Blasts & Duds from the Oscars

February 25, 2009
It is time to bring back the popular column of Blasts & Duds from the
Grenade.  Today, it is all about the 81st Academy Awards.  The
Oscars have always been good for some great Blasts & Duds over the
years.  Let’s see how this year stacks up:

BLASTS

1.  The Academy Selections – I wrote my 2009
Oscar picks
a couple of weeks ago, and many of picks came true. 
The Academy did not really have a surprise in the bunch.  Penelope Cruz
winning for Best Supporting Actress may have been the only winner that could
be classified as a surprise, but not a real big one in my eyes. 

2.  Kate Winslet  – Boy, she made up from her
"so surprised to have won" routine at the Golden Globes.  You
are a great actress, Kate, it’s ok, it is not a surprise anymore.  I
thought she gave a very good speech, and was classy throughout.  Brava! 

3. The Presentation of the Acting Awards – Great call by
the Academy to bring back 5 winners from each acting category to present the
awards.  You can’t beat seeing people like Robert DeNiro, Sophia Loren,
Anthony Hopkins, Ben Kingsley, and so many others was a true tribute to
the screen.  I liked how they were able to talk a little about each
performance and it did not feel rushed. 

4. India – The Slumdog from Mumbai, became a Hollywood
millionaire on Oscar night.  Nominated for 10 Oscars, they took home 8. 
And since, there were two nominees for Best Song, they went 8 for 9. 
Danny Boyle took home Best Director and Christian Colson sealed the night
with the Best Picture Oscar.  Indian music was rewarded with A. R.
Rahman winning for Best Musical Score and Best Song.  Slumdog
Millionaire had a fairy tale finish not only on the screen, but on Oscar
night. 

5. Jerry Lewis – The Academy rightfully bestowed their
Humanitarian Award for him.  While his health may not be at its finest,
his spirit felt strong.  I am very glad that they finally got around to
doing this, while this legend of a person is still with us.  I only
wish he was able to speak longer. 

6. Hugh Jackman  – I know people have gone back and
forth on this.  I liked how his opening act was not political, but
reached out to just about everyone.  While, he certainly was not
as good as Billy Crystal hosting, he did not take away from the awards. 
Hugh is an Australian gem.  He can host this show anytime, as far
as I am concerned.

7.  The Camera Crew & The Stage – Alright, I
won’t be shy, I loved that the camera crew panned to Angelina Jolie &
Brad Pitt while Jennifer Aniston and Jack Black were presenting for
Best Animated Feature.  +1 to the camera crew and directors from ABC. 
The Stage looked amazing, with that Swarovski crystal curtain.  Well
done.  

8. – Dustin Lance Black – A well deserved Oscar that was
followed up by a very inspirational speech.  It was heartfelt and real. 
You could tell he was very nervous, but it was something he needed to get
off his chest.  It must have been quite an honor for him to have won
this award for Milk, and to see how Harvey Milk’s story inspired his
own life is very impressive and memorable. 

9. – No Music Cut-offs – It was nice that people who won their
awards were not cutoff after 15 seconds of talking by the band.  
There should be a time limit, but at least give them a minute or so, to
thank and describe their feelings on one of the biggest nights of their
careers.  

DUDS

1. Sean Penn – Ok, ok, we get it, you are America’s
Douchebag.  If I ever met Sean Penn, I’d probably shake his hand with
my right hand and want to knock him out with my left hand. He is a
tremendous actor, and while I thought he would finish 2nd for Best Actor; I
was not upset that he was the winner.  But, dude, can you leave
political crap at home.  It has no place at the Awards. 
Republicans are not the devil, and not everything you think is right,
actually is.  You could taken a page from your screenwriter, Dustin
Lance Black, on how to give a speech that gives thanks and sends a message
with pride and dignity.  Oh, and when you get a chance, could you
remember to thank Harvey Milk, he might have played a part in your victory. 
That reminded me of Julia Roberts thanking 4 million people and not even
mentioning Erin Brockovich’s name in her speech.

2 – The Great Unknown – The question we all are left
with in our minds; what if Mickey Rourke had won?  No one has any idea
what he would have done had he won Best Actor.  We can only guess and
say what is on our minds, but it will always be one of the most unknown
questions in Oscar history. 

3. – Ben Stiller – It does not help that I am not really
a big fan of his to begin with, but I did not really think his Joaquin
Phoenix impression was funny.

4.  Anne Hathaway – Should be more like Anne
Go-away.  First, she is not pretty.  Maybe, I am in the minority
here, but I know I am not alone.  She has eyebrows reminiscent of Bert
from Sesame Street, a big beak for a nose, and when I see those teeth, I
want to re-do the Go-go’s classic hit, "We’ve Got the Beat," to
"She’s Got Big Teeth."   Second, I do not really think
she is that talented as an actress, either. 

5.  Eddie Murphy – He was not given the easiest
task, but he seemed to have some difficulty reading off the monitors. 
I am hoping he is not into any drugs or something else.  

