Sunday, February 22, 2009

Just when I think i'm out...

Jeez, has is really been has it really been five months since my last post here? Time really flies when you're suffering from blogger burnout.

Following the culmination of the extremely LONG 2008 baseball season, which ended with the Red Sox suffering a devastating seven game ALCS defeat at the hand os the the upstart Devil Rays, who subsequently went on to lose one of the most craptacular World series in recent memory, my creative juices were flowing at an all time slow. Couple that with the gut-punch season-ending injury Tom Brady suffered in the first quarter of Game 1 of the 2008 NFL season, and it's easy to understand why my blogging battery was empty.

But if there's one thing that can always bring me out of the off-season doldrums, it's the Oscars.

That's right, the World series, the Super Bowl, the election of America's first African-American president and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression couldn't bring me to contribute one measly post in the past five months, but roll out the red carpet in front of the Kodak theater, and I'm all in.

Let's be clear, the reason I'm inclined to write right now is not because I'm a sappy sucker who gets all goo-goo eyed at the sight of pompous and pampered celebs patronizing the ticket buying public as well as each other by pretending to be more important than the president for one evening a year (who am I kidding, they think they're more important than the president EVERY other evening, too). No, the reason I reentered the blogosphere is because I can't stand the arrogance of the voting Academy, which every year ignores obvious candidates for the major awards and selects films and stars based soley on & promises, politics and posturing.

Now I realize this is not a new practice. Obvious winners have been getting snuubbed for decades, starting with Citizen Kane in 1941 and including dozens of movies, actors and actresses which were either nominated and didn't win, or more embarrasingly, never nominated at all.

Which brings me to the point of this piece (finally). Before Hollywood hands out the hardware for the 81st time tonight, I wanted to go on record with my five nominations for Best Picture, based on films I have seen and regardless of genre, box office gross or pedigree. Remember, these picks are based on the films I've seen, and any omissions I may be guilty of are not due to purposeful slight, but from lack of sight.

-Slumdog Millionaire 11 noms including Best Picture & Director
Even if you still haven't seen this year's entrant from the "little movie
that could" category, chaces are you've heard about it. A lot. The small- budgeted ($15 mil) indie with the funny name and all-Indian cast from director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later) has been gaining momentum for months, garnering major wins at the Golden Globes, SAG and nearly every other critics choice awards across the country.

But there's a funny thing about this familiar foregin fairy tale turned feel good story of the year - it actually deserves all the accolades and its status of Best Picture frontrunner.
Unlike former indie Best picture darlings Little Miss Sunshine and Juno, Slumdog takes a woe-is-me plot (boy from the tough streets of Mumbai with a hardscrabble upbriniging) and turns it into the feel-good movie of the year. Viewers happily go along for the ride as Jamal (Dev Patel) braves every conceivable obstacle to be reunited with the love of his life, the radiantly beautiful Latika (Freida Pinto), including making it to the final round of India's version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

Boyle's directing is superb, the cinematography, blending modern Mumbai with its dark, dirty roots, is mesmerizing, and the performances from the cast of unknowns will have you on the edge of your seat until the breathtaking final answer. Everything you could ask from a BP nominee and more, this slumdog is destined to rule the streets on Hollywood's biggest night.

-The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 13 noms, including Best Picture, Actor & Director
If ever there was an appropriate title for a film come Oscar time, this is it, for the case of Button going from Best Picture frontrunner to near-guaranteed also-ran is a curious one indeed.

Featuring an all-star cast (Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, suppporting actress nominee Taraji P. Henson), an esteemed director (David Finchter, Seven, Zodiac) and a respected pedigree (a screenplay adapted by Forrest Gump screenwriter Eric Roth from an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story), plus a huge marketing campaign, Button had all the makings of sure-fire Best Picture winner.

