Sunday, February 24, 2013

Picking Favorites: An Oscar Retrospective

In my season-long quest to be as positive as possible—and to avoid feting this year's nominees at the expense of the films and careers that got us here———I thought I'd run up to today's festivities with one more celebratory post.  This time, rather than citing my favorite achievements, past or present, by each of this year's nominees, I am looking back at Oscar's own peaks.  Hence, I have selected my very favorite winner from each year in the Academy's history. The takeaway here is that, for all the times Oscar gets things blatantly wrong, there is at least one exalted moment at every ceremony, and frequently more than one, where he gets things impressively right.  Let's assume we'll witness at least one of these tonight, and let's hope we have trouble picking a favorite among many viable options!

To add some collective bonhomie and diversity of opinion to this enterprise, and to include more people in my month-long Happy Party regarding the awards, I've invited some of my Oscar-obsessed besties from around the web to voice their own retrospective picks.  They include Tim Brayton from Antagony & Ecstasy; Guy Lodge from In Contention and elsewhere; Colin Low from Against the Hype; Joe Reid from, Low Resolution, et al.; Katey Rich from Cinema Blend; and Nathaniel Rogers from The Film Experience.  Everyone had the options of abstaining in any year where they felt unsure of their opinion and of cutting themselves off at whatever year their particular Oscarmania or their busy schedules dictated. You'll see our choices below, and I hope you'll add yours as well in the Comments field... before or after all the fun of tonight.

My Choice: A Separation, Foreign Language Film: Because the film itself is extraordinary, because Iran had never won, and because Farhadi handled the delicate tasks of accepting glitzy Western awards in a politically volatile context with such unflagging diplomacy and subtly pointed remarks
My Runner Up: Christopher Plummer, Supporting Actor

Tim Sez: A Separation, Foreign Language Film
Guy Sez: Jean Dujardin, Actor
Colin Sez: Octavia Spencer, Supporting Actress
Joe Sez: Meryl Streep, Actress, even though I didn't know it till halfway through her speech
Katey Sez: Rango, Animated Feature
Nathaniel Sez: A Separation, Foreign Language Film

My Choice: The Social Network, Original Score: For the indelible qualities of the music, its service to the film, and its unexpected embrace by this conservative branch
My Runners Up: Inside Job, Documentary Feature; Toy Story 3, Animated Feature; The Social Network, Adapted Screenplay; Inception, Sound (especially for the first lesbian winner!)

Tim Sez: The Social Network, Original Score
Guy Sez: The Social Network, Original Score
Colin Sez: The Social Network, Original Score
Joe Sez: Inception, Cinematography
Katey Sez: The Social Network, Original Score
Nathaniel Sez: The Social Network, Original Score

My Choices: Mo'Nique, Supporting Actress and Kathryn Bigelow, Director: Because both women knocked their work right out of the park and because neither followed the campaign scripts that a lot of reporters wanted them to—Bigelow by not dwelling on gender, and Mo'Nique by not doing a damn thing she didn't want to

Tim Sez: Mo'Nique, Supporting Actress
Guy Sez: Kathryn Bigelow, Director
Colin Sez: Kathryn Bigelow, Director
Joe Sez: Sandra Bullock, Actress, because f*ck the haters
Katey Sez: Up, Original Score (but so many great winners!)
Nathaniel Sez: Mo'Nique, Supporting Actress

Yes, I already cheated on my own game by pairing two winners, but Oscar even does that occasionally, so the ruling stands. Apologies for earlier "Sandy/Sandy" confusion, re: Joe Reid's vote. You know some queens are still reading Sandy Powell hard for being so over her third statuette.

My Choice: Heath Ledger, Supporting Actor: Because that tremendous performance arrived in a genre Oscar often neglects, and because exemplary work is its own best legacy
My Runners Up: Sean Penn, Actor; WALL••E, Animated Feature

Tim Sez: WALL••E, Animated Feature
Guy Sez: Heath Ledger, Supporting Actor
Colin Sez: Heath Ledger, Supporting Actor
Joe Sez: 28 Days Later, Cinematography (wait, Anthony Dod Mantle won for something else?)
Katey Sez: Man on Wire, Documentary Feature
Nathaniel Sez: WALL••E, Animated Feature

My Choice: Tilda Swinton, Supporting Actress: For refashioning a dubiously and chauvinistically scripted character into a major dynamo of the film through sheer force of will, for making everyone else's performance more interesting by furnishing "auto-critique of performance" as a major trope of Michael Clayton, and for being the last of my acting heroes I ever thought would hold an Oscar
My Runners Up: Incredibly stiff competition: "Falling Slowly," Original Song; Marion Cotillard, Actress; There Will Be Blood, Cinematography

