The Junk Food of Writing

Sunday, March 05, 2006

I am not ready for that feeling of dissatisfaction that comes immediately afterwards.

[Caveat: This is strictly an Academy Awards predictions/favorites (if I even HAVE any) article -- my true Oscar rant is two entries below this.]

Before I disclose my 2006 Academy Award predictions and favorites, I must preface with a divulging confession: I unabashedly love the Oscars. If there is one aspect of the Oscars I can always count on, it is the ceremony’s consistency. I, personally, am consistently disappointed with the presentation, the vacuity, and the films they nominate and subsequently award (many of my “favorites” were chosen by default). Sure, I may win a few dollars in a gambling pool, but the sheer predictability and lack of satisfaction with the winners often makes me feel foolish as the closing credits stream across the screen. Yet, oddly, I obsessively watch every year and handicap the nominees up until that moment when each enveloped is exposed. Prior to the telecast, I check the odds on various Oscar sites and see every film nominated (it’s a personal obligation that I have which I cannot elucidate upon now because I don’t even understand it myself).

In regards to the rapidly approaching telecast, I do take comfort in one category over the rest: Best Song. It is not that the songs are particularly strong (in fact, I don’t much like any of them), but there are three music nominees instead of five; therefore, this guarantees that there will be two less musical numbers, which are notoriously tedious, at this year’s ceremony. This is a gift from the Hollywood gods. Oh, and did I mention that “It’s Hard out Here for a Pimp,” an anthemic hip-hop ballad with a variety of expletives from Hustle and Flow, is nominated? Yes, this is an amusing category, indeed – it’s unfortunate that Crash may add an Oscar to its tally with this derivative New Age drivel. Without further ado (or digression, hopefully), I will present my favorites and predictions in the 2006 Oscar race. I do so with a bit of trepidation, because I may be having a meal of my words on March 6th.

Predicted winners will be fat with bold print here before their heads become so. If I have a passionate favorite (one I would be most content with taking the prize) I will indicate it with italics (the "favorites" I mention in the blurbs were often by default). If I do not care much about any of the nominees, I will mark the most embarrassing nomination with the dreaded read print. Oh, what the hell, sometimes I will do all three.

Best Picture
"Brokeback Mountain"
"Good Night, and Good Luck."

Brokeback Mountain has it in the saddlebag. Over the past few months, it has trotted off with Best Picture awards from the various guilds and critic’s groups. Some may attempt to persuade otherwise by citing Crash’s victory at the Screen Actor’s Guild, but that was for “Best Ensemble,” in which Crash had twice the amount of cast members. Many delusional journalists are wasting ink by proclaiming a potential Crash upset, but I believe most are stirring this controversy solely to overshadow the inevitability of Brokeback’s win. If every award were this apparent, the gala would be completely devoid of shock (which, unfortunately, will probably be the case). Capote and Good Night, and Good Luck, two probing films which revolve around journalistic ethics, are too clinical and cold for the Academy and Munich is too politically ambivalent. I was not extremely impressed with any nominee, yet Brokeback’s resonating affect haunted my mind longer than any other film in this category.

Best Director
Ang Lee, “Brokeback Mountain”
Bennett Miller, “Capote”
Paul Haggis, “Crash”
George Clooney, “Good Night, and Good Luck."
Steven Spielberg, “Munich”

Despite frontrunner status in 2001 for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Ang Lee lost in an upset to Steven Soderberg (for the terrific Traffic). This year, however, Lee is riding the Brokeback buzz and, with nearly every director’s prize under his cowboy hat, his position is very unlikely to be usurped. Actors-turned-directors are infamous for, in a shocking twist, grabbing this prize from deserving auteurs, but Mr. Clooney has a better chance in his other categories. Spielberg’s showy Munich and Haggis’ manipulative and contrived Crash fortunately have no chance (Haggis might, I suppose, but I am still not willing to accept his nomination as a reality). Personally speaking, the most auspicious presence here is Bennett Miller, directing his first feature film, who meticulously crafted Capote.

Philip Seymour Hoffman - CAPOTE
Terrence Howard - HUSTLE & FLOW
Joaquin Phoenix - WALK THE LINE
David Strathairn - GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK.

