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 theReel
 
The Cream of the Cinematic Crop, According to Old Film Business Types
Finally, an Oscar Article That's Longer than the Oscars

by Jeremy Mathews, Chris Bellamy and Brent Sallay
 
 

ow will the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences break the hearts of true film lovers everywhere this year? We won’t know for sure until Sunday night, when the academy hands out the Oscars, but RED’s crack team of predictors have drawn their own conclusions of what should and will win based on their various mathematical and imperial methods. (Brent was a math major, so you might want to listen to him.)

This isn’t how things were supposed to go at all. This was supposed to be the year of the epic. This was supposed to be a return to form for Oliver Stone. Oscar night was supposed to be an epic battle between epic battles—i.e. the swords and sandals of Stone’s "Alexander" and Wolfgang Petersen’s "Troy."

And then "Troy" comes out and sucks three hours of ass and ruins everything. In fact, if this year’s "Kingdom of Heaven" isn’t any good, the year 2004 might be solely responsible for destroying the cinematic epic as we know it. Remember “The Alamo”? (Ha, ha...remember the Alamo). Remember "King Arthur"? Yeah, neither does anyone else. And let’s not even start on “Alexander.” Oh God, “Alexander”—the film that proved three hours can feel like three years.

It was around the time "Troy” came out that this year started to go downhill, as Oscar’s list of contenders dwindled smaller and smaller. Scratch off "The Terminal." Scratch off "Dogville." Scratch off "The Village." Scratch off Spike Lee’s "She Hate Me." Scratch off "The Phantom of the Opera." (Well, OK, many of us scratched that one off back in April, but some clown on the Internet said it would win in November.)

If a few talented filmmakers had fulfilled their potential, this could have been a huge year for Warner Bros. They already had, with Oscar-eating monster Miramax, Martin Scorsese’s "The Aviator," which was, as expected, a major Oscar player. They also had both "Troy" and "Alexander," and the Academy loves them some big-budget epics. The WB also had "The Polar Express" (helmed by Oscar winner Robert Zemeckis)—which could have been a major contender in several categories—as well as "Million Dollar Baby" (helmed by Oscar winner Clint Eastwood) and "The Phantom of the Opera" (helmed by Razzie nominee Joel Schumacher).

"The Polar Express" was so bad, it couldn’t even garner a Best Animated Film nomination, even with the weight of the WB behind it.

With a bit of luck, Warner Bros. could have potentially had all five Best Picture nominees. Instead, us dedicated moviegoers wasted exactly nine hours and 40 minutes of our lives on four shitty movies that coulda, woulda, shoulda been good.

Oh, well. On the bright side, the shortcomings of the WB’s big-name projects opened the door for plenty of smaller films to get an Oscar shot. And that’s what we’re all about here at RED Magazine—giving the little guy a shot.

 Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

The nominees are…
Alan Alda for “The Aviator”
Thomas Haden Church for “Sideways”
Jamie Foxx for “Collateral”
Morgan Freeman for “Million Dollar Baby”
Clive Owen for “Closer”

This year’s nominations confirmed the suggestions of the “Training Day” nominations for Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke. If a high-level star plays the villain to a less popular actor’s main character, the main character will receive a supporting actor nomination, as is the case with Foxx.

And the Winner is…

Jeremy: In an Oscar year with quite a few wide open categories, three supporting actor nominees are contenders—Alan Alda couldn’t have hoped for more than the nod, and Jamie Foxx can be ruled out since everyone knows that he is going to win for Best Actor. My favorite nominee is Thomas Haden Church, who brought humor, warmth and understanding to a fairly unlikable character. Props should also go to Clive Owen, who not only gave a very good performance, but has the added advantage of voters knowing that he played a different part in the stage version of “Closer,” proving his versatility.

The supporting acting categories tend to have the most potential for surprises, but I always predict the surprise will take place in the wrong one and get both wrong. So I’m going to predict the obvious winner, Freeman, who gave a heartfelt performance in a film that moved many academy members. Plus, he has never won.

Chris: It just sounds wrong—Anna Paquin has an Oscar, and Morgan Freeman doesn’t. As Jeremy said, the academy will likely remedy that this year and give Freeman a career Oscar. Personally, I thought it was great just to finally see him in a good movie again after he floundered for years in junk like "Along Came a Spider," "Levity," "Dreamcatcher," and "The Big Bounce." But while I’ll be happy to see him finally take home an Oscar, the award should go to Clive Owen, who was cold, cruel, vicious, and yet somehow sympathetic in a pitch-perfect performance in "Closer." A close second is Thomas Haden Church. When I first saw the trailer for "Sideways," I thought to myself, "What the hell? That guy from ‘Wings’ is still trying to be an actor?" But my thoughts were laid to rest when I actually saw the film, and realized what a good actor he can be.

I would have loved to see the academy recognize David Carradine for "Kill Bill Vol. 2," or Josh Peck for his under-appreciated performance as the sympathetic bully in "Mean Creek," or even Willem Dafoe for "The Clearing," as he made the most of an otherwise forgettable movie.

Brent: I have to agree with Jeremy here. There’s nothing that warms my heart more than the triumphant story of a lowly airport mechanic who has to slum with the likes of Steven Weber and Crystal Bernard just to make ends meet coming back in a blaze of glory nine years later, making witty quips and whoopee all over the place. And yes, in a perfect world, David Carradine would have at least received a nomination. Not to mention Mark Wahlberg, whose brilliant performance as an existential firefighter in “I Heart Huckabees” was, I think, entertaining enough to impress even those who found the movie itself a bit convoluted. But, as Jeremy and Chris have so poetically implied, this award is generally considered to be more of an insult than an actual reward for a job well done. So Morgan Freeman’s out of the picture. He’s too nice of a guy. Thomas Haden Church was a pretty big jerk in “Sideways,” so I am crossing my fingers, but undoubtedly, Clive Owen out-jerked them all, and will therefore win, because all Academy voters hate themselves.

 Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

The nominees are…
Cate Blanchett for “The Aviator”
Laura Linney for “Kinsey”
Virginia Madsen for “Sideways”
Sophie Okonedo for “Hotel Rwanda”
Natalie Portman for “Closer”

Remember when Jeremy predicted Shohreh Aghdashloo’s performance from “House of Sand and Fog” would beat Renée Zellweger for playing a spunky hick? Maybe this year he’ll go for Sophie Okonedo instead of the ones we’ve heard of.

This category is generally open to surprise, and while Aghdashloo damn well SHOULD have won last year (spunky hick, my ass), the general consensus here at RED is that she only lost because the general public couldn’t pronounce her name, while ‘Zellweger’ can be sounded out rather easily. Given that theory, Ms. Okonedo can be pretty much ruled out.

And the Winner is…

Brent: Well, for like the fourth year in a row, Naomi Watts was robbed. But given my options, I’d have to say that Ms. Blanchett should win, even though she was only in “The Aviator” for about a third of its runtime, since that still equates to almost five and a half hours. I have to say, all the old people in the theater were very impressed with her impersonation of Katharine Hepburn. “Why, look at her,” they’d say. “It’s uncanny. Why, I feel like a mere youth of 16, flying fancy free in my rickety red wagon—wheeeeee!” (Later I will tell you the other funny thing an old person said during “The Aviator.”) For an extended cameo performance to have that sort of an impact on an entire generation like that, now that’s some acting. But Natalie Portman will win because she played a stripper.

Jeremy: I would have been pleasantly surprised if the academy had nominated the debut performance of Eva Green for capturing the energy and excitement of youth in Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers.” But Brent’s Portman prediction notwithstanding (although the surprise factor will probably prove him correct), this is really a race between Cate Blanchett and Virginia Madsen. And this isn’t an easy one to pick or predict. Blanchett has been giving fine performances for many years, and has received squat from Oscar. Madsen has also been working hard for several years, and found the perfect role as the emotional core of Alexander Payne’s “Sideways.”

