AMPAS Awards 2009: Predictions and Roots

Was 2008 a good year for film? Sort of. 'Different' is probably a better word.

It's been a year low of successful emotional bait movies -- with Revolutionary Road and Australia receiving mixed impressions -- while also a big year for mainstream flicks like The Dark Knight and Wall-E. Shoot, up until the day of the nomination announcements, people were banking on a Batman film to receive high caliber nods for direction, writing, and even for Best Picture. Instead, it'll have to 'settle' for nods in the Cinematography and Visual Effects categories, along with, as the entire world now knows, the Supporting Actor arena for the late Heath Ledger's portrayal of a psychotic clown. Yeah, it's an odd year, without even getting into the idea of Robert Downey Jr. also in competition for delivering a hysterical blackface performance in the war-time farce Tropic Thunder -- or the fact that Mickey Rourke, of all people, is practically a shoe-in for his portrayal of a washed-up wrestler.

But, we've still got our old reliable suspects for Best Picture: a culturally resonant romance (Slumdog Millionaire), a fantastical tale of seizing the day (Benjamin Button), a political film advocating equal rights (Milk), a controversial Holocaust film (The Reader), and a low-key conversation piece featuring a historically important event (Frost/Nixon). Best Animated Feature also feels pretty standard as well, as we've got entries from Pixar (Wall-E), DreamWorks (Kung Fu Panda), and Disney (Bolt). It's rather clear who the projected winners will likely be based on critical acclaim and sheer momentum at this point, but that won't stop some, myself included, from rooting for the 'underdogs' -- the films that they enjoyed the most, no matter how slight they might seem against their beefier competition.

Why Slumdog Millionaire Will Win:

Danny Boyle’s film has pure momentum behind it now. Practically every single award ceremony has placed their gold stamp of approval on his kinetic, well-tempered tale of survival and love under extreme circumstances in Mumbai. Plus, it’s an extremely evocative picture, one marked by outstanding cinematography and fantastic musical cues that pump extra life into its adaptation of Vikas Swarup’s heartwarming novel. Slumdog surrenders to emotional convention, but not without a passionate show of attitude as it tells Jamal’s story.

Why I’m Rooting for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button:

With the knowledge that Slumdog Millionaire will likely take the Academy Award’s crown this year, it’s still hard not to push for David Fincher’s whimsical outlook on “carpe diem”. Sure, there’s a familiar tone that looks back on Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump – it’s a story of triumph over a man’s unique physical challenges, all of which lean heavily on the preposterous side. But there’s more lying underneath Fincher’s take on Eric Roth’s story, as it draws its audience into the subtle magic within Benjamin’s reverse-aging. A lot of people wonder what they’d do differently if they had the chance to live young again; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, though fantasy-based and reliant on Brad Pitt’s charisma, becomes a stirring portrait of the decisions one man makes as he approaches youth with a world of battered, well-aged experience behind him.

Why Wall-E Will Win:

Wall-E has a potent, overwhelmingly important message that it communicates, though it lays the lather on thick while doing so. Adorable, identifiable characters and an outstanding visual design make it quite an experience to behold, all the while maintaining a humorous and vibrant enough tone to keep both kids and adults dialed in to its typical Pixar magic. Plus, the bold-faced “get off your rear and enjoy this wonderful life” punch near the end of Wall-E might be bold, but it‘s also highly effective. From start to finish, Pixar’s science-fiction feature is a timely epic that gathers together everything strong about the studio – from animation chops and amazing sound design to pure-blooded magnetism – and condenses them into a tightly-orchestrated package much like Wall-E’s little cubes of material.

Why I’m Rooting for Kung Fu Panda:

It’s simple: Kung Fu Panda is a beautifully-orchestrated and winning animated feature, one that keeps its messages streamlined so that the audience can indulge in pure amusement with the martial arts rambunctiousness. Wall-E might have a few strong, involving characters, but Dreamworks’ roster fights back with a surprisingly vibrant and well-voiced horde of entities that echo back to Chinese lore. What impresses the most, however, is the ways that Dreamworks blends the punchy action of a ‘70s-infused martial arts film with a vibrant child-friendly demeanor, which builds an experience that knows how to convincingly charm and excite animated film lovers of all ages. As rambled on in my review, it’s an absolute blast that draws nothing but adoring sentiment from this film lover.

The other nominees I'm pushing for are: In Bruges for Original Screenplay, Penelope Cruz for Supporting Actress, and Anne Hathaway for Best Actress. Not that it matters whether they win or lose, but just purely because these nominees deserve recognition for their outstanding, understated offerings to the cinematic world this year.

Here's to an enjoyable year of movies, as well as a blessing to filmmakers for the year to come!


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