It's Oscar Time: Glam, Giltz and Everyone's Favorite Golden Boy

On this Oscar Eve, with all the glam, glitter and glitz that has tinsel town living up to its most glamorous name and the finishing touches for Hollywood’s biggest night now completed, every eye is turned toward the Kodak Theater’s stunning red carpet, breathlessly, anticipating the 81st annual Academy Awards, which will be broadcast live tomorrow, Sunday February 22, at 8:00PM EST.

The Golden Boys of 2008, Joel and Ethan Coen with presenter, Martin Scorsese.


The nominees for this year’s Best Picture include Frost/Nixon, Slumdog Millionaire, Milk, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Reader. I’ve put together a small appetizer meant to whet the appetite for the full course and will leave the entrée choice up to you. See one or see all. They’re all worth it.

Best Picture Nominee: "Frost/Nixon"

Frost/Nixon directed by Ron Howard is a stunning portrayal of the last days the Nixon Whitehouse and following weeks after his pardon for Obstruction of Justice. Frost/Nixon provides a rare glimpse of the behind the scenes, fictionalized of course, taping one of the most watched political interviews of that time. The story line deals with Watergate and is told with historical news footage reference and reflective interviews weaving in the narrative. The movie is flawless and grabs the attention as it deals with leftover elements associated with the explosion of expression known as the 60’s generation.

The character of Richard Nixon is captured by Frank Langella. I expected to be distracted as he does not resemble Nixon and no extensive make-up was applied to have Langella resemble the character and yet within the opening sequence he personified the Nixon I remember. The film allowed for the range of raw American emotions, anger and betrayal, to contrast the nonchalant British emotions, complacency and exploitation.

Frank Langella and Michael Sheen in "Frost/Nixon."

Langella embodies Richard Nixon a man given over to his personal beliefs, demons and a genuine belief that he did the right thing and possibly he did, only in a very wrong time. Timing is everything and with the transparency in politics emerging and emotions raging, as the casualties and dead were arriving daily and visions of Naplam on every broadcast, investigating, with right cause, the presidency was the only option.

Langella’s skills portray Nixon’s tactics as a seasoned strategist with psychological jabs that have the young David Frost, portrayed by Michael Sheen, unnerved. Frost, as everyone knew, was in it for the press, American celebrity status and was considered an entertainer of the highest caliber. A removed observer his angle was the interview without thought that it would lead to the center ring fight.

Langella is excellent and is deserving of Golden recognition for his role. The cast is complimentary with solid performances from everyone including Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt and of course, Michael Sheen.

Best Picture Nominee: "Slumdog Millionaire."

Slumdog Millionaire, the feel good film of the decade is directed by DGA winner Danny Boyle, and stars, Dev Patel as Jamal Malik and Anil Kapoor as host, Prem Kumar. The film is one of the first to fictionalize the Reality/Game Show contestant’s life as the plot centers on the rags to riches story of a child from the slums of Mumbai to the hot seat of India’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

The plot of course centers on the eighteen year old orphan, Jamal Malik, who shows through his winning streak that intelligence is not limited to those educated at University and common sense and street smarts may be the only real tools necessary for survival. Success, defined here as the 20million rupees, comes with a price. Suspicions and jealousy are a dangerous combination that lead the local police to arrest Malik for cheating as it seems impossible that he could beat the odds and ride his uneducated winning streak to success. 

Best Picture Nominee: "Slumdog Millionaire."

After proving his innocence he returns to the show and with the world poised, his brother and the love of his life all hanging in the balance, he is ready to answer the final question.

The film is nominated for ten Oscars, has sixty-two wins at various Film Festivals and other twenty-seven nominations. Its widely successful ride is evidence of Hollywood’s acceptance of the talent pool available through India’s Bollywood.
 

Best Picture Nominee: "The Reader."

The Reader, directed by Steven Daldry stars Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes. This film, on every level is risky as it tackles three very taboo subjects: pedophilia, the SS exterminations and full nudity as it maintains a storyline where nudity, both male and female, is an integral element.

It's pre-war Europe before the rise of the SS, the grotesqueness of extermination, and before one is held accountable for ones actions.  The film details the pedophile relationship with all consuming passion so much so that neither of them takes thought to the world around them or the consequences associated with their love affair. The sexual situations are frequent and used as reward given only after Michael Berg, portrayed by David Kross, reads to her.

Kate Winslet and David Kross as Hanna Schmidt in "The Reader."