I was worried that Blanchett’s portrayal of Katharine Hepburn would simply be a pale imitation of the great Kate, but this Cate again proved her acting chops as she brought real emotion and conflict to the portrayal of a legend. The academy knows this and wants to reward Blanchett’s career, but they also want to recognize Madsen. I’m going to guess without much confidence that Blanchett will win with the help of her reputation, but I won’t be surprised or upset if it goes the other way.

Chris: Yes, despite Portman’s Golden Globe win, the Oscar is down to Blanchett and Madsen. Just like the supporting actor category, my heart is with one, and my head is with the other. My heart says Blanchett, who might be the best actress working today, and deserves to finally get recognized after consistently being overlooked. She’ll probably get it, but my head says the Oscar should go to Madsen. Either way, I’ll be satisfied. Oh, and for the record, Naomi Watts wasn’t shafted last year—she received a Best Actress nomination for "21 Grams."

Brent: Oh, well for the record, I never watch the Oscars, so how in the hell would I know that?

 Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

The nominees are…
“Before Sunset” - Richard Linklater, Kim Krizan, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
“Finding Neverland” - David Magee
“Million Dollar Baby” - Paul Haggis
“Diarios de motocicleta” - Jose Rivera
“Sideways” - Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor

Hold on a minute. Are all sequels considered adapted screenplays? I guess “Before Sunset is based on material previously produced or published, but only the previous movie, “Before Sunrise.” Anyway, this intro should include a little something about how it’s a challenge to properly translate stuff from another source to the screen (unless you didn’t, like “Before Sunset”).

And the Winner is…

Chris: Sure, it’s one of those silly little academy rules, but in this case I’d say that’s a good thing for "Before Sunset," since I doubt it would have been nominated in the Original Screenplay category. That said, it doesn’t really stand a chance, as good as it was. The winner should and will be Payne and Taylor for "Sideways." If it wasn’t set in stone before the Writers Guild of America awards, the WGA win pretty much sealed it. It’s rare that a screenplay can blend laugh-out-loud comedy with true human emotion without coming across as phony (see “The Life Aquatic”). But "Sideways" pulls it off as well as any movie of the past decade.

I was surprised to see Patrick Marber’s "Closer" script get overlooked, and I would have liked to see it nominated over the solid, but insanely overrated "The Motorcycle Diaries," with its tedious dialogue and delusions of grandeur.

Brent: Hey, I liked “The Motorcycle Diaries,” although its script wasn’t necessarily Oscar-worthy.

Anyway, it's also rare that a screenplay can blend “laugh-out loud funny" with "no giant penis in your face." For that reason and many others, "The Life Aquatic" is a true cinematic gem. As to the task at hand, "Sideways" is the clear and deserving winner, giant penis in your face notwithstanding, although it's really no better of a movie than "Election" or "About Schmidt," each of which deserve at least one-third of the praise that Mssrs. Payne and Taylor are getting all of the sudden.

Jeremy: I have heard some crazy predictors like Roger Ebert say that “Million Dollar Baby” will win, but these people are nuts. Academy voters know full well that “Sideways” isn’t going to win any of its other nominations except possibly Best Supporting Actress, and they will definitely want to honor the humor and insight loaded in this screenplay—although to be honest, it might not have worked without Payne’s assured comedic direction.

I’d just barely prefer to see the award go to a script that required even more precise direction, the almost real-time conversation that Richard Linklater and his cast wrote for “Before Sunset,” which surpasses the magic of “Before Sunrise” as its characters strive for connection a second time, nine years later. But “Sideways” is filled with so many great comic moments—especially the penis in your face—so that I’ll have a large smile when Payne and Taylor pick up their statuette.

Chris is correct about “The Motorcycle Diaries” being overrated , and I would have liked to see a number of films in its place, including Steven Kloves for “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” Apparently director Alfonso Cuaron freed Kloves (“Wonder Boys”) from simply copying the book verbatim, and he put together a much more cinematic piece than he did for the series’ two previous films.

 Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

The nominees are…
“The Aviator” - John Logan
“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” - Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry, Pierre Bismuth
“Hotel Rwanda” - Terry George, Keir Pearson
“The Incredibles” - Brad Bird
“Vera Drake” - Mike Leigh

Not only do these talented writers know how to write in proper screenplay format, they also came up with their own stories!

And the Winner is…

Jeremy: I’ve been burned before for predicting that the Academy would award Charlie Kaufman since his work is so strikingly original, so I’m reluctant to make a prediction for his brilliant combination of romantic comedy and science fiction, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” whose story he conceived with Pierre Bismuth and director Michel Gondry. The screenplay is one of the best romantic comedies in years as it offers real insight into relationships and memories as Joel (Jim Carrey) finds out his ex-girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) has erased him from her mind, and choses to retaliate. But will Kaufman’s keen observations and creativity pay off? Academy members will want to honor “The Aviator” and “Hotel Rwanda,” and “The Incredibles” might even have a shot. But I don’t want to miss the prediction when Kaufman finally does win, so I’ll guess him again, though “The Aviator” has a chance.

A nomination should have gone to Shane Carruth for “Primer,” the most naturalistic and realistic time-travel film ever made. As the film repeatedly folds over on itself, it might not make perfect sense after one viewing, but it demands that the audience think—oops, I just explained why it wasn’t nominated. And a nomination should have gone to Quentin Tarantino, whose inimitable dialogue was more prominent in “Kill Bill, Vol. 2” than in part one. But maybe that should have been in the adapted category, even though the whole thing was shot at the same time.

Chris: Now, Jeremy—academy members have to vote on all these scripts, you can’t possibly expect them to have to THINK about them, too! These people have no time for such silliness.

This category is as competitive as I’ve ever seen it. Not only are all five nominees very deserving, but there are at least five more that are deserving. I’m tempted to say they were "snubbed," but looking at the list of nominees, how could I? Yes, Carruth’s script for “Primer” was as intelligent and complex as anything that’s come along since…well, since Charlie Kaufman. He and Tarantino were both deserving, as were Joshua Marston for “Maria Full of Grace,” Jacob Aaron Estes for “Mean Creek,” Jerome Tonnere for "Intimate Strangers," and David Fucking Mamet for “Spartan.” I’ll say it again—David Mamet for "Spartan." Dammit, didn’t anyone see this movie?! Dammit!

A prediction, you say? Well, at first glance, I would have said Kaufman had a lock on it. Then again, I said that two years ago for "Adaptation." And look what happened. In the case of an "Aviator" sweep, John Logan’s script has to be considered a strong contender, and the academy also might want to reward "Vera Drake" here, since both director Mike Leigh and lead actress Imelda Staunton are longshots in their respective categories.

But I actually think there’s a significant chance for Brad Bird’s script for “The Incredibles” to win. If Kaufman is once again too good for the academy, and if they decide the technical achievements of "The Aviator" overshadow its script, then "The Incredibles" is the clear choice. As other critics have pointed out, if not for a Best Animated Film category, "The Incredibles" may have had a shot at a Best Picture nod. Everyone loves it—and for good reason. Why couldn’t it win Best Screenplay?

That said, I’ll predict Kaufman just because I want it to win. But I’m telling you, don’t be surprised if Bird takes home a pair this year.

Brent: Wait, I thought “Adaptation” won a whole bunch of Oscars. At least, I think that's what it says on my DVD copy. Maybe they were just nominations. I’m so confused. If Charlie Kaufman doesn’t win, I am going to cry for like a week.

 Best Achievement in Cinematography

The nominees are…
“The Aviator” - Robert Richardson
“Shi mian mai fu” - Xiaoding Zhao
“The Passion of the Christ” - Caleb Deschanel
“The Phantom of the Opera” - John Mathieson
“Un long dimanche de fiançailles” - Bruno Delbonnel

One of the least appreciated crafts after all the others beside director, cinematography translates light and movement to the screen. Picasso, Pollock, Michelangelo, Van Gogh...Hall, Toll, Richardson, Toland, Ballhaus, Deakins, Chapman, Willis, Kaminski. Yes, these people are artists. And yes, we know their names.

