Oscar Nomations 2009: The Reader Steals Batman's Limelight
- Written by Matthew Toomey
It’s one of my favourite parts of the film year – the moment that the Academy Award nominations are revealed. They were announced just moments ago and here’s a look at the nominees in the major categories with my personal thoughts…
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Wow, a big surprise here. Everyone thought the top 5 films were locked in but we did have one upset – The Dark Knight, the second highest grossing film in U.S. history, was overlooked for a nomination. I’m not too fussed. Stealing the nomination was The Reader which I haven’t seen yet and is due for release in Australia in February. Slumdog Millionaire has this won – I’ve no doubt about that.
Achievement in directing
David Fincher for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard for Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant for Milk
Stephen Daldry for The Reader
Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire
Usually, there’s one film which doesn’t match up in the best picture and best director categories. That didn’t happen this year. They went 5 for 5. So again, the upset was Stephen Daldry being nominated for The Reader over Christopher Nolan for The Dark Knight. I think it’s a fantastic achievement for Daldry. He has made only 3 feature films and he’s been nominated for an Oscar every time – for Billy Elliot (my all time favourite movie), for The Hours and now for The Reader. Well done indeed.
Performance by an actor in a leading role
Richard Jenkins in The Visitor
Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn in Milk
Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler
There weren’t any major surprises here. This is a two horse race – Sean Penn v. Mickey Rourke. Rourke has the edge right now and I think he can win it. The two most high profile actors to miss out were Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino) and Leonardo DiCaprio (Revolutionary Road). It’s nice to see Richard Jenkins and Frank Langella both earn their first nominations. They’re veterans actors who were well overdue.
Performance by an actress in a leading role
Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie in Changeling
Melissa Leo in Frozen River
Meryl Streep in Doubt
Kate Winslet in The Reader
I saw this coming but not a lot of other people had the guts to predict it. The Academy has deemed that Kate Winslet’s role in The Reader is NOT in the supporting category (as was the case at the Golden Globes). Given that you can only be nominated once within a single category, one of her great performances had to miss out. It turns out she’s been nominated for The Reader as opposed to Revolutionary Road. She’ll now be the frontrunner in this category given that’s she’s due (she’s now got 6 nominations without a win). Melissa Leo caused quite a boilover being nominated for the small independent film, Frozen River. She’s won a few critics awards but most people didn’t see this coming. The unlucky victim in this category was the wonderful Sally Hawkins who has missed out for her beautiful performance in Happy-Go-Lucky. That’s a real shame.
Performance by an actor in a supporting role
Josh Brolin in Milk
Robert Downey, Jr. in Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt
Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road
Heath Ledger has this one in the bag. The only nice surprise was seeing Michael Shannon nominated for Revolutionary Road (see my full length review this week). Robert Downey Jr. completes his comeback with his first nomination since Chaplin in 1993. He’s career has gone full circle in between. Another first for Josh Brolin who earned his first nomination ever.
Performance by an actress in a supporting role
Amy Adams in Doubt
Penelope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis in Doubt
Taraji P. Henson in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei in The Wrestler
This category is now wide open with the disappearance of Kate Winslet. Penelope Cruz will be the early favourite but she’s vulnerable. Anyone could win this and I’ll be following the lead up awards closely over the next month.
Screenplay written directly for the screen
This will be an interesting category as only one of the best picture nominees this year (Milk) is an original screenplay. I’m very “happy” with the Happy-Go-Lucky nomination. I know of at least someone who will be just as happy with the In Bruges nomination.
Screenplay based on material previously produced or published
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
This is a very strong category this year. Doubt is the only film which wasn’t nominated for best picture and yet it still picked up 4 acting nominations (more than any other film). Slumdog is the favourite given that it will be crowned best picture.
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button picked up a whopping 13 nominations. Only two films (All About Eve and Titanic) have earned more. This is a little surprise but it was always going to perform well in the technical categories (make up and special effects in particular).
Australia earned just one nomination – best costume design. I was hoping that it’d perform a little better.
The winners will be announced on Monday, 23 February 2009 (Brisbane time). I’ll be sure to keep you up-to-date with the latest happenings and my Oscars gambling in the meantime.
Have a great weekend!
Another Golden Night For Hollywood...
