MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Deconstructing Oscar

Published under Oscar Outsider.

Last week, those of us who were at Sundance had to pull our heads briefly out of the myopic world of Fest Coverage and back into the myopic world of Oscar Coverage when the all-important Oscar nominations were announced. Clearly, the people who run the Oscars hate those of us who have to write about them, because they once again announced their nominations at the hour of ungodly-early-in-the-morning near the end of an exhausting major film fest.

So I’m just now getting around to actually pondering the nominations myself and catching up on reading the flurry of write-ups around the noms. It’s really kind of sad, how very much those of us who write about movies for a living (myself included) would like to pretend we don’t care about the Oscars. Of course we care about them. Film journalists are the girlfriend in a perpetual bad relationship with Oscar. We talk to our friends about what an asshole Oscar is when he’s been drinking. We think sometimes that we’d like Oscar better if he was a bit younger, hippier and scruffier.

When we’re around friends who we know look down their noses at Oscar, we look away and pretend we don’t care about him at all, though we secretly feel bad for betraying him. We ruminate on whether this time around, Oscar might finally grow up and and finally learn what we want from our relationship — and give it to us. We facebook and twitter and comment on blogs about how we really don’t even think about Him anymore, he’s such a self-serving ass … and then as soon as the next flurry of rumors about what Oscar’s been up to comes swirling in, we obsessively write about his every move. There needs to be a 12-Step Group for Oscar Obsessed Writers in Self Denial of their Obsession. Hell, in Hollywood, that happy Hell, there probably is…

The biggest surprise for many around the Oscar noms seemed to be The Reader getting in while Revolutionary Road got largely wallflowered. Why is this shocking? It shouldn’t be, from my view, if you consider the movies in question and who’s doing the voting.

Revolutionary Road is a period drama, and Oscar’s hot for period dramas. But it has the disadvantage of Kate Winslet going glam as a (somewhat) unsymapthetic suburban housewife and the message isn’t clear.

The Reader is also a period drama. But it has the advantage of Kate Winslet going plain Jane (more on this below) as a (somewhat) symathetic Nazi character and it feels like it has an Important Message.

Familiarity is also a problem for Revolutionary Road. Besides raised expectations for the reunion of Kate & Leo, the film is based on a novel with which of the voters are likely to be at least passingly familiar and perhaps even read when it came out way back in 1961. Further, it’s an adaptatation that, however much it may be bolstered by some strong performances, almost completely skews and misreads the source material, turning a thoughtful exploration of flawed individuals blaming marriage and the suburbs for all their problems into a dissection of a bad marriage as such (which the novel is not) and a slam of suburban life (which the novel also is not, however much many of those ecstatic about the movie seem driven to try to make it so).

The Reader is not nearly as familiar and thus, has the freedom to be judged on its own merits as a film.

I would have much preferred to see Frozen RiverHappy-Go-Lucky or The Visitor, all of which I think are much better films, in that slot. But it’s not really shocking that The Readerwould trump Revolutionary Road when it came to a Best Picture nomination.

There’s nothing much to say about Best Director, other than that I’m not thrilled with the inclusion of Stephen Daldry in that category. The Reader is a tepidly okay film, not a particularly noteworthy one, and I would have rather have had Mike Leigh or Courtney Hunt, both of whom are more deserving, in the running.

Moving on to the acting categories, the only real shocker there was in Melissa Leo sneaking in for a much-deserved nomination. I suppose you could argue that it’s mildly surprising in Winslet getting a nod for The Reader here as opposed to Revolutionary Road. But I’m certainly not the only one who’s been saying all along that a Best Supporting nom for Winslet for The Reader made zero sense, as the part is clearly the female lead. Winslet’s performance was one of the few good things about Revolutionary Road, but in The Reader she was an uglified, earnest, Nazi-cradle-robber standing in as a living metaphor for German guilt for the Holocaust. Of the two performances, I actually liked Winslet better inRevolutionary Road, for the sheer effort she put into at least trying to evoke her character as written by Yates, rather than the pared-down shell she was given by Justin Haythe‘s script, but I get why the Academy would end up nominating her for The Reader.

