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Buzzing Oscar 

by LUKE BAUMGARTEN, MICHAEL BOWEN AND ED SYMKUS & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & P & lt;/span & ut an arts editor and two film critics from opposite coasts (Ed lives in Boston) into the same Oscar chat room, and sparks will fly. Much of the following will make us look foolish after Sunday's Academy Awards telecast; much of it probably makes us look foolish right now.





Best Picture


Ed: I would put two of the five nominated films on the "pretty darn good" list: Babel and Little Miss Sunshine. I had already seen Letters from Iwo Jima; it was called Flags of Our Fathers. I can't comment on The Queen -- didn't see it, not interested. The best of the bunch, The Departed, had me wishing that it wouldn't end -- yet when it did, the ending was great.





Luke: I more or less agree, Ed. Though I liked Helen Mirren's performance in The Queen, one great performance does not a best picture make. So yeah, The Departed is the best film nominated. Kinda depressing and quizzical, as it's a remake of a Hong Kong action flick, albeit with considerable depth springing from Boston's stratification and cultural tension.





Bo: During a year in which none of the most-touted pictures really blew me away, I really loved Little Miss Sunshine for how it strikes notes of inspiration after getting in touch with several varieties of despair. It earns its (qualified) happy ending; that's genuine, and people sense that. So I'm going to apply what I call the Shakespeare in Love principle here: Academy members don't vote for what they respect (films like Saving Private Ryan and The Departed) as often as they vote for what makes them feel good (movies like Shakespeare in Love and Little Miss Sunshine). People respect Babel; and there's sentiment for Scorsese's Departed to win. But the people who love Little Miss really love it (I'm one of them). Still, Little Miss has three major strikes up against it: It's an indie film and a comedy with no Best Director nom. Which is what makes for such a tight race in Best Pic. But either Little Miss or Babel will win the big prize. What will make the Academy feel good this time is voting for Marty for Best Director.





Sins of Omission


Ed: The real best films of the year: 1) Children of Men, which I've now seen three times, and which I can't shake from my mind. 2) Borat -- the idea was to outrage viewers and make them laugh at the outrageousness. It worked: My stomach still hurts. 3) Apocalypto -- with the exception of the absurd, mood-breaking Taxi Driver reference, it was a perfect film -- one that drew viewers into an alien world and never let them think about anything else.





Luke: Children of Men was among my favorites as well, though I don't think I could disagree more about the Eurocentric snuff film Apocalypto.





Bo: Children of Men (for its incredible direction, extended contrast between natural and technological, and commentary on the abortion debate) and Pan's Labyrinth (for its evocation of nightmare as both refuge from and reaction against tyranny) belong among the nominated top five (in place of Letters from Iwo Jima and The Queen).





Best Direction


Ed: I don't care about the other four. Give the damn statue to Scorsese. Can you name another contemporary director (Altman's gone, Russ Meyer is gone) who has mastered a specific style of filmmaking to this degree? (Well, OK, aside from Kundun and The Age of Innocence?) And by the way, The Departed is a terrific movie, the best thing he's done since Casino. I'd call that a comeback, and deserving of director gold.





Luke: Giving Scorsese the nod because he should've gotten it before propagates a cycle of sentimentalism and perceived justice in Hollywood that annoys the hell out of me. It turns the director Oscar into a lifetime achievement award, rather than a reward for the year's best direction. That said, the nominees aren't awe-inspiring. Where's Del Toro? Where's Pedro Almodovar? Where's Alfonso Cuaron? Given a field so emasculated, Scorsese should win. But there should be a big asterisk next to his name that says, "Won on the merits of a single film, not because we felt hella guilty for 20 years of snubs."





Bo: I agree with Luke -- Cuaron's Children of Men was the best-directed film of the year; Oscars should be given based on performance not sentiment; and The Departed is probably the best of the nominated quintet.





Ed: You guys are mixing up directing with what the director of photography does. All of the films nominated for the cinematography Oscar deserve -- for different reasons at different moments -- to win. But Children of Men is special all the way through, from its early single take of Clive Owen buying his coffee and escaping with his life, to the horrifying single-take reverse car ride, to the complex, single-take scramble through a bombed-out building -- with the bombs still falling! My third viewing of the film was to figure out how the hell Emmanuel Lubezki shot it. I couldn't.





