The Oscars 2015

oscar-statuettesI watch The Oscars because Firecracker does. I don’t think they choose the best movies made in a certain year, but they choose some of them. But we always try to watch all the best picture and actor/actress contenders. Here are my thoughts on the bunch, in no particular order:

American Sniper

Having read Kyle’s biography, I found the movie fabricated and simplistic, though Bradley Cooper’s performance was excellent. If Selma gets slammed for poetic license, this one ought to as well. It’s a glowing portrait of an elite soldier, cut down while he was trying to help other veterans wounded inside and out, but much is fabricated. The story Kyle told in his bio did not need embellishment with sniper duels and hunting pychos who drill holes in children’s heads to make it compelling.


This movie surprised me the most. JK Simmons as a brutal conductor and music instructor who takes a talented jazz drummer into his conservatory band was more gripping and fascinating than any of the other movies this year, including the war movie. That says a lot. Simmons was amazing, but good luck defeating Cooper and Cumberbatch with their promo campaigns and fan base.


I was very surprised that direct Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo, who played Martin Luther King, did not get nominated. They turned history into a compelling and prescient story, and they couldn’t use any of MLK’s real speeches because they are owned by a media conglomerate. You don’t notice. Writer Paul Webb’s script and Oyelowo’s stunning performance distract from that. The LBJ story felt like unnecessary tension; I like Tom Wilkinson a lot, but his New England accent kept breaking through and I couldn’t see him as Texan at all. It was quite glaring.

The imitation Game

This is a badly written Oscar-bait movie built around Benedict Cumberbatch’s excellent portrayal of Alan Turing, the genius who cracked the Enigma code, built some of the earliest computers, and was tormented to suicide by the British government for being homosexual. It’s a story that needed to be told, but the World War II story of cipher cracking and espionage was condescendingly spoonfed to the audience. They made it seem like Turing came up with the idea to not let the enemy know when you crack their ciphers! This is only a Picture nominee because they need 10 of them.


This was a refreshing change of pace, but it’s still a Hollywood story about Hollywood, however quirky it may be. Michael Keaton gets a role he can chew on, and does a great job. It’s a hilarious, painful, and touching story well told, and Emma Stone shows great talent in her supporting role as his daughter. The unbroken shot feels like showing off, but this is great storytelling and a story that is easy to like. It lacks the substance of the other nominees like Selma, Sniper, and IG, but it’s unforgettable and full of great performances.


The 12 year experiment of filming a young actor from age 6 to 18 makes a great story out of everyday life, and its naturalism lays the artifice of Hollywood bare. Patricia Arquette is excellent, and deserving of her nomination. The story is unexpected and emotional without falling into cliche, though I found one section pandered politically to the left as much as Eastwood’s loving paean to the Iraq invasion pandered to the right.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

My favorite of the bunch. It’s been on cable and I’ve had the pleasure of watching it again and again, but it came out so long ago that its chances are probably hurt. Wes Anderson’s best movie yet, he sets his story in the everyday life of a fanciful hotel on the brink of the fascist slaughters that led to World War 2. Some criticized setting a comedy during the time, but he doesn’t shy from brutality, and tells a hilarious, heartfelt, sentimental story of the civilization destroyed by hatred, with unforgettable characters (Willem Dafoe’s brutal henchman being my favorite). Even if you don’t like Wes Anderson’s other films, this one is never boring or overly twee.

The Theory of Everything

Eddie Redmayne’s performance is uncanny, and the story of the famous astrophysicist and his family as he deteriorates with motor-neuron disease is made incredibly compelling. This is how you make a biopic. It is direct, it does not inject storylines, though it does simplify his life. My bet for the best actor win, though JK Simmons was incredible as well.


I thought this was a better story and film than some of the BP nominees. Reese Witherspoon disappears into her character, a woman devastated by loss who goes on a grueling trek to purify herself of self-destructive tendencies. She is not an easy character to like, which made me like the movie more. Laura Dern is great as her mother, but I’ve seen her do more, and think this is one of those “she deserves one” noms. Which brings me to:

Into the Woods

This was boring and horrible, and Meryl Streep gets a nom for this? Just make a Being Meryl Streep Oscar already. She’s great, yeah. But this musical felt like a Disney TV movie that dragged on and on.

