Oscar Sweep ’08: Eastern to Gone
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 23, 2008
Plot Summary: Anna (Naomi Watts), a midwife at a London hospital, is shocked when a young Russian girl comes into her hospital pregnant and quickly dies of complications. Taking her diary, she makes the mistake of tracing it to Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), a kind-seeming old man who agrees to translate the diary for Anna, but is actually a mob boss only doing it out of fear it will incriminate him. Anna strikes the fancy of Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), the driver for Semyon’s fool of a son Kirill (Vincent Cassell), which creates problems as Anna’s outrage over the girl’s death gets her in further and further over her head with the mob.
Oscar Nominations: Best Actor (Mortensen)
Mini Review: Despite involving the mob, child prostitution, and several gory fight scenes, Eastern Promises is actually one of the least disturbing Cronenberg movies I think I’ve ever seen. I don’t know, maybe it’s just because A History of Violence was so shocking in so many ways to me that by comparison Eastern Promises may as well have been Witless Protection, but this movie just didn’t have the sort of sucker-punch moments that I’ve come to expect from Cronenberg. Not to say that it isn’t worth watching–the acting, and at least one fairly noteworthy fight scene, make it a winner–but emotionally I felt underwhelmed by it, like there was some creepy subtext that i just wasn’t picking up on.
Oscar Nod Worthiness: Mortensen for Best Actor? I dunno. His work in Violence seemed a lot more compelling and a whole lot tougher to me, yet the Academy decided only to recognize William Hurt’s sole scene’s worth of contribution instead. He’s great, of course–the accent is particularly flawless–but it’s just not a role that screams Oscar to me.
What About Me?: Frankly, I’m shocked the Oscar committee even knew this movie existed.
If the Category Existed: Best Naked Knife Fight…ever? Can’t think of too much in the ways of competition.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Plot Summary: Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen of England (Cate Blanchett), needs to find two things: A way to stop the Spanish from conquering her country, and a man. Both are proving particularly challenging, though she does find a loveable rogue in the form of Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen). But as war becomes imminent with the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton), Elizabeth also finds that Raleigh has knocked up her most trusted assistant (Abbie Cornish). Lizzie has some shit to work through.
Oscar Nominations: Best Actress (Blanchett), best Costume Design
Mini-Review: I mean, whatever. People gave this movie a lot of shit, but is it really any worse than the Oscar nod-lavished first Elizabeth? I don’t remember that movie being all that great. True, I was only 12 when I saw it and I think I was asleep for at least half the movie, but I don’t think I’m missing much. Yeah, sure, this one’s more melodramatic I guess (Elizabeth comes off a bit like a teenage crybaby that just happens to have half the power of the free world), but at least that means I was able to actually follow it. And Clive Owen! That dude’s awesome.
Oscar Nod Worthiness: Fuck, it’s Cate Blanchett in a movie about people from a long time ago. And costumes! There are lots of ’em! Big ones! What’re you gonna do, not give them nominations?
What About Me: Score was kind of intense, dunno.
If the Category Existed: Creepiest Foreign Person (tie between King Phillip, who sounds like a Spanish Smeagol, Anthony Babington, who appears to have modelled himself after Paul Bettany in Da Vinci Code, and Mary/Samantha Morton, who is disturbingly quiet even for Samantha Morton)
Plot Summary: In (literal) Disney World, Giselle (Amy Adams) is a Princess who falls in love with Prince Edward (James Marsden), to whom she quickly gets engaged, much to the chagrin of his mother, the evil Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), who wishes to remian Queen. She casts a spell on Giselle to send her to Real People World, where she meets divorce attorney Robert Philip (Patrick Dempsey), who reluctantly teaches her about living in the real world where she teaches him not to be disillusioned about life and romance. Unfortunately, Philip is already engaged, and hear come Edward and Narissa to find Giselle in the Real World.
Oscar Nominations: Best Song (“So Close,” “Happy Working Song” and “That’s How You Know”)
Mini-Review: To hell with this movie. Seriously. It started out well enough–it’s really sort of stunning how right on they got these early animated scenes, it looks (and more importantly, sounds) straight out of a Golden Age Disney flick. But then it’s back to the Real World, and you get all this meta-fairy-tale bullshit. Do you remember when animated Disney Movies were just animated Disney Movies? No irony, no dialogue with Disney history, no real-world practicality–just solid animation and a good story? Are kids these days going to grow up even knowing what a Little Mermaid or a Lion King feels like? It’s sort of interesting that the movie goes with the very anti-Disney premise that true love is based on bond and mutual understanding over love at first sight, but…I dunno. I’ve had enough.
