Monday, February 23, 2009

My 2009 Academy Awards

The real Oscars have happened already, but what would happen if I was giving out the awards. Here's what...

Best Actor
Josh Brolin – W.
Clint Eastwood – Gran Torino
Philip Seymour Hoffman – Synedoche, New York
Brad Pitt – Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke – The Wrestler

Rourke became this guy. He’s done a lot of hard living, and that all reads on screen. Like a lot of great movie star performances, it’s a role that uses his off screen narrative as a supplement to the performance, such that the performer and role become inseperable, and mutually supporting.


Best Actress
Cate Blanchett – Benjamin Button
Anne Hathaway – Rachel Getting Married
Nicole Kidman – Australia
Lina Leandersson – Let the Right One In
Ellen Page – The Tracey Fragments

Anne Hathaway also had a tough year off screen, but she nailed it onscreen with a great performance at the center of a really great film that’s unfortunately been sort of forgotten here in awards season. She’s the wild heart of the movie, and makes a really memorable, strong character.

Best Supporting Actor
Robert Downey Jr. – Tropic Thunder
Aaron Eckhardt – The Dark Knight
James Franco – Pineapple Express
Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight
Brad Pitt – Burn After Reading

This one was the most locked category in a pretty locked Oscar field, and understandably so. I didn’t like Batman Begins, I loved The Dark Knight. What’s the difference between the two? It’s Ledger’s performance. He injects a degree of chaos in to Christopher Nolan’s sealed world, and utterly owns the movie as a result.

Best Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Rosemarie Dewitt – Rachel Getting Married
Catherine Keener – Synedoche, New York
Natalie Portman – My Blueberry Nights
Marisa Tomei – The Wrestler

This one’s a decidedly unconventional choice, but no other female supporting performance this year gave me the joy that Cate Blanchett’s manically over the top Indiana Jones villain did. Her accent wasn’t convincing as any sort of real accent, but it was a lot of fun. She didn’t go deep into character, but she was incredibly entertaining. What’s wrong with pop fun in a movie?

Best Animated Film
Rebuild of Eva

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
Wall-E

All three of these are great films, but Rebuild of Eva’s devastatingly emotion and potent character psychology put it over the top. It’s a really smart reinvention of a brilliant TV series, updating and refining what was already good to make it not necessarily better, but something different and worthwhile.

Art Direction
Australia

My Blueberry Nights
Synedoche New York
Sukiyaki Western Django
Wall-E

No movie looked as sumptuous and glam as Australia. Baz always makes great looking films and his art direction team excelled on this one.

Cinematography
Australia
Let the Right One In
My Blueberry Nights
Rachel Getting Married
Speed Racer

The most deliberate and haunting film of the year, the film’s cold, lifeless look fits perfectly with its vampiric subject matter.

Costume Design
Australia

Speed Racer
Sukiyaki Western Django
Synedoche New York
Repo: The Genetic Opera

It’s a bit of a cliché to give the costume design award to a big period piece, but the characters looked great, and an entire world was built on screen in the highly underrated Australia.

Editing
Australia
Let the Right One In
Rachel Getting Married
Rebuild of Eva
Speed Racer

It’s hard to assess an editing award because so much of an editor’s job is to create the rhythm that a director wants. But, I like to reward films that use editing to expand what cinema can do, and no film did that more this year than Speed Racer. Not all of it worked, but the experimental editing style was exhilarating to see, and made me more excited about the possibilities of cinema than anything else I saw this year.

Foreign Language
Let the Right One In
Rebuild of Eva
Sukiyaki Western Django
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
The Machine Girl

As I said earlier, this is a masterful reinvention of the TV series, distilling what worked in to the shorter running time of cinema.

Makeup
Benjamin Button

Blindness
Let the Right One in
Syndeoche New York
The Dark Knight

So much of the film hinges on playing with our perceptions of Brad Pitt the movie star, of watching an old man become the star we know now, and then become the star we knew fifteen years ago. The makeup team pulls it off, and the film’s success really hinges on them.

Score
Australia
Let the Right One In
The Dark Knight
Rebuild of Eva
Wall-E

So much of the film is wordless, the score carries an even greater burden. But, the score makes Wall-E work.

Song
“Another Way To Die” - Quantum of Solace
“Beautiful World” – Rebuild of Eva
“Jai Ho” – Slumdog Millionaire
“The Wrestler” – The Wrestler

The closing credits track for Rebuild of Eva nicely sums up the themes of the film and does so with a catchy J-Pop flourish.

Sound
Australia
Rebuild of Eva
Speed Racer
The Dark Knight
Wall-E

Ben Burtt built Wall-E’s voice, and so much of his character through sound. Great work.

Visual Effects
Benjamin Button

Speed Racer
Synedoche New York

As I mentioned earlier, the makeup is a big piece of character, but here so are the effects. We’re on the road to a post spectacle effects world, where effects are subtle and designed to be invisible rather than call attention to themselves. Benjamin Button is a step on that road.

Screenplay – Original
Australia
Rachel Getting Married
Synedoche New York
Wall-E
The Wrestler

Robert Siegel builds an entire world in the shadows of a man’s failed life. The film feels rambling and full of the little moments that real life has, but most movies don’t.

Screenplay – Adapted
Let the Right One In
Rebuild of Eva
Snow Angels
The Dark Knight
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

It’s odd to think that Anno should be rewarded for adapting his own work. But, his work as a screenwriter here is very similar to what a writer has to do when adapting a novel to film, distilling more rambling plots and character arcs into a single, driven narrative. That’s what Anno does, creating a film that’s in a lot of ways stronger than the series it’s drawn from.

Director
Baz Luhrmann - Australia

Hideaki Anno - Rebuild of Eva
Wong Kar-Wai - My Bluebery Nights
Tomas Alfredson - Let the Right One in
Darren Aronofsky - The Wrestler

Luhrmann’s films have a distinct voice and feel no matter what the subject matter is. Here, he manages to create emotional moments that hit me like no other movie this year. He understands that movies are in many ways like dreams, they exist in a place removed from reality, and here he creates a film that recalls the best of classical Hollywood in its pitch perfect creation of emotional moments.

Picture
Australia

Rebuild of Eva
Let the Right One in
Rachel Getting Married
My Blueberry Nights

Australia is also the best film of the year. No movie engaged me emotionally like it did, building up, receding then building again to a devastating finale. It was a transporting cinematic experience, and a hugely underrated film.

Nominations (Wins)
Australia – 10 (4)
Rebuild of Evangelion 1.0 – 9 (4)
Let the Right One In – 9 (1)
Synedoche New York – 7
The Dark Knight – 6 (1)
The Wrestler – 5 (2)
Rachel Getting Married – 5 (1)
Speed Racer – 5 (1)
My Blueberry Nights – 5
Wall-E – 5 (2)
Benjamin Button – 4 (2)
Sukiyaki Western Django - 3
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time - 3
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 1 (1)
Blindness - 1
Burn After Reading - 1
Gran Torino – 1
Pineapple Express – 1
Quantum of Solace – 1
Slumdog Millionaire – 1
The Machine Girl
The Tracey Fragments – 1
Tropic Thunder - 1
W. – 1

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