Let me be clear. "The Dark Knight" was shafted. There. It's out. I'm biased. I'm all bat-mania. Whew! I said it…but damn, I'm still really aggravated. I sort of feel like the dodgeball captain during team selection, when you've got to pick from the last four people left. That's what the 81st Academy Awards Best Picture Nominees are: finding the cyclops among the blind because, hey, one eye's better than none.
Leading Actress isn't even that much of a toss-up. Meryl Streep is the clear winner. Her turn as a fanatical and relentless nun is both comedic and appalling. Streep is a Class-A actress, who doesn't require excessive hair growth and nude scenes to convey emotion or acting bravado. This is more than I can say for Kate Winslet. I'm sorry. She just doesn't deserve it. There was nothing especially compelling about her performance and while Halle Berry probably deserved an Oscar for having a sex scene with Billy Bob Thorton, I don't feel Kate earns it by having awkward and over-photographed Reading Rainbow romps with a 17-year-old actor. Angelina Jolie did a good job as well, but not like Streep. And Anne Hathaway…please…
Supporting Actress. I'm actually torn here. really torn. Let me drop those who don't tear me though. Bye Amy Adams. Bye Penelope Cruz…ugh. And Marisa Tomei needs to you know…stop acting the same role. No wonder you're good–you've done this role two times before. But when it comes down to Taraji P. Henson and Viola Davis, I'm utterly torn. Henson is a life-raft in a over-long sludge fest that is "Benjamin Button." Her warmth and compassion is overwhelming and keen, and actually serves to highlight the film's largest flaw in Pitt's pathetically detached reaction to her passing. But at the same time, there's something about a woman who can emote through snot that really rubs me well. Davis sells a really, really, really, really, really, really hard–did I say really hard–character in the mother of a young homosexual who is allegedly being sexually abused. It's heartbreaking, how Davis channels both the racism of the times in order to justify her son's molestation as long as its by someone who doesn't treat him like the n-word. It's amazing and heart-rending, and it is one of the few moments that even rattle the stoic Streep in this film.
Animated Feature Film easily goes to "Wall-E." God, I cried.
The Art Direction is a toss-up. I'm going to "Revolutionary Road" or "The Dark Knight" here. Both had controlled, succinct visions that resonated both character and tone. "The Duchess" was suffocating. Benjamin Button was nice, but sometimes too CGI. And I loved the deceivingly Hallmark feel of "Changeling," but "The Dark Knight" and "Revolutionary Road" really captured their characters in the design. Ledger's Joker is simply amazing, and the various ways he appears (i.e. a nurse) are both hilarious and disgusting.
"The Dark Knight" for Cinematography. Why? Well, if it's going to get shafted despite getting all these awards for technical aspects, it man-as-well get those technical ones that in total just scream: "best film." "The Changeling" was really, really well-done as well. But seriously, the wide landscapes, feverish shot design, lovely colors, Joker's floating face in blackness–this was a true master at work in a field that sees few masters.
Honestly, I have no clue who should get it for Director. I am someone who feels that "Slumdog Millionaire" is sort of overrated. It's an Academy shoe-in, despite it not looking so, and that makes me just sick. The Reader–no. Why is it even in this list? Milk? Gus van Sant is amazing and he perhaps deserves it more than the remaining directors. "Frost/Nixon" was just mediocre, and a lot of that laid in directorial decisions. And on principle I cannot say Fincher deserves one for "Benjamin Button" for the simple fact that this is easily one of his weakest movies. "Zodiac" is Fincher at prime form.
Editing "The Dark Knight" is a task like no other…or so I'd imagine. Just watch the action sequences, so well-crafted and edited. It was something new, something refreshing…just what an award warrants.
As a huge score fan, I was also disappointed with their choices this year. However, these are the same people who up-ended Clint Mansell's "The Fountain" score so… Anyway, The Grammy's got it right: The Dark Knight should be among the nominess. But alas, it is not–thus I am again the dodgeball captain. I'm going to go with "Defiance" here. Although strings have become synonymous for Holocaust and sorrow, James Newton Howard does an admirable job in this otherwise "meh" film.