And the Winner is…

Brent: Wow, Zooey Deschanel’s dad shot “Passion.” That’s sort of fitting because she is a GODDESS. Are you reading Zooey? My wife says I’m allowed to cheat on her but only if it’s with you. E-mail me (please). I was just kidding about the cheating part. I’m not really propositioning you. We could just hang out and be friends. I like cool things. We don’t have to have sex. No pressure. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, well, so “Passion” should win, probably, I don’t know. I didn’t really catch a lot of the cinematography what with my eyes covered through most of the film. But that scene where they were eating bread, that was shot pretty tight. Most importantly though, “Passion” should win because Mel Gibson is our Lord and Savior.

Jeremy: I hate to break it to Zooey Deschanel fans, but Caleb Deschanel has been a respected cinematographer since long before anyone heard of his talented daughter. The Great…[Brent interrupts Jeremy]

Brent: Oh wait, I forgot to say who I think will win. Um, hmmm, let’s see, probably “The Aviator.”

Jeremy: Where was I before being so rudely interrupted? Oh, yes.

The great Robert Richardson, who also deserves a nod for “Kill Bill, Vol. 2,” seems destined to win this one, although Bruno Delbonnel just won the prize from the American Society of CInematographers. If I’m underestimating how many people have seen “A Very Long Engagement,” it could win for its overwhelming beauty and fancy helicopter shots, but Richardson has been working for years, is one of the best cinematographers around, and more voters have seen his film. “The Aviator” contains some of the most memorable images of the year, including the scenes in which Howard Hughes shuts himself inside his screening room and projects movies on himself while a red light blinks whenever a visitor attempts to enter. Richardson also used different techniques to replicate looks from the film’s era, highlighting his technical ability.

Interestingly, two of the films nominated in this category aren’t very good. Xiaoding Zhao might deserve the most credit for elevating “The House of Flying Daggers” in many minds to a beautiful and lush martial arts film from what it actually is—a trite, stilted and ridiculous piece of visual masturbation with a clumsy love triangle thrown in from nowhere in a ludicrous attempt to make it seem meaningful. This film was a huge disappointment from the great Chinese director Zang Yimou, and I can’t believe that anyone has fallen for it. Slightly less credit should go to John Mathieson, because he didn’t trick as many people into believing that “The Phantom of the Opera” was worth listening to. Then again, Hercules couldn’t have completed that task.

A few overlooked cinematographers come to mind: Fabio Cianchetti’s gorgeous depiction of the lives of isolated youths in their rich parents apartment in “The Dreamers,” Xavi Giménez for the nightmarish shadows and desaturated colors of “The Machinist,” Italo Petriccione for his depiction of lazy summer days in a small Italian town with a dark secret in “I’m Not Scared” and Lee Daniel, who captured the beauty of the less-shot streets of Paris in “Before Sunset.”

Chris: Well…um, Jeremy just took most of my answer…well, except that rant about “House of Flying Daggers.” That’s just crazy talk. Anyway, since Conrad Hall died two years ago, Robert Richardson can now be crowned the God of cinematography. Need proof? Look no further than his first Oscar win for "JFK." ‘Nuff said. His work on both "The Aviator" and "Kill Bill Vol. 2" was Oscar-worthy, and given all the attention "The Aviator" has received for its use of two-strip and three-strip Technicolor, he’ll probably take home his second Oscar. Speaking of God, however, my personal vote will go to Deschanel for “The Passion of the Christ.” The movie’s greatest strength was its visuals, and Deschanel deserves a lot of credit for that. His use of color in the opening scene in the Garden of Gesthemane alone is worth the price of admission. It would be nice to see "The Passion" get some sort of recognition given its undeserved controversy.

In place of the undeserving “The Phantom of the Opera,” nods could have been given to Tom Stern for his magnificent and understated use of light and shadow in "Million Dollar Baby"; Tim Orr, whose “Southern gothic” style was overlooked for the third time in “Undertow”— after Orr was snubbed for both “George Washington” and “All the Real Girls”—and, as Jeremy pointed out, Xavi Giminez’s beautiful, noirish photography in "The Machinist."

 Best Achievement in Editing

The nominees are…
“The Aviator” - Thelma Schoonmaker
“Collateral” - Jim Miller, Paul Rubell
“Finding Neverland” - Matt Chesse
“Million Dollar Baby” - Joel Cox
“Ray” - Paul Hirsch

Way to go academy, proving that the best picture nominees don’t automatically get nominated by switching out “Sideways” with “Collateral.” Clever. Perhaps TOO clever.

And the Winner is…

Chris: Thelma Schoonmaker, Martin Scorsese’s longtime editing partner, is a master at her craft and will likely take home a second Oscar this year, if for no other reason than "The Aviator" is a favorite to sweep most of the technical categories. There could be an upset from Joel Cox of "Million Dollar Baby," or perhaps even Jim Miller and Paul Rubell if the academy decides to reward the excellent "Collateral." I thought it rather ironic that Paul Hirsch was nominated for "Ray," considering the film wasn’t edited nearly as much as it should have been…but I digress.

Brent: Hello? Are you reading this section? Congratulations! You are a family member of one of the nominees! In all seriousness though, I know editing is more than just keeping a movie down to less than two and a half hours, but, um, it’s still a part of it!

Therefore, I officially decree that all really long movies be denied consideration. Goodbye, “Aviator!” Smell ya later “Ray.” That’s pushin’ it “Million Dollar Baby.” I would hope this award would go to “Finding Neverland,” which has the shortest runtime of all these movies at 106 minutes. But inevitably, this award will go to whoever wins Best Picture, so probably “The Aviator,” because all Academy voters are backwards hillbillies.

P.S. I apologize to all family members of the nominees who I may have offended in this last paragraph.

Jeremy: Editing isn’t as much about length as it is about timing of individual scenes, overall pacing, shot selection and structure. To hold all films to a length-specific standard is foolish because different stories require different lengths to be properly told.

Chris is right about Schoonmaker, who won for “Raging Bull” even when the academy snubbed Scorsese in the hopes of bedding Robert Redford. While “The Aviator” runs three hours, it’s a swift and energetic three hours. Having just seen “Constantine,” which is under two hours, I declare that it feels longer than “The Aviator.” If the award went to the shortest film, Shane Carruth might have won for “Primer.” That actually would have been a very cool move on the academy’s part, so it wasn’t really a good way to demonstrate how ridiculous Brent’s comments are. But anyway, Schoonmaker deserves to win and probably will win.

Chris’s comments regarding “Ray” reminded me of a comment that RED’s Craig Froehlich whispered to me during the movie: “I wish he died a lot sooner.” I tried to verify the wording of this statement with Froehlich, who responded, “It got ultra sappy…he should've died 20 minutes sooner. He should have died after he quit doing dope. He should've died before the Reagan administration. Or was it…as the movie dragged on…’I'm starting to wish he died in 1973 so we can go home.’ I really had to go to the bathroom. Ray's golden years couldn't change that fact.”

Brent: Ah yes, “The Aviator” was an “energetic” three hours. But did it really need every single last scene in there? Did it really need a completely gratuitous cameo by Errol Flynn, just so Jude Law could be in another movie this year? Long movies are long because directors are too in love with themselves and their material to give up anything. In the case of “Ray,” this is an obvious weakness. In the case of “The Aviator,” since Scorsese is such a good director, it is less apparent. But I guarantee that he could have cut out at least half an hour of material and only made the movie better. So Howard Hughes’s life is a lot to fit into one movie. Big deal. Christopher Guest cut 60 hours of footage for “Waiting for Guffman” into an 84 minute movie. I know that there is so much more to editing than just the length of the movie, but that is still a part of it! Just about every double album would be better as a single album. And just about every 3+ hour movie would be better with at least a half hour cut off.

