ACTRESS (3/5 correct)
Blanchett, Christie, Cotillard, Linney, Page
I'M A LITTLE SAD that I can't be happier for my new bosom buddy, Laura Linney, though I am quite happy for her, because I really wish Cate had budged for her instead of Angelina. Someone this morning reminded me that Zhang Ziyi was on all the same precursor lists that Cate was and still didn't rate with Oscar, which was very spirit-lifting. And whatever, Cate Blanchett is a great actress who does whatever anyone could with her movie; she's hardly The Green Mile. But: poor Angie, mostly because so many fewer people will see A Mighty Heart, now or later, than otherwise would have.

BEST ACTOR (4/5 correct)
Clooney, Day-Lewis, Depp, Jones, Mortensen
I'M THRILLED that people stopped d*cking around with Ryan Gosling and Emile Hirsch and nominated Tommy Lee Jones' implosive but fully articulated performance, one of the year's best, in Elah, which I was just complaining everyone had forgotten about. His inclusion makes this by far the strongest of any of the Best Actor lists we've seen through awards season, which is as it should be.

Blanchett, Dee, Ronan, Ryan, Swinton
I'M ECSTATIC TILDA!!!! And a Todd Haynes movie! And Ruby Dee is an Oscar nominee! And my only perfectly predicted category!

Affleck, Bardem, Hoffman, Holbrook, Wilkinson
I'M NEUTRAL because this category has been stable, give or take Hoffman vs. Jones, for so long now that I don't have anything to respond to. Though the clip of Michael Clayton they showed on Good Morning America reminded me that I really don't get Tom Wilkinson in that movie.

Juno, Lars, Michael, Ratatouille, Savages
I'M SELF-CRITICAL for changing at the last minute from what turned out to be the correct line-up to American Gangster in place of The Savages. I read in EW (you probably did, too) that this is the first-ever screenplay category with three solo women in the field? Crazy. I'm wondering if the full-on anti-homeskillet backlash will set in to a sufficient degree for Diablo Cody to lose this to Ratatouille or Michael Clayton.

Atonement, Away, Diving, No Country, TWBBlood
I'M PLEASED for Sarah Polley and prediction-proud about keeping Atonement, even though this list officially has nothing to do with my own list that I published this morning.

"12," Beaufort, Counterfeiters, Katyn, Mongol
I'M INTRIGUED at the possibility of getting to see these movies, especially "12" and Katyn and Mongol, but really, all of them sound kind of tantalizing in a way that Foreign Film nominees rarely do (and the Canadian, Italian, and Brazilian semifinalists sure didn't). Perhaps they will be released in the spring? Maybe around 4 months from now? 4 months and 3 weeks and ... ?

No End in Sight, Operation Homecoming, Sicko, Taxi to the Dark Side, War/Dance
I'M SKEPTICAL because Sicko wasn't nearly the movie that Lake of Fire was, and I've heard nothing but raves about Body of War and Nanking, but No End in Sight and Taxi to the Dark Side are both superb (and Sicko is better than The Price of Sugar, which was the other short-lister I saw), so no need to be too miffed. I thought War/Dance was supposed to pass through Chicago in the fall; maybe it did, and I missed it?

Persepolis, Ratatouille, Surf's Up
I'M IN THE SAME BOAT as everyone else who's going, "Surf's Up over The Simpsons Movie?" But I've also heard from somebody (you, Ann?) that Surf's isn't half-bad, and since I wasn't as bowled over by Ratatouille or Persepolis in the way the reviews implied I should be, maybe it's worth a look.

Assassination, Atonement, Diving, No Country, TWBBlood
I'M MOSTLY HAPPY that this is a very strong race, even if I didn't like Atonement's morbid overexposures as much as a lot of people, and even if Into the Wild's omission seems actually churlish here, where it seems more like a matter of taste in other categories. (Yes, I understand that it's always a matter of taste.) No Country sure has support across the board, doesn't it? Will Deakins beat himself for the win or split his own vote and lose to Kaminski, or Elswit, or even McGarvey? They're probably all in the race.

BEST FILM EDITING (4/5 correct)
Bourne, Diving Bell, Into the Wild, No Country, TWBBlood
I'M VERY HAPPY about this being one of the year's sturdiest line-ups, and about the Bourne franchise finally having some Oscar noms to its credit, and about Into the Wild placing here, which I considered its strongest suit outside of the Song category. I assumed No Country had this sewn up (like Jean-Dominique Bauby's eyeball, yo!), but now looking at the list, I wonder if Bourne can spoil. Oh, and I deserve to have one race that I predicated better than Nathaniel did, right?

BEST ART DIRECTION (3/5 correct)
A.Gangster, Atonement, Golden Compass, Sweeney, TWBBlood
I'M FRUSTRATED that I didn't get my act together to see The Golden Compass, but I heard it was just so horrible. I also didn't see anyone predicting American Gangster for this category, but in retrospect it makes pretty good sense. Elated for Jack Fisk. I wonder if Sissy will wear a slim-tailored black suit with a white shirt that has a high collar?

Across the Universe, Atonement, Elizabeth: Full Throttle, Sweeney, La Vie en Rose
I'M BAFFLED as to why I didn't put La Vie en rose in my predictions instead of Love in the Time of Cholera, a less-admired movie by the same, recently deceased designer, Marit Allen. And more baffled by Across the Universe. Do we need to make Evan Rachel Wood look young? Let's give her A HEADBAND! Need to age her a little. How about...a TURTLENECK. Snooze-o-rama. I don't really understand costume designers. I love them, but I do not understand them. (Where is all the Western stuff?)

