Sunday, February 25, 2007

A Few More Oscar Predictions Before the Big Show

Actress - Leading

Penelope Cruz - Volver
Judi Dench - Notes on a Scandal
Helen Mirren - The Queen
Meryl Streep - The Devil Wears Prada
Kate Winslet - Little Children

There's no need for comment here. Mirren has it in the bag.

Original Score

The Good German*
Notes on a Scandal
Pan's Labyrinth
The Queen

I loved the score in Babel, but Philip Glass' score for Notes on a Scandal is perfect. I've loved Philip Glass since I saw The Hours, and it turns out he hides away in Cape Breton, which makes me like him even more. It seemed to me that most of the movie is scored, and the music always fit. I hope he wins.

Costume Design

Curse of the Golden Flower*
The Devil Wears Prada
Marie Antoinette
The Queen

These films all have stand-out costumes. It's a really tough call, but I'm going to guess Dreamgirls will win. My second choice would be The Devil Wears Prada. The great thing about the costumes in Dreamgirls is that not only are they stunning, they show the progression of time throughout the film. I especially loved Eddie Murphy's red track suit.

Screenplay - Original

Letters From Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
Pan's Labyrinth
The Queen

I really don't know much about picking a good screenplay, but I loved Little Miss Sunshine; it was funny and touching, so it's my pick.

The show starts in five minutes! We'll see if I get any of my predictions right.

Oscar Prediction: Best Picture

Best Picture

The Departed
Letters From Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
The Queen

The Independent Spirit Awards last night were somewhat of a Little Miss Sunshine love-fest. I, for one, won't be surprised if it takes the Oscar.

Giving Scorcese the Directing award will probably satisfy voters' desire to finally recognize him. I enjoyed The Departed, but I'm not so sure it's Scorcese's best work. Admitedly I haven't seen all of his films, but when I compare The Departed to Taxi Driver, I feel like it can't be his best because Taxi Driver is such an amazing piece of work. For that reason, in part, I don't think The Departed should/will win.

Babel has a chance (it won the Globe), but Little Miss Sunshine won the SAG for Ensemble Cast (just like Crash did last year). I'm of the opinion that Crash was not, in fact, the best picture made last year. There are similarities between Crash and Babel (big cast; interconnectedness), but I think Babel is a superior piece of work compared to Crash. That being said, I perceive Babel as being at a disadvantage because it is so very global. Sometimes the Academy has a tough time getting out of the Hollywood bubble.

The general consensus is that the field is wide open this year. Nothing stands out as clearly as the best film of the year, but I haven't heard anything to the effect that any of the nominees don't deserve to be there, only surprise at the absence of other films.

I'm going to join a few people on the limb predicting Little Miss Sunshine will win. I will probably be wrong; I usually am (see Best Picture Oscars not won by The Hours, The Aviator, Brokeback Mountain, and Saving Private Ryan).

Oscar Predictions: Supporting Actress and Actor

Actress - Supporting

Adriana Barraza - Babel
Cate Blanchett - Notes on a Scandal
Abigail Breslin - Little Miss Sunshine
Jennifer Hudson - Dreamgirls
Rinko Kikuchi - Babel

There's really no discussion here as to who's taking this one home, and now that I've finally seen Dreamgirls, I know why. Jennifer Hudson is fantastic. However, what Hudson is really nominated for is the Oscar for "Best Actress who has never been in a film before, so the producers put her in the Supporting Actress category". Hudson has a lead role in this film, not Beyoncé. It's probably for the best, though I would love to see what would happen were she pitted against Helen Mirren. There is no talk of the Supporting Actress curse which has plagued so many (Mira Sorvino; even my favourite, Angelina), perhaps because no one has been tricked into thinking Hudson is a supporting actress.

