Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Oscar Picks Part II

Fresh off the road to the red carpet comes Oscar Picks Part II (now with fancy fonts!). Just a note: I tried to limit my picks to categories that I have seen the majority (3 of 5) of the films. This excludes the animated and live action short films, make up, costume design, art direction, and (surprisingly) actress in a leading role, although I feel like I've seen "Julie & Julia."

ALSO: Apologies for the annoying changes in font sizes throughout. Blogger flips out when I cut and paste things from other websites.

Anywho, here we go, folks!

Actor in a Leading Role

  • Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart”
  • George Clooney in “Up in the Air”
  • Colin Firth in “A Single Man”
  • Morgan Freeman in “Invictus”
  • Jeremy Renner in “The Hurt Locker”

Joe's Pick: Morgan Freeman in "Invictus"!

Sometimes we may forget how awesome Morgan Freeman is. A skim through his IMDB page makes me think that he's been phoning in performances for about a decade, and then here comes "Invictus": an intermittently good movie with two of the best performances of the year slapping us in the face. Freeman performs a great feat in this movie reserved for only the John Waynes and the Jimmy Stewarts: you forget you are watching Nelson Mandella (the character), and at the same time you forget that you are watching Morgan Freeman (the man). It is a great performance, and could have been even closer to perfect had Eastwood known how to edit a couple of ridiculous, comically unnecessary scenes from the script.

Seeing Clooney in "Up in the Air" made me realize that he's been phoning it in for a few years as well. Or at least leaning on a caricature of his acting ability a bit too much. His reserved style in "Air" reaches for the same greatness that Freeman arrives at, but doesn't shock your system with how amazing it is. Jeremy Renner was a competent lead in a solid movie, but shouldn't be on the list. I could see him acting the whole time. Colin Firth was vague unconvincing, though I think this was a problem with the director, not with the actor. He did the best he could. And Jeff Bridges, well ...

Oscar's Pick: Jeff Bridges in "Crazy Heart"!

From Leo McCarey to Martin Scorsese, Oscar is often a bit confused about who to give what award when. Jeff Bridges will be the next artist in the tradition of The Right Prize for the Wrong Movie. He's had it in the bag since late last year thanks to a push from internet buzz, and has already paved the way with a Golden Globe. Bridges is the by far best part about "Crazy Heart," and puts in a great performance. The same great performance that he's been putting in for years in good and bad movies alike, and finally he'll be recognized for his accomplishments. Too bad it wasn't in a better movie.

Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Matt Damon in “Invictus”
  • Woody Harrelson in “The Messenger”
  • Christopher Plummer in “The Last Station”
  • Stanley Tucci in “The Lovely Bones”
  • Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds”
Joe's Pick: Matt Damon in "Invictus!"

Between "Invictus" and "The Informant!", Matt Damon is doing the work of his career this year. He has completely erased any reservations I had about him as an actor. Morgan Freeman's performance may be toweringly awesome, but I actually think Damon's is better. He provides the perfect support role and is incredibly convincing; the first time he pops on screen I thought, "Oh, I get it: starring a 21 year old Matt Damon." Its hard to see him as any older throughout the entire movie. Add to this the fact that I actually like his reserved, classy style better than the Movie Star style Mr. Freeman employs, and you have a great combo. Of the five nominees, he surpasses three of them by miles. Christoph Waltz, on the other hand ...

Oscar's Pick: Christoph Waltz in "Inglorious Basterds!"

Oscar will pick Waltz, and Waltz deserves the prize. I really can't say enough good about his performance. He out-acts everyone else in the movie. He handles the drama and the comedy of Tarantino's writing in one hugely engaging performance. And he makes it look easy. In a movie that, as we've discussed, holds more formal rapture than it does emotional engagement, he lends a personal dimension to a cartoon character (complete with oversize pipe) that in carries the film in a big way.

Sound Editing

  • Avatar” Christopher Boyes and Gwendolyn Yates Whittle
  • The Hurt Locker” Paul N.J. Ottosson
  • Inglourious Basterds” Wylie Stateman
  • Star Trek” Mark Stoeckinger and Alan Rankin
  • Up” Michael Silvers and Tom Myers
Joe's Pick: Paul N.J. Ottosson for "Hurt Locker!"

What the hell do I know about sound editing? Nothing, that's what. The only, and I mean the only thing I'm basing this pick on is the fact that in the middle of watching "The Hurt Locker," I said out loud under my breath, "Whew, that sounds good." That's it. That's all I'm basing this pick on. Does sound theory state that sound should be an invisible component to the film (i.e. if you don't realize you're hearing it, it's good sound editing)? Or is the accepted school more visceral and tries to grab the audience by the ears? I don't know. In the middle of the movie, I literally muttered out loud a comment on the sound. So BOOM. Winner.