Gone Girl

A good adaptation, and Rosamund Pike was great as Amazing Amy. I’d give Witherspoon the nod over her role in this one. Fincher made a by-the-numbers adaptation with a few inspired bits of casting, and made the third act reveal a Marilyn Manson video that just felt ridiculous.


This is the Polish entry for best foreign film, a contemplative, character-driven story about an orphan who becomes a nun, then learns she has an aunt: a morose, drunken ex-judge who sent people to prison camps for defying the new socialist government. Set in the ’60s, the horrors of World War II are not long past, and as they seek the graves of Ida’s parents, we spend time with two enthralling characters as we revisit the ugly history of the last century.


The story of two wrestler brothers who made it to the Olympics again in 1988 with the help of John E. DuPont, a creepy, uber-rich wanna be who lives in the cold shadow of his mother. This should have been a Best Picture nominee. What it lacks is a chapter between the end of the Seoul Olympics and the tragic ending, but that still makes it a better film than many of the nominees. Channing Tatum’s performance was at least on par with Mark Ruffalo and Steve Carell’s, and the story was fantastic. I wonder if the DuPont family put the kibosh on the Academy Award for best picture nom?

Still need to see Foxcatcher, Still Alice, and The Judge. The weekend will be a busy one… but right now, my choices and bets are as follows. (Choice is who I’d vote for, bet is who I think the academy will pick).

Best Picture: I choose The Grand Budapest Hotel, the Academy picks American Sniper

Best Actor: I choose Eddie Redmayne, the Academy picks Michael Keaton

Best Actress: I choose Julianne Moore, Academy picks Julianne Moore (I have not seen Still Alice; I love Julianne Moore)

Best Supporting Actor: I choose JK Simmons, Academy picks Robert Duvall

Best Supporting Actress: I choose Patricia Arquette, Academy picks Meryl Streep (because she needs her Oscar for singing this time)

Best Animated Feature: I wish The Lego Movie had been nominated, it was so much better than it had any right to be. The Academy picks How to Drain Your Dragon 2 (tee hee). Like with the snub of Fantastic Mr Fox, the Disney/Dreamworks machine gets wins for predictable remakes of the same old story over and over. (I loved UP until the ending, which was just awful writing. Remember kids, we can only solve problems by killing people, even in a whimsical film about a flying balloon house…)

The Oscars and the Nervous Twitch that isn’t Laughter

Roxane Gay: How a Wound Heals

I linked to Roxane Gay’s post because she says it in ways I can’t, because her perspective is direct and from a more acute angle, while mine is second or third hand, filtered through empathy.

The Oscars were pretty terrible. I often like Seth MacFarlane, but he looked scared shitless and played it incredibly safe, using jokes that would have been shocking when Dice Clay used them, but today just make us uncomfortable. Not in the way Louis C.K.’s humor makes us uncomfortable, with a hidden truth, but with a self-perpetuated falsehood, that it is okay to say these things, because they garner little nervous snickers. “Did he just say that?” Which is the same flush we get when we think, “Did our friend just say a doody word in front of his MOMMY?”

Seth wasted half the show on self-deprecation meant to let Hollywood know that he’s just as messed up inside as they are. He was great when he embraced what he loved: song and dance numbers and weird cultural references. I thought this show was better than the Franco/Hathaway one, and his jokes weren’t as bad as some of Billy Crystal’s, but Chris Rock and John Stewart managed to pull it off better, in my opinion.

quvenzhane wallis

What was worse was that The Onion thought it was funny to call a 9 year old girl a cunt on the biggest day of her life. There was plenty to satirize at the show. The Oscars are almost painful to watch in best of times, because most actors are the pinnacle of validation-hungry self-absorbed performers, something I sympathize with as a writer. Many of them become grotesque avatars of this need for attention, fame and applause. There are plenty of targets, but The Onion had to attack a young girl whose only crime was not acting how we expected, like Honey Boo Boo or some precocious little robot. Idiot reporters called her “Little Q” or “Annie” to her face because learning to pronounce her name was too difficult. They an say “WA KEEN” Phoenix just fine, I noticed.

