Sunday, February 24, 2008
I can't remember the last time I was able to say this, but I'm actually excited about tonight's Oscars.
Long before I took the plunge into the drug-fueled, morally ambiguous world of television news, I planned on getting into the drug-fueled, morally ambiguous world of filmmaking. I was a motion picture major at the University of Miami's film school, under the tutelage of department head Paul Lazarus, a supposedly legendary Hollywood producer and insider whose list of film achievements included Academy Award-winning masterworks Capricorn One, starring O.J. Simpson, and Barbarosa, which featured Gary Busey at his most dangerously unhinged and Willie Nelson, who appeared to be high throughout most of the movie. Early into my UM film curriculum, I realized that if I wanted to learn anything truly worthwhile, I might have to get creative and take things into my own hands -- so I started regularly attending not just the classes in which I was actually enrolled, but a few others that had either filled up before I could get to them or were unavailable to me, at least officially.
At the very top of the latter category sat a course in film criticism that was being taught by the Miami Herald's movie critic at the time, Bill Cosford. I had grown up reading the Herald and its writers and columnists were, to me, worthy of idolatry; I still consider guys like Gene Weingarten, Joel Achenbach, Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry to be godlike and a good part of the initial inspiration that led me to first put pen to paper. Cosford, needless to say, was right at home among such talents; his love of great movies and pop culture in general was always evident and his scalpel-sharp wit, which he wielded unapologetically, made him seem like a slightly more misanthropic version of Hawkeye Pierce.
In one of my columns from July of last year, I relayed my favorite story involving Cosford:
"Never was his brand of merry troublemaking better on display than when, in a column decrying the loss of criticism as an artform, he figuratively bitch-slapped ready-and-eager-for-prime-timers Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert for putting themselves above the films they were charged with reviewing. (If I remember correctly, he essentially told them where they should shove those "thumbs.") This brought a quick, angry and entirely condescending response from Ebert who, in predictable fashion, ran down his almighty resume, which includes an oft-touted 1975 Pulitzer.
The Herald printed Ebert's letter, along with Cosford's rebuttal which read simply: 'Are you the bald one or the fat one?'"
Needless to say, this guy was my hero growing up.
Cosford's reign at the Herald lasted from 1973 until 1994, when, following a ski vacation in Colorado, he contracted a severe case of pneumonia which killed him in a matter of days. The University of Miami's campus theater was officially dedicated in his name in 1995, a fitting tribute to a man who, through his role as an adjunct professor, perpetuated a deep respect for the art of filmmaking, a serious loathe for bad filmmaking, and a lot of good-natured smart-alecness among the students of my generation.
I think it's safe to say that Cosford would've been thrilled with this year's crop of Oscar nominees. A lot's been made of the surprising level of quality that Hollywood managed to reach again and again during 2007. In addition to the films that picked up nominations, there are at least a dozen or so other movies that could've easily merited recognition tonight: The Lookout (and Joseph Gordon Levitt in particular), Zodiac, A Mighty Heart and even The Bourne Ultimatum were all criminally overlooked, and the academy got off easy by being able to nominate Ratatouille for Best Animated Feature rather than Best Picture, which is the category in which it belongs. (Joel Siegel, in a final act of Dr. Seussian defiance against decent writing, said, "It's RATa-tastic!")
It's in the spirit of Bill Cosford, and because I not only love movies but happen to have seen all of this year's nominees, that I bring you the first ever Somewhat Pointless DXM Oscar Preview.
It's just like most of the other pre-Academy Awards columns that you've already read, just without a paycheck and with absolutely no attention paid to what anyone's going to be wearing or how many Vicodin Jack Nicholson will be on.
Best Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett -- I'm Not There
Ruby Dee -- American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan -- Atonement
Amy Ryan -- Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton -- Michael Clayton
Who Will Win: This is the one truly unpredictable category, but the only one to put your money on is Blanchett; her surreal, over-the-top impression of Bob Dylan has, for reasons I'll never quite understand, been critically lauded rather than laughed at.
Who Should Win: A victory by Ruby Dee could conceivably rob Beatrice Straight of her place in Oscar history, namely as the actor who won an Academy Award with the least amount of actual screen time. (She got the Best Supporting Actress trophy for Network back in 1976.) Amy Ryan manages to play the Southie skank to perfection; the fact that it's so easy to despise her character speaks volumes about Ryan's ability to bring her to life. In the end though, the nuanced, and sometimes abject terror conveyed by Tilda Swinton in her portrayal of a suddenly filthy corporate flack who's in way over her head is just mesmerizing.
