Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Oscar Symposium Lift Off. (But AMPAS Won't Fly)

Nathaniel R: First things first, please welcome this year's Symposium guests (in alpha order just like Oscar do): Timothy Brayton, Antagonie & Ecstasy, Ed Gonzalez, Slant Magazine, Karina Longworth, Spout, Erik Lundegaard, Eriklundegaard.com and Kris Tapley, In Contention. They were chosen through an elaborate and painstaking ranked balloting system. Only Price Waterhouse employees know who was snubbed for the 4th annual Film Experience event. Pundits suggest that they were invited on the basis of their mad skills with dramaturgy and accents. I'm happy to have these five in my virtual house to discuss the 81st annual Oscars.

But where to begin in a year when the Academy is feeling so passive aggressive? It's almost as if they took a look at the semi daring and pleasingly rangey shortlist of 2007 and thought: 'we simply can't have that again!', beating a hastry retreat back into their bios, Holocausts pictures, and vaguely ambitious epics a good portion of which will be forgotten about in five years time. I'm still unsure, given the ranked balloting system of the Academy, how at least 60% of them managed to get a sufficient number of #1 votes to compete. Who is passionate about them?

The menu was varied but AMPAS would only order the usual. Why's that?

AMC Theaters is hosting a marathon of the Best Picture nominees in several cities the day before the Oscars. I've considered going for the blog fodder but who wants to sit through these five particular films back to back to back to back to back and again for that matter? That's someone's idea of hell surely, or at least one circle of it. There's not even a comedy to break up the 12 hour day. Could you do it? Or would you like to propose a separate marathon. Is there an entire category you could sit through all at once?

Erik Lundegaard: Is the Academy feeling passive-aggressive? Does the Academy feel? All I know is I'm feeling passive and Harvey Weinstein is feeling aggressive. A friend of mine said that 2008 was a bad year for movies but it was really only a bad year for Oscar movies. The blockbusters were great: The Dark Knight, Iron Man, WALL•E, even Hancock which I think is underrated. The Oscars have Milk, which I think should win, and Slumdog Millionaire, which I wouldn't mind winning, but nothing to stir the passions like No Country or Brokeback or The Pianist. At least for me. Anyone else?

As for Nathaniel's question: I could sit through all the foreign language films, since it's probably the only way to see them all. I'm in Seattle, not a bad city for movies, but only Waltz With Bashir has shown up. The Class is scheduled soon. The others? Lotsa luck.

Karina Longworth: I agree that 2008 was not a bad year for movies. I don't think it was even necessarily a bad year for nominated movies...

Find out how Sean Penn gave Kris a black eye, who loves Rachel Getting Married, why Slumdog didn't set off Ed's bullshit detector, how France pissed Karina off and which Muppet Frank Langella reminds Timothy of. Return and comment if you'd like to join the convo.


Ben said...

For as crappy as the nominations were, I realized that there is a fair chance that 4 people will win (Rourke, Winslet, Ledger, Cruz) who are not the 4 I prefer (Penn, Hathaway, Brolin, Davis) and I will still be happy. So even though Oscar didn't wow with their best pic lineup, it doesn't look like there will be any embarrassing acting wins.

Anonymous said...

I did that last year, the Best Picture showcase. But watching Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood, Atonement, Juno and No Country for Old Men (that was the order they appeared in) was actually something that me and my friends were very eager for, because we had five very different films (and the one we all agreed upon as the best of the lot is There Will Be Blood). This year, I didn't want to do it, because I would hate to have to sit through The Reader and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button on that same day (I don't mind the other two as much).

Anonymous said...

Other three, sorry. I loved Milk and Slumdog Millionaire, and very much enjoyed Frost/Nixon.

Anonymous said...

You DO have a disgust for Clint Eastwood and it's very persistent and even more annoying.

Anonymous said...

