So we've seen a good number of the Oscar nominees, with Volver and The Lives of Others on the card for this weekend. Thoughts so far:
Little Children (Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor) - A decent enough flick, but nothing to write home about. Kate Winslet's performance is pretty standard stuff for her, about the same level as she delivered in the Eternal Spotlight of the Sunny Mind or whatever. She's disqualified forever for her role in Titanic anyway, though she wins pants down for most convincing naked acting. The supporting actory guy, who plays a sexual predator who still lives with his Mom, does an impressive job in a more demanding role--which requires him to be creepy and vile AND to win our sympathy in the end. Verdict: Won't win anything.
Little Miss Sunshine (Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress) - Definitely NOT the best picture, even out of the unwisely chosen short list. At times saccharine, at other times pretentious, and at still other times cliched (the ending copied from the Hugh Grant starrer About a Boy made more obvious because the lead actress is the same in both flicks), this one made me laugh but didn't fool me with its pretensions. Allan Arkin is great, but his role is too small and hinges too heavily on shtick--an old guy who swears a lot does not an Oscar winner make, unless it's Peter O'Toole. The little girl up for Best Supporting is disqualified by age. You know the saying: Never vote for kids or animals. Seriously, looking cute is not the same as acting, and you shouldn't get extra points for being young, or about to die, or appearing in films despite losing on American Idol. Verdict: Won't win anything.
Blood Diamond (Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor) - This was the worst movie of the lot, and Leo's performance was stunningly bad. Apart from generally overacting and screwing up his face like his skin was attacked to a drawstring all too frequently, his Rhodesian-South-African-Australian-New Zealand accent slipped into good old American at every other word. Why don't they change the script when this happens? Just erase a few lines and add a few different ones here and there and make the character American. It would save the star a lot of embarrassment and the audience a lot of exhausting wincing. Anyway, Leo. like Kate Winslet, is barred from winning forever due to his performance as "the king of the world." I believe I recognized the Best Supporting guy's overacting from Amistad, though I'm not certain. Apparently, Leo let him borrow the drawstring to contort the skin on his face, and he didn't get any help from the screenwriter who couldn't decide whether he should be tough and naive or absurdly moralistic and borderline mentally retarded. "I can't tell them I'm the cameraman so I can get on the bus to go find my missing son! That would be lying!" Or "The vicious soldiers who shoot everybody indiscriminately are driving by with their machine guns and rocket launchers, I must call out to them in case my son is on board the truck!" I knew things were going to get really bad when Leo & sidekick ran into the jungle to look for the impossibly big diamond and the camera honed in on a Chimpanzee (a Chimpanzee!) in a tree overhead for a "oo-aa-ee-aa" cameo. To quote the stupid script, "TIA." This is assanine... er... This is Africa--of the "Tarzan tell Cheetah go back treehouse, fetch Jane" variety. Verdict: Doesn't win anything. Leo too embarrassed to set foot on red carpet.
The Departed (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor) - Not the best picture, but should win some kind of award for adaptation of terrible foreign film. (It was based on the Hong Kong action flick "Internal Affairs," a movie that showed no evidence that its absurd plot could ever be presented in a way that an audience could take seriously--more kung fu! more kung fu! I kept thinking. Anything for less dialogue.) It should also win for best use of the R rating since Quentin Tarantino. Seriously, I want Tarantino and the writers on this one in a verbal slandering duel to the death, and I want it now. That would be a Best Picture candidate. Best Director--maybe. Yes. I think so. The amazing feat of making this story somewhat believable, and the characters empathy-inspiring, was virtuosity itself. Best Supporting Actor--Mark Wahlberg was pretty damn good, actually, but I haven't seen any of the other nominees. Verdict: It'll win something.
Days of Glory (Best Foreign Language Film) -- This was a terrific movie, with several performances that topped or matched the nominees in Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories. But what really struck me about it was that here was the movie that Saving Private Ryan purported to be but wasn't -- that patriotic glory farce that was bald-facedly market as an anti-war flick. Probably the best war movie I've seen. Verdict: Too many Muslims. Just kidding. But I think you know what I mean. It won't win, despite being terrific. Going by the press, my money is on Pan's Labrynth, which I haven't seen.
Water (Best Foreign Language Film) -- Surprisingly good, especially considering the presence of John Abraham. The best part about the movie, for me, was watching John's face when he didn't have any lines. His effort to "act" was so conscious, and so obvious, that you couldn't help but laugh. Verdict: I don't think so.
The Queen (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress) -- This was an excellent movie, and Helen Mirren's performance was top-notch. I don't think it warrants Best Picture, but the movies that I would have chosen didn't make the short list, so I think it's a likely winner. Unless Judy Dench really delivered the goods in Notes on a Scandal, which I haven't seen, I'd say Mirren takes Best Actress. Anyway, Judy's roles have been sort of same-same-but-different over the past few years, haven't they?
Babel (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress) -- I went into this one with a lot of doubts. A serious, arty film with Brad Pitt? Especially the ego-supercharged, post-Angelina Brad Pitt? It seemed like a recipe for disaster. Add in a healthy dose of zipping around the globe, disorienting flashbacks, etc, and I was thinking is Innaritu the new Abel Ferrar? But I was actually surprised at how well it turned out. Brad did a little of that scrubbing-his-face-with-his-hands ala Twelve Monkeys et al, and his heroic postures were sometimes a little hard to take, but Innaritu won me over with his whole "wake up you fatass American fuckers, life sucks in the developing world" thing. Verdict: I think this one wins Best Director on degree of difficulty points. The Japanese girl deserves Best Supporting, but American Idol girl will get it for her "Oh, gosh, I never imagined I'd work in Hollywood" shtick and Cinderella points for her come-from-behind-Simon-Cowell rise.
The Devil Wears Prada (Best Actress) -- I can't believe this is even nominated. I mean, I know, it's Merryl Streep, and she gives a role that could have been pure camp a lot more oomph. But still. This is a story about handbags and boyfriends. I forget, did Glenn Close get a nomination for her turn as Cruella Deville in 101 Dalmatians? Verdict: Streep goes 0 for 20 or whatever it is now.
The Last King of Scotland (Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor) -- It dragged at times, yes, but I think it could have been in there for Best Picture instead of Little Miss Sunshine. Forest was great. So was the Scottish guy. Verdict: O'Toole takes it -- the old guy edges the black guy on "I'm about to die, dammit" points.
Half Nelson (Best Actor) -- Another film that should have been up for Best Picture. Better than the Departed and Little Miss Sunshine, though sometimes it reminded me of an episode of The Wire. The dude looks uncannily like my friend Andrew Nash as well, so he had to overcome a major obstacle to convince me he was really a drug-addicted inner city schoolteacher. Verdict: It's not your night. (See above)
The Pursuit of Happiness (Best Actor) -- Thankfully, I didn't know this was a biopic about the founder of the Gardner Rich brokerage before I watched this, so I was able to suffer (audibly) through Will Smith's trials and tribulations as he tried to make it. Stellar performance, and a pretty decent movie, but this year it's a no go. Verdict: Nope.
Venus (Best Actor) -- This one should not only have been up for Best Picture, it should have won. This was the rarest of movies, that takes on the most important questions of "ordinary" life and whacks it out of the park. O'Toole was hilarious, completely convincing, extraordinarily charismatic, and on and on. Verdict: He can go to the grave with that damn naked statue.