I cannot imagine anyone but Philip Seymour Hoffman, who accurately portrays the narcissistic, manipulative and soft-spoken Truman Capote, standing at the podium. After he escalates the stairs and approaches the microphone with his shiny new Oscar, he should simply say “Duh.” It may not be the most classy acceptance speech, but it would be the most honest. David Strathairn’s determined Murrow, Terrence Howard’s pimp-turned-rapper, and Joaquin Phoenix’s Cash-turned-drugged-up-crybaby are all admirable choices but they should start to practice their graceful-loser face now. Heath Ledger’s taciturn cowboy mumbled up quite a bit of buzz earlier in the award season, and he remains the dark horse (and my favorite -- even though this is a fantastic category), but Hoffman has collected nearly every precursor award – therefore, a win for the nuanced Mr. Ledger, or any other nominee in this category, seems quite infeasible.

Felicity Huffman - TRANSAMERICA
Keira Knightley - PRIDE & PREJUDICE
Charlize Theron - NORTH COUNTRY
Reese Witherspoon - WALK THE LINE

Due to the apparent deficiency in strong female performances (which is the consequence of a dearth of strong female characters), this category is anything but solid. Felicity Huffman’s unflattering and overpraised performance in Transamerica is slightly gimmicky, yet not as unworthy as two past Oscar-winners in this category: Judi Dench and Charlize Theron. Judi Dench’s performance is just as tiresome and unsurprising as the film she is trapped within. Charlize Theron’s nomination for the self-righteous North Country must have been received by default – and at previous award shows this year she has looked just as bored as she ought to. The young, charming women are the highlights of this race. Keira Knightly is impressively luminous as the sharp-tongued Elizabeth Bennet in the classic, yet modern and youthful, adaptation of Pride and Prejudice; for sheer surprise at her previously unseen acting abilities, I must admit that I am silently rooting for her respectable performance. Enjoy the gift-bags ladies, because none of this matters -- Reese Witherspoon is a shoo-in. Oh, and I’m sure she’ll accept the award in an expensive gown and million dollar earrings and proclaim how she feels like a “little girl from Tennessee.”

George Clooney - SYRIANA
Matt Dillon - CRASH
Paul Giamatti - CINDERELLA MAN

This should further be referred to as the “pity prize.” Similar to Best Actress, this category is rather pathetic – if possible, it is even more embarrassing. Despite containing the weakest nominees, it is the only award which cannot easily be determined. With the exception of William Hurt, who is a hoot in his scant 10-minute appearance in A History of Violence, the award could be handed to anyone. Matt Dillon and Jake Gyllenhaal benefit from being in the Best Picture contenders, and although many have joked that Jake’s nomination in the supporting category stemmed from his “on-the-bottom” status of the center relationship in Brokeback Mountain, I would still throw my vote in his direction for such a devastatingly poignant performance. Judging by previous awards, it is between Paul Giamatti and George Clooney -- two fine actors being rewarded for mediocre performances in problematic productions. At the moment, the pity prized seems destined to be clutched by the thrice-nominated George Clooney (director, actor, screenwriting); it will give him something else to stroke, giving his ego the break it highly needs.

Amy Adams - JUNEBUG
Catherine Keener - CAPOTE
Frances McDormand - NORTH COUNTRY
Michelle Williams - BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN

Three strong performances, three oppressed wives -- two are neglected, one is suffocated. As much as I respect Frances McDormand and Catherine Keener as thespians (especially the latter, who is one of my favorite contemporary actresses), their screenplays abandon them; McDormand is stuck in clichéd best-friend territory while Keener is a fantastic comic foil, she is ultimately used as a pawn to beat Capote’s subtext through. As for the aforementioned wives of the category, Rachel Weisz as the uber-liberal activist Tessa Quayle is likely to place an Oscar on her mantle next to her new Golden Globe and SAG award. The two young wild cards, Michelle Williams and Amy Adams, respectively graduate from teenybopper trash-TV (Dawson’s Creek) and second-rate cinema (close your eyes and point to a random film in her oeuvre). They are both heartbreaking in their roles, but Adams’ garrulous and pregnant chatterbox is my personal favorite.

