Sam's Oscar Report

Sun, 24 Feb 2008 - Hollywood

Sam Longoria has seen FEW of the Oscar-nominated pictures this year.
Sam picks the Oscar-winners from their titles, using his own rules.
Sam is happy to share with you his spectacularly un-informed opinion.

I am not in attendance at the Oscars this year.  I'm not going
unless I or my work is nominated, or I am specifically invited.
I am not crashing, or finagling tickets. People write me every
year to ask, and I'm just sayin'.
Hey, it's Hollywood, and it's Oscar-time.
So here I am again, and it's...


SAM'S 2008 OSCAR REPORT - PREDICTION EDITION

Hello!

Sam Longoria here, your Oscar reporter.

I want to follow my own rules for predicting the Oscars,
just as I did last year.  All off the top of my head,
no other research or preparation.

Something is different, though.  I literally have seen only
a few of the films.  I wouldn't have done it this way,
but it couldn't be helped.

I have a stack of screeners I've not screened.
I am remarkably unprepared, but am at my best
under pressure.  Let's get started.
THE HOST

Smarmy and funny, Jon Stewart is the Host.  He will bring a
breath of fresh air to the Oscars, for two reasons.  First,
he's done it before.  Second, he is not Ellen Degeneres.
BEST PICTURE

Let's talk, for just a moment, about the Best Picture category.
And let's be clear.  The "best picture" of the year only rarely
wins Best Picture of The Year.

The best picture I saw this year was "Bucket List," directed by Rob
Reiner, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.  It was released
the last week of 2007.  It chanced not a hoot in hell to be nominated
for an Oscar, for a few good reasons.

It has two brilliantly-skilled old Actors, and it was uplifting,
wholesome, and encouraging.  Because of these handicaps, it was
unworthy of Oscar consideration.

It also had a great script.  Unfortunately, it was a re-treaded
script from "Rain Man," a great picture which actually already
WON Best Picture, in 1989.  See how good it is?
I don't hold Hollywood films to some silly standard
of "originality," and you shouldn't either.

The history of Hollywood is chock-full of derivation and
outright plagiarism.  A good story is always a good story,
so they keep re-telling them.  That's Hollywood.

I think "Bucket List" deserved nomination more than
any other 2007 picture, its story already a winner.

Two quirky, cranky guys meet, and travel around,
gaining profound understanding of each other.

Rob Reiner hung Modern-Hollywood plot ornaments on it,
like skydiving and Jack-is-rich and Morgan-is-poor, and
for comic relief, both characters have terminal illness,
but it's the same show, trust me.

"Bucket List" knew what it was doing, too.  There's an
unfortunate and self-conscious reference, when Jack
actually calls Morgan "My Main Man, Ray."

Does it get any more clear than that?  I think not.

That moment went wretchedly "clunk."  So did Jack's
spontaneous remission, a major plot point, tossed off
in minor dialogue.  Why?

Perhaps Jack the Actor was put off by the similarity to
"Rain Man."  Or perhaps somebody forgot to erase that page
of the "Rain Man" script, before they typed the "Bucket List"
script over it.

Or maybe a "Final Draft" bug lets "Rain Man" v 1.0
somehow show through "Bucket List" v 2.0.

Anyway, if I were clueless how Hollywood picks Oscar pictures,
I'd be disappointed by "Bucket List's" exclusion, because I
found real merit, (albeit second-hand), in it.

If the Motion Picture Academy picked Best Picture by merit,
Oscars would be easily predicted every year.  Merit is not
what wins a statue for a picture.

People vote - a specific group of people.

I have enough friends in that group to see HOW they vote,
and that indicates to me for which pictures they are
LIKELY to vote.  All the clues are in the titles.

My predictions are intentionally made in a hurry,
without thinking too much.  If they are wrong, it's
because I started thinking, and reasoned them out.

Last year's were so good because I spent less than
five minutes on each one.  This year, to follow that,
and figure out where I went right, I spent entirely
too much time and thought, so please don't bet the rent.

Next year, I'll see the pictures,
and not think so much.

As I mentioned last year, Oscar wins have almost nothing
to do with the particular merit of a picture, per se.

To win an Oscar, a picture...

*  Must be Commercial.  It must actually sell tickets, and plant
hindquarters firmly in theatre seats.  This is Show Business, not
Show Art.  The Oscars are a merchandising gimmick, to sell
the American Movie Business.

