Friday, February 29, 2008

Goodbye, Oscar. Hello, Ladies!

(NOTE: In a fit of democratic inspiration, I have added poll interfaces to all of the yearly profile pages. Let me know who, among Oscar's batch, should have won and who, among my favorites, you like the most.)

For those of you who have asked, I know that I still have my 2007 Honorees to complete, including some home skillets and mighty hearts coming up in that Best Ensemble announcement that's been languishing for some time now. I will complete this work. But today, as we say goodbye to Oscar month, while also making a rare Leap into the future, I figure it's about time to doff the dustcover and unveil the BEST ACTRESS SPECIAL SECTION that I've been engineering for the past couple of months on my main website, Nick's Flick Picks. Fans of this site tend to share its obsession (my obsession) with leading ladies in general, and with Best Actress in particular. Remember this post? One of my biggest comment-grabbers ever, and in a circuitous way, a semi-inspiration for StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Smackdowns.

Now, you can read smackdowns with myself, in the cleanest sense, about all the Best Actress years, though of course I'm building them up as I go along:





As of now, you'll see profiles of the last ten years, as well as the 1931-32 year as a hint of what things sound like when we dig deeper into the past. Note, too, my anti-AMPAS preferential rankings of my own favorite leading-lady performances of each given year—plus, in all the recent years, quick ballots for my favorites in all the Picture, Director, and Acting races.

There's more! The Best Actress Special Section includes a Ranking Page of all of Oscar's winners, plus a listing by decade of my favorite losers, and a round-up of all the nominees I have yet to see (65 to go at this point, in this category). You'll also find a convenient table of Side by Side Comparisons of Oscar's champ, my favorite of his nominees, and my own championed performance from that year (using Oscar eligibility years). Dig around that page and you'll find a secret link with an extra column for all you Oscar the Grouches out there.


The part of the site that is still under the most construction is the Who's Who and FAQs Section, once and future home to brief personal profiles of all the nominees, grouped according to the scale of their success with Oscar and, in some cases, their level of overall fame. Currently, you'll only find full write-ups for Katharine Hepburn (a Pet, or someone with multiple wins and/or at least four Best Actress nominations) and for Cate Blanchett (a Slum Queen, or a Best Actress nominee whose only victories have arrived in the Supporting category). Crib your rental suggestions and take solace or offense at my feelings about these women and their performances.

And once you've done all that, e-mail me to ask new FAQs or stump for which years or actresses you hope to see profiled (I won't always get to it right away, but I'll remember the request) or tell me how beautifully all of this has been laid out and how you already can't live without this new section. Finally use the new "Women" link beside my profile picture on this blog as a quick way to check for updates in this quadrant of the website. Long live Best Actress, and now that Oscar has passed and the new year has officially begun, happy 2008! (And let me thank, in alphabetical order, Goatdog, John, Nathaniel, StinkyLulu, and Tim R. for their formatting and content suggestions while I was architecting this new space. To mix queer Bravo metaphors: my own Fab Five of Tim Gunns!)

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tilda Swinton, or Why I Love the Oscars

I went completely crazy when Tilda Swinton won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar on Sunday night. Jubilation crazy. Rhapsodic crazy. I have been sick since then, read a book since then, finished an essay, taught a class, attended a talk followed by a formal dinner, and written the same zillion e-mails that all of us write on Mondays in our jobs, and I have still found time to watch Tilda win seven or eight times—plus watching Markéta Irglova and Glen Hansard win three or four times, and Cate Blanchett grimace at her own Elizabeth scene twice. Of course I am ecstatic that the best performance in the category won, which for my money hasn't happened since Marcia Gay Harden in 2000 (although Rachel Weisz, very nearly as good as Amy Adams, might be close enough to count). But there is more to say, which will serve, at the moment, as my own complement to Nathaniel's wonderful and spirited retort to the insane allegation that the Oscars are somehow making a mistake by honoring the movies Hollywood admires rather than the movies the studios primarily banked on or the ones the wider public actually paid to see.

1. Tilda Swinton, Oscar Winner? I love the Academy Awards for pulling a surprise like this, not just in the sense that Tilda came from behind to win (which several prognosticators, including me, had started predicting at least a few weeks ago), but because here is a brilliant career that never seemed remotely Oscar-bound, and yet, here she is, ensconced in the Academy's admittedly spurious but hugely influential way in the annals of great popular acting. On my watch, Tilda would be a five-time nominee by now, with earlier Best Actress nods for Edward II in 1992, Orlando in 1993, Female Perversions in 1997 (when I would have had her win), and The Deep End in 2001, but I was well prepared to accept her avant-garde origins and her chiseled, androgynous pallor and her continued allegiance to out-there artists as a reason that she and Oscar would never sit down to lunch (whether or not George Clooney was hanging upside-down in the background).