Yeah; Oscar symposium!

i really do hear you guys. I didn’t feel it so much at first— post-nominations I mean— but lately the combo of SLUMDOG’s inevitable dominance (why???) and AMPAS’s shutout of DARK KNIGHT, WALL-E, RACHEL and THE WRESTLER from the top categories has left me feeling kinda icky toward the whole thing.

But then I say to myself, there’s still plenty of suspense (Best Actor/Supp. Actress)/ sure-to-be-treasured moments (Heath Ledger, Kate Winslet) ahead. And I must say it looks like the show’s producers have given it one hell of a make over so… I don’t know. Perhaps I just need to give myself a little knick and enjoy. I mean, there have been worse winners (and snubs) than SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE… right?

O. Andrew D said...

Can someone help me?

I'm having people over for the Oscar's and I want to do ballots. What time do I start my party? It says that they are supposed to start at 8, but does that really mean they wont start giving out awards till 9?

Do I tell people come at 8 and then they have a 1/2 hour to an hour to do their ballots? Or do they have to arrive at like 730?

Anonymous said...

::sigh:: i can tell that Karina is going to annoy me through this symposium. time to be a grown up :-(


andrew... they usually give out a couple of awards really early and then there's a dry spell. but who knows this year?

at my own party i always ask people to show before the actual show starts. the arrivals are super fun with a group anyway

anon 10:17 i really do love last year's lineup. such range and interest. and not a clunker among them. Not my choice for the top 5 but all are worthy which is just so so strange as shortlists go.

ben good point. the acting wins will be good this year we all suspect. i'm just sad that it won't be tilda, javier, cotillard and day-lewis giving them. a great tradition sacrificed on the altar of "let's change everything since we're clueless at to what exactly needs changing!"

DH said...

My top five of the year.

1) Slumdog Millionaire
3) The Dark Knight
4) Milk
5) The Wrestler

I agree that Best Actor is the most interesting race this year and the nominees for Best Picture does lack enthusiasm. However I think the huge internet backlash for Slumdog Millionaire comes from a somewhat elitist perspective. Like there is a list of what a movie has to have to be Best Picture worthy (i.e. the guy who claims it has nothing to say about destiny). I think what makes Slumdog special is that it does go against the grain.

Anonymous said...

@ Denzel Hawke: Get out of my head! We both think Slumdog, Milk, Wall-E, and Dark Knight are the top four films of the year. Rock on!

@ NoNo: I was thinking the very same thing while reading the symposium. It's like everything she said I disagreed with. Oh well.

In any case, great start Nat and friends! Just a few comments:

- This was NOT a weak year for film. I'll give you that the Academy chose wrongly in the Best Picture category (with the exception of Milk and Slumdog MIllionaire). But I repeat, not a weak year for film.

- The screenplay for In Bruges is better than Burn After Reading, and I really liked the latter! In fact I wouldn't mind seeing that win over Wall-E and Milk, and again those two films are in my top 4! On a second thought, I'm having doubts over Black's screenplay. Ah well.

- Rachel Getting Married made it to my Top Ten. Not sure why it didn't really connect with a lot of people.

- It is so so SO difficult to choose between Penn and Rourke. For most of the season I've been championing Penn since he was just brilliant, but then I saw The Wrestler three days ago and well now I can't decide. If there was ever a time for a tie...

Rob said...

I really bristle at the pay-attention-to-me, Armond White-esque contrarianism of statements like "Richard Jenkins was better in Burn After Reading than he was in The Visitor." I mean, fucking seriously, come on now.

And, in fact, many (though obviously not all) normal moviegoers and film aficionados who actually SAW "Rachel Getting Married" did indeed love it. I think the rationale that ONLY critics loved it because the Academy members one talked to hated it, says more about the makeup of one's social circle (i.e.: critics, industry people, and no one else) than it does about the film.

And I still find it baffling how clearly intelligent, articulate people -- be it Ed Gonzalez or Manohla Dargis -- can find positive things to say about "Gran Torino."

Anonymous said...

Nathaniel, I am so hating this Symposium, but I so can't stop reading it. ;-) It is very hard this year, with so much polarizing work on the table.

