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Dave’s Oscar Preview Part Four: The Rise and Fall of the Weinstein Empire

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Cate Blanchett – The Aviator
Laura Linney – Kinsey
Virginia Madsen – Sideways
Sophie Okonedo – Hotel Rwanda
Natalie Portman – Closer

Will Win: Cate Blanchett
Should Win: Virginia Madsen

Let me just start out by saying this is one of the hardest categories I’ve ever had to guess. It used to be easy. Madsen was hailed by numerous critic’s circles as the best thing since her brother in Reservoir Dogs. The BFCA win seemed to confirm this. Then something happened.

“And the Golden Globe goes to…Natalie Portman!”

And Church lost, too. To another Closer staffer. Was Closer the new Sideways? Surely the SAG awards would clear this all up.

“And the Actor goes to…Cate Blanchett!”

I’m sorry. Did the awards season just blow your mind?

Yes, it seems everybody was up for something now. Cate’s admittedly suspicious (only because she’s Australian, which is, y’know, kind of British) BAFTA win negated the notion that her bid was any more of a fluke than the other two.

So Madsen fills in the niche of the comeback kid (Kim Basinger), Portman the young ingénue (Jennifer Connely), and Blanchett the, um, Katherine Hepburn slot (Katherine Hepburn – who, incidentally, was never nominated for Best Supporting Actress).

Finally, I just looked at Goldderby.com, saw Blanchett was leading at 8/5, and said “screw it.”

Which is too bad. I was really hoping that Madsen’s run would continue. She really gives an amazing performance. But hey, she’ll get more work.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

That guy from M*A*S*HThe Aviator
That guy from WingsSideways
That guy from In Living ColorCollateral
That guy from The Electric CompanyMillion Dollar Baby
That guy from those BMW shorts – Closer

Will Win: That guy from The Electric Company
Should Win: That guy from Wings

Again, a very tough one. Similar timeline for a Sideways actor on this one. Lots of critical acclaim for Church. He walks into the Globes with a strong lead and a BFCA win. He walks out empty handed. Clive goes on to add a BAFTA to that Globe, and when the SAG awards roll around, they both get dissed and Morgan Freeman gets a standing ovation.

And then, just to make things more confusing, the Academy throws Alan Alda into the mix even though no other ceremony had even nominated him.

Here’s how I think it’ll break down. The Academy won’t really take Clive seriously. As I mentioned in my Globes preview, Closer is more of a New York than an LA phenomenon. Alda’s really just there as window dressing. The nom is his reward. Voters will figure that Church is young, and will get another shot. They’ll be all over the notion of (a) rewarding Freeman’s long streak of outstanding, overlooked performances (no, not Chain Reaction, the other stuff), and (b) having two black actors win awards again, further rebuffing claims of racism in Hollywood (since they all figure that Foxx is a lock for Best Actor).

This is all well and good, but I don’t think that there’s anything about this particular Freeman performance that demands attention. It’s no more inspired than his work in Se7en or Shawshank Redemption, both of which I thought were better films. What would I have given him the award for? Glory, probably. But I imagine everyone has their favorite Freeman performance. Perhaps “Easy Reader” on The Electric Company?

On the other hand, there is something distinct and impressive about Church’s turn in Sideways. And maybe that’s because all I have to compare it to is his work on Wings and Ned & Stacey (which, taken together, demonstrate considerable range). But I feel like he gave a more nuanced performance with greater diversity. Part of that’s the role. It’s less of a stock character than Freeman’s (yes Freeman plays the hell out of it, but it’s still a stock character). I feel it has more dimension. So, though I’m all about showing Freeman the love, taking these two isolated performances toe-to-toe, I gotta go with Lowell.

(Watch me reverse my position on giving out awards simply for an artist’s career in about ten paragraphs. You can probably already guess for whom.)

