January 23, 2007
Martin Scorsese woke up to some unexpected good news Tuesday morning. I'm not referring to the fact that "The Departed" was nominated for a best picture Oscar and that he was nominated for directing it – both things were expected. I'm referring to the fact that "Dreamgirls" was shut out of the best picture category.
"Dreamgirls" may not have been the best movie of 2006, even by a generous reckoning, but in its splashiness and epic scale, it has the feel of a best picture winner. If you think of past winners in the category, not as exemplars of quality (which they're not) but as members of a genre, "Dreamgirls" is right in there: glitzy and flashy, grand and empty-headed, moving in spite of itself, a real full meal of a movie. That it's not nominated makes it more of a clear field for "The Departed."
But the best picture category has always been the one with which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences likes to show its institutional neurosis and perversity, so there's no telling what will happen. Last year, the Oscar went to "Crash," not a bad film, but the worst of the five nominated. This year, on Feb. 25, the academy could top that by awarding a flat-out lousy film. Yes, the good-movie vote just might be split four ways this year — among "The Departed," "Letters From Iwo Jima," "Little Miss Sunshine" and "The Queen" — leaving the fraudulent and fake-intellectual "Babel" to take home the prize.
On balance, 2006 was a bland year, and this was reflected in the nominations. The best actor category, which teemed with great performances last year, is lackluster, and so are the supporting categories. Even considering Scorsese's track record and the fact that he has never won an Oscar, "The Departed" wouldn't stand a chance any other year. But this time out, there's little to get behind, nothing to get excited about and really nothing to get angry about. For example, I would have loved to see Sacha Baron Cohen nominated for starring in "Borat," but is this an epic injustice? I couldn't claim that with a straight face.
At least one good thing happened (by not happening): Brad Pitt ("Babel") wasn't nominated for needing a shave.
Handicapping best actor looks easy from here: Leonardo DiCaprio won't win for "Blood Diamond," because that would be ridiculous. Ryan Gosling won't win for "Half Nelson," because few people have seen the movie — plus, he's young, he can wait. Peter O'Toole won't win for "Venus," because, as Lauren Bacall learned 10 years ago, the academy no longer gives out Oscars for turning 70. (Ninety is the new 70 — take your vitamins.) Will Smith is terrific but not transcendent in "The Pursuit of Happyness." That leaves Forest Whitaker in "The Last King of Scotland." His role as Idi Amin is really the supporting role, but he's glorious in it, and against weak competitors, he should have no trouble.
And is it really worth mentioning who is nominated against Helen Mirren ("The Queen") for best actress? Actually, it's the one strong field in the acting category. Kate Winslet gave the performance of the year in "Little Children." After years of being lauded for just acting cantankerous, Judi Dench finally got a juicy role in "Notes on a Scandal" — and she played it for all she's worth. We're so used to Meryl Streep's being great that it somehow just isn't enough that she was great in "The Devil Wears Prada," but she was. And then there was Penelope Cruz in Pedro Almod