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81st Oscar Nominations are Here! My Predictions and Reactions

I can’t believe I woke up at 5:30 a.m. to hear them announced live. I haven’t seen this side of morning since…never. Here are nominees in some of the major categories (winners will be announced Feb. 22):

Best Picture

Best Actor

  • Richard Jenkins—The Visitor
  • Frank Langella—Frost/Nixon
  • Sean Penn—Milk
  • Brad Pitt—The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Mickey Rourke—The Wrestler

Best Actress

Best Supporting Actor

  • Josh Brolin—Milk
  • Robert Downey Jr.—Tropic Thunder
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman—Doubt
  • Heath Ledger—The Dark Knight
  • Michael Shannon—Revolutionary Road

Best Supporting Actress

  • Amy Adams—Doubt
  • Penelope Cruz—Vicky Christina Barcelona
  • Viola Davis—Doubt
  • Taraji P. Henson—The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Marisa Tomei—The Wrestler

Best Director

  • David Fincher—The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
  • Ron Howard—Frost/Nixon
  • Gus Van Sant—Milk
  • Stephen Daldry—The Reader
  • Danny Boyle—Slumdog Millionaire

You can see the complete list of nominees here.

Didn’t expect Kate Winslet to be nominated for Best Actress for The Reader, though it only reinforces my belief she’ll win this category.

Revolutionary RoadOverall, I agreed with most of the nominations. LOVED that Michael Shannon got a nod for Revolutionary Road. He was exceptional. The Supporting Actor category is ridiculously jampacked with really strong contenders. Last December, I picked Josh Brolin and I’m holding on to that for now, but Shannon just made this category impossible to handicap, Heath Ledger aside.

2008_tropic_thunder_034I also loved Robert Downey Jr.’s performance so I refuse to consider it a “surprise” nomination (the live audience at the announcements ceremony gasped loudly then chuckled). There’s precedence for a great comedic performance to be nominated in this category: Kevin Kline for A Fish Called Wanda and he won. RDJ’s feat as “the dude who played the dude who played a black man” in Tropic Thunder was astounding. He completely transformed himself into two different characters—even in the brief moments when he wasn’t “black” in the movie, he was a platinum blond, blue-eyed Australian guy and there wasn’t a hint of RDJ in either guise.

Loved that In Bruges got a Best Original Screenplay nomination for Martin McDonagh. I’ll stop shoving that movie down your throats now.

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Loved that WALL•E was nominated for Best Animated Picture though it could well contend for Best Picture, period. Then again, it’s sure to win in the animated category. It also received a Best Original Screenplay nod for Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon and Pete Docter and I wouldn’t count them out but I think Dustin Lance Black will take it for Milk.

Other categories I’m calling (I already predicted acting winners last month): Best Director—Danny Boyle, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture—Slumdog Millionaire. I also think the film’s A.R. Rahman will take Best Score and one of the Best Songs, and Anthony Dod Mantle will win for Slumdog‘s cinematography. When Mantle talked about shooting in Mumbai among the crush of people, running after children, trying to keep everyone from looking at the cameras, I’m amazed he managed to pull it off.

E!’s movie critic Ben Lyons, who annoys me because he can’t even get titles right (at the Globes, he said “Welcome to the Golden Globe” at one point and then called Meryl Streep’s next movie Julia & Julie when it’s actually Julie & Julia), said right before the announcements that he thought Clint Eastwood would get a Best Actor nom for Gran Torino. I was vigorously shaking my head because I couldn’t disagree more. Eastwood squinted and growled like a junkyard dog throughout the movie and I thought it was ridiculous. I kept thinking, “I get it, you’re a tough guy, stop with the overly indicating.” I’m glad Richard Jenkins got nominated instead for his funny, sweet performance but was disappointed to see Michael Sheen omitted from this category for Frost/Nixon. He was just as good as Langella.

What did you think of the noms? Any mentions really excited you? Any egregious omissions? Leave me a comment. I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts but right now, it’s roughly 6:30 and I’m amazed my brain is even functioning at all.

