American Artists Life and Life Only

WitnessLA’S 2nd Annual Knowledge-Free OSCAR Picks – UPDATED


Look, these are serious and perilous times.
Catastrophes lurk whichever way one looks.

All the more reason to watch the Academy Awards.

Hey, if wizardly numbers guru Nate Silver can be persuaded to care about the Oscars, should the rest of us feel abashed? I think not.

Even Paul Krugman has given his list of three favorite “economic films.” (Chinatown, Wall Street and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, if you care to know.)



Best Actor: Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler. Yes it was a stunt performance, and yes Sean Penn was humble, nuanced and stupendously good in Milk—which is a far, far better film that The Wrestler could dream of being. And, yes, Micky Rourke seems to be a rather unpleasant fellow off-screen, but Hollywood tends to reward stunt performances, and Rourke is, for all the objections, hauntingly good in the role. It is hard to take your eyes off him, and I don’t think the Oscar voters will.

Best Actress: Kate Winslet. She should have won before. She can’t be beat tonight—even by Streep (still the best living actor) given her two strong turns—in The Reader and in Revolutionary Road.

Best Supporting Actress: Flip a coin. The favorite is Penelope Cruz but….I just can’t go there. As irritating as B. Button is as a film Vicky Cristina Barcelona is way more irritating. Cruz is talented, but the movie is Woody Allen at his most pointless. I’m going narrowly with Taraji P Henson for her role as the mother in Button. Stupid movie, good performance.

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger. (Duh!) (If he doesn’t get it, this would be the upset of the night.)

Best Screenplays: Slumdog and Milk, adapted and original, respectively (even if the WGA hadn’t already crowned ’em both). Too bad Wall-E can’t win in the latter category, as it’s a lovely script too.

Best Film: Slumdog Millionaire. Honestly, Milk is a better film. But it’s Slumdog’s year for a zillion reasons that have been mentioned by everyone writing about the issue. The Reader is a good book, strangely adapted. Benjamin Button is an expensive, disorganized snore. Frost/Nixon is important, but not the best picture, sorry. Slumdog is the fable we need and want, right now, imperfections and all. Plus it’s the only movie out that actively makes us want to leap from our couches and run out to dance in the street. Possibly in costume.

(This also means Danny Boyle, best director, BTW.)

Okay, I gotta run out and get more snacks for evening.

So over to y’all.


PS: And if you get bored with the Oscars….here’s an extremely cute pig
(The video is courtesy of the LA Times website, which should probably frighten us. On the other hand, it is a really, really cute pig.)

Kingsford Goes to the Beach – video powered by Metacafe

More serious subjects tomorrow.


PPS: I’m not live blogging. But I am on Twitter…uh….tweeting. @WitnessLA. Come on down!

UPDATE: What a great upset. Sorry Mickey Rourke didn’t win (although I really think he should reconsider his relationship with his hair product), but I’m so glad Sean Penn did. He deserved this award in every way. It was a wonderful, finely drawn, utterly flawless performance. And a gracious and graceful acceptance speech. Bravo!


  • I haven’t seen Milk, but The Wrestler is such a better film than Slumdog, which is a such a gimmick of a story IMHO that I think the entire Oscar deal this year is a bad joke. Boyle might well deserve the director’s award for the touches he brought but I have zero tolerance for that kind of bullshit storytelling. Milk hasn’t been on my list of urgent must-sees because I’ve seen the whole thing twice already – once in real time when I lived near lower Market St. in the ’70s and again in the excellent Oscar-winning documentary. Maybe Milk is better than The Wrestler – although it’s hard to imagine a bio-pic achieving the level of honesty that Aronofsky and Rourke brought to their work – but Slumdog, despite its appeal, is a confection wrapped around some very brilliantly produced anecdotes. Just doesn’t hold together at all IMHO. I’m also convinced it’s a Brit’s fantasy version of India. Don’t really know but my “half-Indian” friend who travels there periodically to visit her father didn’t think much of it at all and felt insulted by the concept. Of course, there’s no accounting for taste, etc.

