Thursday, March 09, 2006

Predictions: Oscars 2006

Here's a particularly cocky piece. But as Dizzy Dean said, "it ain't braggin' if you can do it."

Peracchio and I wrote this piece for the Collegian, but didn't manage to get it to the editor in time for them to slip it in. It's too late for anyone to care, but I thought I'd add it anyway. I did switch my "quick picks" to the one's I picked the day-of By the way, my day-of predictions of the Academy Awards: 15 of 19. That's my new record, and not a bad night out. But I missed a big one: Best Picture. Who knew Crash had gathered that much steam? I'm kicking myself over that one, but I'm fine with missing "Best Sound" and "Best Art Direction," and I'm certainly fine with missing "Best Original Song." I did think it was harder out here for a pimp.

Wyman and I liked the whole “Socratic dialogue” idea so much that we decided to sit down again and banter back and forth on this year’s Academy Awards nominees. Since brevity is the soul of wit, and we would both consider ourselves to be marginally clever, we’ll be short and to the point here. We’ll name each major category, the nominees, and then give our impressions. Then, we’ll do a “rapid fire” section of sorts for the lesser-known categories. Simple, no?

BEST PICTURE: Brokeback Mountain, Crash, Capote, Good Night and Good Luck, and Munich

Peracchio: I suppose this is where I have to draw the line between what I want to win, and what I know will probably win. In this case, though I desperately would love to see the sobering “Capote” win Best Picture, Ang Lee’s visually stunning “Brokeback Mountain” is the likelier candidate.

Wyman: Touche. I would even argue that the best picture of the year wasn’t nominated. “Walk The Line” was overall a stronger, more emotionally stunning piece of filmwork than likely winner “Brokeback,” and more steady than dark horse candidate “Crash,” but one of those will walk away with the award.

BEST LEAD ACTOR: Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Capote”, Terrence Howard in “Hustle & Flow”, Heath Ledger in “Brokeback Mountain”, Joaquin Phoenix in “Walk the Line”, and David Strathairn in “Good Night, and Good Luck”

Wyman: This year’s group is particularly strong, but the hands-down, knockout decision is Hoffman. He got the role of his career and he nailed it.

Peracchio: Could I get an “amen” from the congregation? Hoffman was just too brilliant in his role as the troubled author to not win. The Golden Globe he received for his performance is a testament to that.

BEST LEAD ACTRESS: Judi Dench in “Mrs. Henderson Presents”, Felicity Huffman in “Transamerica”, Keira Knightley in “Pride & Prejudice”, Charlize Theron in “North Country”, and Reese Witherspoon in “Walk the Line”

Wyman: Huffman’s won awards across the board for her stalwart transgender performance, and I’m not discounting any of the others, but my heart goes to Witherspoon. She wasn’t just good in “Walk the Line;” you fell in love with her.

Peracchio: Had I not seen “Henderson”, I’d probably agree with you, but I just took in the film about the English theater-turned-burlesque show this weekend, and I was particularly impressed with Dench’s performance. She knew her character was a loveable old nuisance, and she annoyed me, in the way the movie intended.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: George Clooney in “Syriana”, Matt Dillon in “Crash”, Paul Giamatti in “Cinderella Man”, Jake Gyllenhaal in “Brokeback Mountain”, and William Hurt in “A History of Violence”

Peracchio: I’m going to have to give this one to Gyllenhaal, for his role as Jack Twist in “Brokeback Mountain.” Yes, the movie is quite controversial, and downright objectionable, but Gyllenhaal intrigued me. Did he actually love Heath’s character, Ennis? Or, was it purely physical? Lee’s direction, combined with his performance, kept the audience guessing right up until the bitter end.