My bigger disappointment is with Sally Hawkins being shunned for a Best Actress nom. In my perfect Oscar world, what I’d have really liked would have been to see Meryl Streep not get nominated for Doubt and Hawkins get in, thereby forcing Miramax to give Hawkins the support her performance deserved. Now that would have made things interesting. I have nothing against Streep, an actress I greatly admire, or even against her performance in this role, although I found it more “good” than “great.”

But Hawkins performance in Happy-Go-Lucky captures the effervesence of the character without being overly cloying, it completely drives the film, and her scenes with Eddie Marsan, in particular, are top-notch. This is Hawkins’ breakthrough year and it would have been lovely to see her get the nomination she deserved. But Oscar loves to at least nominate Streep. She’s had so many noms there’s probably a permanent “Streep Seat ” in the Kodak Theater, so the likelihood that Oscar would ignore her this year was pretty much nonexistant. Oscar’s nothing if not predictable.

The Best Supporting Actress noms were completely unsurprising. The nominees are the ones that were mostly expected to be there and it’s likely Penelope Cruz will take the gold for her stellar performance in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which shouldn’t bother anyone terribly much. I’d rather see it go to Marisa Tomei for a performance that was particularly brave, honest and raw, but whether the Academy voters will see it that way remains to be seen. I wouldn’t bet against Cruz here.

As for the Actor categories, I still don’t get how Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s performance in any way belongs in the Supporting Actor rather than Best Actor category, but so it goes. Best Actor’s still looking like a Penn-Rourke smackdown for the win, but it’s certainly nice to seeRichard Jenkins in there for The Visitor, one of my favorite films of the year. I think Hoffman would have had a better shot at a win in Best Actor than Best Supporting; Heath Ledger is looking to be very tough to beat at this point, and a win by anyone other than him in the Supporting Actor category would be fairly surprising. Oh, and I’m not thrilled with Robert Downey, Jr. getting the nod for Tropic Thunder, which I thought was one of the worst (or at least one of the most disappointing) films of the year. Of all the films for him to get an Oscar nom for, this one? Really?

Best Original Screenplay was one of the most surprising categories — particulary the Academy not tossing the Coens’ a screenwriting bone for Burn After Reading. The inclusion of WALL-E as a screenwriting nominee seemed to catch everyone, including our Gurus, by surprise, but once WALL-E made the cut it suddenly got a big group hug from the Oscar writers’ in-crowd. I was more excited, though, by three very deserving films being nommed in this category: Frozen RiverHappy-Go-Lucky and In Bruges. Of these films, I think I’d most love to see Frozen River sneak in for the win — it’s an original idea, well- thought and well-crafted, and it would be great to see this film recognized in some respect with a win.

As for Best Adapted screenplay, these noms were not surprising, unless you were rooting for Revolutionary Road to get in there (which I obviously was not). Of the five films in the running, I think Simon Beaufoy‘s script for Slumdog Millionaire is by far the most impressive adaptation, with Benjamin Button a fairly distant second. Beaufoy took a very non-linear, deconstructed story and made something completely original out of it, while still retaining the core of what made the original work. So much of that script, its heart and soul, came from Beaufoy and not the source material, it’s structured in a very effective way that just works, and it undeniably connects with its audience.

The only other two categories I’m particularly interested in are Best Documentary and Best Foreign. On the docs side, I’ll be truly shocked if Man on Wire doesn’t win. I’d love to seeEllen Kuras snag the win for Nerakhoon, but Man on Wire certainly seems to have the momentum going in its favor. As for the foreigns, I’m still kind of miffed at Oscar for shunning Gomorrah, and I’m disappointed Sweden’s entry, Everlasting Moments, didn’t make the cut either. Waltz with Bashir remains the the frontrunner, and I’d not be unhappy with it winning this category, especially since it wasn’t nominated for Best Animated.

by Kim Voynar

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon