It’s Oscar time, and in the tradition of columns past, The Back Row Manifesto is dedicating itself to incomplete, ranting coverage of Hollywood’s always entertaining onanistic orgy of self-congratulation by piping up with our own highly selective look at the nominees. To be honest, this year’s crop of nominated films and performances seems to be an above average assembly of high quality work, but at the same time, the omissions in many of the categories leave a bad taste in my mouth. This year’s Paul Giamatti Sideways Awards for Most Glaring Snub by the Academy go to Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man (omitted from an otherwise worthy list of documentary feature nominees), Jeff Daniels (who was terrific in The Squid and The Whale) and Maria Bello (who was the Best Supporting Actress for her work in A History of Violence). Otherwise, the Academy did a pretty good job of looking at their own reflection in the mirror and deciding who is the fairest of them all. Grab your pen and your office Oscar pool, and get ready to copy answers off of my paper because it’s time to pick some winners!
And the nominees are…Best Animated Feature Film of the Year Howl's Moving Castle by Hayao Miyazaki Tim Burton's Corpse Bride by Tim Burton and Mike Johnson Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit by Nick Park and Steve Box The BRM Selects…Corpse Bride! The film, a whimsical musical story about a Victorian named Victor who accidentally marries a corpse, not only delights in its stop-motion mayhem, brings out the inner goth-punk in everyone. To me, that’s fighting the good fight. I didn’t rank Howl’s Moving Castle as among Miyazaki’s best films (although I enjoyed it very much) and despite my own inclinations, I expect Wallace and Gromit to win on Oscar night. Best Documentary Feature Darwin's Nightmare by Hubert Sauper Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room by Alex Gibney and Jason Kliot March of the Penguins by Luc Jacquet and Yves Darondeau Murderball by Henry-Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro Street Fight by Marshall Curry The BRM Selects… Darwin’s Nightmare, which is one of the great documentaries of our time. Here is a criminally under seen film that could really use the boost of an Oscar win in order to encourage viewers to take in its absolutely urgent and devastating message and try to do something about the impact of global trade on poor nations. Also, no offense to Street Fight, but c’mon; where the hell is Grizzly Man? Instead, I expect the fucking penguins to march up on stage and take the Oscar, because it is a chance for Hollywood to show itself as “in touch” with America’s “values”. This is the intersection of politics and entertainment where I jump out of the car, pulling my hair out of my head. Will the story of cuddly penguins triumph over the terror of real human suffering? Best Foreign Language Film of the Year Don't Tell Joyeux Noël Paradise Now Sophie Scholl - The Final Days Tsotsi The BRM Selects… Paradise Now, which is definitively the best of this bunch, but which didn’t even crack my own personal top ten of foreign titles. I think it is so strange that the Academy makes up exotic rules for foreign and documentary films; ever hear of standardizing the process? Why don’t the members of the Academy decide upon which films are in this category? As a film programmer, I can tell you it would not be so hard for the nominating committee to watch all of the foreign films theatrically released in the United States. It is a dumb process that bears no reflection on the American film market. As for Paradise Now, let’s see if there is any courage in those Hollywood liberal convictions. I’d die of shock if this film won, so I’ll go on a limb and pick feel-good Joyeux Noël to win. Sigh. Will Hollywood vote for a film from a Palenstinian perspective? Best Adapted Screenplay Brokeback Mountain Capote The Constant Gardener A History of Violence Munich The BRM Selects… Brokeback Mountain, which may go down in history as the definitive literary adaptation for the screen. Here is a script that gets everything right, from the tone of the original to the perfect expansion of the original’s themes. It is an absolute lock in this category. Best Original Screenplay Crash Good Night, and Good Luck. Match Point The Squid and the Whale Syriana The BRM Selects… The Squid and the Whale. I just loved it, and it is a note perfect rendering of a very specific community; Park Slope’s married intellectuals, who to this day push their baby strollers past me on the sidewalks of our shared neighborhood. This one is a sentimental choice, and I hope it wins, but I expect Hollywood to vote for another community it knows much more intimately; the guilt-ridden, racially divided Los Angeles of Crash. Will the egocentrism of Park Slope or the racial anxiety of Los Angeles carry the day? Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role Amy Adams in Junebug Catherine Keener in Capote Frances McDormand in North Country Rachel Weisz in The Constant Gardener Michelle Williams in Brokeback Mountain The BRM Selects… Amy Adams! Another worthy winner who will probably go unrewarded, Adams brought soul and vitality to the role of a chatter-box sister-in-law who just wants to connect to something bigger than the narrow confines of her own life. To be honest, this may be the weakest field in years for this category, which is not a criticism of these fine, deserving actors. Instead, this is clearly all about the dearth of quality roles written for women. I’m going to follow the Golden Globes on this one, and expect Rachel Weisz to win. Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role George Clooney in Syriana Matt Dillon in Crash Paul Giamatti in Cinderella Man Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain William Hurt in A History of Violence The BRM Selects…. Paul Giamatti! I would be happy watching Giamatti do just about anything on screen, and his spirited turn in Cinderella Man was just as good as anything else he has done, all of which is deserving of recognition and all of which continually goes overlooked. That said, if George Clooney doesn’t walk away with the award, I’ll be shocked. Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role Judi Dench in Mrs. Henderson Presents Felicity Huffman in Transamerica Keira Knightley in Pride & Prejudice Charlize Theron in North Country Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line The BRM Selects…Felicity Huffman, whose role as a transsexual is a wonderfully complicated performance in a film that teaches tolerance and understanding. Hey, it worked for Hillary Swank! Unfortunately for Ms. Huffman, this award traditionally goes to an up-and-comer who brings in the box office, so Reese Witherspoon is the probable winner. Can Felicity Huffman overcome the historical bias toward younger actresses? Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote Terrence Howard in Hustle & Flow Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line David Strathairn in Good Night, and Good Luck. The BRM Selects… Philip Seymour Hoffman, who should also win this award when the envelope is opened. This, in my opinion, is such a comprehensive performance (Hoffman is so literally transformed) that it may go down as the role of a lifetime. That said, Phil Hoffman is such a good actor that I expect him to achieve transcendence in every role he undertakes. A very worthy win. Achievement in Directing Brokeback Mountain by Ang Lee Capote by Bennett Miller Crash by Paul Haggis Good Night, and Good Luck. by George Clooney Munich by Steven Spielberg The BRM Selects… Ang Lee. Brokeback Mountain is such an amazing accomplishment primarily because of Lee’s channeling of John Ford, Howard Hawks, and the America’s cinematic history. From the wide-open skies to the intimate close-ups, the film tells its story with absolute mastery and perfection. This is a strong line-up, but Lee and Brokeback represent the perfect union of subject and artist. Best Motion Picture of the Year Brokeback Mountain Capote Crash Good Night, and Good Luck. Munich The BRM Selects…Brokeback Mountain, which will easily walk away with this award. The film is a masterpiece, and in a social climate of intolerance and violence, it also stands as a call for reason and empathy. Message aside, the film is an astonishing piece of filmmaking that not only captures the tone of one of the greatest American stories, but transcends it. This is a film that would win this award in almost any year, and this year will be no exception. Big Winner? Can Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain score a victory in the culture wars?