(Admittedly I called him Joe Quinn Phoenix until he played Johnny Cash and heard his name all the time). Can she just have one night before they try to turn her into the next Honey Boo Boo? Or is that what they truly hated in her, that she seemed unaffected by it all. Flexing her arms like her character did, telling reporters that little kids see things adults can’t sometimes, because they’re not so busy. Not acting like a tiny adult crammed with needs and neuroses, not a barely functional automaton that runs on cocaine and applause?

Not all actors are like that. Ever since Garbo they’ve mocked performers who act like human beings instead of need machines. We want the magic, we desire the spectacle. And we’ll tear you apart with our teeth if you don’t play along.

That said, I’m glad Life of Pi won a handful. It was a beautiful film in a sea of reboots, remakes and safe bets. Argo, despite its veracity problems, was well made and a good story. I wish The Invisible War, about rape in the military, had won best Doc. But like Errol Morris’s excellent Standard Operating Procedure, about our use of torture, it was a truth too painful to bear.

I hope after the Oscars, the Onion tweeter and Seth went over to Octavia Spencer’s house for cake.

movie compactor

To conserve paper, I have reviewed 5 recent movies in one post. With one week to the Oscars I still haven’t seen a few. I’m hoping to see The White Ribbon this weekend. Gonna skip Crazy Heart, as much as I like Jeff Bridges, because I saw Tender Mercies. But these are worth seeing:

Big Fan
Patton Oswalt as “that guy,” the face-painting home team obsessed freako who lives in mom’s basement and stays up late to rant on the local AM sports talk radio show. Oswalt once again shows his enormous range (you thought I was gonna say ass, didn’t you?) by totally becoming this role. Written and directed by the screenwriter of The Wrestler, we know to expect him to be a busted up shell of a man filling a hole in himself with his fanaticism. He sees his team’s quarterback one night and he and his buddy follow him to a strip club, and work up the guts to approach him. Things happen and he gets assaulted, and must decide just how much he’ll suffer for his home team. It’s a bit weak in the third act and ending, but as a character study it’s pretty gripping. This is one of the better films of last year that was sadly overlooked, and a fine first directorial effort for Onion alumnus Robert D. Siegel.

4 face-painters out of 5

Big Fan on Netflix

The Blind Side
This movie’s getting a lot of hate. Straight up: I enjoyed it. I think we’ve become accustomed to discounting uplifting fare as inherently shallow, and while it may be a stretch to nominate this for Best Picture, if Avatar is up there this has every right to be. The Hollywood take on Michael Oher’s rise to football stardom, this is a sports story with a deeply human element that is unafraid to tell us what we’re supposed to mean when we say “Christian charity.” The Tuohy family is rich; Mr. Tuohy is a former basketball superstar who now runs a gaggle of fast food franchises. The film obliquely points the finger at our millionaire sports heroes to perhaps give a little back, as Mrs. Tuohy- played with organic brilliance by Sandra Bullock, in what will hopefully be a controversial Oscar-winning performance that will bump Marisa Tomei’s win for My Cousin Vinny as the film snobs’ “least deserved award” category- decides to do the right thing and bring the practically-orphaned “Big Mike” Oher under her wing. This is old-school Hollywood storymaking, not unlike Slumdog Millionaire without Danny Boyle’s directorial strength. John Lee Hancock does a workmanlike job. He also wrote the screenplay, which to the real Michael Oher’s chagrin, makes him a sort of football oaf to begin with, when he was rather skilled by the time the Tuohys helped him. The real story is how they overcome their fear and saw Michael as a person, and shared their abundance of both the material and the emotional to make him part of their family. So what if it’s couched in a tale written for the demographic where both sexes love football from birth? It’s uplifting without being smarmy, and isn’t as simple as its critics claim it to be.