Wyman: This is a tougher field. Clooney’s the favorite (and my pick), and I agree that Gyllenhaal was fascinating, but here's a possible dark horse: I wouldn’t be surprised to see Giamatti walk away with it. His film is catching buzz at just the right time, and he gave the most accessible performance in this field, which may end up counting for a lot at a time when the Academy’s trying to get back in America’s good graces.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Amy Adams in “Junebug”, Catherine Keener in “Capote”, Frances McDormand in “North Country”, Rachel Weisz in “The Constant Gardener”, and Michelle Williams in “Brokeback Mountain”

Wyman: Williams is starting to build momentum in this category, and the other nominees are strong bids, but Weisz was just so heartbreakingly good in “Gardener” that she’s almost a lock for the award.

Peracchio: What is this “Constant Gardener” I keep hearing about? Maybe it was all the rage in L.A., but the theaters around here never got around to showing it. Keeping that in mind, I would love to see Catherine Keener win this category, for her role as Truman Capote’s assistant, and acclaimed author of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee. She was just so likeable. But, the Academy is still head over heels in love with Brokeback, so we’ll probably see Williams take the Oscar here.

BEST DIRECTOR: George Clooney in “Good Night, and Good Luck”, Paul Haggis in “Crash”, Ang Lee in “Brokeback Mountain”, Bennett Miller in “Capote”, and Steven Spielberg in “Munich”

Wyman: This entire group did solid, careful work on each film, and there’s no clear-cut winner. But I have to go with the favorite, Lee. He worked fantastic performances out of middling actors, and turned in one of the most honestly performed films of the year.

Peracchio: Lee will win here, hands down. Clooney is really coming into his own as a director, but he’s not there yet. Haggis did some interesting work with “Crash”, but nothing outstanding. Miller is too much of an unknown to win, even with such a great film as “Capote.” And, Spielberg’s work in Munich was a little too much commentary, and not enough substance, almost as though he’s banking on his reputation alone to win it.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Crash, Good Night and Good Luck, Match Point, The Squid and the Whale, and Syriana

Peracchio: At long last, “Crash” will get the acclaim it deserves in some category. It was such an interesting concept for a script that somebody in the Academy will have to take notice.

Wyman: A lot of solid scripts, and some particularly deserving ones - Woody Allen’s “Match Point,” and Noah Baumbach’s “The Squid and The Whale” - but “Crash” will probably take this one home as a consolation prize.

Wyman’s Quick Picks:
Adapted Screenplay: Brokeback Mountain
Foreign Film: Paradise Now
Cinematography: Memoirs of a Geisha
Animated Feature: Wallace and Gromit

Peracchio’s Quick Picks:
Adapted Screenplay: Capote
Foreign Film: Joyeux Noel
Cinematography: Brokeback Mountain
Animated Feature: a tie between Corpse Bride and Wallace and Gromit

The rest of the categories were a tad obscure for our tastes, not to mention that we’re running low on space as it is. The Awards are on this Sunday evening. Here’s to hoping our predictions have some basis in reality.*

* They did. Booyah.

Review: Brokeback Mountain (2005)

I finally dug up that review that Peracchio and I did together for the Asbury Collegian. Now that Brokeback is back in the news, it seemed a perfect time to put it up. Not really, but this site desperately needs new content.

Peracchio: After much discussion and deliberation, I decided see “Brokeback Mountain,” despite its controversial subject matter. It has been nominated for seven Golden Globe Awards and will most likely be an Oscar contender. The film is a hot topic of debate, and it would be silly to simply ignore it. Christians should know about the movies they watch, or in this case, won’t watch. In the case of “Brokeback”, just one reviewer wouldn’t do it justice. Joining me this week is Ben Wyman, of the Los Angeles Film Studies Center and 10-4 Good Buddy fame.

One might argue that a review of a film as markedly controversial as “Brokeback Mountain” deserves a good deal of gravitas, but I intend to give it none. For all the hype and fervor surrounding the release of the film, “Brokeback” is neither groundbreaking nor moving. Instead, it’s just sort of boring.