3:10 to Yuma, Atonement, Kite Runner, Michael Clayton, Ratatouille
I'M PISSED that I have to go see The Kite Runner tonight. Dammit. That its inclusion comes at the exclusion (in my mind) of Alexandre Desplat's gorgeous work on Lust, Caution will only make me more sour about this experience. Who's going to be surprised if I don't like the movie? I'm so obviously neutral. (Wonderful pick with Beltrami for 3:10 to Yuma, though. Maybe the only nominee who made it onto my personal list but wasn't on my predictions.)

BEST ORIGINAL SONG (1/5 correct)
"Falling Slowly," "Happy Working Song," "Raise It Up," "So Close," "That's How You Know"
I'M THROWING UP to even be reminded of August Rush, and to see THREE Enchanted songs here, given that they were all pretty subpar. If "Falling Slowly" can't win this—I just went straight back to Neneh Cherry and Soul II Soul losing that Best New Artist Grammy to Milli Vanilli, which was an outrage well before The Revelation. I'm going to drop leaflets over Beverly Hills. This is an emergency. As with most elections, Americans obviously can't be trusted to choose correctly.

BEST SOUND (3/5 correct)
3:10, Bourne, No Country, Ratatouille, Transformers
I'M PETTY because this is the only category where I out-predicted Nathaniel and In Contention, even though none of us did so very well. Thank God No Country for Old Men is here, which restores my faith that the sound designers can still hear things beneath the decibel-threshold of a glass-factory explosion.

BEST SOUND EFFECTS (4/5 correct)
All of the above, minus 3:10, plus There Will Be Blood
I'M AGAIN WONDERING why the Sound Branch insists on separate categories, which makes terrific sense in principle, when in actual point of fact they barely do anything different with their choices. I clearly applaud Blood's inclusion here, but one still feels the redundancy.

Golden, Pirates, Transformers
I'M FLUMMOXED that, for the first time since 2000, when The Grinch and 102 Dalmatians were both up for Costume Design, I'm confronted with a category where I didn't see two of the nominees. And when there are only three to begin with, that sucks. And I saw 140 movies this year! And why did everybody hate 300 so much? Did it remind them of Into the Wild?

BEST MAKEUP (1/3 correct)
Norbit, Pirates, La Vie
I'M AT PEACE with having a second category where I've only seen nominee, and a second category where I only made one correct prognostication, because you would have had to spot my ticket to get me to see Pirates 3, and you would have had to kidnap my brother to get me to see Norbit. And we are talking about voters who have been breathing spray-on cosmetics and rubbing alcohol their entire professional lives.

TOTAL 64/91 correct = 70%
I'M SO TIRED I love you, Angelina! Call me, Sean! Hugs and congrats, Tilda and Jack (Fisk)! I want to go to bed... yet I can't help noticing that it's time to go to work.
BUT I'M A LITTLE LESS TIRED NOW (9:25am) and I'm realizing, 8 noms apiece for No Country and There Will Be Blood, and 7 apiece for Atonement and Michael Clayton: that's some tough Best Picture competition (and Juno is hardly out of it, since 4 is already the upper reaches of what it was ever going to get, with no technical artistry to distinguish it). I'm also thinking: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, according to the voters, has some of the year's best directing, writing, editing, and cinematography, but it's not one of the Best Pictures? I guess the actors weren't sufficiently impressed.


In Tribute to the Striking Writers...

You thought I was kidding about that all-night party/vigil on the eve of the Oscar nominations, didn't you? Actually, I'm just up late with piles of work, but while I'm sitting here, I thought I'd swipe this last moment before the hurricane of post-nominations debate to salute some of the writers and to remind myself (and hopefully some others) of why the writers, especially at the peak of their powers, deserve the money and the recognition that they're seeking. Check 'em out...


Monday, January 21, 2008

Alarm Call

Yep, I keep working the Björk angle. As Variety is reporting (I, of course, heard via Nathaniel), Jonny Greenwood's There Will Be Blood score has been disqualified for Oscar contention because, according to AMPAS, it incorporates too much music by other composers, and also too many of Greenwood's pre-existing compositions. Keep reading the Variety article, and you learn that Into the Wild has also been barred for having such a song-driven score. I guess we're not meant to worry about that bogus Babel win last year, or David Hirschfelder's nomination for Shine (just a wee bit of non-Hirschfelderiana in that score...), or the Godfather paradox that even Variety can't help but mention. What this really means is, I get a free pass to change my predix, which I wanted to change anyway, because Oscar probably wouldn't have gone for Greenwood's avant-gardism anyway. So:

ALL NEON LIKE The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Cave & Ellis); Atonement (Marianelli); Eastern Promises (Shore); The Kite Runner (Iglesias); Lust, Caution (Desplat)
UNRAVEL (aka IT'S NOT UP TO YOU, aka FROSTI, aka disqualified scores) Enchanted (Menken); Into the Wild (Brook, King, and Vedder); There Will Be Blood (Greenwood)
POSSIBLY MAYBE Grace Is Gone (Eastwood); Michael Clayton (Howard)
IT'S OH SO QUIET Beowulf (Silvestri); Ratatouille (Giacchino)

