Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Oscar Races Done Right

So, Oscars. I’m both eager to see what happens on Sunday and anxious for it all to be over so I can heave a sigh and have some time to recuperate. If the AMPAS and their hijinks are good for anything, it’s the fodder they provide for film writers (quasi and otherwise). There’s always something to discuss. The always eloquent Tim (Antagony and Ecstasy) has been making top ten lists for the past few weeks with special focus on Oscar and I was particularly intrigued by this one listing the best Oscar nominated categories (here). You, know, sometimes when you look at the five (or ten, or three) nominees in a category and think each one of them is a worthy contender. For example, last year’s Best Actress line-up, which is so easily a case of Bening vs Kidman with Williams behind and then Portman Lawrence at the back is still excellent because each of those women is turning in excellent work, uplifting their films – firmly in key with their characters; the stuff that Best Actresses are made of.

So, as I promised him, I pilfered and came up with a few of my favourite Slates of Oscar nominees. You all know how much I tend to overthink these things, and I’m already second guessing some inclusions and omissions. Looking at the Oscar nominees in some categories reminds me how much I still need to see. For example, I love the Adapted Screenplay ballot in 1978 but I haven’t seen Autumn Sonata, so I couldn’t include it. I like the Art Direction line-up in 1985 but I haven’t seen The Mission. Soon, we’ll have to sit down and discuss my cinematic blind spots. For now, the ballots…

(Why seven? Because ten was too much and five was too little. Further, add all ten of Tim’s choices because they’re stellar ESPECIALLY his #2, #4 and #9)

Best Actor: 1951
  • Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen (winner); Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire; Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun; Arthur Kennedy in Bright Victory; Frederic March in Death of a Salesman
This is such a kick-ass batch because even as the two I consider best (Brando, Clift) are so far ahead of the rest, it’s only because I think Brando and Clift do some of their best work in their respective films. Bogart, the winner, is a bit overshadowed by Hepburn in his film but he’s excellent in The African Queen. March’s performance is the one I’ve seen longest ago, but I’m still enamoured with his take on Willy Loman (easily the best I’ve seen) and Kennedy’s performance as a blind man in Bright Victory (a film as hokey as you’d expect for the time, but always so warm) is probably my favourite turn from him.

Best Original Song: 1984
  • “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)”; “Footloose”; “I Just Called to Say I Love You” (Winner); “Let’s Hear it For the Boys”; “Ghostbusters”
You know, sometimes I just like a good tune in a movie. Who cares if it’s “serving the story”, within the stipulated runtime and whatnot? Some of those bulky period costumes that keep winning Oscars only do so because their period heavy, they don’t necessarily “add” to the movie. But, I digress. with the exception of “Ghostbusters” (which has become an identifiable portion of pop culture) four of these songs are significant pop hits in their own right. Sure, I’d have easily given it to “Let’s Hear it for Boys”, but I’m probably alone on that, and I’d honestly choose any of these nominees as a worthy winner. That’s a rarity, not just in Original song – but any category.

Best Costume Design: 2000
  • 102 Dalmatians; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Gladiator (Winner); How the Grinch Stole Christmas; Quills
Consider this, the spectacular costume work on Gladiator is my least favourite of the nominees. I’d even have nixed it for the character specific work on Chocolat, but can we take some time to recognise the awesomeness of this roster? Sure, Crouching Tiger got massive support that year, but it doesn’t make the citation any less unworthy, and Quills is a period flick – which they love – but its technicalities are a marvel. Then, we’ve got two “children’s” movies both of them with incredible costume work that would very likely go unnoticed in another year. I love the costume branch, and their disinterest in picking from the most revered films of the year, they just go for good work sometimes.