Jeremy: Do you want to be the one who tells Jude Law that he only gets to be in 299 movies in 2004? I don’t. Besides, that scene didn’t exist for Jude Law, it was there to develop the relationship between Hughes and Katharine Hepburn. And it also showed the atmosphere of the Cocoanut Grove, so it was fitting to use a celebrity to play a celebrity. I’ve seen the film three times and while it’s not quite perfect, I’d be hard pressed to find 30 minutes to cut out. The great producer Robert Evans, in a move no producer would likely make today, once told Francis Ford Coppola to add footage into “The Godfather” because the cut he turned in was too short for the story’s scope. “Waiting For Guffman” was shot in the documentary style, which requires a very low percentage of actual footage be used.

After many publicity screenings, however, I can understand that the misfortune of seeing the film with a bunch of old people might make it seem much longer.

And with that, we’ve written a tremendous amount for a category that no one is going to read about. Now that’s editing!

 Best Achievement in Art Direction

The nominees are…
“The Aviator” - Dante Ferretti, Francesca LoSchiavo
“Finding Neverland” - Gemma Jackson, Trisha Edwards
“Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events” - Rick Heinrichs, Cheryl Carasik
“The Phantom of the Opera” - Anthony Pratt, Celia Bobak
“A Very Long Engagement” (“Un long dimanche de fiançailles”) - Aline Bonetto

It’s time to honor the people who build our sets, place our props and create the environment in which the film takes place. Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of them though, no one cares about this key aspect of filmmaking. But it gives production designers a sense of nobility.

And the winner is…

Jeremy: I’m glad that “A Series of Unfortunate Events” received a nomination since Rick Heinrichs and Cheryl Carasik’s combination of old and new technology (see the old-fashioned car phones) offers a refreshing change of pace from the usual slew of standard period recreations. But I guess it is sort of a period piece, which gave the academy the justification to nominate it. However, Oscar again snubbed Alex McDowell for his detailed recreation of an airport in “The Terminal,” but I can’t say that I’m surprised since his amazing accomplishment with “Minority Report” was also overlooked.

Some appreciation should go to “The Phantom of the Opera” team for making the music, lyrics and dialogue on the audio track only mildly unbearable, but the two best were clearly “Lemony Snicket” and “The Aviator,” with its combination of flashy locations and hints into its character’s dark psychosis. “The Aviator” is obviously going to win, since the academy likes the flashy stuff, like the recreation of the Cocoanut Grove club, and every single set in this epic is detailed with art nouveau decor and a slew of character-specific props.

Chris: Jeremy and I are in total agreement. As I said before, "The Aviator" may sweep the technical categories, and there’s really no reason to argue this one. If anything, the Oscar this year should make up for two years ago, when the academy robbed Dante Ferretti for his phenomenal work on “Gangs of New York” in favor of the run-of-the-mill sets of “Chicago.” But you don’t want to get me started on that Oscar year…I mean seriously, “Chicago” for Best Picture? But I digress.

[Jeremy takes advantage of Chris’s digression for one last comment: Bland “Chicago” shouldn’t even have been nominated over, as I already mentioned, Alex McDowell for “Minority Report!”]

Brent: Hey, you two, get a room. Actually, I’m going to break with consensus and predict a win for “Phantom.” For starters, Andrew Lloyd Webber IS the devil incarnate, so you know he’s got connections somewhere. Plus it’s a well-documented fact that all Academy voters are just a bunch of devil worshippers. If you ask me, it’s a lock. Unless of course God decides to intervene. In which case, “The Aviator” will win. Because that was God’s favorite movie this year.

 Best Achievement in Costume Design

The nominees are…
“The Aviator” - Sandy Powell
“Finding Neverland” - Alexandra Byrne
“Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events” - Colleen Atwood
“Ray” - Sharen Davis
“Troy” - Bob Ringwood

Ah, costumes—they bring people from turn-of-the-century English playwrights to R&B and rock pioneers to Greek heroes to tragedy-stricken English children in an ambiguous time period to aviation and film pioneers with glamorous friends…clothes. They bring them clothes.

And the winner is…

Brent: I’m going to say “Lemony Snicket” should win, because it’s the only movie where people are actually wearing costumes. In all the other movies, they are just wearing clothes. Yawn. I wear clothes all the time and I don’t get an award for it. You should see how I’m dressed today, too. I look pretty snazzy if I do say so myself. [Note: Brent’s wife dresses him.] But obviously, the award will go to one of the Best Picture nominees, probably the one that wins Best Picture, so I’m going to say “The Aviator.”

Jeremy: “The Aviator” will win again, see my comments in art direction for the reasoning. “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is certainly the most show-offy use of costumes, so that should also appeal to academy voters, but they liked “The Aviator” more, and there were actually more costumes in it since it’s so large-scale (Janean’s favorite, pictured in my review, can barely be seen in its scene because there are so many) and the academy loves quantity. Also, women were talking about how much they wanted one of Katharine Hepburn’s shirts after the movie.

Chris: Oh, how adorable! The academy felt so sorry for everyone involved in "Troy," they awarded it one little nomination to make them feel better about themselves. Yeah, I guess the costumes were nice, if you’re really, really into bronze. Anyway, I agree with Brent and Jeremy—“The Aviator” takes it.

 Best Achievement in Makeup

And the nominees are…
“Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events” - Valli O'Reilly, Bill Corso
“The Passion of the Christ” - Keith VanderLaan, Christien Tinsley
“Mar adentro” - Jo Allen, Manolo García

Two-thirds of these nominees suggest that to have great make-up, your movie needs to be about assisted suicide. The other third suggests that being based on a quirky children’s book helps too.

And the winner is…

Chris: Wait a second, they were using makeup during Jesus’s scourging and crucifixion? You mean that wasn’t really blood?! This is an outrage! I thought this movie was supposed to be realistic…and now I find out it was all just an illusion.

Anyway, I can’t see "The Sea Inside" taking this category no matter how old they made Javier Bardem look. If I had to pick, I’d say "The Passion" wins this one, but then again, the academy might shy away from awarding Mel Gibson’s epic altogether, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Valli O’Reilly and Bill Corso win for "Lemony Snicket."

Brent: Wait, Jesus committed suicide? You just blew my mind, anonymous blurb. Anyway, this category is called “best achievement,” is it not? And I know of no better achievement in the history of the world than the salvation of mankind. I mean, come on, it’s about time Christ got his due. Didn’t he like, CREATE makeup? I don’t know though. “Lemony Snicket” was pretty cool looking. Yeah, change my vote to that.

Anonymous blurb: Jesus willfully went to the cross to die for our sins, no?

Jeremy: So, Brent predicted the Lemony Snicket movie, right? I’m thinking it’ll go to Jesus, unless the academy doesn’t want to touch the unjustly controversial film. (I was going to make fun of the right-wing talk radio guys that talk about the Jews in Hollywood, but am worried it would be taken out of context and I’d never work in this town again.) I loved the work in “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” which I think was ultimately more varied, but “The Passion” must have been a hell of a lot of work to look as authentic as it does, and I don’t think the voters will forget that.

Jew: You’ll never work in this town again, Jeremy.

 Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

The nominees are…
“Finding Neverland” - Jan A.P. Kaczmarek
“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” - John Williams
“Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events” - Thomas Newman
“The Passion of the Christ” - John Debney
“The Village” - James Newton Howard

Music is key to underscoring the emotional undercurrents of a film. Or banging you over the head with how you’re supposed to feel. Or providing an ironic juxtaposition to the events on screen. Wow, musical scores sure are special!

And the winner is…

Jeremy: A look into an Oscar voter’s head: “Hmmm, I liked that movie, don’t remember the music. Oh, John Williams, I know him! But I’ve voted for him before…19 times. Thomas Newman, that sounds familiar. Oh, that Jesus movie. I’ve heard of James Newton Howard, too! Oh, but I do like that John Williams, and those Potter movies are just great.” And to be honest, I enjoyed Williams’s work this year too.

