Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Incredibles

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

The Nominees:

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

The Nominees:

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.

Best Actress

The Nominees:

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.

Best Actor

The Nominees:

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.

Best Picture

The Nominees:



Michael Clayton

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.


VOTAR said...

"It's too's out of control!"

Ms. Mix & Bitch said...

This Oscar season should also be especially memorable for you, because it'll be the LAST one in a long, long time that you will remember seeing all the movies nominated.

Because once that lil' poopin-pouting Pazienza makes its grand entrance, the only movies you'll be catching for awhile will be made by Disney and Pixar.

Soak it up, baby doll...oh - and that goes for any new X box game releases as well.

Wait...did I just hear a distance crying sound coming from the North??

I'm sorry. I just can't stop smirking :-}


demondoll said...

I didn't bother to see Crash, but I did suffer through Titanic, and it still fills me with rage.

Anonymous said...

Chez, I'll skip watching all of the drug addicts, drunks, and all around crazies spouting their BS on the Red Carpet, but I will watch the Oscars.

I never read the critics because they have been so wrong about so many films so much of the time. Here are my choices: "There Will Be Blood" ~ Best Picture and Director, Johnny Depp ~ Best Actor only because Daniel Day Lewis has already won the Oscar and "Sweeney Todd" was such a risk for Depp to undertake and he succeeded, Cate Blanchett ~ Best Actress, Javier Bardem ~ Best Sup Actor, Ruby Dee ~ Best Sup Actress because they will be forced to give "American Gangster" something; after all, it is an Oprah movie. If there are any upsets I think they will go to "Juno."

Well, now we anxiously wait in popcorn anticipation! Let's hope the Academy took the time to see at least some of the nominated films.

Robo said...

Haven't seen a single one of these movies and frankly I consider it an accomplishment. Maybe I'll check them out at some point.

Kate said...

Fucking Juno! Arghhhhhhhhh!!!!!

Steve Owen said...

Would have been cool to see you do a live blog on this ... minute by minute a la Bill Simmons. Sorry for the late suggestion.

Lenslinger said...

Agreed on both Jesse James points. Affleck was stellar and the cinematography awe-inspiring. Too bad they won't win.

jen said...

i am totally jealous you've had drinks with senor bardem. love him.

and am i the only one to get a perverse sort of joy from the fact that casey is the talented affleck?

Paul said...

This will probably be the last time for awhile when I would have been happy with any of the nominees winning. Usually there is a few of them I either can't stand or can't see why they were nominated to begin with. Congrats to the winners

Alex Barreto said...

It's sad the academy members like their Oscar winners bleak nowadays. Juno was such a great movie. If you had told me a movie about teen pregnancy would not only be fantastic but sweet and uplifting as well I would have called you crazy.

Aaron X said...

I'm sad that you didn't appreciate Crash a very good movie that bordered on greatness, but the reason it won best picture that year was not for its artistic perfection, it had its flaws certainly, but because it is simply one of the most important movies in modern American cinema history to address the issues of race and prejudice, a movie that I believe every American should see. A lot of people don't get it, and many others don't want to get it, but a lot of people in America are in denial when it comes to prejudice and racism. Terrence Howard's performance alone, as the every Black man in America, made a worthy of the win.

I take it to you don't agree, I don't know you of course, but if I may be permitted to speculate for a moment, perhaps this ties in with your Hispanic ethnic heritage (don't tell me let me guess your Cuban right?) and you grew up in South Florida, something I can relate to since I grew up there as well.

One of the realities of South Florida is that it is a very limited place that is still trying to grow up, especially in comparison to a place like Southern California, part of America that I'm also familiar with. Perhaps if you'd grown up in LA where the movie is set, you might have a different perspective.

Jayne said...

Aaron, I have to say here, first of all, that Chez lived in L.A. for several years of his life, and he is not Hispanic (despite his name, he's an American mutt like me).

I grew up in the Northeast with a good mix of friends, and I love a good sappy movie, but I found Crash to be really self-indulgent and quite frankly, annoying. The performances were great, as was of course the message, but I felt like I was being beat over the head with it and I don't appreciate that at all. Every minute of the film screamed "give us an Oscar for this," in my opinion, and nothing makes me want to see a movie fail more than that, (with the exception of a an appearance by Paris Hilton, of course).

I'm glad you liked it, but just because we didn't doesn't mean that we have a limited perspective. We just prefer a little subtlety.