4 out of 5 ladies who lunch but also give back to their community

The Blind Side on Netflix

The Road
Adapting Cormac McCarthy is difficult but obviously possible; No Country for Old Men, anyone? This one’s not so easy, as much of the story is internalized. The screenplay veers from the source at times, to give us a female character to please the bean counters; I felt this was a distracting mistake. The story is simple- an unknown disaster has cut the shackles of civilization and returned man to his more bestial state, and a father resolves to protect his son from the ravages of cannibals and nature, so he may “carry the fire” of humanity, and bring hope to the bleak future. How does the world end? In this version we know it’s a bang, when it was left ambiguous before. Does it matter if it’s a whimper, or fire or ice? Not really, in the grand scheme of things. Humanity is consuming itself, literally. What the movie gets right is showing how the father- Viggo Mortensen- loses hope. How can he carry the fire when it has gone out inside him? Like Frank Darabont’s similar take with The Mist, the father’s protective drive has corrupted him. I found this a little too spoonfed, and I didn’t care for the flashbacks to the mother, though I see the parallels and contrasts director John Hillcoat (The Proposition) was making. My suggestion: see this first if you haven’t read the book yet, and let the book expand on it.

4 out of 5 long pig banquets

The Road on Netflix

Everybody’s Fine
Robert DeNiro plays a retired widower, who Harry Chapin was singing about in “The Cat’s in the Cradle.” He drove his children to be ambitious and worked hard while his wife handled family matters, and now that she’s gone, no one has time to visit. It surprised me by shifting alliances, showing the old man’s own flaws and how past wounds run deep. This one rises above the standard tearjerker, but never goes much further. Bobby is always endearing and is perhaps the perfect image of that sort of hard working family man who was always too tired to really give to his family, but I never really felt his sadness, like Jack Nicholson managed in the similar film About Schmidt. This was based on an Italian classic from the 90’s entitled Stanno tutti bene, starring the unequaled Marcello Mastroianni, and the new script has some nice touches. Bobby made PVC casing for telephone wires, and only talks on land lines (rather like Paulie from Goodfellas); his children are well played by Drew Barrymore, Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale. At first they seem like the usual busy, ungrateful kids but bloom into real people. It’ll do well on cable.

3.5 out of 5 million miles of wire

Everybody’s Fine on Netflix

Food, Inc.
Are you eating? Might want to read this later. This should be for the modern food industry what Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was for turn of the century sausage factories, but I doubt many people saw it. Like the lackluster dramatization Fast Food Nation, this documentary exposes the industrialized network of factory farms and how it accepts disease and death among us, its customers, to serve its bottom line. I bet you expect the FDA to protect you from this, but the fact is they were created to promote and protect “farmers” and “cattlemen,” who are now mostly large corporate conglomerates benefiting from government-sponsored local monopolies. We see the victims of E. coli poisoning from “undercooked” beef- which would be perfectly safe if it wasn’t contaminated with, you know, shit- and E. coli tainted vegetables infected from manure runoff, since these county-sized slaughterhouse operations can’t dispose of the cow shit, which could probably fill one of the Great Lakes. Don’t criticize them too loudly, for they are protected by Federal Law (just ask Oprah, who was prosecuted for saying she wouldn’t eat beef until we tested all our cattle for Mad Cow disease, which we still don’t).

Genetically Modified foods are explored as well; they concentrate on Monsanto, not for abstract fear of “frankenfood” as some call it, but for how they have patented life, cornered the market on soybeans, and made it illegal for farmers who purchase their seed to … plant the seeds that were naturally produced. Plants produce seeds; but you can only plant the ones you buy from Monsanto. Your food now comes with a service agreement. It’s an eye-opening documentary, and while I found The Cove important, this is more so. If you wonder why a McMuffin costs less than a head of broccoli, rent this and find out. And wash and cook your food thoroughly. To quote Fast Food Nation, “everybody has to eat a little shit sometime.” Dig in.