I keep hearing myself scream "Leave Britney alone!" (Well, substitute the title of a number of films or names of actors for Britney.)

Notas Sobre Creación Cultural e Imaginarios Sociales said...

My top 5 of '08 so far would be:
"WALL-E","Vicky Cristina Barcelona","Hunger","Revanche" and yes "The Reader", with the ranking yet to be decided.
I think for anyone outside the awards' craze, "The Reader" must play off as a better movie because they won't be offended it "kicked out" Batman from the race, will be upset about the whole Winslet category mess, or will a have Weinstein bias.
To them the movie will be more self contained. I have to admit that I liked it so much because I felt it embodied perfectly the mood of the book (I'd give it Adapted Screenplay in a heartbeat).
About the "Rachel Getting Married" thing I'm still shocked the screenplay, cinematography and DeWitt were so awfully snubbed throughout the season.
And I blame distribution as well, but for all who complain about not being in NYC or LA, try living in a third world country where the number of Best Picture nominees released so far is one.

Glendon said...

My question to Winslet fans who thought The Reader was sub-par(or worse):

What will be your reaction if Kate finally wins the Oscar?

O. Andrew D said...

I'd be very happy if Slumdog won this year, in fact I am rooting for it.

Not only is a beautiful film technically, but it was a huge risk to make. No stars, filming in India slums, half of movie in a foreign language, with a director who has a track record of solid films, but all outside the Oscar's genre.

On paper it had almost no shot to even be made let alone break 100 mil in the US. I really applaud the studio for making it and releasing it.

I also think its about time a movie won that made the audience feel GREAT afterwards. The past three winners (Crash, No Country, Million Dollar Baby) are heavy, sad, and draggy. Slumdog wakes you up, wows you, and just makes you feel good.

I think its winning on Sunday will be an incredible moment.

gabrieloak said...

don't know who Karina Longworth is but now I know I don't have to read her again after reading her ridiculous comment on the actors. I have no respect for anyone who makes fun of a performance she hasn't even watched. And to say Richard Jenkins was better in Burn After Reading is absurd. Her dismissal of Penn in Milk is even more moronic.

I wish you had brought back Sasha Stone.

O. Andrew D said...

Glendon: That's an interesting question because I thought Streep's performance was the best this year, but I am a huge Kate Fan and I think she was better than the other nominees. I struggle picking who I want to win because I think Streep should win, but seeing Kate finally win would be a great moment. If Streep does win it would be horrible looking at Kate's face.

Can I just pray for a tie?

gabrieloak said...

Answering Glendon--I don't think The Reader is Kate's best performance of her career but I will still be happy if she wins. I know it's not supposed to be a career award but in her case, it will be in part if she wins.

I am a little disturbed that Rourke may win in part because everyone thinks he will give a great speech but I am preparing myself for him to win.

Anonymous said...

does the oscar deserve our attention and time?


Anonymous said...

@ Glendon:

I love Kate and if she wins I will be thrilled for her, but there will always be an asterisk attached to this victory in my mind. She has been better in the past in better films and she didn't even give the outstanding performance of 2008.

Anonymous said...

1. Synecdoche, New York
2. Entre les murs
3. Wendy And Lucy
4. The Wrestler
5. Rachel Getting Married

Anonymous said...

Nathaniel, you said in the symposium that Milk is in your top 5, so is that kicking out Reprise? I was just wondering because that would make your top 5 perfect to me...I didn't really care for Reprise. It didn't involve me because I didn't care about any of the characters that much. Did you revisit it or Milk and decide you like Milk better?

Anonymous said...

Happy to see some Seattle love there. The Class finally opens here Friday.

My top 5 of 2008 goes...

1. Happy-Go-Lucky
2. In Bruges
3. The Wrestler
4. Wendy and Lucy
5. Che

As for Rachel being only for the critics, I know quite a few people who love it that aren't critics. In fact, most of the critics I know personally, including myself, like but don't love the movie.

