Archive for the ‘jason reitman’ tag
Every year there are a few surprises at the Academy Awards that fly in the face of conventional wisdom. Here’s your chance to wow your party guests by yelling out a surprise correct pick just before the names are read. This is your guide to Oscar night upsets.
Best Picture: Avatar, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire, A Serious Man, Up, Up in the Air
Conventional wisdom says this is Avatar‘s race to lose, but if it loses it will lose to The Hurt Locker. There’s also been a little speculation recently that Inglourious Basterds is making a late push and could pull a dark horse upset. While Avatar is still the best bet in this category, I think it is worth considering how the method of Oscar voting for Best Picture could lead to an upset here. Academy members rank the nominees from 1-10. In counting the ballots, all ballots are stacked by their first place vote. If one picture has 50%, the counting is over. If not (which is much more likely), the film with the lowest total is eliminated, and those ballots’ second place votes are counted. This process continues, eliminating one picture at a time, until there is a film with 50% of the ballots. What does this mean? It means that a film could have only a medium-range number of first place votes, but if it has a lot of second- and third-place votes, it could win Best Picture. And this seems pretty likely. The films most likely to be eliminated first (A Serious Man, An Education) seem more likely to have The Hurt Locker ranked higher than Avatar. So unless Avatar begins with a very sizeable lead (say 25% of first-place votes with nothing else over 10%), I think it is very likely that The Hurt Locker or Inglourious Basterds wins. Also, the Academy loves violent films (No Country for Old Men, The Departed, LOTR: Return of the King, Gladiator), which favors The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds. Also, a science fiction film has never one; Avatar (or District 9) would be the first.
Best Director: James Cameron, Kathryn Bigelow, Quentin Tarantino, Lee Daniels, Jason Reitman
Everyone has handed over this award to Kathryn Bigelow already. Since no woman has ever won Best Director, many assume now is the time. But of course, that’s as much a reason to say Bigelow won’t win as that she will. That logic could also work with Lee Daniels, since he is only the second African-American to be nominated. (The first, John Singleton, didn’t win for Boyz n the Hood.) Remarkably, QT has only been nominated once before; if IB picks up some technical awards early in the night, he could pull an upset here. But I think the real upset will be Cameron defeating his ex-wife Bigelow. The Academy loves traditionalist men who command large epics. For the last six years, Best Picture and Best Director have gone together, so it’s hard to believe that the Academy will go for Bigelow for directing and Avatar for film. If there is a split, expect it to be the reverse, due to the voting procedures.
Best Original Screenplay: Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker), Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds), Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman (The Messenger), Joel Coen & Ethan Coen (A Serious Man), Bob Peterson & Pete Docter (Up)
This category usually goes to the most inventive or innovative script and rarely aligns with Best Picture. Going by innovation, QT is the winner here. But the Academy has recently been leaning toward first-time writers (Dustin Lance Black, Diablo Cody, Sofia Coppola), which could favor Mark Boal. Oddly, if Hurt Locker gets shut out of the other major awards, expect a win here; if it does well elsewhere, then this one is for Tarantino.
Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, Vera Farmiga, Maggie Gyllenhall, Anna Kendrick, Mo’Nique
There is nearly universal consensus that Mo’Nique will run away with this award. But that runs against a strong precedent. This is the award that Hollywood gives to some pretty young thing like a glistening tiara in a beauty pageant. Cruz, Weisz, Blanchett, Zellweger(!), Zeta-Jones, Connelly, Jolie, Sorvino, Tomei… the last 15 years have almost always gone to some under-35 up-and-comer. (Sorry, Carey Mulligan, but you need a fake accent or heavy make-up to win Best Actress like Witherspoon, Theron, or Kidman.) Reasoning that Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga will split the votes of Up in the Air fans, this award goes to Gyllenhall. But don’t be too surprised if Up in the Air snags one or two acting wins, and this is the place to do it.
Best Actor: Jeff Bridges, George Clooney, Colin Firth, Morgan Freeman, Jeremy Renner
Bridges has this one locked up, the experts say. But will enough people have seen Crazy Heart to give it to Bridges? He hasn’t been nominated in 25 years, but don’t give too much attention to an actor’s being “due.” Freeman could win simply because the Academy so loves bio pics (Sean Penn, Forest Whitaker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jamie Foxx). But everybody loves them some Clooney, and who wouldn’t like to see Firth win? Especially since, like Hoffman and Penn, he is playing a gay man. I have trouble seeing how Renner wins this, but since no one is talking about anyone but Bridges, let’s at least mention his name, too.
Best Actress: Sandra Bullock, Helen Mirren, Carey Mulligan, Gabourey Sibide, Meryl Streep
This is being pitched as a heavy-weight fight of Bullock vs. Streep. Recently, Streep has only been the bridesmaid and never the bride, while Bullock has (understandably) never been nominated before. I can see an Erin Brockovitch-type win here, but that film had Steven Soderbergh’s pedigree behind it. This award never goes to a performance in a Best Picture winner, but that doesn’t seem to be a concern here. (Mulligan’s and Sibide’s films are nominated, but are very longshots.) Let’s call this one for Bullock because she used an accent and because we know she’ll squander the Oscar love on terrible films, just like Halle Berry.