5 out of 5 grass-fed free range organic strip steaks, hold the E. coli

Food, Inc. on Netflix

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

mondo mini movie reviews!

This is what I’ve watched in the past week or so.

Black Dynamite
A hilarious homage to the blaxploitation flicks of the ’70s, this one should not be missed. A dose of Dolemite with a dash of The Mack and Superfly, martial artist Michael Jai White plays the title character who’s out to avenge his dead brother, who was working for the CIA when a mafia drug deal went sour. It begins with him kicking an old lady through a door, and ends with him kicking ass at the White House, as his battle leads him to The Man himself. It gets a little silly in the middle when we learn what the Sinister Plot is, just in time for a homage to Enter the Dragon, but the dialogue is so moronically clever that you’ll be laughing the entire time. “If your momma was alive to see this, she’d be spinning in her grave!”

4 out of 5 fat muthafuckas wrestlin’ over pork chops ‘n greens

The Cove
If you ask the average person in Japan if they eat dolphin, they’d say no. So then why are thousands slaughtered every year in a secretive cove in Taiji? This documentary plays like a heist film as the man who trained Flipper, now turned activist, exposes the brutal and bloody secret of the dolphin industry, where hundreds are harvested for amusement parks and the rest are butchered for meat, and because the Japanese fishing industry thinks they eat too many fish. Yeah, really. This doc certainly has an agenda, but all good ones do; it takes great pains to show that the average Japanese has no idea this is going on, and this is no different than the corruption in America’s cattle industry, which keeps us from testing every animal for Mad Cow disease. You’ll never go to Sea World again after you watch this one.

4.5 out of 5 senseless slaughters

A Serious Man
The Coens weave a darkly comic tale of Larry Gopnik, a physics teacher whose life takes on the story of Joband the puzzle of Schroedinger’s Cat as his life begins to fall apart. I found it interesting, but at times deliberately difficult, and a little pretentious. It calls back to Barton Fink, and is enjoyable as a dark comedy if you don’t want to wonder if Gopnik is destined to misery because he’s angered God, is being tested, or has just made a serious of bad choices that like Schroedinger’s Cat, he can’t tell the result of without affecting it. It’s a good discussion film, but not for everyone; if you hated Synecdoche, NY you’ll probably find parts of this a little pretentious. I myself liked it, but felt some of it superfluous. The opening story of the dybbuk makes sense in retrospect, as it can be likened to Schroedinger’s cat, and then the issue of a student who may or may not be trying to bribe Gopnik for a better grade, and so on. There’s also the story of his son preparing for his bar mitzvah, which is both entertaining and nostalgic; did I mention it’s all set in the Jewish neighborhood of Minneapolis suburbs in the late 60’s? Nice touch. Much like the story of the dybbuk, it places it in the past and gives it all the feel of a parable.

4 out of 5 Larry Storches
The Hurt Locker
Wow. This is a war film, and the best depiction of the Iraq War I’ve seen, but first of all it is a character study. A study of the kind of adrenaline junkie operator who can handle the job of Explosive Ordnance Disposal- defusing bombs and IEDs in a war zone. Kathryn Bigelow has made a documentary-style masterpiece that takes the opening sequence of A Touch of Evil, where we see a bomb put in a car’s trunk and follow it, knowing it must go off, and makes it into a gripping war thriller. The movie is over 2 hours long, but felt like 90 minutes. Like the heroes of a Michael Mann film, these are men who define themselves by what they do, and there is a paucity of dialogue. Sgt. James leads a small squad after their leader is killed; they’re short timers who just want to go home, but he actually seems to love this job. And he’s incredibly good at it. The story unfolds like a memoir, with little structure, jumping from a sniper battle in the desert to an Iraqi base rat kid who James takes under his wing, to his men wondering if he’s going to get them killed. He’s a mystery; but in the end, we see his heart, and what makes him tick. It’s a brilliant character study of the kind of man it takes to do this insane job, disguised as a satisfying thriller. It is one of my favorites of the year, and it’s a toss-up to me whether it or Up in the Air is the better picture. Both make great entertainment out of prescient issues we’d rather ignore.