Who I'd Like to See Win: Swinton.
Best Supporting Actor
Casey Affleck -- The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Javier Bardem -- No Country for Old Men
Philip Seymour Hoffman -- Charlie Wilson's War
Hal Holbrook -- Into the Wild
Tom Wilkinson -- Michael Clayton
Who Will Win: Bardem. That simple. Ruthless killer Anton Chigurh is quite simply one of the most frightening and memorable villains in film history. He's that silent, inescapable force that pursued you in your childhood nightmares. When it comes to soulless killing machines, Chigurh makes the Terminator look like Otto from A Fish Called Wanda.
Who Should Win: This is such a fantastic category this year; every one of the nominees could rightfully walk away with the Oscar -- although for the record, Hoffman should've gotten a nod for The Savages rather than Charlie Wilson. Holbrook was the only saving grace of Into the Wild; he brought some much needed humanity and a sense of healthy regret to what was otherwise a silly-as-hell endeavor. In the end though, it all comes back to Bardem.
Who I'd Like to See Win: I can't argue with Bardem; my wife and I have had drinks with the man and he's just so damn nice. Believe it or not though, Casey Affleck's surprising, simmering and beautifully layered turn as a misunderstood sycophant in Jesse James just blew me away.
Cate Blanchett -- Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie -- Away from Her
Marion Cotillard -- La Vie en Rose
Laura Linney -- The Savages
Ellen Page -- Juno
Who Will Win: I'm going to go out on a limb: Ellen Page. Despite stellar performances from everyone in this category, Page created a character for the ages. Sometimes that's all that matters. Kevin Spacey didn't turn in a better performance in American Beauty than Russell Crowe did in The Insider back in 1999 -- Lester Burnham was just a scene-chewing character, and Spacey played him to perfection. Page did the same.
Who Should Win: Page. See Above.
Who I'd Like to See Win: Yup, I loved Juno -- and I love Ellen.
George Clooney -- Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis -- There Will Be Blood
Johnny Depp -- Sweeney Todd
Tommy Lee Jones -- In the Valley of Elah
Viggo Mortensen -- Eastern Promises
Who Will Win: The smart money's on Daniel Day-Lewis, who, as with Ellen Page, created a character that just might turn out to be immortal in the realm of cinema. I'll be one of the few however who give Clooney a chance of pulling the biggest upset of the night; Hollywood loves him and this is the character he's been working toward his entire career.
Who Should Win: Day-Lewis, for not only buying into P.T. Anderson's unnerving vision so wholeheartedly but for actually elevating it to the level of untouchable transcendence. Come on, "I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE! I DRINK IT UP!" Anyone who can deliver a line like that and have it approach Biblical ferocity deserves the Oscar and more.
Who I'd Like to See Win: Once again, Day-Lewis is the best actor working today -- but crazy is often easier to play than subtle. Clooney's sad, quiet turn as a pathetic and regretful legal cleaner is simply brilliant. His expression as he approaches the horses in the field, with every mistake he's ever made showing in his eyes, is the single best moment for any actor this year.
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood
What Will Win: I used to be pretty sure about these things until Crash pulled the most upsetting upset in Oscar history by beating Brokeback Mountain a couple of years ago and immediately becoming the worst movie ever to win Best Picture. Still, No Country is a pretty sure bet here (and it's an astonishingly good movie), but I kid you not when I say look out for the little movie that could, Juno.
What Should Win: There Will Be Blood was the best movie of the year. Period. It's madman moviemaking -- pure visionary viruosity on an absolutely epic scale. The thing's a fucking masterpiece from start to finish. (And yes, Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood was unforgivably snubbed in the musical score category.) It should be a lock.
What I'd LIke to See Win: One word: Juno. Oscar history could really use a new Annie Hall.
One other point worth mentioning by the way -- if The Assassination of Jesse James doesn't earn Roger Deakins the cinematography Oscar, Hollywood should be burned to the ground. It's a living painting that's gorgeous beyond compare this year or any other.
See you tonight in front of the TV.
I'll be the one having a drink to Bill Cosford.