Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Oscar Short List

Oh, the Academy. But before I get to roasting that venerable body, let's see how my dad did:

Pretty well, actually. He nailed Best Actor -- five for five -- and went 13 for 20 on the rest. I know that these days there's a lot of conjecture about the nominees beforehand, but unless it's on SportsCenter, I don't think Dad is catching most of it. So this was from his own noggin, and I'm impressed.

I'm less impressed, as ever, with the voters. Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky gets one measly nomination, for its screenplay. Leaving Sally Hawkins out of the Best Actress race is crazy. (I was much less certain about his chances, but see that movie and tell me Eddie Marsan didn't deserve a Supporting nomination.)

I also think The Wrestler got stiffed. Rourke and Tomei were no-brainers in the acting categories, but Best Picture was realistic (didn't happen), and something like Best Original Screenplay would have been warranted. (Its writer, Robert Siegel, used to work for The Onion. My favorite quote of his: "The idea that a person with a comedy background would do something dark should not come as a shock to people with any exposure to comedy or darkness.")

Let's face it, though, the Oscars aren't exactly the best gauge of quality. It's hardly embarrassing to be overlooked by such a blind crew. But I'm also mad at the Academy for not even being able to set up an interestingly stupid enterprise. This criticism focuses on Best Picture. This is the big one, and yet the Academy continues to make it as boring a race as humanly possible. Not one, not two, but three of the finalists are historical dramas -- Milk, Frost/Nixon, and The Reader. (Gay rights, taking down Nixon, and the Holocaust. Shock of shocks.) Benjamin Button is a huge-budget, mega-star . . . well, remake of Forrest Gump, perhaps the worst Best Picture winner in history. Then there's Slumdog Millionaire, which the Academy probably imagines is its gritty, underdog picture. Ahem. In addition to being a pretty silly, ham-fisted movie, Slumdog is moving up the box-office charts of its studio, Fox Searchlight, which has a pretty good record of getting Oscar's attention.

What about a comic-book movie? (The Dark Knight.) Or an animated movie? (Wall-E.) Or a documentary? (Man On Wire.) Or a movie that has grossed less than six million dollars? (The Wrestler.) Or, I don't know, the best movie of the year? (Happy-Go-Lucky.) None of those are exactly unknown films, but adding any one of them to the Picture race would have created some sense of contrast and drama. As it is, the only thing to watch for at the end of the night is which movie perfectly prepackaged to win an Oscar will . . . win an Oscar.

I would say the Oscars have lost their touch, but to paraphrase Dignan in Bottle Rocket, they never had a touch to lose.



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