Chris: "The Village" was just a flat-out piece of crap. I saw it the first day it opened, and I walked out of the theater angry. People who defend the movie are stupid (no offense). The day after I saw it, however, I bought the soundtrack because I couldn’t get it out of my head. I’ve listened to it constantly ever since. In fact, I’m listening to it right now. In fact, during the five Original Song performances of the Oscar telecast, I will put the TV on mute and play Track 2 of “The Village” soundtrack. For all the film’s faults (like, you know, everything else), the music was some of the most beautiful I’ve heard all year. James Newton Howard has been a fine composer for a long time, but I think he outdid himself with this one, perhaps sensing that he would need a superhuman effort to salvage anything from this movie. Special mention must go to Hilary Hahn, whose violin work was simply breathtaking throughout the film.

This is Newton’s sixth nomination overall, and the Oscar should be his. But unfortunately, due to the film’s deservedly poor reputation, a win here is a long shot. Sure, John Williams was typically great, but he’s been nominated over 600 times (or something like that) and has won 92 of those times. He doesn’t have any room left on his shelf. Thomas Newman is one of my favorite composers and I wouldn’t mind seeing him win, either.

Brent: Sorry, I can’t really comment on this category. I only listen to rap music.

 Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

The nominees are…
“Les Choristes” - Bruno Coulais, Christophe Barratier ("Look To Your Path (Vois Sur Ton Chemin)")
“Diarios de motocicleta” - Jorge Drexler ("Al Otro Lado Del Río")
“The Phantom of the Opera” - Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart ("Learn To Be Lonely")
“The Polar Express” - Glen Ballard, Alan Silvestri ("Believe")
“Shrek 2” - David Bryson, Adam Duritz, David Immerglück, Matthew Malley, Dan Vickrey, Charles Gillingham, Jim Bogios ("Accidentally In Love")

The Best Original Song category is always a great opportunity for the Academy to…wait, what the, what's going on?

BEYONCE: Hi, everybody! It's me, Beyonce! I love you! Thanks for buying my records! Take it away, Jay-Z!

JAY-Z: Huh, huh, huh, huh. (those are grunts). Yo, I’m retired.

RED: Dammit, I told all my friends to read my intro for the Best Original Song section. This was supposed to be my big chance!

And the winner is…

Brent: I refuse to comment on this category on the grounds that the Counting Crows can write a song this bad AND make a video out of it where they are animated like Shrek and THEY STILL GET NOMINATED FOR AN ACADEMY AWARD.

Jeremy: If you can hum the melody to any of these songs, you deserve an Oscar.

Jesus, I’m supposed to pick one of these that I really liked? Uh, “Al Otro Lado Del Rio” from “The Motorcycle Diaries” isn’t as trite as the tune from “The Chorus,” so I’ll go with that. The voters will probably give it to Webber because they recognize his name, but that will be a shame.

I can’t figure out why Grayson Capps wasn’t nominated for one of his tunes from “A Love Song for Bobby Long.” I’d never heard of him before seeing the film, but his songs are integral to the New Orleans melodrama and, with their traditional feel, make the back story richer and more believable.

Chris: Aside from the fact that "The Polar Express" had NO STORY WHATSOEVER, the thing that angered me most about the film was that they threw in two or three random (not to mention dreadful) musical numbers, just so they could secure an Oscar nomination. What a cheap trick. And as I alluded to before, the song wasn’t even good. It sounded like a cheap knockoff of every other inspirational children’s song from Disney films past…like “Somewhere Out There” from “An American Tail,” only really trite, boring, and obnoxious. That about sums it up. On the bright side, at least the academy didn’t nominate that terrifying and pointless musical number about hot chocolate…man, that was creepy.

"The Phantom of the Opera" pulled the same trick as "The Polar Express," taking an adapted musical and adding an original song to play over the closing credits just to get an Oscar nod. Wankers. Anyway, the most interesting thing about that is the mini-controversy surrounding the live performance at the Oscars, as Beyonce Knowles will sing it rather than Minnie Driver, who sang it in the film. Apparently, Ms. Driver is “inconsolable.” But given her freakishly obnoxious performance in the film, I can’t really feel sorry for her.

But wait…I’m supposed to pick a winner, right? It could go to "Learn to Be Lonely," but I’ll say "Accidentally in Love" takes it, leading to many gnashings of teeth on the part of Brent Sallay. The song got a lot of radio airplay, it’s more recognizable than any of the others, and the film itself was much better received than “The Phantom of the Opera” or “The Polar Express.”

One more comment: One nominee I would have liked to see is “A Waltz for a Night,” the wonderful little song written and performed by Julie Delpy in the bittersweet closing scene of “Before Sunset.” It’s certainly better than any of the actual nominees.

Jeremy: Damn. I can’t believe I forgot “A Waltz for a Night.” I’ll have to say that it goes without saying that it should have been nominated, duh Chris.

 Best Achievement in Visual Effects

The nominees are…
“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” - Tim Burke, Roger Guyett, Bill George, John Richardson
“I, Robot” - John Nelson, Andy Jones, Erik Nash, Joe Letteri
“Spider-Man 2” - John Dykstra, Scott Stokdyk, Anthony LaMolinara, John Frazier

Without the bold pioneers in modern visual effects, actors might have to actually show up on set. And that may just be too much to ask.

And the winner is…

Chris: The best part of the otherwise shallow and unoriginal "I, Robot" was its visual effects. The robots were digitally produced, but they looked good, and the filmmakers did a nice job melding them into the rest of the film. Even more impressive was that Will Smith was actually digitally extracted from movies such as "Independence Day," "Wild Wild West," "Men in Black" and "Bad Boys" and digitally inserted into "I, Robot." Smith never even had to show up. That’s a little-known fact.

But anyway, despite the fine special effects in both "I, Robot" and "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," the clear-cut favorite is "Spider-Man 2." And it will be a well-deserved Oscar—the CGI is so seamless, and improves SO much upon the first "Spider-Man," it makes you wonder if the filmmakers were just being lazy the first time around, or if digital effects really improved that much in just two years’ time.

Brent: Okay, was I the only person in the contiguous 48 states that HATED “Spider-Man 2?” Perhaps. But it’s the only one of these movies I saw, so hell yes, I’ll vote for it.

Jeremy: Dude, in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” a tree shakes the snow off itself in the winter time, and it hits the camera lens. Sure, it’s no robot explosion, but it shows a bit of creativity on the part of the film’s effects team and director Alfonso Cuaron. Of course, snow that could only be from a nonexistent CG tree hitting a physical reflector of light onto film has a bit more subtlety than what appeals to the academy, which once gave this award to “Gladiator’s” utterly atrocious videogame backgrounds.

The winner will probably be “Spider-Man 2,” which does indeed look much better than its predecessor. (And yes, Brent, while I didn’t like it as much as some did, you are indeed the only person who didn’t like it. It’s “House of Flying Daggers” that’s overrated, I tell ya!) However, “Harry Potter” was the only film of the three nominees that never distracted me with flawed moments in the character animation.

 Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

The nominees are…
“The Incredibles” - Brad Bird
“Shark Tale” - Bill Damaschke
“Shrek 2” - Andrew Adamson

Nothing defines the illusion of movement that is film better than the actual illusion of movement that never happened—animation. The movement of “The Polar Express” did sort of happen in a motion capture thingy, so it wasn’t nominated.

And the winner is…

Jeremy: This one is a no-brainer. The best animated film of the year is “The Incredibles,” and it will win. While the Pixar brand is already a mark of quality for 3-D computer animation, writer/director Brad Bird—whose “The Iron Giant” (as I’ve said before) is one of the best animated films of the past decade—brought his own distinctive style to this story of superheroes pretending to be ordinary.

“Shrek 2” was a very fun sequel that captured the fractured fairy tale spirit of the original and added a cheeky performance by Antonio Banderas, but there’s no reason that a franchise that already won this award should beat “The Incredibles.” Also, the conservative activists are taking some time off of pretending that “Million Dollar Baby” is an advertisement for immorality to accuse “Shrek 2” of turning our children into gay sissy cross dressers. Even the academy doesn’t want to do that to the youth of the greatest country in the world. The bland and obnoxious “Shark Tale” didn’t deserve a nomination, despite its stellar voice cast and occasional cool visuals. While both films were flawed, I would rather have seen nominations for the enjoyable traditional Disney musical “Home on the Range” or “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence,” than “Shark Tale”—even though I’m not entirely sure what the hell went on in “Innocence.”

