Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Oscars come in for a landing

Yes, the buzz is about as loud and fast as that zippy little plane that young Howard Hughes flies into the camera in the TV ads and trailers and, yes, that big rambunctious movie.

This year's Academy Awards will be about Hughes and Ray Charles and a boxer's best friend, some 'incredible' animation, wine (especially pinot noir) and eternal sunshine (maybe a little film noir, too). The wonderfully acted set and period pieces will be the elegant and slightly dusty window dressing on the main event - the raucous, racy, racing-paced movies that drew big crowds, minus Michael Moore's ire and a certain savior's passion.

At least the Oscars aren't the predictable popularity contest the Grammys and Emmys tend to be. The nifty thing about the Oscar race, right or wrong, is that it is as much a balancing act as a reward for straight merit.

Remember, when the public votes, they tend to side with the films they've seen. But the Academy members have REALLY seen the films - and even had some behind-the-scenes ideas about how they were constructed. But they ALSO come to the festivities with a sense of carefully weighed history and sentiment and who "deserves" and who is "due" an Oscar this round (and who can afford to be an oh-so-honored nominee. And they - the Academy elite - divy things up accordingly.

The big news is... Martin Scorsese has never won an Oscar, and by golly, that is about to change. "The Aviator" is Scorsese's acceptable and not so grim all-American extravaganza (not a mafia snuff fest), so give it to him. The guy made "Goodfellas" (best of those said fests) and "Raging Bull" and plenty of enduring stuff - he's got it in the bag.

And so does Howard Hughes. The guy's sprawling story is hard to beat. So the Big Pic takes it, if nothing more than to reinforce the fact that the Academy made the right choice in picking Scorsese - that way the director's shoe in is not seen as a mulligan. (Poor Clint, but you see, he's got his.) "The Aviator" in a fly by - no big surprise (unless it doesn't win).

Hughes may have had a more amazing life, but folks, Ray Charles died recently, and that alone gives Jamie Foxx the edge. It'll be a tear fest, and Foxx deserves it anyway. (His chances for a repeat may be a little more slim than Leonardo's - who's got a long career - and the second half of Hughes life - to give us another nod.

I think Hilary Swank is fabulous, even just sitting in a chair, and when she moves, watch out, better duck. And many more people have seen "Million Dollar Baby" than have seen "Being Julia," but I'm putting my chips on Annette Bening for best actress. Remember, all the voters have to have seen all the nominated films, and Bening almost won for "American Beauty," and this is partly payoff for that loss - to Swank five years ago. So this round, it's Bening in a KO.

But "Baby" needs something, since the Academy's sidestepping Eastwood and Swank, so Morgan Freeman takes the prize for being always good AND the most resonant black performer since Ozzie Davis, who also just died.

When it comes to supporting actress, I think things get a lot tougher to predict. The people's choice Oscar seems to be going to Cate Blanchett because they've all seen her "channeling" Katherine Hepburn wooing that fly guy. But the actors' actress in this case seems to be Virginia Madsen for "Sideways" (gotta throw "Sideways" a golden grape at some point). BUT another actors' actress is the underappreciated Laura Linney, who plays the complexly libidinous Mrs. Kinsey. Wonder what the tally will be.

Now finally, I'll throw out my final two predictions not as predictions, but as my own personal ABN Oscars for screenplay. These two movies "spoke to me" more than any other two this year BY FAR. They got the closest to my life, and so I'm giving them their just rewards:

"Sideways" gets the ABN Oscar for best adapted screenplay.

And last but most, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" gets my most beloved Oscar this year for best (and most original) original screenplay. This film will have an eternal shine (and evoke a few significant shadows) in my many-spotted mind.

One last thing I can predict - a nostalgic salute to Johnny Carson, who hosted the ceremonies for so many years, as well as tearful tributes to Ozzie and Ray and the gang gone by. Farewell ladies and gents.

Enjoy the show.


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