Anonymous said...

So far I agree with everything aside from the horrific Dustin Lance Black screenplay knocks. I never found Harvey Milk glorified in a way that was significantly over the top.

Both Penn and the screenplay wore his faults openly, vocal (and accurate) comparisons to boss tweed and his own struggle with revealing his sexuality being two of the many flaws he dealt wtih. I felt the movie went to pains to assure us that he wasn't perfect.

...and I want more complaining about Happy-Go-Lucky and Sally Hawkins being snubbed. I'm still stinging from that one.

Anonymous said...

I would forgive them for cancelling the last-year's-actors-present-this-year's if they just had Julie Christie present Best Actor. That'd show 'em!

Glenn Dunks said...

I haven't read the symposium yet, but can I just say that I love that Karina's blog rhymes with Doubt and that it sounds very Oscarish to say.

That is all (for now).

Neb said...



Danielhardy23@gmail.com said...

It seems I am one of the very, very few here who actually loved Benjamin Button, and I'm deeply rooting for it NOT to win, as it will only make people hate on it more. Though I found Slumdog overrated, its unstoppable win is actually better for the industry, since it breaks a few rules about what kind of movie can be a blockbuster (no stars/no 'white' character to identify with/sub-titles/indie budget) - so hopefully more interesting films get green-lit as a result. Though unfortunately, they will have to be 'feel-good'.

And in the acting categories, Rourke, Ledger and Cruz , who all seem likely to win, are my picks - so the year is not too bad. Hathaway, whom I loved, stands no chance, and I wish Winslet had won for Eternal Sunshine, which is one of my favorite performances EVER.

top 5:

The Fall
The Dark Knight
Benjamin Button
Vicki Cristina Barcelona

Tormentor Azaron said...

Not seeing Man On Wire, i'll say this - Re-enactments in Documentary features is a tricky thing to pull off.

For example - while Chicago 10 strives with it's innovative animated re-enactments, Waltz with Bashir is just pure fiction. I guess that there is a line somewhere between needed and unneeded reenactments.

Also, 2008 was a kick ass year for cinema. And by that i mean that all the good or worthy films this year were kick-ass. From the superhero movies (which 2008 will probably be remembered as the best year for them), to the dramas and thrillers, any good movie this year had some kick-ass to it.

Dave said...

@ Ben: Frost/Nixon is so mediocre that it would be a waste of time discussing it, surely?

I must say I was surprised to see the hatred for Frozen River coming from some of the discussers. I didn't think it was OMGAMAZING or anything but it's a solid little movie with a terrific central performance and I wasn't aware there was anything to get so virulent about.

I do love that the Best Actor race, for once, is actually between two superb performances and that whichever wins will thoroughly deserve it. And that so many people seem to be in the same place as me: that is, unable to choose.

And as much of Timothy in this symposium as possible, please: agreed with everything he's said (particularly on Milk) and he does so very eloquently.

John T said...

I tend to agree that the Best Actor race has not turned into a Team Penn or Team Rourke bashfest like last year (I still grumble out my Julie Christie losing)-I'm on Team Penn (well, actually Team Farrell, but potato, potato, but am good with Rourke getting the nomination.

And I also have to agree with this being a terrible year at the movies. I honestly didn't fall in love once at the cinema, and considering I did four times last year, while being completely smitten with several others, it's just not comparable to 2007. It's why I was looking forward with such relish to the 2009 Preview on the TFE, as it showcased what's in store for this year (an odd-numbered year, so you know it has to be good).

And my favorite films of the year, well, if you take the first 20 minutes of WALL-E, the opening scene (or any scene with Heath) in The Dark Knight, the dead boy monologue in In Bruges, the supporting performances of Milk, and Kate learning to read, well, there you have that movie I could love.


ed i didn't reconsider. It's that REPRISE was actually ineligible for Oscar consideration (opened two years ago in Norway) so if I had a ballot my ballot would have included MILK.