Best Original Screenplay
“Crash” Screenplay by Paul Haggis & Bobby Moresco
“Good Night, and Good Luck.” Screenplay by George Clooney & Grant Heslov
“Match Point” Written by Woody Allen
“The Squid and the Whale” Written by Noah Baumbach
“Syriana” Written by Stephen Gaghan

This will indubitably win my annual “spit-on-the-television-screen” award. One of my favorite screenplays of the year, the painfully-honest Squid and the Whale, will lose to one of my least favorites, the transparent Crash. As a fanatical Woodyphile, I regret admit my slight disappointment towards the stagy Match Point, but it is basically out of the race anyway. Syriana – no thanks, I prefer my political films to be less discouraging and derivative. If the Academy wants to award Good Night, and Good Luck, this would be an acceptable consolation prize. Crash’s scribble, however, which cannot decide if it wants to be grounded in realism or a fantasyland, seems too far ahead. Only a year after justly rewarding the innovative and brilliantly thematic screenplay of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, this once-promising category seems to have become regressive.

The other ones:

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Will: Brokeback Mountain
Should: I abstain

Will: Brokeback Mountain
Should: The New World (besides The Squid and the Whale's screenplay, it is the only nominee that is TRULY the best of the year -- and, guess what, it has absolutely no shot)

Will: The Constant Gardener
Should: The Constant Gardener

Art Direction:
Will: Memoirs of a Geisha
Should: Pride and Prejudice

Costume Design:
Will: Memoirs of a Geisha
Should: Pride and Prejudice

Original Score:
Will: Brokeback Mountain
Should: Pride and Prejudice (although I would be fine with Brokeback Mountain)

Original Song (if you have not read the second paragraph of the introduction, go do that now)

Will: Narnia
Should: Star Wars?

Will: Walk the Line
Should: War of the Worlds

Sound Editing:
Will: War of the Worlds (I think this one is the loudest)
Should: War of the Worlds

Animated Feature:
Will: Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Should: Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (note: I have not seen Howl's Moving Castle)

Foreign Language:
Will: Paradise Now
Should: I have only seen Tsotsi, and it's not very good. Personally, I don't care to see any others (
all of which look bait-y and heavy-handed -- right up the foreign committee's alley, of course).

Will: March of the Penguins
Should: Muderball (note: I really wish I had seen Darwin's Nightmare...and had not seen March of the anthropomorphised Penguins)

Short Documentary:
Will: God Sleeps in Rwanda (shouldn't that be: "God Slept Through the Terrible Horrors in Rwanda)
Should: ::shrug::

Animated Short:
Will: The Moon and the Son
Should: ::same shrug::

Fictional Short:
Will: Cashback
Should: Ouch, my shoulds hurt from shrugging

What bothers me most about this year is that I do not have any "hopeful" favorites -- it's damn near apathy all the way through (oh, and that Brokeback's strongest point is its heartbreaking performances -- yet they seem to be the only aspect of the film to be consistently overlook for almost every award). Off the top of my head, I cannot name more than one or two nominees I would actually be elated to see at the podium. How fucking depressing/boring is that. Even hope has ceased. Life has no meaning.

As you may have noticed, I went with nearly every favorite. I truly, madly, deeply dream that I am wrong on most. Remember -- pessimists are never disappointed. Oscar fanatics, however, often are.


  • Great analysis. Glad I'm not the only one (not so) secretly rooting for William Hurt.

    By Blogger JavierAG, at 9:00 AM  

  • Solid commentary/picks as usual, but why do you think The Constant Gardener is getting Editing? That is surely going to Crash - it's a Best Picture nominee, ensemble piece and it won the ACE.

    I'm just as thrilled as you that there are only three song nominees this year. The performances are my least favorite part of the telecast each year (aside from the odd exception here and there, like watching Levy and O'Hara perform "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow").

    I'm crossing my fingers for a Brokeback acting upset or two as well. It's puzzling how such a great, acclaimed cast such as this one has not won a single acting prize from any of the major voting bodies. Bizarre.

    By Blogger Ali, at 3:50 PM  

  • I think "dissatisfaction" doesn't quite suit the mood.

    By Blogger JavierAG, at 12:07 AM  

  • "Vile hatred" would be more appropriate, I suppose.

    By Blogger Nick M., at 1:40 AM  

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