  • I also have to defend Mickey a bit – if you’ve seen his full hour interview on Charlie Rose he doesn’t come off as an unpleasant person at all, but a very humble, self-aware, almost painfully honest man who would be the first to admit the mistakes he has made in his life. Frankly, I think he’s a hell of a lot more charming and far less grandiose (a trait I find unpleasant) than Sean Penn.

  • Reg, I’m glad to hear the good report on Mickey Rourke and will completely take your word for it. I loved him in The Wrestler and liked much about the film, particularly the peek into that world, but think it has some big, big narrative problems that one tends to look beyond because of the strength of Rourke’s performance, and the cool subculture stuff.

    As for Slumdog, I think it’s a fantasy, plain and simple, and it works as such. Certainly, if one wants to learn about India, one should go elsewhere.

    I saw Milk and Slumdog back to back on the same night, and liked Milk much better. But I don’t think it will win. If I’m mistaken, I’ll be delighted.

  • My comments are probably more unschooled and unjustified than yours because I have only seen one of the “Best Pictures” – mostly because I either wasn’t interested in the concept at all or because they were rehashes of “real-life” episodes that I didn’t feel that I needed to revisit in order to better comprehend. My bet is that “Frost-Nixon” is pretty much made-up melodrama in the aspects that aren’t already on Frost’s tapes. “Button” I couldn’t be dragged to. And “The Reader” sounds like it might be the most inessential holocaust film to date – I’ll definitely pass.

    I’ve seen The Wrestler twice and I’ll probably see it again before it leaves theaters. It’s actually my favorite film in a long time and my favorite performance in a while. It was as compelling the second time (the next day!) as it was the first. (After rushing to the judgement that it was another Rocky – which was a totally bogus rap – my wife decided she wanted to see it after I raved about it. She loved it.) I don’t think I could sit through Slumdog again, although I was totally entertained in the theater.

  • Celeste – I’m not a fantasy guy. Pretty much pass on that stuff. As example, I hated sitting through the Hobbit movie I saw with my son. He had to explain what the hell was happening. Whole thing seemed utterly pointless. Just not my thing.

  • cute little piggy. Now I have one question about the little piggy since I don’t know much about pigs other than my Rabbi telling me I shouldn’t eat them….How big is this cute little piggy going to be when he/she grows up???

  • I have to say I thought the Oscars show sucked. Without a comedian hosting this thing is unbearable. (Maybe this is just me, but the host issue was made even worse since I’ve never seen anything that stars Hugh Jackman – the guy is totally off my radar and is likely to remain there. So it was unsettling to have a nonentity – at least to me – host something that is such a kitschy tradition.)

    And I had so little interest in most of the main contenders that I’m probably an utterly biased observer, but this seemed like the most pretentious version of the AAs I’ve witnessed to date. While it seemed like a good idea, the former Oscar winners giving their “heartfelt tributes” to the nominees was painful. In a couple of cases it worked very well, which is why the rest of it was so embarrassing. Clips are the way to introduce folks nominated for their performances, not a mixed bag of messages telepromptered from the best efforts of the show’s writers. I felt bad for the nominees who were the victims of the flubs and unconvincing blurbs or who got Michael Douglas instead of Robert DeNiro.

    Also, the Best Song competition would have been about 700% more tenable if Springsteen’s Wrestler theme had been nominated. Except his singing a song that had some coherent text and context would have, paradoxically, seemed utterly out of place in company with the other stuff that got nominated. I get that the Slumdog songs are a different genre and energy than we’re used to at the Oscars, which had the potential to be very exciting – except that the second song was terrible. And what the hell was Peter Gabriel thinking – other than “I’m going to cash that check from Pixar” ? To make matters worse, John Legend is just too lame to rescue anything.

  • Reg, naturally I was hideously irritated by the Academy’s failure to nominate Springsteen for The Wrestler. The exclusion was made even more infuriating by the fact that only three songs were nominated instead of the traditional five. Admittedly, the song was not The Boss’s best work, lyrically. But it’s a lovely tune and certainly is miles better than most of the crap that gets Oscar nominated in this category year after year after year. Really unbelievable.

