Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Oscar Nominations: Selections, Surprises & Snubs

The nominees for the 79th edition of the Academy Awards were announced this morning. As usual, there were enough shoo-ins and surprises to fill the entire blogosphere for the next month. Since I'm still suffering from post-traumatic stress from the Pats' loss, I am going to immerse myself in Oscar minutea for a while.

Leading the way with 8 nominations is the musical Dreamgirls. The semi-biographical story of the rise and fall of the Motown group, The Supremes, and based on the long-running Broadway play scored noms for Supporting Actor (Golden Globe winner Eddie Murphy), Supporting Actress (Globes winner Jennifer Hudson), Art Direction, Costume Design and 3 for Best Song but shockingly, not one for Best Director (Bill Condon) nor Best Picture. Hmmmmm.

The next big story is the success of the slightly-seen drama Babel, which rode the wave of its Golden Globe win for Best Drama to a second-best 7 noms including Picture, Director (for the extremely talented Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu) and Original Screenplay. Pretty impressive, considering the film has been seen by approximately 4,000 people worldwide.
But the biggest shocker of all...

Marky Mark has been nominated for an Academy Award!

No word on if he would accept his statue in the guise of Dirk Diggler.

Here's a rundown of all the major categories with my take on each. Mind you, I have not personally seen any of these films; yet, in fact, the closest I've come is my wife saw Dreamgirls the other night. These are my thoughts based on observations, not reviews of the film themselves. By the time the awards roll around, I will have seen many of the nominees except for Dreamgirls- I don't do musicals unless it's a hilarious episode of Scrubs.

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

Babel has now gone from dark horse contender to possibly the next Funny Cide, that is a strong candidate to upset the apparent front runner, Empire Maker, err The Departed.

Little Miss Sunshine is the big shock here, as the little Sundance darling that could grabbed a total of 4 noms. Another mild surprise is Clint Eastwood's Letters..., the Japanese-language companion to Flags of Our Fathers, eking out a selection.

Dreamgirls. A leading 8 noms but none here is a curious omission to say the least, especially with the huge cast, noted director and recent Best Picture noms for musicals Chicago and Moulin Rouge.

Best Actor:
-Leonardo DiCaprio, Blood Diamond
-Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
-Peter O'Toole, Venus
-Forest Whitaker, Last King of Scotland
-Will Smith, Pursuit of Happyness

Whitaker won the Globe for his spot-on portrayal of dictator Idi Amin and is the strong front-runner for the Oscar as well; the likable actor should score the win on his first nomination.

DiCaprio was selected for the critically-acclaimed Blood Diamond and not his role in the higher profile Departed. That's the risk when you get nominated in 2 films and the Academy can only select one performance. His nomination for Diamond virtually ensures he won't win, solidifying my new moniker for him: Di-Can't-win-o.

You have to look at Sasha Baron Cohen for Borat, but everyone knew he would never get nominated for fear of another risque acceptance speech by the raunchy comedian. Many are saying Hugh Wolverine Jackman should have been rewarded for his work in the period romance The Fountain. I agreed with the fact that Edward Norton's entrancing portrayal of The Illusionist was mentioned on a few snubbed lists.

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

Mirren scored the Globe for her uncanny portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II dealing with the aftermath of the death of Princess Diana, and the supremely talent Brit is the odds-on favorite here also. Record-setting nominee Streep (this is her 14th nod) could be a sentimental pick but don't bet on it.

The Spanish beauty Cruz, not necessarily known for her acting chops, secured her first nom for her searing portrait of a grief-stricken Spanish wife & mother in Pedro Almodovar's Best Foreign film nominee, Volver.

Most glaring would be Annette Benning's wild performance as writer Augusten Burrough's neurotic mom in Running with Scissors. Sorry Naomi Watts, nobody saw The Painted Veil.

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

Scorsese has got to be feeling like perennial Daytime Emmy bridesmaid Susan Lucci. The brilliant little director has been nominated 5 times in this category (Aviator, Gangs of New York, Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, Raging Bull) but has yet to score a statue. The 6th time should be the charm, though, with The Departed boasting top-notch acting, critical acclaim as well as mass appeal ($125 mil+ box office.)