Bo: There's a basic tension in this race, because there are several examples of better direction than Scorsese's this year. But people want to reward him; he's such a likable movie buff. Which sets up another of my predictions -- Scorsese for Best Director but not for Best Picture. In the last 40 years, that's only happened seven times. But four of those exceptions have arrived in just the last decade: Shakespeare in Love, Gladiator, Chicago and Crash. I'm saying it could happen again this year, with Scorsese winning for Director but Little Miss or Babel taking the top prize.





Best Actor


Ed: Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson? This is a question to the nominators: Are you kidding? Peter O'Toole -- ah, the sympathy vote. Will Smith -- Hey, Will, you look good in gray hair, but your performance was of the walking-on-a-treadmill variety. Forest Whitaker -- big and blustery, and not without some depth. Pretty good, but not gold-worthy. Leonardo DiCaprio -- a classy, multi-layered presentation of a character we should despise but end up kinda liking. My vote, if I had one, would go to him.





Bo: Ed's dismissal of Gosling's performance disqualifies his entire ballot. He shouldn't have a vote.





Luke: I think Gosling is one of the best young actors in Hollywood, and he was great in Half Nelson. He should win in my book over Whitaker, who was also amazing. DiCaprio played the male gun-running, new-millennium version of the hooker with the heart of gold. Dress up an anti-hero in whatever contradictory clich & eacute;s you like, he's still an anti-hero. Worse, having to listen to Leo's mangled South African accent made me pull my hair out. O'Toole and Smith are both sentimental choices, meaning one may just win. That's depressing.





Best Actress


Ed: Penelope Cruz -- see Ryan Gosling. Though I didn't see The Queen, you and I both know that Helen Mirren's best performances were long ago, in O Lucky Man! and in Savage Messiah. What, you've never heard of those films? Rent 'em tonight! Meryl Streep still wears that "I am acting" sign around her neck, at least every time I see her. Judi Dench is damn good in Notes on a Scandal, but I'm still ticked off at the Academy for giving her that Oscar for her crummy eight minutes of screen time in Shakespeare in Love. This is Kate Winslet's year -- great character, someone whose confusion I could identify with and, despite some stupid decisions, I was rooting for.





Luke: Judi Dench! Judi Dench! That's all, except this: I think Ed and I have very nearly the exact opposite opinions on almost everything.





Supporting Actor


Ed: The prize will go to either Eddie Murphy (superb character arc, and he's got some pipes!) or Alan Arkin (who can cuss better than my wife). But here's the proper list of nominees: Adam Beach for Flags of Our Fathers (so sad), Joseph Fiennes for Running With Scissors (so textured), Sergi Lopez for Pan's Labyrinth (one of the best villains in cinema history), Ben Affleck for Hollywoodland (hey, this guy can act) and Ken Davitian for Borat (brilliant when he was Chaplin, brilliant when he was naked).





Luke: Djimon Hounsou plays too many noble African roles. His work in Blood Diamond was one more. Mark Wahlberg was good, but he was playing himself circa 1985, a tough from South Boston. Eddie Murphy angered me with Norbit, so I cast him out on principle. Alan Arkin should and will win.





Supporting Actress


Ed: Enough with this Jennifer Hudson crap. She's an all-right actor, but she's a shrieker, not a singer -- and an award in a musical can only go to someone who can do both well. I was disappointed not to see Jennifer Aniston nominated for her part in Friends With Money, but the award should rightfully go to Adriana Barraza for her absolutely heartbreaking performance in Babel.





Luke: So the Japanese girl is nominated because she can cry while naked; Hudson is nominated because she's a plus-sized nobody with a good voice; Abigail Breslin is nominated because she's a toddler; Blanchett is nominated because she's Blanchett. None of these nominations is due to actual performances but due to marketing, buzz and backstory. That's annoying. On principle, then, Barraza should win. Barring that, Blanchett, because I have a crush on her.