*  Must present the Official Modern Hollywood World-view.
That is, a sordid, twisted, sad, unhappy mess.  Even worse
than when "Rain Man" won Best Picture.  Worse than when
"American Beauty" won Best Picture.  The bar slips lower
every year. This is really bad, we're talkin' 2007.  

Happiness is out.  (Except in Will Smith's picture last year,
when they misspelled the word itself, as "Happyness.")

*  Must now have a message, despite Sam Goldwyn's dictum.
The message is stated, then re-stated. Say it again.  And again.
So this rule really is, "The picture must have a MESSAGE!!!"

Regular "message" pictures don't bother me.  My producing model
and teacher was Stanley Kramer, the conscience of Hollywood.
Only rarely did his "messages" become "MESSAGES!!!"
Stanley, I miss you and your pictures.
 
*  Holocaust or WWII beats everything else, in any category.

There are other rules, but not many.

In an Election Year, the rules are so obvious, as to be ludicrous.
There won't be many surprises this year, trust me.

If I wanted to make a picture, most likely to win Best Picture,
I'd title it, "So THERE, Mr. Bush!" (or stronger language).

Look for it.  Look for anything that says, "CHANGE," as in
"regime change."  That is what will win an Oscar in 2008.

Easiest to spot?  Visual effects.  Title of the picture.
"Transformers."  For the win.

Get it?

Is it politics?  Of course.

Just so you know, I'm voting for neither "whichever
rockbound Republican candidate," nor "whichever
unelectable Democratic candidate," this year.

To misquote Mark Twain, I belong to no
organized political party.  I am a Libertarian.

I vote for Ron Paul, because I like his guitars.
Wait, that's Les Paul.

Anyway, Ron Paul touts the Constitution of the United States,
I mean the original document, the real deal, with no changes.

That makes him an idealist, a dreamer, and an anachronism.
Like me.

That also makes him a non-candidate, no matter how many votes
he actually pulls, how much money raised, how many debates
he won.  Can't have that.

What does this have to do with the Oscars?  
Hollywood doesn't go for all that "America" stuff.
It systematically votes against any "America" stuff.

I'm wrong?  Explain why Al Gore has an Oscar, Bill Clinton
and Jimmy Carter have Grammys, and so does Barack Obama.

They did nothing to earn them, except to be who they are.
Those are spiffs.  They are so spectacularly against
"America" stuff, they're in.

Michael Medved's excellent book,
"Hollywood vs. America," covers it.

That being said, for Best Picture, the contenders are
"Atonement,"
"Juno,"
"Michael Clayton,"
"No Country for Old Men,"
"There Will Be Blood."
Best Picture is where Hollywood votes which message
it wants to send.  What are the messages?

"Atonement" is a WWII picture and hard to beat,
and it even has an old-guard Redgrave in it,
but its title only says "I'm sorry."
"Juno" says "pregnant," which says "change,"
but it was shot in Vancouver, BC, Canada,
and they'll be a long time explaining,
if a runaway show wins Best Picture.

"Michael Clayton" is just a name, like a business card.

"No Country For Old Men" sounds like a Best Picture,
but it's from the Coens, who cleaned up writing "Fargo,"
some time back.  That works against them.
"There Will Be Blood" sounds like the perfect
movie for an eighteen-year-old boy, Hollywood's
prime target market.
There will be blood, and that means fistfights and
shooting, and probably explosions, and naked girls.
Can't beat that, but...
There is only one thing eighteen-year-old boys want
as much as naked girls.  To be out from under the
thumb of old men.
"No Country For Old Men," says "change" more clearly,
has a better chase, and is the Coens' biggest commercial hit,
so it wins Best Picture.
BEST DIRECTOR

Best Director nominees are,
Julian Schnabel, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
Jason Reitman, "Juno"
Tony Gilroy, "Michael Clayton"
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, "No Country for Old Men"
Paul Thomas Anderson, "There Will Be Blood."

"Diving Bell and the Butterfly," except for the
butterfly part, doesn't say "change" well.
The diving bell confuses things.

"Michael Clayton" doesn't say "change."
"Juno" is a Roman goddess.  Pregnancy says "change,"
but this is for Best Director.  Jason Reitman's a
talented young man, but he Directed a movie about an
unmarried pregnant girl.  It's light, and to an extent, funny.

"Unmarried pregnant girl" does say "So THERE, Mr. Bush!"
so it actually could win, but it's a comedy.
Not serious enough.
PTA's credits and politics are correct, but the Coens
would be the second directing team to win, (after "West
Side Story") and that's almost irresistable to voters.
"No Country For Old Men's" Directors, 
both middle-aged men, for the win.


