Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

Snooch to the Nooch! The title says it all. Actually, it doesn’t this year, but read on. The Oscars are on February 22 at 8pm EST this year, with Hugh Jackman(??) hosting.

Best Picture
Oscar’s Final Five
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“Frost/Nixon”
“Milk”
“The Reader”
“Slumdog Millionaire”

Likes: The Academy managed a curveball with “The Reader,” but that doesn’t make it a ringer. All the films I’ve seen so far deserve to be there.

Dislikes: That said, “The Reader” wasn’t as worthy as “Wall-E,” “The Dark Knight,” “W.,” “Stop-Loss,” “Iron Man,” “Synecdoche New York,” or real dark horses like “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” “Man on Wire,” and “My Winnipeg.”

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “Wall-E”; “Slumdog Millionaire”; “Milk”; “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”; “Man on Wire”

Oscar’s Pick: “Slumdog Millionaire.” I suppose “Curious Case” could still sneak in there for an upset, but I don’t see Danny Boyle’s underdog saga- so inspiring in these dire economic times- losing its’ award mojo anytime between now and Oscar night. Plus, it is actually the best one of the bunch.

Best Director
Oscar’s Final Five
David Fincher, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Ron Howard, “Frost/Nixon”
Gus Van Sant, “Milk”
Stephen Daldry, “The Reader”
Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire”

Likes: Fincher’s elegant handling of the love story “Button” allowed voters to overlook his dark cinematic past and see the talent that lies beneath. Because Picture and Director line up this year, all the nominees are deserving of being in there.

Dislikes: Be that as it may, I’d trade Daldry any day for Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight” really got shot down), Kimberly Pearce (“Stop-Loss”), Guy Maddin (“My Winnipeg”), Charlie Kaufman (“Synecdoche New York”), and Jonathan Demme (“Rachel Getting Married”), all of whom swung for the fences and came up big.

Brian’s personal hopefuls: Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire”; Gus Van Sant, “Milk”; Cristian Mungiu, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”; Kimberly Pierce, “Stop-Loss”; Christopher Nolan, “The Dark Knight”

Oscar’s Pick: Danny Boyle. Who would’ve thought that the director of “Trainspotting” and “28 Days Later” would go on to be an Oscar front-runner? Such is the immense talent of Boyle, who also survived “A Life Less Ordinary” and “The Beach” to get here today. Really makes up for the lack of love for “Millions,” doesn’t it?

Best Actor
Oscar’s Final Five
Richard Jenkins, “The Visitor”
Frank Langella, “Frost/Nixon”
Sean Penn, “Milk”
Brad Pitt, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler”

Likes: Again, no real ringers in the bunch. The Academy saw right by high-profile triumphs (Pitt, Penn, Rourke) while also honoring long-time character actors (Jenkins, Langella) for career-capping work.

Dislikes: I haven’t seen Langella or Rourke yet, but the other three deserve to be there. Will I wonder why they ignored Josh Brolin as our now (finally!!) ex-President in “W.”? Or Phillip Seymour Hoffman in “Synecdoche New York”? Or Ryan Philippe in “Stop-Loss” (though one could argue that being a supporting role)? Or what about Colin Farrell in “In Bruges”? We’ll see (and we know the first two didn’t get shot down entirely).

Brian’s personal hopefuls: Sean Penn, “Milk”; Josh Brolin, “W.”; Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Synecdoche New York”; Ryan Phillippe, “Stop-Loss”; Richard Jenkins, “The Visitor”

Oscar’s Pick: Mickey Rourke. Oscar’s gonna love the underdogs this year, and is there an actor that came further for his chance to shine than Rourke, who mined his life and craft for his reported tour de force for Darren Aronofsky? Smart money right now’s on Mickey, but don’t count out respected vets Jenkins or Langella for a left-field surprise.

Best Actress
Oscar’s Final Five
Anne Hathaway, “Rachel Getting Married”
Angelina Jolie, “Changeling”
Melissa Leo, “Frozen River”
Meryl Streep, “Doubt”
Kate Winslet, “The Reader”

Likes: Even though Jolie seemed to be losing her momentum for a nod recently, it was great to see the Academy didn’t forget her. Again, no ringers in the bunch folks. Is Oscar playing it safe this year or taking chances? Seeing Winslet in the right category for “The Reader” was a welcome happening.

Dislikes: Only one Winslet performance made the cut (see my commentary for my Oscar Picks blog), but at least she won’t cancel herself out. And how am I gonna see “Frozen River” before Oscar night? I would’ve given anything to see some love for Frances McDormond (“Burn After Reading”), Sarah Jessica Parker (“Sex and the City”), and Anamaria Marinca (“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”), but that’s nit-picking- they did good this year.

