Friday, February 22, 2008

We're Still Predicting the Oscars!

Was anyone else surprised to hear that the Oscars are this Sunday? I guess I'd become so used to the idea that there wouldn't be an Academy Awards ceremony because of the writers' strike that I'd basically written it off my internal calendar.

But since the show will be going on (and we probably should've expected the strike to end before the Oscars, since it's such a showcase moment for Hollywood), we'll continue the tradition - four years running - of predicting the winners in the so-called major categories. (Hey, if Jon Stewart can cram four months of preparation into eight days, it's the least I could do.) Another FRT Oscar tradition we'll try to continue on Monday are the next-day awards - also now four years running - where I'll laugh at others in an attempt to mask the pain of my predictions gone wrong.

Okay, here's how I think it'll go:

Tilda Swinton - Michael Clayton

This is probably the toughest category of the night. Cate Blanchett made the greatest transformation as Bob Dylan in I'm Not There, while Amy Ryan made an utterly repugnant character compelling and even somewhat sympathetic in Gone Baby Gone. You could argue that Blanchett's performance is gimmicky, but she already won in 2005 for sort of imitating Katharine Hepburn. So I'm taking my shot here. Tilda Swinton did the most with what she was given, and made you care about a seemingly sleazy character. She's almost as much of a star in Michael Clayton as George Clooney.

Javier Bardem - No Country For Old Men

Lock of the night. In Anton Chigurh, Bardem created the most memorable character of the year, and gave us a villain we'll be talking about for decades. Not too many guys would present fearsome opposition to Josh Brolin's bad-ass Llewellyn Moss, but Bardem is the unstoppable force to his immovable object. The audience gasps when Chigurh comes on the screen, because they know what's coming. And if he delays the inevitable - as in the coin toss exchange with the gas station clerk that you've probably seen, even if you haven't seen No Country For Old Men - the tension is almost unbearable.

Marion Cotillard - La Vie En Rose

Watching La Vie En Rose a couple of days ago might have influenced this pick just a smidge. I've already publicly stated my affection for Ms. Cotillard on this blog. But this would be the wrong movie to check out because you think she's sexy. Playing Edith Piaf probably isn't going to do it for you. But even without the make-up, Cotillard becomes another person. She ages - and not so gracefully. And though Piaf's songs are dubbed over her performance, her body language makes it clear that she's not just lip-syncing.

Daniel Day-Lewis - There Will Be Blood

Probably the other lock of the night. There's just not going to be much suspense in the male acting categories. I haven't seen all of the nominated performances, but I can't imagine either of them are responsible for carrying his film the way Day-Lewis does. The transformation he makes in his voice alone is probably award-worthy. It's kind of stunning to hear Day-Lewis' naturally soft, British-accented voice in interviews, because he's such an unyielding force of nature in There Will Be Blood. And even when the story turns a bit cartoonish toward the end, he sells it because his character remains consistent throughout the movie. No one could get more out of two words - "I'm finished" - than Day-Lewis.

Joel and Ethan Coen - No Country For Old Men

Looking at the Coen brothers' recent output, you might wonder if their directorial careers had jumped the shark. Ever since O Brother, Where Art Thou? Joel and Ethan just hadn't found much filmmaking magic. Getting a couple of duds out of their system seemed to have cleaned out their creative pipes. Or maybe they found Cormac McCarthy at just the right time. There's only a little bit of the Coens' trademark quirk in No Country For Old Men, and it's probably the best movie they've ever made. Besides, the Academy owes 'em an Oscar after shafting Fargo back in 1996.

No Country For Old Men

This isn't a lock, as There Will Be Blood would be a very worthy winner, as well. But to me, Blood felt like kind of an ordeal at times, but Daniel Day-Lewis' performance (along with Paul Dano's) keeps pushing you through it. No Country, on the other hand, is a freight train that keeps on rolling. You want to see where the story goes, as opposed to wondering where it will end up. Maybe it's not the right criterion, but I think the Best Picture winner should be a movie that we're talking about years from now. Paul Thomas Anderson's film is fresher in my memory, as I just saw it two weeks ago, but I think the Coens' work is more memorable.

We should also mention the screenplay awards, since the writers have shown just how important they are, and were the reason there almost wasn't an Oscars ceremony. It would surely be more fun if Diablo Cody won BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY, but I think her story's (not her screenplay) has gone about as far as it can go already. Juno probably has to win something for all its nominations, however, and maybe this is where that happens. I'm actually going to pick Tony Gilroy for much the same reason. Michael Clayton didn't have the most coherent plot, but Gilroy created one hell of a story around him. In a different year, he might have won Best Picture.

For BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY, the award has to go to Ronald Harwood for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. I don't know how anyone could've read that memoir and think, "I can make a movie out of this." But Harwood figured out the device of telling the story through Jean-Dominique Bauby's eyes, rather than depict what happens to him or goes on around him. That is adaptation, baby.

Since there really aren't any bold predictions to make among the nominees this year, I'll go out on a limb for the running time. This is the year the Oscars end by 11 p.m. EST. Yes, that's still a three-hour ceremony, but after the writers' strike, no one's had time to come up with canned intros and presentations. A little dose of humility will keep the show moving.