Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

And the Oscar goes to…

It’s one of my favorite days of the year: a day preceded by a lot of hard work, sweat, and (oh-so-many) tears, running from theatre to theatre, partaking in many an eye-straining and butt-numbing double feature, and maybe some, shall we say, not-so-legal viewings as well.  (Maybe.) It’s Oscar day, y’all, and you can count on me to yell and curse the Academy with the best of ’em tonight at 8:00ET.  So, without further ado, here are my predictions, aggravations, and adorations.  

Predicted winners are shown with their picture; if different than that which is predicted, my pick is, fittingly, in orange font.

Performance by an actor in a leading role


  • Richard Jenkins in “The Visitor” (Overture Films)
  • Frank Langella in “Frost/Nixon” (Universal)
  • Sean Penn in “Milk” (Focus Features)
  • Brad Pitt in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
  • Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler” (Fox Searchlight)

While I’m a big fan of Rourke, there was simply too much fanfare for this performance. While perfectly subtle in his depiction of both the emotional and physical pain of a lonely wrestler embarrassingly past his prime, the story too closely parallels Rourke’s own life of isolated suffering and disappointment for his performance to be a revelation. Instead of being even more poignant because of this connection, it felt less so.

Frank Langella, on the other hand, blew me away with his Richard Nixon, layering what could have been a one-dimensional corrupt and blustering politico with flashes of heartbreak and isolated despair. His carefully balanced portrayal isn’t as politically timely as Sean Penn’s Harvey Milk or as (supposedly) awe-inspiringly computer-rendered  as Brad Pitt’s precocious Benjamin Button.  And that’s exactly why, though not quite the underdog (sorry, Richard Jenkins), he’ll be overlooked. And I’m sad about it.

Performance by an actor in a supporting role


  • Josh Brolin in “Milk” (Focus Features)
  • Robert Downey Jr. in “Tropic Thunder” (DreamWorks, Distributed by DreamWorks/Paramount)
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Doubt” (Miramax)
  • Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.)
  • Michael Shannon in “Revolutionary Road” (DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount Vantage)

This is probably the least contested category; we all know the golden boy this year is Ledger, so really why bother with other nominees? What saddens me is the prospect of what would have transpired had the young talent not passed away long before his time. Would the Academy ever acknowledge and amend its previous indiscretion?  Speaking of said indiscretion, Philip Seymour Hoffman, is, as always, in fine form: over-acting, over-yelling, and generally mutating the character of Father Flynn beyond recogntion, he only adds to the horror that is the film adaptation of the stage-worthy Doubt. But we’ll get back to that soon.

Always and forever a Goonie, Josh Brolin is close to my heart and inspires my admiration more and more with every role he takes on, but the problematic Milk simply doesn’t give him enough opportunity to show what he can really do with the infinitely complex killer, Dan White.

While I adore Downey, I cannot even fathom what the Academy was thinking. Cannot. Even. Fathom.

I have to say, though, that if the ghost of Ennis Del Mar wasn’t still haunting us, I’d be enthusiastically rooting for Michael Shannon. We all know I love the crazies, and Shannon’s entirely inappropriate yet hilarious (not to mention perfectly astute) outbursts as the troubled next-door neighbor on Revolutionary Road showcase him as, like Richard Jenkins, one of our most underappreciated talents.  Watch out for this one; he’s a firecracker.

Performance by an actress in a leading role


  • Anne Hathaway in “Rachel Getting Married” (Sony Pictures Classics)
  • Angelina Jolie in “Changeling” (Universal)
  • Melissa Leo in “Frozen River” (Sony Pictures Classics)
  • Meryl Streep in “Doubt” (Miramax)
  • Kate Winslet in “The Reader” (The Weinstein Company)

This is a strange category for me, mostly because I don’t think any of them stand out from the rest. They are all extremely fine performances — that is, with one terrible exception: Meryl Streep, in accordance with the overblown mess that is Doubt, gives one of the most insufferably melodramatic performances of the year. [Because I have no where else to to voice my thoughts on the film (as it was, thankfully, not nominated), let it be said here and now that John Patrick Shanley has no business directing anything. While Streep should have enough sense to tone down her own performance, JPS’s ridiculous “opening up” of the film to include intensely serious walks in the blustery leaf-strewn wind, and his bursting light bulbs (really?) and haphazardly directed screaming matches created an infuriatingly amateurish film that encouraged over-the-top performances and my own personal venom.]

All that being said, I would be equally happy for any of the nominees to win. Never a huge fan of Jolie, I found her performance lovely and surprisingly moving, and Hathaway’s harshly and heartbreakingly honest. Leo’s turn as a desperate mother illegaly assisting immigrants into the country is both subtle and layered. Winslet is in fine form, though I wish the ex-Nazi Hanna was better developed on the page; there is something lacking in the writing that Winslet doesn’t quite overcome (though I’m afraid I’m alone in this opinion).

