I Don't Know How to Ride A Bike... <BR>(and other ramblings): March 2007

I Don't Know How to Ride A Bike...
(and other ramblings)

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Oscars Shmoscars

So the title of this post is a little misleading because it sounds like I'm dismissing the Oscars, which were broadcast a couple of days ago, when in reality I: a) watched the whole broadcast; b) participated in a betting pool based on the broadcast; and c) am going to proceed to talk about the Oscars at length.

Now that the Oscar hoopla has died down -- and we know who wore what, who failed to impress the fashion critics, who gave the best and worst speeches, and who went home with who after the after-parties -- we can look forward to next season's predictably equally boring and drawn-out broadcast (and the prospect of another freshly-shaven Jack Nicholson sighting).

But after this season's ceremony, I'm not sure how much I'm looking forward to another three-plus hours of awards and celebrity masturbating. My dour mood may be a result of being a sore loser. OK, it has everything to do with the fact that I lost the pool. It was a very unpredictable year, and two of the biggest upsets cost me a cool $20 (...in our annual pool, we aim low). First was the Best Supporting Actor category, which went to Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine. While my pick was no better (ahem, Eddie Murphy, who followed up his Oscar nomination with the worst film in the world), Arkin's performance was nowhere near the caliber of Djimon Hounsou, Mark Wahlberg, or Jackie Earle Haley. Similarly, Best Foreign Language Film went to a film that no one outside of Academy voters has ever seen, while the very excellent Pan's Labyrinth got all the technical awards but no big win.

This isn't the first time I've been a little more than disappointed at the outcome of the Academy Awards. There have been several wins that I think were undeserved. And while I'm no big fancy shmancy Academy Award voter, I do have my own free blog, so here are my unpopular opinions:

2005 Best Picture: Crash
Crash was a good movie, but it should have gone to Brokeback Mountain. There's just something about a big ensemble piece that's all about Sending A Very Special Message About Racism that doesn't pack the same artistic and affected punch as an understated love story between two cowboys.

The acting in Crash was great, but the myriad of intertwined storylines seemed convoluted at times. Specifically, I could have done without Sandra Bullock's Lifetime Lesson of the Week as a woman who learns, through loneliness, that her bigoted ways were wrong. And Ryan Phillippe's slack-jawed cop, though integral to the plot, might have been more compelling with more back story -- at least then we could try to care about the person, rather than just reacting to the person's actions.

In contract, Brokeback Mountain was a much simpler movie, but the cinematography, direction, and acting put it over the top. Who knew that Heath Ledger could actually act? And that Michelle Williams could have a life after "Dawson's Creek"? At least Ang Lee received an Oscar for his efforts, so not all was in vain.

2005 Best Actress In A Leading Role: Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line
Reese Witherspoon was fortunate enough to churn out a good performance in an otherwise unremarkable year for leading women in cinema, but her performance in Walk the Line was nothing to write home about. After hearing so much about the film and all of Witherspoon's trophies, I expected to be blown away by the film and her acting. Instead I was kind of amused, but mostly bored (and a little hungry).

I do like Witherspoon as an actress, but as June Carter, she seems like she's stuck in a romantic comedy with a dramatic twist -- Spunky Woman meets Complicated Man, Spunky Woman falls in love with Complicated Man, Complicated Man hits rock bottom, only to be nursed back to health by Spunky Woman who, in turn, forgives him and makes him Better Man. I suspect that half of the awe in Witherspoon's performance, much like Jamie Foxx's performance in Ray, was because of her authentic musical performance in the film.

But if you want to talk authentic performances, then let's take a look at Felicity Huffman in Transamerica. Not only was she strikingly convincing as a pre-op transsexual, but she made Bree a flawed but compelling person instead of a caricature, which could have very well been the fate of the role in less capable hands. Transamerica isn't the best film of its year (which may have been why Huffman was overlooked), but Huffman was certainly the Best Actress.

2003 Adapted Screenplay: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
I know this isn't a much-lauded category (let's face it, screenwriters aren't really household names), and I know my saying this is probably blasphemy, but Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King should not have won Best Adapted Screenplay. My reason? Half of the film involved intricate and overly long battle scenes, and the other involved intricate and overly long special effects sequences. How hard was that to adapt??? Plus, the ending was about one hour too long. Any of the other nominees -- American Splendor, City of God, Mystic River, or Seabiscuit (wait, not Seabiscuit) -- would have been a much more adequate winner.

2002 Best Picture: Chicago
I think it was a huge surprise to many that a musical managed to win Best Picture in 2002, but Chicago was apparently this year's Dreamgirls. I have nothing against musicals, Renee Zellweger, or Catherine Zeta-Jones' bob, but I don't think Chicago deserved the golden statuette.

The other nominees, which included Gangs of New York, The Hours, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and The Pianist, were a potpourri of Hollywood offerings. On one hand, you had a period piece by Martin Scorcese (is it me, or does that man become increasingly cute with time?), while in the other, there was a fantasy film about a hobbit and his merry troop of men battling the forces of evil. And then there was The Hours, which was a sweeping but ultimately forgettable film about three generations of women (and Nicole Kidman's prosthetic nose).

Which leaves The Pianist, directed by Best Director winner Roman Polanski and starring Best Actor winner Adrien Brody. In terms of overall end product (not to mention the beautiful performances and poignant plot), this was my bet for Best Film.

1997 Actress In A Leading Role: Helen Hunt, As Good As It Gets
Really? I don't know why they didn't give this one to Kate Winslet for her turn as Rose in Titanic. Not only did the film earn the entire world's gross domestic product three times over, but it also made teen girls swoon. But that's not really the reason that Winslet should have won the Oscar; the real reason is because she is rapidly becoming the next Martin Scorcese -- always the bridesmaid, never the bride. If Winslet had won the Oscar, we would have been very content with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Finding Neverland, and Little Children. In contast, Hunt gave us Pay It Forward, What Women Want, and Bobby. It's not so much the so-called Best Actress Oscar curse that did Hunt in, but the Academy's penchant for overlooking a superior actress.

1994 Best Picture: Forrest Gump
I admit it: I enjoyed Forrest Gump. Immensely. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me want to play ping-pong and then run a couple of miles. And in the '90s, it was probably one of the best films to grace the big screen.

Nevertheless, my Best Picture pick goes to The Shawshank Redemption. It has drama, it has conviction, and it has Tim Robbins and Morgan Freedman in one of the best roles of their lives. I'll take Andy Dufresne over a box of chocolates any day.

From start to finish, The Shawshank Redemption is a gripping tale about hardships, friendships, and the power of hope. It may be argued that Forrest Gump includes many of these elements in its execution, but The Shawshank Redemption, in my opinion, does it slightly better.

One of the things I love about this film is its dialogue. I'm big on dialogue, and as maudlin as The Shawshank Redemption can get, it gets me every time. With his sophisticated, gravelly voice, Morgan Freeman makes a great narrator. And when he says: "I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don't want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can't be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free," I dare you to not be moved.