Phil on Film Index

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The 2008 Academy Award Nominations

A few of our questions regarding the 80th Annual Academy Awards were answered today, but one huge one still remains. After today's announcement we know who exactly will be competing for this year's Oscars, but we still don't know if the ceremony itself will take place in the traditional manner, or if some alternative arrangements will have to be made. After all, the Writer's Guild strike claimed a major scalp when the Golden Globes was recently downgraded to a low-key affair, and now Hollywood's glitziest occasion is under similar threat. Often, that prospect wouldn't be such a big deal – everyone knows the Oscars is a bloated, self-serving circus in which the very best achievements are rarely rewarded – but this year feels a little different to me. For once, the Academy has nominated a high number of films, actors and craftsman whose work I admire greatly, and I think it would be a damn shame if the likes of the Coen Brothers, Julie Christie, Roger Deakins, Javier Bardem or many of the other worthy nominees weren't given an opportunity to enjoy a moment in the spotlight. One wonders why something like this couldn't have happened in the year Ron Howard beat David Lynch and Robert Altman to the Best Director prize, to pick one example from the long list of Oscar injustices.

Anyway, the awards will finally have to be handed out one way or another, so here's my guide to the potential winners and losers:

BEST PICTURE – Atonement; Juno; Michael Clayton; No Country for Old Men; There Will Be Blood.
Should have been nominated – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The idea that Juno and Atonement are among last year's five best films seems ridiculous to me, but I can see why each has been nominated (Atonement is the most traditionally Oscar-like prestige production, while Juno is this year's quirky little indie pic). I'd love to see The Assassination of Jesse James, Zodiac, Ratatouille or This is England in place of those two, but at least No Country for Old Men and Michael Clayton are worthy nominees. Alas, There Will Be Blood still hasn't received a UK release date, but in any case I think the film will be a little too strange and challenging for the Academy to hand over the main prize, and the lack of a Best Director nomination for Joe Wright hurts Atonement's chances. Do Juno and Michael Clayton seem like Best Picture winners to you? I don't really think so, and the best chance for both pictures probably lies in the Best Original Screenplay category. That seems to leave the way clear for No Country for Old Men, a film which has been almost universally acclaimed and has given the Coens their biggest hit to date. I think No Country is the one to beat, but there's a slight chance that a few Academy members might find it a bit too dark and ambiguous, which could still leave an opening for the brighter Juno.

BEST DIRECTOR – Paul Thomas Anderson; Joel and Ethan Coen; Tony Gilroy; Jason Reitman; Julian Schnabel.
Should have been nominated – Andrew Dominik (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford)

With Atonement gaining a Best Picture nomination, I'm really surprised that Joe Wright hasn't been recognised here, as it was his directorial verve which was responsible for that film's best moments. Certainly, he merits inclusion ahead of Jason Reitman, whose work on Juno was competent rather than interesting. Julian Schnabel's nomination is well deserved while Tony Gilroy's inclusion is something of a surprise, but I can't see either of those being serious contenders. Paul Thomas Anderson is a director who will win an Oscar one day, but I think Joel and Ethan Coen are way out in front in this category. They'll win this statuette as a reward for No Country for Old Men, but also as a recognition of the extraordinarily varied and entertaining body of work they have amassed over the past two decades.

BEST ACTOR – George Clooney; Daniel Day-Lewis; Johnny Depp; Tommy Lee Jones; Viggo Mortensen.
Should have been nominated – Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild)

Daniel Day-Lewis pretty much has this one sewn up already, but the funny thing about this category is that I wouldn't be at all unhappy with any of the nominees winning. Clooney is the least likely candidate to upset the odds, as his performance was rather understated and he has a recent win to his name, and Viggo Mortensen's well-deserved nomination makes amends after he failed to get recognition for his performance in the superior A History of Violence. If anyone is going to pull off a surprise victory, then it might be Jones who gives one of his best performances in In The Valley of Elah; but I think the more likely challenger is Depp. He's been in the Academy's thoughts more and more in recent years, and his fabulous performance in Sweeney Todd might encourage voters to give him an overdue prize. Given his current status as hot favourite, it would take a real shock for anyone to beat Day-Lewis, but if any one of these nominees does, then I'll still be pretty content. There isn't a dud performance in the bunch.