Tim Sez: Ratatouille, Animated Feature
Guy Sez: "Falling Slowly," Original Song
Colin Sez: Tilda Swinton, Supporting Actress
Joe Sez: Tilda Swinton, Supporting Actress
Katey Sez: Joel and Ethan Coen, Director
Nathaniel Sez: Tilda Swinton, Supporting Actress

My Choice: The Danish Poet, Animated Short: For being absolutely darling, eccentrically funny, and so moving in its use of a crude aesthetic. This was also the year my dad and I went to see all the nominated Animated Shorts together in the movie theater, and both of us liked this one best (though Maestro was also fantastic). Plus, hooray for female animators!

Tim Sez: Pan's Labyrinth, Makeup
Guy Sez: Marie Antoinette, Costume Design
Colin Sez: Marie Antoinette, Costume Design
Joe Sez: Little Miss Sunshine, Original Screenplay (uhhh... I guess?)
Katey Sez: Pan's Labyrinth, Cinematography
Nathaniel Sez: "I Need to Wake Up," Original Song, because more lesbians need Oscars

My Choice: Robert Altman, Honorary Oscar: Because who could possibly have merited the recognition more by that point, and because not every Honorary Oscar ends up in such deserving hands at such an absolutely right moment, and because he was still with us just long enough to receive it, and because the presentation itself by Tomlin and Streep was so peerless
My Runner Up: Brokeback Mountain, Adapted Screenplay

Tim Sez: Brokeback Mountain, Original Score
Guy Sez: Six Shooter, Live Action Short
Colin Sez: "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," Original Song, because a song with that title forevermore has an Oscar
Joe Sez: Reese Witherspoon, Actress, then Brokeback Mountain, Original Score
Katey Sez: Ang Lee, Director
Nathaniel Sez: Ang Lee, Director

My Choice: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Original Screenplay: Because the nimble construction, innovative structure, and memorable riffs in that script, so hilarious and despondent at the same time, make it one of the all-time greats without quite being Oscar's usual cup of tea
My Runners Up: Sidney Lumet, Honorary Oscar; Wasp, Live Action Short

Tim Sez: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Original Screenplay
Guy Sez: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Original Screenplay, but I love you, Andrea Arnold!
Colin Sez: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Original Screenplay
Joe Sez: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Original Screenplay
Katey Sez: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Original Screenplay
Nathaniel Sez: The Incredibles, Animated Feature

My Choice: Charlize Theron, Actress: Because haters gon' hate (the movie, the "de-glam" thing, the dominion of biopics), but that haunting, scary, physically commanding, strangely compassionate performance ranks among the best any living actor has put on film, and Theron exceeded virtually everyone's expectations with it, and she made the project happen without in any way yielding a vanity project
My Runner Up: Harvie Krumpet, Animated Short; Master and Commander, Sound Editing

Tim Sez: Master and Commander, Sound Editing
Guy Sez: Charlize Theron, Actress
Colin Sez: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Picture
Joe Sez: The Fog of War, Documentary (though at the time, Lord of the Rings, Adapted Screenplay, because it guaranteed the sweep)
Katey Sez: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Picture
Nathaniel Sez: Lost in Translation, Original Screenplay

My Choice: "Lose Yourself," Original Song: Because you could not even trust the Music Branch to nominate hip-hop, and nor could you trust voters to spring for it (or for Eminem in particular, especially with that nice Bono around), and yet 95% of movies sport less vivid detail, formal dexterity, dramatic depth, and emotional urgency than this song
My Runners Up: In another extremely tight race, Talk to Her, Original Screenplay, and Spirited Away, Animated Feature

Tim Sez: Roman Polanski, Director
Guy Sez: Talk to Her, Original Screenplay
Colin Sez: Talk to Her, Original Screenplay
Joe Sez: Nicole Kidman, Actress
Katey Sez: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Supporting Actress
Nathaniel Sez: Talk to Her, Original Screenplay

My Choice: Moulin Rouge!, Art Direction: Because Catherine Martin's work is the most unforgettable amidst a nomination field chock-full of indelible visions, and because AMPAS sprang for work that so openly blends digital and plastic production design, and because Moulin Rouge! rides exactly the line it wants to between sumptuousness and tacky excess, in a way Bazmark has never, before or since, judged quite so exquisitely
My Runners Up: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Makeup, Visual Effects, Original Score, and Cinematography; Moulin Rouge!, Costume Design; Black Hawk Down, Sound