2. The Archive Opens I love the Academy Awards for, however unwittingly, pointing cinephiles, especially budding ones, in the direction of work they might never actually see and that Oscar would never in a million years nominate. I have been on plenty of websites this season where people are clearly noticing Tilda for the first time because of the Oscar buzz, and then the nomination, and now the win. Since most Oscar obsessives I know came to our first flower of intensive back-catalogue renting and repertory-house screenings via the Oscar books, and then by moving onto the longer careers of nominees who most impressed us, I am beyond ecstatic that this public boost to Swinton's visibility and reputation will actually lead people to the above titles and Caravaggio and The Last of England and War Requiem and Blue and Love Is the Devil and The War Zone and Teknolust and Strange Culture (on DVD from Docurama at the end of March). Not to mention how many more will see Michael Clayton, or remember Tilda's great, small, Hollywood turns in films like Adaptation and Constantine. An indirect but no less indispensable function that Oscar serves within the wider ecosystem of popular film.

3. Against Nepotism Swinton didn't win for a single reason other than her performance, with the slight exception of Michael Clayton's shutout in other categories. Even there, plenty of well-liked nominees go home empty-handed every year (The Godfather Part III, The Prince of Tides, In the Name of the Father, The Shawshank Redemption, Secrets & Lies, The Thin Red Line, The Insider, The Sixth Sense, In the Bedroom, Gangs of New York, Seabiscuit, and Munich all had more or less comparable nomination tallies and went home with nothing). Otherwise, though, the critics didn't help her, beyond the rave reviews from several months ago: somehow, when prize season arrived, they only had eyes for Amy Ryan. She didn't have a Globe or a SAG. She isn't, remotely, a Hollywood elbow-rubber. She isn't "owed" in any way the Academy recognizes (and certainly not the way Ruby Dee is). She isn't the young thing of the moment. She didn't play a likeable character. She didn't play the character in a simply digestible way. Her part wasn't showy, though it was generously featured. The general public has a dim sense of her as the White Witch of Narnia, but little else. Why did she win? It's the performance, stupid, just like it was for Harden. Good enough to persuade voters on its own terms once they got around to seeing it, and good enough to qualify as the best winner in this category since the proximate wins of Peggy Ashcroft and Dianne Wiest in 1984 and 1986—if not the best since Vanessa Redgrave won in 1977, and in virtually the same dress, plus a left sleeve. For all the well-earned reputation of insiderism and errant, delayed sentiment that the Academy has accrued over time, they don't always vote that way, and when they don't, it's glorious.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Good Night, and Good Luck

In case you're wondering about my guesses for tomorrow's race, I've committed to Tony Stewart as the projected winner for the Auto Club 500 at the California Speedway, with backup calls on Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., plus I'm throwing a wild card possibility to Joe Nemechek; true, he'll be starting in 43rd position, but Fantasy NASCAR obligates you to pull in one driver from the bottom of the barrel for each race.

Is everyone terrified yet? I actually do play Fantasy NASCAR, but only as a concession to my brother, the sportswriter, and no, I don't have any idea what I'm doing. But my team name, the Tracy Chapmen, is pretty much the best in the league. (I'm going to pause here for the full glory of the pun to roll to the back of the room.)

But you came for something else? Oh, right. After a monumentally frustrating three-week technical outage (long story, but I'm no longer too fond of the Domain Registry of America), this blog is up and running just in time to weigh in alongside Goatdog and Nathaniel and ModFab and QTA and EW on tomorrow night's likely winners. I'm not feeling too confident, I must say, and since I'm under a firm Monday deadline with a Brokeback Mountain essay, I can't embellish much. Because you all know I won't be writing tomorrow night. So here are my thoughts:

PICTURE No Country for Old Men (my vote: There Will Be Blood, because it pushes more and risks more, and has more virtuosic credentials than Juno)

DIRECTOR Joel and Ethan Coen, because they've never won, and to make sure they get something (my vote: Jason Reitman, because think how easily Juno could have been a She's All That or a Charlie Bartlett if he hadn't taken it so seriously and directed his cast so brilliantly)

