Nestled in my vast wealth of cynicism, in some small, protected corner of my aging, fragile mind, a blossom of tasteless love exists. The love is not pure, nor is it selfless. It wallows in self-indulgence and is wrought with superficiality. Thankfully, I only bring it to the surface once a year. All my other guilty pleasures--none of which I shall name here--need room to breathe as well.
The Oscars: a completely biased, inconsistent, bungled affair of glamor, cleavage (God bless it), pageantry, and the occasional intelligent decision. I love 'em, every spastic, melodramatic second. I snorted with glee when David Letterman imitated Jack Nicholson and beat the living hell out of a car with a golf club (1995), while the camera panned to Nicholson's unsmiling face. I bellowed like a mule when Halle Berry burst into tears and started to blubber as she accepted her award for Monster's Ball (2002). What other chances do we get to see celebrity at its narcissistic, disconnected finest? Where else can we go to celebrate a person rather than the art, their outfits rather than their craft?
And so, in the blessed spirit of all things profane and plastic and held together with double-sided tape, I offer my picks for The Academy Awards 2008, the more auspicious title for the Oscars--in case you were wondering. And these are not predictions by the way, merely opinion of who I think is most worthy. It was a brilliant year for film, one of the best in memory. This alone makes watching award shows worthwhile, just to see those brief clips of genius. Here goes...
Actor in a Leading Role: Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will be Blood. The man is the pinnacle of depraved genius, bringing a complexity to his characters that borders on the absurd. Worth noting that every other nominee in this category deserves a nod in the highest order. All great performances.
Actor in a Supporting Role: Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton. Tough call here. Javier Bardem was outstanding, as was Philip Seymour Hoffman. But Wilkinson's monologue in the opening sequence of the film clinched it for me. It was a performance rather than just a presence.
Actress in a Leading Role: Julie Christie in Away From Her. Difficult characterization to play, yet she pulls it off with such grace. Took my breath away, really. Hats off to Ellen Page in Juno as well, who was lovely and adorable and all things good.
Actress in a Supporting Role: Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton. Her character's uncertainty, her denial, her moral bankruptcy and appetite. It was like being witness to the fall of an empire.
Directing: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen for No Country For Old Men. The closest I've ever seen a film come to what I would define as literary. Their use of silence and setting, allowing a scene to speak for itself without resorting to manipulation. Flawless. Huge nod to PT Anderson for There Will Be Blood, which was such a close second I almost couldn't decide.
Writing (original screenplay): Diablo Cody for Juno. Has a second-to-none grasp on vernacular and timing. Loved the internal rhythm of the screenplay, her willingness to never shy away from that necessary reality that sparks true humor.
Writing (adapted screenplay): Sarah Polley for Away From Her. Alice Munro's "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" was treated well here, with intelligent decisions (in my mind) made by Polley to make the story breathe for the screen. Such mature writing, combined with direction, really made this stand out for me. Hats off to the Coen Brothers as well. PT Anderson's adaptation was so loose I'm not sure it was an actual adaptation as much as it was an expansion of an idea.
Best Film: No Country For Old Men. Everything comes together for this film, writing, sound, acting. It is the equivalent to watching a great novel (which it was) unfold on screen. And my God the ending of this film, so flawless and subtle with its complexity. This film in and of itself made the entire year worthwhile.
Sadly, I was not able to see any of the short films (animated or live action), nor was I able to see the foreign films this year. It's a huge disappointment, for I consider short films as I do the short story: a profound and refined art form. Foreign films are a luxury rarely afforded where I live. Few theaters ever show them. But rest assured I shall seek them out in the video store as soon as I can.
There are my picks. Now what are yours?
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