Like most people in Los Angeles, I will be going to a party today to watch the Oscars. While in years past, I have seen all the films with nominations for the big awards, Best Picture, Best Director as well as those tapped for the acting and writing awards, this year, like last, I have not seen all of the nominated films, indeed have seen only two of the Best Picture nominees (Litte Miss Sunshine and The Queen). I’ll be rooting for the former for Best Picture (though I wonder why Dreamgirls was not nominated in that category).
Of the movies I have seen, I have really been quite impressed with the acting — and some of the writing. Litte Miss Sunshine and Pan’s Labyrinth had first-rate scripts. And that latter had simply amazing Art Direction — as did The Prestige.
But, it was in acting where I saw some real talent this year, with amazing performances by a number of talented actors, most from those from whom we expect such work like Alan Arkin, Djimon Hounsou, Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep. And also those from performers about whom I had previously heard little (or nothing at all) or from whom I was not accustomed to seeing such topnotch performances. I had never really thought of Mark Wahlberg as an actor, but friends who have seen his performance in The Departed agreed that he deserves his Best Supporting Actor Nod.
The performance that really blew me away was that of Eddie Murphy in Dreamgirls. I have enjoyed Murphy’s performances in comedies since I was in college, always seeing Murphy not so much as an actor, but as an entertainer, a comedian with the gift of his presence and timing. His performances seemed little different from Beverly Hills Cop to The Distinguished Gentleman to a number of other films where he has played comedic roles. What distinguished him was his attitude, his inflections and his gift for impersonation.
Impersonation, however, is not acting. It’s when a performer represents — in exaggerated, caricatured form — the stereotypical behavior of a certain individual — or a class of individuals. And whereas an impersonator specializes in stereotypes, an actor realizes the archetype, the true nature of an individual character. But not just that. In revealing a character’s archetypal quality, aspects of his personality which reveal his fundamental weaknesses (and strengths), qualities common to all men (and women). So did Eddie Murphy realize James Early on screen.
We truly saw the this man’s ambitions, his weaknesses — and the depth of his suffering. I was blown away because I had never expected that Eddie Murphy could so powerfully portray such pathos.
If Murphy’s competition were not so stiff, I’d be rooting for him tonight. (If he wins, I will not be disappointed for he certainly deserves this.) But, he’s up against Alan Arkin who delivers an equally powerful performance in Litte Miss Sunshine. When two equally talented performances are nominated for the same award, I tend to root for the elder of the two nominees, as a means for the award to recognize a body of work as well as an individual performance. And so that actors realize that while their box office may be fading as they age, there are honors yet ahead.
Of the acting awards, the only one that I can’t predict with much confidence is that for Best Supporting Actor. I believe that either Murphy or Arkin will win, with most others predicting Murphy, but also recall how six years ago, Marcia Gay Harden won for Pollock when prognosticators had assured us Kate Hudson would win for Almost Famous.
I’m not going out on a limb in saying that Al Gore will win an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature for An Inconvenient Truth. This will be Hollywood’s political statement. And his speech will likely create the same kind of environmental disturbance as did George Clooney’s last year.
I hope that the Spanish film, Pan’s Labyrinth wins for Best Foreign Language Film — and trust it may take the cinematography and art direction awards as well.
I think Jennifer Hudson has a lock for best supporting actress. Before seeing the film, I had never even heard of her. After seeing it, I’m confident that we’ll be seeing a lot of her in coming years. An amazingly talented actress and singer.
I expect Forest Whitaker to take home the statue for his performance in The Last King of Scotland (as well he should) and Helen Mirren will win a much-deserved trophy for The Queen. (I had hoped she would win for Gosford Park where she, as always, delivers a wonderfully subtle performance which can be better appreciated on repeat viewings of the film.)
I think Martin Scorsese will finally win a Best Directing Oscar for The Departed, but can’t with confidence predict which flick will win for Best Picture. As I said, I’m rooting for Litte Miss Sunshine .
Those are my thoughts. In a few hours, you’ll be able to see how right — or how wrong — I have been.
UPDATE (after the Oscars): Well, it seems I was right on my acting picks, but wrong on Al Gore. I thought the former Vice President showed a lot of class tonight on the show, eschewing partisanship (albeit promoting his agenda). He was actually funny when he presented when Leonardo di Caprio.