Thursday, March 20, 2008

One... er... Two Categories at a Time - Part 17 - Director / Picture

Here we are. The big ones. I don't really believe that the best picture nominees will match up exactly with the best director nominees, but there are too many possible combinations right now as to which films will mismatch. So here are my totally fearless, totally unbiased (yeah right) predictions for best director and best picture nominations of 2008:
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Revolutionary Road (Sam Mendes / Sam Mendes, Scott Rudin, John Hart)
This one seems to be at the top of everyone's list. And why shouldn't it! Perennial contender Kate Winslet, the ever-so-popular Leonardo DiCaprio, and legendary Kathy Bates all stack up to give Revolutionary Road the highest potential (and expectations) of any release this year.
Former Titanic heart-throbs Winslet and DiCaprio star as a married couple trying to come to terms with their unfulfilled hopes and dreams while raising a family in 1950's Connecticut.
While I must agree that there is much potential to succeed, I also see much potential to fail. When people realize that this is not the same romantic couple who's forbidden love affair swept us off our feet in Titanic, the film's popularity will suffer. True, the Academy's recent picks don't really scream “popularity”, but a strong financial output would help a lot. The key factor? Sam Mendes. This is his chance prove to everyone that he's not just a one-hit wonder. If he brings the same visceral, artistic direction that made American Beauty such a hit to Revolutionary Road, the movie will succeed.
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Body of Lies (Ridley Scott / Donald De Line, Ridley Scott)
I feel this strong yet understated potential for Body of Lies, the latest work from long-overdue director Ridely Scott. 2008 could be his year the same way 2006 was the year of Martin Scorcese, whose film The Departed may not have been quite as good as his past work, but certainly good enough to rectify past snubs. The same could apply to Scott even if Body of Lies doesn't end up being the best he's ever done.
The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe (both of whom have been churning out consistently good work this decade) in a thriller about an ex-journalist the CIA gets to help them hunt terrorists.
Based on the novel of the same name, the script is being penned by William “Valium-does-work” Monohan of The Departed fame, so we can bet it'll be a thoroughly entertaining story. I hope this one doesn't become another American Gangster as far as awards are concerned. I've long been waiting to see Scott collect his Golden Boy. It drove me mad the way the Academy teased him in 2001 by giving Gladiator best picture and lead actor, but not director. The fiends!
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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (David Fincher / Cean Chaffin, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall)
This picture may strike many as being too odd for the Academy's taste. I think that if anyone can find the perfect balance between the absurd and the profound, it's David Fincher; a remarkable talent who is yet to garner a single nomination! He'll be armed with a script by the always-awards-worthy Eric Roth, and major star power in Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett.
Pitt plays Benjamin Button, who has the most peculiar trait of aging in reverse, which causes all manner of comedic and heart-breaking consequences.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, Fincher's films have never tickled Oscar's fancy, but this one may get in on hype alone. Since it's a late release, a grand critical reception could be enough to convince even those Academy members who haven't seen the film that it deserves the nomination (not unlike There Will Be Blood). I'm not so much worried about the movie's unusual premise as an Oscar turn-off, but I'm more concerned that Revolutionary Road, opening on the same day, could steal the spotlight before The Curious Case of Benjamin Button even has a chance.


Milk (Gus Van Sant / Bruce Cohen, Dan Jinks, Michael London)
Gus Van Sant may have somewhat disappeared since he first exploded onto the scene with the fantastic Good Will Hunting ten years ago, but his talent as a director didn't go anywhere. I've been eager to see when he'll make his next big move. This could be it.
He'll try for some more Oscar attention with this biopic about Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), the first open homosexual to hold office in San Fransisco, who is ultimately assassinated by ultra right-wing politician Dan White (Josh Brolin).
I realize that there are still a number of conspiracy theorists out there who endlessly suggest that the surprise loss of Brokeback Mountain in 2006 was the result of mass homophobia within the Academy, and that would therefore make Milk an automatic loser at next year's Oscars. I don't necessarily believe that, but I do think there's something to be said about the Academy's older male demographic, who may not even feel like watching this movie. All the same, I doubt that will endanger the film's chances of at least being nominated for director and picture.


WALL-E (Andrew Stanton / Jim Morris)
I know this is a bit “Tom-O'Neil-ish” of me, but why should he have all the fun, dammit! Besides, this is the only time of year I can make a prediction like this and come off as merely eccentric, as opposed to flat out crazy. My logic (or lack there of) behind this pick is that sooner or later, the Academy is going to have to realize that year-in and year-out, the best movies are coming from Pixar.
In this particular picture, WALL-E is a robot programmed to tidy up the mess that human beings have made of the planet, when he receives an unexpected visit from another robot named EVE, with whom he quickly falls in love.
Pixar has always been a legitimate candidate for screenplay nominations, but this movie seems to have very little character dialogue. If it meets the high expectations that have been set for it, that may indicate more of a directorial triumph for Andrew Stanton than for his script. I know this is a loooong shot, especially since it has become so convenient for voters to tuck animated films into their own little category, but who knows? Maybe WALL-E can repeat what Beauty and the Beast accomplished in 1992, and then some.



There you have it. I'm outta here for the weekend. I'll be back Monday with some general thoughts on these early hypotheses, and what notable contenders there just wasn't room for. Until then, feel free to unleash your own thoughts and opinions. Ciao for now!

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