BEST ACTRESS

Annette Bening – Being Julia
Catalina Sandino Moreno – Maria Full of Grace
Imelda Staunton – Vera Drake
Hilary Swank – Million Dollar Baby
Kate Winslet – Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Will Win: Hilary Swank
Should Win: Hilary Swank

Back in ’99, Swank took Bening for the gold, Boys Don’t Cry v. American Beauty. By the way, the other actresses up that year? Janet McTeer for Tumbleweeds, Julianne Moore for The End of the Affair, and Meryl Streep for, oi, Music of the Heart. Remember those performances? Me, neither.

Anyway, I could give you a whole song and dance about who won what leading up to this (mostly Swank, a little Bening, a little Staunton), but the bottom line is if Swank can beat Bening in a movie that everybody saw (American Beauty), she can definitely beat her in a movie that nobody saw (Being Julia).

Now, you could make the same argument in reverse, but here’s the thing. When Swank beat Bening with a film that made $119mil less than Bening’s, she did it playing a woman playing a man. You didn’t need to see the movie to know that if she did it well enough to get a nomination, it must’ve been impressive. This time, Bening’s film made $39mil less than Swank’s (so far), but all anyone knows about it if they haven’t seen it (if they know anything) is that she plays an actress. If she does that well enough to get nominated, um…good for her!

Now, Staunton has considerable critical momentum going into this. Her performance actually got more year-end accolades than Swank’s. Her film got more Oscar heat than anyone expected. Actress? Sure. But Screenplay? Director? Oscar takes this film seriously, which leads me to believe that the issue at stake isn’t wholly political (for those of you keeping score, Staunton plays an abortionist). If it were, there’d be more of an attempt to marginalize the film. No, I think the issue again is visibility. Nobody saw it. Boys Don’t Cry made $11mil. Vera Drake, $2.8mil. That may not seem like much of a difference, but in Indiewood, it kind of is. Monster, another “small” indie that generated an Oscar for it’s lead, had made $23mil by the time the awards were presented. Money/visibility makes a difference.

Truth be told, I haven’t seen Bening or Staunton’s performance, (and the fact that neither is out on DVD is a disservice to the campaigns of both), so I could be wrong. But from what I’ve seen, Swank’s performance is the powerhouse here. If I am wrong, it’s probably in the direction of Staunton, judging by the critical reaction.

BEST ACTOR

Don Cheadle – Hotel Rwanda
Johnny Depp – Finding Neverland
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Aviator
Clint Eastwood – Million Dollar Baby
Jamie Foxx – Ray

Will Win: Jamie Foxx
Should Win: Jamie Foxx

17 critic’s circle awards. BFCA, Globes, BAFTA, SAG. The only way Foxx could lose is if everybody forgot to vote for him cos’ they figure he’d win anyway.

Clint Eastwood, revered icon, never won for acting, blah, blah, blah – it’s gonna be Foxx.

And why does he deserve it? Because he becomes Ray. There is no Jamie Foxx in that movie. There’s a little bit of Leo in The Aviator, less as the movie goes on, but it’s there. There’s a lot of Clint in M$B (and it works). In a way, there’s a little Jack Sparrow in Finding Neverland, but the real issue there is that the character is a bit one-note for my tastes. Cheadle actually disappears into his role as much as Foxx, but the transformation is so much more complete with Foxx. Admittedly, the fact that he’s playing a blind man gives him an edge. But if I think about the most memorable Cheadle transformations, I think of Devil in a Blue Dress and Out of Sight before this.

And not for nothing, but I think Topher Grace and Jim Carrey deserve to be up in here, too. No, not for Win a Date with Tad Hamilton.

BEST DIRECTOR

Clint Eastwood – Million Dollar Baby
Mike Leigh – Vera Drake
Taylor Hackford – Ray
Alexander Payne – Sideways
Martin “Oh my God, is this actually my fifth nom?” Scorsese – The Aviator

Will Win: Clint Eastwood
Should Win: Martin Scorsese

Clint’s kind of a sacred cow in Hollywood. He’s already won an Oscar for Best Director, but you know what, that won’t stop the Academy from giving him another one. And do you know why? Because for some reason that’s not entirely clear, the Academy fucking hates Martin Scorsese.