BEST ACTRESS – Cate Blanchett; Julie Christie; Marion Cotillard; Laura Linney; Ellen Page.
Should have been nominated – Angelina Jolie (A Mighty Heart)

Cate Blanchett is fine in the otherwise overblown Elizabeth: The Golden Age (think Blackadder II directed by Michael Bay), but is her performance more deserving of a nomination than Angelina Jolie's turn in A Mighty Heart? Or Helena Bonham Carter's in Sweeney Todd? I don't think so, but at least we can be thankful that Keira Knightly wasn't nominated. As much as I love Laura Linney, she isn't in with a chance here, which leaves us with three main runners. There's very little to choose between them, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see any of them walking away with the Oscar, but in the end I think Page will be seen as too young, while Cotillard will be seen as too foreign, and that will allow Julie Christie to pick up her first Oscar since 1966's Darling.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Casey Affleck; Javier Bardem; Philip Seymour Hoffman; Hal Holbrook; Tom Wilkinson
Should have been nominated – Steve Zahn (Rescue Dawn)

Javier Bardem's chilling performance as Chigurh in the Coens' No Country for Old Men has really caught the imagination of both filmgoers and awards voters, and he's almost certain to collect the Oscar here. Personally, I'd have a slight preference for Casey Affleck's stunning display as Robert Ford (how could that be described as a supporting performance, by the way?), but he's unlikely to overturn Bardem's lead at this stage. I enjoyed each of the other supporting turns in this category, but unless a huge chunk of sentiment pulls voters towards Hal Holbrook, they'll all be going home empty-handed.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Cate Blanchett; Ruby Dee; Saoirse Ronan; Amy Ryan; Tilda Swinton.
Should have been nominated – Kelly McDonald (No Country for Old Men)

The last woman to win an Oscar for playing a man was Linda Hunt in The Year of Living Dangerously, but Cate Blanchett might emulate that feat this year after her Bob Dylan provided I'm Not There with its standout moments. She's already joined the select group of actors nominated for two films in a single year, but will that double nomination split her vote? If so, there's a very strong chance that Amy Ryan will beat her to this award, and while I can't comment on her performance (Gone Baby Gone probably won't arrive in the UK for as long as the Daily Express can keep people interested in the Madeleine McCann case) she does seem to be making plenty of noise among the precursor awards. It's a two-horse race, although Ronan and Swinton are both very worthy nominees (Ruby Dee? Really?).

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – Juno; Lars and the Real Girl; Michael Clayton; Ratatouille; The Savages
Should have been nominated – Knocked Up

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – Atonement; Away From Her; The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; No Country for Old Men; There Will Be Blood
Should have been nominated – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The fact that
Atonement was widely regarded as a near-impossible book to adapt will stand in Christopher Hampton's favour here, but it's hard to see past the Coen brothers, whose adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men is virtually flawless. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is one to watch, but it's unlikely to split the main two contenders. As for the Original Screenplay category – well, my thoughts on Juno have been made pretty clear by now, and its weakest aspect is Diablo Cody's unconvincing, self-conscious and deeply unfunny screenplay. It's depressing to think that Juno is going to triumph here over such well-crafted pieces of storytelling such as Ratatouille and Michael Clayton, but that's the way it's going to be.

Other Categories
The controversy over this year's Best Foreign Language Film nominees has been well documented, but it's still hard to believe a film as amazing, accessible and vital as 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days has been overlooked. I'm disappointed about Silent Light's omission too, and the only nominee that I've seen – The Counterfeiters – is good, but hardly Oscar-worthy. With France's Persepolis being snubbed here as well, I think
Ratatouille is unstoppable in the Best Animated Feature category, and a worthy winner it would be too. The only other category I'm really interested in is the Cinematography Oscar, in which Roger Deakins has received nominations for both No Country for Old Men and The Assassination of Jesse James. Either film would deserve a victory, and even if The Diving Bell and the Butterfly's inventive camerawork remains a danger, I think the Academy will recognise one of the best in the business with an overdue Oscar here.

And that's it. I'll be writing more about the Oscars in due course (although I haven't decided yet whether I'll be repeating last year's craziness and staying up to the early hours to write a minute-by-minute report) and I'll be seeing a few more of the nominated films in the coming weeks. Aside from that, there's little to do now except to look forward to all the glamour and excitement of the 2008 Academy conference.