Brian’s personal hopefuls: Anamaria Marinca, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”; Anne Hathaway, “Rachel Getting Married”; Kate Winslet, “The Reader”; Angelina Jolie, “Changeling”; Frances McDormand, “Burn After Reading” & “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”

Oscar’s Pick: Kate Winslet. Hathaway and Streep will duke it out for second as Winslet- a five-time nominee previously- will be votes from people enamored by both her nominated role and “Revolutionary Road” who, like me, are sick and tired of seeing her go home empty handed. In other words, it’s her time.

Best Supporting Actor
Oscar’s Final Five
Josh Brolin, “Milk”
Robert Downey Jr., “Tropic Thunder”
Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Doubt”
Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”
Michael Shannon, “Revolutionary Road”

Likes: Oscar voters weren’t afraid to nominate Downey’s blazingly funny blackface routine or Ledger’s posthumous descent into madness as The Joker, which I guess was the only thing about “The Dark Knight” they were impressed by. Fools. One can take comfort in Brolin and Hoffman’s nominations and see them as representing two strong performances by both.

Dislikes: Where did Shannon come from? Guess I’ll find out when I get a chance to see “Revolutionary Road” in the coming days. Again, no ringers, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“Stop-Loss”), Aaron Eckhart (“The Dark Knight”), and many, many more were ignored.

Brian’s personal hopefuls: Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”; Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “Stop-Loss”; Robert Downey Jr., “Tropic Thunder”; Josh Brolin, “Milk”; Omar Benson Miller, “Miracle at St. Anna”

Oscar’s Pick: Heath Ledger. I suppose I can pretend someone else will get this, but who’s anyone kidding, this is what Hollywood was hoping to see happen after last year’s tragic shock in losing one of their best young actors. And you can bet a standing ovation will mark the occasion on Oscar night when someone (my guess is “Dark Knight” director Chris Nolan) goes up to accept it on his behalf.

Best Supporting Actress
Oscar’s Final Five
Amy Adams, “Doubt”
Penelope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”
Viola Davis, “Doubt”
Taraji P. Henson, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Marisa Tomei, “The Wrestler”

Likes: Tomei was a surprise inclusion, as she continues to show that “My Cousin Vinny” Oscar was no fluke (she was also nominated for “In the Bedroom” and should’ve been for “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” last year), as was Cruz. The other three I saw coming, and you know what? They all deserve it.

Dislikes: No real left-field inclusions (like Madeline Carroll from “Swing Vote” or Samantha Morton in “Synecdoche New York”) in a category that tends to have them, and no Rosemarie DeWitt (who was at least the equal of Hathaway in “Rachel Getting Married”). Are we looking at the dullest Oscar night in history? Not that the winners won’t deserve it, though.

Brian’s personal hopefuls: Laura Vasiliu, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”; Rosemarie DeWitt, “Rachel Getting Married”; Madeline Carroll, “Swing Vote”; Taraji P. Henson, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”; Samantha Morton, “Synecdoche New York”

Oscar’s Pick: Penelope Cruz. While I truly think anyone could win this category, actresses in Woody Allen films tend to have a history here (see Dianne Wiest and Mira Sorvino), so look for the “Doubt” nominees to cancel each other out and make way for Cruz, who was a force of nature in Allen’s Spanish farce.

Best Original Screenplay
Oscar’s Final Five
“Frozen River” (Courtney Hunt)
“Happy-Go-Lucky” (Mike Leigh)
“In Bruges” (Martin McDonagh)
“Milk” (Dustin Lance Black)
“Wall-E” (Pete Doctor, Jim Reardon, Andrew Stanton)

Likes: The Academy continues to acknowledge what makes Pixar’s films the Best animated films by raining nominations on the writers (who previously found favor with “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo,” “The Incredibles,” and “Ratatouille”). “In Bruges” was a pleasant surprise for a fan of that underseen gem.

Dislikes: OK, so apart from really having to see “Frozen River” by Oscar time, how in the world do you expect me to see “Happy-Go-Lucky” people? I may have to miss out on some this year guys. Evidently, the screenwriters behind “Synecdoche New York” (Charlie Kaufman), “Rachel Getting Married” (Jenny Lumet), “Tropic Thunder” (Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux, Etan Cohen), and “The Visitor” (Tom McCarthy) have to miss out on the ceremony this year.

