Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar Winners

The biggest movie event of the year happened on Sunday night. I was watching raptly; were you?
The Oscars exploded back onto the small screen to celebrate the acheivments on the big screen of the past year. Host Hugh Jackman was a good choice as a counter to the usual comedy man, like Billy Crystal or Jon Stewart. He did make some good jokes, including a guess as to why he wasn't nominated for Australia (because he's Australian). The highlight of his performance was definitely his opening number, in which he said since the country was in a recession, they had to cut back on sets and he made them all in his garage. So, on cardboard sets, he made hilarious songs about Slumdog Millionaire, Milk, Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, and The Dark Knight. My personal favorite was the Frost/Nixon bit, where he randomly grabbed Anne Hathaway from the audience to play Nixon in his skit. ("Frank Langella was sitting right next to me!") The second musical sequence, in which he celebrated the success of Mamma Mia! at the box office and the supposed return of the movie musical, was entirely unnecessary but a good energy-upper.
The format of this year was so clever, and yet so obvious, it makes me wonder why no one thought of it before. The evening was structured to tell a narrative about making a movie, starting with the screenplay awards, moving on to costumes and makeup, and finishing with post-production elements like music, visual effects, and sound. The major awards were sprinkled in between, with Director, Actress, Actor, and Best Picture being the last, suspenseful awards given.
Each acting award had five previous winners of that award take the stage, including last year's winners Tilda Swinton and Marion Cotillard. Each of the presenters addressed one nominee directly and praised their performance, at the end of which one of them opened the envelope and announced the winner. This was a good idea, but the praising went on uncomfortably long and was missing one vital element-the film clip. This is why some people watch the show, just to see film clips of the nominated films they did not see. While other categories used clips as normal, the four acting awards did not, leaving a sort of emptiness once the award was handed out. The producers did not think of the audience on that one.
Well, I still enjoyed the ceremony and hope that Hugh Jackman will return to host sometime in the future. Below are all the winners, complete with my commentary and comparison to my predictions. I got 15 out of 24 categories correct. Less than what I'd hoped for, but still more than half.

Best Picture

( ) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
( ) Frost/Nixon
( ) Milk
( ) The Reader
(x) Slumdog Millionaire

Correct. Slumdog came out the year's biggest film with ten nominations and an astonishing eight wins. This win marks the end of a long awards season that had this film in front for most of it. Over the next year, expect many romantic films set on game shows.

Best Director

( ) David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
( ) Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
( ) Gus Van Sant, Milk
( ) Stephen Daldry, The Reader
(x) Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire

Correct. The Best Picture and Director awards matched up this year, as they do maybe three-fourths of the time. Boyle deserves it for making the feel-good movie of the year and for it being his first nomination. Bet you didn't expect this from the guy who did 28 Days Later and Sunshine. Can't wait to see what he does next.

Best Actor

( ) Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
( ) Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
(x) Sean Penn, Milk
( ) Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
( ) Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Incorrect. I guessed Rourke would take it, but Penn was my personal preference, so I'm happy. Penn gave a beatiful acceptance speech about earning equal rights for gays which again makes me wonder who the hell voted for Proposition 8 in California. Although Rourke was extraordinary, Penn deserves it for bring Milk back to life. Milk won two awards, making it one of only four films to win multiple awards.

Best Actress

( ) Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
( ) Angelina Jolie, Changeling
( ) Melissa Leo, Frozen River
( ) Meryl Streep, Doubt
(x) Kate Winslet, The Reader

Correct. As predicted, the Academy gave Winslet her first Oscar after five previous losses. I didn't have a lot of love for that movie, but Winslet was still stunning in it. She deserves it just for being one of the greatest actresses alive. (She should have won for Titanic way back when!)

Best Supporting Actor

( ) Josh Brolin, Milk
( ) Robert Downey, Jr., Tropic Thunder
( ) Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
(x) Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
( ) Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

Correct. The Academy simply couldn't resist awarding Ledger for one of the most terrifying screen villains in history. I hate to say it, but the fact that he died actually helped his chances. This is only the second posthumous acting award in history, and it's got to be the first acting Oscar for a comic book movie. He completely deserved it; it's only a shame he didn't live to win it himself. The Dark Knight walked away with two Oscars; not bad for a sequel to a big superhero movie franchise.

Best Supporting Actress

( ) Amy Adams, Doubt
(x) Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
( ) Viola Davis, Doubt
( ) Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
( ) Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler

Incorrect. The Academy has lost their minds. I'll admit, I'm biased, I haven't seen the movie, and I don't like Cruz or Woody Allen. But her comic performance just doesn't seem to have the gusto needed for an Oscar. I would have been much happier with anyone else on the list.

Best Adapted Screenplay

( ) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
( ) Doubt
( ) Frost/Nixon
( ) The Reader
(x) Slumdog Millionaire

Correct. Slumdog won for writing to go along with Best Picture and Director. I don't know much about the book it originated from, but this film doesn't feel like it's adapted from anything. It feels completely original in every respect, even though it's essentially a formula film set in Mumbai. I'd be interested to see what this screenwriter does next.

Best Original Screenplay

( ) Frozen River
( ) Happy-Go-Lucky
( ) In Bruges
(x) Milk
( ) WALL-E

Correct. As the only Best Picture nominee of the bunch, Milk easily won this prize. Dustin Lance Black's acceptance speech was one of the highlights of the evening, as he promised all of his gay audience members that God loves them and soon they will have equal rights. A very impressive script from a first-time writer; hope he makes more like these in the future.

