Award: What is It Good For?
You can bet on one thing at this year’s 79th annual Academy Awards (literally, as it happens): Helen Mirren will win the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in The Queen. Online gambling site bodog.com has put her odds at 1/25 (as of press time). Slap down a hundred bucks on Mirren to win, and you could rake in a whole $4 profit!
It’s hardly surprising that Mirren is such an odds-on favorite. She’s already taken home awards from more than 22 professional organizations, including the British Academy of Film and Television and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (distributors of the Golden Globes). Which pretty much begs the question: Do we really need the Oscars anymore?
The award season has stretched to near ludicrous lengths these days, with seemingly everyone in the country scrambling to form an organization and hand out some golden doohickey in advance of the Oscars. Who, for example, is the Central Ohio Film Critics Association, and how impressed could Dame Helen possibly be with their ringing endorsement?
Of course, every little mention of a film or performance translates into free advertising, and Hollywood is all too happy to encourage any form of glowing praise. It all adds to the hype, and Hollywood feeds on that hyper-caffeinated substance. Ultimately, however, nobody gives a real damn about any statue other than the short, naked, golden dude known as Oscar. That’s the real “stuff that dreams are made of.” (To steal a quote from The Maltese Falcon--which was nominated for three Academy Awards and won exactly zero.)
Aside from the smug pride that comes from owning a genuine Academy Award, film studios can look forward to a slight bump in the box office returns of low-to-midrange-budgeted films that get Oscar consideration. Miramax’s The Queen, for example, saw its box office take jump from $3,400,061 the week before Oscar nominations were announced to $4,013,052 the week after. Larger profile films, it should be noted, seem relatively unaffected by the accolades. Columbia’s The Pursuit of Happyness saw its box office go from $6,310,133 the week before Will Smith nabbed his Best Actor nod to $4,983,325 the week after.
So, before the Academy Awards are even handed out, can we pick out a few pre-show winners and losers? Absolutely!
There has been considerable buzz about Dreamgirls not being included in either the Best Picture or Best Director categories. Jennifer Hudson is all but a lock for Best Supporting Actress (a category that has always been kind to newcomers), and Eddie Murphy has a strong chance as Best Supporting Actor. But why no love for the film as a whole? It’s not all that surprising, considering the Academy Awards have no separate categories for dramas and musicals/comedies. (The Golden Globes do, however.) As a result, musicals and comedies often get short shrift when Oscar time rolls around.
The most likely spoiler for Dreamgirls? Oddly enough, Little Miss Sunshine. This Sundance sleeper attracted sizable audiences late last summer and caught an unexpected awards season wind when it came from nowhere to capture the Best Feature award at this year’s Producer’s Guild Awards. Eleven of the 16 winners of the PGA’s Darryl F. Zanuck Award have gone on to win the Oscar for Best Feature, giving Little Miss Sunshine a big leg up. The film, of course, is already out on video, and isn’t expected to get too much of a monetary boost one way or the other. From my perspective, Little Miss Sunshine is a great little film, but it’s out of its league here, no matter what the PGA says. It’s good to see stars Abigail Breslin and Alan Arkin land nominations as well, but they probably won’t win either. If the film takes home anything, it will be the edgy-friendly Best Original Screenplay award.
Best Picture is far more likely to go to Stephen Frears’ polished drama The Queen or Martin Scorsese’s biggest hit to date, The Departed. In fact, if Scorsese wins the Oscar for Best Director (and the Director’s Guild of America says he will), it will be his first win in seven nominations. Admittedly, the guy has made better films over the years, but he deserves a freakin’ Oscar. Give him one, already!
Speaking of “always a bridesmaid, never a bride,” it’s great to see Peter O’Toole nominated for his work in Venus. This is the septuagenarian actor’s eighth nomination. Sadly, it’s starting to look like he won’t win this year either. Forest Whittaker is almost as much of a lock as Helen Mirren for his acclaimed work on The Last King of Scotland. Whittaker’s an Oscar newbie, but it’s hard to deny his efforts in Last King.
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel snuck in with a whopping seven nominations this year (second only to Dreamgirls’ eight nominations). Honestly, I still think it’s an inferior film, especially when compared to the director’s previous work (21 Grams, Amores Perros). I would have given its Best Original Screenplay nod to this year’s biggest snub: Zach Helm’s meticulously written script for Stranger Than Fiction. Still, Iñárritu led a very good year for Mexican artists: Penelope Cruz, Adriana Barraza, Guillermo Arriaga, Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón all emerged with high-profile nominations.
While not as many as Babel, five nominations did seem like a lot for the massively hyped, slightly underwhelming thriller Blood Diamond. Leonardo DiCaprio, nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role, did far better work in Scorsese’s film The Departed. Obviously, Academy Award members thought a Rhodesian accent was harder work than a Boston accent.
The night’s least-deserving nomination is an easy call, though. Scariest of all scaries is the nomination of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan for Best Adapted Screenplay. Surely I can’t be the only one horrified by the idea that Sacha Baron Cohen’s “screenplay” about wrestling fat, naked guys and carrying baggies of poop into upscale dinner parties is now in the same esteemed league as John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon. ... I’m pretty sure that baggie of poop is not “the stuff that dreams are made of.”