While I'm at it, since I totally, completely can't help it, here's one more change that I've just got to make, since ModFab's predictions reminded me that I forgot about American Gangster's screenplay as a possibility. So:


ALL NEON LIKE American Gangster (Zaillian); Juno (Cody); Lars and the Real Girl (Oliver); Michael Clayton (Gilroy); Ratatouille (Bird, Capobianco, Pinkava)
POSSIBLY MAYBE The Savages (Jenkins); Eastern Promises (Knight); Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (Masterson); 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (Mungiu)
IT'S OH SO QUIET Knocked Up (Apatow); Waitress (Shelley); Once (Carney); I'm Not There (Haynes)

I've emended both of these categories in the long prediction post and updated the explanatory logic as necessary. Surely, this is it? Will more rules be broken or categories thrown into disrepute? Will it turn out at midnight tonight that Cate Blanchett or Tilda Swinton really is genderless, and thus must be disqualified from all acting categories? Is Marion Cotillard really Edith Piaf? She did "die" suspiciously young...

Did Christopher Rouse (you say "Rouse," I hear "ruse"!) employ too many of the same editing techniques in The Bourne Ultimatum as he did in The Bourne Supremacy, thus disbarring himself from contention? You never know with the Academy till the last frigging minute. And even then, you still don't know.


Another Category, Another Buddy

I couldn't help it: having shouted out Tim and Nathaniel in the categories I drafted last night, I couldn't have the world thinking that I had forgotten ModFab, who'd also have a Willy Wonka golden ticket to the stay-up-all-night sleepover I wish I could throw on the night before the nominations. ModFab's theater productions are always such arresting sights to behold, and he's always so attuned to production design in his film reviews, that the Art Direction category always makes me think of him. So, there went my lunch hour, but here you go. Tough choices this year, and a lot of swapping in and out right until the end, but I think I'm at peace with these as my final five.

By the way, as we've now hit the one-third mark of these Honorees, with 7 out of 21 categories announced, the multiple nominees thus far are Lust, Caution and There Will Be Blood with three apiece (and at least one honorable mention in each case), and The Aerial, Grindhouse (a four-time honorable mention, which means it's been in striking distance for every category except Costume Design), and Lady Chatterley. Since I'd argue that none of these movies, save There Will Be Blood, got anywhere close to their due while they were in theaters, I hope that somehow, somewhere, somebody's Netflix queue is newly a-churning.

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The Great Work Continues...

Here are two more categories in my Best of 2007 feature that I here deliver as targeted treats to two of my favorite Oscar buddies: Tim, who actually remembers extended melodies and motifs from a film's score on the way out of the theater (which I have managed to do about five times in my life), and Nathaniel, who loves costume designers so much that they get their own shrine on The Film Experience, and their own page in his Oscar nomination predictions. Enjoy these picks, guys—I think you'll be sympathetic to both groups of choices, based on your own picks—and enjoy them, too, everyone else! (I really enjoy hearing from some of you lurkers in response to these announcements...) (And yes, "enjoy" is apparently the word of the day...)

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Great Work Has Begun!

As embarrassing as it is that I never completed the last lap on last year's Honorees, such that I never actually announced my Best Picture lineup (though my top ten list was a really good tipoff), it's already well past time to start announcing my Best of the Year selections and write-ups for 2007. I finally saw Persepolis this weekend, which was the last title I was waiting for before finalizing my lists in most of my categories. I still haven't sealed the deal on a few DVDs and dubious-looking holiday releases, but after 140 theatrical releases, enough is enough. Let's agree that Golden Door is probably exquisite-looking, even on disc, and that The Golden Compass was probably frightful anyway, and move on with our lives.

So, without further ado, and while you're still smacking your lips over the first major phase of the Film Bitch Awards and saving room on your plate for Tuesday morning's announcement of the Oscar nominations, here are four palette-cleansing courses for the parallel feast of my own Best of Year feature. Click here (or on any of the graphics in this post) for my favorites in the categories of Song Score, Sound Effects, Visual Effects, and Makeup. And PLEASE don't be shy: if I'm going to finish all of this, I'd love to feel that people are actually reading!


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Predictions on This Blog May Be Dumber Than They Appear (Final! Really, This Time!)

Or smarter than they appear. I suppose there's no reason to be pessimistic. Unless you count the fact that I've grown steadily worse at this as the years go by, possibly because I cannot bear to read almost any of the writers who are paid to obsess about this all year 'round. (If it ain't Nathaniel, who incidentally ain't paid, I ain't interested.) Or if you count the fact that even the Uncanny Seers among us don't seem to know what's going on with this year's contests, all of which seem to have two or even three hugely contested spots. Still, what I learned from Daniel Plainview—and what is he, if not a role model?—is that you don't get anywhere by doubting yourself. There's a whole OCEAN of OSCAR under our feet! Here's what I think is rising to the surface.

(For no particular reason, I'm naming all my categories after Björk songs. Consider it a silent invitation for anyone—Marion Cotillard, Tilda Swinton, Hal Holbrook—to show up "dressed" in a stuffed fowl.)

