Do I have to?
After receiving two (!) messages from my mom on how I was late on my blogging (thanks mom?), I figured that if I was going to go back to this, I would have to tackle the Oscars.
Frankly, I don’t want to, for a number of reasons.
First, I’m burnt out from being on set all weekend, a fairly good time and low-maintenance as sets go (the shoot was in Manhattan and I was a DIT, not a script sup), but the process still tires you out as I huddled against cases trying to make sure that my drives didn’t un-mount via falling off the half- and quarter-apple boxes that they were precariously perched on.
Secondly, I’m at a soul-crushing internship that leaves me with so little self-worth that it makes me wonder whether I would be better or worse if I left, a choice even mostly denied to me by the fact that our office lease seems to be over and its a question of when the people will actually muster the energy to kick us out. There, the people treat me like I was 12, while asking me to do video-editing and outputting jobs that they don’t even begin to understand while my boss desperately looks for a job as a waitress.
“You know,” I told my dad, as we drove one morning from set to get a sandwich. “It’s like a Woody Allen joke. You know there’s something wrong with the production your working at when you’re boss is desperately trying to break into the restaurant industry.”
The building is rickety and cold, with windows that are uninsulated and so streams of chill air seep in from the wind outside. Meanwhile, the water delivery that was supposed to come last week never came, so I’m drinking from the faucet out in the hallway with the lock-broken door.
It’s all enough to make one wonder about their previous state of joblessness and whether this unpaid limbo is any better, really, at all.
Thirdly, and perhaps more importantly to those denizens of these pages who are well tired of hearing me complain about my employment situation, the Oscars this year are pretty boring.
I wish I could even muster up the vitriol to denounce the Oscars for this, but it’s because, mostly, for once, they’ve gotten things pretty right.
I agree with a lot of their picks. I think there are some worthy choices to be had.
I might even have some small modicum of confidence that things could actually go right this year and some good movies could win.
But anyway, there’s some choices to talk about, so enough of my yapping: Let’s talk about the nominees.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
The Hurt Locker
A Serious Man
Should win: A Serious Man
Will win: The Hurt Locker
It’s a close call for me in the “should win” category, since I really like The Hurt Locker and even rated it above A Serious Man in my top 10. Still the Coens are nothing if not excellent architects of story and drafters of dialogue in their own idiosyncratic and fully-realized worlds. Fargo, Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski should prove that pretty well, for those needing proof of their skill. This story is among their most restrained, most personal and their finest. Which is not at all to disparage Mark Boal’s script of his own reporting, the most accurate and compelling depiction of our current wartime situation since Generation Kill (the product of another embedded journalist). Really, no bad choices in this category, excluding perhaps The Messenger which suffered from a half-baked love story in the middle, though it had fine touches in the crafting of Woody Harrelson’s Sgt. Stone.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
In The Loop
Precious: Based on a novel by Sapphire
Up in the Air
Should win: In The Loop
Will win: Up in the Air
Kudos to the Academy, I suppose, for even remembering about Armando Ianucci’s superb mid-2009 Brit-com In The Loop, a satire of both British and American government that managed to be both toothy and funny without even dating itself too much. I couldn’t even believe it in hindsight. Still this is a much weaker category than the previous one. Precious‘s script wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty, what with some cut-out feel-good character and what felt like a lot of off-the-book from Mo’Nique. Still, I will sacrifice gladly this category to surely the worst of these films, Up in the Air, if it acts as the consolation prize that augurs that the film won’t win the BP Oscar. I think that’s probable. NB: Have not yet seen An Education. Chadd tells me it’s a “B+ Movie”.
BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM
The Milk of Sorrow
The Secret in their Eyes
The White Ribbon
Should win: The White Ribbon?
Will win: The White Ribbon
Of this category, I’m not sure if I can say what should win as Haneke’s Ribbon was the only one I saw. I can say that it’s received an awful lot of critical raves (and some notable flames), but that I found it fairly extraordinary. Anyway, with an Almodovar there or a comparable name, expect Haneke to win. Possible dark horse in A Prophet which has been garnering some great reviews.
The Most Dangerous Man in America
Which Way Home
Should win: ???
Will win: ???
What the fuck happened to this category? Really, the one category I’m actually upset with at these Oscars. This year I have not one but two documentaries on my top 10 list and neither one of them is here. Not only that, but no one I know has seen let alone talked about these docs to me all year! The only one’s I’ve really even been aware of was the Michael Pollan doc Food, Inc, which seems like a Fast Food Nation re-dub, notable mostly for Chipotle’s re-screening of it and The Cove, which i hear is kind of good, shot like a thriller, about people who kill dolphins. I don’t feel informed enough to comment, but I know that The Beaches of Agnes which was a life-work masterpiece and Anvil! (which wasn’t even on the shortlist!) must have been due inclusion on this list.
