by RISHI AGRAWAL
And so now it is time for the final part of Commentary Track’s Academy Awards preview. If you missed the other parts, you can click here for Part 1 (Screenplays), Part 2 (Supporting Acting Awards) and Part 3 (Main Acting Awards). Today, we will tackle the top two categories: Best Director and Best Picture.
The nominees: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Babel; Clint Eastwood, Letters from Iwo Jima; Martin Scorsese, The Departed; Paul Greengrass, United 93; Stephen Frears, The Queen.
Awards so far:
Martin Scorsese, The Departed – Golden Globes, Directors Guild, Critics’ Choice, Boston Critics, Chicago Critics, National Board of Review, New York Critics, Online Critics, Southeastern Critics<
Paul Greengrass, United 93 – BAFTA, Los Angeles Critics, National Society of Film Critics, San Francisco Critics
Stephen Frears, The Queen – Toronto Critics
Okay, just to get things out of the way, González, Eastwood and Frears all did fantastic jobs directing their movies. In fact, this list mirrors the Best Picture nominees except United 93 was nominated here instead of Little Miss Sunshine. Though I think González has an outside shot if there is enough support for Babelfor Best Picture, I don’t think he will win this award. And the Academy loves Eastwood, but he’s already won two Oscars (Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby for those of you who just don’t pay any attention). I think, ultimately, The Queen will be seen as a performance-driven piece (actually, more specifically a Mirren-driven piece) and Frears will get shut out. That, in my mind leaves two candidates.
First of all, in case you were under a rock, this is Scorsese’s sixth nomination for Best Director, an award which he’s never won. The Departed is almost certainly not his best film, though I think a strong argument could be made that this is Scorsese’s fourth best film (the top three, in my opinion, are Goodfellas, Raging Bull and Taxi Driver). Personally, I am a little tired of people saying that Scorsese deserves an Oscar but not for this film. Honestly, I don’t really care if the Academy is simply giving Scorsese the award to make up for past indiscretions. I remember a professor of mine once said that if a writer wins a Pulitzer Prize, do not read the book that won the prize, but read the author’s previous book. Usually, the committee is making up for something.
I realize that whether or not The Departed is a great film is a matter of debate. Personally, I think it is a great film. Sure, one side says that it is simply a rip-off of another film. The other side says that Scorsese remade the film in his own style and made it his own. What I am saying is that I am sick of people saying that Scorsese is cursed and will never win an Oscar. I am sick of people bring up the point that Hitchcock never won an Oscar either. I am sick of going through this whole debate every couple of years. It ends here. Scorsese will win and he should win.
Here’s the funny thing though. I think Paul Greengrass did a better job directing United 93 than Scorsese did in directing The Departed. This may be the only time I can remember that I would say that people should give out an award for a lesser achievement. Greengrass could not have possibly done a better job with United 93. It is ironic that it took someone British to correctly chronicle one of the ultimate tragedies in American history. Greengrass did everything right. He made sure that it was the right time to make the film. He talked to the families of the victims. He did meticulous research into every little facet of September 11, 2001. He did not cast movie stars, and he had the actors spend time with the families of the victims. He wanted to get it right, and he did. Greengrass’s mission was to chronicle, as accurately as he could have, how the events unfolded that day. The movie is devoid of melodrama or political posturing. It simply serves as a historical record, and that was exactly what we needed. I hope Greengrass will get another shot at an Oscar, because this is Scorsese’s year.
Who will win: Martin Scorsese, The Departed
Who should win: Martin Scorsese, The Departed
The nominees: Babel, The Departed, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Queen.
Awards so far:
Babel – Golden Globes
The Departed – Critics’ Choice, Boston Critics, Chicago Critics, Southeastern Critics
Letters from Iwo Jima – Los Angeles Critics, National Board of Review
The Queen – BAFTA, Toronto Critics
First of all, in case you’re wondering why so few awards are mentioned here, this year was truly all over the map and many different films won Best Picture awards. These include Little Children, Pan’s Labyrinth, United 93 and probably some other films that I am forgetting. This leads to a wide open Best Picture race as there is no clear favorite.
I will go and dismiss, ultimately, my two favorite films of the nominees, both of whom have no chance of winning: The Queen and Letters from Iwo Jima. The Queen just does not have enough support and Letters from Iwo Jima just barely slipped into the nominations in the first place. That is the spot that a lot of people thought was reserved for Dreamgirls.
Briefly, since I still think The Queen should win, I will discuss what I like about it. I think the movie captures a lot of the subtlety and delicate maneuvering that come with politics. It is a very interesting look into British politics, which is completely different than any other countries. It is a look at the declining monarchy and how people deal with a public tragedy. It captures so many aspects of society and culture while still being about people. It is a great film, and it is a shame that it won’t win.
So, it comes down to a three-horse race between Babel, Little Miss Sunshine and The Departed.
I think we can easily dismiss Babel. Box office failures rarely win the Best Picture Oscar. Yes, there is rarely a correlation between box office receipts and the quality of a movie, so making a lot of money does not guarantee an Oscar, but making very little money usually puts a film out of the running. Of course, one of the prominent exceptions to that rule was Crash, which is still fresh in people’s minds. There are other things going against Babel, most notably the fact that it was the least critically acclaimed film of the five nominees. While the reviews were good, and the film certainly had its vehement supporters, the critics did not think the film was stellar, overall. Finally, the only award that Babel has won, to date, is the Golden Globe. Yes, it’s a major award, but I hardly find it hard to believe that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association would give an award to a film with such a strong international presence.
I will put my disdain for Little Miss Sunshine aside and discuss the possibility of it winning. This film has rapidly picked up momentum. Especially important were the fact that Little Miss Sunshine won the WGA award as well as Best Ensemble at the SAG Awards, their equivalent of Best Picture. Sure, it hasn’t racked up any critical awards, but the Academy is made up of people who make films, not criticize them. Still, there are a couple reasons why I don’t think the film will win. First of all, even though it is gaining steam, the film was originally a dark horse. Dark horses do best when there is a lot of time to pick up votes. In the shortened Oscar season, I don’t know if that’s possible. The other main reason is the traditional Academy bias against comedies. I think you could argue that Shakespeare in Love or Forrest Gump were comedies, but I think the last true comedy to win was Annie Hall, nearly thirty years ago.
So, we are left with The Departed. It has the critical acclaim. It has success at the box office. And it is the sentimental favorite, I think, due to the fact that everyone wants to gives Scorsese an Oscar. I am sure he will be happy when he wins Best Director, but he is going to be ecstatic when he picks up this award as well.
Who will win: The Departed
Who should win: The Queen