ALL NEON LIKE Atonement; The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; Michael Clayton; No Country for Old Men; There Will Be Blood
POSSIBLY MAYBE Juno; Into the Wild
IT'S OH SO QUIET Sweeney Todd; American Gangster

I like to kick off with shooting myself in the foot as soon as possible, so I'm predicting against Juno, even though I like it better than all of the films I'm actually predicting, save (I think) There Will Be Blood. No Country is the one movie with no worries for this category, Atonement has shown enough strength with precursors that matter (like BAFTA and the Globes), Diving Bell peaked at the right moment (and is more highbrow than Juno), There Will Be Blood is a giant buzz-monster (and is more highbrow than Juno), and Michael Clayton is a solid inside-the-park home run for studio filmmaking (and is more highbrow than Juno). I'm guessing Into the Wild broke too early and that Sweeney Todd and American Gangster just didn't finally excite enough people, compared to the ardent camps that have built up around the other seven titles.

ALL NEON LIKE Anderson, There Will Be Blood; Coens, No Country for Old Men; Fincher, Zodiac; Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; Wright, Atonement
POSSIBLY MAYBE Penn, Into the Wild; Mungiu, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days; Cronenberg, Eastern Promises; Polley, Away from Her
YOU'VE BEEN FLIRTING AGAIN Gilroy, Michael Clayton; Greengrass, The Bourne Ultimatum; Lumet, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead; Reitman, Juno
IT'S OH SO QUIET Bird, Ratatouille; Burton, Sweeney Todd; Scott, American Gangster

Into the Wild, for me, is the biggest riddle in this year's race: I can't tell if it's headed for a total shut-out or a raft of nominations or anything in between. Given the ardor of its biggest fans, and the stylistic ambitions that lead to its florid emotionalism, I can see where Penn has a better shot here than a workman like Gilroy. But given recent history, and given the wealth of directorial risks that paid off big-time this year, I think one of the director picks will really surprise, City of God- or Vera Drake- or United 93-style. Mungiu might be my wildest hope here, but he's been working the circuit, and Cronenberg and Polley represent Canadian filmcraft at its most established and most promising. (We know everyone is watching Away from Her, and if Polley were older, I think she'd make it.) In a field this crowded, it's probably smarter to stick with the season's habitual shortlistees, but I can't help but think that a year of excited reviews and fawning press—plus a breakthrough in DV artistry, decades of industry dues, a loyal and fervent cult following, and a horde of actors who seem eager to work with him—will make a difference for Fincher. Have you written me off as a nutjob yet?

ALL NEON LIKE Adams, Enchanted; Christie, Away from Her; Cotillard, La Vie en rose; Jolie, A Mighty Heart; Page, Juno
POSSIBLY MAYBE Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age; Linney, The Savages; Knightley, Atonement
IT'S OH SO QUIET Blonsky, Hairspray

The three front-runners are a given. I've been worried about Jolie, partially because I'm so defensive about how good A Mighty Heart is and how poorly it fared with the public that I'm nervous about getting my hopes up for her. I can see where she could fall to BAFTA nominees Blanchett (a boring nominee in a smelly movie) or Knightley (a glam girl wearing the best outfit in a period romance). Still, I'm banking on Jolie to pull this off, and to be joined for the ride by Amy Adams, who turned a dicey proposition into a huge kiddie hit that lots of voters will have taken their kids to (or their grandkids to), and we know how badly the studios need a new princess. Even Blonsky, who seems like the kind of candidate with no future past the Globes, did star in a well-liked word-of-mouth hit that's been playing on DVD for over a month. She's not unthinkable.

ALL NEON LIKE Brolin, No Country for Old Men; Clooney, Michael Clayton; Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood; Depp, Sweeney Todd; Mortensen, Eastern Promises
POSSIBLY MAYBE Washington, American Gangster; McAvoy, Atonement; Hirsch, Into the Wild; Gosling, Lars and the Real Girl
IT'S OH SO QUIET Damon, The Bourne Ultimatum; Langella, Starting Out in the Evening; Jones, In the Valley of Elah; Amalric, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Okay, by now you think I am trying to get my predictions wrong. Not with Clooney, Day-Lewis, Depp, or (slightly shakier) Mortensen. But the Brolin thing: again, I think No Country for Old Men is the only movie we can assume everyone is seeing, and mostly admiring, whereas so many of his competitors' films (Lars, Into the Wild) seem divisive, as are their performances, and Langella's campaign never really got going. I'm thinking the fifth slot goes to a coattail lead from a Best Picture contender... though I'd prefer to see the No Country hype break more obliquely in Tommy Lee Jones' direction. His Elah performance, despite the patchiness of the film, is the great Once Was a Shoo-In, Now Everyone's Forgotten performance of the year.


ALL NEON LIKE Blanchett, I'm Not There; Dee, American Gangster; Ronan, Atonement; Ryan, Gone Baby Gone; Swinton, Michael Clayton
POSSIBLY MAYBE Keener, Into the Wild; Macdonald, No Country for Old Men; Garner, Juno; Redgrave, Atonement

As with lead actress, you don't get any points for guessing the three front-runners... although can I just mention the cold sweats I have gotten (metaphorically, so far) about Tilda turning into the Baz Luhrmann, Dennis Quaid, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Giamatti figure who shows up so predictably on every single list until the Oscar list? Maybe I know too many people who don't feel Tilda. (I know what you're thinking: I probably work in one of those Away from Her or Savages Alzheimer's clinics. How else to explain? But, weirdly, it isn't true.) Anyway: let's assume that Cate, Amy, and TILDA are safe. Oscar has been refreshingly unwilling in recent years to laurel the old folks just for being old, but in a vague field, Ruby Dee may still be able to work that angle, and I for one wouldn't begrudge her. As for the fifth spot, I can't decide if the No Country phenom will be big enough to hoist Kelly Macdonald, or if AMPAS will get as excited about Vanessa Redgrave's epilogue in Atonement as they did about her prologue in Howards End or if they really do want to marry Catherine Keener or if they'll all remember playing the kind of part that Jennifer Garner takes in Juno but not being nearly as ingenious and dexterous with it as she was. All of these scenarios feel plausible to me, but for now, I'm guessing that even though the Academy just invited another little girl to the same sockhop last year, they'll hand Saoirse Ronan a typewritten invite to this year's ceremony... thus allowing her to lie to all of her friends back home about who she saw there, doing what to whom. Nasty! Nasty!


