Saturday, February 20, 2010

Oscar 2010: My Actor of the Year

With only two weeks to go before the inevitable bestowing of the Academy Awards,  it's time to weigh in on the Oscar films of 2009.  With a month since the announcement of the nominations to provide the proper perspective, this writer, who for most of his life was obsessed with the Academy Awards, will offer opinions on the expanded field of ten Best Picture nominees, discuss the likely winners and rationale for predictions, and the long-promised personal anecdote of the Oscar night in which I truly hated Oscar, and almost gave up on film altogether.  (There....End of Coming Attractions!)

Again, time and perspective, plus the fact that I am essentially a forgiving person, have brought me back to the fold, perhaps not as blindly accepting of the Oscar seal of approval, and certainly more cynical and jaded, but once again interested in Oscar's latest trends, and hoping that my personal favorites are held up for recognition and rightly preserved in the history books.

Much of my cynicism is due to the middling quality of movies in general, and the notion that even mediocre work must be trotted out every year for recognition before it fades again into relative obscurity, the record books notwithstanding.

(Quick Trivia Question: Sing last year's Oscar-Winning Best Song.)

I used to jump on the bandwagon for a front-running movie, even one I could not admit to myself I didn't like, in order to feel like I had a place at the party.  It's poignant in a way, how certain films are championed with such urgency, and praised as though the future of the art of filmmaking were held in the balance, only to be somewhat forgotten as we follow the next year's flavor of the day.

Somehow, (and again time will tell), I believe that a lot of the Oscar-winners of the last decade (quick: name the Best Picture Winners since 2000) will never be regarded with the same affection as the classics of 20, 30 or more years before. 

But still....

Even though I am pretty sure I can tell you this year's winners without watching the show, I still hope for a surprise that will send me out of my chair cheering, as when "Annie Hall" was named Best Picture, or Daniel Day Lewis for Best Actor in "My Left Foot", or Sean Penn for "Milk", or "Il Postino" or "The Red Violin" for Original Score.....  Really, the Oscars are like a slot machine....we keep playing, and putting up with lemons,  in order to experience those rare moments of triumph.

And so, I will be out of my seat once again this year if Colin Firth, a decidedly dark horse for Best Actor, is called to the stage.  I truly lament that the expanded field of Best Picture nominees afforded no space for "A Single Man".   And Firth, great as he is, seems to have very little momentum.

However, I just learned that Firth won best Actor from the London Film Critics Circle, so perhaps there is a glimmer of support for his truly emotional and accomplished work.  (You can, if you like, read my full appreciation of his performance in my review or "A Single Man".)

So, this is my way to pay tribute to an actor in a film which captured my imagination, spoke the language of my own heart, thrilled me with its writing and visual realization, helped me learn about myself and my life through the characters expertly played on the screen, gave me aesthetic pleasure, and inspired me creatively.  These are what I look for in a movie.  Enjoy the following clip, and I hope it encourages you to see this great film.

(By the way, if you've finished the last verse of "Jai Ho", try any one of this year's song nominees.)


  1. A Single Man would have been more worthy than, daresay, 6 or 7 of the current Best Picture nominees. Firth would be a worthy Best Actor winner.

    I always refused to jump on the bandwagon, which often made me very unpopular. The worst was 2003 when Lord of the Rings fever was in full throttle. I love the Tolkien novels, but Peter Jackson's trilogy made what was thrilling on the page so dull and overdone on screen.

    I can name the Best Picture Oscar winners since 2000, but I only agree with one: Million Dollar Baby. Some of the others appeared on my 10 Best lists for their years but most of the winning films were so spectacularly wrong..

    If I had voted at the Oscars, this is what I would have gone for

    2000: Traffic
    2001: Gosford Park
    2002: The Pianist
    2003: Mystic River
    2004: Million Dollar Baby
    2005: Good Night and Good Luck
    2006: Letters from Iwo Jima
    2007: Juno
    2008: Frost/Nixon
    2009: Up

  2. If Fox Searchlight had kept its original release date for Crazy Heart to Spring 2010, I guarantee that (a) Firth would win, and (b) Bridges wouldn't have even been nominated next year -- it's the December release that made it an Oscar movie. A Single Man is a masterpiece, and its absence in categories like Cinematography and Score is criminal.

    That said, I still remain convinced that Chicago, The Lord of the Rings, and No Country for Old Men will go down in history as masterpieces of the aughts.

  3. I somehow manage to overcome my disillusionment with the Academy voters each year and watch the show, sometimes more so for the witty hosts (Jon Stewart, Billy Crystal, et al.) than finding out the winners, who by that time seem like foregone conclusions for the most part anyway.

    I too don't jump on the bandwagon and endorse the popular nominees. In fact, I cringe at many of the choices for Oscar winners that come about, some of them downright criminal. Albeit I'm not in the industry and am probably ignorant of the various criteria used to weigh their decisions, but somehow it always feels like the picks are made based on politics instead of merit.

    Is it me, or was "It's Hard Out There For A Pimp" really the best choice? Did "Crash" really outperform "Brokeback Mountain?" Was "Forrest Gump" actually better than "The Shawshank Redemption?" And what about "Milk?"

    I know it's all largely subjective but sometimes it makes you wonder.

    Awesome post, Tom!

  4. I was in the minority that felt Forrest Gump truly was the best picture of 1994.I still think so 16 years later. Shawshank would have been my second choice for Best Picture that year. Most say Pulp Fiction, which was brilliant, but not as great as the other two (it's fourth on my 10 Best list that year after Ed Wood)

    It's Hard Out There for a Pimp winning made me want to throw up. At least Jay Leno got a good joke out of it when he said that Three 6 Mafia melted down the Oscars to make some new crunk teeth.