Tim Sez: Moulin Rouge!, Art Direction
Guy Sez: Moulin Rouge!, Art Direction
Colin Sez: Moulin Rouge!, Art Direction
Katey Sez: Moulin Rouge!, Costume Design
Nathaniel Sez: Moulin Rouge!, Art Direction

My Choice: Julia Roberts, Actress: Because as thrilling as it was when Harden bested conventional Oscar logic and pulled down a prize for real, non-glamorous character acting in a tiny-budgeted movie, Roberts managed to win at the perfect point in her huge career for an absolutely tremendous performance in a beautifully made popular hit, a perfect combo of ingredients that coalesce less often than you might think on the Oscar stage. I also adore every second of her speech.  I know a lot of Burstyn and Linney disciples who wish that Stick Man had just swatted her with that baton, and not everyone relishes seeing the prom queen get voted valedictorian, too, over very rich competition. But as Streep recently said on the same stage, "But, you know. Whatever."
My Runners Up: Marcia Gay Harden, Supporting Actress; "Things Have Changed," Original Song; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Original Score and Cinematography; Jack Cardiff, Honorary Oscar

Tim Sez: Julia Roberts, Actress
Guy Sez: Steven Soderbergh, Director
Katey Sez: Julia Roberts, Actress
Joe Sez: Almost Famous, Original Screenplay
Nathaniel Sez: Marcia Gay Harden, Supporting Actress. Mostly because I believe I was the only pundit—and in my first year of official punditry, no less—to predict both her nomination and her win. Humble brag.

My Choice: Hilary Swank, Actress: Because she was right, we had come a long way, and so had Swank herself, and so had the Academy. This win was one of very few on Oscar night that signaled what an exciting, boundary-pushing, even dangerous year it had been for American movies (especially if the Matrix wins didn't delight you, though in fairness, those too entailed a big show of support from AMPAS). Rarely does Oscar balance the missions of advocacy and meritocracy as beautifully as he did in recognizing Hilary, Boys, and Brandon.
My Runners Up: Marcia Gay Harden, Supporting Actress; "Things Have Changed," Original Song; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Original Score and Cinematography; Jack Cardiff, Honorary Oscar

Tim Sez: Hilary Swank, Actress
Guy Sez: Hilary Swank, Actress
Katey Sez: American Beauty, Cinematography
Nathaniel Sez: All About My Mother, Foreign Language Film

My Choice: Shakespeare in Love, Original Screenplay: Because despite the seemingly bottomless wells of gratuitous animosity that exist in the world for this delicious movie and for Paltrow's win, surely we can agree that only once or twice a decade does anyone write a script as merrily ambitious and jovially intelligent as this one.
My Runners Up: Topsy-Turvy, Makeup; Andrzej Wajda, Honorary Oscar

Tim Sez: Saving Private Ryan, Cinematography
Guy Sez: Roberto Benigni, Actor
Katey Sez: Saving Private Ryan, Film Editing
Nathaniel Sez: Shakespeare in Love, Picture (not my vote, but happy it beat Ryan)

My Choice: Titanic, Picture: Because I happen to think the filmmaking is absolutely sensational, its merits of mythic conception and consummate execution far outweighing its peccadilloes in other areas. On top of that, even though everyone alive remembers there was zero talk of Titanic actually losing, we should remember how often the Jawses and ETs and Raiders of the Lost Arks of the world have lost the big trophy to lesser titles and feel thankful when exemplary mainstream movies that are also commercial juggernauts actually nab a prize.  They shouldn't always, but they shouldn't never. I was torn between this and LA Confidential, but either way, a banner Best Picture year was assured.
My Runners Up: LA Confidential, Adapted Screenplay

Tim Sez: Geri's Game, Animated Short
Guy Sez: LA Confidential, Adapted Screenplay
Katey Sez: Titanic, Picture
Nathaniel Sez: James Cameron, Director (because he wasn't going to win this prize for anything else in his filmography, no matter how deserving)

My Choice: Frances McDormand: Because it's one thing when Hollywood allows a character actress with intelligence, crow's feet, and undisguisable idiosyncrasies to take home a Supporting Actress prize for a violent, mannerist, tragicomic parable that opened the previous winter and never quite crossed over commercially. It's something else when such a person wins the Actress award, by which I mean, I can't think of a single other example of this happening. Solid arguments exist for almost any of her competitors winning from this sterling field—these days, my vote's with Watson, though it changes all the time—but McDormand's victory was special, and so was her perfect, punchy comment in her speech about casting actors for talent rather than market value.  As a result of this win, we've gotten a whole, major career out of an artist who easily could have been a cinephile's footnote. Also, can I just say: Marge Gunderson.  Thank you for Marge, you McCoens!
My Runners Up: Fargo, Original Screenplay; The English Patient, Costume Design and Original Score; Breathing Lessons, Documentary Short

Tim Sez: Fargo, Original Screenplay
Guy Sez: Juliette Binoche, Supporting Actress
Katey Sez: Frances McDormand, Actress
Nathaniel Sez: "You Must Love Me," Original Song (for sentimental private reasons)

Come back soon, when the gang confronts the rest of the 1990s and beyond, and see who sticks around longest!