ALL NEON LIKE Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; Bardem, No Country for Old Men; Holbrook, Into the Wild; Jones, No Country for Old Men; Wilkinson, Michael Clayton
POSSIBLY MAYBE Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War; Von Sydow, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
IT'S OH SO QUIET Dano, There Will Be Blood; Travolta, Hairspray

Look, ma – even I know when to xerox the SAG list! One of my favorite things about Movie Year 2007 is how many vivid performances arrived in the Supporting Actor field, where I usually start to snore. Another way of saying this is, I love that enough strong work emerged in Oscar-friendly movies that John Travolta probably won't get a nomination for a momentarily fetching but undeniably odd turn in Hairspray (looking unbecomingly like a one-man preview for Kung Fu Panda). Anyone out there who thought Assassination of Jesse James... was too long might have wished that Anton Chigurh had been on Brad's trail instead of Robert Ford: at that point, we'd have been talking about a Live Action Short. If Diving Bell hits as big as I'm expecting it to, Max Von Sydow might finally make good on some of that buzz that's been struggling to coalesce behind him, but I just don't see where the room is in this lineup. I suppose Jones has the narrowest hold, but after 14 years, isn't it time he were back in this crowd?

Why none of the Juno men was ever even a factor here—not Bateman, not Cera, not Simmons—remains a complete riddle, but it testifies to how that film's awards marketing has somehow been gobsmackingly brilliant and weirdly inconsistent at the same time. Also, if you're looking for an otherwise-surefire nominee who is only missing because of his film's release date, look no further than Chris Cooper in Breach. Arguably, even probably a co-lead, I realize, but you know this is where the studio would have slotted him if the studio had even tried, ever, even remotely, to do anything for him.

ALL NEON LIKE The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Deakins); Atonement (McGarvey); The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Kaminski); Into the Wild (Gautier); There Will Be Blood (Elswit)
POSSIBLY MAYBE No Country for Old Men (Deakins)
IT'S OH SO QUIET Wood, The Bourne Ultimatum (Wood); American Gangster (Savides)

Basically, the American Society of Cinematographers' list, save for the hair's-breadth substitution of Into the Wild for No Country for Old Men. Gautier is one of my favorite unnominated d.p.'s, which is either a point in his favor (overdue) or not (they don't get him, or like him, or know him). And it's not clear whether the embarrassment of never nominating him outweighs the embarrassment of Deakins never having won, and therefore wanting to double his chances. For all the splendid cinematography on view in this year's movies, I'll still be surprised if the final five deviate from my top six, and hugely surprised if anyone but Wood or Savides picks up the surprise slack.

ALL NEON LIKE American Gangster (Scalia); The Bourne Ultimatum (Rouse); Into the Wild (Cassidy); No Country for Old Men ("Jaynes"); There Will Be Blood (Tichenor)
POSSIBLY MAYBE Sweeney Todd (Lebenzon); Michael Clayton (Gilroy); The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Welfling); Atonement (Tothill)
IT'S OH SO QUIET 3:10 to Yuma (McCusker)

The American Cinema Editors preferred Michael Clayton over American Gangster, and it's exactly the kind of category where well-oiled Best Picture also-rans like MC tend to rack up a nod, but Scalia is a huge name and AG seems destined to make itself known in the tech categories. I'd love to see Juliette Welfling, the genius behind all those nervy Jacques Audiard pictures, pick up a nomination if Diving Bell really did cross over to a sizable audience, and I actually wonder if the frequently undervalued Tichenor is as secure here as many people probably expect. Still, I think this will be our year to observe what "Roderick Jaynes" actually looks like, and whether he brings "Peter Andrews" or "Alan Smithee" as his date to the ceremony. (All pseudonyms are gay. Everyone in Hollywood knows this.)

ALL NEON LIKE 3:10 to Yuma; American Gangster; The Bourne Ultimatum; Sweeney Todd; Transformers
POSSIBLY MAYBE Hairspray; There Will Be Blood; No Country for Old Men; Into the Wild
IT'S OH SO QUIET Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End; 300; Beowulf; Ratatouille

Somewhere, even more obviously than usual, I am making a mistake... except I can't seem to imagine this category without any of my top six choices missing. No Country for Old Men obviously (to me, anyway) deserves this award any way you cut it, but since the Oscars often opt for loud and expensive over nervy and resonant, I'm worried about No Country. There Will Be Blood and Into the Wild also seem like exactly the sorts of top-drawer contenders that would be friendly additions to this race, but with so many popular commercial titles like 3:10 to Yuma, AG, and Bourne in the way, I don't know how to predict the Sound branch's priorities. (For the record, the guild nominees were 300, Bourne, Into the Wild, No Country, and Transformers, which is a pretty solid list, if you ask me.)


