Saturday, January 13, 2007


So with all the critic groups having weighed in, climaxing with the BFCA (we'll all be forgiven for not knowing it's the Broadcast Critics Award), you have to start looking at The Departed as the front runner. It's Scorsese's year to be sure (Clint won too recently and not enough voters will see a black & white Japanese war tragedy to pull it out of the arty sidebar) and while about two months ago, before seeing any of the pictures except Marty's graduation party, I made the following Oscar predictions:

Best Picture: Dreamgirls
Best Actor: Forrest Whittaker
Best Actress: Helen Mirren
Best Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin
Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Hudson
Best Director: Martin Scorsese

I loved Dreamgirls, which is warmer than Chicago (Best Picture winner adapted by Bill Condon , who both wrote and adapted this one) and much more about period, albeit less overtly formal, but in some ways I wonder if it can beat this unusually cross-appealing guy picture. It's where two 1970's film sensations pass the baton to a gaggle of extremely good young actors doing arguably their best work to date; at the same time there's the Scorsese/Dicaprio graduation to a humongous box office success; and lastly it's Marty's graduation to the most successful plot-driven picture (and there haven't been many -- Cape Fear and Age of Innocence?) of his entire career.

Entertainment Weekly is going with:

The Departed
Little Miss Sunshine
The Queen

which is the exact same as the Producers Guild nominations and the Directors Guild.

So assuming that Little Miss Sunshine (deservedly) wins Best Original Screenplay, traditional home of the smart indie Best Picture nominee's consolation prize (hey, it happened to Citizen Kane and The Crying Game) the only question is whether Eddie Murphy's brilliant performance overcomes whatever antipathy Hollywood may have towards him for past behavior, and the Academy thinks the indie is plenty rewarded, and maybe Murphy's body of work is enough that Arkin's doesn't completely outshine him.

The other three are locks (Does anyone really think Sacha Baron Cohen can dislodge the long overdue Forest Whitaker? But you invite Borat to the Party), and the Jennifer Hudson win would mirror Catherine Zeta-Jones for Chicago, same pattern for a Best Picture win. But a Scorsese win could either be given as a one-off on what's essentially an exceptionally memorable action pic, or open the door to the total love for the biggest quadrant crossover movie in many year's toting a hard "R" rating. Like The Matrix but with the classic Hollywood counter-culture winners pedigree.

Nicholson is the underrated player in all of this, not that he deserves the award this time (won't be #4, but you always want to invite him to the Party), but no matter how hammy that role might have been -- and the outtakes are reportedly insane -- he's the anchor, the license to unleash everything else in the movie, the blessing that it would be okay, no matter the gore or the twist. I think working with Nicholson against all these young bucks freed Scorsese to cut loose like making the apotheosis Big Combo era Hollywood B-movie, with budget, the highest octane male ensemble cast in ages, and everyone playing it fast and intense.

Babel's box office is going to limit it, and the other indie-friendly award it might win is Cinematography. Maybe The Queen scores an earlier award, I'm guessing Beyonce is about to win a (again, deserved) Oscar for "Patience" and Scorsese's career-long editor, Thelma Schoonmaker could easily win her third (previously for Raging Bull and recently The Aviator), so it's feeling very democratic this year, no Titanic taking all the bacon. But it could easily be a title fight at the end of the evening, and it wouldn't shock me if a shocker slipped through.

I pick The Queen as the dark horse, maybe even the Crash, because Academy membership trends older. As in, took direction for Cecil B.DeMille. The age trend hurts Dreamgirls more than The Departed, because those 70 and older may not have grown up with Motown. One octogenarian I spoke with told me she didn't care for the music at all.

So is this like the year The Silence of the Lambs won? Intense and graphic B-movie with budget, stars, smarts, plot, "R" rating? Director Jonathan Demme and crew were up against arguably weaker competition, Beauty and the Beast, Bugsy, JFK and The Prince of Tides, but they also pulled off a similar apotheosis, the Roger Corman movie. Demme explicitly acknowledge this by giving Corman an interesting bit part in the movie, and Roger could not have had a better graduating ceremony, a prize pupil elevating such a violent form.

Dark horse nominees that could turn the Best Picture race a whole new direction are United 93, which a lot of members didn't dare subject themselves to in the theater, and may have a similar barrier even on DVD screener. Critic organizations have given it awards because they have to see everything to do their jobs, Letters from Iwo Jima for all the right reasons, and I'm afraid released too late and I'm guessing too unprepared on the Oscar campaign plan to build fast enough buzz, especially since the Academy moved up the show and the voting, and especially if it's first wave is a youthful buzz, too outlaw for the fogies. I'm dying to see Little Children but it probably peak with a writing nomination and Kate Winslet (5th time!) for Best Actress.

I started this blog last year with some Oscar analysis, and even then I wasn't interested in partisanship, just figuring out the factors why Crash won, the buzz, the marketing, even (hey!) the movie experience itself. So it feels fun to be getting back into it. Does an Eddie Murphy win boost chances for that pic or will voters see those three (or more) Oscars as enough? Is it The Dreams or cops from Southie or maybe a Queen?

I'll be interested to know if Academy voters watch The Departed for their second time at home. Because everybody saw that movie in the theater and it was a wild ride. If they are, if it becomes a DVD screener classic, it could be all momentum going into the voting, into the night of February 25th.

Sound analysis?

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