Oscar 2009: 'Bleak Chic'



With the exception of films like 'The Visitor' and 'Slumdog Millionaire,' 2008 filmgoers were presented with a fistful of downers. Critics whose profession involves decoding such phenomena attributed it to late blooming revulsion over the eight-year tragedy of the Bush administration, which brought more deregulation, more broken homes and hearts, and a nagging sense of hopelessness at home, continued bloodshed overseas, and the continuance of torture as a policy. Somewhere during the Christmas rollout of films earmarked for Academy consideration, the expression 'bleak chic' began to be bandied about. A few films attempted to counter the despair, among them, the Forrest Gumpish Brad Pitt starrer, 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,' which has unsurprisingly garnered the largest number of nominations. Other little seen gems such as 'Frozen River' and 'Wendy and Lucy' limned heartbreaking portraits of what Michael Harrington (in 1960!) called 'The Other America.' Both films seemed close to delivering the coup de grace to the notion of the American Dream.

I would have loved to have seen Michelle Williams nominated for 'Wendy and Lucy' and was amazed when Melissa Leo scored a Best Actress nomination for her role of a single mother who turns to smuggling immigrants across the Canadian border into the US to keep her family together. I was sorry to see Sam Mendes' adaptation of the classic Richard Yates novel, 'Revolutionary Road' given such short shrift. Leo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet expertly portrayed a pair of ordinary middle-class Americans adrift in a 1950s dream world which edges them toward self-destruction.

At least Michael Shannon won a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role as the loose cannon mental patient who seems the only character in the film capable of speaking the truth. Another surprise was the total shutout of Clint Eastwood's 'Gran Torino.' In the film, Eastwood (who also directs) created a portrait of a closed down bigot who ultimately comes to the aid of his neighbors, a family of Hmong immigrants. It seemed like the sort of career-capping role that won John Wayne his 'True Grit' Oscar, but for whatever reason, it was passed over. I'll be very interested to see the films coming out in 2009 now that we have a new President who appears willing and able to acknowledge and attempt to resolve the greatest crisis the country has faced since the Depression of 1929-1941.

The Nominations:

Best Actor:

Brad Pitt ('The Curious Case of Benjamin Button') Frank Langella ('Frost/Nixon') Sean Penn ('Milk') Richard Jenkins ('The Visitor') Mickey Rourke ('The Wrestler')

Best Actress:

Anne Hathaway ('Rachel Getting Married') Melissa Leo ('Frozen River') Meryl Streep ('Doubt') Angelina Jolie ('The Changeling')

Best Supporting Actor:

Josh Brolin ('Milk') Michael Shannon ('Revolutionary Road') Heath Ledger ('The Dark Knight') Phillip Seymour Hoffman ('Doubt') Robert Downey, Jr. ('Tropic Thunder)

Best Supporting Actress: Kate Winslet ('The Reader') Amy Adams ('Doubt) Viola Davis ('Doubt') Penelope Cruz ('Vicky, Christina, Barcelona') Marisa Tomei ('The Wrestler') Taraji Pittenson ('Curious Case of Benjamin Button')

Best Director:

Danny Boyle ('Slumdog Millionaire') Gus Van Sandt ('Milk') Stephen Dalary ('The Reader') David Fincher ('Curious Case of Benjamin Button') Ron Howard ('Frost/Nixon')

Best Picture: 'Slumdog Millionaire' 'Milk' 'Curious Case of Benjamin Button' 'Frost/Nixon' 'The Reader'

Best Foreign Film: 'Baader Meinhoff Complex' (Germany) 'The Class' (France) 'Departures' (Japan) 'Revanche' (Austria) 'Waltz With Bashir' (Israel)

Projected Winners: Best Actor: Sean Penn (The only role he's ever played in which his character is likeable) Best Actress: Anne Hathaway (The New Star on the Block) Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger (James Dean of the 21st Century) Best Supporting Actress: Kate Winslet (Really a leading role. She's great in this, but why not for 'Revolutionary Road' as Best Actress?) Best Picture The Curious Case of Benjamin Button ('Forrest Gump' redux. The 'Have a Nice Day' movie of the year) Best Director: David Fincher: For helming this schlock ('Benjamin Button') Best Foreign Film: 'Waltz With Bashir' (Just a hunch)

My Picks: Best Actor: Richard Jenkins ('The Visitor') Best Actress: Melissa Leo ('Frozen River') Best Supporting Actor: Michael Shannon ('Revolutionary Road') Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis ('Doubt') Best Picture: 'Slumdog Millionaire' Best Director: Danny Boyle for 'Slumdog Millionaire' Best Foreign Picture: 'Waltz With Bashir'