5 out of 5 Best Director Oscars for Kathryn Bigelow, Dammit

The Ghost Writer
Fuck you, Polanski. Come let justice be served. Stop being Noah Cross. Have you made a great movie since then anyway? You’re not getting my money until you pay your debt.

Temple Grandin
Excellent biopic of an autistic woman who revolutionized the beef industry by making slaughterhouses more humane. I read her story in the Star-Ledger years ago, and Claire Danes portrays her amazingly in what will surely be an Emmy-nominated performance. This is playing on HBO, and you should see it. It tries to give us the view of the world through her eyes, and while some of the direction is a bit indulgent and lazy- a montage set to guitar as she figures out how to get on a cattle lot that won’t let women in for example- the story itself is compelling and touching. It’s a TV movie for sure, but Danes performance, and David Strathairn as the teacher who understands her genius, make it worth your time.

3.5 out of 5 moo moo everywhere a moo moos

Dirty Ho
No, not porn! One of the better humorous kung fu flicks of the ’70s. Pita-San and I watched this and One-Armed Boxer vs. the Master of the Flying Guillotine, which has some cool fights and great kraut-rock music by Neu!; Dirty Ho is a kung fu comedy from ’79 starring Chiu hiu “Gordon” Liu, best known as Johnny Mo/Pai Mei from the Kill Bill movies. I’d recognize that bald noggin anywhere! He plays a prince with many brothers who’re trying to kill each other off for Dad’s inheritance, and he tricks a scheming thief named … Dirty Ho… to help him. Let’s face it, the name is what makes you watch this movie the first time, but it has great training sequences and fights, and plenty of laughs and slapstick. Plus a great scene where Gordon “fights” using his servant. An underappreciated classic, if you love kung fu flicks, you must find this one.

4 out of 5 dirty ho’s

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Raging Bullshit

My picks for the Oscars this year. Who I want to win, not who I think will win; the Academy never fails to disappoint. I’m choosing a couple films I haven’t seen yet, because I think most of the Academy lies about that too.

Best Picture:
Up in the Air

Best Director:
Kathryn Bigelow

Best Actor:
Jeff Bridges

Best Actress:
Carey Mulligan

Best Supporting Actor:
Christoph Waltz

Best Supporting Actress:

Best Original Screenplay:
Inglourious Basterds

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Up in the Air

Best Special Effects:

Best Editing:
District 9

Best Cinematography:
Inglourious Basterds

Best Animated Feature:
The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Best Original Score:

Best Documentary:
The Cove

Best Art Direction:
The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

Best Foreign Film:
The White Ribbon

Best Animated Short:
Wallace & Gromit in A Matter of Loaf and Death

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

The Oscars 2009

The big surprise was I forgot that Hugh Jackman can sing- he was “The Boy from Oz” after all. The opening number with its Be Kind Rewind style sets and snappy lyrics was more fun than most of what followed. The choices were pretty expected, but they surprised me with some of their choices this year, but not always in a good way. I did like the “former-winner” round table method of introducing the best performance categories. That was an inspired choice. The tip-tap-typing for the screenwriting categories? Not so much.

Best Supporting Actress, Penelope Cruz. I like her too, but I didn’t think that movie really showcased her talents or made her very memorable. I was quite surprised they didn’t pick Viola Davis, who was amazing in a short amount of time.

No surprise on Animated Feature or Heath Ledger; those picks were in a long time ago. Same with Man on Wire for documentary- why not a feelgood movie, instead of reminding us about Katrina or Abu Ghraib? To be fair, Man on Wire is very compelling. Plus, Philip Petit balanced the Oscar on his chin, that was sort of cool. He’s still infectiously cheerful 35 years after wowing the world by performing his amazing stunt.

As for Best Visual Effects, I had a feeling Benjamin Button would sweep them up. I was hoping Iron Man might get it, as the visuals were pretty impressive there. Sound Editing for Dark Knight was nice, I thought Slumdog might grab it- it got Sound Mixing instead, and I must say for a drama it had an impressive and creative mix. Then again, those are the Oscars no one cares about.

