Phil on Film Index

Monday, February 25, 2008

The 2008 Academy Awards - Review

It's Sunday, it's 1am, and I've spent the past hour watching various celebrities walking up and down a red carpet repeatedly being asked the odd question "who are you wearing?" (disappointingly, nobody appears to have taken the Björk approach to red carpet attire, although Tilda Swinton's bin bag is perhaps an unwise choice). Yes, it's Oscar night, and for the next four hours or so I'll be documenting the winners and losers from the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles as the American film industry celebrates the year's greatest achievements. Of course, most of the time the genuinely great achievements in a given year have little or nothing to do with The Oscars, and at first glance the 2008 ceremony appears to be no exception, with wonderful films such as
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford being ignored in the major categories, and films like the masterpiece 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and Zodiac being completed overlooked. But wait – there is hope! This year's set of nominations really does contain films that deserve to be mentioned among the year's best, with the likes of No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood leading the charge for Oscar glory. So, with the writers' strike finally settled, here we go, with the 80th Annual Academy Awards. Jon Stewart is your host, and I'm struggling to stay awake.

1.30am – The night begins with a dreadful CGI sequence that mixes iconic images from movies past and present, and then Jon Stewart appears onstage for an opening monologue which, predictably, leans heavily on the strike. He decries the amount of violent pictures nominated before adding "thank God for teen pregnancy!", and he says Hillary Clinton thought Away From Her – a film about a woman forgetting her own husband – was "the feel good movie of the year". Stewart then mentions Diablo Cody needing to take a pay cut as she moved from being a stripper to a screenwriter, and in reference to the upcoming election he warns "the only time you see a black man or a woman as president an asteroid is about to hit the Statue of Liberty". He's on good form, but the laughs appear to be a bit thin on the ground; maybe that's down to the appalling acoustics, though.

1.42am – Best Costume Design
My Prediction – Atonement
My Choice – Sweeney Todd

Jennifer Garner is the first presenter, and she looks very classy indeed. She's handing out the Costume Design Oscar, which I think might go to
Atonement purely on the strength of that green dress. But no! The voters have been swayed once more by those big Elizabethan frocks, and Alexandra Byrne wins for Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Her speech is fantastically short and to the point – well played that woman!

1.47am – Oh George, don't you look dapper this evening! Clooney saunters on stage to present an amusing montage of classic Oscar moments. There are plenty of "what were they thinking?" moments on show, but the effect is slightly ruined by having Celine Dion wailing like a dying cat over the top of it.

1.52am – Best Animated Film
My Prediction – Ratatouille
My Choice – Ratatouille

Anne Hathaway and Steve Carrell are together here, with the theme from
Get Smart playing in the background (hmmm....are these guys promoting something?). Carrell fakes a funny panic attack, and then announces Ratatouille as the winner, surprising precisely nobody. Brad Bird has a nice anecdote up his sleeve, but he struggles to thank everyone in the allotted time and faffs a bit at the end.

1.56am – Best Makeup
My Prediction – La Vie en rose
My Choice – You know, it would be quite funny if Norbit won an Oscar.....

An amazingly nervous-looking Katherine Heigl presents this award to
La Vie en rose, the only genuine contender in this category. The two recipients are very gracious and in the audience Marion Cotillard seems close to tears already. Keep it together girl, you need to save those precious tears for your own big moment!

1.59am – The first nominated song from Enchanted Happy Working Song – is performed by Amy Adams. That film has three ditties nominated, so Adams will be a busy girl tonight. It seems like the kind of song that probably worked better on the screen than in isolation.

2.06am – Best Visual Effects
My Prediction – Transformers
My Choice – Transformers

Why does this category only ever look at the big blockbusters? Aren't the genuinely beautiful effects from
Sunshine worth a nomination here – particularly as they were achieved on a fraction of the budget – while the effects work in Zodiac was sensational precisely because it was so invisible. Instead, we've got three of 2007's loudest and stupidest films in contention once again; but never mind, because here comes The Rock! Actually, he prefers to be called Dwayne Johnson these days (who prefers to be called Dwayne?). Anyway, he opens the envelope, and the winner is.....The Golden Compass? Blimey, that's a dodgy call.