BEST ACTOR

George Clooney, "Michael Clayton"
Daniel Day-Lewis, "There Will Be Blood"
Johnny Depp, "Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street"
Tommy Lee Jones, "In the Valley of Elah"
Viggo Mortensen, "Eastern Promises."

Tommy Lee Jones is a serious contender, but the title
of his picture works against him.  Valley of what?
I think "Elah" means "God." Can't have that.

George Clooney is an excellent Actor, and he still has
Edward R. Murrow juice from a few years ago, but he's
been awful busy.
Johnny Depp is playing just one more wacko, and this
time it's a musical, but he's over-working too.

Viggo Mortensen isn't in "Lord Of The Rings" now, so
he really has to perform, but his picture title is vague.

I don't think Viggo's image can match the intensity of
Daniel Day-Lewis, whose picture title promises quite a lot.
Blood, for one thing.  Which means a fight, which means change.

Daniel Day-Lewis for Best Actor.
BEST ACTRESS

Cate Blanchett, "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"
Julie Christie, "Away From Her"
Marion Cotillard, "La Vie en Rose"
Laura Linney, "The Savages"
Ellen Page, "Juno."

The majority of titles are English,
so select from the foreign ones.
"Juno" or "La Vie en Rose."

Ellen Page recites more than she acts,
and "La Vie en Rose" has that Edith Piaf
Anti-American French thing going on,
so Marion Cotillard wins.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Christopher Hampton, "Atonement"
Sarah Polley, "Away from Her"
Ronald Harwood, "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, "No Country for Old Men"
Paul Thomas Anderson, "There Will Be Blood."

"Atonement" is too religious a title.
Voters are driven "Away from Her," poor Sarah Polley.
"Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is too spacey.

This is between Coens and Anderson.  Joel and Ethan have
the chops.  Since Stanley Kubrick died, they're the guys
making intelligent film.

Paul Thomas Anderson is a great guy, an excellent director,
and politically-correct.  (He shadowed and spotted
Robert Altman, on Bob's final movie).

The Coens seem unstoppable here, even though they did
so well on "Fargo" and "O Brother Where Art Thou?"
which now works against them.

They've had a glut of dog pictures, and
Hollywood roots for their comeback.
"No Country for Old Men" to win.
"There Will Be Blood" to place.
 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Casey Affleck, "The Assassination of Jesse
James by the Coward Robert Ford"
Javier Bardem, "No Country for Old Men"
Hal Holbrook, "Into the Wild"
Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Charlie Wilson's War"
Tom Wilkinson, "Michael Clayton."

Casey Affleck has his family brand name,
but his film's title is too long.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is a great actor, but he's got a triple-whammy.
He already won for "Capote," and has dozens of nominations and awards.
He has three first names, and his role is in a film about a Reagan-era
Iran/Contra gun-runner.  Too bad, Phil.

Tom Wilkenson, in "Michael Clayton" sounds too plain-vanilla.

Best Supporting Actor has quite a bunch of latitude for
its voters, but Hal Holbrook isn't remembered, sorry Hal.

Javier Bardem is an intense actor in a
powerhouse film.  Its title says "change."
My money's on him for the win.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

The competing and supporting Actresses are 
Cate Blanchett, "I'm Not There"
Ruby Dee, "American Gangster"
Saoirse Ronan, "Atonement"
Amy Ryan, "Gone Baby Gone"
Tilda Swinton, "Michael Clayton."

Tilda Swinton sounds like punctuation.

Saoirse Ronan is in a sorry-titled WWII movie,
and her name sounds like a Japanese monster.

Cate Blanchett is back, but she's not there.
Amy Ryan is also gone, and sounds too vanilla.

Ruby Dee is another flavor, and that says "change."
She won SAG, so she wins this.


BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
The competing scripts are from
Diablo Cody, "Juno"
Nancy Oliver, "Lars and the Real Girl"
Tony Gilroy, "Michael Clayton"
Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava and Jim Capobianco, "Ratatouille"
Tamara Jenkins, "The Savages."

Tamara Jenkins has that diversity thang going on, all those
NPR interviews, but that "Savage" title is off-putting to
such a "progressive" bunch of Hollywood writers.
"Lars and the Real Girl" is about a guy and his love doll,
so it has 2007 Hollywood potential, but it's all rather
innocent, and so deflates.
"Michael Clayton" has George Clooney, but a rather boring
title.  Frankly, who cares?
"Ratatouille" is a musical, so it has the best writing,
and should win, but this isn't about "should."
"Juno" is about a pregnant teen girl, with smart-alecky
Hollywood dialogue, passing for wit in 2007 Hollywood.
Sample line?  "My eggo is preggo."  Golly, how hip.