In nearly a quarter-century of Oscars, Marty’s been nominated for Best Director five times. In that time he’s lost to Barry Levinson, two actors and a pedophile. Now he’s up against an actor again. They’re like his kryptonite. I didn’t think the curse would hold, but then the DGA, ultimate prognosticator of Directorial Oscar Glory, bestowed their coveted gaze upon Clint. Clint! I love Clint and all, but dammit, Marty’s due! He’s become the Chicago Cubs of directors. I’m hoping this year he becomes the Red Sox, but it doesn’t look good.

And here’s where I break down my time-honored tradition of rewarding the work and not the man. I think that M$B is as well-directed, if not better directed, than The Aviator. One is a triumph of minimalism, the other of not-so-much-with-the-minimalism. Scorsese has, no doubt, made far better films. GoodFellas, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver. But after a while, yes, I’m happy to see him win just for being Marty. It probably won’t happen, but I’ll cheer my hypocritical ass off if it does.

BEST PICTURE

The Aviator
Finding Neverland
Million Dollar Baby
Ray
Sideways

Will Win: The Aviator
Should Win: Sideways

If you looked only at the big awards, the only movies to consider here would be The Aviator and Sideways. Only they have walked away with Golden Globe, BAFTA, BFCA, or PGA awards. M$B only enters into the fray if you talk about critic’s circle awards, of which it, like The Aviator, has five. And yet, the odds-on favorite in this category is M$B. Maybe it’s because it has such a cool abbreviation.

Whatever the reason – Clint love, Swank love, Freeman love – it now, and not The Aviator (and certainly not Sideways which seemed to run out of Oscar juice a month ago), is now the movie to beat.

But here’s the thing. No movie in last place in the box office race (of the five nominees) at the time of the Oscars has ever won Best Picture. And only one movie in fourth place has ever won (The Last Emperor, I believe). Guess where M$B is right now. $3mil out of third place, which belongs to Sideways.

Now, to place it all on a box office stat is a little spurious, but it’s all I’ve got. That, and this. Miramax has only two films in the final five this year and had none the year before. I think that’s significant because Miramax may not even exist for next year’s Oscars. And even if it does, it’s questionable if it’ll be the same Miramax. In a world of Fox Searchlight and Warner Independent, Miramax doesn’t mean what it used to. Even without them, we’re talking about a “little indie” company that has a $116mil epic up for Best Picture. A movie at number one in that final five b.o. race. Previous Miramax Oscar winners have included Chicago, The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love. Now Patient may have been an epic, but it starred B-list celebrities with an untested director for a quarter of the cost of The Aviator, starring Leo DiCaprio and directed by Martin Scorsese.

With The Aviator, Miramax has completed the transformation into big budget studio.

And, with that, I believe Elvis will leave the building. Whether or not The Aviator wins or loses will determine whether or not Miramax – as we know it, and as it has become – will end with a whimper or a bang.

My money’s on bang.

Sideways gave me the best feeling of these five. And I don’t just mean it made me happier. Actually, Ray was probably the closest thing to a feel-good movie here. I mean in terms of congruency, consistency, overall entertainment, I felt the least let-down by Sideways. Admittedly, I saw it before all the hype, so my expectations were at About Schmidt levels, not “second coming of Hal Ashby” levels. But, in one way or another, the other films disappointed. Not terribly – all are fine works – but perceptibly.

The Aviator takes a good two hours to really get its shit together. Finding Neverland is touching but slow, even staid. M$B is amazing for a time, and I won’t give away “the plot point,” but suffice it to say my problem with it wasn’t so much the controversy some are pointing to, but my feeling that it wasn’t consistent with the characters as established, which made it feel a little contrived. And Ray isn’t afraid of the cheese.

Sideways, while not perfect, just doesn’t have those kind of glaring flaws. I know that’s not a huge endorsement, but limited to these five, it puts it on top.

And there you have it, folks. Last year I batted .67 with my predictions. This year, if I bat even .500, I’ll be very impressed. What are you shooting for?

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About David Dylan Thomas