- Written by Matthew Toomey
After laying low over the Christmas period, my movie going year has kicked into full swing over the past week – I’ve seen 7 films in the past 5 days and there’s more to see this weekend. I’ve just gotten back from a screening (Gran Torino) and there’s not much time so let’s get right to it…
The Golden Globes were held earlier today and it was very significant in terms of the Oscars race. The Globes do seem to impact Academy voters. They are the 2nd most important lead up award (behind the Screen Actors Guild Awards) in the lead up to next month’s Oscars.
As I do each year, I placed a few wagers with a sports betting company in the hope of an upset. I backed both Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) and Kate Winslet (The Reader) and luckily went 2 for 2. My windfall was $265 and that’ll do just nicely. I plan to use those winnings to place a few more bets on the upcoming Oscars. My career award show gambling profit since 1996 now stands at $4,545 but hey, who’s counting
On to the awards themselves and I think I’ll do this best by splitting them into the relevant categories…
The favourite, Slumdog Millionaire, won best picture, best director and best screenplay at the Globes. It is now the very clear favourite going into the Oscars and I can’t see it getting beat.
Mickey Rourke won best actor in a drama for The Wrestler after beating favourite Sean Penn (Milk). I tipped this and I think Rourke’s great speech will see his momentum build in the next month. Hollywood loves a Cinderella story and Mickey Rourke (after all that he’s been through in life) would be just that if he claimed the coveted gold statue. Penn is the only man who can beat him and I wouldn’t rule him out just yet. The Guild winner will probably tell us more. For the record, Colin Farrell won best actor in a comedy for In Bruges and that’s great to see (I thought it was Farrell’s best ever roles) but he’s no chance at an Oscar nom.
The best actress race at the Oscars has now become a lottery. The two favourites leading into the Globes were Anne Hathaway (Rachel’s Getting Married) and Meryl Streep (Doubt). Both lost however in the night’s biggest upset – to Kate Winslet in Revolutionary Road. The reason it was so shocking is that Winslet had won earlier in the night for The Reader (see below). You’d usually expect the awards to be shared around. Also mudding the waters was the win by the amazing Sally Hawkins (my personal choice) in the best actress comedy category for Happy-Go-Lucky. She’s an outsider for the Oscars but should score a nomination. It’s a race in 4 and anyone could win it. At this point, I can’t pick it.
Best Supporting Actor
Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight) won the Globe and just about everything else to date. He’ll start as a $1.01 favourite for the Oscars and it’s pointless to speculate about any of the other hopefuls as they have zero chance.
Best Supporting Actress
Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) was the early frontrunner but Kate Winslet has stolen the lead with her Globe win for The Reader. It’s great to see because Winslet has been well overdue. She had been nominated for 5 Golden Globes previously and was yet to win. Now, can she break her run of 0 for 5 at the Oscars? I hope so. She’s no certainty however because her win in the best actress category for Revolutionary Road might actually hurt her. If members split their votes (i.e. only voting for her in one category so as to spread their love around), then she might end up losing both.
The Globes ceremony itself was rather uneventful. Sacha Baron Cohen stole the limelight with his distasteful, politically incorrect humour. Yes, he was booed by some but I was happy just to see someone mixing it up. I tire easily of the standard thank yous and back slapping. Ricky Gervais was also good when he presented.
The Oscars are unveiled next Thursday (Jan 22) at 11:38pm. Next week’s Film Pie newsletter will therefore be a few days late. I’ll release it to tie in with the nominations and will provide my insightful commentary. See you then.
The 2009 Oscars Race: Getting Something Off My Chest
- Written by Matthew Toomey
And so it begins once again. Another year of cinema has begun. It’s the 14th year that I’ve been reviewing movies and the 11th for the Film Pie website and newsletter. Let’s hope it’s a good one.
I usually use the first issue of each year as a “report card” for the previous year. I look back at the highlights… and lowlights… and everything in between.
