Film & TV Muse

That Oscars business

Ah, The Oscars. That special time of year when, for just one night, the men and women of Hollywood cease their fussing and a-fighting, come down from the hills, and say to one another: "We like ourselves." True, it's an overblown, overlong celebration of the mediocre drivel the film industry callously pumps into the multiplexes; and, true, the teary ramblings of the winners should rightly cause any decent human being to hurl their guts out in front of the telly; but we still love it, don't we?

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Ah, The Oscars. That special time of year when, for just one night, the men and women of Hollywood cease their fussing and a-fighting, come down from the hills, and say to one another: "We like ourselves." True, it's an overblown, overlong celebration of the mediocre drivel the film industry callously pumps into the multiplexes; and, true, the teary ramblings of the winners should rightly cause any decent human being to hurl their guts out in front of the telly; but we still love it, don't we?

This year's event promises to be the best for a while though, after the sober 'Iraq War' themed event of 2003 and the Lord of the Rings vom-fest of last year, with no single film edging ahead of the rest. While The Aviator, Martin Scorcese's tale of filmmaker, pilot and millionaire Howard Hughes, has won the battle for nominations, taking eleven including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor, it may yet lose the war for Academy accreditation should the notoriously unlucky director find himself ignored for what is only an average film for the director. The Aviator isn't Scorcese's best, but it could pick up votes simply in recognition of the fact that the man who brought us Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and Raging Bull, has yet to pick up an Oscar, while Cher, goodness knows how, has one proudly sitting atop her mantelpiece.

Will The Aviator sweep the board then? Or will some less well-known movie come from nowhere to become the belle of Hollywood's ball? We'll just have to wait and see...

Best Picture
The rest of these baubles are all very nice, but the piece of gold everyone wants to get their hands on is the Best Picture award, as winners invariably find themselves added to lists of all-time movie greats, irrespective of cinematic ingenuity. This year sees a fairly open contest, with all of the nominees in with a shot at express deification. The films competing for the prestigious award include The Aviator, Finding Neverland, Million Dollar Baby, Ray and Sideways.

In a category bursting with melodramatic biopics, it would be nice to see melancholy comedy Sideways run away with the top prize. Beautifully written and wonderfully acted throughout, this tale of two friends' wine-soaked mid-life crisis would make a more than worthy winner. Hollywood couldn't stand for that though. Nominee-laden biopic The Aviator is hotly tipped to take the most prized of the statuettes, as well as a good proportion of the rest. The ultra-conservative Academy - average age of it's privileged members is around 80 - has a thing for grand American epics, so it's hard not to see this being Scorcese's night.

Best Director
Ah, Best Director. If you win this prestigious gong then you can forever rest secure in the knowledge that you are a man (you almost certainly will be a man, with very few female directors bar the exceptional Sofia Coppola noticed by the Academy) of vision, skill and talent. But who will it be this year? Can Alexander Payne bag the bloke with Sideways? Will Mike Leigh suffer from a potential anti-abortion backlash against Vera Drake? Will Clint Eastwood cry if he wins for his efforts in Million Dollar Baby?

Hopefully not, as we'd actually quite like him to win. No-one does uplifting sports movies better than the Americans but Million Dollar Baby stands head-and-shoulders above recent offerings, largely due to the grit and judgement that Eastwood brings behind the lens. Excellent characters, brilliant dialogue and the reinvention of a well-trodden genre make him highly deserving in our humble opinion. In the end though, nouse predicts Martin Scorcese will walk away with the prize. Despite critical acclaim for many of his innovations in filmmaking in the seventies and eighties, and commercial success thereafter, Scorcese has had an unlucky Oscars history. Nominated five times before, he has never won, not even for Raging Bull. He might not deserve it for The Aviator but quite frankly it'd be rude not to...

Best Actor
Often a titanic clash of egos but surely a career high to work and slave for a lifetime for the chance to be given a little golden man by Charlize Theron. It's another strong field this year though so be prepared to see the four runners up giving rapturous applause with fixed smiles and murderous looks. Nominees include Don Cheadle, Johnny Depp, Leonardo Dicaprio, Clint Eastwood and Jamie Foxx.

Many will be rooting for Don Cheadle as, with Hotel Rwanda, he finally makes the jump from excellent support to bona fide leading man in this tale of one man's struggle to do the right thing against tremendous odds. An award for this extremely worthy film would be ideal as well as recognition for this always excellent (with the exception of his accent in Ocean's Twelve) stalwart. However, the smart money is on Jamie Foxx (Ray) to take the gong. All the nominees are excellent but in addition Foxx has taken advantage of Oscar rule No 4: "If you want to win for sure, play someone with a disability." Plus, the boy can sing, a rare talent amongst Hollywood's leading men sure not to go unrewarded.

Best Actress
At last we see a category untouched by The Aviator. Indeed, refreshingly, none of this year's nominees come from films with particularly large budgets. If only we could count upon the winner not to shed great, salty tears all down her nice new frock, all would be well with the world. This years nominees look like a steady bunch though, so here's hoping. With the warm and inventive 'Eternal Sunshine' pretty much ignored elsewhere by the Academy, it's hard not to want Kate Winslet to win here. Her wonderfully charming performance as a blue-haired eccentric is made all the more remarkable in that it marks such a difference from the Refined English Lady Winslet is usually asked to play.

Be that as it may, the bookies see this as a toss-up between Hilary Swank and Annette Bening, who faced off before in 2000 when Swank won for her role in Boys Don't Cry (against Bening's performance in American Beauty). Bening has the pedigree, but on the other hand nobody quite plays trailer-park trash as well as Hilary Swank. Bening has gone home empty-handed twice before though, so perhaps the Academy will take pity this year.

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