So, yet another teen movie girl talks like a paunchy middle-aged
Hollywood writer, joining a long tradition of 35-year-old
teenagers.  A "Gidget" for our time.

But...

"Juno" itself has the best Hollywood story, about a stripper
who posts a blog, snags a writing gig in Hollywood, and learns
to write like a paunchy middle-aged Hollywood writer.

"Juno's" subject, "Unmarried pregnant girl" is swollen
with the required "So THERE, Mr. Bush!" quality.

"Juno" for the win.
BEST FOREIGN-LANGUAGE FILM

Foreign films are "Beaufort," Israel
"The Counterfeiters," Austria
"Katyn," Poland
"Mongol," Kazakhstan
"12," Russia.

"Beaufort" for the win, because its from Israel,
and not from the other places.
ACHIEVEMENT IN ART DIRECTION

Best Art Direction nominees are
"American Gangster"
"Atonement"
"The Golden Compass"
"Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street"
"There Will Be Blood."

"Golden Compass" is a vfx picture, with a compass for direction,
but with polar bears like a Coke commercial.  Too crass,
especially for a box-office dud.

"Atonement" is still apologizing.

"There Will Be Blood" doesn't sound arty enough.

"Sweeney Todd" is a musical, so its Art Direction
must be really good, so it wins, even though its
title is too long, for Best Art Direction.
ACHIEVEMENT IN CINEMATOGRAPHY

Nominees are
"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"
"Atonement"
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
"No Country for Old Men"
"There Will Be Blood."

"Jesse James" is too long a title.
"Atonement" is too abstract a photographic concept,
"Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is a dope dream title,
"There Will Be Blood" just means its in color, and
that's not a cinematographic challenge any more.

Coen Brothers are a cinematography brand name,
so "No Country For Old Men" for Best Cinematography.
ACHIEVEMENT IN COSTUME DESIGN

Movies up for Best Costume are
"Across the Universe,"
"Atonement,"
"Elizabeth: The Golden Age,"
"La Vie en Rose,"
"Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street."

"Across the Universe" is Beatle-ey, but too spacey.

"Atonement" is just uniforms from some other movie,
and its title means "I'm sorry," and Hollywood
means never having to say you're sorry.
"Elizabeth" is a Queen, and period pieces
usually win Costumes, but that's what happened
last time, so not this time.

Sweeney Todd's a gay cult musical, so it's got the win,
even though its title is too long.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

These are usually easy to call. The Holocaust documentary
always wins, but there isn't one this year.

"No End in Sight,"
"Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience,"
"Sicko,"
"Taxi to the Dark Side,"
"War/Dance."

Three anti-war documentaries hail a Taxi to the Dark Side.
They could win, but big, fat, gross, pseudo-documentarian
Michael Moore's "Sicko" movie not only bashes Bush, but
peddles Hilary's endless vision of free lunches,
er health care, for freebie-seeking voters,
er patients, so it will win, even though
he's already won one, so he can
make another speech.
DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT

Contenders for Best Documentary Short,
"Freeheld,"
"La Corona (The Crown),"
"Salim Baba,"
"Sari's Mother."

"Salim Baba," forget it.  "La Corona" is too royal,
"Freeheld" is too freely held, so it's "Sari's Mother,"
for the win.

Congratulations to James Longley, the Seattlite who made it.
You've overcome regional negativity ("Seattle-itis") to get
something done.  That's an achievement.
LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM

These are the films, "At Night,"
"Il Supplente (The Substitute),"
"Le Mozart des Pickpockets (The Mozart of Pickpockets),"
"Tanghi Argentini"
"The Tonto Woman."

Eliminate the foreign ones.  That leaves "Tonto,"
but its title's too demeaning, "At Night" is too dark,
so the frou-frou French pic with Mozart in its title,
is my "pick," and "pockets" the win.
ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Only three animated features this year,
"Persepolis,"
"Ratatouille,"
and "Surf's Up."

Only one with an English title, should be an easy win
for "Surf's Up," except for one thing.

"Ratatouille" was the last contractually-obligated film
Pixar was to deliver to Disney, back during friction
between the two (now one) companies.

"Ratatouille" is about a French rat, loose in a kitchen.
(Disney is a French name, anciently spelled D'Isney or
D'Eisney, and originally De Isigney.)

The Disney studio is "the mouse house" in Hollywood,
so Mickey Mouse now has a gross rodent French cousin.