James Cameron, Avatar
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Lee Daniels, Precious
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Should win: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Will win: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
If there’s a Team Bigelow and a Team Cameron, put me squarely on Team Bigelow. The Hurt Locker was an exquisitely directed film, evoking the heat and claustrophobia of Iraq with the tense/intense relationships in an army troop. A straight procedural that doesn’t hit you over the head with messages, Bigelow made nearly no missteps in my opinion, though Rob felt like the film fell apart in the second half. Cameron made a great film too and in some ways deserves the award just as much, if not more, for his pioneering new methods of filmmaking and taking the medium that one crazy step further. Either way’s fine I guess, just don’t give it to Reitman. Worst director of the year, more like it.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and the Frog
The Secret of Kells (Some Irish movie no one has ever seen/nor heard of)
Should win: Up!
Will win: Up!
Alright, well I haven’t seen Princess or The Secret of the movie that no one has ever goddam seen or heard of why didn’t you guys just give it to Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs I hear that movie was actually good and it made a whole bunch of money unlike whatever the fuck this movie was that wasn’t even distributed and whose trailer is on some german site on which it doesn’t even load really guys, german, come on.
That said, Coraline, while an interesting premise, was a little short in execution. Fantastic Mr. Fox was a giant disappointment, a Wes Anderson movie that reached for merely “good”, without immersing itself in anything other than Andersonian self-love. Up! was miles better than either and probably my favorite Pixar film, in a three-way-tie with Ratatouille and Toy Story 2. Congrats, Pixar. You did it again.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Penelope Cruz, Nine
Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Should win: Mo’Nique, Precious
Will win: Mo’Nique, Precious
A few “WTFs” in this category, specifically for Nine, a movie that was universally panned (though I, like many others, appreciate Ms. Cruz generally) and for Anna Kendrick of Up in the Air and Maggie Gyllenhaal of Crazy Heart. While I can see Ms. Farmiga, a hard-working actress self-possessed and standing up to a bunch of idiotic men in a movie like Up in the Air getting a nomination and deserving it, Ms. Kendrick fell amidst the many actors in that film blighted by Reitman’s cartoonish and inadequate direction. I almost feel bad for her for how bad she was in that film–just not bad enough to nominate her for an Oscar. As for Gyllenhaal, she’s serviceable but unspectacular in Crazy Heart, playing the stock role of “single mom”. Maybe they’re just playing make-up for Secretary back in the day. Mo’Nique, even for her over-hustling and stingy lack of self-promotion, will almost certainly win the award and deservedly so. Lee Daniels wouldn’t fucking dare to take credit for her performance as he did for Halle Berry’s in Monster’s Ball, so brazenly. Congratulate her and see if she ever does anything again. Side-note: Whatever happened to Jennifer Hudson anyway? I liked her better. Less ‘tude.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Matt Damon, Invictus
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Should win: Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Will win: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Sorry, Chadd. Sorry, everyone really. Harrelson’s performance is the performance of his career, nuanced and tight and fully-formed. It’s a tour-de-force in a way that redefines the cliche. A compressed ball of pain and longing that spills out and explodes only to be mopped up and reconstituted in a Sisyphean hell. It is the finest performance of this year, supporting or not. Look though, I love Christoph Waltz. Welcome to Hollywood, sir! We’re going to like you here! Ever considered playing Dracula? Lenin, maybe? Some sort of thinly-veiled Iraq War allegory-general in Avatar 2? Oh, don’t worry, we’ll talk about it later. For now, just take your award and we’ll talk.
Also, “MATT… DAY-MON”
Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Meryl Streep, Julie and Julia
Should win: Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Will win: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Again, surprisingly for a year in which I’ve both seen many movies and there were not too many movies to see, I haven’t seen several of the movies in the category. An Education was just an oversight, perhaps it came out at some weird time when I was focusing on other films. On the other hand both Julie and Julia and The Blind Side held no particular interest for me, especially the latter. That said, I saw Precious and thought that Ms. Sidibe gave a spectacular performance especially for a first-timer. She was wounded, but strong, projecting beauty through a peculiar kind of grace and self-confidence. That said, whatever Hollywood tastemakers have decreed that Sandra Bullock win an Oscar. So that’s that I guess. Please let that appease you Oscar gods so that The Blind Side doesn’t win BP in some Tea Party putsch.
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker
Should win: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Will win: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Not much to say here. The nomination for Gyllenhaal seems like a good augur that it’s just Bridges’s year. Everybody loves him, I’m pretty sure and he’s been nominated a bunch of times. He’s great and himself as “Bad Blake” in Crazy Heart. Renner gave a great, perhaps arguably better performance, but he doesn’t need the Oscar. Freeman’s a great actor but Invictus was a terrible movie. Ditto Clooney. Firth might be the dark horse here. His performance was pretty universally acclaimed and he’s been around for a while too. Look out for him to get it if the Academy thinks “Blake” is too “Bad”.