Performance by an actress in a supporting role


  • Amy Adams in “Doubt” (Miramax)
  • Penélope Cruz in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (The Weinstein Company)
  • Viola Davis in “Doubt” (Miramax)
  • Taraji P. Henson in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
  • Marisa Tomei in “The Wrestler” (Fox Searchlight)

Despite JPS’s mutilation of his own script, he managed to get two fine performances in Doubt: both Adams and Davis are superb, but as the disturbingly frank mother of a possibly abused, possibly homosexual son, Davis possesses better odds at taking home the golden statue tonight. Never a fan of Cruz, she’s fiery and fun, but not Oscar-material in the lackluster Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and I don’t think anyone‘s talking about Tomei’s performance that is largely noted for her consistent nudity (you look super-hot, Marisa, but that’s not quite enough for me).  Taraji P. Henson is causing quite a stir (though I preferred her in Hustle & Flow), and she may v. well receive the statue, but it seems to me that this one should go to Davis.

Best animated feature film of the year


• Bolt (Walt Disney)

• Kung Fu Panda (Dreamworks)

• WALL-E (Walt Disney)

Who are we kidding? The cutest ‘bot ever to roam planet Earth has got this category on lock-down.  While I’m not a fan of the film (check out my full review:, I must say the animation and characterization are stunning and fully deserve the accolades over fellow nominees Bolt (surprisingly cute, but with miscast voices in its animal leads — Travolta and Essman) and the Jack Black-show, Kung Fu Panda.

Achievement in art direction


  • “Changeling” (Universal)
  • “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
  • “The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.)
  • “The Duchess” (Paramount Vantage, Pathé and BBC Films)
  • “Revolutionary Road” (DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount Vantage)

There is very little I like about Benjamin Button, and I seem to be equally as unimpressed by the art direction as the rest of the film’s elements.  The muted earth tones and  narrative technique to “artful” flashbacks are over-earnest and over-employed, and give the film a sleepy look, which in turn, put me to sleep — literally. But the academy seems to like it, and honestly, besides makeup, this is its only chance in taking home an Oscar, and so it goes.

Revolutionary Road is certainly my biggest disappointment of the year. With a star-studded cast and director and a script adapted from an acclaimed novel, how did it all go so wrong? With the exceptions of DiCaprio (seriously? no best actor nom?) and Shannon, this is a pretty big clunker all-around.  Wallowing in closeted ’50s depression and pipe dreams, Mendes’s direction is misguided and quite  frankly, embarrassingly messy.  Does Kristi Zea and Debra Schutt’s art and set direction save the film?  No, but they certainly make it more watchable.

While The Duchess let me down (, Michael Carlin and Rebecca Alleway’s work certainly did not. The film is beautiful, and certainly deserves recognition for that. Alas, the over-wrought Benjamin Button will never allow for that.

Achievement in cinematography


• “Changeling” (Universal)

• “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.)

• “The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.)

• “The Reader” (The Weinstein Company)

• “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight)

Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle captures the vibrant beauty and amazing colors of Mumbai amidst the throngs of people and overpopulated slums. Considering the muted sensibilities of the other nominees, the vivid lighting and deft camera work makes Slumdog the clear standout.

Achievement in costume design


• “Australia” (20th Century Fox)
• “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
• “The Duchess” (Paramount Vantage, Pathé and BBC Films)
• “Milk” (Focus Features)
• “Revolutionary Road” (DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount Vantage)
They don’t call it a costume drama for nothin’: The Duchess, with Michael O’Connor’s gorgeous gowns finely detailed with rich velvets, delicate laces, and astonishing jewels is sure to take home the prize.  (Milk?  Seriously?) Oh — does it matter that I somehow missed seeing Australia?  I didn’t think so.

Achievement in directing


• “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
• “Frost/Nixon” (Universal)
• “Milk” (Focus Features)
• “The Reader” (The Weinstein Company)
• “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight)
Have you seen Slumdodg Millionaire?  Because if you have, you know there’s no contest here. Danny Boyle works wonders with the enormously formulaic conceit that in lesser hands would have been cloying, and let’s be honest, fairly uninteresting. Boyle grabs our attention from the initial moment and never lets up: the work is fresh and intense, fast-paced, and sentimental in the best possible way — ie., minimally. And let’s not forget the amazing performances he manages to pull from three of the most adorable and talented kids ever to grace the silver screen.  No one’s work comes close to Boyle’s this year (especially Fincher’s work on Button, which feels like an epically emotionless dead weight), though respect for Ron Howard went up in my book, considering his adroit techniques and quietly astute perceptiveness utilized in creating an intriguing and thoughtful  character study.  In what could have been another static mishap of a play-turned-film (by now you know to which sadly rendered film I refer), Howard scores.