    I rather liked Jackman, as far as he went. But he needed much more in the way of interstitial stuff and, frankly, this was a very, very bad year not to have a comedian hosting. Given the bleakness of much that is going on, I missed Jon Stewart and what he would have brought to the night.

    The thing that drove me the most crazy was the bizarre camera movement whenever there was a montage of any kind. This was particularly unnerving during the In Memoriam segment when the camera kept zooming in and out on the screen giving me a near terminal case of motion sickness and causing the TV viewing audience to actually miss several of the tributes, including half of the Paul Newman tribute, for God’s sake. WTF????

    One more thing, when certain presenters were talking there was some kind of odd scrim surrounding them, onto which animated stuff was projected on a loop. This meant, for instance, that as some of the former awardees for Best Actress or whatever, were talking in heartfelt tones about the nominees, just to the right of their faces there was the repeating image of an animated diving polar bear!!!! It was one of the most bat shit things I’ve ever seen on an Oscar telecast.

  • The In Memoriam segment was horribly bungled. You’re right that Wrestler isn’t the greatest song ever, but it was perfect in the context of the movie and, maybe I’m some kind of crazy person for whom that movie – bizarre as its main character happened to be – hit every nerve, but I sat through the end of that song, which I often don’t do, and it added powerfully to the emotional impact of the film. And while the Slumdog finale was totally engrossing, it kind of weirded me out in terms of trying to grasp what I had just witnessed. It ran counter to everything in the movie that had moved me and drew me into a different world – accentuating the sounds and colors over the humanity and exaggerating that aspect of the film that has drawn criticism, i.e. the worst kind of poverty imaginable as an exotic backdrop for a musical centered on an inexplicably shallow “fated lovers” story with an absurdly happy ending. But I’m going to give my entire criticism of the Best Picture thing a Giant Second Thought and withdraw to the judgement that giving Best Picture to an unanticipated, indie hit with an odd provenance and production team, some unknown actors from the very edge of the English-speaking world and what must have been a tiny budget for such an elaborate, flashy production is the best of all possible outcomes, given the nominations and the nature of the Oscar Beast.

    Also, I thought the Milk screenwriter’s speech was the best one of the evening. Sean was pretty good, but he had to put himself into the Prop 8 controversy by citing his leftwing heroics and the protestors outside the Academy. The other guy actually lives the social context of the Milk story. I did like Penn’s bit of self-deprecation. He needs to practice that and not confuse himself with the Caped Crusader – cuz that’s currently Christian Bale.

    And Danny Boyle seems like a very smart, gracious guy.

  • Hmmm, I must say that I disdain endless cynacism. Celeste makes a good point when she says that Slumdog is not the place to find out about Indian society. In fact the political and social burden placed on the film because it’s Indian outstrips any similar pressure out upon other films. I agree with my friend Reg that it’s not a perfect film but it suceeds at crafting an fairly original narrative structure and uses bollywood tropes to tao into decidingly non bollywood topics of street life and marginalisation. When it suceeds it is in fact remarkable. The other thing about this years Oscars it that the winners looked more like the world, in its cosmopolitan messiness, than just America and that is a wonderful thing in it’s own right in a year where we elected our most worldly ever president with the middle name Hussein. Slumdog had wondrful music and a beautiful and lively non english song ends winning the top prize.

    I am itterly devoted to Sean Penn. He is the only Hollywood actor for whom I reserve unadulturated affection for. His rendition of Harvey Milk was more than lovely and nuanced acting, he actaully captured the moral rage and conscouness of the movement Milk led. The best moment of the awards was when Penn started out by saying you comie fag loving et cetera. What a fantastic and wonderful man. I also diaagree profoundly with Celeste about Cristina Vicki but I’ll leave that alone for now

  • ps did anyone else see the French film “The Class”? Why on earth wasn’t it nominated for something as it towered over anything else I saw in the last year or so.

  • “In fact the political and social burden placed on the film because it’s Indian outstrips any similar pressure out upon other films.”

