Sunday, February 26, 2006

And the Oscar Goes to...(2006 Edition)

Welcome, one and all, to the third annual And the Oscar Goes to... on this here bloggity. The results from the previous two years were--shall we put in politely?--uneven: in 2004, I got Best Picture and Best Director right, but blew all the acting awards; and in 2005, I nailed the acting awards, but missed Best Picture and Best Director. So, this year? I anticipate perfection, one way or the other: Either I'll sweep the field or be plowed under.

So, before Isaac Mizrahi starts peeking down dresses and grabbing boobs on the red carpet, let's take a look at the nominees, shall we?

Best Director. The Academy is awfully fond of giving Oscars to actors who direct--Woody Allen, Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, Kevin Costner, and Mel Gibson all have one for directing, but not for acting; Clint Eastwood has two. And the Academy clearly wants to give George Clooney an Oscar this year, given that he's nominated in three different categories for two different movies (Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck.) It's unlikely, though, that they'll give him one in this category; he's more likely to get something in Best Original Screenplay (odd, since much of Good Night's script is taken from transcripts of Edward. R. Murrow broadcasts) or Best Supporting Actor. Paul Haggis probably has better odds in the Best Original Screenplay category for Crash. Bennett Miller's inclusion is a bit odd, since Philip Seymour Hoffman's spot-on performance in the title role is the chief reason to see Capote. And Steven Spielberg? He's already got a Best Director Oscar at home. My choice? Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain. It's a quiet, sad, poetic movie with just enough controversy to hold the Academy's notoriously short attention span.

Best Supporting Actress. Two of our greatest, busiest character actresses--Catherine Keener (playing novelist Harper Lee in Capote) and Frances McDormand (as a coal miner in North Country)--get nods here, along with Rachel Weisz, an actress usually regarded as lightweight, who scores with a serious turn in The Constant Gardener. But the Academy loves recognizing young, upcoming talent in the supporting categories, and this year there are two such nominees: the charming Amy Adams for Junebug and and the seething Michelle Williams for Brokeback Mountain. Williams' performance as the wife of Heath Ledger's closeted sheepherder is all balled fist, contained rage, and, ultimately, detonation. As much hype as her co-stars have received, she gives the best performance in the movie--not what you'd have figures from a Dawson's Creek alum, right? She's my pick here.

Best Supporting Actor. Paul Giamatti got screwed last year when he didn't get nominated for Sideways, so his nod here for Cinderella Man is a do-over for the Academy, but that's about all. Jake Gyllenhaal's performance in Brokeback Mountain is more of a co-lead than a supporting one, but it's not as acclaimed as Ledger's, since he does a more convincing job of aging 20 years than Jake does. William Hurt? Already has an Oscar. That leaves Matt Dillon as a racist L.A. cop in Crash and George Clooney as a CIA operative hung out to dry by his handlers in Syriana. Hollywood loves a comeback story, even though Dillon isn't making a comeback so much as landing his first prominent role in a while, but they love it more when one of their most-popular stars scruffs it up, stops shaving and puts on weight for a role as Clooney did for Syriana. Of his three nominations this year, Clooney is most likely to win in this category.

Best Actress. Three of the five nominees in this category are playing characters based on real life: Charlize Theron (North Country), Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line), and Dame Judi Dench (Mrs. Henderson Presents). and three of the nominees are not usually regarded as "serious" actresses, but "funny" or "diverting": Keira Knightley (Pride and Prejudice), Felicity Huffman (Transamerica), and Witherspoon. Dench already has an Oscar, as does Theron. Knightley is the youngest of the bunch and might have had a chance had she been nominated, against all reason, in the Best Supporting Actress category--it wouldn't have been the first time a newbie giving a lead performance had been dumped into the Supporting category--so she's got plenty of time to get nominated again. Huffman's complicated performance--a woman playing a man trying to become a woman--has already won awards, but so has Witherspoon's turn as conflicted singer June Carter, so it's virtually a tossup. Witherspoon, however, is usally cast as a light romantic comedy lead, and busts out of that big-time here while doing her own singing, so the Academy might view her performance as more of a stretch and a revelation than the well-respected Huffman's work. Hard to choose, but I'm going with Witherspoon.

Best Actor. As with the Best Actress Categoy, Best Actor features three stars playing real people: Philip Seymour Hoffman as writer Truman Capote in Capote, Joaquin Phoenix as singer Johnny Cash in Walk the Line, and David Strathairn as journalist Edward R. Murrow in Good Night, and Good Luck. It's also very cool to have three actors generally regarded as supporting players--Hoffman, Strathairn and Terrence Howard (as a rapping pimp in Hustle and Flow)--get nominated for lead roles. Ledger isn't a typical nominee, either, since he's usually dismissed as a pretty-boy "star." (The brooding Phoenix is more the Academy's style.) Strathairn does a dead-on impersonation, which in some years might be enough, but not when placed against other dead-on impersonations in the same category. Phoenix gets Cash's cadence, body language and singing down well, but may suffer in comparison to Witherspoon because his performance isn't nearly as much of a revelation as hers is. Howard's nomination was something of a surprise, given how long ago Hustle and Flow opened (the Academy has a notoriously short memory), so the nomination will likely have to be his award. That leaves Hoffman and Ledger--both playing gay characters--but Hoffman appears in nearly every scene of Capote and thoroughly dominates, so I think he'll get the Best Actor nod. (And wouldn't it be kinda cool if Best Actor and Actress were Hoffman and Huffman, at least from an alliterative perspective? Yes, it would.)

Best Picture. Most years, the winner of Best Director tips off the winner of Best Picture, which would mean Brokeback Mountain would take this category. This year? I'm not so sure. I don't think the reality-based nominees--Capote, Good Night, and Good Luck, or Munich--will resonate as much with the Academy as Brokeback Mountain and Crash, both of which touch on hot-button issues (sexual repression, both societal and personal, and racial tensions, respectively). It really depends on which one the Academy feels hits its hot button harder, and perhaps on whether the Academy wants to reward an intensely personal story or a broader tapestry performed by an ensemble cast, any of whom could have been nominated along with Dillon. I think they'll lean toward the latter, and Crash will take Best Picture.

Well, those are my choices; your mileage may vary. Have fun mocking inappropriate star/starlet styles, painfully long acceptance speeches and Jon Stewart. Me? I'm a creature of the night for now, so I'll be taping. It's really the best way to watch the Academy Awards broadcast--you can catch the highlights you want and fast-forward through all the padding (which accounts for, like, ninety percent of the show). And if I blow my predictions yet again, I can end the pain with the press of a button on my remote. Wish everything in life worked that way.