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Review of REVOLUTIONARY ROAD with DiCaprio and Winslet

Remember those scenes in Airplane! when Robert Hays’s character tries to tell fellow passengers his life story but it’s so intolerable, one lady hangs herself while another man commits seppuku? When the lights went up in the theater after the screening of Revolutionary Road I attended, I half expected to see people hanging from the rafters or setting themselves on fire. This is easily the most depressing movie of the year and I’ve seen Defiance.

But let me be clear: Road is very good; it’s well-acted, -written, -directed, -photographed, -costumed, -scored, etc. It’s definitely smart, adult fare. But its themes are so disturbing, the film is more terrifying than anything featuring people with saws or wearing hockey masks.

Revolutionary RoadThe obvious draw will be the reunion of Titanic lovebirds Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, playing another period couple—this time in the 1950s—but engaged in a very different kind of relationship. Frank Wheeler (DiCaprio) meets April (Winslet) at a party when they’re both young and certain they’d set the world on fire. She’s studying to be an actress while he’s just back from the service, still figuring out his future. Fast forward to two kids and seven years later, her acting career has fizzled and he’s stuck in a soul-sucking cubicle job which he describes by saying, “There’s nothing interesting about it at all.” Desperate to infuse some passion and excitement back into their lives, April sells Frank on the idea of ditching everything and moving to Paris with their children. But complications ensue and the dream ends up far from a happy ending.

2008_revolutionary_road_008DiCaprio and Winslet do wrenching work, taking Frank and April from a hopeful existence to a “hopeless emptiness.” The acting isn’t always natural, sometimes overly demonstrative and other times very fifties-style Stepford-ish. But the two stars manage to cut open Frank and April’s inner selves as if performing metaphorical open-heart surgery on each other and the result is just as bloody and raw.

The supporting cast is first-rate, especially Michael Shannon as John Givings, the supposedly insane son of Kathy Bates’s realtor character. Shannon gives an electrifying performance as an outsider who comes into the placid neighborhood on Revolutionary Road (ironically named because there’s no revolution happening in any of these people’s lives) and rips right through the Wheelers’ facade of domestic perfection. But while the performance is a standout, the employment of his character is a bit cliche and too convenient—having the crazy guy be the only person who speaks the truth no one else will.

2008_revolutionary_road_011Besides the name of the road, other monikers also seem to mock what they represent. Wheelers are supposed to denote people on the move but this couple is paralyzed by inertia. Frank is not so much—he has moments of eruption but most of the time he puts on a smile and keeps his innermost thoughts to himself. And April, a word which usually symbolizes spring and a time of renewal, can’t seem to escape a lonely, unending winter.

The devastating thing about this movie, based on Richard Yates’s novel of the same name (which I haven’t read), is that it posits Frank and April’s situation could happen to anyone. (Heck, it could’ve happened to Jack and Rose from Titanic had Jack lived.) We all start out thinking we’re headed for great things but some wake up one day realizing “we’re not that special,” as April says. Even if you watch this movie feeling all superior and thinking, “I’m not a housewife stuck in a rut” or “I’m not some guy in a dead-end job,” who knows where you’ll be ten years from now? The deterioration of lives and dreams could happen so slowly that you don’t notice until one day you look around and wonder how you got to where you are, an unfulfilled place you swore you’d never end up in. I’m not trying to depress you; this is what Road depicts. It puts these issues under a magnifying glass and no matter how much the characters squirm, director Sam Mendes keeps the glass on them until the heat makes them burst into flames.

Revolutionary RoadMendes has plumbed this territory before—Road is like American Beauty (it even has a similarly stark, piano score by Thomas Newman) with a younger couple and less black humor. He’s a brave man to embark on such a bleak exploration of marriage with his wife in the lead; the film’s even dedicated to their children. (I wouldn’t know WHAT to think if my parents dedicated a movie like this to me.) Road deserves to be seen and I’d recommend it, but be forewarned it will not add to your holiday cheer.

And leave all weapons at home, just in case.

(Limited release, December 26)

Rating: Good