John T your frankenstein movie there is probably one of the best movies of the year! wheee (although I would trade out the reader bits for a healthy does of Rachel & Kym)

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

I'm sort of out of my element here-- I'm from a small town in Maine and just saw The Wrestler last night-- but I enjoy reading the thoughts of the rich (in terms of movie selection). I really felt like I was on the same level with all of the contributors more than once... I agree with Nat about Rachel Getting Married being one of the best films of the year and certainly the best screenplay... All the 'Penn vs Rourke and how the hell do you choose' stuff... oh and of course, the 'Burn After Reading is crap' musings. Couldn't agree more.

I think the Best Picture lineup is uninspired, especially Benjamin Button, which is the same microwaved epic I've seen before, and yet... I'm a big fan of 2/5 nominated. The problem is, the field was rich in interesting films and they just.... didn't take to them. It's really stupid. Wish I could figure it out. I'm still stinging from Wall-E's exclusion-- I really bought into it when it won some critics awards. I'm so delusional =(

Looking forward to day 2!

Anonymous said...

Oh and Tim is my favorite too. He's brill.

Janice said...

I'm just going to be a contrarian here and say I had no problem with Karina's comments (what's with the hate?); just part of the rich texture of an interesting conversation (and NO, I had not even heard of the girl outside of the symposium, thank you.)

It's about opinions, folks.

Nathaniel, it was interesting to me that your succinct description of Slumdog (which I admit right now I have not seen and make no judgements upon) sounded as though it could have been somone else's description of Moulin Rouge, which you (and I both) - fast pace, colorful, stock characters, in love with itself, etc. So, what makes one work for you and not the other? That's something I'm curious about, I guess, because I find the "what one person loves and what one doesn't" interesting. (This year I hated - or at least was sorely disappointed with - Australia, but I know folks who dislike Moulin Rouge who love Australia. Go figure.)


janice well in terms of stock characters that generally works better for me when there's some degree of understanding on the part of the actors and directors that they are playing 2 dimensional archetypes. There can be joy in that but it's all about stylization.

people like to say that Slumdog is a fairytale (which it is) when they're excusing its unreality (i mean the plot is ridiculous although it's played straight so credit for that) but i don't think it's trying to come off like a fairytale with that gloss of grit (i realize that's a contradictino but there you go) the blood, the violence, the shit. etcetera

anon 7:48 bang bang you're dead. SLUMDOG has a body count. I'm feeling more confident about my "sweep" prediction right now.

dave i do think that's the case. nobody wanted to talk about frost/nixon. what is there to say?

that's the crux of the problem isn't it? Thus the symposium is shorter this year :( an uninspired Oscar year

Anonymous said...

"Broken Embraces" Teaser trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-fXiuFG0soU

Tim said...

Re: Frost/Nixon

At least once a day for the last week, I've been in a situation where the other four nominees have been named, in whatever context, and this is always "the fifth one". During the first day of the symposium, I had to go to the IMDb just to remember what "the fifth one" was in fact titled. That is how much impression it left on me.

And that is why I, at least, couldn't be bothered to bring it up.

Nick M. said...

I'll certainly take Karina and Ed's cinema-savvy, thoughtful opinions over the myopic, Oscar-filtered marketing catchphrases masquerading as opinions that other members of the panel (past and present) might use.

Also, can there be a moratorium placed on members giving out such sarcastic honors as "the Manohla Dargis award," simply because a panelist names a few movies that didn't have a multi-million dollar Oscar campaign.

I know this is an Oscar symposium, but the non-nominated films mentioned are legitimately used to illustrate the cinematic landscape of 2008.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that there was some equity with how "Slumdog Millionaire" was discussed. Nate's treated it with such snobbery on here, so it was nice to hear reasoned views of why its fans appreciate it to the level that they do and how it's hardly disposable fare that no one will remember down the road. Yay Ed and Kris (ugh, now I feel all dirty congratulating those two for their kudos).