BIG TIME SENSUALITY Jessica Alba; Keira Knightley; Katherine Heigl; Amy Adams; Anne Hathaway
THE MODERN THINGS Jessica Biel; Michelle Monaghan; Natalie Portman; Eva Mendes; Julia Stiles; Isla Fisher
UNRAVEL (aka CRYING, aka EARTH INTRUDERS) Lindsay Lohan; Natasha Lyonne; Amy Winehouse
IT'S OH SO QUIET Rachael Leigh Cook; Bridget Moynahan; Erika Christensen; Shiri Appleby; Shannon Elizabeth; Sacheen Littlefeather; Sally Kirkland; Linda Riss

Well, it has to be someone. (The last five doyennes: Gyllenhaal, Johansson, McAdams, Garner, Hudson.) Probably, this news has already been announced. But this still counts as testing my mettle.

ALL NEON LIKE The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Cave & Ellis); Atonement (Marianelli); Eastern Promises (Shore); The Kite Runner (Iglesias); Lust, Caution (Desplat)
UNRAVEL (aka IT'S NOT UP TO YOU, aka FROSTI, aka disqualified scores) Enchanted (Menken); Into the Wild (Brook, King, and Vedder); There Will Be Blood (Greenwood)
POSSIBLY MAYBE Grace Is Gone (Eastwood); Michael Clayton (Howard)
IT'S OH SO QUIET Beowulf (Silvestri); Ratatouille (Giacchino)

Is Jonny Greenwood's music for There Will Be Blood too schizzy and crazy and unconventional to score a nomination? Probably. Is it actually too contemporary and stand-alone to always serve the movie? Quite possibly. (Oops! Disqualified anyway. See this post.) Is anything beside the Atonement score going to win this derby anyway? Unlikely. Is Atonement the Babel of 2007—i.e., easy to watch but inadequate to the slightest pressure of thought, and full of structural gimmicks that have nothing to say, even if it's still bound to win something, which is probably Original Score? Um, yep. So will James Newton Howard just keep scoring everything he can until he finally wins something? Probably. Will his streak of six losses finally end this year? Probably not.


ALL NEON LIKE Persepolis; Ratatouille; The Simpsons Movie
IT'S OH SO QUIET Shrek the Third; Meet the Robinsons; Beowulf

Am I predicting these three titles because they have been so inveterate to every other list all season? Not really. Bee Movie was a Globe nominee and Shrek the Third has a shot at a BAFTA (both in Persepolis' stead). Am I predicting these three titles because they are the only animated features I saw this year? Very likely, unless it's the other way around.


ALL NEON LIKE Autism: The Musical; Body of War; Nanking; No End in Sight; White Light/Black Rain
POSSIBLY MAYBE Please Vote for Me; Sicko; Lake of Fire; Taxi to the Dark Side; The Rape of Europa; For the Bible Tells Me So; The Price of Sugar; War/Dance
IT'S OH SO QUIET Operation Homecoming; A Promise to the Dead

Okay, so it's insane to me that Deep Water isn't here, and more predictable if still insane that The King of Kong also failed to make the semifinalist cut. At least that boring and utterly un-groundbreaking In the Shadow of the Moon got the cold shoulder, too. Among the qualifiers, most of the buzz seems to lie with the titles I haven't seen. I found Lake of Fire totally galvanizing, but I'm guessing that its structure is finally too loose and its territory too raw, even for the Documentary branch, and The Price of Sugar just doesn't delve far enough into the world it purports to evoke. Still No End in Sight's race to lose, but I hear great things about Body of War, Nanking, and the Okazaki film, White Light/Black Rain.


ALL NEON LIKE "12" (Russia); Beaufort (Israel); The Counterfeiters (Austria); Mongol (Kazakhstan); The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (Brazil)
POSSIBLY MAYBE Days of Darkness (Canada); Katyn (Poland); The Trap (Serbia)
IT'S OH SO QUIET The Unknown (Italy)

While we're on the subject of disappointing semifinalist lists, I will never understand how Cannes champ and tense, blazing, gutsy masterwork 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days failed to make the cut for this category. (I personally am at peace with the omission of Persepolis, the other high-profile absentee.) Having vented that churlish gripe, I have to admit this is a more auspicious-looking field than I first gave it credit for: Beaufort won the Silver Lion at Berlin, Katyn is by legendary Polish director and recent Honorary Oscaree Andrzej Wajda, Mongol is an exciting-looking epic directed by previous nominee Sergei Bodrov (Prisoner of the Mountains), "12" has great reviews and stars another former winner in this category (Burnt by the Sun writer-director Nikita Mikhalkov), and The Counterfeiters has also amassed some great notices as it's made its way around the world. And even though I'm less sanguine about the prospects of The Unknown and Days of Darkness (if you think Juno is self-obsessed and overwritten, check out a Denys Arcand movie...), they're also directed by past winners, who brought us Cinema Paradiso and The Barbarian Invasions. So, OK. Oscar may have a point, or at least a consistent thread in his tastes. Maybe I'm just rankled because it seems like 4 Months is the only East European film that didn't make the cut. Then again, that's not true—the other one I was pulling for, Macedonia's Shadows, from the director of the terrific 1994 nominee Before the Rain, also isn't here. Nor is the Hungarian splattergutfest Taxidermia, which would have made for a hilarious shockeroo surprise. So am I resolved to this field or not? I can't even decide for myself, though The Unknown is the only title I have a hard time seeing in the winner's circle. Which means it'll probably be nominated.