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE No End in Sight (my vote: No End in Sight, though Taxi to the Dark Side is also quite an accomplishment)

ACTRESS Julie Christie (my vote: Marion Cotillard, who could easily pull this off, and I wonder if Laura Linney couldn't as well, but with everyone else changing horses, I'm sticking with the Christie consensus that had built up until recently)

ACTOR Daniel Day-Lewis (my vote: Daniel Day-Lewis, though Tommy Lee Jones is a very close runner-up for me)

SUPPORTING ACTRESS Tilda Swinton, because MC needs to win something, and she has gathered momentum, even if Blanchett will make things hard for her (my vote: Tilda, as if you didn't know)

SUPPORITNG ACTOR Javier Bardem (my vote: Hal Holbrook, and for the performance, not just the sentiment)

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY Juno, even though I was calling for a Ratatouille upset not long ago (my vote: Juno)

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, since the Coens won't need to double up (my vote: No Country for Old Men, I guess, in a narrow and ambivalent squeaker over There Will Be Blood)

CINEMATOGRAPHY The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, since it has the best gimmicky hook (my vote: There Will Be Blood)

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM 12, though I can see Katyn or The Counterfeiters squeezing in there (my vote: let's wait and see the films, shall we?)

FILM EDITING The Bourne Ultimatum, since the other films split the art/prestige ballots (my vote: Into the Wild, which was comprehensive and thoughtful and also a little glib, consistent with its own protagonist)

SOUND MIXING Transformers, so that Kevin O'Connell can die a happy man (my vote: No Country for Old Men, in a walk, friendo)

ART DIRECTION Sweeney Todd, since I can't help spreading the wealth, though this will be close race against great-manor gewgawism and sand-blasted oil rigs (my vote: There Will Be Blood, with the unexpected inclusion of American Gangster growing on me as a runner-up)

COSTUME DESIGN Elizabeth: The Golden Age, because one green dress does not a fashion show make (my vote: Elizabeth: The Golden Age, though I'm not proud of it)

ORIGINAL SCORE Atonement, with The Kite Runner and Ratatouille still in contention (my vote: 3:10 to Yuma, with Michael Clayton not far behind; note my utter non-agreement with Oscar)

ORIGINAL SONG "Falling Slowly", because seriously (my vote: "Falling Slowly", because come on)

ANIMATED FEATURE Ratatouille (my vote: Persepolis, though I wanted to like both films better)

VISUAL EFFECTS Transformers, because big loud robots explosions (my vote: The Golden Compass, because gold dust animal mystical truth-telling bear armor)

SOUND EFFECTS EDITING No Country for Old Men, because everyone's praising it, so why not predict it (my vote: No Country for Old Men, because hissssssssssspop)

MAKEUP La Vie en rose (my vote: La Vie en rose, but then, you'd probably guessed that one, too)


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Thank You for Voting

I was the fifth person to vote early this morning in my polling station: a charming fire station, even more charming for being two blocks from my house and along my normal route to work.

That's one doodle that (hopefully, probably, since I didn't see the name "Diebold" anywhere) can't be undid, home-skillet. Fingers crossed till tonight—and probably for weeks after, but we'll see how this goes!


Monday, February 04, 2008

Intermission: Go Talk in the Lobby

For work reasons, it'll be two or three days before I can post my thoughts on Best Ensemble, the next category due to arrive in the ongoing Best of 2007 feature. But speaking of ensembles, and while you're waiting to hear about those dazzling groups, why not head to the cocktail bar during intermission, where lots of people are talking Oscar? In fact, wait a minute: I recognize some of these people, and probably so do you! It's Day One of Nathaniel's Oscar symposium! I even see myself, plus a lot of people who share few of my reservations about There Will Be Blood, tremendous though it is, and also a lot of people (save for Sasha Stone) who like Juno a lot less than I still do, after two viewings.

Friday, February 01, 2008

No Country for Women. There Will Not Be Women. Except, Thankfully, These Women

As great as the Supporting Actor field was this year, one couldn't help feeling that the almost exclusively male ensemble has become the new Hollywood vogue. Women had to fight more than usual to be in the movies, much less to be great in them, which is part of why the pool of contestants was so much smaller in this field than in others. But that's not a slam on my five anointees, none of whom are "Hamburger Helper options, filling out the category" in the immortal vernacular of Holly Hunter (in relation to a year when she herself was nominated). Here are a chameleon, a testy friend, a wannabe mom, a mom with a secret or two, and a corporate neurotic to treasure.