Oscar night is over, and everyone is basking in the glow of the winners. Or, excuse me, the "recipients" of the Oscars. Not too many years back, the politically-correct police changed the language from "and the winner is" to "and the Oscar goes to" because that made the losers sound less like losers. It's a joke now when someone says, "It's an honor just to be nominated," but I believe that's true. I think it would be unbelievably cool to be nominated, even if you were in the Best Documentary Short category and the bouncers tried to keep you from entering the theater. This week's column is dedicated to the losers that were honored just to be nominated.
My favorite film of the year, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which is gone from theaters and available on DVD, received two nominations and lost both, which I expected. But this is a film that, like Anthony Mann's The Naked Spur and many other Westerns, will grow in stature despite its lack of Oscars. The year's other big Western, 3:10 to Yuma, also lost its twin nominations, but will probably endure as long as there remains a small, dedicated audience for Western adventures. On the other hand, I find that very few films in the "disease of the week" genre have much life after the Oscars. But The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (161 screens) will be different, for two reasons: 1) it was actually really, very good, and 2) it didn't win anything.
Todd Haynes' I'm Not There (37 screens) seems to me another film that's just too good for Oscars; it's too intellectual, too much of a critical discourse. It only received its single nomination because Ms. Cate Blanchett is so good in it; perhaps far better than director Haynes intended. Jon Stewart's joke about Ms. Blanchett's range during the Oscar show definitely had the ring of truth. (According to Stewart, she played the angry bulldog in No Country for Old Men, and in fact was even playing Jon Stewart.) Tamara Jenkins' film The Savages (127 screens) -- nominated for Best Actress and Original Screenplay -- also came away empty-handed. This film strikes me as a good deal richer than just its screenplay and performances; maybe future audiences down the line will discover its true worth. I definitely would have liked to see Enchanted (349 screens) win something; it doesn't seem fair to get three nominations in one category and still lose. It had 3-to-5 odds!
The Foreign Language Film category caused the greatest outburst in my house, mainly because the amateurish The Counterfeiters (8 screens) beat out the far more accomplished Beaufort (3 screens). I can't say I was very surprised. Voters may not have actually seen any of the films in the category, since -- due to the Academy's ridiculous rules -- none of them actually played in U.S. theaters in 2007. Here in San Francisco, The Counterfeiters was screened first, followed by Beaufort. If that was the case in other cities, lazy voters may have only sat through the first, without bothering to see the rest. The Counterfeiters also had the advantage of being set in WWII concentration camps, which has always yielded Oscar gold. Beaufort is also a war film, but has the disadvantage of being set in the year 2000.
Still, the Academy was actually quite fair this year. Gone for now is the age of sweeps, when one epic film snatches up every award. Including short films and documentaries, 17 films won Oscars in the available 24 categories. But even a single Oscar gives a film bragging rights, no matter which category. The Bourne Ultimatum won three Oscars, more than any other film except No Country for Old Men, and they were all in the "technical categories." Some bad films (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) won, but quite a few other bad films turned up with nothing. I'm thankful that the following losers will never be able to print the phrase "Oscar winner" on future DVD boxes: August Rush (48 screens), Into the Wild (75 screens), The Kite Runner (105 screens) and Charlie Wilson's War (135 screens).
Finally, in my review of The 2007 Academy Award Nominated Short Films (49 screens), I fearlessly predicted the winners in the Live Action and Animated Short categories, and got both wrong. The fact is, I wasn't terribly excited by any of the shorts, but I definitely felt that the two winners were not the best of the bunch. If I could have voted, my two top picks would have been Tanghi Argentini for Live Action and Even Pigeons Go to Heaven for Animated. Now, neither of these films will ever be called Oscar winner, but at least it's an honor to be nominated!