Okay, let's do the short films. First a comment, again thanking Magnolia Pictures for putting out this program, and the Landmark Lumiere and Shattuck and the Rafael Film Center for showing them. Also, as I mentioned before, I saw them on President's day just after a week of Indiefest shows and before the last few. It was odd, after some rather extreme cinema to realize how tame and unchallenging the Oscar nominees are in comparison. They are all well made, though. Okay let's continue.
Live Action Short Film:
"Eramos Pocos (One Too Many)" was the least memorable. "Binta and the Great Idea" and "West Bank Story" were most memorable just because I'd seen them before, although I think "West Bank Story" is a little too silly to win (still, I'm happy it was nominated). "The Saviour" was awkward, but funny. And "Helmer & Son" was hilarious. I'm going with "Binta and the Great Idea".
Animated Short Film:
By the way, Magnolia's program added a few bonus animated shorts, because the nominees alone took up just 40 minutes. Some of the bonus shorts were better than the nominees. I particularly like "A Gentleman's Duel" (about a pair of medieval gentleman, who battle for the hand of a fair maiden, using giant robots), "Guide Dog" (Bill Plympton's follow-up to "Guard Dog"), and "The Passenger" (about a timid schoolboy who finds a fish that turns into a monster when it hears the right music).
Anyway, as for the actual nominees. "No Time for Nuts" is too silly. "Lifted" was the Pixar nominee, and they're always cool. "The Little Matchgirl" will only win if the Academy suddenly gets some 'the winner has to be sad' idea. "The Danish Poet" will only win if the Academy gets a 'the winner should be hand-drawn but not sad' idea. And my pick is "Maestro". It's a single joke, but built up so perfectly, and with no dialogue so it works in any language. By coincidence, it's the one short I had seen before. So that might've biased me.
Best Foreign Language Film:
I have to start this with a rant. This is the first year I've actually (kinda) seen everything nominated in this category, so it's actually the wrong year for this rant, but I wanna do it anyway. In the Best Foreign Language Film category, unlike most other categories, there's a requirement that the voters have to have seen every nominee. The assumption is for other categories (except documentaries and shorts), they're out in general release and all members of the Academy will have a chance to see them. But for this category there are special screenings for the members. You can vote if you go to the screenings or provide some other proof that you've seen them all (in a theater, not on video). Now, in principle I agree with this, but there's an unintended consequence. If you have a nominee that is likely to appeal especially to the people who go to those screenings (who tend to be older and retired), you might hold it out of general release to limit the voting pool and enhance your chances of winning. You might call this the "Amelie" effect, where "Amelie" was very popular among general audience but lost to "No Man's Land" which hardly no one had seen (BTW, I agree with that call, "No Man's Land" was excellent and "Amelie", while cute, was treacle).
Anyway, this is actually a poor year to rant about this, because 2 of the films ("Pan's Labyrinth" and "The Lives of Others") I saw in general release. One ("Water"), I saw at Cinequest. And one "Indigenes") is out now at the Landmark Embarcadero, but I didn't know it would play there until after I downloaded it and watched it on my computer. That's right, I downloaded a movie (that and "After the Wedding", which gets a general release on March 30). I hated doing it, and as soon as I watched it I deleted it, but at the time it was the only way I could see it. I will watch both of them in the theater when they come out (in fact, if I have time I'll see "Indigenes" today before the Oscars). And, in fact, even on my tiny monitor I loved "After the Wedding" so much I already want to see it on the big screen and own the DVD. I had started downloading "The Lives of Others", too, before I saw that it's release date was moved up so I could see it on the big screen before the Oscars. When I saw that I canceled the download immediately.
Anyway, that was a long, incoherent rant about how the voting process can incentivize distributors to keep their films out of distribution in order to win awards, and as a film fan who wants to see all the nominees, that pisses me off. But, as I said, this is the wrong year to bitch about that, because in fact 3 of the nominees are already released, the other two have release dates, and one of them I already saw in a film festival.
With that said, as much as I love "Pan's Labyrinth", I think it might be too violent for the Academy voters, and I loved "After the Wedding" even seeing it in a small, crappy format. Mads Mikkelsen is awesome, so it gets my vote. By the way, in an only tangentially related topic, Mads Mikkelsen was the best thing about "Casino Royale". I didn't even know he was in it when I went to see it, and when his name came up in the opening credits I blurted out, "Mads Mikkelsen, awesome!" and everyone around me laughed assuming I was joking. I wasn't.
Okay that just leaves Best Directing and Best Picture. But first some comments about the documentaries. Actually, my only comment is I want to thank the Balboa Theater and International Documentary Association for putting on a program of all the Oscar nominated features and shorts. If only I wasn't so exhausted after Indiefest that I just couldn't drag myself up to the city for another full day of movies last Wednesday. I needed a rest, so I went into work, instead. If only I had done that, I would've seen everything nominated for anything in the Oscars. Oh, well, maybe next year. BTW, even though I only saw it and "Jesus Camp", I'm predicting "An Inconvenient Truth" will win. And even though I've seen none of the nominees, based on description alone I'm predicting "The Blood of Yingzhou District" will win best short doc. How's that for a ballsy prediction?
Best Directing and Best Picture:
Okay, finally the big two awards, and I'm putting them together. For me, it comes down to "Babel", "Letters From Iwo Jima", and "The Departed". It's incredibly rare for a movie not nominated in both categories to win either category (I don't feel like researching how often it's happened. Anyone with some time on their hands want to do it for me?) But in recent years it's been pretty common to split the awards. "Babel" is the dark horse in my opinion. It's parallel storylines, one of which just barely tangentially touches the other two, appeals to an intellectual crowd, but I think might be too much for most of the Academy (but I'll be thrilled if it wins). For me it's a matter of whether they want to finally give perpetual bridesmaid Martin Scorsese a ring. There's a part of me that thinks they'll give Scorsese best director but "Letters From Iwo Jima" best picture. But I think that'd be backwards. Clint Eastwood has to win best director, for "Letters From Iwo Jima" and "Flags of Our Fathers". He wasn't nominated for the latter, but it's impossible for me to separate the the two, and his accomplishment in making the companion pieces back to back is incredible. So he's my pick for best director. Now I'm really torn on Best Picture, and have only now noticed that two of the nominees are primarily or entirely in foreign languages. I could trust in the conventional wisdom that the Academy has a bias for English, and go with "The Departed". And I guess that's what I'll do.
Okay, for better or worse I'm done. I'll look at how I did vs. the results tonight.