Oscar Nod Worthiness: And that’s what really bugged me–these weren’t great songs at all. Three of ’em, and not a one of ’em would I say is even worthy of a token “Song from an Animated Musical” nod. “Be Our Guest”! “Arabian Knights”! Hell, even “Colors of the Wind” was better than these! This is what happens when you focus too much on making the movie real-world relatable enough to be compatible for adults. You miss out on the important stuff.
What About Me?: “True Love’s Kiss,” the song from the beginning animated part of the movie, was definitely on point enough a satire to be worthy of a nod. Moreso than the three that were nominated, anyway.
If the Category Existed: Maybe a Lifetime Achievement That Guy Award to James Marsden for continually filling such a specific That Guy role. If you’re counting, this now marks the fourth time that poor Jimmy has played a good-guy boyfriend that gets thrown over for a newer, more exciting love–also happened in X-Men, The Notebook and Superman Returns. Hell, if you count X2 and X3, it’s the sixth time. At least at this time, he gets a different chick at the end, even if she’s a hell of a step down from Amy Adams.
The Golden Compass
Plot Summary: I dunno, something about a Golden Compass. And Dust. And Polar Bears.
Oscar Nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects
Mini-Review: Are all kids super-prodigies these days or something? I had to read the Wikipedia entry on this to catch up to what I was watching half the time, how the hell are youngn’s, the presumed target audience for this flick, supposed to keep up with it? Or is this just one of those book series that everyone under a certain age already knows backwards and forwards? I mean, I guess this is only the first of three, and the Star Wars trilogy asks you to roll with a lot of new info in the first movie as well, but damn. I suppose something needs to prepare adolescents for Dan Brown.
Oscar Nod Worthiness: I’ve got no problem with either of these nods. Despite my misgivings about the plot, this was a hell of a movie visually–the entire movie is bathed in a sort of glow that makes it looks like a single ray of sunlight shining through an otherwise closed curtain on a summer afternoon. And the visual effects–hey, there are lots of goofy-looking animals talking. I love talking, goofy-looking animals. Plus, there was that one scene…
What About Me?: Nah, we’re good.
If the Category Existed: Best Polar Bear Fight Scene EVAH. Man was that some nifty shit. Even better if you pretend that they’re fighting over a bottle of Coke.
Gone Baby Gone
Plot Summary: When the child of cokehead Helene McCready (Amy Ryan) disappears, private detectives / lovers Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) are hired by her distressed sister Bea (Amy Madigan) to help investigate. They end up working with FBI agents Nick and Remy (John Ashton and Ed Harris) to track the baby down, which they eventually trace to a drug dealer than Helene stole money from. A hand-off is arranged, but goes awry, and soon enough, everything is fucked up…
Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Ryan)
Mini-Review: You know things are fucked up when Eli is winning Super Bowl MVPs and Casey is directing and starring in critical darlings. Between this and his work in Assassination of Jesse James, Casey Affleck is emerging as one of the most exciting actors of his generation, with a sort of intelligence, sensitivity and experience not exactly hinted at in his Ocean’s 11-13 work. Gone Baby Gone is a Dennis Lehane (Mystic River) adaptation and feels like it, sharing the setting (Boston) and many of the same issues and themes of River, but I much prefer it to that movie–more disturbing, and more emotionally resonant–even if it goes a bit twist-crazy at the end.
Oscar Nod Worthiness: Hoo-ee, Beaddie Russell ain’t what she used to be. I guess you could look at Amy Ryan’s performance in this movie is what her character in The Wire would look and act like if McNulty had gotten to her at a particularly early age and permanently fucked up her ability to form genuine human connections, but her character in this movie is selfish almost to the point of supervillainy. Tight jeans, exorbidant nail polish, the shrillest Boston accent in history, and a motherfucking evil grin. “You’re an abomination!” Amy Madigan exhorts at one point. Yeah, I’d give her an Oscar.
What About Me?: Maybe if Casey hadn’t gotten the nod for Jesse, he could’ve had a claim to Best Actor here. And I haven’t read the book, but it seems like a Best Adapted Screenplay nod would’ve been appropriate as well.
If the Category Existed: Could give Atonement a run for the Best Title Reference category. “Then she’s gone, baby. Gone.” They actually worked the second “gone” in there. Wow.