By Blake Penfield, Student Reporter
Allow me to preface this list of summaries, predications and opinions by offering a quick commentary on the Academy’s Best Picture nominations for this year. They are, in a word, abysmal. Only two of these films deserve their place on a Best Picture list and, consequently, several more-deserving films have been snubbed. For whatever reason, films like The Wrestler, Gran Torino, In Bruges and The Dark Knight were passed over, like Jews with lamb’s blood painted on their doors. That being said, and without further ado, the Best Picture nominees for 2008 are:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
By far the most mainstream and commercially successful of the five nominated films, Benjamin Button tells the story of a man who, like Cher, has the unique experience of aging backward. Since David Fincher was announced as the director of the film, Button has enjoyed a substantial amount of buzz. It’s a fine film with good performances delivered by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, but it overstays its welcome. Compound its dragging length with its uncanny similarity to Forrest Gump, and you get the recipe for a good film that gets drowned by its own Oscar-baited self-awareness. Go see the film and enjoy it, but don’t count on it winning Sunday night.
Adapted from the play of the same name, Frost/Nixon deals with the series of interviews that British TV personality David Frost conducted with Richard Nixon after the infamous Watergate fiasco. This is director Ron Howard’s masterpiece. It succeeds on multiple levels, from Howard’s fantastic pacing to actor Frank Langella’s career-defining role as the ex-president. Fraught with tension and sublime human drama, this is my favorite film of the nominated pictures. Unfortunately, I don’t see it having a very good chance of being recognized as Best Picture by the Academy.
Milk is the biopic look at the life of gay rights activist, Harvey Milk, the first open homosexual elected to public office in the United States. Sean Penn’s performance is fantastic, winning him the Screen Actors Guild award for best actor. He vibrates with onscreen bravado in a way few actors can hope to achieve. While director Gus Van Sant does a competent job in telling the tale of this civil rights leader, the story itself is not terribly engrossing. The film is good, but it’s the acting that is the real breadwinner here. It’s got some momentum behind it, but I doubt it’s enough to give it the win.
This is the biggest offender of all. This movie has no business being mentioned in the same breath as the other films nominated. The fact it was nominated over films like The Wrestler and Gran Torino is a calamity of profound proportions. It’s like nominating the kid from The Phantom Menace as best actor or Nickelback as best artist. The film is about a man finding out an older woman he used to have familiar relations with was a Nazi. Kate Winslet delivers a great performance, but it’s not enough to save this movie from mediocrity.
Danny Boyle, director of 28 Days Later, shows us love is the one thing more powerful than the inevitable zombie apocalypse. Slumdog Millionaire tells the story of how a young man who grew up as a homeless orphan in India came to be a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. But the game show is only used as a framing device for telling one of the most emotionally moving and inspiring love stories that cinema has given us in the last decade. Fantastic performances and expert directing combine to create something that is truly special. As much as I’m rooting for Frost/Nixon, I’m betting this is the film that’s going to win Best Picture. It’s an excellent movie, and it deserves the recognition it receives.
Additional Nominations – Penfield’s Picks
Best Supporting Actor
There is absolutely no way Heath Ledger will not win this one. His Joker already has been crowned as one of the greatest screen villains of all time. Ledger makes Hannibal Lecter look like a girl scout and Darth Vader look like a silly pooh bear.
Best Supporting Actress
This category is pretty much up in the air, and I cannot, in good conscience, predict who’s going to walk away with the award. Here’s an exercise: find a five-sided die and correlate each number with one of the actresses nominated. Roll the die and find the associated actress. She’s going to win.
Most people see this as a battle between Mickey Rourke and Sean Penn. My money’s on Rourke. His performance in The Wrestler is devastatingly powerful. It’s a must see, and he should be recognized for that.
I would prefer Meryl Streep to win for her phenomenal performance in Doubt, but the smart money’s on Winslet. Her performances in both The Reader and Revolutionary Road have been highly lauded and, although she’s only nominated for one of those films, the Academy tends to favor actors and actresses with a couple stellar performances under their belt in the same year.