I was very glad Danny Boyle got Best Director. I think Fincher will earn one eventually, but Benjamin Button was not the movie for it. If he has to wait to make his Departed 30 years from now, so be it. As for Kate Winslet, she was the best part of a clumsily constructed movie, and did a great job with a complex character. She deserved recognition, and while Anne Hathaway may have done a fantastic job, hopefully she’ll have more chances to earn an award.

I was also surprised that Sean Penn got it for Milk- it was a great performance, but I guess I was hoping Mickey Rourke would get the nod. I guess he’s got to be satisfied with a nomination, maybe they thought he was just playing himself? At least it gave Penn a chance to mention the shame of Prop 8, and give Mickey some kudos for clawing his way back up from self-destruction.

And no surprise, Slumdog Millionaire grabbed the gold. It was an old basic story, told fresh, in a refreshing way. It reminded me of The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp, a Pressburger & Powell epic that told its story through flashbacks, but Danny Boyle and company made it a thrilling and emotional ride. I’m glad it won, but I wish The Wrestler and The Dark Knight got more recognition.

The Oscar Nominations, my predictions and (nose)picks

My thoughts on the Oscar nominations.

Best Picture
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

What will win: Slumdog Millionaire
My pick: The Wrestler
My pick of their picks: Milk

I loved Slumdog and it is a refreshing mix of old-school epic filmmaking, Bollywood, and really shows Danny Boyle at his best, but I thought Milk was a more important film, handled a subject we are still fighting over instead of joining the 21st century, and elegizes a human being who decided to change the world at age 40 and succeeded.

Best Actor
Richard Jenkins for The Visitor
Frank Langella for Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn for Milk
Brad Pitt for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (REALLY?)
Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler

Who will win: Frank Langella
My pick: Mickey Rourke
Second pick: Richard Jenkins (underdog vote)

Frank Langella is getting on in years and this is his best role in ages, since he played the evil dude in Dave. Mickey Rourke got the Globe, but maybe there’s a lot of bad blood and the Academy will snub him. I think he deserves it. I haven’t written up my review of The Visitor yet, but it’s an excellent, understated film and performance that the Academy might recognize, and also tells an emotional tale of the inhumanity of our immigration policy, but it’s too quiet and small to win. Colin Farrel was great as the morose yet hyper hitman in In Bruges, but he gets snubbed. Sean Penn was great as Harvey Milk, but he’s won before; he might nail it again though. He certainly made me forget he was Sean Penn.

Best Actress
Anne Hathaway for Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie for Changeling
Melissa Leo for Frozen River
Meryl Streep for Doubt
Kate Winslet for The Reader

Who will win: Kate Winslet
My pick: Anne Hathaway

Kate deserves it, she’s been snubbed a lot and she was great in The Reader, channeling Marlena Dietrich like a pro. I think she really showed her chops this year, but Anne Hathaway really nailed the recovering addict dynamic, and it moved me personally. It won’t be a tragedy if Kate wins, and at least Hathaway got recognized for her fine work.

Best Supporting Actor
Josh Brolin for Milk
Robert Downey Jr. for Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman for Doubt
Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon for Revolutionary Road

Who will win: Heath Ledger
My pick: Heath Ledger

He’s friggin’ dead! And he was incredible. Even up against excellent performances such as Josh Brolin as unhinged assassin Dan White, and Michael Shannon stealing the show from DiCaprio, Winslet AND Kathy Bates, and even Robert Downey Jr. in blackface was amazing, but I’m really surprised he got nominated for it. I mean it’s not like nominating Mickey Rooney for his racist imitation of a Chinese guy in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but um… Really, anyone who wins here deserves it, it’s a really tough call, but I think Ledger will get it.

