The grandest of all clusterfucks in the world of film, the Oscars are like a hurricane that sucks up every film lover in its path--- from the most casual of fans to the most hardcore of cinemaniacs, there's really no avoiding them. Whether you love or hate them, there isn’t a movie fan alive who can avoid some discussion of the Oscars; it’s what the feverish, seemingly never-ending awards season culminates in. Oscar parties don't celebrate the awards themselves--- rather, it celebrates the end of award season circle jerk.
In spite of the Oscars’ innate lack of importance, the last two years’ ceremonies have been noteworthy. In 2006 Martin Scorsese received his long overdue award, and in 2007 the Coen Brothers were awarded their long overdue honor. For the first time in over a decade, the Academy was willing to give the big prize to films with violent undercurrents instead of self-important nonsense pictures (The Departed is at least silly nonsense). Last year's ceremony, rather than being a much needed sign of change in the Academy's taste (There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men being front runners has to be a unique bridging of quality and popular tastes, an anomaly in the Awards' history), seems like it was just a fluke. Now that the actors' strike is over, we're back to self-congratulatory red carpet trash--- stifling, self important garbage that suffocates world view as opposed to enlightening it. Because I hate being behind on popular movie taste, I forced myself to sit through all the nominated films. It wasn't a pretty experience.
With that being said, on to the pictures themselves.
David Fincher’s technical virtuosity does nothing to expand the themes of this vacant tale, which has all the schmaltz of Forrest Gump (a film I do not admire) but none of the energy. Fincher deliberately bores and stifles in the name of an intellectual pursuit; it’s turgid, lifeless formalism at its most portentous. I admire aspects of Fincher’s technique, but it is absolutely meaningless in the context of the narrative. The casting of Cate Blanchett’s is most revealing of Fincher’s methods--- like Fincher, Blanchett is all sanctimonious, distracting technique and no genuine emotion. Seriously, I walked out of the movie theater starving because I’d just watched scenery getting chewed for three endless hours.
If liberals in H'wood really wanted to look ahead to the future instead of doubling back on the past, Frost/Nixon never would have made it past the green lighting phase. Instead of contributing to our understanding of the nation’s 37th President, Richie Cunningham’s film is really only about invalidating genuine political discourse and re-inflating the left’s favorite punching bag, Richard Nixon. By treating the Watergate break in like it was the Reichstag's fire, Cunningham fundamentally misunderstands the dramaturgical power of Richard Nixon's story. Instead of analyzing the corrupting influence of politics in the United States (‘the beast’, as Oliver Stone so flawlessly phrased it in his masterpiece Nixon), Frost/Nixon is two-hours of pseudo-grandstanding and partisan hackery; in terms of political dialogue, it’s about as enlightening as your average cable news program, and it even comes complete with its own set of pseudo-babbling talking heads. In spite of being just plain stupid, Frost/Nixon has to count as Cunningham's first legitimately watchable film since Apollo 13, maybe Night Shift, at least in the sense that it's not offensively pedestrian and trivializing. It's just insipid.
The first of the discussed nominees to have an actual sense of life, Milk at least has the common sense to be amicable self-importance. Coasting by on energy and Sean Penn's weightless, graceful performance, Milk succeeds in embodying the three part biopic structure without dragging it out with pretension. Gus Van Sant manages to transpose his indie aesthetic to a populist form, and the result may count as one of the finer genre efforts of the year. The supporting players are all wonderful to, with Josh Brolin managing to touch a humanistic note in spite of the fact that his character is woefully underwritten. Van Sant more or less transposes his 'reasoning' for the school shootings in Elephant, that repressed homosexual rage leads to murder, and it's especially tacked on in this film.
This movie seriously fucking sucks. In all honesty, I turned off this piece of shit about a half hour in, so I can’t really comment at length on it. The Weinstein’s are another in a long line of cultural derelicts to prove that there really is no business like Shoah business, like no business I know.
Yes, I know, it’s pornography. It’s television. It’s gimmicky. It’s so sappy that you’re blowing your nose in pancakes by the end. It’s loud. It’s obnoxious. It’s bombastic. I think there is a certain sect of contrarian critics simply hating the idea of a film so digitized, and they throw out a set of meaningless buzzwords to jump on a bandwagon of hate. Maybe I’m just worn out of hating every critical and award darling this season, but I really do struggle to see what is so contemptible about Slumdog Millionaire. Benjamin Button, Frost Nixon, The Reader, and even Milk deliberately suffocate the audience with self-importance; in contrast to this, Slumdog Millionaire is practically a liberating experience. Without a doubt, this is the film that's going to win; and it is the best of the nominated films, I think (which is a bit of back-handed praise, to be sure). The film's game-show framing device is an easy target for people who want to talk about the 'death of cinema', but it's so ingrained into how the story unfolds that I think it rises above mere gimmickry. The Darjeeling Limited it 'aint, but it also doesn't deserve to be thought of as hateful or racially ignorant, especially considering the film goes to such, shall we say, extreme lengths to get you to sympathize with the protagonist (he gets beaten, waterboarded, electrocuted, spit on, and doused in shit...and that's the first ten minutes). I enjoyed it while I was watching it; indeed, it's an experience that comes at you from side to side, but if I never see it again, it will be too soon.
Just for fun, some old fashioned predictions:
Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Director: Danny Boyle
Best Actor: Sean Penn
Best Actress: Melissa Leo (maybe I just can't fathom the idea of Winslet winning for a role so...embarrassing)
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger
Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz
Best Original Screenplay: In Bruges
Best Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Cinematography: The Dark Knight
Best Editing: Slumdog Millionaire
Art Direction: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Costume Design: The Dutchess
Best Original Score: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Achievement in Sound: The Dark Knight
Sound Editing: The Dark Knight
Visual Effects: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Animated Feature: Wall-E
Foreign Language Film: Waltz with Bashir
Best Documentary: Man on Wire
Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-Th- That's all folks.