The young Michael Berg and his mistress, Hanna Schmidt are reunited through the course of time and tragedy when as a law student, he attends the trial of five female SS guards. With an intimate knowledge of her sharpened by adult senses he knows that she is not guilty of the atrocities accused. Hanna, has an overwhelming shame that keeps her from admitting her illiteracy, which would spare her a lengthy jail sentence and yet, has no remorse or shame for her unconscionable actions as Nazi guard and pedophile.

The audience is shown the hall of horrors, as cage after cage filled to capacity with the shoes of the dead are used as prop placement for his decision, with a final stop at the gas chambers the decision to stay silent becomes less troubling. He stays silent and she, guilty of crimes although not the ones accused, is sentenced to life in prison.

Ms. Winslet took a risk with the role and quite possibly it will be a Golden choice for her. She is talented with range and depth and stays true to her character. Ralph Fiennes is excellent and the young Michael, David Kross, tackles the subject matter with ease. The film is alarming, full with emotion tackling taboos with haunting imagery. See it.

Best Picture Nominee: "Milk" with Sean Penn as Harvey Milk.

Milk, directed by Gus Van Sant, is the historical portrayal of San Francisco Mayor George Mascone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official.

In 1978, San Francisco’s gay population had not seen the freedom’s guaranteed them under the constitution and with the gay population becoming a strong constituent governing the elections Milk began his fight for equal rights, something that continues to this very day. 

Adopting the philosophy that one person can make a difference campaigning Harvey Milk roused the crowd with “All Men Are Created Equal. No Matter how hard you try you can not erase those words.” He was able to galvanize a city separated by the differences that divide to the core. His fight, belief and hope that the future would afford the Gay population the same rights under the law as the heterosexual became the cornerstone of his campaign.

He was elected and a city celebrated. The seething volcanic anger that Dan White, played by John Brolin, continually suppresses is presented as verbal jabs with Milk using his trademark sense of humor to defuse. The threats escalate, with Milk knowing innately that he will be assassinated; as he leaves a pre-recorded message to calm what he knew would be a riotous angry, bitter and hurt people.

I’m a fan of Sean Penn’s; he brings a seamless portrayal to every role he tackles. This is no different.  He portrays Harvey Milk with such authenticity that even in the trailers his performance is gripping and separating.  John Brolin seethes with gay hatred. This film plays well for historians and for selected audiences.

Best Picture Nominee: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button directed by David Fincher of Zodiac fame is an adapted screenplay of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel of the same name. The opening sequences in this film begin with Julia Ormand who is sitting with her dying mother in the hospital in the midst of Hurricane Katrina.

The film progresses as a diary, of sorts, is read by Ms. Ormand. The premise is that Benjamin is born with a rare genetic disorder that has him at birth an infant with all the psychically debilitating conditions of an aged old man. The film moves in opposite sequence, with and progressing from death/birth stage to life, and so he meets the love of his life in the prime of his life.

Cate Blanchett is stunning as Daisy, his childhood playmate who ages as he digresses so they intersect at middle age with her as an accomplished Ballet dancer and him finally knowing his genealogy, the son of a button maker. Travelling the world through life as a Tug Man (tugboat deck hand) he meets and falls in love with Tilda Swinton who explains form the depth of hurt that “you can never tell me you love me.” They are lovers and her pain is evidenced by her brief good-bye note, “It was a pleasure to have met you.”

He, of course, returns to his native New Orleans to find life aging everyone except for him. Tragedy strikes and Daisy is injured in Paris. The course of true love never runs smooth and as with Daisy and Benjamin injury becomes anger, bitterness and loneliness until Daisy too, returns to her native New Orleans. The two finally become lover’s and conceive a child. 

Brad Pitt shows range that I haven’t seen since his performance in Legends of the Fall. He seems to be at a place where his talent shows the necessary nurturing, skill and ability to propel him into legendary status. He’s even, consistent in delivery, range and depth and his accent wasn’t bad either.


Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."


Well, that’s it; an potpourri of Best Picture Nominees.  I’m going to step away form my usual safe place and name names. Knowing, of course, that the Director’s Guild Award, went to Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire and this award usually forecasts the Oscars the safe bet would be Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire.

I say, "throw caution to the wind" so here it is:

Best Picture – Frost/Nixon
Best Director- Ron Howard
Best Actor – Frank Langella
Best Actress – Kate Winslet
Supporting Actress – Marisa Tomei
Supporting Actor – Health Ledger

Hope I don’t strike out.

Hollywood's Favorite Golden Boy: Oscar.

 


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