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams for Doubt
Penelope Cruz for Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis for Doubt
Taraji P. Henson for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei for The Wrestler

Who will win: Taraji P. Henson
My pick: Marisa Tomei

Marisa deserves to shrug off the My Cousin Vinny curse and he recognized as one of our best actresses. I haven’t seen Doubt yet but will soon, so I may change my mind. Hollywood loves nuns, so they might snatch it. I bet green money the Academy can’t NOT give an Oscar to a black performer in the year of Obama, though. Taraji Henson was the most memorable thing about Benjamin Button, though.

Best Director
Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire
Stephen Daldry for The Reader
David Fincher for Benjamin Button
Ron Howard for Frost/Nixon
Gus Van SantMilk

Who will win: Ron Howard
My pick: Darren Aronofsky for The Wrestler
My pick of their picks: Danny Boyle

Opie has been snubbed so many times. Justly so, because he’s a good director but not a great one, but they might give him a sympathy vote. Danny Boyle really does deserve this one and I hope he gets it- he made a film that made going to the movies exciting and unpredictable (even when you knew how it would end). But it’s about direction- The Reader and Frost/Nixon ride on story & performances; Milk is very subtle. I love Fincher but Benji’s Buttplug is just Oscar bait and effects. Wall-E should have been nominated- animation directors never get any notice. Same with Christiopher Nolan.

The Oscars only us film nerds care about, after the jump:

Best Original Screenplay
Frozen River
In Bruges

Who will win: Milk
My pick: In Bruges

Why? I loved Happy-Go-Lucky and Wall-E, but In Bruges is a darkly comic masterpiece, something we rarely get anymore. Milk is more about direction and performances; haven’t seen Frozen River yet, but will soon. I have a feeling I’ll stand by my choice. Milk will get thrown a Prop-8 bone (pun intended). Where’s The Wrestler?

Best Adapted Screenplay
Benjamin Button (really)
The Dark Knight
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

Who will win: Slumdog Millionaire
My pick: The Dark Knight

Why? Slumdog didn’t get any acting noms and people love it; they often throw this bone. It might even deserve it, but I think The Dark Knight elevated the superhero movie and even transcended it in a way Watchmen probably won’t. It was a thriller, a police procedural, a heist movie, a terrorist movie, it was Heat with Batman and the Joker. Slumdog is a deserving contender with its rags to Rajah story, but I think the direction stood out more.

Best Animated Feature
Kung Fu Panda

Who wins: Wall-E, no contest; like Beauty and the Beast, this one should have crossed over to Best Picture.

Best Documentary
The Betrayal – Nerakhoon
Encounters at the End of the World
The Garden
Man on Wire
Trouble the Water

Who will win: Man on Wire
My pick: Standard Operating Procedure
My pick of their picks: Trouble the Water

Why? Man on Wire is a feel-good film about the World Trade Center. No one cares about Katrina, torture, Vietnam, or Darfur anymore. Obama is President! Let’s be happy. That’s my guess. The Garden might grab it, it’s about a garden planted after the L.A. riots. Hey, racial harmony for the win! Trouble the Waters probably deserves it. Haven’t been able to see it.

Best Foreign Film
The Baader-Meinhof Complex
The Class (Entre les murs)
Waltz with Bashir

Who will win: Waltz with Bashir
My pick: Dammit I haven’t seen any of these. But to hell with ’em, Let the Right One In should win!

Best Cinematography
Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
The Reader (really?)
Slumdog Millionaire

Who will win: The Dark Knight
My pick: The Dark Knight

Why? IMAX.

Best Editing
Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire

Who will win: Benjamin Button
My pick: Slumdog Millionaire

Why? You’re still reading? I thought no one cared about these awards. Slumdog had some great edits.

Best Make-Up
Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Who will win: Benjamin Button
My pick: Hellboy II

Why? Because Hellboy looked real. TDK might grab this but Joker’s scars were nothing new really. Benjamin Button will win for the triumph of making women think Brad Pitt was no longer attractive.

Best Original Score

Who will win: Slumdog Millionaire. My pick too. Something new for a change, and lovely to listen to.

One last one: Best Animated Short? Probably Pixar’s Presto, which reminded me of the old Tex Avery cartoons so much.

And that’s that- the Oscars will be interesting, to say the least!