This year’s Academy Awards, time honored tradition that it is, was a ridiculously long and tedious ceremony. However, if you were able to pay attention through the monotony (or, an even wiser choice, looked up the winners the next morning), certain political and subjective choices became clear. For further musing on this topic, here’s a review of the Academy’s major winners on Sunday night.
Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Sharing the screen with such attention-grabbing actors as Javier Bardem and Scarlett Johansson can’t be easy, but it was Cruz as the garrulous and passionate artist that stole the show.
The other nominees held little hope of winning. Little-known Viola Davis’s role in Doubt received critical praise but lacked commercial success and audience receptivity, and Amy Adams in the same film fell by the wayside. Marisa Tomei, though an underrated Oscar darling, played the overdone role of “hooker with a heart of gold” in The Wrestler. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’s Taraji P. Henson, a newcomer onto the scene, hasn’t yet paid her dues as an actress.
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
In the year since Ledger’s death, the entertainment industry has been abuzz with awe of his final farewell to acting. His untimely passing surely didn’t hurt his chances at winning, but few would contest that Ledger’s nuanced, harrowing interpretation of the psychotic comic book villain truly stood out from the pack.
It is unfortunate that The Dark Knight was released in a year with so many worthy supporting actors, but Ledger delivered a hands-down superior performance.
Best Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader
Before Sunday night, Winslet had been nominated five times without winning, all before the age of 32. This is a severe lack of appreciation for the rare and gifted actress she’s touted to be. The Academy chose to honor her body of work, whether or not the mediocre role of Hanna Schmitz was the worthiest portrayal.
Mid-year, Anne Hathaway seemed a shoe-in for the award with her moving portrayal of a rehabilitated drug addict in the family drama Rachel Getting Married, shocking those who had her pigeon-holed. A win for her would have been well deserved. Angelina Jolie, stony-faced off-screen but heart-wrenchingly expressive in Changeling, would have also been a welcome alternative.
Best Actor: Sean Penn, Milk
Sean Penn has the uncanny ability to bypass amateurish impressions and completely inhabit his character. Especially in comparison to historical footage of Harvey Milk, Penn’s portrayal is a real tribute to the man himself. His meticulous acting is enough to dispel (or at least make negligible) any allegations of a liberal Hollywood merely rewarding a politically leftist movie.
Penn probably was the most deserving lead actor this year. His main competition was Mickey Rourke’s celebrated return to form in The Wrestler. The least deserving nominee was arguably Brad Pitt, whose performance in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button amounted to little more than excellent make-up and special effects.
Best Directing: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Danny Boyle tends to create a world of intrigue and optimism in his movies, whether that world exists on a spaceship in the future, in post-Apocalyptic zombie-ridden London, in the drug dens and sketchy nightclub haunts of addicts, or most recently, in the slums of Mumbai.
Boyle had this category all locked up. All four of the other directors possess some of the most impressive resumes in the industry, but none can match the effortless charm of Boyle’s films.
Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
There’s something about this movie that people love, and even movie executives can’t seem to put their finger on what it is; it almost went straight to DVD. The film is highly courageous and rarely condescending. The movie holds up both to scrutiny of formal aspects as well as to the critical eye of general public, which is quite the impressive feat.
LAURA KROEGER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.