So those are the categories where there’s a stand-out favorite, but why there could be an upset.
Still not enough to impress your friends? Tell them Up in the Air has no shot because only one comedy in the last 30 years has won Best Picture (Shakespeare in Love, during Miramax’s heyday). The Hurt Locker would be the lowest grossing film to ever win Best Picture. (Obviously, Avatar would be the highest.) When Christoph Waltz wins best Supporting Actor, tell them that Tarantino had given up on making Basterds until he found Waltz to play the multi-lingual Col. Landa. Tell your friends that you think Michael Giacchino should win Best Original Score for Up, and that you love his work with J.J. Abrams on television (Lost, Fringe, Alias) as well has his film scores for Abrams and for Pixar (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Star Trek).
Trailer-level spoilers for Up in the Air and medium spoilers for Drag Me to Hell
Manohla Dargis called Up in the Air “a well-timed snapshot of an economically flailing America.” A. O. Scott called it “a classic in the making. In 50 or 60 years when people want to know what life is like in this anxious, strange moment of recession at the end of this decade, they’re going to look at this movie the way we look at the movies of Preston Sturges or Frank Capra to find what life was like in the ’30s. … It captures something very deep and very sad about the way that we live now in a light-hearted and comic way, and I think that that’s brilliant.” And those descriptions are exactly right, but they’re about the wrong movie.
They are talking about Jason Reitman’s fine character study of a man who fires people for a living. It’s the one booming business these days, but even this job is unsettled as George Clooney’s character, who has trouble forming relationships with anybody, realizes his job is being replaced by an up-and-comer, played superbly by Anna Kendrick. The film is very aware of its prestigious ambitions and careful tone, and it is a moderately successful film that is a big-issue story masquerading as a small, intimate story. It’s pretty good. You should see it.
But, with all due deference to Mr. Scott and Ms. Dargis and the many others who have made similar claims, Up in the Air is not the 2009 film that best captures “this anxious, strange moment of recession at the end of this decade.” For that, we should turn to Sam Raimi’s throwback horror film Drag Me to Hell.
Drag Me to Hell is the story of Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), who in her role as insurance officer at a regional bank branch, decides to try for a promotion to assistant manager despite knowing that doing so requires her to make “tough decisions” that will impress her boss. The first such decision is to deny a third extension on a late mortgage payment; unfortunately, this is an old gypsy woman who begs Brown to reconsider, and in refusing to do so, shames the old woman. Being a gypsy, she curses Brown, who spends the next 60 minutes chased by a demon who claims her soul. Why is this the film that best captures the feeling of 2009?
“Actually, it was the bank that took the house. I just work there.”
Before entering a by-the-book horror-film third act, Drag Me to Hell is largely about the psychological consequences of working in a capitalist society. Brown is torn between doing what she knows is right and doing what she knows will help her get ahead in her workplace. She feels threatened by her boyfriend’s parents, who see her as a failure for not being born successful. She feels threatened by her male coworker who is gunning for the same job, and taking every opportunity to demean her. But she chooses to work within the cold machinations of capitalism, even when she knows it will hurt others. She will sacrifice an old woman’s future to keep her job secure and get just a little ahead. We see the devastation wrought by the financial sector on this old woman. The film doesn’t even attempt to cloak it as a case of capitalism-run-amok with greedy robber barons destroying the country; Brown is doing what makes sense for her job, since her bank will earn nice fees for foreclosing on the house. We watch the pitiable woman being beaten down by a system that doesn’t stop for her, and the subsequent shame. And we also see the shame to Brown as she participates in this. Early on, she attempts to deflect the guilt of her actions onto the company for which she works, but the film is a slow realization that she must face up to her guilt rather than hide behind her company.
“You deserve everything that is coming to you.”
After the gypsy woman attacks her, Brown suffers a mental break. (Notably, most of the film could be read as a psychotic break suffered by Brown; almost no one else experiences the terrors that she experiences, even when they are in the same room, unless they are already “believers.”) Like someone fired in a massive downsizing, Brown believes that she deserves what is happening to her. People who have been fired often feel like they are at fault rather than the company or person who fired them; if only they had worked harder, they would have been okay. They feel guilty, like they deserved what happened to them, even if that is not the truth. And certainly Brown goes through this as well. She, and the viewer, know that her actions led to this point, and that she must face the consequences herself. That feeling of deserving what is coming to you perfectly captures the feeling of the displaced worker, even though Brown deserves it and many downsized workers do not.
“It was my decision and it was wrong of me.” “You have such a good heart.”
The shame to those destroyed by the system, the guilt of those complicit in the system, the difficult choices faced by those still in the system. These are the feelings of 2009 that Drag Me to Hell captures and Up in the Air does not. After all, Anna Kendrick’s character got hired coming right out of college! And she had multiple job opportunities! Up in the Air may have some nice things to say about changing ideas of corporate loyalty and growing old, but nothing hits 2009 where it hurts like Drag Me to Hell. [BIG DRAG ME TO HELL SPOILER] When Christine Brown recognizes that what she did was wrong, it is too late for her. Having a good heart in the end wasn’t enough. She had to face the consequences of staying in her job. And the film’s final scenes are a working out of her survivor’s guilt.
2009 was hell. Sam Raimi captured it in a way worth remembering.