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “Wall-E” (Pete Doctor, Jim Reardon, Andrew Stanton); “Synecdoche New York” (Charlie Kaufman); “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” (Cristian Mungiu); “Stop-Loss” (Kimberly Pierce, Mark Richard); “Milk” (Dustin Lance Black)

Oscar’s Pick: “Frozen River.” I’ll be honest, you guys are on your own this year in picking this category. I could go with the Best Picture nominee (“Milk”), the Pixar film (“Wall-E”), or the respected vet (“Happy-Go-Lucky”), but I’ll be honest the awards season has made a mess of this category, seeing as though “Burn After Reading” and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” were nominated at the Writers Guild, and most of the Best Picture nominees are adaptations.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Oscar’s Final Five
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Eric Roth, Robin Swicord)
“Doubt” (John Patrick Shanley)
“Frost/Nixon” (Peter Morgan)
“The Reader” (David Hare)
“Slumdog Millionaire” (Simon Beaufoy)

Likes: Again, no real ringers in this bunch, including two of the year’s best (with “Case” and “Slumdog”).

Dislikes: However, that doesn’t mean “Doubt” and “The Reader” hold candles to the comic book models of “The Dark Knight,” “Iron Man,” or “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” or that the Academy shouldn’t have cut loose a little bit and shown some love to the young love tale “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.”

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “Slumdog Millionaire” (Simon Beaufoy); “The Dark Knight” (Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, David S. Goyer); “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Eric Roth, Robin Swicord); “Iron Man” (Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway); “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” (Lorene Scafaria)

Oscar’s Pick: “Slumdog Millionaire.” Are you sensing a pattern here folks? It doesn’t hurt that it was the year’s best adapted screenplay, but look for “Full Monty” screenwriter Beaufoy to add to his collection this year.

Best Original Score
Oscar’s Final Five
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (Alexandre Desplat)
“Defiance” (James Newton Howard)
“Milk” (Danny Elfman)
“Slumdog Millionaire” (A.R. Rahman)
“Wall-E” (Thomas Newman)

Likes: With three fantastic scores this year, it was wonderful to see Danny Elfman make the final five with perhaps his most surprising effort. Three of the other choices (“Slumdog,” “Curious Case,” and “Wall-E”) were predictable inclusions, but certainly worthy.

Dislikes: So after all that hubbub over whether “The Dark Knight” (Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard) was eligible or not, the Academy didn’t nominate the damn thing. True, you have to listen a few times to find the musical brilliance of what Zimmer and Howard came up with- as well as hear how it’s different from “Batman Begins”- but you only need one listen to know how it’s superior to Howard’s solo effort for “Defiance” (although to be fair, it’s not a complete ringer…I just would’ve liked to have seen “Speed Racer,” “Changeling,” and “Burn After Reading” nominated ahead of it).

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “Wall-E” (Thomas Newman); “The Dark Knight” (Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard); “Speed Racer” (Michael Giacchino); “Slumdog Millionaire” (A.R. Rahman); “Changeling” (Clint Eastwood)

Oscar’s Pick: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Honestly, this could go any way. None of the composers have won- and Howard, Elfman, and Newman are all long overdue- but my guess is that Desplat’s lovely and lonely score for “Benjamin Button” will have more Oscar voters welling up than the rest.

Best Original Song
Oscar’s Final Three
“Down to Earth” from “Wall-E” (Peter Gabriel, Thomas Newman)
“Jai Ho” from “Slumdog Millionaire” (A.R. Rahman, Gulzar)
“O Saya” from “Slumdog Millionaire” (A.R. Rahman, M.I.A)

Likes: Well, look, I don’t hate any of the choices…

Dislikes: …but no Springsteen (for “The Wrestler”) and no- I never thought I’d say this- Miley Cyrus (for “Bolt”)? I mean, are you trying to make me angry? You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry…

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “The Wrestler” from “The Wrestler” (Bruce Springsteen); “Down to Earth” from “Wall-E” (Peter Gabriel, Thomas Newman); “Generic Winter Holiday” from “Happy Holidays” (James C. Ferguson, Molly Beck Ferguson, Zack Hexum); “I Thought I Lost You” from “Bolt” (Miley Cyrus); “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” from “Hamlet 2” (Ralph Sall, Pam Brady, Andrew Fleming)

Oscar’s Pick: “Down to Earth.” Look, multiple song nominations don’t mean squat nowadays- just that a movie had a lot of good original songs. They tend to cancel themselves out, so look for Gabriel and Newman to be on stage collecting Oscar gold for their memorable song at the end of Pixar’s masterpiece.

Best Animated Feature
Oscar’s Final Three
“Bolt”
“Kung Fu Panda”
“Wall-E”

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “Wall-E”; “Kung Fu Panda”; “Wall-E”

Oscar’s Pick: “Wall-E”. If you think anything else is gonna win this, you’re crazy. End of story. Chalk up another Oscar for Pixar’s mantle.

Best Foreign Language Film
Oscar’s Final Five
“The Baader Meinhof Complex” (Germany)
“The Class” (France)
“Departures” (Japan)
“Revanche” (Austria)
“Waltz with Bashir” (Israel)

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”; “XXY”; “Priceless”

Oscar’s Pick: “Waltz with Bashir”. I haven’t seen any of the nominees, but I know critics are high on Isreal’s animated look at war. I just can’t wait to see it for myself.