Chris: As was the case last year, there aren’t enough worthy candidates for this category, as only two animated features really stood out this year (although I haven’t seen "Sky Blue," which was also eligible). Most of us will agree that "Shark Tale" didn’t deserve a nod, but the only real competition for the third slot would have been "The Polar Express," and I might have had to do something drastic had that received a nomination. "Shark Tale" is sadly unoriginal and about 20 years behind its time, but at least its leading characters aren’t creepy, dead-eyed, animatronic zombie freaks, not to mention the pedophile elves and the disturbing cameo from Steven Tyler. And at least "Shark Tale" had some semblance of a storyline. Robert Zemeckis’s disaster can’t say the same.

Anyway, "The Incredibles" was an enormously entertaining and intelligent film that you can’t help but enjoy, and neither of the other films even stands a chance.

Brent: I agree. “The Incredibles” was the only animated/family film this year that was worth three shits.

Jeremy: I’d give it four shits!

 Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

The nominees are…
“Les Choristes,” - Christophe Barratier (France)
“Der Untergang” - Oliver Hirschbiegel (Germany)
“Mar adentro” - Alejandro Amenábar (Spain)
“Så som i himmelen” - Kay Pollak (Sweden)
“Yesterday” - Darrell Roodt (South Africa)

¡Hola, nuestra audiencia internacional! Ojalá este artículo les caiga bien, como aserradura encima de un caballo mojada.

Y el ganador es…

Brent: Yeah, I didn’t see any of these. The best foreign language film I saw this year was “Maria Full of Grace,” which was American-produced and didn’t qualify. I also liked “The Motorcycle Diaries” and “A Very Long Engagement.” But I have heard of Alejandro Amenábar. (He did “Abre los Ojos,” which was turned into “Vanilla Sky,” as well as “The Others.”) So let’s say he should win. And I think RED’s Web designer Janean liked “Les Choristes.” So let’s say that will win. Wow. That was a lot easier than sitting through ten hours of foreign language films.

Jeremy: The easy frontrunner for this award is “The Sea Inside” from Spain, the moving (no ironic pun intended) true story of a quadriplegic who wants to kill himself and fights the government for the right to assisted suicide, although his friends and family, while sometimes supportive, would prefer him to stay alive. Javier Bardem grounds the film with a strong performance while director Alejandro Amenábar’s poetic visuals help communicate the emotions of both positions on the issue.

But this category always has the potential for surprise because the foreign film voters actually have to watch all the nominees. “The Chorus” is an ordinary teacher-shakes-things-up-and-changes-students’-lives tale—well made but standard, although it could touch some hearts. “The Downfall” is probably too dark to win, although the Academy loves a good Holocaust-related movie. “As it is in Heaven” from Sweden is supposed to be a real crowd pleaser, so that’s “The Sea Inside’s” big competition.

While I haven’t seen some of these, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Nobody Knows” from Japan and the great Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene’s “Moolaadé” were superior to those that I have seen and should have been recognized.

Chris: Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any of these yet, though I am greatly looking forward to "Der Untergang," which has gotten a lot of good buzz. "The Sea Inside" will be released in Salt Lake at the end of the week, so at least I’ll have seen one of the nominees before Oscar night. And, just based on the Golden Globe win and Javier Bardem’s acclaimed performance (no surprise, he’s always good), I’ll just go ahead and predict that “The Sea Inside” will win the Oscar as well. After all, everyone loves a good assisted-suicide yarn.

 Best Documentary, Features

The nominees are…
“Born Into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids” - Zana Briski, Ross Kauffman
“Die Geschichte vom weinenden Kamel, Die” - Luigi Falorni, Byambasuren Davaa
“Super Size Me” - Morgan Spurlock
“Tupac: Resurrection” - Karolyn Ali, Lauren Lazin
“Twist of Faith” - Eddie Schmidt, Kirby Dick

This category might be unpredictable as usual, but we can say with reasonable certainty that, whoever wins, the Dixie Chicks and the Pope will not make it into the acceptance speech. Hey, you know what would be funny? If when the documentary winner is announced, Michael Moore just runs up on stage and tries to take the statuette from a terrified Penelope Cruz. Good times. If you’re wondering, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” the highest grossing documentary of all time, is not in the running because director Michael Moore wanted to show it on TV to help defeat Bush (let’s not talk about how that went), and there’s some no-TV rule.

Due to some nonsensical time qualifying window, this category has films from 2003 (“Tupac: Resurrection”) and 2005 (“Twist of Faith”), as well as Mongolia’s foreign film submission from 2003, “The Story of the Weeping Camel.”

And the winner for most confusing rules in a category is…Best Documentary!

And the winner is…

Chris: I’ve seen three of the five, as "Born into Brothels" hasn’t opened in Salt Lake yet, and “Twist of Faith”…well, that one showed at Sundance, and I don’t know why it’s eligible. This category has stupid rules.

Anyway, last year was the first year, like, EVER, in which the best documentary of the year was actually nominated and—better yet—won! That was Errol Morris’s "The Fog of War."

This year, all three of the nominees I’ve seen are good films, but—without much knowledge of the academy’s opinion of "Born into Brothels"—I’d say the award will go to "Super Size Me.” (Is it just me, or does a double quarter-pounder with cheese sound REALLY DAMN GOOD right now?) Morgan Spurlock’s fast-food doc was thought-provoking and entertaining, and avoided being too self-indulgent. It was also commercially successful and much more widely seen than any of the other nominees.

But while I liked "Super Size Me" and "The Story of the Weeping Camel," my favorite of the nominees is "Tupac: Resurrection," a retrospective of the life and death of Tupac Shakur. The film is extremely well-paced by director Lauren Lazin, cramming an impressive amount of information and footage into an hour and 45-minute running time. Not to mention that the film is endlessly fascinating. Of course, I’m probably only saying that ‘cause I’m a Thug 4 Life. Word.

Brent: Well, “Super Size Me” made me physically and mentally ill. (Can you tell?) Also, when my boss at McDonald's found out I’d seen it, he didn’t hesitate to fire me, forcing me to resort to writing for RED Magazine. So as you can see, “Super Size Me” pretty much ruined my life. But all this speculation is pointless really. When it comes down to it, these little podunk awards are basically just meant to pad the resumé of the Best Picture winner, so once again I’m going to say this is a lock for “The Aviator.”

Jeremy: Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me” made me both laugh and feel incredibly sick (even sicker than Brent, as I already had stomach problems that day) as Spurlock spent a month eating nothing but McDonald’s food and used it as a jumping-off point for an examination of the quality of fast food and corporate responsibility. And “Tupac: Resurrection” was very well put together in its effort to sum up the rapper’s conflicted life. But the award is going to go to “Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids.” Having seen it in a packed theater, I know the emotional experience that the audience goes through during the piece. Directors Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman followed children of prostitutes, whom society has basically fated to become prostitutes as well, after a woman travels to Calcutta and gives them small cameras as a creative outlet for an educational activity. The film focuses on the children—rather than how great the woman is who brought them cameras—and the struggle they face simply to get a decent education. The film is honest and heartbreaking, and despite the solid form of the other films, this is the one that will get to the voters.

As long as the academy recognized “The Story of Weeping Camel,” which has fascinating footage of a nomadic Mongolian family’s traditional way of life yet also includes scripted material of the family, they should have recognized another work that featured acting, “Touching the Void.” Kevin Macdonald’s horrifying recreation of a 1985 mountain climbing disaster in the Peruvian Andes uses interviews with the event’s three participants as its base, but consists mainly of reenactments that communicate the harrowing near-death experience.

 Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

The nominees are…
Annette Bening for “Being Julia”
Catalina Sandino Moreno for “Maria Full of Grace”
Imelda Staunton for “Vera Drake”
Hilary Swank for “Million Dollar Baby”
Kate Winslet for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”

We welcome the academy’s decision to nominate some actresses that not as many people have heard of.