Best Original Score

( ) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
( ) Defiance
( ) Milk
(x) Slumdog Millionaire
( ) WALL-E

Correct. Slumdog's soundtrack's unique sound took this award away from the more traditional scores. If you haven't heard the soundtrack, I encourage you to check it out; it's a little taste of Bollywood.

Best Original Song

( ) "Down to Earth," WALL-E
(x) "Jai Ho," Slumdog Millionaire
( ) "O Saya," Slumdog Millionaire

Incorrect. Maybe I should have seen this one coming, but typically, multiple nominations here is bad luck. "Jai Ho" is completely in Hindi, and is a heavily choreographed dance sequence played out during the end credits that doesn't really make sense with the rest of the film. Regardless, it's almost impossible not to fall in love with it. Again, check out this song on the soundtrack if you haven't.

Best Film Editing

( ) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
( ) The Dark Knight
( ) Frost/Nixon
( ) Milk
(x) Slumdog Millionaire

Incorrect. This year's editing Oscar squared up with Best Picture as it often does. I still think The Dark Knight is more worthy, but since it didn't get nominated for the top spot, maybe its nomination is its victory. Slumdog's editing does help set the mood nicely.

Best Cinematography

( ) Changeling
( ) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
( ) The Dark Knight
( ) The Reader
(x) Slumdog Millionaire

Correct. Although I prefered The Dark Knight to win here, I correctly guessed that Slumdog's handheld camerawork would prevail. It puts the viewer right next to the action and adds to the excitement of already exciting scenes.

Best Makeup

(x) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
( ) The Dark Knight
( ) Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Correct. The makeup helped age Brad Pitt in reverse and Cate Blanchett and Taraji P. Henson forward. Although Hellboy's work is impressive, it was all just monsters, which is kind of easy to do, and The Dark Knight's makeup was really only for the Joker's face. Benjamin Button won three Oscars, an impressive feat considering Slumdog gobbled up every award in sight.

Best Costume Design

( ) Australia
( ) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
(x) The Duchess
( ) Milk
( ) Revolutionary Road

Correct. This award always goes to the biggest and most glamorous costumes, which this year's was a no-brainer. Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes looked very dashing in their Victorian-era garbs.

Best Art Direction

( ) Changeling
(x) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
( ) The Dark Knight
( ) The Duchess
( ) Revolutionary Road

Correct. Slumdog would have won here if it was nominated, but its exclusion granted mercy to Benjamin Button, allowing it to win one for its stellar scenes all over the world and all across time.

Best Visual Effects

(x) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
( ) The Dark Knight
( ) Iron Man

Correct. While I love the special effects in all the nominees, Benjamin Button got it for aging Brad Pitt in reverse. It gets extra points for putting the fantasy element seamlessly into a period drama where it didn't belong.

Best Sound Mixing

( ) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
( ) The Dark Knight
(x) Slumdog Millionaire
( ) WALL-E
( ) Wanted

Incorrect. A huge shocker for me, Slumdog stole the award away from WALL-E. The robot's beeps and boops were no match for the bustling business of Mumbai, apparently. Just goes to show that a strong film that everyone loves cannot be stopped in any category.

Best Sound Editing

(x) The Dark Knight
( ) Iron Man
( ) Slumdog Millionaire
( ) WALL-E
( ) Wanted

Incorrect. I spoke too soon; this is the only category in which Slumdog lost. (For Original Song, it lost to itself.) While I still think Ben Burtt deserved recognition for his work in WALL-E, it's nice to see that The Dark Knight was honored in the technical categories.

Best Animated Feature

( ) Bolt
( ) Kung Fu Panda
(x) WALL-E

Correct. This was one of the surest things this year, and a highlight of the night was Jack Black (the star of Kung Fu Panda) presenting the award. Black joked that he bet all his money on Pixar before the ceremony; lucky for him, the film sailed to victory.

Best Foreign Language Film

( ) The Baader Meinhof Complex
( ) The Class
(x) Departures
( ) Revanche
( ) Waltz with Bashir

Incorrect. This was one of the big surprises of the evening; it seemed to clearly be between The Class and Waltz. Surprise winner Departures was a huge hit in Japan, but isn't even available in the United States.

Best Documentary Feature

( ) The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)
( ) Encounters at the End of the World
( ) The Garden
(x) Man on Wire
( ) Trouble the Water

Correct. Man on Wire was clearly the favorite and easily walked to the winner's circle. Possibly the highlight of the evening came right after the acceptance speeches, in which Philippe Petit- the man on wire himself- grabbed the producer's Oscar and balanced it on his face for a few seconds. Like the stunt he pulled in the film, there was no reason for this, it was just so he could say he did it. It became the iconic image of the evening and will be remembered for a long time to come.

Best Live Action Short Film

( ) Auf der Strecke (On the Line)
( ) Manon on the Asphalt
( ) New Boy
( ) The Pig
(x) Spielzeugland (Toyland)

Correct. The Holocaust-themed film won the prize, as predicted.

Best Animated Short Film

(x) La Maison en Petits Cubes
( ) Lavatory Lovestory
( ) Oktapodi
( ) Presto
( ) This Way Up

Incorrect. The Japanese short stole the award away from Pixar's wonderful Presto. Like the foreign language film, this short is not available in the United States. Why does the Academy vote for films they likely have not seen?

Best Documentary Short

( ) The Conscience of Nhem En
( ) The Final Inch
(x) Smile Pinki
( ) The Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306

Incorrect. Smile Pinki, about a child with a cleft lip getting surgery, won the award that no one cares about.

Thanks for reading, and thank you Hugh Jackman for bringing the Oscars up from last year's low!
Jai ho!

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