6.  Beyonce & Queen Latifah – I like both of
them.  I just thought their choice of song were questionable.  In
the movie Dreamgirls, Jamie Foxx’s character says to Beyonce’s
character, Deena, "You know why I chose you to sing lead? Because your
voice… has no personality. No depth. Except for what I put in there." 
While it was just a movie line, there is some truth in it.  Beyonce
could not resist throwing in a snip of "At Last".  Please,
just leave that to Etta James.  As for the Queen, a lovely voice, and
one with depth, but "I’ll Be Seeing You" just did not seem to fit
her, in my opinion.  

7.  Bill Maher – Straight from the Sean Penn school
of Douchebagness, Bill decided to put a smarmy little comment about his
documentary not being nominated and that people who believe in God are
responsible for the world’s ills.  Sorry, Bill, but about 95% of the
people do believe in some form of a God around the world.  We all DO
NOT think like you, so please, do not act like we do.  I am sure
Bill was so upset that later that night he smoked 3 bowls worth of pot and
had 2 escorts to carry him through his lack of winning an Oscar. 

8.  In Memoriam Montage – We always like to see and
remember who passed away in the past year in film.  The one problem was
that the way it was filmed by the cameras, you could not see some of the
people who died due to bad angles and long distance shots by the cameras. 

My overall grade for the 81st Academy Awards is a B-plus.  It was
more of a blast than a dud, and it did justice to a very good year in
movies.  The ratings were up 13 per cent over last year. 


2009 Oscar Predictions

February 14, 2009

Sunday night, February 22nd, the 81st Annual Academy Awards.  It’s Oscar Night!!

Unlike the Grammy Awards of two weeks ago, where you see who wins the award and you say to yourself, “Who are these people?  And where did all the good music go?”   At the Grammys they always have to drag out our old favorites like Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, and others to bring us back to why we liked music to begin with.  The Oscars delivered some very big performances.  I am proud to be a movie buff and very proud that Hollywood, Bollywood and all points in between still take pride in the craft that is filmmaking.  I was lucky enough to see all five Oscar nominated films and then some over the past year.  I did not see every nominated film, but most critics did not either.

Here are my 2009 Oscar Predictions, these are just my picks, do not go bananas if you disagree, but I’d love to hear your opinions.

I will start with the two easiest ones of the evening.  These two are my pick and whom the Academy will select, the rest will change.

Best Adapted Screenplay – Slumdog Millionaire, Simon Beaufoy. A fairy tale worthy of Snow White.

Best Original Screenplay – Milk written by Dustin Lance Black. It is should not be close.  This was not just a portrait, it was a masterpiece.  Only wish Harvey Milk was alive to see his story come to the screen so beautifully.

Best SongJai Ho, Slumdog Millionaire. Take Your Pick of the Slumdog Millionaire songs which I am sure will win.  The Best Song should have gone to Bruce Springsteen for “The Wrestler.”  Thanks to a nonsensical rule by the Academy, states that the nomination of a song must be in the movie and not during the credits.  If “The Wrestler” was good enough for the Golden Globes, it should have been good enough for the Academy.  Few will remember the winner of Best Song this year, but I know I will not forget “The Wrestler”.  Springsteen nails the character of The Wrestler with this song.  It is nice to see Peter Gabriel nominated here, but when I think of him and movies, I will always think of “Say Anything”.  “In Your Eyes”” was one of the best uses of a song in a movie.

Academy Pick – Jai Ho, Slumdog Millionaire

Left Out: The Wrestler, Bruce Springsteen, The Wrestler.  See above.

Best Supporting Actress – Amy Adams, Doubt.

This may be the one award where all 5 have a legit chance at the statuette.  I did love Marisa Tomei in “The Wrestler”, but I doubt the Academy will reward her again.  I would not be upset if they did give her another golden statuette.  Viola Davis had a great scene in “Doubt”, but should one scene reap this reward.  It has a couple times in the past, but I thought Adams was better in the whole movie.  Davis winning would be the equivalent of David Tyree winning last year’s Super Bowl MVP.  He was not on the field that much, but made the play that everyone remembered.  Taraji P. Henson deserved the nomination for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, very good but not the best.  I did not see “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and cannot comment on Penelope Cruz’s performance, but I did see clips and I have read that she is deserving and could win.

Academy Pick – Viola Davis, Doubt

Left Out – I cannot really think of any, they nailed it, with this superb cast of five.  While Kate Winslet won the Golden Globe for Revolutionary Road, she is already nominated for Best Actress and that was a far better performance.

Best Supporting Actor – Heath Ledger, Dark Knight. This one is the lock of the evening in acting.  Ledger saved his best for last, tragically.