I smell an "in" joke, on Mickey.  A big enough one for
Animation voters to claim, on sheer Disney-resentment.
"Ratatouille" for the win.
BEST FILM EDITING

Best Film Editing nominees are
"The Bourne Ultimatum,"
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,"
"Into the Wild"
"No Country for Old Men,"
"There Will Be Blood."

Even the editing of "The Bourne Ultimatum" couldn't
fix how bad its camerawork was, and bad is good these
days, so "Bourne Ultimatum" for Best Film Editing.
ACHIEVEMENT IN MAKEUP

Nominees are, 
"La Vie en Rose,"
"Norbit"
"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End."
Makeup? Pirates of the Caribbean should win, but we've
seen so many of those Pirates movies lately.  "Norbit"
sounds like a nerd's dessert.  French is good,
and against America, and a period piece.

"La Vie en Rose," for the win.
"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End"
to place.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

The contenders for Best Original Score are
"Atonement," Dario Marianelli
"The Kite Runner," Alberto Iglesias
"Michael Clayton," James Newton Howard
"Ratatouille," Michael Giacchino
"3:10 to Yuma," Marco Beltrami.

The Musical, "Ratatouille" for the win.


BEST ORIGINAL SONG

The songs are "Falling Slowly" from "Once,"
Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova

"Happy Working Song" from "Enchanted,"
Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz

"Raise It Up" from "August Rush,"
 
"So Close" from "Enchanted,"
Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz

"That's How You Know" from "Enchanted,"
Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz.

Best Song should really go to a song
from a musical picture, but that wouldn't
be Hollywood - too obvious and apolitical,
especially this election year.

Alan Menken's songs are gay enough, but
he used to write better, in his glory days
with another partner.

So eliminate the songs from "Enchanted."

The song from "Once," "Falling Slowly," is not
about change, but "Raise It Up" sounds to be.

"Raise It Up" for the win.
BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

The short films in question are
"I Met the Walrus,"
"Madame Tutli-Putli,"
"Meme Les Pigeons Vont au Paradis (Even Pigeons Go to Heaven),"
"My Love (Moya Lyubov)," 
and "Peter & the Wolf."

"Pigeons Go to Heaven" is too religious,
"Madame Tutli-Putli" too singsong.

"My Love" is too slavic, as is
"Peter & the Wolf."

"I Met the Walrus" is English,
and almost evokes the Beatles.

Old hippies vote it, to win.
ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND MIXING

The Best Mixing award nominees are
"The Bourne Ultimatum,"
"No Country for Old Men,"
"Ratatouille,"
"3:10 to Yuma,"
and "Transformers."

Bourne Ultimatum was too shaky to take for long periods, so
its sound track really needed a good mix, so you could follow
the story, while looking away from the screen.

"No Country For Old Men" was a fast-moving thriller, so its
track was mostly covered by Dialogue, not a particularly
difficult mix.
"3:10 to Yuma" has booming pistol noises, sounding like
real black-powder pistols, not smokeless cartridge effects,
so it deserves to win for best sound effects, but this is
best sound MIXING, not effects.
"Ratatouille" is a musical.  More going on sound-wise.

Sound mixers (who vote for best mixing) love music, and
"Ratatouille" means "a MIX of eggplant, tomatoes, onions,
peppers, zucchini, seasonings and garlic, in olive oil.
Yum!

"Ratatouille" to win, for Best Sound Mixing.
ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND EDITING

Sound Editing nominees are
"The Bourne Ultimatum,"
"No Country for Old Men,"
"Ratatouille","
"There Will Be Blood," and
"Transformers."

I guess I did see (and hear) "The Bourne Ultimatum."
The mind protects itself, and I've been on "overwhelm"
all this year, so I didn't remember until now.

The Bourne track was cut well, but only in comparison
to its truly nauseating Camerawork, so it's out.  

Old men have lousy hearing.
Rats hear more high-frequency sounds than we do.
Transformers make a humming sound, and 
if movie sound is too loud, there will be blood,
from a ruptured eardrum.

"Ratatouille" for the win, "Transformers" to place.


BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Best Visual Effects nominees are
"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End,"
"The Golden Compass,"
and "Transformers."

I already told you what will win, and why.
"Transformers," because the title says "change."


Well, that's how I see it.  See if your guess is as good as mine.

From the edge of the desert, in the middle of the night, at the
end of a long copper wire.  I'm your friend in Hollywood.


Best to you,


Sam Longoria

filmmaking
secret film school

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