The Academy Awards are fast approaching, and some of this year's Oscar nods don't have anything to do with excellence. Here's our take on who will—and who shouldn't—take home a gold statue.
Well, there is nothing to be done now. Academy voters have made their selections and with some exceptions, they represent the ho-hum, narrow reality of said voters. Yes, Slumdog Millionaire is included in the Best Picture category (but, like the new administration, it might be a tad overhyped). And they got it all right in the Documentary Feature category. Yet, some of this year’s nominees emerged based on factors—familiarity of subject matter, popularity of stars/directors and the amount of marketing dollars spent—that have nothing to do with excellence. Let’s look at the main categories.
I love Brad Pitt just as much as the next straight guy, and Taraji P. Henson got a Best Supporting nomination, but The Curious Case of Benjamin Button could have been titled The Curious Case of Disappearing Black People. Once Button/Pitt leaves “childhood,” black folk and any depiction of race or racial issues are non-existent. Lance Hammer’s drama, Ballast, set in Mississippi, would have been a more honest choice.
Frost/Nixon? I don’t get it. The original interviews are far superior. This may be Nixon’s last effort from the grave to further rehabilitate his image. The Academy should have nominated Rachel's Getting Married. No doubt they couldn’t relate to the mélange of characters on the screen.
Again, The Times of Harvey Milk, the 1984 documentary precursor to the feature, Milk, is more riveting and perceptive. But here, not as much.
I used to like Kate Winslet until she said something really dumb on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno last year. She stressed that she was married to a “white” Trinidadian. Huh? [Full disclosure: I am a Trinidadian, who is decidedly not white.] Back to the movie: Voters couldn’t get their heads around Tom Cruise’s Valkyrie, so The Reader was the next best film with a Nazi theme. Frozen River was a much more important film and offered up a better leading lady performance by Melissa Leo.
I really liked Slumdog Millionaire, but I also get the backlash coming out of India. The movie is feel-good, but it’s still an outsider’s First World perspective of a Fourth World reality. Still torn on this.
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Melissa Leo—Frozen River
Anne Hathaway—Rachel Getting Married
Kate Winslet—The Reader
Except for Angelina Jolie’s weird turn in the weird Changeling, these were spot on. If Melissa Leo doesn’t win for Frozen River, it will be down to the brilliance of Meryl Streep in Doubt. Arguments for nominations could be made for Tarra Biggs in Ballast, Summer Bishil in Towelhead and Sally Hawkins in Happy Go Lucky.
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Brad Pitt—The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke—The Wrestler
Hollywood loves a redemption story and Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler is the mother of all reclamation projects. Just the fact that he’s alive and mobile I guess he deserves recognition. Loved both Richard Jenkins (I know, who?) in The Visitor and Sean Penn in Milk. As I said, love Brad, but not feeling him for the Oscar. And the less said on my part about Frost/Nixon, though I have nothing against Frank Langella, the better. Benicio del Toro’s performance in Steven Soderbergh’s Che would have made my final list. But the damn film is 257 minutes long. Maybe just too many A.D.D. sufferers among Academy voters. The last spot would have gone to Jeremy Renner in Kathryn Bigelow’s incisive The Hurt Locker. I know, you didn’t see it, or haven’t even heard of it. But that’s the fate of war movies about Afghanistan and Iraq. Besides, I have a thing for Bigelow’s work. Ever seen Near Dark?
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Penelope Cruz—Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Taraji P. Henson—The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei—The Wrestler
Always a tough category to select and handicap. Viola Davis and Amy Adams are both sterling in Doubt. Marisa Tomei as the love interest of Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler deserves Nobel Prize consideration as well as an Oscar nomination. Big fan of Penelope Cruz, but have to wonder why she has to portray a crazy person to get recognized? Misty Upham from Frozen River and Rosemarie DeWitt, who plays the sane Rachel in Rachel Getting Married, would have been good choices as well.
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Robert Downey Jr.—Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman—Doubt
Heath Ledger—The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon—Revolutionary Road
So Philip Seymour Hoffman is a bad m…f..., hush your mouth! He’s the second best New York actor around (personal fave Jeffrey Wright tops the list, but barely) and is his usual incredible self in Doubt. Academy had to show Josh Brolin, who more than holds his own with Penn in Milk, some love, after stand out roles in W and No Country For Old Men. You can’t fight the Heath Ledger phenomenon for The Dark Knight. R.I.P., man. Folks already know what I think of Robert Downey Jr., for his part in Tropic Thunder. That leaves Michael Shannon for Revolutionary Road. No James Franco for Milk; or Anthony Mackie for The Hurt Locker; or anyone in the fine cast from Miracle at St. Anna; or Viggo Mortensen for Appaloosa? They was robbed! Well, the first three were. The last was a western. And I LOVE westerns!
Gus Van Sant—Milk
Stephen Daldry—The Reader
Danny Boyle—Slumdog Millionaire
All seem deserving, and I really want Gus Van Sant for Milk to win. (Which means he won’t. Sorry, Gus.) But Hammer for Ballast, Bigelow for The Hurt Locker, Jonathan Demme for Rachel Getting Married and Mike Leigh for Happy Go Lucky are just as deserving.
Encounters at the End of the World
Man on Wire
Trouble The Water
Trouble The Water, which revisits America’s biggest failure of the past decade, saving New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Katrina, is a triumph of the spirit. But Man on Wire is awe-inspiring, and seeing the World Trade Center Towers as they once were induces heart-wrenching nostalgia.
The Root’s predictions…
Best Picture: Milk
Best Actress: Meryl Streep
Best Actor: Sean Penn
Supporting Actress: Viola Davis
Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger
Director: Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire
Documentary Feature: Man on Wire
Nick Charles is a regular contributor to The Root.