Peracchio: One of the dullest parts of the entire feature was the love story. I realize how incredibly difficult it was for director Ang Lee to portray a romantic relationship between two homosexual males without being cliché, but at the same time, there are certain elements required to successfully portray romance. Watch any romantic comedy involving Kate Hudson, and you’ll see what I mean.

As an audience, we come to expect the obvious. We should be able to tell right away when to expect the big moments and feel the buildup to it. Lee downplayed it all so much to avoid the clichés that when the tension between Ennis (Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) came to a head, it was sudden, and practically laughable.

Wyman: Moderately more interesting are the dynamics of Ennis and Jack’s marriages. As the characters leave Brokeback Mountain and go on with their lives, their once vaguely promising futures begin to fall into disarray. Ennis marries longtime sweetheart Alma (Michelle Williams), and spends the next few years of his life struggling to make ends meet as a ranch hand. Jack rejoins the rodeo circuit and falls in with a vivacious show rider (Anne Hathaway), who lands him a job selling farm equipment from her wealthy father. The two settle into the doldrums of everyday life, while the viewer settles into the doldrums of slow, ponderous filmmaking.

The film finally sparks when Jack returns to Wyoming, four years later, to reunite with Ennis. As Jack pulls into the driveway, Alma looks out the door to see Ennis pull Jack into a forceful kiss. Shattered, she turns away and pretends not to have noticed. Jack and Ennis begin to steal away a few times a year, retreating to Brokeback Mountain together on fishing trips, their only relief from their discontented marriages.
Unable to break away from each other but scared to freely admit it to the world, Jack and Ennis spend the next twenty years in an awkward compromise between the lives they want to leave and the lives they feel they ought to lead. It’s the most honest and moving portion of the film, but Lee stretches it too long, and the viewer runs out of patience with the sparse story before “Brokeback” finally draws to a close.

Peracchio: Critics love to tout “Brokeback” as some sort of a groundbreaking feature, and in some ways, it is. It’s one of the first films to depict a truly masculine romance, as opposed to making it a two-and-a-half hour episode of “Will and Grace”. Ledger really shines in his role, showing us a love that’s hardly physical, and much more pure, like he’s a straight guy that just happened to fall for a man. He knows that it’s wrong and he’s terrified of what people think of him, yet he can’t seem to separate himself from them.
But even then, all I saw here was a western “American Beauty” with much heavier homosexual overtones. What made “Beauty” so poignant was that it hit close to home for viewers. It took familiar white suburbia and twisted it, showing the darkness that lurks just beyond a whitewashed exterior, and that anyone can fall into a similar situation himself.
“Brokeback” is much harder to relate to. At times, it’s preachy, looking down on the American west and admonishing it for its bigotry. Subtract that, as well as a boorish love story, and we’re left with two men, and what their relationship does to the world around them. There’s plenty more to debate about, but neither of us wants to spoil the film for anyone who wants to see it.
Do I recommend “Brokeback”? Hardly. From an artistic standpoint, it’s an excellent film. However, from a more important Christian standpoint, I can’t fully support it. For every diamond in “Brokeback,” there’s an overwhelming amount of rough.

Wyman: Agreed. “Brokeback” is artistic without being entertaining, and falls into the greatest of independent-film quarries: raising issues but not provoking thought. It’s a film so convinced of its own importance it forgets that the audience has a right to more than just the drama of homosexual angst. An audience wants to love its characters, to care what happens to them, to believe in the story.
“Brokeback” is almost clinical in its chronicling of the love story, it’s a science experiment of a film. It puts two male lovers on the screen, and rather than trying to get you to experience their story, it’s content for you to merely respect the excellence of the filmmaking. And while Lee’s direction on the film is solid, and the performance of the actors uniformly fantastic, it remains fact without passion.

Peracchio: That pretty well sums it up. This would be the part of the review where I’d rate the movie, but since I recommend against seeing it on moral grounds, the rating refers solely to the quality of the filmmaking. Out of four stars, I give “Brokeback Mountain” three.