And the winner is…

Jeremy: While I’m predicting her win and she’s surrounded by hype, I’m not sure that Hilary Swank is a 100 percent lock for Best Actress. She hasn’t really caught anyone’s attention with her performances in between winning the Oscar for “Boys Don’t Cry” and her powerful work in “Million Dollar Baby.” Meanwhile, other actresses execute tons of fine performances and never get a damn Oscar. But the fact of the matter is that it’s a hell of a performance, and the best-known actress in the competition, Annette Bening (who Swank beat in 1999), wasn’t in a very noteworthy film.

The best performance came from Imelda Staunton for her portrayal of a sweet, older woman who keeps her family and neighborhood together, but holds a dark secret and a hidden past in “Vera Drake.” Staunton is heartbreaking as she communicates her character’s innocence and fear as police discover that she’s been performing illegal abortions because she wants to, in her words, help girls out.

I must also recognize the academy for its wise nominations of Catalina Sandino Moreno’s brave and tender transformation into a Colombian drug mule in “Maria Full of Grace” and Kate Winslet’s multilayered combination of her flesh and blood character and memories of her character in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”

Chris: I’m right with Jeremy on this one. While Hilary Swank did indeed give a great performance in "Million Dollar Baby," Imelda Staunton was absolutely unforgettable. This is one of those performances that is so honest and so natural, you completely forget you’re watching an actor. Playing a selfless illegal abortionist, you can’t help but feel for her and care for her. When the police finally catch on to her, Staunton absolutely broke my heart and very nearly moved me to tears—and this is coming from someone on the pro-life side of the abortion debate.

While I think Swank will win, and while I think Staunton should win, a large part of me is hoping against all logic that Catalina Sandino Moreno will pull off an upset. Now, I’m perfectly aware that this will not happen. But Moreno’s performance blew me away almost as much as Staunton’s did—her combination of inner strength and naiveté was a difficult balancing act, but she pulled it off perfectly. If for no other reason, I’d love to see her win because her nomination was the only recognition that the academy gave “Maria Full of Grace,” and that’s a shame in and of itself.

Bening was solid as usual in "Being Julia," but I thought a more deserving nominee would have been Uma Thurman for "Kill Bill Vol. 2." In both halves of Quentin Tarantino’s epic, Thurman brought complexity and humanity in a role where you wouldn’t normally expect it. In a film that, at its core, was just plain silliness, Thurman created a real, human character. Think of her as the assassin next door. But, not surprisingly, "Kill Bill" was completely shut out at the Oscars two years in a row.

Brent: Well, it won’t go to Imelda Staunton, because Adrien Brody will not want to kiss her. Ditto for Hillary Swank, who is marginally attractive, but may or may not be a man. I’d say any of the other three are up for grabs, and would be glad to see it go to Kate Winslet, who essentially redeemed herself this year for ever having been in “Titanic.” But Catalina Moreno would certainly be the most Adrien Brody-esque pick. My (drug) money’s on her.

 Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

The nominees are…
Don Cheadle for “Hotel Rwanda”
Johnny Depp for “Finding Neverland”
Leonardo DiCaprio for “The Aviator”
Clint Eastwood for “Million Dollar Baby”
Jamie Foxx for “Ray”

This year is being touted as another year for diversity, with more nonwhite nominees than the films from 2001, which was a diverse year because black people won the two top acting awards. Yee haw.

And the winner is…

Brent: Throughout history, the Best Actor category has gone to a deserving actor for a non-deserving film, as condolence for ignoring their past work. This year should be no different. Though Johnny Depp’s “acting” in “Finding Neverland” was pretty much limited to speaking in an Irish accent and making children cry, he is way past due for his landmark work in such films as “Ed Wood,” “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” and “Sleepy Hollow.” But unfortunately, the Academy will break tradition this year and give it to Jamie Foxx, mainly so that Chris Rock will not blow up America.

Jeremy: While I was always reluctant to join those who insulted Leonardo DiCaprio’s acting chops simply because he had the misfortune of starring in “Titanic,” his portrayal of Howard Hughes in Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator” was simply amazing. DiCaprio captures the sheer audacity of Hughes as he takes on everything from airline monopolies to film censor boards, yet holds a deep, overblown fear of disease and unsanitary practices. DiCaprio shows his character in decline as he gradually becomes less and less capable of hiding his problems.

The big snub this year was to Paul Giamatti, who has joined the ranks of the snubbed equivalent of Tom Hanks and Spencer Tracy after not receiving a nomination for “American Splendor” last year and “Sideways” this year. “Sideways” received a total of five nominations, but Giamatti still gets no respect. I guess he should stop being so damn subtle.

Chris: First of all, it wasn’t an Irish accent. J.M. Barrie was a Scottish bloke, not an Irishman! (And why do I all of a sudden have the urge to talk like a pirate? Aaarrr!)

Anyway…The morning the Oscar nominations were announced, my weary heart grew heavy as Paul Giamatti was snubbed for what in my mind was the best male performance of the year. I know, maybe it doesn’t matter since it’s a foregone conclusion that Jamie Foxx is going to win. But Giamatti getting the proverbial shaft—just a year after getting overlooked for “American Splendor”—is just absurd. Christian Bale was also deserving for his lead role in "The Machinist," and may have gotten more attention if he had a bigger studio spending money to promote him. Sean Penn also deserved a look for "The Assassination of Richard Nixon," but nobody saw that movie, so there you go.

Foxx did give an excellent performance as Ray Charles, but these types of performances are always overhyped. Look back over the past 20 or 30 years, and just about everyone who played a famous personality—in both television and film—gets nominated for a Golden Globe, or an Oscar, or both. Kind of like how people always get nominated for playing handicapped people—it’s automatic awards show fodder. Like I said, Foxx was excellent, but I felt more of a connection and much more emotional resonance from Giamatti in “Sideways” and Don Cheadle in “Hotel Rwanda,” as well as DiCaprio in “The Aviator.” Jeremy’s right—DiCaprio is an underrated actor and gave a landmark performance, creating a character mostly from scratch. If not for Foxx, he’d probably be the favorite in this category.

 Best Achievement in Directing

The nominees are…
Clint Eastwood for “Million Dollar Baby”
Taylor Hackford for “Ray”
Mike Leigh for “Vera Drake”
Alexander Payne for “Sideways”
Martin Scorsese for “The Aviator”

Oh no! An actor-turned-director! Run, Marty, run!

And the winner is…

Chris: Here we go again. Another great piece of directing from Martin Scorsese, and another actor-turned-director who’s about to nab the Oscar from him. Scorsese should probably be a three-time Oscar winner by now, but somehow he keeps going home empty-handed. Robert Redford beat him in 1980. Kevin Costner beat him in 1990. Think about that for a second, let it simmer, and then join me in my incredulity. Well, it’s about to happen again, damn those academy bastards. At least this year, Clint Eastwood’s "Million Dollar Baby" is as good a film as "The Aviator." The same couldn’t be said for "Ordinary People" or "Dances With Wolves." But dammit, Eastwood already has an Oscar. Dammit! Certainly, Scorsese has a good chance to finally win it this year, but I have a feeling they’ll give it to Eastwood once again. It’s in the cards—he always loses to actors. When Scorsese’s "The Departed" comes out in 2006, watch out for the directorial efforts of Vin Diesel (seriously) and Robert DeNiro come Oscar time.

But don’t worry about it, academy members—it’s not like Scorsese is one of the greatest directors of all-time or anything. Wankers.

While Alexander Payne’s "Sideways" was my pick as the best movie of the year, "The Aviator" was the work of a genius craftsman, and is more deserving of the directing honors.

It may be pointless to point out considering he has no chance of winning, but what the hell was the academy thinking in nominating Taylor Hackford? “Ray” had pacing problems galore, and Hackford was so in love with Ray Charles’ life that he couldn’t decide what parts to keep in and what parts to cut out. He’s the only undeserving nominee in this bunch—mad props to the academy for recognizing Mike Leigh.