But a strange thing happened along the way to immortality for the big-budgeted ($150 mil) Button - it got trounced in the pre-Oscar parade of awards and suddenly found itself losing all of its momentum to the upstart Slumdog in the court of public perception. Sure the tale, about a man (Pitt) who ages in reverse, has all the elements of a BP fave - star power, schmaltz factor, boffo box office, lengthy run time - but suddenly all those factors meant nothing as the Slumdog espress kept gaining momentum.

Bottom line is Button is a fine movie, filled with awe-inspiring visual effects, terrific performances and tender moments, but it does not lift the spirits and  tug the heart like the Mumbai millionaire does. That has left Button destined to finish as a distant runner-up when the hardware is handed out.

-WALL-E 6 noms including Best Animated Feature and Original Screenplay
Here is where I start to differ from the stuffed shirts that make up the voting members of the Academy. If a film is good enough, emotional enough and well made enough to both inspire and entertain, why should it be penalized from being included in the Best Picture race simply because it is animated?

For the simple reason that the voters don't believe animated films are deserving of such high praise, evidently.

In the 81 year history of the Oscars, just one film has been deemed worthy enough of such a distinction, Disney's Beauty & the Beast in 1991. Not the Incredibles, not Finding Nemo, not Shrek, not even Bambi, has been able to sway the stodgy voters to see the light that animation can elicit the same emotions and reactions in viewers that live actions films do.

And if ever there was a film to break through that technicolor barrier, WALL-E was it. Like Slumdog, WALL-E takes a simple premise - love and the things people, errr robots, will do for it - and turns it into a magical mystery tour full of harrowing moments, awesome visuals and good old fashioned fun.

Except that isn't good enough for inclusion into filmdom's hierarchy, according to the Academy, because those backward thinking buffoons believe anything that's drawn must be considered kiddie entertainment.

I say that's bullshit, and anyone who has seen WALL-E (and who hasn't) will probabaly agree with me. The time has come to get out of the dark ages and let these amazing animated achievements of cinematic beauty take their place among the Academy's elite. I mean any film that can make a cockroach lovable has to be considered great, right?

-The Dark Knight 8 noms including Best Cinematography & Supporting Actor 
The same setbacks and sterotypes that the Academy applies to the animated genre also fits the superhero/ action/blockbuster realm - these popcorn flicks are too simple, too silly and too...flashy to be considered for Best Picture nomination.

Except the latest installment in director Christopher Nolan's resurrected Batman franchise not only puts those antiquated theories to rest, it turns a whole genre on its ear by making superhero blockbusters not just fun, but respectable forms of entertainment.

Sure the film has its share of flaws, and it's filled with enough mayhem and explosions to make the Unabomber giddy, but so did the Godfather, no? But the fact is the film is the second-highest grossing picture of all time, has shattere demographic guidelines and transcended the traditional audience of fanboys and males aged 13-56 and features one of the most memorable villians in cinematic history, Heath Ledger's Joker. Shouldn't that mean the movie should be considered on of the year's best? In my opion the answer is an obvious 'yes'.

-Tropic Thunder 1 nom, Best Supporting Actor
Another snub due to genre, this hilarious inside Hollywood spoof from director/star Ben Stiller mangaed to turn a slew of genres on their ear while remaining well-acted, directed and intentioned.

Like horror, animation and action, comedies traditionally get no respect when it comes to Oscar time, as if funny movies can't be as great as dramas. But Stiller's film combines many elements - action, comedy, satire, drama - and turns them into one heck of an entertaining film.

While Robert Downey Jr's portrayal of extreme method actor Kirk Lazarus garnered the most attention and the film's sole nomination, the truth is that the whole movie contained enough excellent performances, sidesplitting moments and social skewering to al least earn Stiller a screenwriting nod. But perhaps the Hollywood upper crust does not think highly of the stabs Stiller takes at the types of people who make the decision to nominate such flicks.

Besides, any film that can get Tom Cruise to make fun of himself, and be hilarious at it, should receive special attention, shouldn't it?

No matter. We know how good these films are, and until the Academy decides to get in on the joke, it will forever be considered the butt of such snubs.

Happy viewing.