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Oscar Sweep ’08: August to the Diving Bell

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 10, 2008


August Rush

Plot Summary: Wide-eyed kid (Freddie Highmore) gets birthed by two super-musician parents, Cellist Lyla (Keri Russell) and Rocker Louis (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) during a glorious one-night tryst, but circumstances separate the two parents from each other and from their offspring, and kid grows up an orphan convinced music can help him bring back his parents. Wandering in New York to find them, he hooks up with Pied Piper type Wizard (Robin Williams) and turns out to be a prodigy on the guitar, organ, and pretty much anything else he touches. Meanwhile, Mom learns of Kid’s existence, and Dad tries to find Mom again…

Oscar Nominations: Best Song (“Raise It Up”)

Mini-Review: Let it never be said that I do not sacrifice for this blog. Not only did I waste 100 minutes of my life on this piece of shit, the best version I could find of it was a badly camcordered rip. Needless to say, movie sucks–the kind of movie where one character will say “Call me crazy,” and another will respond “OK, you’re crazy,” the kind of movie that asks you to believe that after being given a rudimentary lesson in piano scales, an eleven-year-old can then compose entire symphonies, the kind of movie that asks “What can we do to make this even more annoying?” and answers “I know–throw in an overacting Robin Williams!BOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Oscar Worthiness: The movie’s one saving grace, the only thing that makes it even remotely watchable, is the music itself. “Raise It Up” is pretty good–a hope-through-desperate-times gospel number that is refreshingly raw for a Best Song nominee. But the best music in August Rush comes courtesy of kid August’s prodigious guitar playing–especially those early numbers where he plays the guitar like a rhythm instrument, slapping and fooling around with it until it almost sounds like a Disco Inferno song. Awesome.

What About Me?: Yeah, no.

If the Category Existed: If a Razzie existed for worst use of a classic song, this movie’s butchering of Van Morrison’s “Moondance” would certainly qualify.


Away From Her

Plot Summary: Grant (Gordon Pinsent) is forced to make the difficult decision to place his wife Fiona (Julie Christie) in a nursing home for Alzheimer’s sufferers. She gradually begins to forget about her husband and forges an attachment with fellow patient Aubrey (Michael Murphy) while Grant finds solace in the company of Aubrey’s wife, Marian (Olympia Dukakis).

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress (Christie), Best Original Screenplay

Mini-Review: Well, I can’t say I was looking forward much to watching this, but it’s the kind of movie I suppose you need to watch every couple of months to remind you that good cinema isn’t always American Gangster and 3:10 to Yuma. And considering the ceaseless emotional pummeling this Away From Her could’ve provided, it’s actually a relatively gentle and tasteful movie–not pulling its punches or anything, but not being needlessly cruel either. Ceratinly a thought-provoking movie, though not the kind of thoughts you generally want to dwell on for too long.

Oscar Worthiness: Christie is pretty much a slam dunk for the Oscar here, and it’d be kind of hard to fault the committee for it. Christie’s performance is as dignified and non-indulgent as you’d expect from a pro like her, and creates a beautiful portrait of a character confused and frustrated by her tragic condition, but one also mature and understanding enough to find the peace and solace necessary to endure it. The screenplay, while certainly taking the back seat to the actors, is also impressively sensitive and even-handed, not letting either of its lead characters look selfish or truly pitiable, but not letting them look like emotional superheroes either.

What About Me?: Pinsent could definitely make a case that his load-bearing performance is nod-worthy–his role is less obviously Oscar-baiting than Christie, but is arguably more important to the film’s success. Also, as nurse Kristy, Kristen Thomson takes a thankless, mostly expository role and and adds grace and compassion to it, certainly a more deserving supporting actress than OH I DUNNO SAY RUBY DEE. Sarah Polley might also be an arguable snub for best director, but if she’s making movies like this at age 27, I’m sure her moment won’t be too far off.

If the Category Existed: Pretty much a lock for Best Senior Citizen Sex Scene. With two different choices!

The Bourne Ultimatum

Plot Summary: People are still chasing Bourne (Matt Damon). He doesn’t much appreciate it.

Oscar Nominations: Best Editing, Best Sound, Best Sound Editing

Mini-Review: At the very least, you certainly know what you’re getting into with a Bourne movie. I’m pretty sure you could cut and paste random scenes from all three flicks and you’d still get a movie about as coherent as any of the three are on their own. That said, Ultimatum is probably my favorite of the three, since it’s the one that gets least bogged down in all the plottiness hogwash and whenever possible, cuts straight to the action. And in the more-than-capable hands of director Paul Greengrass, the action is better than ever–tighter and more kinetic than in any action movie maybe since the Matrix trilogy.

Oscar Worthiness: The Academy are damn, damn fools should they deign any movie more worthy of the editing Oscar than this one–Bourne is an editor’s dream project, and Christopher Rouse is more than up to the task, crafting some of the most eye-catching and fast-breaking set pieces in recent film. I still don’t really understand the distinction between Best Sound and Best Sound Editing, but with a movie as attuned to the way action sequences sound as to how they look as this is, I’d be cool with the Academy for awarding either.

What About Me?: Joan Allen is the kind of actresses that arguably deserves nods just for showing up in movies like this. But there aren’t any real snubs here.