2.10am – Best Art Direction
My Prediction – There Will Be Blood
My Choice – Sweeney Todd

A pregnant Cate Blanchett hands this award to the great Dante Ferreti and Francesca Lo Schiavo for
Sweeney Todd. Between them they say "thank you" about 27 times in 30 seconds.

2.15am – Best Supporting Actor
My Prediction – Javier Bardem
My Choice – Casey Affleck

Now then, this is where it gets serious. The first acting award of the night is presented by Jennifer Hudson and, unsurprisingly,
Javier Bardem's indelible psychopath is the winner. He thanks the Coens "for putting one of the most horrible haircuts in history on his head", and then he sends a message to his mother in Spanish, the words flying out of his mouth at a hundred miles an hour. Few will argue with this award, Bardem has created an iconic character who will live on through the ages, and it's the first award of the night for one of the major contenders.

2.23am – Jon makes another writers' strike gag, suggesting the whole show might have consisted of just montages if it had carried on.

2.24am – Keri Russell introduces the song Raise it Up from her movie August Rush. Sadly, the song isn't performed by Robin Williams (did I mean to say sadly there? Actually, that should probably read "thank Christ the song isn't performed by Robin Williams "). It's a mediocre entry, mostly sung by a young black girl with a fine voice.

2.28am – Best Live Action Short
My Prediction – ?
My Choice – Well, The Tonto Woman is based on an Elmore Leonard story, so that's good enough for me.

Owen Wilson is here and, thankfully, he's looking well. He awards the Oscar to
Le Mozart des Pickpockets, and Philippe Pollet-Villard has just enough English to get through his speech, before finishing with a flourish in French.

2.31am – Best Animated Short
My Prediction – Hmmmm.......
My Choice – One of the above.

Jerry Seinfeld's character from
Bee Movie introduces a montage of bee-related movie scenes, and then announces Peter & the Wolf as the winner. British pair Suzie Templeton and Hugh Welchman collect their Oscars with modesty and good grace.

2.35am – Best Supporting Actress
My Prediction – Cate Blanchett
My Choice – Tilda Swinton

This is the tightest category of the night, and young Saoirse Ronan is the only one I'd rule out at this late stage. Alan Arkin is on hand to do his presenting stuff, and the winner is......
Tilda Swinton! That's a fantastic result. She give a funny, slightly nutty acceptance speech, making fun of Clooney and dedicating the award to her agent. That dress still looks wrong, though.

2.44am – Poor old Jessica Alba reveals that she was forced – sorry, I mean "honoured" – to host this year's technical awards earlier in the week. That's no way to treat a pregnant lady!

2.46am – Best Adapted Screenplay
My Prediction – No Country for Old Men
My Choice – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Josh Brolin and James McAvoy are the odd couple presenting this award. Josh Brolin does a bad Jack Nicholson impersonation, which gets a typically comical reaction from the man himself (do they have a camera trained on him throughout the night?), and then McAvoy calls the names of
Joel and Ethan Coen! A big boost for No Country's Best Picture hopes. Joel speaks first and then Ethan seems a little tongue-tied, or maybe he's just saving himself for later in the evening.

2.49am – an explanation of the Academy's voting system.

2.52am – A young lady called Miley Cyrus (Google informs me that she plays somebody called Hannah Montana on TV) introduces Enchanted's second nominee, That's How You Know. It's a weird, and not very good, song.

3.00am – Jon muses on the amount of pregnant actresses around these days:"Angelina couldn't be with us tonight, it's tough to get 17 babysitters on Oscar night".

3.02am – Best Sound Editing
My Prediction – The Bourne Ultimatum
My Choice – There Will Be Blood

Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill – looking like identical twins – introduce this award, and the winner is
The Bourne Ultimatum. Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg are halfway through their speech when the picture suddenly cuts elsewhere, so I can't report on what they said.