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Blogger Unknown said...

2011-> Best Film Editing (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo)

2010-> Best Adapted Screenplay (The Social Network)

2009 -> Best Adapted Screenplay (Precious) tie with Best Supporting Actress (Monique)

2008 -> Best Supporting Actor (Heath Ledger)...though I would say Best Foreign Film (Departures) could come in second

2007 -> A TIE between Best Actress ( Marion Cottilard) and Best Supporting Actress (TIlda Swinton)

2006 -> Best Picture (The Departed)

2005 -> Best Director (Ang Lee)

2004 -> Best Original Screenplay (Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind)

2003 -> Best Actress (Charlize Theron)

2002 -> Best Actress (Nicole Kidman) HELL YEAH!

2001 -> Best Actor (Denzel Washington)

2000 ->Best Foreign Film (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)

1:25 PM, February 24, 2013  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

Love what you wrote about Frances McDormand in Fargo. But couldn't that also apply to Patricia Neal in "Hud"?

3:18 PM, February 24, 2013  
Blogger Andrew K. said...

Well, for 1996 I'm happy for each and every single one of those wins for The English Patient but that costume win is a particularly favourite of mine. And, I'm never sure if it was just love for the film tipping over but that sort of understated, but still effective work winning will always please me.

Elsewhere: very appreciative of the love for Julia Roberts, Stoppard's EXCELLENT Shakespeare in Love script, Altman, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Nicole.

Other key loves: Cate Blanchett, Gosford Park for screenplay, Hugo for Art Direction, Marianelli for Atonement.

4:14 PM, February 24, 2013  
Blogger James T said...

Such a great idea of a post and such a great actual post! Thanks to everyone who contributed!

I would like to say that I hope you don't think I'm a terrible person for not thinking Shakespeare In Love is delicious. :)
The reasons being mostly things only I could regard as reasons. But also the movie as a movie didn't much impress my 13 year old self.

The wins I would mention as probably the most exciting for me are the Penn and Winslet wins in 2008, the Titanic Best Picture win and the Paltrow win because I just adored her during my teens!

2:31 AM, February 26, 2013  
Anonymous Ryan said...

Theron, Moulin Rouge! yay! and love/agree with your arguments in support of TITANIC.

here's mine:

2011: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Film Editing
2010: The Social Network, Original Score

2009: Mo’Nique, Supporting Actress
2008: Sean Penn, Actor
2007: Tilda Swinton, Supporting Actress
2006: Marty, Directing
2005: Ang Lee, Directing
2004: Eternal Sunshine, Original Screenplay
2003: Charlize Theron, Monster
2002: (tie) Talk to Her, Original Screenplay
& Nicole Kidman, Actress
2001: Moulin Rouge!, Art Direction
2000: Steven Soderbergh, Directing

1999: American Beauty, Picture
1998: Shakespeare In Love, Costumes
1997: Titanic, Picture
1996: Juliette Binoche, Supporting Actress
1995: Nicolas Cage, Actor
1994: Pulp Fiction, Original Screenplay
1993: Holly Hunter, Actress
1992: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Costumes
1991: The Silence of the Lambs, Picture
1990: Kathy Bates, Actress

1989: Daniel Day-Lewis, Actor
1988: Working Girl, Original Song
1987: Cher, Actress
1986: Aliens, Visual Effects
1985: William Hurt, Actor
1984: The Times of Harvey Milk, Documentary
1983: Fanny & Alexander, Cinematography
1982: Meryl Streep, Actress
1981: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Art Direction
1980: Robert De Niro, Actor

1979: Alien, Visual Effects
1878: Christopher Walken, Supporting Actor
1977: Star Wars, Visual Effects
1976: Network, Original Screenplay
1975: Jaws, Original Score
1974: Chinatown, Original Screenplay
1973: The Exorcist, Adapted Screenplay
1972: Bob Fosse, Directing
1971: Charlie Chaplin, Honorary Award
1970: Glenda Jackson, Actress

4:12 AM, March 01, 2013  
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