I’m not doing that this year because I want to have my say on the upcoming Oscars. It’s just my opinion but I guess it’s as valid as the next man. Let’s get this off my chest…
The close of 2007 was a great period for cinema. The 5 films nominated for best picture at the subsequent Academy Awards were Atonement, Michael Clayton, Juno, No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood. Narrowly missing out on nominations were The Diving Bell & The Butterfly and American Gangster. I’ve been obsessed with the Oscars since 1994 (when my love of cinema developed) and I can honestly say that 2007 was the first year that I really enjoyed all five of the best picture nominees. I’d have preferred to see Juno win but wasn’t unhappy that No Country For Old Men took the prize. Each year, there’s usually one or two best picture nominees that I’m not a fan of. Crash is a good example from back in 2006. It’s not that I hated it but I think I saw at least 60 movies that were better in that year.
This leads into 2008 and there are four films which are dominating the critics awards to this point – Slumdog Millionaire, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight and WALL-E. The first three look certain to be nominated for best picture at the Oscars but WALL-E will probably only be nominated in the best animated film category. For the other 2 slots, the contenders are Milk, Doubt, Frost/Nixon, Revolutionary Road and The Reader.
My problem is that of the 3 favourites (Slumdog, Benjamin Button and Dark Knight), I don’t really want any of them to win. They’re good films but they’re not great films. As I said before though, that’s just my opinion. It does seem to contradict that of most people. The Dark Knight is the highest grossing movie since Titanic. Its many fans have hoisted it to 4th on the all time greatest films list on the Internet Movie Database. I know a few people who loved this film and have seen it more than once.
There are also a lot of people supporting Slumdog. It’s got “crowd pleaser” written all over it and it has won the most critics awards to date. It seems to be on the top 10 list of almost every respected critic. It is the front-runner leading into the Oscar nominations on Jan 22.
Benjamin Button opened on Christmas Day in the United States and has been a box-office hit. That surprises me a little given the film’s length (close to 3 hours) and its subject matter (death). There are critics I admire who are calling it a near-masterpiece. The public seem to like it too (based on the box-office). It’s currently sitting 61st on the greatest films list on the Internet Movie Database.
The point of this week’s Film Pie is to tell you why I don’t think these 3 films deserve to win. Yes, I’m in the minority with my viewpoint, but I feel like it needs to be said.
Now the following contains spoilers so if you haven’t seen, and you intend to see, any of these films, then I’d skip this part and move to the very end.
Is this film a love story or a rags-to-riches story? Is it both maybe? I don’t know what I’m supposed to take away from it.
If it’s a love story, which I think is the intention, then I’m struggling with it. Jamal and Latika first meet when they are very young kids (I’d estimate about 8 years old). They are then separated and they only fleetingly see each other on 2 occasions in the lead up to the current day setting (where they are now 18 years old). Latika did her best to push Jamal away on both occasions. The second time, he asks her to flee with him but she doesn’t want to as she knows they will have no money to live off. I wasn’t convinced that she had such overwhelming feelings for him. Was this really true love? Should I be sitting in my seat with a beaming smile on my face when they finally get together in the end? I couldn’t do it.
Let’s now look at the rags-to-riches argument. The script creates as much drama as possible in the lead up to the final question. Will a slumdog from the streets take the top prize? In the closing scenes, we see all of India glued to their television screens and watching the final question. Lo and behold, Jamal correctly guesses the answer to the final question and wins a fortune.
What point is trying to be made here? Is there a point? Jamal believes that the only way to win Latika’s heart is to go on this show (which is her favourite) and win financial security. I couldn’t help but think that she liked him more because he was now a millionaire.
Probably by biggest problem with the rags-to-riches tale was the handling of Jamal’s brother, Salim. As Jamal answers the final question, we see Salim locking himself in a bathroom and lying in a bathtub full of money. He shoots his gangster boss and is then killed himself. Is this supposed to be some form of redemption? Maybe symbolism? I find it odd that in a part of the film where the audience feels like jumping up and celebrating with Jamal, we see his brother being heinously killed. I think it’s a little distasteful. It felt as if Salim’s life wasn’t being given the full credit he deserved.
Also, did Salim really need to lock himself in the room with the money? It was always going to be suicide. Why didn’t he just shoot his boss and try to flee? I thought Salim was the most interesting character in the film but I was puzzled by his ever changing personality. There are scenes where he saves his brother’s life but there are scenes when he stabs him in the back. He was forever transforming. Maybe Salim’s death scene was some form of redemption but if so, it wasn’t necessary.
