The Oscar nominations are tomorrow morning, y’all. Can you stand it? To stoke the last bit of your furnace, here’s the third and final part of my dream Oscar ballot (And don’t forget parts one and two.)Â
After I reveal my choices, let me know who you’d pick for Best Director and Best Picture!
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire — IÂ didn’t love,Â this movie, but that’s mostly because of the script. Boyle’s direction is undeniably exciting, giving the same pulsing life to Indian slums that he gave to the suburbs in Millions, the zombie-infested city in … 28 Days Later, and, um, the toilet in Trainspotting.
Jonathan Demme, Rachel Getting Married — Like I said when I reviewed the movie: It’s all about the tone, and the tone is in Demme’s hands.Â
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — Whether he’s sliding through the streets of New Orleans or making an old tugboat and a Russian hotel seem equally alive, Fincher is working at the peak of his skill. The technical precision of movies like Se7en and Zodiac get married with a vivid warmth, so that the best moments are simultaneously weird and relatable. When floodwaters surge around a clock that runs backward, for instance, we’re seeing a visual poem about our desire to see the future and the past at the same time. Sure, the script oversimplifies the meaning of a scene like that, what with the heavy-handed Katrina references and all, but removed from the frame story, the clock image (and many others) have their own power, and Fincher (working with cinematographer Claudio Miranda) brings them to life.Â
Kelly Reichardt, Wendy and Lucy — Reichardt’s achievement is the kind that tends to get overlooked, since her movie is quiet, character-based, and outwardly modest. However, take a look at the scene where Wendy (Michelle Williams) is desperately looking for her dog behind a grocery store: Reichardt keeps her camera far away from Williams, so we basically see a smudge of sweatshirt running around and hollering. Meanwhile, we get an up close view of theÂ sanctimonious prick of a grocery store clerk who made Wendy lose he dog in the first place. He hardly notices her crisis as he gathers his stuff and runs out to his mom’s car, and even when he gets there, the camera doesn’t move. We hear but barely see Wendy sarcastically thanking him for ruining her day before his mom drives away. It’s a piercing description of the loneliness that Wendy feels specifically and that the homeless can feel in general.Â
And it took a director to make that happen. So good on you, Kelly Reichardt.
Andrew Stanton, Wall*E —Â I’ve already written about why this movie rocked me, and without Stanton’s direction, that wouldn’t have been possible.Â
What? No Mike Leigh for “Happy-Go-Lucky?”Â Â I know! It’s just like Meryl Streep in the best actress race: There are just too many good people and not enough slots.
My Dream Winner: Andrew Stanton (though I’m in love with the whole category, plus Leigh)
Before I announce my nominees, I’ve got say… I thought this was an exceptional year for movies. Some disagree with me, but I found myself floored over and over again. In deference to the remarkable year that was, I’m adding two kinds of honorable mentions to this category.
Honorable Mentions (for movies I haven’t seen but am interested in)
Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Waltz With Bashir
Honorable Mentions (for movies I’ve seen)
Wendy and Lucy
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — Like I said, the Katrina frame story isn’t doing it any favors, but this movie still tears my heart out. I’d nominate it just for the scene where aging Daisy stares into Baby Benjamin’s eyes and clearly understands that even though he’s in front of her, he’s gone. I saw this movie just a few months after my grandfather died—a few months after I touched his body and knew the person who used to live inside it had disappeared—so watching Daisy hold the baby who used to be her beloved husband was just… something I understood.
The week of his funeral, looking at my grandfather’s dead body (or even at his shoes and favorite chair) I re-experienced every special moment we’d ever had together. And it was awful, because I knew that I was the only one left in the world who remembered what those private moments felt like. (I’m the only one who remembers the whole thing with the maple leaf and the acorn that hit my head.) But at the same time, that realization was powerful. Those shared moments of love were important, dammit, and now I must keep thinking about them, because they deserve to be remembered.Â
So there’s pain and joy at once. And when I saw Daisy look at the baby who used to be her husband… I felt it all. That’s why this movie is at the top of my dream Oscar ballot.
Happy-Go-Lucky — My life philosophy condensed into a buoyant film? Thanks! (Here’s my review, where I explain what that means.)Â
Milk — Grand and intimate, mythic and human, this movie is a masterpiece that also captures the spirit of what so many people are feeling about Obama: We’re part of a community. We may suffer, but we will thrive. If nailing the zeitgeistÂ with artistic sensitivity doesn’t merit an award, what does? (Here’s my review.)Â
Rachel Getting Married — See above.
Wall*E — See above, y’all!
What? No “Doubt?” Not even for an Honorable Mention? I’ve thought about it, and that movie just doesn’t do it for me. And I saw it twice, so I really gave it a chance.Â
My Dream Winner: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button