I've seen "only" 85ish movies that opened in 2008, but that does include virtually every feature-length film with an Oscar nomination, except I think a total of 4 noms for these 4 films: The Duchess; Hellboy 2; Happy-go-Lucky; and The Visitor. I walked out on Kung Fu Panda. Some films I may have been more awake for than others. Some of the films I might have skipped if not for the Variety Screening Series. I'm pretty certain I'd have skipped The Wrestler, and I may have caught The Reader only reluctantly after the nominations were announced. I'm so glad Melissa Leo got a Best Actress nom for Frozen River, giving me an excuse to see a movie I'd missed, instead of Kristen Scott Thomas in I Loved You So Long which I'd quite happily missed and am glad not to have felt any obligation to see.
My best films of 2008: Stop Loss, The Dark Knight, Tropic Thunder, Rachel Getting Married, Wanted, Tell No One, Slumdog Millionaire, The Reader and Defiance. Vicky Cristina Barcelona was Woody Allen's best movie in years but I'm not sure good enough to be 10th on my ten best. I really enjoyed Eagle Eye and Role Models as well.
So of the films contending for Best Picture, the conventional wisdom has the battle between Benjamin Button and Slumdog, and Slumdog will almost certainly win. The voters pay attention to box office, and Benjaminin Button has faded badly even with the benefit of all of its Oscar noms while Slumdog has been thriving. I've seen Slumdog twice myself, I liked it equally as much the second time around, and I won't complain if it wins.
But I do wish more consideration were being given to The Reader. I mentioned when I blogged on it how there were layers apparent a week after the movie that hadn't been when I saw it, and that sense has only grown. Think Lynndie England. Her existence: working cashier at IGA and nights in a chicken processing factory. Joining the US Army Reserve is a way to better herself, to serve her country, to do good and do right. She ends up doing horrible things at Abu Ghraib, court-martialled, in jail, almost certainly as a result of policies that came down from much higher levels than herself. Well, that's somewhat like the character Kate Winslet is playing in The Reader. When she's on trial for her role as a concentration camp guard who watched while hundreds of her charges died in a fire in the waning days of WWII, she asks the judge what he would have done when the Nazis came looking for people and she left her job at Siemen's (a German department store) to join. The Reader makes you think. It brings you face to face with unpleasant thoughts. It deserves its Best Picture nomination, Kate Winslet is hugely deserving of hers for Best Actress, and you should see it.
And then there's Benjamin Button, that doesn't deserve much Oscar l0ve at all; and Frost/Nixon and Milk which deserve to go at it in Best Actor and offer merits beyond, but which don't make my Best of 2008 list. You can dig into mu archives for December and January to read more. Let's just say for Best Actor that I'm glad not to have to choose between Frank Langella and Sean Penn, who both do brilliant work. Wisdom says the Oscar goes to Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler, and I hope not. Best Actress is also a hard category to make a selection in. I may have enjoyed Angelina Jolie more in Wanted than in Changeling, and Meryl Streep in Doubt does good work but not so good as to deserve another trophy for it. But Anne Hathaway is brilliant in Rachel Getting Married, Melissa Leo brilliant in Frozen River, and Kate Winslet brilliant in The Reader. I reckon I'll root for Winslet just because I'd like the movie to pick up a prominent win to help get more people to see it, and if that happens it will pain me more on Anne Hathaway's account than Melissa Leo's. What a wonderful category full of great performances.
Best Supporting Actor is another category full of great performances. I wasn't so fond of Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road, a movie I didn't like much. The fact that he is nominated frustrates me some. Shannon's performance is another demonstration of the power of playing retard, doing "the full retard" as Robert Downey Jr. calls it in his wonderful turn in the hilarous Tropic Thunder. So why isn't there some actor somewhere who hasn't realized his path to an Oscar nomination lay in playing the role of Lou Arrendale in the film version of Elizabeth Moon's THE SPEED OF DARK. Why hasn't this been filmed, or at least come a lot closer than it has? My business is going very well right now, but this film thing with The Speed of Dark is one of my ongoing frustrations, and having Michael Shannon nominated for his awful overacting full retard performance in this movie stabs at me, kind of like the way Captain Kirk stabs at Khan. Josh Brolin does good work in this category as well, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman does good work so often that it's hard to feel extra love for his performance in Doubt, though it is very very good. I'm not as fond of the choices for Supporting Actress, but at least for me the most revelatory was Penelope Cruz's in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. She has no chance of winning, but here's an actress I didn't mind at all after spending years minding her in just about everything, in the best Woody Allen movie in goodness knows how long.
Can we give Best Director to Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire please? Ron Howard does very well with Frost/Nixon but not well enough to overcome the weakness of the play. Benjamin Bad-don! Gus Van Sant doesn't deserve a nominati0n for Milk. Stephen Daldy deserves for The Reader, but as much as I like that movie Slumdog Millionaire is a great piece of filmmaking.
Bolt not so good, Kung Fu Panda worse, Wall-E wins by default even though it's not as good as the hooplah about it. I'd like to get rid of this category.
The Dark Knight should win for Art Direction, though Changelings is also good. But I suspect Benjamin Bad-don will take this category. Cinematography is harder to get a handle on. I think I'd select Dark Knight but Slumdog deserves serious consideration, and realistically so do the other nominees. I rarely have any favorite for Costume Direction, but this year I'm pulling hard for a win for a movie I didn't like, in Revolutionary Road.
Having just seen a second time, I can vouch that Slumdog Millionaire is a great piece of filmmaking so let's give it an Oscar for Editing! I don't care about make-up or song, but score offers a great piece of film music in The Defiance and an offbeat and different approach in Slumdog.
I'm not a real expert on Sound Stuff, but I'm glad to see two offbeat nominations for Wanted. Wouldn't it be nice for that massively fun movie to be an Academy Award Winner for Sound Editing or Sound Mixing?
Visual Effects: Dark Knight!
Adapted Screenplay is a tough call between The Reader and Slumdog. Here I'd rather see The Reader win, because it cuts a lot deeper. For Original Screenplay, In Bruges, but only by process of elimination. The script is the weaker part of Frozen River. Wall-E I don't like so much and the screenplay fails badly on some character motivation issues. The screenplay for Milk deserves some of the blame for the film's odd choices in when to go Hollywood bio-pic cliche and when not. Happy-go-lucky is from a director I don't care for very much for a film I have no desire to see. But, if Sean Penn isn't going to win for Best Actor, and if I'm going to think it would be nifty for Wanted to win an award just because, then I ought to want Milk to win an award just because, too. Except deep down I don't think it has the best screenplay, or the best editing or costume design or director. And Josh Brolin won't win against Heath Ledger. So I'll go back up to Best Actor and start rooting hard for Sean Penn over Frank Langella.
Well, good or bad as the broadcast may be, I always love my Oscar night.