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Film

Frank J. Avella's Film Column
The Oscar Race 2007
Was the Dreamgirls snub racist?
Is the Academy homophobic?
Predictions, Preferences, Prog-blasting
And why we care so bloody much...

Let’s get the Dreamgirls exclusion from the Best Picture category out of the way first. To call it a racist move on the Academy’s part is to prove ignorant of quite a few facts. Firstly, five black actors have been nominated this year, a record for AMPAS. Secondly, the film that many assume took Dreamgirls’ place, Letters from Iwo Jima, featured an all-Japanese cast! Add to that the inclusion of Penelope Cruz, Rinko Kikuchi and Adriana Barraza in the acting categories as well as the shower of nominations for Pan’s Labyrinth, Babel and Children of Men, and shouting racism seems downright dopey.

Then remember back to last year when the race-related Crash took home the best picture award over the heavily-favored Brokeback Mountain.

Finally, realize that Dreamgirls was produced, written and directed by two openly-gay WHITE men (producer David Geffen and writer/director Bill Condon) and you can possibly argue homophobia, but you cannot seriously argue racism.

In my opinion, Dreamgirls is a good movie buoyed to better-than-good by Jennifer Hudson’s stunning performance. It suffers from a cliché’-ridden script and is nowhere near the caliber of the dazzling Chicago.

It did not surprise me when Dreamgirls was left off the A-list. What surprised me was how so many had labeled it the front-runner in the first place.

Which brings me to: the prognosticators (I include myself in this bunch).

The chief problem, especially in the last few years, is that many of the progs (online and in print) have tried to turn predicting the Oscars into a numbers game based on past choices, number of nominations received, Guild and Golden Globe support and, to a lesser degree, box office. Although all these factors can make for a heck of an accurate list of likelies, it is silly to rely on them completely.

The progs are aghast when their predictions do not match up completely but find some new excuse to use like, “Clint happens.” Then they backtrack and state they kinda knew it all along!

Well you can’t not have your Clint and have him too.

Yes, Clint happened to happen, but he happened because more goes into predicting the Oscar race than the science of numbers.

A certain infamous web-prog was so certain Dreamgirls would WIN best picture after he saw it far back in early December, that he wouldn’t shut up about it. (this is the same guy who was so certain the debacle Phantom of the Opera would also win Best Picture back in 2004 and we know how that turned out).

Some of the bloggers, like Sasha Stone over at OscarWatch.com (a site I enjoy frequenting) do not pretend to be queen-know-it-all. This year she smartly quoted William Goldman’s mantra “Nobody knows anything.” Giving it up to the guessing game that it is, lends credence to the writing. Pretending to be an expert at forecasting the Oscars is sheer hubris.


Peter O'Toole in Venus

Some of these self-proclaimed progs don’t even feel the need to see the films up for the awards, which I find to be arrogant and offensive. But, it’s a free world wide web; I just choose to disregard those opinions.

One of the key problems with Oscar progblogging is trying to remain objective and leave your own clinging opinions out of it. It’s damn near impossible and SHOULD be. Film is such a subjective experience that the false attempts made by the oh-so-many who claim they are objective by quoting self-serving statistics (that half the time they’re wrong about) is borderline bogus at best.


Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt in Babel

For every idiotic statement like: “Little Miss Sunshine and Letters from Iwo Jima cannot win because the last time a film with so few nominations won was 1933,” there's an equally idiotic one like “Little Miss Sunshine” will win the Oscar because it’s the most lovable of the five” or “Letters from Iwo Jima has the Best Pic sewed up because the Academy is made up of old men who love Clint Eastwood.” All of these statements might have a lot of validity, but to cite them singularly as the reason a group of 5800 industryites vote is ridiculous.

It’s fascinating and gives me the giggles how so many folks refer to the Academy as having one collective mindset. I do it, too. The Academy is homophobic. The Academy is racist. The Academy doesn’t like to be told what to vote for. The Academy should be shot for giving Roberto Benigni an award...like they’re the Borg or something (geeky Star Trek reference).