I’ve now seen Slumdog Millionaire twice and both times I thought it worth of an A- grading. It is still a good film and when I saw it for the second time, I realised there were moments in it of brilliance. Danny Boyle is a talented director and I loved his visuals, his editing and his creative subtitles.
As I’ve alluded to above however, I think the screenplay has limitations. It tries too hard to be a crowd pleaser. It’s structured around a set ending and some of the subplots that lead up this ending just don’t quite fit. Would they really have let the game show host and Jamal go to the bathroom together during an ad break? Would Salim have really given Latika his phone if he was about to commit suicide? I don’t know.
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
This film has all the right ingredients and I should love it – it has a great director, a great cast and great reviews. Instead, I felt disappointed on seeing it. I liked the post by one person on the Internet Movie Database who dubbed it “The Curious Case Of Wanting My Money Back.”
Once grievance I have is with the modern-day Hurricane Katrina subplot. Was this necessary? It has no relevance to the story whatsoever. It thought it might for a little while but realised it didn’t when the credits started to roll.
Another annoyance is the continual theme of death. We see Benjamin have to endure the death of so many people. This happens to all of us but to Benjamin, perhaps more so given that he is getting younger and his friends are getting older. There’s an obvious message here and that is to live life to its fullest. I felt like yelling out “yeah, I get it – let’s just move on.” I felt like the message was being force-fed down my throat. Why did we have to see the guy getting struck by lightening so many times? Was it comic relief? Or did I need to be reminded again about the richness of life?
What bugged me most was that I thought the characters were very cold (with the exception of Benjamin’s adopted mother). This is a clearly a journey movie. It’s not the ending which is important but rather how you got there. We see all these short stories involving people that Benjamin meets along the way. These include his first love (played by Tilda Swinton), his father (played by Jason Flemyng) and the captain of a tug-boat (played by Jared Harris). I didn’t mind these stories but was never particularly moved. Benjamin speaks so slowly and I thought he was a boring character.
Like I said with Slumdog, I appreciate how this film was made. The overall look, the music and the special effects were all beautifully done. Unfortunately, this was another lacklustre script which didn’t do it for me.
The Dark Knight
Yes, I liked this film too but I don’t think it’s one of the top 5 movies of the year. I thought that Batman Begins, released in 2005, was just as good. It revitalised the series and boasted a terrific performance from Christian Bale. It received just one Oscar nomination – for best cinematography.
This sequel is being talked about as one of the greatest films of all time. Is it really any better than Batman Begins? If so, why so? The villains are cool but the third act of the film gets a little far-fetched (e.g. the scene with the 2 ferries). I truly believe that the hype surrounding this film has overtaken the film itself.
The biggest raves for The Dark Knight have been for the performance of the late Heath Ledger. I’m 99% confident that we will win the Oscar for best supporting actor. He’s won almost every other critics award to date.
I admit that I’ve struggled to get my head around this. Heath died in 2008 on the same date that the Academy Award nominations were announced. I remember the news stories and people were already saying that it was a tragedy for Heath because his performance in The Dark Knight was touted as his finest and he was one of the front-runners for next year’s Oscars.
The reason I’ve been angered by all this let’s give Heath an Oscar talk is that I find it disrespectful to other contenders. People have been saying that he deserves the Oscar for almost a year now. They were saying it months before the film was even finished and before any of the other performances from any of the other movies were seen. If Heath deserves it, then so be it. I’m just peeved that people were anointing him as deserving of an Oscar. There are a lot of other great actors who passed away who never received one.
I am a bit Oscars fan and over the past few months, I have become more accepting of the whole Heath Ledger / Oscar thing. Many actors have not won for the best performance of their career – instead, they win for a later performance as a way of the Academy making up for past mistakes. For example, Al Pacino’s Oscar was won for Scent Of A Woman. Was it really a better performance than that in Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico or The Godfather?
Still, I’d like to ask the question about what is so special about Heath’s performance in The Dark Knight? Is it really that good? Is it better than Eddie Marsan in Happy-Go-Lucky, Josh Brolin in Milk, James Franco in Milk, Robert Downey Jr in Tropic Thunder, Philip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt, Brad Pitt in Burn After Reading and Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road? He may be a deserving winner but I think the question deserves deeper thought.
That has been a rather long Film Pie newsletter and I think most of the above is incoherent dribble. It’ll do.