Screenplays


Bo: Well, since nobody wants to talk about screenwriting... In Original Screenplay, Little Miss should and will win (for its blending of depression/humor/sentiment and how well it sets up its final-sequence surprises). The Queen takes its elk symbolism and rubs our noses in it, while Babel weakly links its Japanese third to the rest of its sprawling and impressive international tale. In Adapted Screenplay, Borat certainly at least belongs. (What do you mean, no script? Plenty of great movie moments were improvised. And Baron Cohen demonstrates that the source material doesn't have to be a novel or short story -- officially, it's adapted from the character that he created.) While Pan's Labyrinth, Little Children and Notes on a Scandal all (in their own ways) make sensationalistic choices -- and while The Departed veers in that direction -- there's too much sentiment behind Scorsese's film for it not to win in this category.





Luke: Yeah, word, for adapted The Departed will win. It's also most deserving. All the others have annoying little flaws (Notes has uneven pacing, Children of Men is more notable for its direction than screenplay, which tells more often than it shows; Little Children is the most flawed, having not come to Spokane and therefore not having been seen by me; Borat is better on the small screen). The Departed isn't perfect either, but the dialogue absolutely crackles, lifting it above its source material.


I couldn't disagree more about Little Miss Sunshine for original, but I know I'm in the minority. Let me say that I think The Queen should win and leave it at that.





Foreign Film


Ed: It's a shame that the confusing and wonderfully mind-boggling Russian film Night Watch wasn't nominated, but it still would've placed second on my list. I've already seen Pan's Labyrinth twice, and will go again before it leaves Big Screenville. It's a masterpiece of fantasy and brutal reality, a dazzling movie of immense scope that should be required for anyone who wants to become a filmmaker.





Luke: Pan's Labyrinth should be in the running for -- and should win -- the Best Picture Oscar. It will definitely win Best Foreign Language Film.





The Significance


Bo: Does the horse race really matter? Truly, to be nominated is an honor -- and determining whether what Abigail Breslin is doing in her film is "better" than what Jennifer Hudson or Cate Blanchett are doing in theirs is... kind of silly. What matters is pointing out to people that, hey, in the morass of movies that comes out every year and that includes despicable crap like Norbit, here are the films that won't sink to appeasing your basest instincts. Here are some movies and performances that will make you a better, more thoughtful, more compassionate person. (And yes, I think that even the likely winner in Animated, Cars, does just that.)





Ed: I believe that Cars was nominated for Animated Film just because it has the Pixar name on it. It was one of two movies I walked out on this year (the other was the three-hour, headache-inducing Inland Empire), mainly because it was boring, badly written, badly acted, badly directed. I could go on, but why waste any more ink?





The 79th Academy Awards will be telecast from


Hollywood on Sunday, Feb. 25, at 5 pm on ABC. E! TV will have live red carpet coverage beginning at 3 pm.





Benefit in Black





& lt;span class= "dropcap " & N & lt;/span & ot enough time this year to fly to Hollywood and take your usual seat at the Academy Awards? Well, staying in Spokane is far from settling. The Oscar Night Gala, a black tie charity event benefiting Spokane AIDS Network, is again setting the standard for highbrow Oscar benefits this year on Sunday, Feb. 25. The gala, in its ninth year, aims at raising large amounts of funds and awareness for members of the Spokane community affected by the disease.





The schedule for the evening is nothing short of celebrity. Watch the Oscar awards telecast while feasting on a decadent dinner (think salmon and chicken served with sauces only French chefs can pronounce correctly) while being waited on by the capable staff of the Davenport Hotel. As if that was not enough, you can take home your own piece of celebrity paraphernalia through the silent auction. Yup, that includes autographed pictures of Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Elizabeth Taylor.





With the continued success and growth of this event, continually the most successful fundraiser held by the organization, everyone has the opportunity to enjoy this night of glitz and glamour normally experienced by the jet-setting crowd. With an expected 400 guests, this beats watching the Oscars in your sweats any day.


-- KATIE DUTLI





Spokane AIDS Network Oscar Night Gala * Sunday, Feb. 25, at 4:30 pm, with dinner at 6:30 pm * Tickets: $125 * Davenport Hotel * 10 S. Post St. * Visit: www.spokaneaidsnetwork.org * Call 455-8993

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