Similarly, to call Cate Blanchett "supporting" in Notes on a Scandal greatly diminishes her role. She and Dench are on screen together for the majority of the film. This is yet another example of the strategic categorizing that we see so much of these days during awards season. I understand the motive behind this, but it does present some level of unfairness to those actors and actresses whose roles actually are supporting. With limited screen time they must now stand up against roles like those of Hudson and Blanchett which dominate their respective films and have much more opportunity to make an impression on viewers.

Who should win: Jennifer Hudson
Who will win: Jennifer Hudson

Actor - Supporting

Alan Arkin - Little Miss Sunshine
Jackie Earle Haley - Little Children*
Djimon Hounsou - Blood Diamond
Eddie Murphy - Dreamgirls
Mark Wahlberg - The Departed

In spite of his strong performance and wins at the Globes and SAG, Eddie Murphy is not a lock for this one. A number of reasons have been tossed around as to why there is uncertainty here: 1) his acceptance speeches at the other awards shows made him come across as a bit of an asshole, 2) he's primarily a comedian, and the Academy doesn't traditionally award comics in dramatic roles (see Jim Carrey), though it has happened (see Robin Williams), 3) Norbit (though there are two sides to the Norbit coin because it's making a lot of money, and getting people into theatres really counts for something even if the movie is by all accounts shit-tacular).

If Murphy doesn't win, the general consensus is that Alan Arkin will. One need only watch the trailer for Little Miss Sunshine to grasp why he's nominated.

It isn't only in the actress categories that we see strategic placement of nominees. Djimon Hounsou's role in Blood Diamond is so central it's hard to justify calling him "supporting". He gives a very strong performance, and I'd be tempted to choose him over DiCaprio if they were up against one another.

Mark Wahlberg had some great lines in The Departed and his delivery of them was excellent, but his character is minor even among the many supporting roles, which probably puts him at a bit of a disadvantage (he's not Judi Dench, after all).

Who should win: I'm torn on this one
Who will win: Eddie Murphy

*indicates films I haven't seen

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Short Film Review: The Danish Poet

I was treated to a pleasant surprise at the movie theatre tonight. I took in both Dreamgirls and The Queen, and instead of playing a bunch of trailers before The Queen, I and the other two people in the theatre got to watch Torill Kove's "The Danish Poet", which was co-produced by the National Film Board and is nominated for Best Animated Short Film at the Oscars. Such a treat has never happened to me at the movie theatre. The film is delightful and funny. The animation is nice and simple, and the story is fantastic.

The NFB have posted the film on their Oscar page, so take 14 minutes to watch it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Film Review: Pan's Labyrinth (El Laberinto del Fauno)

I just got home from seeing Pan's Labyrinth, which has garnered an impressive six Oscar nominations*, all of which are well deserved, and I won't be surprised if it picks up a couple (likely Makeup, and maybe Art Direction).

Pan's Labyrinth is the story of Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), a young girl living in post-Civil War Spain in 1944. Ofelia moves to a countryside mill with her pregnant mother who recently married a fascist devotee, Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez). Ofelia is lead by a fairy-like creature into a labyrinth where she meets the faun, who believes her to be Princess Moanna, the long-lost daughter of the king of the underworld, and explains she must complete three tasks to ensure that she is the princess.

The Faun and Ofelia
The Faun and Ofelia

While Ofelia goes about performing these tasks in what appears to be a fantasy world, the Republicans hiding in the woods surrounding the mill clash with the Captain and his soldiers, and Ofelia's mother experiences a severe complications in her pregnancy.

It remains ambiguous whether the alternate world is real or a figment of Ofelia's imagination (really, the whole thing is a fairy tale based on the narration). The "fantasy" world that Ofelia enters serves as an allegory for the "real" world of fascist Spain and the situation Ofelia finds herself in. I haven't been in an English class in months, so I feel a little rusty on my interpretive skills, but I managed to draw a few parallels, some of which are more obvious than others. (I'd be curious to know what others think.)

