My five missteps were in the following categories:
- DOCUMENTARY FEATURE. I gambled on Trouble the Water and lost. Obviously, I should have trusted my head and gone with the favorite (and, ultimately, the winner), Man on Wire. But goddamn it, I had a hunch! I knew the Academy would have at least a couple of surprises up their sleeves and I really thought this would be one of 'em! But hey, like I've already said at least twice before, Man on Wire is a great movie and deserved the win.
- SOUND MIXING. Okay, I knew Slumdog was (unfortunately and wrongly) the prohibitive favorite in essentially every category it was nominated, but I genuinely believed Sound Mixing would be one of the categories to elude its manic grasp. I was even more convinced that another movie would win Sound Mixing once The Dark Knight took down the Sound Editing award, thus killing any chance of a sweep by Slumdog (big-ups, TDK). But lo and behold, "the Oscar for Sound Mixing goes to...Slumdog Millionaire!" BOO! Ben Burtt and the rest of the WALL-E sound team had to create an entire environment and lend audible emotion to a host of non-human characters. And Slumdog wins for recording the sounds of Mumbai streets? Nonsense.
- ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY. I was surprised enough when Dustin Lance Black took home the Best First Screenplay prize at the Spirit Awards the day before the Oscars. So when he beat out WALL-E, Happy-Go-Lucky, Frozen River, and In Bruges on Sunday, I was absolutely shocked. I maintain that WALL-E ought to have won, but I don't have a big problem with Black taking home the statue. The guy gave a good, important speech about the great, important film he wrote (he gave an even better one at the Spirit Awards), and since Milk had little to no chance at any other award beside Best Actor, I'm happy it was recognized here.
- FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM. Wow. Biggest shock of my night, by far. Either Departures is incredible, or the Academy made a big mistake. Waltz with Bashir is a great movie, with an extremely important story to tell. I thought it was a lock for the win. I'll reserve judgment until I've seen Departures, but I'm afraid my dad may have been right; the Academy might not be open-minded enough to give an otherwise indispensable film its due just because it's animated.
- SUPPORTING ACTRESS. Okay, so I started reading a few days before the awards that Penelope Cruz was favored to win this award for her role in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Which I found incomprehensible; she didn't even deserve a nom, in my mind. VCB is not a good movie. And, though Cruz is a good actress, her performance in this film was equally lackluster. Taraji P. Henson was the cream of this category, but any of the other nominees were more deserving than Cruz. The award went to the worst of the five. Disgusting.
All in all, though I wasn't surprised by many of the winners, I was disappointed by the results of this year's Oscars. Only five of 24 categories went to the nominee I thought they ought to have gone to. (To wit, Sean Penn for LEADING ACTOR; Heath Ledger for SUPPORTING ACTOR; WALL-E for ANIMATED FEATURE; Man on Wire for DOCUMENTARY FEATURE; and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button for VISUAL EFFECTS.) It almost goes without saying that I don't think much of Slumdog Millionaire. It is a decent film, at best, and even that minimal commendation deserves qualification. Suffice it say that I have fundamental problems with the movie. I promised myself I wouldn't rant about it here, but if you're really curious, it likely wouldn't take much prodding to get a rise out of me.
Thankfully, the ceremony as a whole was one of the best I've ever seen. I'd heard rumors that they had some new and unconventional ideas for this year's broadcast, and it was a bit different, but I loved it. I thought the way they moved from pre-production to principal photography to post-production, giving away the relevant awards as they went, was a wonderful way to structure the show. The award presentation for the acting awards was maybe a bit cumbersome and slow, but I think it probably meant a lot to the nominees.
And maybe I was just in a good mood, but I found myself laughing out loud on numerous occasions. Tina Fey and Steve Martin were great, naturally. The Judd Apatow spin on Pineapple Express was hilarious, but I thought it even funnier when James Franco butchered the pronunciation of Spielzeugland only to have Seth Rogen crack up in a fit of embarrassed laughter. But my absolute no-contest highlight of the show was Japanese animator Kunio Kato's acceptance speech after winning the Oscar for ANIMATED SHORT, in which he thanked a number of people and things (including his pencil) and ended by saying, "Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto." All with a heavy accent that turned every "th" into an "s". Hilarious. Genius.
Anyway, I'm bummed that the next Oscars are another year away. Even when the awards don't fall the way I want them to, I still love to watch. And if it was the recession which prompted the Academy to put on a cool new show like yesterday's, then I hope the economy continues to suck for a while. But next year, let's shoot for just the one song-and-dance number, okay?