Best Adapted Screenplay: 2007
  • Atonement; Away from Her; The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; No Country for Old Men (Winner); There Will Be Blood
Look, I love Atonement and I think it should have won all its awards but I’m really okay with this slate and the winner. Away from Her was in my top 20 of the year and the other four made my top 10 and the writing on all five is stunning. Sure, if I’m in a mood I could make cases for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford or Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (the former more than the latter) this is a truly exemplary list of nominees. And, although, its Best Picture prowess possibly tipped the scales for No Country for Old Men it’s category’s second best choice (behind The Departed) in the last decade.

Best Picture: 1993
  • The Fugitive; In the Name of the Father; The Piano; Schindler’s List; The Remains of the Day
I thought long and hard about this in typical me-fashion because, look, I’m still pissed that one of Scorsese’s finest films The Age of Innocence couldn’t make it in – but taking that slight out of the equation, how stellar a list is this? The weakest of the lot is The Fugitive for me, and even though I’ll cry foul at Tommy Lee Jones’ Oscar for years to come the film is a perfect encapsulation of a thoughtful, exciting blockbuster and I can’t hate on its inclusion here because diversity is good. The other four I can’t argue with on any level. Schindler's List might be third for me, it's a truly excellent bit of craftsmanship. In the Name of the Father is an excellent biopic from Sheridan and The Piano and The Remains of the Day are just gems.

Best Art Direction: 1996
  • The Birdcage; The English Patient (Winner) ; Evita; Hamlet; Romeo + Juliet
On one hand, they had it sort of easy (non-nominated films include Richard III, Portrait of a Lady, Emma, Angels and Insects) – so they could have picked any amalgamation of films and come up with a good slate, but this one is just excellent. First things, how’s that nod for The Birdcage - which is hardly a period piece. And, then, Evita which is a period piece, but not in the traditional way and hate or not excels with its artistic choices. Each of these nods is deserved, and I’m that much more tickled by the slate because the finest work actually won, which makes me all the more pleased.

Best Actress: 1962
  • Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker (Winner); Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane; Katharine Hepburn in Long Day’s Journey into Night; Geraldine Page in Sweet Bird of Youth; Lee Remick in Days of Wine and Roses
Look, you knew it’d be women at the top right? Here’s how much this line-up excites me. The performance that many call Katherine Hepburn’s best (and you know how I adore her) isn’t even my first-pick, I’m not even sure it’s my second-pick. Truly, they’re all runners up to Page’s ferocious turn but they’re good performances all from Remick’s drunken wife to Bancroft’s thoughtful teacher to Davis’ sister from hell and then Hepburn’s drugged up mother. It’s a stellar actress line-up, and such a testament of talent. Each of these women is a legend, but each also is doing fine work. I love when Oscar gets it right.

So, there, what do you think? Did Oscar get it right with these nominees? What years do you recall them doing an excellent job with their nominees in a category?


Squasher88 said...

Hmm...actually not a fan of Best Picture 1993 (I really love Schindler's List and In the Name of the Father though). I don't think The Fugitive was Oscar worthy.

My favourite Best Picture slate was actually last year! The King's Speech wasn't my favourite, but I still liked it a lot.

I also loved 2004, 2002, 1989, 1967, 1958

Paolo said...

2007 was such a banner year or an anti-banner year. I also think it was sort of that year when the Academy thought about high art without looking snobby.

Also, as a Canadian I should have rooted for Away from Her. I haven't finished Oil yet but that would have gotten my vote.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

squasher any particular categories form the years you mention that you liked?

paolo 2007 was a good year, and then again it annoyed me - the juno in director love over atonement which got royally shafted, the angelina snub (THAT was an actual snub), lack of love for hbc...but as far as oscar goes, it wasn't a shabby year at all.

Paolo said...

But 2007 was crowded actress wise, even though it was mostly a masculine year of a decade of masculine years. Cutting Cate Blanchett from the list is a difficult thing to do to replace her with Angelina. Besides, nominating her seemed too much like populist pander and her performance already had a backlash because of racial issues. Even though yes, zoom ins of her and voice overs or even her doing b-roll stuff in A Mighty Heart was heartwrenchingly good. It took at least until the DVD release for critics to warm up to her.