Saturday, November 29, 2008

Oscar is always wrong (except when it's right) Part II

And now (by request) for the second installment of me rectifying the mistakes of the Academy Awards.


Best Picture: Chicago
Nominees: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Gangs of New York, The Hours, The Pianist
Should have won: The Pianist

Here's a trivia question for you: How many films have won the Oscar for Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Actor, and have not also won Best Picture?

One - The Pianist.

In a poor year for film, The Pianist did everything that mattered better than any other film, and yet the Academy in its wisdom decided to give the Best Picture to a musical that isn't even a great musical. Chicago was always more of a Golden Globes winner than an Oscar worthy one. I mean geez, Richard Geer as the lead?? But with the weight of the Mirimax publicity machine behind it, it won 6 Oscars.

Time however, has not been kind to Chicago. On imdb its score is only 7.3/10, which doesn't even put it in the Top 50 all-time musicals on that site. In 2006, Premiere magazine listed it in its Top 10 Worst Best Pictures, and it also made the London newspaper, The Independent's, list of Top 10 Worst Oscar Winners.

The Pianist, on the other hand, is considered one of the best ever films done by its director (Roman Polanski), and has probably rendered pointless any future attempts to do a film about the Holocaust.

Its story follows the true life tale of Polish-Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, who, through luck, help and perseverance, makes it through WWII without ending up in a concentration camp, but who nonetheless is witness to the most obscene horrors imaginable.

Much was made at the time of Polanski's own experiences during WWII, and perhaps that enabled him to make the perfect non-documentary Holocaust film.

As with all such films, it's hard going - not one you pick for a Friday night when you want to kick back; but it is just so brilliantly done. Adrien Brody as Szpilman is amazing, (and unfortunately he hasn't gone on to do anything anywhere close to the quality of this), but the real star is Polanski. His camera doesn't flinch, even when we wish it would.

The comparison between this and Schindler's List will no doubt always be made, but for mine this is the better film. Spielberg just couldn't hold back his sentimentality, and to be honest, I think shooting the film in black and white is a crock - it makes you think, oh well it happened way back then, wouldn't happen now - Polanksi by contrast shoots it in colour and there's no ignoring the blood; there's no pretending this is something from the olden days.

I have to admit it's been a fair while since I saw The Pianist, whereas I watch Schindler's List (or at least the first 2/3rds) quite often. The Pianist is just too hard; too brutal. There is little to save you - you can't think, oh well the war brought the best out of Schindler, and he saved all these Jews, how wonderful. In The Pianist there are only meagre scraps of hope to hold on to, and they do not last - even the German officer who in the end protects Szpilmann ends up dying in a Soviet gulag after the war.

It's horrible to watch, but by God it's a great piece of film making, and it would have been a great selection as Best Picture.

Below is the scene when Szpilmann is discovered by the German officer:

One caveat to this selection is that I have not seen City of God, which many critics insist was the best film that year. Should I see it, I may come back and update this.
Best Actress: Nicole Kidman (The Hours)
Should have won: Anyone else.

My God what a terrible selection; but then the Best Actress category has put up a stack of shockers over the past decade - Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow, Halle Berry - but geez, Kidman has to be one of the worst actresses to ever win this award. And even worse was that in this film the were three "lead" performances by women - Kidman, Julianne Moore, and Meryl Streep - and Kidman's performance was a far distant third in quality. Moore was amazing (easily the only thing worth seeing in the turgid film), but she was only nominated for Best Supporting Actress - lost to Catherine Zeta-Jone for Chicago (yeah it was a year for crap choices). And as Moore missed out to Kidman in the Best Actress category for her performance in Far From Heaven, I'll give it to her, even though I haven't seen that film!

It's hard to believe that Cate Blanchette, Kate Winslet, Naomi Watts, Annette Bening, Kate Winslet, Judi Dench, Joan Allen, Julianne Moore and Kate Winslet don't have a Best Actress Award, but Kidman does (and Hilary Swank has 2!).

The best thing you can say about Kidman's performance in the role is that at least it was done when her forehead still moved.

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