I loved Philip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt, he played the part of the priest in scandal to near perfection.  I did not think Josh Brolin was outstanding in Milk, good, yes, but his nomination was sketchy to me.  Michael Shannon’s acting as a man out of his mind, but brutally honest at the same time was a good one. You will hear more from him.  Robert Downey, Jr. should enjoy the parties after the ceremony.  You have to feel for this year’s other nominees.

Academy Pick – Heath Ledger, Dark Knight.

Left Out – David Kross, The Reader.  At 18, he gave a tremendous effort.  Even if he was nominated, he would not stand a chance against Ledger; I just wanted to give him his just due.  I thought he was terrific, and I hope he will be in more English-speaking roles.  Not an easy role to play when you are paired with someone so talented as Kate Winslet, but he grew in to the role nicely.

Best Actor – Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler.  A movie that made you truly believe that Rourke and his character Randy “The Ram” Robinson, were one in the same.  The mirror images of “The Ram’s” career and Rourke’s life are pretty stunning.  Rourke gives everything he has left in this performance.  It was the comeback performance of the year.  Sean Penn, may win any other year for Milk.  He was fabulous, but the Ram is an unstoppable force.  Frank Langella was great as President Richard Nixon, but was it more of an imitation than it was acting?  I did not see “The Visitor” and could not comment on Richard Jenkins performance.

Academy Pick:  Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Left Out: Leonardo DiCaprio, “Revolutionary Road” – I thought this was a very underrated performance. There was no need to make a huge stink over it, the winner is either Rourke or Penn; they are head and shoulders above the rest.

Best Actress – Kate Winslet, The Reader. An absolutely captivating performance.  Yes, we could have done without all the nudity, lol.  But, her portrayal of a German woman standing trial for her past was excellent.

Meryl Streep as always delivers the goods in “Doubt”, and her ability to master any accent comes flying through here.  She is as good as we have ever seen when it comes to acting. Ironic that Winslet’s award winning performance as a former Nazi guard could beat out a woman who once played a Nazi concentration camp inmate in “Sophie’s Choice.”  I would not be surprised if Kate took a page from Meryl from Sophie’s Choice on how to play an accent with her role.  Angelina Jolie was very good in “Changeling”, but this is a two woman race like best actor is a two man race.  I would be more than satisfied if either Winslet or Streep won.  It was nice to see Anne Hathaway get nominated for “Rachel Getting Married” I hope she will steer her career towards more dramatic roles instead of crapola romantic comedies.  I did not see “Frozen River” and cannot comment on Melissa Leo’s performance, but I have heard few others have seen it as well.

Academy Pick:  Kate Winslet, The Reader

Left Out:  I, personally did not see any other performances worthy of a nomination, but there may be others.  Winslet and Streep rise above all.

Best Director – Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire. Brilliant storytelling.  This movie could have been easily juggled if in someone else’s hands.  It was handled with precision by Boyle.  Seeing how Bombay (Mumbai) and the children grew from the slums to living in condos and having high-tech cell phones was very dramatic.  Boyle gets to the heart of the squalor in Mumbai and does not spare a detail, even if it will make your stomach cringe.   The actors were good enough to carry this amazing screenplay and directing. Gus Van Sant probably wins this in many a year for his work in Milk. Ron Howard did his usual above average job, and Stephen Daldry deserved his third Best Director nomination for his direction in The Reader.

Academy Pick:  Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire.

Left Out:  Darren Aronofsky, The Wrestler.  Tremendous directing, turning what could have been a high-budget and overdone project into a movie that will touch your heart and has more of a feel of a documentary than it does as a film of fiction.

Best Picture – Milk. I know it is sacrilegious to pick a different director and picture combination, but this has happened three times this decade.  Milk was so true to its story.  A terrific performance from Penn.  If the Academy picks Milk, I think this will count as a makeup for not picking “Brokeback Mountain” for Best Picture in 2005 due to its homosexual tones.  This award will probably go to Slumdog Millionaire, but the movie I enjoyed the most was Milk.  I think Slumdog is very good, borders on great, but it is not Best, Dev Patel’s mediocre job on the accent really brings the film down a notch for me.  Frost/Nixon is very good, but is more imitation, than that of new filmmaking.  The Reader is terrific, and if not for a half-hearted effort from Ralph Fiennes this movie could have a shot, but it doesn’t.  Benjamin Button gets better in the second hour, but the first hour should be called Snooze Button.  It is a very good story, but not best picture in 2009.

Academy Pick: Slumdog Millionaire

Left Out:  The Wrestler and The Dark Knight. Maybe, there are not enough pro wrestling fans in Hollywood, but this picture was worthy of a nomination and could have been a contender for the trophy. I am not sure how the Dark Knight was not considered here.  Maybe the Academy wanted to keep this popular movie out, but it deserved a nomination.

Well, there you have it, my 2009 Oscar Picks.  What a great year for movies, it sure makes you forget about that music award show earlier this month.  Let’s hope the Jonas Brothers are nowhere near the stage.  Oh, one more pick, I think Hugh Jackman will do a very fine job.