3.05am – Best Sound Mixing
My Prediction – No Country for Old Men
My Choice – No Country for Old Men

Hill and Rogen are still on stage, although now they're pretending to be Halle Berry and Judi Dench. This award is for Sound Mixing – which, as any fool knows, is a completely different award to Sound Editing – but they ignore that reasoning and give it to exactly the same film!
The Bourne Ultimatum wins again, but it's hard to focus on the winners' speeches because I was distracted by the remarkable similarity between Hill and Rogen. Couldn't they have at least worn different spectacles?

3.08am – Best Actress
My Prediction – Marion Cotillard
My Choice – I'd really, really love to see Laura Linney win this, but I'll be happy with Christie or Cotillard.

This is another really tight race, and it's too close to call between the two main contenders. Last year's Best Actor Forest Whitaker has the results in his hand, and when he opens the envelope he ends all of the speculation by announcing the name of
Marion Cotillard for her superb performance in La Vie en rose. "You rocked my life!" she tells director Olivier Dahan and she follows that with "Thank you life! Thank you love! It is true that there are angels in this city!" She seems genuinely overwhelmed and she just manages to keep her tears under control. A lovely speech and one of the evening's highlights.

3.18am – Colin Farrell slips onto the stage as he introduces Falling Slowly from Once. Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová perform the song, which will hopefully be earning them an Oscar later in the evening.

3.23am – Jack Nicholson, The Oscars wouldn't be The Oscars without him. He introduces a montage of every Best Picture winner. The list from around 1994 onwards is pretty damn depressing.

3.28am – Best Editing
My Prediction – No Country for Old Men
My Choice – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

I remember the Coens saying a few years ago that if "Roderick Jaynes" won an Oscar they would send Albert Finney up in a wig to collect. Alas, Mr Finney is nowhere to be seen as Renee Zellwegger squints at her envelope and announces yet another award for
The Bourne Ultimatum. Christopher Rouse thanks everybody in the usual manner.

3.31am – Honorary Oscar
Nicole Kidman announces a special award for 98 year-old production designer Robert Boyle who, as a montage reminds us, has worked on some pretty cool films, including both
The Birds and North by Northwest with Hitchcock. Incidentally, I hate the applause that always arises from audiences at events like this whenever somebody's age is announced; it's so condescending. Applaud him for his achievements, sure, but not simply for the fact that he's still alive at a grand old age. Boyle gives a nice speech, thanking Don Siegel, Norman Jewison and, of course, Hitch himself.

3.42am – Best Foreign Language Film
My Prediction – Oh, I don't know. Let's say, Beaufort
My Choice – Some film that's nowhere near as powerful as 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

Yeah, I'm still pissed off at the exclusion of Christian Mungiu's extraordinary film, but it's time to forget about that as Penélope Cruz opens to envelope and reads out the name of
The Counterfeiters. This was the only nominee I've seen, and it's a decent picture, but it's really nothing special, and the very idea that it's a better picture than 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days makes a mockery of the whole category. Yeah, I'm still pissed off....

3.45am – The third, and thankfully final, song from Enchanted. The songs in this category all presumably worked a hell of a lot better on screen than they have done on the Oscar stage.

3.49am – Best Original Song
My Prediction – Falling Slowly from Once
My Choice – Come on the Irish! (and the Czechs, of course)

John Travolta dances on stage (can't he just walk on like everyone else?) to present this award. Will the three
Enchanted songs cancel each other out as Dreamgirls did last year? Maybe they did, because Falling Slowly has won! The zero-budget Irish film from last year has won big at the Oscars, would you believe it? Glen makes an excitable, rambling speech and Markéta is played off by the band before she can say anything. Still, an extraordinary story for them both.

3.57am – Ah, well played Jon. He brings Markéta out to make the acceptance speech which she was prevented from doing initially.

3.58am – Best Cinematography
My Prediction – The Assassination of That Guy by the Other Guy.
My Choice – Roger Deakins all the way.

Cameron Diaz has a few problems pronouncing the word cinematography, but she gets over it and presents the award to
Robert Elswit for There Will be Blood. He's a worthy winner and he pays suitable tribute to all of those involved in the production, from Jack Fisk to Daniel Day-Lewis; but you've got to feel sorry for Roger Deakins. The guy really should have about six Oscars to his name by now.