If the Category Existed: Best Chase Sequence, and it’d have at least three of the nominees. And Highest Paycheck to Onscreen Effort ratio for Julia Stiles’s performance, which no doubt reaped her countless millions for a performance that demanded about two lines of dialogue and even fewer facial expressions.


Charlie Wilson’s War

Plot Summary: In the late 80s, freewheeling Senator Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) is put on a mission by political playmaker and on-and-off love interest Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) to help raise funs to help Afghani fighters in their efforts shooting down Soviet helicopters. He joins up with CIA operative Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and together, the three raise funds and get policies created that help bring about the end of the Cold War.

Oscar Nominees: Best Supporting Actor (Hoffman)

Mini-Review: It’s amazing how plug-and-play Aaron Sorkin projects are, even when working in different mediums, with different ratings, and with different directors. There’s nothing really wrong with Charlie Wilson’s War–all involved certainly do their part, and it’s an entertaining-enough film I suppose, but if you’ve been keeping even the the loosest of tabs on Sorkin’s career, nothing here feels remotely fresh. I’d like to see Sorkin take on, like, a Prison Drama, or maybe a musical based on a modern day Rock Opera or some such. Wait a sec. Are you kidding?

Oscar Worthiness: It’s hard to really complain about Hoffman’s nod, since he’s up to his usual standard of acting greatness, and he gets the only really memorable scene in the movie when he smashes his boss’s window (for the second straight time). But Hoffman’s getting a nod is kind of like Dwayne Wade getting the All-Star start–yeah, technically maybe he’s got the stats, but he didn’t really elevate his team that much, and there are other, more interesting and just as worthy stars that could’ve gotten the recognition instead. It’s still far better than a selection for Tracy McGrady (Hanks) or even worse, Gilbert Arenas (Roberts), though.

What About Me?: You’ll take your one nod and like it, thanks.

If the Category Existed: Best Hot Chick Window Dressing, maybe? Aside from Roberts, of course.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le Scaphandre et le Papillon)

Plot Summary: Jean-Do Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) was a fashion photographer living a playboy lifestyle before having a stroke and developing “Locked-In Syndrome,” a condition that leaves him mentally capable but completely paralyzed except for his left eye. Using that eye, he learns to communicate, and with the help of a patient translator even begins to write a book about his experience. The film is filmed largely from Bauby’s perspective, as the viewer often sees things only from his limited viewing range and hears things through the context of his unvocalized thoughts.

Oscar Nominations: Best Director (Julian Schnabel), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing

Mini-Review: I had no idea what to expect going into Diving Bell, except for a review blurb I had read that had said that the movie had the power to “change the way you look at life.” It didn’t quite go that far–really, how many movies do?–but it definitely moved me more than probably any other movie I saw this year, and certainly more than I would expect from reading the plot summary, which would probably make it sound like a Ron Howard flick. The brave choice to film mostly from Bauby’s perspective, a decision which could’ve felt gimmicky or suffocating if handled less adeptly, instead makes you care about and relate to the character far more than if you were just looking at an inactive, vacant-looking body for two hours. And rather than coming off depressing, which a plot summary would DEFINITELY imply, the flick is oddly life-affirming, and I left the theater as emotionally charged as these movies are usually supposed to make you feel, but so rarely actually do.

Oscar Worthiness: The direction and screenplay are both note-perfect, but the one I’d really like to see this win is Best Cinematography. You wouldn’t think camerawork would be much of a factor in a movie like this, but the juxtaposition of the warped, disorienting soft-focus cinematography in the early, bed-ridden scenes and the gorgeous, sun-drenched in the later outdoor scenes tells almost as much of a story as the screenplay itself. The editing is paced well enough, but I can’t say I really see it as Oscar-worthy.

What About Me?: Best Movie, anyone?

If the Category Existed: Best Use of an Underrated Album Track, for the stunning use of U2’s blissfully loaded classic “Ultraviolet (Light My Way).” Baaaaaby, baaaby, baby….

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2 Responses to “Oscar Sweep ’08: August to the Diving Bell”

  1. Jason L said

    The thing about Aaron Sorkin is that he could never ever do a prison drama or something similarly anachronistic because he only has one mode of writing, which is “smart people speaking snappy, pretentious dialogue”. How the FUCK was “The West Wing” so popular for so long? “Charlie Wilson’s War” is just a bland, bland movie and I’m very glad it only got Hoffman a nod. It troubles me that Mike Nichols makes movies like these still; I don’t know if you ever caught “Angels in America”, but it was probably one of the best mini-series of the past decade, if not ever. The fact that Nichols keeps making films like “Charlie Wilson” and “Closer”, with high-profile casts and flaccid scripts, just kinda sucks. Sorry you had to see “August Rush”.

  2. Anton said

    Fellas Fellas please, there is a solution here! Aaron Sorkin will have to make high security secret prison drama, where terrorist masterminds, mercenary generals, and brilliant psychopathic serial killers must play a deadly (but witty) game of “food chain”.

    Since we’re fanfictioning already here, why don’t we just take it a step further and say that the characters are all borrowed from other popular fictional mediums. We could have Simon Gruber play the Ryan O’Reilly character, trying to play mind games with every terrorist and mercenary leader from every season of 24, while Hannibal Lecter and Steve Buschemi’s character from ConAir try to out-freaky one another.

    All with witty banter!

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