Oscar's Pick: Christopher Boyes and Gwendolyn Yates Whittle for "Avatar!"

Because I bet that Oscar is going to award a lot of technical achievements to "Avatar," regardless of actual merit or quality of the individual aspects. This is just a hunch, and again, what the hell do I know?


  • Avatar” Mauro Fiore
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” Bruno Delbonnel
  • The Hurt Locker” Barry Ackroyd
  • Inglourious Basterds” Robert Richardson
  • The White Ribbon” Christian Berger
Joe's Pick: Christian Berger for "White Ribbon!"

This has nothing to do with my pick, but I thought I'd let you know: Ryan, my roommate / artmate / friendmate / soulmate, got to attend the American Society of Cinematographers Awards Ceremony this year. He got to attend because he and his co-cinematographer Masaki Imai won Honorable Mention in the Heritage Award category for their short film "Sounds of Silence." He talked giddily to Christian Berger in the parking lot for ten minutes about his work with Haneke. That's pretty damn cool.

You could hand "White Ribbon" to an audience member and, if they didn't know that the steadicam came into general use with Ashby and Avildsen in '76, you could tell them that it was made in '40 or '50 or '60 and they probably wouldn't think twice about it. It is weirdly timeless thanks to a number of different factors: casting plays a huge part, and so does Berger's cinematography. Berger taps into the quality of the masters -- I got the Clouzot and Bergman vibe while Ryan got the Bresson vibe -- but not in the pastiche, post-modern, ironic kind of way. He just taps into it with pure ability. There are scenes that just couldn't be shot any better way. He can literally film a closed door and make it riveting.

Oscar's Pick: Mauro Fiore for "Avatar!"

This is a tough call. Oscar might give the prize to Berger (fingers crossed!), but I'm thinking that the "Avatar" sweep starts early and fast. My second choice would be Barry Ackroyd for "Hurt Locker," since he was able to reign in the multiple-hand-held-camera style into something really concise and watchable. Usually it gives me a headache, but Ackroyd nailed it. Oscar, though, will look not at gorgeousness (Richardson for "Inglorious") or the utilitarian adherence to genre (Delbonell for "Harry Potter").

No, he'll go for a big, flashy endorsement of 3-D and its possibilities. And this will be a wasted prize. I think the camera work in "Avatar" was functional at best, which isn't necessarily as much of a dis on Fiore as it is on Cameron. Obviously the motion capture camera-stuff is amazing, but from what I understand this is more to help the computer animation than it is a tool in the cinematographers bag. It'll win not for its merits, but what it claims to be, which is a leap ahead in the world of cinema. I think its a pretty boring throwback.

More tomorrow!


emma said...

I didn't realize that you'd seen A Single Man, but re "Colin Firth was vague unconvincing, though I think this was a problem with the director, not with the actor. He did the best he could." I couldn't disagree more. Surely you'll recall the scene when he receives the call that his lover has been killed. Without saying a word, or replaying those gasping, twisted-faced conventional responses to The Phone Call, he communicates the most perfect anguish I've ever seen on film. Firth's strength is his ability to react, to be moved by the other people on screen, which is a talent often overlooked by Oscar, and amost entirely absent in Freeman's Mandella. Remember when he lights the cigarette of that handsome young Spaniard standing outside of the grocery store. It's the middle of the day and there are no heavy shadows and no words. No superficial drama. It's just him, and he just watches. And you watch him watching, and you understand the way that he feels it, so acutely, like that intense moment of beauty that, if i may, fills you up to your eyes. True, the movie loses itself in the third act, but mostly because it tries to force an arc and an ending onto a film that otherwise feels infinite.

More to say later.

Shawn said...

I just think the Oscars are so annoying that it's also even impossible to talk about them without being annoying.

And the things it makes you say! It's all so ridiculous, simplistic, reductive, or vulgar. I'm going to stop reading these things, out of friendship preservation, because for example I'm even a couple affronts behind, including last segment's proclamation that "Kathryn Bigelow's other stand out flick [is] Point Break."

joe said...

Oh come on people! I'm writing it like an Oscar Writer. Do I have to explain the tongue in my cheek? Comments well noted :D

joe said...

I love it! keep posting more! (I logged in again to say this)

Ryan said...

I didn't realize there were going to be spoilers...

emma said...

The lover dies is the first scene of the movie, and "Gay man copes with the sudden death of his lover" is practically the tagline. So unless you're referring to the ever so pivotal cigarette lighting scene...I believe you're the spoiler (of oscar parties).