Jack Nicholson and Leonardo DiCaprio in The Departed

The Academy is actually made up of individuals. And maybe last year, they just liked Crash best. (That was painful for me to type since it was my least favorite of the five films nominated!)

Which brings me to the Monday-morning quarterbacking progs (and they are rampant!) After Crash shocked almost everyone last year by grabbing the best pic gold so many journalists began an “I knew it” campaign by pointing towards the fact that Brokeback Mountain didn’t have an editing nomination and how that was a key factor. Again bringing mathematics into the equation! They also cited the old Hollywood guard not wanting to give the top honor to a movie about homos. And maybe some members did, indeed, feel that way. But we need to be honest and admit it was the frontrunner going into that long and painful night.

This year many a prog who had originally predicted Letters from Iwo Jima would get a best pic nod, changed their minds when it proved to have no Guild support. Letters was ceremoniously dumped off everyone’s probably list. On the morning of January 23rd, when Letters made it into the Best Pic lineup, some admitted being shocked, some--as mentioned above--wrote it off as a Clint thing. But what we need to realize is that even with a certain membership overlap, AMPAS is a different voting body with a weighed system of selection. Just because things lined up rather nice-n-dull last year (nomination-wise) does not mean it will always happen that way. Logic!


Letters from Iwo Jima

Now, after this year’s SAG awards, the general consensus is that even without an editing or director nomination, Little Miss Sunshine is the new favorite. Why? Because it just won the SAG ensemble award!

Each series of new predictions and variations on the old predictions seem based on new information from the Guilds, an interview with an Academy member, facts about the number of nominations historically, some relevant math about winning at the Globes, then the SAGs, then the DGA...you get the picture...

Goldman’s truth should be the required mantra. Still, it is fun to guess.
Once the arrogance of numbers and stats take over, the fun is sucked right out of it. And too many are quite maniacal about their stats.


Penelope Cruz in Volver

There are those of us who hate a race that has already been decided. The SAG Awards was a great example of that kind of disappointment. At least the Crash win last year, as ludicrous as it was, gave us a jolt and flabbergasted most of us who aren’t Roger Ebert and Oprah...


Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls

A final key note: everyone has an agenda. And whether that agenda is to see your favorite film win or the one you hate lose OR to sell more ads to Dreamworks for your webspace, you should cop to it so we know where you’re coming from.


Helen Mirren in The Queen

Now that I have spewed forth all the convoluted babble above, here is how I handicap the major categories this January 30th, 2007. (I deliberately state the date since so much can change in these next two weeks...momentum is everything...).

Best Original Screenplay
Guillermo Arriaga for Babel
Iris Yamashita & Paul Haggis for Letters from Iwo Jima
Michael Arndt for Little Miss Sunshine
Guillermo del Toro for Pan’s Labyrinth
Peter Morgan for The Queen

I see three possible victors: Babel, Little Miss Sunshine or The Queen. The obvious similarities with Crash may hurt Babel’s chances leaving a true race to the finish.

Prediction: Little Miss Sunshine
Preference: The Queen

Best Adapted Screenplay
Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines & Peter Baynham & Dan Mazer & Todd Phillips for Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Alfonso Cuarón & Timothy J. Sexton and David Arata and Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby for Children of Men
William Monahan for The Departed
Todd Field & Tom Perrotta for Little Children
Patrick Marber for Notes on a Scandal

This category looks like a cakewalk for The Departed. The only possible threat is the Borat crew.

Prediction: The Departed
Preference: Little Children

Best Supporting Actress
Adriana Barraza in Babel
Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine
Cate Blanchett in Notes of a Scandal
Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls
Rinko Kikuchi in Babel

Some are saying Breslin is Hudson’s biggest threat. I think aberrations like the Tatum O’Neal and Anna Paquin wins happen when there’s no solid front runner. For me, Blanchett gave the best performance of any actor/actress this year in Notes, but she won two years ago. Historically (here I go citing stats), this is the cuckoo category where anyone can win (Marisa Tomei anyone!). I think the dark horse is actually Kikuchi but it is Hudson’s to lose and even a Dreamgirls backlash won’t stop her.