Greengrass snuck in for his compassionate handling of what might have happened on that fateful 9/11 flight although his film only garnered one other nom, for Best Editing.

Condon for Dreamgirls would be the biggest omission here if not for the fact that the film didn't even get a Best Picture nom; so many believe Almodovar for Volver was the most snub-worthy. Forget about the husband-wife duo of Johnathan Dayton & Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine)- the Academy frowns upon pairs.

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

Murphy took home the Globe for his heartfelt performance as a conflicted singer and will be a sentimental choice to win here. Will the Academy look past his raunchy & goofy past performances, notorious surly demeanor, and run-ins with transvestite prostitutes and Scary Spice? If not, look for 2-time nominee Hounsou to score his first win.

Has to be everyone's favorite former rapping underwear model, Wahlberg. I still remember when this guy was nothing but a punk wannabe tooling around in my hometown (he grew up in the town next door to mine just south of Boston) in his convertible Mercedes thinking his shit didn't stink. I guess he's got a reason to think that now. It's just hard to believe that the guy who portrayed a porn star (Boogie Nights), rock star (Rock Star), and sports star (Invincible) is now up for a golden statue; only in America!

Two biggies here: Brad Pitt for Babel and Jack Nicholson for The Departed. Although Babel is a multi-faceted, multi-character study, many believe that pretty boy Pitt's portrayal of a panic-stricken American on foreign soil was a career-defining performance; too much third world glad handing for the Academy's liking? Nicholson seemed to be a lock for a nod here, but perhaps the Academy is growing tired of Jack's penchant for overacting and omnipresent sunglass-clad mug.

Many thought Ben Affleck should have been rewarded for his role as troubled actor George Reeves in Hollywoodland; I say c'mon- Affleck & Wahlberg being nominated in the same year? That's like the Sox winning the World Series- a once in a lifetime event.

Best Supporting Actress:
-Rinko Kikuchi, Babel
-Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
-Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine
-Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal
-Adrian Barraza, Babel

Hudson took home the Globe and would have to be considered the front runner right now, but don't be surprised if she experiences a 'she was a loser on American Karaoke just a few years ago, we can't give this to her' factor. Plus, Beyonce's psycho dad will go to any length to prevent her from winning.
So look for either the always excellent Blanchett or Kikuchi to sneak in. Personally, I hope it's Rinko- I just really enjoy saying her name, "rinkokikuchi,rinkokikuchi,rinkokikuchirinko..."

That would have to go to Breslin, who at 10 becomes the 4th youngest actor to be nominated. If Little Miss Sunshine herself were to win, she would be the second-youngest golden statue winner, trailing Tatum O'Neal by a few months.

Vera Farmiga, The Departed. Just for putting up with and competing against that male-dominated, testosterone-tinted tale should have earned this Jersey girl a nom.

Other notable nominees include the Spanish-language horror/fantasy Pan's Labyrinth which scored a surprising 6 noms including Best Foreign film (I am going to see that one this weekend -it finally opened here). A well-deserved nom for the luscious cinematography of The Illusionist and Borat scoring an Adapted Screenplay nom even though Cohen has admitted that most of the film was improvised. Three noms for the critical darling Children of Men (cinematography, editing, original screenplay) but none in major categories, perhaps due to the bleak-but-chilling film's late release date.

As for watching the nominated films here is a rundown of how, when, and where you can see them before the ceremony on February 25th.

In theaters now:
-Pan's Labyrinth
-The Queen
-Last King of Scotland
-Letters from Iwo Jima
-Children of Men
-Pursuit of Happyness
-Blood Diamond

On video now:
-Little Miss Sunshine
-Devil Wears Prada
-United 93

Coming to video:
-Flags of our Fathers (Feb 6)
-Running with Scissors (Feb 6)
-Hollywoodland (Feb 6)
-Half Nelson (Feb 13)
-The Departed (Feb 13)
-Babel (Feb 20)

For more Oscar stuff some good sites to get the full stories can be found here, here and here.

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