January 31, 2008

8 Things You Need to Know About the 80th Oscar Nominees

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8. Comedies are no longer automatically eliminated from the race. Thanks to the nomination of Juno, a comedy has been nominated for Best Picture for the second consecutive year, and the third time in the last four. This is a welcome change from the Academy’s usual limitations to depressing dramas every year. Juno’s chances to win the big prize are slim, but its screenplay will be a major contender, as will be Ellen Page for Best Actress. It is insane to eliminate good movies just because they’re comedies, and it seems as if that trend might be on its way out.
7. For the first time in over five years, the Best Actress race is wide open. SAG Award winner Julie Christie is the very slight favorite for playing an Alzheimer’s victim in Away from Her, but audience favorite Ellen Page (Juno) and Golden Globe winner and foreigner Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose) would also be no surprise. Unlike the last few years, when actresses like Helen Mirren and Reese Witherspoon were absolute locks to win, this race will be nearly impossible to handicap right up until the winner is announced.
6. The strongest category is Best Actor. Daniel Day-Lewis, Johnny Depp, George Clooney, Viggo Mortensen and Tommy Lee Jones. Ignoring their actual roles (oil man, singing killer barber, high-priced lawyer, Russian mafioso and war veteran, respectively), that is still a murderer’s row. When actually taking into account their performances, Day-Lewis’ is probably the best (no surprise there), but the argument could be made that any of them should win. With the possible exception of Jones, movie fans will be talking about these roles many years from now.
5. For the 80th consecutive year, the weakest category is Best Supporting Actress. I’m not trying to be sexist, but for some reason Hollywood is completely unable to have memorable supporting roles for women. There are some recent exceptions, like Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted or Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago, but otherwise this category, year in, year out, is a major snoozefest. It is not coincidental that this year’s odds-on favorite to win, Cate Blanchett, is nominated for playing a man.
4. But apparently, women can write good screenplays. Of the 10 nominated screenplays, four of them were written by women, a major break from the usually male-dominated screenplay categories. Sarah Polley’s Away from Her script will have a tough time winning Best Original Screenplay, because she’s up against No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, but the two odds-on favorites for Adapted Screenplay are Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages, and Diablo Cody’s Juno. (Nancy Oliver also was nominated for Lars and the Real Girl.) Both are poised to add their name to the sparse list of female Oscar winners for writing.
3.Javier Bardem is going to win Best Supporting Actor. With apologies to the other nominees, most of whom would have had a great chance any other year, this is easily the runaway of the awards. I’ve been very vocal in my love of Bardem’s portrayal of sadistic killer Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, who I think is the best villain since Hannibal Lecter. Easily the most memorable role of the year, Bardem has been cleaning up at the precursor awards and is a lock to win.
2. The Academy may have found a balance between critical and audience favorites. One of the primary reasons the Academy Awards have faced declining ratings is because the nominees, particularly Best Picture, are often small art-house films beloved by critics but mostly unseen or ignored by audiences. Last year’s triumph of The Departed signaled a possible change, as it was both critically acclaimed and worth over $100 million at the box office, but the other nominees made little money. This year, the Best Picture nominees have fallen somewhere in the middle ground between obscure critic’s pick and huge box office success. No Country for Old Men and Michael Clayton made about $50 million and $40 million, respectively, while also topping many critics’ best lists of 2007. There Will Be Blood, although not yet at wide release, has been setting per-screen records, making over $1 million, while so far only appearing on about 100 screens. Juno is the biggest hit of all, reaching $70 million and steadily climbing week by week. Will this spark more interest in this year’s Oscars? Not necessarily, but a prolonged series of years with this kind of collection of films certainly will improve the show’s status.
1. Hopefully the show will go on. Don’t get me wrong, I support the Writers Guild, and I acknowledge that the alliance of producers is filled mostly with cash-grubbing weasels. However, the Academy Awards are a major source of revenue for the entire Hollywood community, not just the producers. If the show gets cancelled, it will cost everyone in the movie business money, including the writers and the simple staffers who do the grunt work of making movies. On a less important note, it would be disrespectful to the Screen Actors Guild, the most vocal supporters of the WGA, to potentially cost many of the actors a major night of public recognition and honor. This country has suffered a red-carpetless world for long enough. Hopefully the madness will soon end.