The Blind Side
The Hurt Locker
A Serious Man
Up in the Air
Should win: The Hurt Locker
Will win: The Hurt Locker
Maybe I’m being optimistic here. There’s a gut feeling in me that says “AVATAR”, partially owing to the farce that was the Golden Globes and their blatant acknowledgment of that film’s primacy. But there’s something else in me that says “look at the PGA and DGA awards.” Those are the people that vote in the Academy, not the foreign critics and those are the people who picked The Hurt Locker. I think both movies are great and I won’t really be disappointed if Avatar wins, it was a cool movie and I like the scale that Cameron dreams on. I just think Bigelow’s film was masterful and that it deserves the award. That said, the 10 are mostly pretty good and I don’t think many would be complaining about an award for A Serious Man or Up!. Just please, god, let this not be the year that we get blindsided or thrown up in the air. That would truly be a disappointment.
So basically, like I said. Boring. But I like Alec Baldwin. So maybe, just maybe, it’ll be fun to watch.
A couple more things. This has been a long post due to Oscar prognostication, but this past week marked the first major screening of Zach Weintraub’s Bummer Summer, the premiere of Robert Malone’s Puppy Whistle and the departure of both of them on their road-trip-cum-feature-film-shoot for their improv’d movie Fresh Starts For Stale People or FSFSP for mercifully shorter. While I’ve heard different descriptions of the plot from different people, I’m not as excited for it as Chadd was, who seemed to summon a smile to his face at the mere thought of the coolness of it. Perhaps, it was because I am necessarily more cynical about road trips, having had a few bad ones of my own. Perhaps it was because I felt disinvited from this one, a road trip my friends were taking across country to have an adventure while I stayed here and struggled with shitty internships and shitty jobs I couldn’t even get. Or perhaps, it was because in some way, with the departure of Zach Weintraub and Rob Malone from New York City for an unspecified amount of time, some of the semblance of continuity I had after graduation was dissolving, the dissolution of a community.
“It’s the end of an era.” Mike Sweeny told me via text message as I simul-texted Zach about festival acceptances (none here). Mike told me he was only half-joking, but even in his bookishness and intellectual-sometimes-pessimism, he thought that even if the people who had been a sort of center of our community were leaving, it might be an opportunity for us to branch out, to reform, to make the rest of our lives. At least, that’s what I intuited. Mike just said “it could be exciting”.
The Bummer Summer premiere/Directors’ Series went over well, due to some good Facebooking and Zach and I’s handing out flyers at Tisch the night beforehand. We had, at Zach’s suggestion, met up at the Weinstein NYU dining hall previous to the leaflet campaign, where we proceeded to mix a small flask of Jim Beam with fruity sodas (Welch’s Grape for me, Dr. Pepper for Zach). I can attest that the combination, while exciting in theory, quickly turned disgusting as a sugary overload mixed with some end-of-the-day Halal food we ate to give a queasiness that was, indeed, reminiscent of Freshman year.
As we handed out fliers in Tisch, I’d speak effusively, pitching woo to the students on the virtues of the “home-made mumblecore film’ while Zach would stand idly beside me and try to disown me and my film. At one point a graduate student even accused me of being drunk to which Zach answered for me “yes”, much to her disgust.
“Why the fuck did you do that, Zach?” I demanded of him in the dimmed-up lights of the 10th floor of Tisch. “I’m not drunk and you gave me the Jim Beam anyway.”
“Because it was funny, dude.” Zach told me. “And we got a ‘Laurel and Hardy’ thing goin’ on besides.”
The movie went over well. The crowd dug it and even my friends who hadn’t seen it enjoyed the film. Jeremiah Newton even liked it, whose film has recently been selected for play at Berlin (where I had been rejected among, at this point, many other places). Jeremiah came up to Zach afterwards with festivals he could submit to as we all headed over to the Puppy Whistle premiere/afterparty at Andres Cardona’s house. On the way, we toured with Marc Dickerson, a Pennsylvanian and Malonely co-conspirator whom we introduced to the joys of Baoguette and Pommes Frites, once the rest of the crowd headed off for College Night at McDonald’s. Eva even stopped by a truck for a “liege wafel” piled high with 8 toppings and called a WMD (wafel of mass deliciousness). She ate sloppy-happy as we ate our sammys and fries.
Puppy Whistle was fun and weird with a star turn by Eva and a cameo by yours truly and the party that accompanied it was fun. It was only later, the next day, that Blake would point out to me that the film could be seen as autobiographical, a story about a filmmaker who goes away and the party he hosts. There was even a scene within the film that mimicked the exact circumstance of the audience as they were watching it, huddled in to a similar apartment, many of them having participated in the scene in the film they were seeing as well. Regardless, the uncomplicated of it was that I was going to miss Rob, miss Zach and that the movie, however fun, wasn’t going to help. And I had to be on set tomorrow. And Andres had cats that I was allergic to. So I left.
As Eva and I walked out, down to Houston St and through the cold-air-night, she told me about a girl who had come up to her and told her how much she’d loved her performance in Puppy Whistle and asked how she’d “gotten that greasy”.
“It made me realize,” She told me. “That being famous must suck.”
I hugged her close to me as I nodded and went home.
For those nostalgic for some Weintraub-o-philia, here is an interview with him from the Cinequest website. The picture is laughable, but then again, most times, so is he.
Bon chance, fellows.