It's also fairly pompous to suggest that voters just "didn't see enough" films this year. Until you poll its 6,000 or so members or have access to their Academy screenings roster/Netflix ques, you don't know what they watched and didn't. They really could have watched "Rachel Getting Married" way back when in the fall and hated it. Shit happens. See "The Reader" for proof of that.

The stuff at the end about the "santification of Harvey Milk" was really interesting. I had no idea that the guy went to bathhouses and was a closet Republican? Is that right? I haven't seen the doc on him and know nothing about him beyond "Milk", so seeing Sean Penn's haloed interpretation of him did leave me a bit cold. But I won't go into a death match against him for Rourke either, b/c I was fairly nonplussed with him too. My pick is Frank Langella, though it's too bad that the panel reduced his stellar glimpse of Nixon as a "Muppet voice." But that's how it goes sometimes.

Can't wait to read the next installments. Despite my snark, I'm very sincere about that.

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe all of you hated The Reader. It's great!!!
I've enjoyed the first part of the symposium but I have the vague feeling you go to the movies expecting too much (or forgiving too little). I mean, a movie has to be a complete disaster to deserve my hate (e.g. One hour photo)
We have to believe in the magic in movies!!
(fairy moment ended)

Morgan Leigh Davies said...

@ Davey: Sorry, but this is a personal pet peeve:

nonplussed: put at a loss as to what to think, say, or do

Unless that is in fact what you meant, in which case: apologies!

W/regards to Milk: I just watched the documentary and he was almost MORE likable in that, I thought. But I really didn't think that he was presented as outrageously saintly in the movie... obviously it's a very positive portrait. But I also think that it's more a film about the movement than about the candidate (as Harvey, I'm sure, would have said).

@ Glendon: I love her, but I'll be disappointed. I don't see the necessity of a career-reward Oscar at the age of 33. She's done phenomenal work, obviously, but I don't think either April or Hanna was anywhere close to the best performance of the year. But c'est la vie, I suppose.

@ Janice: Funnily, I was just thinking about Moulin Rouge vs. Slumdog the other day, after rediscovering the former... I agree with Nat that the problem is that Moulin Rouge doesn't try on any level to be real. With Slumdog they show you all of this terrible stuff which is supposed to shock and horrify you but it's really only in the service of the fairy tale. I found it manipulative and thought it trivialized the reality of life in the slums because in the end everything's hunky dory, and that was my problem with it.

Anonymous said...

- Replace "nonplussed" for "unenthused" there then.

- I'll for one be quite disappointed when Kate Winslet wins for "The Reader." My love of her in general isn't enough to blind me for an Oscar win for an awful performance, and a "career win" isn't worth that kind of tarnish.

- If that's all true about Harvey Milk, then I don't think that the screenplay did him justice. Now if the goal was never to portray his demons or saint him, then mission accomplished. It's not a bad film by any means, but I think a more evenhanded treatment of his life would have served his legacy better than a hagiography would (and I know already, this film didn't do that to the extent that other biopics in the past have).

- At the end of "Slumdog", everything isn't all "honky dory" with the characters. Yes, there's the hope of renewal now that Jamal's found Latika and won that money, but who really knows what lies in store for them. There's the hope of a happy ending, but just with any story, and especially a story set in that impoverished background, there aren't easy answers for these two, and just throwing some money at the problem isn't always the answer. I actually liked that Jamal was never in this for the money, but that he had greater aims in mind, re: love.


davey -- can we move away from the notion that not rooting for a particular movie is "snobbery"? or that it's somehow wrong to expect a voting body with so much power to see a lot of movies (and not just the ones with multi-million dollar campaigns) before they vote?

I don't see that I've been that mean to Slumdog here though slumdog fans seem to disagree. I've only been very vocal at my displeasure that people seem so unreasonable about what it's good at and what it's not good at. The abundant awardage is merely underlining this. People seem to have no concept that their love for it does not make it a great film on every single level. Did it need a costume design award and acting prizes?

i mean christ. How can a backlash not happen when its supporters are so unreasonably unwilling to think of any other movie?

noecito i like the Reader but i didn't want the symposium to become about the reader. and as i've expressed before it's weird to become a defender of it because i don't love it or anything.