Achievement in film editing


• “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.)

• “The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.)

• “Frost/Nixon” (Universal)

• “Milk” (Focus Features)

• “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight)

Again, the clear winner here is Slumdog. Chris Dickens’s masterful editing makes us forget about the potential annoyance of such a formulaic narrative structure.   We are pulled in and around locations and times with deft expertise and fluid transitions, creating concise and intense scenes and emotionally-packed moments. This is the work of an editor who is clearly in sync with his director.

Achievement in makeupbutton2sj6

• “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.)

• “The Dark Knight” (Warner Bros.)

• “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” (Universal)

While Ledger’s pale visage smeared with red lipstick and smudged black eyes is already an icon of creepiness, there’s no mistaking who this award is going to: Greg Cannom’s talent to age the seemingly ageless Mr. Pitt from old-young to young-old has got this award sealed.  

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)


• “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.)

•”Defiance” (Paramount Vantage)

•”Milk” (Focus Features)

•”Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight)

• “WALL-E” (Walt Disney)

Despite my unfortunate missing of Defiance (really, I can’t imagine how that happened…), amidst the rest of the nominees, there’s no real competition: A.R. Rahman’s vibrant and entrancing score with pounding dance beats to spare perfectly captures the people and locale of his film, Slumdog Millionaire, as none of the other nominees does.

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)

Jai Ho:

• “Down to Earth” from “WALL-E” (Walt Disney)

• “Jai Ho” from “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight)

• “O Saya” from “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight)

Along with best score, Rahman is also taking home a golden boy for the uplifting, dance-worthy, smile-inducing vibrancy of the pumping dance rhythm that vividly conjures a people and their culture: Jai Ho.

Achievement in sound editing AND sound mixing


Let’s not bother with the other nominees: both awards will go to The Dark Knight (Warner Bros.).


Achievement in visual effects


Clearly this is going to my least favorite film of the year: Benjamin Button.  I would pick The Dark Knight if only because it is an infinitely better film, and unlike Benjamin, Knight‘s effects managed to keep me awake, but keep me utterly compelled.


Adapted screenplay


• “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.)

• “Doubt” (Miramax)

• “Frost/Nixon” (Universal)

• “The Reader” (The Weinstein Company)

• “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight)

How one manages to turn a short story into a three hour bore-fest, only screenwriter Eric Roth knows (Benjamin Button) and we’ve already covered JPS’s ridiculous missteps Doubt. Again, screenwriter Simon Beaufoy creates gold out of dross with Slumdog‘s narrative.

Original screenplay


• “Frozen River” (Sony Pictures Classics)

• “Happy-Go-Lucky” (Miramax)

• “In Bruges” (Focus Features)

• “Milk” (Focus Features)

• “WALL-E” (Walt Disney)

While the quirky Happy-Go-Lucky longs to be this year’s Juno, it sadly is not, and we all know that I think WALL-E is a mess of two films smushed into one. In Bruges wins a partial vote from me because only the talented likes of  Martin McDonagh could bring out a charming likeability from Colin Farrell, but there isn’t nearly enough of McDonagh’s deliciously violent humor here. Frozen River receives my other half-vote because it puts on display an under-covered topic and does without preachiness or overt sentimentality. 

Unfortunately, Milk will win. A complete mess of a film, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black never knows what kind of film he wishes to write. A documentary? Maybe. A drama? Perhaps. We go inconsistently back and forth between the two forms. The film only captured my interest when it offered up clips of the real people involved with the issues and controversies of the time. Overly ambitious, Black attempts to cover everything, and as a result, I left the theatre never feeling as though I knew the man behind the title — or any of his supporters or detractors — and worse than that, I didn’t feel for him either. A big disappointment, but for a reason that is still unclear to me, one that will take home my favorite award of the night.

Best motion picture of the year


• “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Paramount and Warner Bros.)

• “Frost/Nixon” (Universal)

• “Milk” (Focus Features)

•  “The Reader” (The Weinstein Company)

• “Slumdog Millionaire” (Fox Searchlight)

Because it shows us the best and the worst of human nature and happily melds art and mainstream. Because it boasts a terrific ensemble cast, superior direction and editing, beautiful cinematography, an ultimately uplifting and entertaining story coupled with complex, sympathetic characters and set to a buoyant score. Because it’s that rare cinematic package in which everything and everyone works perfectly and brilliantly together: Slumdog Millionaire is the best film of 2008.

Despite my best efforts to see and review all nominees, I failed in completing the following categories: Documentary Feature, Documentary Short Subject, Foreign Language, Animated Short Film, and Live Action Short Film. When listed like that, my efforts appear sadly lackluster.


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This entry was posted on February 22, 2009 by in Award Predictions, Oscar-Nominated.



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