The first task Ofelia is assigned is to retrieve a key from the stomach of a toad who lives under a tree from which he is sucking the life. I'm pretty sure the toad is Francisco Franco and the tree is Spain. The film draws attention to the reduction of food rations being given to citizens under Franco's government. The toad eats all the bugs in the tree, and the tree is dying.

The Pale Man (that creepy thing with his eyeballs in the palms of his hands that is in all the publicity) represents the Captain. He sits at the head of a table with a large feast akin to the dinner party hosted by the patriarchal Captain. The Pale Man's eyes are in the palms of his hands, which causes him to be terrifying but disoriented and unable to see clearly what is happening. Similarly, the Captain doesn't realize for some time that there are Republican sympathizers in his house.

The faun and Mercedes guide and protect Ofelia when her mother isn't able. Both disappear for a short time, but eventually return for Ofelia.

The film is much more violent than I anticipated, but less creepy. Most of the violence is inflicted by the Captain, further emphasizing the brutality of fascism. Of course, it not totally lacking in creepiness. The alternate reality is grotesque, but not in such a way that one feels compelled to avert one's eyes -- that's more likely to happen in the real world.

If you're in Halifax, Pan's Labyrinth is still going to be playing in Park Lane and Bayer's Lake next week. I suggest you see it.

*Art Direction, Cinematography, Foreign Language Film, Makeup, Original Score, Original Screenplay

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

As Oscar night draws near...

I am in the midst of a blitz of movie-watching. I'm quite pleased with my efforts to catch up on as many of the nominees as possible. I've done a couple of double features at the theatre and have rented most of what is available on DVD.

I am prepared to make a prediction on one of the big categories.

Actor - Leading

Leonardo DiCaprio - Blood Diamond
Ryan Gosling - Half Nelson
Peter O'Toole - Venus
Will Smith - The Pursuit of Happyness*
Forest Whitaker - The Last King of Scotland

The odds on this one are clearly in Whitaker's favour (he's already nabbed the Globe, SAG, and BAFTA award), and having seen The Last King of Scotland on Sunday, I now really understand why. I saw Venus a few weeks back, though, and won't be terribly shocked if the Academy decides now to award O'Toole, especially given that he is getting old, and appears to be a bit ill (though he was quite peppy during his appearance on The View). Nothing in O'Toole's performance works against him - he's absolutely brilliant as the aging actor Maurice; what is working against him, as it did the previous seven times he's been nominated, is his well-known dislike for Hollywood, and Hollywood's resulting dislike for him (yeah, he lost for Lawrence of Arabia, which was Best Picture, but he lost to Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird; that's a damn tough call). Also, he was given an honorary Oscar in 2003, so the finicky Academy may feel he's been sufficiently recognized already.

Peter O'Toole and Leslie Phillips enjoy a whiskey in Venus
Peter O'Toole and Leslie Phillips enjoy a whiskey in Venus.

I just watched Half Nelson this evening. The odds aren't in Gosling's favour, but I think it's enough of an accomplishment that anyone from Breaker High has been nominated for an Oscar. Also, it's always nice to see some Canuck representation on the big night.

From what I've been hearing, the general consensus is that nobody really understands why DiCaprio is nominated for Blood Diamond instead of The Departed. I haven't seen The Departed yet (it's on my schedule for the next few days), so I'm in no position to compare. I found Blood Diamond to be a good film overall, and I enjoyed DiCaprio's performance, but this isn't his Oscar performance.

Of the five films in this category, Blood Diamond is the only one with more nominations than the one in this category. Regardless, the films I've seen are definetly worth watching not just for these individual performances.

Who should win: Peter O'Toole
Who will win: Forest Whitaker (let's hope his acceptance speach is less painful to watch than those he gave at the Globes and SAGs)

* indicates films I haven't seen

What I'll be watching in the next few days:
Pan's Labyrinth
The Queen
The Departed
Flags of Our Fathers (maybe)