Anonymous said...

Again, you don't know what they've seen and haven't seen. What they've chosen could just mean that's what they like the best. Question their poor tastes maybe, but making the leap that they just didn't see the "right" films reeks of snobbery. Sorry, but that's how your work reads tonally, and it's pretty consistent.

Nick M. said...

Isn't it snobbier to assume they have seen every film, yet they simply have horrid, conformist taste?

sophomorecritic said...

I think this film was a very good year. The five best picture nominees all had something to offer and they could have made a riskier choice in place of The Reader, but all this symposium really says is that you all have diverse tastes and that's how the movie world is. Some of you thoguht In Bruges was great, some of you didn't. Some of you loved Burn After Reading, some of you didn't, some of you felt Rachel Getting Married was great, again, there was opposition. Honestly, as a body of people you don't really have anything to say about what's wrong with the academy's picks. You would all cancel each other's picks out if you were voting members of the academy, and the broad consensus picks would win: so what's all your kvetching and extreme negativity about?

you all found something to like in the picks, whether it was In Bruges' nomination, Penn's probable win for Milk, Mike Leigh's script for Happy-Go-Lucky, Melissa Leo's nom for Frozen River, Michael Shannon's nom for Revolutionary Road, Anne Hathaway for Frozen River, etc. So stop whining.

Seriously, if you who loved Rachel Getting Married but couldn't convince a hand-picked set of critics at your own roundtable that you invited them to that it was worthy, then how can you blame the academy?

For the record, I thought this was an excellent year. I loved Wall-E, The Class, I could appreciate the risks of Rachel Getting Married even if I found it lacking in a coherent storyline, I lvoed Frost/Nixon, Gran Torino, Slumdog Millionaire, I liked Sean Penn's performance even if I found the film to have dragged on a little, I loved In Bruges, Burn After Reading, Be Kind Rewind, and found something to appreciate in Iron Man and Quantum of Solace

tim r said...

I agree with Karina that Slumdog and Ben Button are the two really grim nominees this year, for encasing their Gumpian story arcs in virtually opposite but equally indigestible style packages. (They're the cinematic equivalents of a bad coke high and then a colossal barbiturate overdose -- presented as a double bill, the combo would probably kill an elephant.) As such, they're the least interesting movies by two directors I often love, but given the choice I'll be less cross with a Boyle win, as he's clearly an excellent bloke, and seems faintly bewildered about all the attention SM has attracted. Whereas Fincher wants Oscars baad and his film reeks of inflated attention-seeking.

No one wants to talk about Frost/Nixon because it's just thoroughly mediocre -- no more, no less. I don't think it should cause any more offence than The Queen, which was every bit as jerry-rigged, and I'll take Langella's performance over Mirren's, personally. (Which is not to say it's up to the level of Penn's or Rourke's, but it's easily worth a nomination, salvaging all the best moments out of that script.)

The Reader is getting a lot of vitriol chucked at it, but I've yet to read a full-scale attack on the movie (or Winslet) that doesn't wilfully distort what they're trying to do. David Denby doesn't like it much, and neither do I as it goes along, but we'll both admit the surprising eroticism of the early David Kross scenes, and the cinematography is almost needlessly terrific. It goes wrong, but not completely wrong. So I'm in the camp of myeh on that one too.

As for Milk, we can't ask it to be all things to all people. My colleague on the Telegraph has written a terrific blog about it here, which I feel does the movie real justice without ignoring its compromises and limitations. It's a two cheers kind of film, but still way, way above the level of these other nominees, and approximately 16 times better than Gran Torino, too.