Screenplays go to "Doubt" and then "Wall-E" for their respective categories. Film is images and both these films–especially "Wall-E"–captures words in the images.
Best Picture. Ugh. Honestly, I don't. I really don't. "The Dark Knight" was the best picture of the year. I'm going to with "Milk" though. Why? Here we go:
If a film's going to be the best picture, I want it to tap into something–something universal but that is also daring and relevant. It's all well and good to showcase love or betrayal or ambition or passion or repentance…all our nominees this year do that. But only Milk showcases these universal emotions but taps into something relevant in its exploration of gay rights–a movement that saw a huge blow this past year in the 2008 elections with all the marriage and gay adoption propositions. "The Reader" is dated in terms of what it explores socially. I know that sounds harsh. But film exploring The Holocaust, an utmost tragedy, have become a genre on to themselves. "Benjamin Button" is just trying too hard, and trying poorly. "Frost/Nixon" is…why is it even there? The main character's unlikeable and is ram-rodded for the first one and a half…then there's ten minutes where he sort of does something…BECAUSE NIXON LETS HIM. There's no tension. Just…all Nixon. But yes, "Slumdog Millionaire" — I'm sorry. Overrated. And I really wasn't all that surprised by it's attempt at mystery. But go watch "Milk" and you'll see a film that taps into a man's yearning to be something more, to get a second chance, to have love and to do good…and watch how society treats such a man because of one trait. It's relevant, it makes you think, and it's socially-aware…just like The Dark Knight was.
So if you've read this far, you probably agree with me about "The Dark Knight" or you are so incensed by my blind bias that you're just itching to get angrier. Let me oblige.
WHY "THE DARK KNIGHT" IS THE REAL BEST PICTURE
We live in a
complex society. We live in a society that has changed radically and quickly since 9/11. We live in a society that's social institutions and social ills largely have fallen to invisibility. In such times, it is easy for us–and cathartic–for us to explore those issues and see those social seams in metaphor or allegory. Comic books have always been an indicator of a social personality so it stands to no surprise that the most human hero, Batman, could so aptly explore a post-9/11 landscape while also redefining a genre.
And that's what The Best Picture should do: it should re-define it's respective genre. It should not be judged upon simply upon its genre–film is all genres and the Academy has always done a great disservice to the history of cinema by almost always employing a genre litmus test. "The Dark Knight" easily redefined its genre and delivered something new and fresh. The acting is amazing but more importantly…
…the writing. Jonah Nolan brings something amazing to the script with his brother, Christopher. This film is dense and rich in character and theme. It has the balls to confront the reality of its hero, Batman, and the chaos that flows from his mission and the overwhelming odds he finds himself facing. It showcases the ease of a terrorist and the hardship of the protector. The film is a chaotic storm of sub-plots, climaxes, desires, and humanity that whittle down into a quiet scene between three men who just wanted to make the world a better place and–for the most part–failed.
The hero failed. This doesn't happen often in this genre. The hero never fails. The hero always saves the girl. The hero always rides away in triumph.
This is not the case in "The Dark Knight." This ruthless film allows us to trudge with Gordon, Batman, and Dent along their hellish road of good intentions, all the while shocked and appalled at the Joker's presence. There is something beyond words here that "The Dark Knight" captured–the futility of a vigilant society, the fickleness of the scared masses, the nobility and isolation and sacrifice of a true hero who puts action before words.
Leaving "Slumdog Millionaire," I could think of other films it reminded me of. Leaving "Button" all I thought about was "Forrest Gump." Leaving "The Reader" I thought about "Notes on a Scandal" and "The Hours." "Frost/Nixon" reminded me of seven other ten-cent political dramas. Thank God for Milk.
But "The Dark Knight," go see it…and tell me what film it's also like. You really can't. It is so many other films and so not so many other films at the same time. What it is is a new standard, a new genre-type, that deserves the recognition of the Academy as it has garnered the recognition of the movie-going audiences and critics.
That's my rant. Let's see what's up the 22nd.