ALL NEON LIKE 300; The Golden Compass; Transformers
POSSIBLY MAYBE Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End; I Am Legend
IT'S OH SO QUIET Evan Almighty; The Bourne Ultimatum

Let's stick with the categories that have pre-announced semifinalists, shall we? I'm a bit at a loss here, and I wonder—as I do in Makeup, especially, and somewhat in Sound Effects—whether we might wind up with a two-horse race as we sometimes do when these branches just can't get excited. Transformers feels like the shoo-in. Somehow, I'm gravitating to 300 because it made a pile of money and The Golden Compass despite the fact that lost a pile of money, which doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. But Pirates feels a little old-tricornered-hat, surely, the third time around, and no Bourne film has ever made the cut here. (In fact, no Bourne film has ever been nominated for anything, but I can't even talk about that.) I Am Legend is probably here because of the artful depopulating and over-weeding of NYC, but those unimpressive zombie slash vampire slash rabies-victim creatures aren't going to help. Evan Almighty could be a spoiler, because there's always a Click or a Time Machine on the roster, so that people can pout, "That movie is 'an Academy Award Nominee'?!"

ALL NEON LIKE 300; Sweeney Todd; La Vie en rose
POSSIBLY MAYBE Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End; Norbit; The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
IT'S OH SO QUIET Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Again, every film seems to have more liabilities than advantages: late-cycle sequels (Pirates, Harry), pancaked biopics (La Vie en rose), and Rick Baker fatsuit minstrelsy overkill extravaganzas of latex (Norbit) haven't gotten the free ride lately that they once did. Nor have prestige entries (Sweeney, Diving Bell) in this often dubious derby. That leaves 300 with nothing really against it, except the insultingly overdone Queeny Persian King and Hunchbacked Disabled Mongoloid, and all the PAM with Butter® used to simulate hardbodied Spartan perspiration. (Where is the line between Makeup, F/X, and Pierre et Gilles?) I can't figure it out. But I'm guessing Leonidas, Sweeney, and Edith on the medal stand, the latter of whom is indisputably the best singer-shouter in this crew. Maybe the three of them can get together and sing a Diane Warren medley, in case the writer's strike is still sapping the telecast of good material. Which reminds me of...

ALL NEON LIKE "Despedida" (Love in the Time of Cholera); "Falling Slowly" (Once); "Guaranteed" (Into the Wild); "Rise" (Into the Wild); "That's How You Know" (Enchanted)
POSSIBLY MAYBE "Come So Far (Got So Far To Go)" (Hairspray); "Walk Hard" (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story)
IT'S OH SO QUIET "If You Want Me" (Once); "Grace Is Gone" (Grace Is Gone); "A Dream" (Freedom Writers)

When I first saw Once with Nathaniel, I remember turning to him after and saying, "Well, at least they'll get to perform that song (read: "Falling Slowly") on the Oscars, right? Won't that be great?" And he looked at me so fondly but also pityingly, like I had just said, "Doesn't the best person always win the presidential election?" or "Isn't Renée Zellweger really making the most of her giant talent and miraculous good fortune?" I saw where he was coming from, but Once has remained enough of an audience favorite and this field has remained wispy enough that I still feel "Falling Slowly" is a threat to win, though there's a lot of coffee-shop rock to compete with here, which may give other styles like bubblegum pop ("Come So Far") cheesy parody ("Walk Hard"), and cheesy is-it-parody? ("That's How You Know") a comparative advantage. The Into the Wild double-dip that I foresee here is a vote for the film and not so much to Eddie Vedder, who doesn't seem completely ready for his Academy moment, even though I loved what he did for the movie.

ALL NEON LIKE The Bourne Ultimatum; Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End; Ratatouille; Spider-Man 3; Transformers
POSSIBLY MAYBE No Country for Old Men; The Golden Compass; I Am Legend; The Kingdom
IT'S OH SO QUIET Beowulf; 300; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix; Evening; Starting Out in the Evening

Just kidding, of course, but this category tends to bore me, because the Sound branch more and more rarely capitalizes on the difference between the overall sound mix (i.e., Best Sound) and the incorporation and editing of specific noises and foley effects (i.e., Best Sound Effects). Remember back in '96 when there was no crossover between these categories? Last year, I'm pretty sure, four of the five were the same. A good rule is to think of which five films spring most instantaneously to mind when you hear the phrase "WHIZZZZzzzz BANG!" Give or take a slot for Pixar. So I'm going with that. But still, really, truly, don't rule out Evening. All those lapping waves. All those barely audible hormonal surges. All that Cape Cod or Martha's Vineyard or Whatever paint drying. All those exasperated sighs of flagrantly typecast actors. Your nightmare, perhaps, but a foley artist's dream.