Finally, I reckon The Class, A Christmas Tale and Secret of the Grain are all excellent movies, and it's Oscar's fault for not allowing multiple nominees from one country, perhaps expanding the category to more like a dozen movies while they're at it. Still, at least they haven't saddled us with the wan and negligible I've Loved You So Long, like the Baftas did.


i'd never thought of that, Tim, but why couldn't the foreign film roster have more than 5 nominees... i mean, apart from the fact that that's the most any category has but there was a time when there more in best pic. so...

although in some ways i do like the one film rule because other wise nobody would ever be able to get past France which still sees a lot of movies opening in America (even if they only play the coasts) compared to any other country.

tim r said...

You have a point. Still, it was a particularly fantastic year for French movies -- not to forget the lovely Musee d'Orsay double bill of Flight of the Red Balloon and Summer Hours too (though I know that one hasn't officially come out yet Stateside). Those five would make for an awesome Best French Film category...

bubba said...

I'm ecstatic that Juliette Binoche was mentioned for her incandescent performance in Flight of the Red Balloon. Definitely my top female performance of 2008.

Anonymous said...

"I've Loved You So Long" was excellent, and Kristin Scott Thomas should have been nominated over half of what this sorry best actress field is this year. At least half.

Nick M. said...

By the way, if we're going to start discussing the wonderfully wicked ensemble of Burn After Reading, I have to state that John Malkovich wins "best in show."

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

To Anonymous at 9:32
Thanks for that! From that trailer alone, there's no beating Broken Embraces as my film of 2009.

Also, I enjoy any Oscar symposium that denigrates the Oscars (in fact, I don't think you guys are doing enough of that - Ed in particular, pick up your game! I know you can do better). And Karina is somone who pisses me off regularly - I think I've sworn off reading SpoutBlog more often than any other blog - but I keep coming back for more. For someone who is so intelligent and articulate, it's entirely unfortunate that she's so often wrong about things, though I have to say I agreed with more of what she said here than all the other contributors. (Even though I thought Penn was note-perfect in Milk and Jenkins was excellent in Burn After Reading, but better in The Visitor. Also, for me McDormand was best in show.)

Meantime, Ed is without reservation one of my favourite online critics and someone who I generally agree with, so it pains me to acknowledge that he just recommended Gran Torino and now I have to actually watch it. And I'll never buy the argument about that-Woody-Allen-movie-where-his-stand-in-and-the-only-principal-character-with-depth-and-empathy-in-a-bevy-of-charming-photogenic-idiots-is-a-complex-beautiful-intelligent-intriguing-woman being misogynist, no matter how many perfectly intelligent people try to argue that. But I am willing to forgive these things because Ed brings the total of people who have tapped into the striking brilliance of André (Wild Reeds!) Téchiné's The Witnesses to 2. I feel vindicated in no longer being the only person in the world who has it in their Top 5 of the year (though for me it was a 2007 release).

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

Also, I don't think Ernest Borgnine or James Cameron or half the cinematography branch (the very same that gave Memoirs of a Geisha Best Cinematograhy and is yet to acknowledge Christopher Doyle) was ever gonna vote for Rachel, whether they watched the screener or not.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this.

I agree that Rachel Getting Married was a good film, although I had issues with the editing (the lenghty wedding scene, in particular), and felt the multicultural theme was somewhat contrived. I did, however, appreciate the superb acting of Hathway, DeWitt, Irwin, and Winger-who created a fascinating character with limited screentime.

I disagree that Dustin Lance Black's screenplay portrayed Harvey Milk as a saint. I felt he was very human, displaying admirable qualities, as well as flaws.

My top 5 films of the year are Milk, The Wrestler, I've Loved You So Long, Happy-Go-Lucky, and The Reader.

And I, too, would appreciate reading your opinions on the Sally Hawkins snub in the Best Actress category. That was whack.


Mike i wrote about the Sally Hawkins snub at length already (you can read that and the interview I had with her here). We don't go into it in the symposium.

Anonymous said...

Great article! Some other opinions on the Blockbusters of 2008: http://tr.im/gzQF. Feedback is more than welcome!