Best Documentary Feature
Oscar’s Final Five
“The Betrayal – Nerakhoon”
“Encounters at the End of the World”
“The Garden”
“Man on Wire”
“Trouble the Water”

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “Man on Wire”; “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson”; “Religulous”; “Young @ Heart”; “Standard Operating Procedure”

Oscar’s Pick: “Man on Wire.” Not just because it’s the best one of the year (in another great year for documentaries), but because it’s the most compelling.

Best Visual Effects
Oscar’s Final Three
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Dark Knight”
“Iron Man”

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “Speed Racer”; “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”; “Iron Man”

Oscar’s Pick: “The Dark Knight.” “Curious Case” will trip people up, and “Iron Man” won’t get the comic book love “Dark Knight” has received this year.

Best Sound
Oscar’s Final Five
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Dark Knight”
“Slumdog Millionaire”
“Wall-E”
“Wanted”

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “Wall-E”; “The Dark Knight”; “Iron Man”; “Tropic Thunder”; “Hellboy II: The Golden Army”

Oscar’s Pick: “The Dark Knight.” “Wall-E” is also a heavy favorite I’d imagine, but I’d expect “Knight” to clean up technically (a la “Star Wars”) come Oscar night.

Best Sound Editing
Oscar’s Final Five
“The Dark Knight”
“Iron Man”
“Slumdog Millionaire”
“Wall-E”
“Wanted”

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “Wall-E”; “Speed Racer”; “Hellboy II: The Golden Army”

Oscar’s Pick: “Wall-E.” Ben Burtt’s genius work with Pixar has to take care of business here folks. Right?

Best Cinematography
Oscar’s Final Five
“Changeling”
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Dark Knight”
“The Reader”
“Slumdog Millionaire”

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “The Dark Knight”; “Slumdog Millionaire”; “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”; “Doubt”; “Hellboy II: The Golden Army”

Oscar’s Pick: “The Dark Knight.” If this doesn’t win for the innovative use of IMAX (making seeing a feature film on IMAX actually worth your time), I just don’t know what to say.

Best Film Editing
Oscar’s Final Five
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Dark Knight”
“Frost/Nixon”
“Milk”
“Slumdog Millionaire”

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “Slumdog Millionaire”; “The Dark Knight”; “Iron Man”; “Speed Racer”; “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

Oscar’s Pick: “Slumdog Millionaire.” The visceral editing of this lived-in drama is slightly more riveting than “Dark Knight’s” journey into the dark streets of Gotham.

Best Art Direction
Oscar’s Final Five
“Changeling”
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Dark Knight”
“The Duchess”
“Revolutionary Road”

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “Hellboy II: The Golden Army”; “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”; “Slumdog Millionaire”; “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”; “Leatherheads”

Oscar’s Pick: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” This is gonna be a close pick between “Changeling,” “Case” and “The Dark Knight,” but my Spidey sense is saying to go with “Benjamin Button’s” journey through the 20th Century. Just a thought.

Best Makeup
Oscar’s Final Three
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Dark Knight”
“Hellboy II: The Golden Army”

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”; “Hellboy II: The Golden Army”; “The Dark Knight”

Oscar’s Pick: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” If you’ve seen the film, you’ve seen why by watching Brad Pitt’s transformation throughout the film.

Best Costume Design
Oscar’s Final Five
“Australia”
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Duchess”
“Milk”
“Revolutionary Road”

Brian’s personal hopefuls: “Hellboy II: The Golden Army”; “Leatherheads”; “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”; “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”; “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”

Oscar’s Pick: “The Duchess.” No reason, I just know they tend to like these type of fashions.

Now, onto the awards less likely to be cared about, and randomly-selected predictions.

Best Short Film- Live Action
Oscar’s Final Five
“Auf der Strecke (On the Line)”
“Manon on the Asphalt”
“New Boy”
“The Pig”
“Spielzeugland (Toyland)”

Oscar’s Pick: “New Boy.”

Best Short Film- Animated
Oscar’s Final Five
“La Maison de Petits Cubes”
“Lavatory – Lovestory”
“Oktapodi”
“Presto”
“This Way Up”

Oscar’s Pick: “Presto.” Come on, this Pixar short was just too funny folks.

Best Documentary Short Subject
Oscar’s Final Four
“The Conscience of Nhem En”
“The Final Inch”
“Smile Pinki”
“The Witness – From the Balcony of Room 306”

Oscar’s Pick: “The Final Inch.”

Viva La Resistance!

Brian Skutle
http://www.sonic-cinema.com

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