    Except it’s not “Indian” but a British rendition – which in my ignorance I didn’t realize until the end credits and which probably intensified my questioning WTF I’d just experienced.

  • I also think that the Indian setting tended to exempt it from social/political analysis – along with the feel-good fiinale and too-clever narrative device (which seemed absurd as soon as I fully comprehended what was happening – Regis Philbin turned Grand Inquisitor?!?!?!). A film that tried to pull off the same glitzy stunts in the context of the most dire urban poverty one could document within the US would have really raised hackles. “Homeless Millionaire – The Musical” ??? I don’t think so. Allthough its entirely possible such a script was written for Robin Williams and it sucked too much even for him to tackle.

  • ” Why on earth wasn’t it nominated for something as it towered over anything else I saw in the last year or so.”

    Because we’re fretting over the Oscars – a fool’s errand. Still I can never help myself in the ensuing 24 hours.

  • I loved The Class. I’m anxious to see Departures as it appears to have won several festival awards. It’s nice to see the Sony Pictures Classics hegemony broken.

  • Ahmed, your point of view of Vicky Cristina is held by most and I admit I’m still irrationally critical of Woody Allen, whose work I used to adore, ever since the running-off-with-the-22-year-old-step-daughter incident.

    (Yeah, I realize that since nearly 15 years have gone by and he married her, that I could give it up. But then I think….NAH.)

    I too am really happy that Sean Penn won, even though I thought it would be Rourke, who was also very, very deserving.

    I haven’t seen The Class. Still must do that.

  • My man Philip Weiss who along with Tai Nehesi Coates has one of the most fascinating blogs on the web seems to have arrived at a similar conclusion as myself about cosmopolitan nature of this years awards. Here’s Weiss

    “One of the big signals that we’re winning was “Slumdog.” On top of Obama, Slumdog’s domination of the Oscar stage was a huge sign that when Jeff Ballabon, a powerful, rightwing American Jew, writes that Palestinians aren’t “ready” to represent themselves politically, and when rightwing American-Israeli Jew Caroline Glick says that Palestinians “cannot be trusted with sovereignty,” they are expressing racist ideas and hurling themselves into the dustbin of history. Let them go there. Last night at the global Oscars, Slumdog composer AR Rahman said we all get to choose love or hate. Let’s go with love”

  • Woody are you constitutionally mandated to post on every single thread, no matter what the topic or your level of interest? And don’t conservatives like you believe in time tested traditions and values, such as those embodied in a saying that I’m sure you heard from your mother one more than one occasion, “if you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all”.

  • Ahmed – I have to admit my surprise that you embraced Slumdog as some sort of political landmark. It was a fun movie that I would have expected those to my left to indict more severely than I have for a variety of “sins.” Knowing it was Dana Perino’s favorite film makes it kind of hard for me to read too much into the event, although as i said on reflection I think the win was probably a very good thing for indies with offbeat concepts and in the rarified atmosphere of movie pitches it might expand the map.

  • To be clear, I’m glad you didn’t have an elaborate marxist critique of Slumdog as an artifact of Western imperialism, orientalism or some such. Although I WAS disappointed when I realized it wasn’t an Indian film – despite having a lot of respect for Boyle.

  • I read a partcularly bad left critique of slumdog in the guardian which suggested that the film’s mandate should have been to expose the ways the IMF and “us” participate in the creation and maintainance of slums in the first place. Instead the sterile reviewer said that the film implied that slums are caused only by hindu mobs and Muslim gangs. Now what sort of idiotic viewer would walk out of slumdog thinking that was the message? The review made me realise how endlessly cynical and uncreative the left can sometimes be. That said Juan Cole on the other hand has written a sharp critique, even if I squabble with him over a couple of points

  • Ahmed: “if you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all”.

    Well, that would keep you and reg from commenting.

  • Celeste: I am on Twitter…uh….tweeting. @WitnessLA. Come on down!

    Celeste wants to destroy our young people.

    Social networking websites are causing alarming changes in the brains of young users, an eminent scientist has warned. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Bebo are said to shorten attention spans, encourage instant gratification and make young people more self-centred.

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