Sunday, March 07, 2010

Oscars 2010 - Analysis, part 2

A note about the acting awards: even though I, and everyone else, calls them, e.g. "best actor," the real title is "best performance by an actor" - which has some crucial ramifications.

Back in 2007 I quoted the TNR's Kaufmann why he doesn't judge the Oscars and he said: "Oh, I always watch the Oscar broadcast. I wouldn't want to miss the irritation--or the laughs. I'll never forget the year that Marisa Tomei beat out Vanessa Redgrave as best supporting actress." I liked this quote at the time, but it only makes sense if you describe the award as 'best actor' and not 'best performance.' Only a geriatric pompous gasbag would deny that while a person can be a better actor over a life-time, a specific performance, whether for the legitimate (read: obsolete) theater or a film, can be better than any other that year. It's akin to what I've heard about golf - people like the game because there's a possibility that on a particular hole, you can get a score better than the superstars, for that hole.

As such, when calibrating the acting awards, the voters may actually be rewarding a performance over an actor. And this is especially so when a performance is spectacular. The question is whether there's a curve; whether the pretty-boy leads who finally turn in a decent performance are given extra weight (a handicap, to continue - and exhaust my - golf metaphor) than others. Truly this is what has happened for Best Actress in the past - where some sexy - and popular - ingenue finally dials in a serious performance and is given extra credit. How else to explain the absurd wins of:
There are probably many more from the earlier years. Suffice to say, that this is a clear pattern, especially for Best Actress, and while it's possibly from a weird sexism of the above-mentioned octogenarians, I'd personally bet on it.

Best Peformance: Actor -- Odds; Nominees:

  1. Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart (2009) *
  2. George Clooney for Up in the Air (2009/I)
  3. Colin Firth for A Single Man (2009)
  4. Morgan Freeman for Invictus (2009)
  5. Jeremy Renner for The Hurt Locker (2008)
OK, so while Clooney is awesome in general, he has won recently (Supporting in 2006), and is young enough to have a few more years of good potential performances. Renner is new and is honored to just be nominated (and I'm glad he's able to rise above his bad-guy turn in S.W.A.T.); Morgan Freeman has also won recently and since he plays his persona in every movie, I don't see his performance getting such a nod. Firth has been doing some good work recently, basically filling in Hugh Grant's soggy shoes, and his character is gay and oppressed - Milk may have, uh, milked that guilt award away. But, really, from all I've heard, the word on the street is that the voters are finally going to reward Bridges for his years of incredible work. As above with The Departed etc, there's no standout performance that can take away Bridges' lifetime (read: Big Lebowski) achievement award. I mean, it's his fifth nomination, with his first nom in his first starring role (The Last Picture Show) and he's never won.

Best Actress -- Odds, Nominees:
  1. Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side (2009)
  2. Helen Mirren for The Last Station (2009)
  3. Carey Mulligan for An Education (2009)
  4. Gabourey Sidibe for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009)
  5. Meryl Streep for Julie & Julia (2009)*

I just see this as the classic battle between the Finally-Serious-Ingenue (Bullock) and the Truly-Great-Peformance (Streep).

Pros for Bullock:

  1. She's been out of work for a number of years after spending her 20s as quiry-manic-pixie-girl romantic comedy leads. When she started work again, this past year, she returned with a vengeance: two romantic comedies and one drama (All About Steve, The Proposal and The Blind Side)
  2. The movie she's in is racist as all git out, but specifically, just as racist as Crash, which won in 2004.
I'm outa time here (I just got home from an all-day-trip), so I'll say that the odds-makers are saying it's Streep, and A.O. Scott as well, and her performance was definitely wonderful (I saw it). She's also been nominated a billion times and has only won Best Actress once, even though she's the best of her generation, back in 1983! It's a real tough one - the stupid ingenue-award pattern, a la Halle Barre, vs. an overlooked superstar (like Jeff Bridges) who was great in Doubt, and others. I'm going to go with Streep on this and hope that it's because of the racism of "The Blind Side" in our Obama age. I'm going against my instincts, letting my intellect outvote my gut, but I'll gamble on it (although if I were a real gambler I'd put money on Bullock).

Best Supporting Actor - Nominees:
  1. Matt Damon for Invictus (2009)
  2. Woody Harrelson for The Messenger (2009/I)
  3. Christopher Plummer for The Last Station (2009)
  4. Stanley Tucci for The Lovely Bones (2009)
  5. Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds (2009)*
Oh this is another toughie. Plummer has had an awesome career and this is the only time he's been nominated, and he's getting way too old for other stuff. And he would win in a normal year (crushing even Tucci who is one of the best actors of this generation and who is also being nominated for the first time, for what I've heard is a so-so role, but who's young enough to get nominated again, especially because his work has been consistently great). But this is where the "performance" part of the award comes in: Waltz's performance was one of the best I've ever seen, and I think it trumps Plummer's lifetime achievement and Tucci's general awesomeness.

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Penélope Cruz for Nine (2009)
  2. Vera Farmiga for Up in the Air (2009/I)
  3. Maggie Gyllenhaal for Crazy Heart (2009)
  4. Anna Kendrick for Up in the Air (2009/I)
  5. Mo'Nique for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009)*
Everyone says it's Mo'Nique (not Monique, not Monica, it's got a vestigial apostrophe like the umlaut of Spinal Tap), and that's good enough for me.

Best Original Screenplay
  1. The Hurt Locker (2008): Mark Boal
  2. Inglourious Basterds (2009)*: Quentin Tarantino
  3. The Messenger (2009/I): Alessandro Camon, Oren Moverman
  4. A Serious Man (2009): Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
  5. Up (2009): Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Thomas McCarthy

No time, no time. I'm hoping they'll award Inglorious because it was a genius film, but the leftover spillage will probably help The Hurt Locker.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. District 9 (2009): Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
  2. An Education (2009): Nick Hornby
  3. In the Loop (2009)*: Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche
  4. Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009): Geoffrey Fletcher
  5. Up in the Air (2009/I): Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner
District 9 is supposed to be excellent (I just got it from Netflix and haven't seen it yet). I did just see "In the Loop" and it's as sharp as a samurai sword. I hope it wins and it's likely to, since it's an allegory of the Iraq War (which people still are against) while District is an allegory about race and immigration (which is passe in Obama's America... at least according to the standard Hollywood meathead)

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