Archive for Thursday, February 24, 2005

Film critic provides Oscar preview

February 24, 2005

America is saturated with awards shows.

Starting around the first of the year, it seems every few days there is an awards show.

After sitting through many of these broadcasts out of morbid curiosity or sheer boredom, it becomes increasingly clear that the Oscars are the ONLY awards show that mean anything.

They mean instant box-office. They mean added clout. They mean when movie stars die, the first words on their obituary are "Oscar-winning actor ..."

And the Academy Awards are still the only show where anybody remembers the peripheral shenanigans. (Just try and name ANY moment from the past 30 Grammys telecasts.) Whether that involves Marlon Brando refusing his trophy because of the country's treatment of the American Indian or a fuzzy streaker interrupting David Niven or Adrien Brody soul-kissing Halle Berry, there are dozens of moments burned into our collective memories during the event's 77-year run.

Although rabble-rousers Michael Moore and Mel Gibson will be shut out from making any incendiary speeches this year, there is a chance for some controversial antics. Already first-time host Chris Rock has prompted the networks to impose a five-second "decency delay."

Decency? If I wanted decency I'd watch the Country Music Awards.

I want controversy. I want suspense. I want credibility. I want the Oscars, baby.

Best Actor

But enough rambling. Now on to the predictions portion of our program.

Prior to the announcement of the best actor nominations, pundits had already declared this a two-horse race between Jamie Foxx in "Ray" and Paul Giamatti in "Sideways."

Then Giamatti inexplicably failed to get nominated, his slots taken by Johnny Depp, Don Cheadle, Clint Eastwood and Leonardo DiCaprio. While all of these are rather excellent nominees (yes, even Depp, who elevated the tame "Finding Neverland" to something noteworthy), none have much of a chance against Foxx.

As I wrote in my original review of the Ray Charles biopic, "Jamie Foxx gives the performance of the year as the late Charles. This is one of those rare biographical turns where the actor so completely immerses himself in the role that it ceases to be an impression and becomes more like a spiritual possession."

Nothing I've seen since then has changed my mind.

¢ Best Actor (99 percent certain) Jamie Foxx for "Ray."

Best Actress

Things start to get tricky with the ladies.

Conventional wisdom says it will be a showdown between Hilary Swank ("Million Dollar Baby") and Annette Bening ("Being Julia"). If this matchup looks familiar, that's because the pair went head-to-head five years ago when Swank's gender-swapping turn in "Boys Don't Cry" bested Bening's "American Beauty" stint.

However, the very fact that Swank landed an Oscar so recently leaves her vulnerable to a defeat similar to the one her character endures in the movie. Plus, after seeing her pick up prizes at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild shows, she should be banned from making any more gushy, "thank my agent" speeches.

Bening has plenty of momentum. In "Being Julia" she plays an aging, self-absorbed actress who carries on an affair with a younger admirer. If half the Academy's aging, self-absorbed actresses who have carried on affairs with younger admirers vote for her, then she might pull out the win.

Although my two favorite performances of the year - Catalina Sandino Moreno in "Maria Full of Grace" and Kate Winslet in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" - will have to take solace in merely being nominated, this category is still poised for a major upset.

I'm banking on Swank and Bening splitting the vote and the little-known Imelda Staunton sneaking in with her good-hearted abortionist role in "Vera Drake." This setup reminds me of two years ago when Daniel Day-Lewis and Jack Nicholson were the overwhelming favorites and Adrien Brody ended up with the prize.

Plus, honoring Staunton's performance is one more way for the Hollywood left to stick it to the right-wing crowd.

¢ Best Actress (55 percent certain) Imelda Staunton for "Vera Drake."

Best Picture

"Sideways" is too lightweight; "Finding Neverland" is too manipulative; "Ray" is too much like a made-for-TV movie.

Best picture winners historically fall into two categories: epic or emotional.

On the epic side there is "The Aviator." On the emotional end there is "Million Dollar Baby." The former inspires more admiration than genuine fondness. It's a technical triumph. It's flashy. It's intriguing.

The latter evokes a poignancy that lasts long after the movie ends. This film's dark finale has upgraded it to become the most controversial of the nominees at this year's Oscars. The ethical actions that its characters wrestle with are the subject of far more water-cooler conversations than any of these contenders. Regardless of one's moral objections to the film, watching "Million Dollar Baby" provides the most memorable experience of these five.

¢ Best Picture (75 percent certain) "Million Dollar Baby."

Other predictions:

¢ Best Supporting Actor (80 percent certain) Morgan Freeman for "Million Dollar Baby."

¢ Best Supporting Actress (75 percent certain) Cate Blanchett for "The Aviator."

¢ Best Director (60 percent certain) Martin Scorsese for "The Aviator."

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