Prediction: Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls
Preference: Cate Blanchett in Notes on a Scandal

Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine
Jackie Earle Haley in Little Children
Djimon Hounsou in Blood Diamond
Eddie Murphy in Dreamgirls
Mark Wahlberg in The Departed

As much as I will hate it, Murphy will probably win for the same reasons Kim Basinger did in 1997 for LA Confidential, he finally didn’t suck in a movie. But, I refuse to predict him, since the other four were so much better. I hope the Academy is still miffed by his diva-like behavior and ingratitude over the last two decades.

Prediction: Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine
Preference: Mark Wahlberg in The Departed

Best Director
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for Babel
Martin Scorsese for The Departed
Clint Eastwood for Letters From Iwo Jima
Stephen Frears for The Queen
Paul Greengrass for United 93

Say it with me: it’s finally Marty’s year!

Prediction: Martin Scorsese for The Departed
Preference: Clint Eastwood for Letters From Iwo Jima

Best Actress
Penelope Cruz in Volver
Judi Dench in Notes on a Scandal
Helen Mirren in The Queen
Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada
Kate Winslet in Little Children

The Helen Mirren juggernaut appears to be unstoppable! She’s won almost every precursor award. And that hasn’t ever happened before. Well, not since...Holly Hunter for The Piano...and Emma Thompson for Howard’s End...and Meryl Streep for Sophie’s Choice...and Sissy Spacek for Coal Miner’s Daughter...and Sally Field for Norma Rae. Okay, so it has happened before. A lot! So if you’re looking for an upset, look elsewhere. S’not gonna happen.

Prediction: Helen Mirren in The Queen
Preference: Kate Winslet in Little Children

Best Actor
Leonardo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond
Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson
Peter O'Toole in Venus
Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness
Forrest Whitaker in The Last King Of Scotland

Peter O’Toole snagged his 8th nomination! 8th! If he loses he will become the biggest acting loser in Academy history! Forest Whitaker has almost matched Mirren in pre-Oscar Best Actor wins! And they nominated Leo for the wrong film!!! This is going to be a close one. If enough Academy members actually see Venus, O’Toole may have a fighting chance. Plus some have been pointing out Whitaker’s rather pre-lingual acceptance speeches at the Globe and SAG Awards. Flip a coin!

Prediction: Forrest Whitaker in The Last King Of Scotland
Preference: Peter O'Toole in Venus

Best Picture
Babel
The Departed
Letters From Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
The Queen

The exclusion of Dreamgirls and inclusion of Letters from Iwo Jima has made this race exciting again.

Babel had a day or two as the frontrunner after winning the Globe. It’s Little Miss Sunshine’s turn right now after the SAG win. The Queen is poised for a Chariots of Fire upset. And, no, you can never rule out Clint--that is if members bother to watch the film! I’m going to go out on a limb with my prediction here...

Prediction: The Departed
Preference: Letters From Iwo Jima

Is everyone scratching their collective heads and screaming YIKES?

So, why do we give a shit?
It’s film history. It’s that simple.
When the books are recorded, the Oscar winners are the ones down on paper as the best. This doesn’t mean Best Picture losers like Citizen Kane, Sunset Boulevard, A Clockwork Orange, Nashville, Reds and JFK will not be revered and given their just due by cinephiles. But the films, the performances, that will be mentioned first--whether we like it or not--are the ones that were recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. And we, who eat, sleep and breathe cinema, pray for some justice each year. And sometimes our prayers are answered. But it’s important to always realize that every time one of my prayers are answered (and Million Dollar Baby wins), someone else’s was ignored (the legion of legitimate film lovers who loved Sideways).

The great news and most important thing about the Oscar race is that it continues to promote lots of dialogue about the best in film. As long as we debate, dissect and disagree, the movies are kept alive...and that may be the most vital thing we can hope for.

 


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