ALL NEON LIKE Across the Universe (Friedberg); Atonement (Greenwood); Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Craig); Sweeney Todd (Ferretti); There Will Be Blood (Fisk)
POSSIBLY MAYBE Hairspray (Gropman); Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Heinrichs); The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Norris); The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Eric, Ott)
IT'S OH SO QUIET Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Dyas); The Golden Compass (Gassner); Michael Clayton (Thompson)

I always find Art Direction, i.e. Production Design, to be the hardest race to prognosticate, because it's so unclear whether the voters want outlandish spectacle or tasteful period or loopy whimsy or franchise stability or safe mimicry or props with dust on them (i.e., The Cider House Rules). It's clear that they don't want effects-enhanced stylization or animation, which is why things like 300 and Ratatouille are out, even though they probably deserve to be here, or at least very very close runners-up. I'm feeling pretty good about Atonement, Harry Potter, and Sweeney Todd, and although Across the Universe split a lot of audiences (and Titus didn't pan out in this category), I think Julie Taymor still has enough enthusiasts to qualify. That leaves one spot, I hope, for Jack Fisk's baroque-canvas blend of empty space and detailed realism in There Will Be Blood. After missing in this category for Mulholland Drive (short-sighted) and The New World (genuinely unforgivable), Mr. Sissy Spacek deserves his moment in the sun.

ALL NEON LIKE The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Norris); Atonement (Durran); Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Byrne); Love in the Time of Cholera (Allen); Sweeney Todd (Atwood)
POSSIBLY MAYBE Hairspray (Ryack); There Will Be Blood (Bridges); 3:10 to Yuma (Phillips); Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Rose, Dann); Lust, Caution (Pan)
IT'S OH SO QUIET The Golden Compass (Myers); 300 (Wilkinson); Across the Universe

The Costume Designers occasionally lose their minds, viz. 102 Dalmatians, and they're not immune to the "charms" of kitsch like Troy, which is why I've got 300 as a dark horse here. Yes, you're allowed to leave your cast nearly naked and win a Costume Design nomination, as Sandy Powell proved with Mrs. Henderson Presents, and deservedly so—which is also why Lust, Caution has a shot. Still, I think the front-runners are fairly clear, give or take the confusion of how much (or which) Old West one category can take. And though I've said it before, Ian McEwan describes Keira Knightley's green dress to within a stitch of its life, which makes Jacqueline Durran's inevitable nod something like laureling the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone team for doing exactly what J.K. Rowling told them to do. Still, Durran did such lovely work for Joe Wright's Pride & Prejudice that it's hard for me to begrudge her. There's also no percentage in it.


ALL NEON LIKE Atonement (Hampton); Away from Her (Polley); The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Harwood); Into the Wild (Penn); No Country for Old Men (Coens)
POSSIBLY MAYBE Charlie Wilson's War (Sorkin); There Will Be Blood (Anderson)
IT'S OH SO QUIET Zodiac (Vanderbilt); Gone Baby Gone (Affleck, Stockard); The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Dominik)

The top seven contenders make this quite a competitive race, especially given that Assassination, Gone Baby Gone, and Zodiac would all feel like semi-comfortable nominations in many other years. Inevitably, the Screenplay categories yield at least one genuinely surprising omission, and I'm betting on There Will Be Blood: misgivings about that film tend to focus on the writing more than any other element, and I'm wondering if the branch that has historically been kind to P.T. Anderson will suddenly turn on him just as the directors start catching up. More than that, I just can't think of why the other five would miss, including my "surprise" pick, Away from Her, an almost universally admired movie that is "sensitive" and "literary" in just the way that often plays to these voters. Even Atonement strikes me as a little shakier, though it will probably qualify.


ALL NEON LIKE American Gangster (Zaillian); Juno (Cody); Lars and the Real Girl (Oliver); Michael Clayton (Gilroy); Ratatouille (Bird, Capobianco, Pinkava)
POSSIBLY MAYBE The Savages (Jenkins); Eastern Promises (Knight); Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (Masterson); 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (Mungiu)
IT'S OH SO QUIET Knocked Up (Apatow); Waitress (Shelley); Once (Carney); I'm Not There (Haynes)

It ends with a chair. I'm not as optimistic as some about Juno's overall nomination haul, but surely this is where it can't miss, and Lars and the Real Girl and Michael Clayton have been mainstays through awards season. Tradition offers a good boost to Ratatouille, and even though The Savages was a critical darling, it never quite crossed over to the other branches (or the public) in the way that I expected, so I'm handing its spot to the big studio baby, American Gangster, by past winner, frequent nominee, and Hollywood fixture Steven Zaillian. (After All the King's Men, the guy could sure use a boost.) Even beyond The Savages, the other runners-up will put some heat into this race, but I'm still reasonably confident about this final five.

LEADERS Atonement (8), No Country for Old Men (7), Into the Wild (6), There Will Be Blood (6), Michael Clayton (5), Sweeney Todd (5)
GOOD SHOWINGS American Gangster (4), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (4), The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (4), The Bourne Ultimatum (3), Ratatouille (3), Transformers (3)
SMALL FRIES 300 (2), Away from Her (2), Eastern Promises (2), Enchanted (2), Juno (2), Love in the Time of Cholera (2), La Vie en rose (2)
SINGLE SERVINGS 3:10 to Yuma, Across the Universe, Jessica Alba, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, The Golden Compass, Gone Baby Gone, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I'm Not There, The Kite Runner, Lars and the Real Girl, Lust, Caution, A Mighty Heart, Once, Persepolis, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, The Simpsons Movie, Spider-Man 3, Zodiac (all 1)
SHUTOUTS Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Charlie Wilson's War, Hairspray, I Am Legend, Sally Kirkland, Margot at the Wedding, Bridget Moynahan, The Savages, Sicko (all 0)

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