4.02am – In Memorium
A montage of those who passed away in the previous 12 months. Unless I missed it, they seem to have overlooked the death of Brad Renfro.

4.08am – Best Original Score
My Prediction – Atonement
My Choice – Ratatouille

Jesus, these are lame nominations. The only one I can really remember is
Atonement and that's because it mostly consisted of a typewriter clacking away. Without The Assassination of Jesse James or There Will Be Blood (eliminated on some ridiculous technicality), this category is a pale shadow of what it might have been. Still, Atonement's Dario Marianelli seems happy enough as he collects the Oscar from Amy Adams, giving a nicely low-key and gracious speech, but Nick Cave and Johnny Greenwood's work towers over anything in this field.

4.12am – Best Documentary Short
My Prediction – Er..........
My Choice – Um.............

Well, this is odd. Tom Hanks comes on to introduce a group of soldiers out in Baghdad, and they introduce the nominations live by satellite before announcing the winner, which is
Freeheld, by Cynthia Wade and Vanessa Roth. Their speech is tearful and passionate.

4.15am – Best Documentary Feature
My Prediction – No End in Sight
My Choice – I've only seen Sicko, but that really isn't good enough to win.

Tom Hanks is still with us, this time to present the Best Documentary Feature Oscar. The winner is
Taxi to the Dark Side by Alex Gibney and Eva Orner, and Gibney's speech is rousing. "Let's hope we can turn this country around, move away from the dark side and enter the light", he says.

4.21am – On Sky's coverage the idiotic Claudia Winkleman is suggesting to the panel that Atonement's Best Original Score victory might mean it can win Best Picture. The panel are shaking their heads in disagreement, or perhaps they're shaking their heads in sad wonder that Winkleman has been asked back after last year.

4.23am – Best Original Screenplay
My Prediction – Juno
My Choice – Anything but Juno, honest to blog.

Harrison Ford drawls in a monotone fashion through his intro, before opening the envelope. Alas, the
Juno backlash wasn't enough to stop Diablo Cody's God-awful screenplay winning this award against a couple of infinitely more well-crafted screenplays. Yeah, she seems like a nice enough woman, and she starts to cry just before the end of her speech; but my goodness, that script was torturous.

4.29am – Best Actor
My Choice"I DRINK IT UP!"

We're into the home stretch now, people. Stay with me! With only three awards to go, it's time for one of the most predictable categories of the night, with Daniel Day-Lewis having this one under wraps for months. Helen Mirren opens the envelope and the winner is....
VIGGO MORTENSEN!!!!!!! Nah, I'm just kidding. Daniel Day-Lewis wins his second Oscar for one of the best screen performances you'll see anywhere. "That's the closest I'll ever get to a knighthood" he says after kissing Mirren, and then he gives a nice, heartfelt speech in which he thanks everyone who has helped him get to this stage. It was a hell of a strong category this year, with every performance an Oscar-worthy one, but Daniel drank their milkshake.

4.40am – Best Director
My Prediction – The Coen Brothers
My Choice – PT Anderson

Martin Scorsese is back after his long overdue triumph last year to present the penultimate award.
The Coen Brothers take it, and who can say they don't deserve it? "I don't have a lot to add to what I said earlier. Thank you" Ethan says, before Joel offers a (slightly) more expansive speech. They walk off stage clutching their Oscars, but they might be called back in just a few minutes.....

4.45am – Best Picture
My PredictionNo Country for Old Men or There Will Be Blood
My Choice – Um....No Country for Old Men or There Will Be Blood. They're both really great.

So here it is, the final award of the night with two magnificent pictures going head-to-head. After the last award, it comes as little surprise when Denzel announces
No Country for Old Men as the best film of the year. Scott Rudin makes a fine acceptance speech which provides a pretty good Oscar show with a fitting end. Personally, I might have a slight preference for There Will Be Blood, but at the end of the day does it really matter which one came out on top? In a year when the Best Picture race comes down to a straight fight between The Coen Brothers and PT Anderson, surely we're all winners.