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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Matthew Fowler takes on the Oscars

Published: January 30, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.

diverse-city-1-30-09_final_page_2_image_0001Best Picture

The Nominees:

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

Thoughts: Nominated for thirteen Oscars, David Fincher’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” tells the unique story of a man who ages backwards. Visually speaking, Fincher’s movie easily stands with the other films in this category. The special effects are a modern moviemaking marvel (any director who can make Brad Pitt look homely deserves recognition). What hurts this picture is the story itself. Epic? (Dancing? Check. Boat fights? Check. Scenic motorcycle shots? Check.) Yes.

Yet, the grand scale of the movie cannot hide the flawed narrative. The sometimes-iconic technical feats leave the moviegoer begging for a more satisfying emotional arch for the characters involved.


Thoughts: Ron Howard movies are never surprising. This does not mean that the director of “Frost/ Nixon” is unskilled at his craft (far from it). It just means that a good chunk of his movie credits fall under the same sphere. Howard’s best movies are scripted about events that have some (if not an inflated) historical importance to the time.

“Frost/Nixon” is no different. Flashy and smart, the movie is pushed into Oscar worthiness mostly because of the powerhouse acting of Frank Langella. Unfortunately, the movie does not tread new ground (which actually might help it given who selects the winner) and never truly sets itself apart from other Howard offerings.


Thoughts: Sean Penn’s portrayal of the first openly gay politician elected to public office in California is a seemingly flawless tutorial in acting. The supporting cast evidently took notes and sustains the strength Penn heads. Unfortunately for Gus Van Sant’s film, the movie (while barrier-breaking in the different characters’ renderings) does not differ much in comparison with the standard Hollywood biopic. Though in case you had any fears, the movie is infinitely more entertaining than Van Sant’s cameo on Entourage. Or any Entourage for that matter.

“The Reader”

Thoughts: Shot expertly by Stephen Daldry, “The Reader” tells the story of a teenage boy’s affair with an older woman, who later find herself being tried for war crimes. Despite a strong cast (particularly Kate Winslet) the movie regrettably feels lifeless and too preachy at times. If not for Winslet’s strong performance, it would be hard to disregard the blatant, pound-the-viewer-over-the-head theme the director wants to get across. (The phrase “Oscar-baiter” comes to mind. But what’s wrong with enticing the Academy? Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?)

“Slumdog Millionaire”

Thoughts: Danny Boyle’s crowd-pleasing movie about a poor Indian boy from the slums on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire is nominated for ten Oscars. “Slumdog” is filmed beautifully (as if you wouldn’t have guessed it), and the cast is made up of relatively unknown actors who succeed with strong performances. What should be a depressing and disheartening story is instead spun as a Dickensian love story that will make you beg for more.

What did the Academy forget?

“The Dark Knight”


My Pick: “Slumdog Millionaire”

Best Director

The Nominees:

David Fincher, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

Thoughts: Probably the strongest in this category with regards to the technical aspects of directing. The special effects on this movie were a sight to behold.

Ron Howard, “Frost/Nixon”

Thoughts: Howard films with flair and style in all of his movies. But, the direction in this film does not distinguish itself from the other nominees or Howard’s other films.

Gus Van Sant, “Milk”

Thoughts: Gus Van Sant keeps the movie from being too preachy and allows the actors to shine in their roles. He keeps the movie artsy while steering it clear of being pretentious.

Stephen Daldry, “The Reader”

Thoughts: Daldry shoots his story with skill and vibrancy. He pulls out a great performance from Kate Winslet and puts forth a good effort on a potentially tough subject.

Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire”

Thoughts: None of the cast in Slumdog Millionaire are up for awards. This means if Slumdog has any hopes of winning the big category, Boyle will have to take this award. He may just very well do that.

What did the Academy forget?

Clint Eastwood, “Gran Torino”

Christopher Nolan, “The Dark Knight”

My Pick: Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire”

Best Actor

The Nominees:

Richard Jenkins, “The Visitor”

Thoughts: A much-deserved nomination. Jenkins is considered the dark horse in this category (anyone who watched Jenkins propel “Eddie” into the classic movie it is today knew he would one day get a nomination.)

Frank Langella, “Frost/Nixon”

diverse-city-1-30-09_final_page_4_image_0001Thoughts: Langella is the reason Frost/Nixon is a viable contender for Best Picture. His performance is an accomplishment by itself. (Langella was also in “Eddie.” Jenkins was better just in case anyone was interested.)

Sean Penn, “Milk”

Thoughts: Penn turns in his best performance since his Oscar win for “Mystic River.” The man who was Spicoli has come along way.

Brad Pitt, “The Curious Incident of Benjamin Button”

Thoughts: Pitt plays Benjamin Button with wit and cleverness. He puts forth a stronger performance when he takes the form of the older Benjamin.

Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler”

Thoughts: When a trailer for a movie trumpets the quote “witness the resurrection of Mickey Rourke,” you listen to that trailer. Anyone who saw The Wrestler is a witness.

What did the Academy forget?

Clint Eastwood, “Gran Torino”

Leonardo DiCaprio, “Revolutionary Road”

My Pick: Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler”

Best Actress:

Anne Hathaway, “Rachel Getting Married”

Thoughts: Hathaway has beat back some bad publicity with a strong performance and her first Oscar nomination. Hathaway has a lot of charisma and is likeable in most of the movie roles she takes, “Bride Wars” notwithstanding.

Angelina Jolie, “Changeling”

Thoughts: Jolie is the only nomination coming from Changeling. Pitt and her nominations should help the ratings of the Oscars.

Melissa Leo, “Frozen River”

Thoughts: This is Melissa Leo’s first Academy award nomination. Leo started off on the Soap Opera “All My Children.”

Meryl Streep, “Doubt”

Thoughts: Seemingly nominated for best actress every time she appears in a movie, Streep yet again puts forth an Oscar-worthy performance. It would, however, be more entertaining if she was nominated for Mamma Mia!

Kate Winslet, “The Reader”

Thoughts: Winslet propels “The Reader” into Oscar worthiness with an understated performance. Winslet has been nominated for six Oscars, but hasn’t procured a win to date.

What did the Academy forget?

Kate Winslet, “Revolutionary Road”

My Pick: “Anne Hathaway: Rachel Getting Married”