Monday, February 25, 2008

Oscars 08 Upon Reflection

The 2008 Academy Awards are now completed, so here are my thoughts on the categories where I've seen more than half of the entrants.

Short Animated Film: Given all the pre-Oscar buzz about the beautifully executed Madame Tutli-Putli, I was quite surprised that it didn't win despite the fact that it has a rather opaque plot. I Met the Walrus is also very much worth seeing, and I say that as someone who is not at all interested in John Lennon. The illustration and animation style in that piece is quite compelling (and in some ways echoes Terry Gilliam's work with Monty Python). Moya Lyubov was absolutely gorgeous, and very boring. I liked Peter and the Wolf well enough, but though the much longer Peter is far more ambitious, I probably would have picked the far more independent I Met The Walrus. The fifth entry wasn't even worth considering.

Best Foreign Language Film: I would have picked Katyn, but at the same time, the The Counterfeiters was the right choice to win.

Animated Feature: Having worked many hours on Ratatouille, I am quite pleased it won. I am glad Persepolis and Surfs Up were nominated, as both were also very good.

Visual Effects: The buzz amongst my friends and colleagues has mostly been about this choice. As a Visual Effects Society nominating judge for the '07 VES Awards, I saw quite a bit of the work done on all three '07 Oscar contenders. Of the three, many of my colleagues and I feel Golden Compass was the least successful by almost all specifically VFX criteria. It is still good work, but both Transformers and Pirates contain work that easily surpasses Golden Compass. At VES, it was only nominated in the "Outstanding Visual Effects in a Visual Effects Driven Motion Picture" category (basically the top honor for film at VES, an award which it lost to Transformers), and not in any of the individual achievement categories. The prevailing opinion seems to be the one I share: Golden Compass was awarded based on the overall film and not the technical achievement. Of the three, it is most actor-driven, and the VFX play more of a supporting role (a category for which there is an award given at VES, but Golden Compass is not a "supporting VFX" film by VES criteria, it is just a wee bit more so than Transformers or Pirates). This seems to have made it more appealing to the Academy, which is comprised mostly of actors. This particular win was a pretty big surprise for many of us in the industry who were thinking about it entirely in terms of technique and visual artistry.

Sound Editing and Achievement In Sound: None of the sound in these films truly blew me away (they were all very good, but none stood out as far more compelling than the others), but I still wish both had gone to Ratatouille. That said, I think that the Academy felt compelled to give Bourne some craft recognition.

Original Song: Three nominations for Menken and Schwartz (Enchanted), only to lose? Ouch. Disturbingly, my favorite was "Happy Working Song." I found the songs in Once to be even more annoyingly precious than your typical fairy tale musical fare. Clearly there's something wrong with me.

Original Score: There Will Be Blood (Johnny Greenwood) wasn't even nominated? Are you kidding me? That's a crime. Otherwise, Michael Giacchino should have won -- he's a musical genius. Michael Clayton, surprisingly, also had a pretty good score.

Makeup: This was an echo of Cotillard's acting win. The make-up was great work, but mostly it won because looking at her is very pleasant indeed. The work in Pirates was also very worthy. I am sorry that Rick Baker had to work on Norbit. His work is good, but that film just plain rubbish.

Costume Design: Sweeney Todd was robbed.

Art Direction: A well deserved win for Sweeney Todd.

Editing: I actually think There Will Be Blood should have won this, but Bourne was also a good choice.

Cinematography: Roger Deakins gets nominated twice in one year and, like Menken and Schwartz, he gets robbed. Don't get me wrong here, Elswit's work was genius as well, but the seven-time nominated Deakins (also a genius, and a really nice guy to boot) deserves to actually win an Oscar, damn it. Until Deakins wins one, the Cinematography Oscar is diminished.

Original Screenplay: And Ellen Page's Oscar goes to... Diablo Cody. Page (and Reitman) made this script look great. Regardless of what one thinks of the script (I think it's good -- much better than its many detractors claim, but not the pure, unmitigated genius that others seem to believe), I think this was a safe bet because this award is quickly becoming the award which should be titled as such: "Best indie film distributed, and heavily promoted, by a major distributor, which the Academy liked, but isn't going to honestly consider giving Best Acting, Best Picture or Best Director, so since nobody cares about writers all that much anyway, let's just give it Best Screenplay and be done with it already Award." Michael Clayton should have perhaps won, in my opinion, because buried within its core is a non-satirical reinterpretation of Network (an observation which I consider high praise). I'd really have liked this award to go to Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava and Jim Capobianco -- but an Animated film is unlikely to ever win for writing.

Supporting Actor: Bardem was the obvious, and correct, choice in my opinion. Tom Wilkinson was also great in Michael Clayton.

Supporting Actress: A very well deserved win by Tilda Swinton.

Best Actress: I didn't see Marion Cotillard's film, but she sure is beautiful. However, of the films I did see, Ellen Page should have beaten the rest.

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lews was a shoe-in, but the others were all worthy competitors.

Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture: No Country For Old Men, in what was apparently a make-up sweep for the Academy's failing to properly recognize Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, and Fargo, blew away There Will Be Blood. I personally feel it should have at least been a 2:1 split. As much as I love the Coen brothers' work, and it's a lot of love, There Will Be Blood was an excellent film. Paul Thomas Anderson deserved something for it. Eastern Promises deserved a nomination in any one of those categories far more than Atonement did. And -- for all us aspiring Indie filmmakers hoping to get picked up and shot into success atop a huge marketing budget -- let's hope Fox Searchlight's spending its films (such as Juno, LMS, and Napoleon Dynamite) into the spotlight and onto the nominations lists starts an all-out Indie film marketing and promotional war with Sony Pictures Classics, Focus, etc.