Brent: Personally, I hope Scorsese never wins an Oscar. What would be the point? It wouldn’t change the fact that he got snubbed for “Raging Bull,” “Taxi Driver” or “Goodfellas.” As someone who went years and years before ever having a girlfriend, I can honestly say that it’s SO much better to be able to say, “I’m 25, and I’ve never had a girlfriend” than “I’m 25, and though I am currently desperately single, I had a girlfriend once.” Trust me. People feel so much sorrier for you the first way. And now that I’m married, nobody feels sorry for me at all. Alas, if Scorsese ever does win, nobody will ever care about him again, no one will ever rally behind him again, and most importantly, Oscar predictors like ourselves will never have anything to complain about, at least not in the Best Director sections of our articles. And that would just be sad.

So I hope that someone, anyone else will take one for the team and graciously accept the Best Director honor, even if it means getting put at the top of Scorsese’s “must kill” list. Preferably Joel Schumacher, even though he is not nominated. Interestingly enough, in a rare twist, Scorsese himself will finally be awarded the Oscar, but will ironically be forced to kill himself before accepting it.

Jeremy: Indeed Brent, I feel a bit of complainer’s remorse over my prediction that Scorsese will finally get his damn Oscar. Oh, well, we’ll always have Hitchcock and Kubrick. I think that the academy is starting to feel embarrassed for never having awarded Scorsese, so they’ll give it to him, even if they don’t give “The Aviiator” Best Picture. However, it would be a wonderful twist for all us Oscar complainers if the “Aviator” won, but they gave Clint Eastwood Best Director. Oh, that would be a “Sixth Sense” caliber surprise that we’d remember in Oscar articles for years to come.

But that’s not my prediction. While people like to say that the Director’s Guild of America always picks the Oscar winners and therefore Eastwood will win, this hasn’t been true for the the past four years, when the guild’s record is two and two. And the guild has alternated wrong-right-wrong-right, so it’s due for a wrong, and we all know that Scorsese is well overdue for his damn Oscar. Dammit.

[Speaking out of turn] Chris: Fuck.

 Best Motion Picture of the Year

The nominees are…
“The Aviator” - Michael Mann, Graham King
“Finding Neverland” - Richard N. Gladstein, Nellie Bellflower
“Million Dollar Baby” - Clint Eastwood, Albert S. Ruddy, Tom Rosenberg
“Ray” - Taylor Hackford, Stuart Benjamin, Howard Baldwin
“Sideways” - Michael London

Well, congratulations, you’ve made it through this whole massive Oscar extravaganza to the big finale. You better not have skipped anything. What? Go back and read the Best Costumes predictions. We’ll wait for you.

(Waiting)

All right, now that you’re back, what did you think about our Sound Editing predictions? OK, OK, that was a trick question. Like we give a shit about sound editing. I’ve got your sound editing right here.

The big films that seemed like contenders before they came out weren’t even good enough for Oscar to pretend to like them, so several smaller films (and “The Aviator”) received nominations.

And the winner is…

Jeremy: This batch of nominees is about the best that I could have hoped for. Obviously I would have liked to see nods for “The Dreamers,” Bernardo Bertolucci’s stunning nostalgic portrait of the joy, discovery, film, sex and mistakes of Paris in 1968 that few people have been wise enough to realize is a masterpiece whose greatness becomes more apparent with each viewing, and “Before Sunset,” Richard Linklater’s surprising sequel to “Before Sunrise” that finds the characters played by Ethan Hawke and July Delpy nine years after their unplanned night in Vienna as they meet again in Paris and rediscover their romantic spark. But I’m a realist and didn’t expect these to make the cut.

Most of the nominees can be ruled out quickly. “Ray” wasn’t a bad movie, but it was mainly notable for Jamie Foxx’s performance. The well-crafted “Finding Neverland” was emotionally moving, but hasn’t had much momentum lately. I wouldn’t complain if “Sideways” won, but it’s not quite the Academy’s cup of tea (glass of pinot noir?).

That leaves “The Aviator” and “Million Dollar Baby,” and this is one of the few years when the statuette is truly up for grabs (as opposed to when I predicted “Moulin Rouge” over “A Beautiful Mind” solely based on wishful thinking).

“The Aviator” is the best nominated film, as it thoroughly studies the life of a remarkable man struggling against his own paranoia and irrational fear of germs. Martin Scorsese’s distinctive and ingenious direction combine with Scorsese’s always great collaborators and craftspeople and performances by Leonardo DiCaprio and a brilliant ensemble of supporting actors to create a constantly engaging recreation of a time and a man who shaped it.

But the Academy is looking more and more likely to tip over to the overwhelmingly emotional experience that is “Million Dollar Baby,” which has more and more momentum on its side. Anyone who has seen the movie knows that, even with its occasional melodramatic follies, the film is a heartbreaking journey that fully follows the personalities of its two main characters. I see “The Aviator” winning more awards overall, and only about three or four total for “Million Dollar Baby,” but I can’t shake the suspicion that “Baby” will win Best Picture.

Chris: I predict the winner will be…“The Lord of the Rings”…er, sorry, just one of those flashbacks again. My apologies. There wasn’t a fourth installment was there? Oh, Thank God. I just can’t seem to shake that feeling.

Anyway…For the first time that I can remember, three Best Picture nominees made my top five of the year. Like Jeremy, there were a couple of films I would have rather seen round out the Best Picture nominees, namely "Kill Bill Vol. 2"—Quentin Tarantino’s masterful second half to his revenge epic—and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” quite simply one of the most mesmerizing and beautiful experiences I’ve had at the movies in years. But neither had much of a chance, nor did a host of other films I thought were more deserving than both “Finding Neverland” and “Ray.”

But since neither of those films has a chance in this category, I guess it doesn’t matter. I suppose if there’s enough of a voter split between "Million Dollar Baby" and "The Aviator," my favorite film of the year, "Sideways," could pull off an upset, so that’s what I’m pulling for. But that may just be wishful thinking. And as Jeremy has already pointed out, this is probably a two-horse race. I don’t really have a preference between "Million Dollar Baby" and "The Aviator." In fact, when putting together my top-10, I couldn’t decide which I liked better, so I flipped a coin. Both are great films and both are deserving. A large part of me wants to see "The Aviator" win, since no Scorsese film has ever won Best Picture, which is simply a travesty. Many people are predicting a Director/Picture split, and since I already said Eastwood would win, I’ll go ahead and say “The Aviator” takes the top award. After all, the academy loves big productions like this.

But I’ll probably be wrong, and the anti-Scorsese conspiracy will continue on forever. And no, I’m not paranoid.

Brent: Okay, so I’m sitting in the theater watching “The Aviator” in an audience composed almost entirely of old people who seem to feel so at home watching the film that they feel free to talk directly to the screen throughout its entire duration, as if to encourage the actors to make it to the end of the movie. Lots of “way to go, chap!”s and “Come on Howie, just 30 more minutes left, you can do it!”s. But the greatest line uttered by an old person during my viewing of “The Aviator” came at a pivotal scene near the end of the film when the troubled Howard Hughes was lying naked on the floor of his private theater, writhing like an aching child while battle scenes from “Hell’s Angels” play in the background. At this point, one elderly lady, obviously concerned for the young entrepreneur’s well being, bleated to her companion in an almost exaggerated old lady tone, “What in the heck is the matter with him???” Needless to say, Hughes took these words to heart, had a quick shave, and went to Washington to clear his name. Ah yes, the magic of movies.

But anyway, it should come as no surprise that my pick for Best Motion Picture of the year is “Million Dollar Baby,” because the Academy voters are nothing but a bunch of liberal, baby-eating, terrorist-funding, milk-spoiling, cat-stepping-on, whale-harpooning, spoiler-revealing, Hitler-cloning abortionists who have no respect for the American public. Who even cares about the Oscars anyway? I’m sure as hell not watching ‘em.

Jeremy: I think Brent means that his favorite nominee is “Sideways,” but he would have liked to see his favorites, like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” and “Primer,” nominated. Brent was the only one of us cool enough not to have any Best Picture nominees in his top five of the year, so kudos to him.

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