What, no love for “What Happens in Vegas”?
With the usual, hopelessly outdated, underwhelming pre-dawn ceremony in Los Angeles, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences unveiled the list of nominees for the Oscars–a list with just a few surprises, one giant comeback and a handful of idiotic choices.
Big love for “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” snubs for Clint Eastwood and Kristin Scott-Thomas and “The Dark Knight”–and more riches for perennials such as Meryl Streep and Sean Penn. A nomination for Mickey Rourke, which would have sounded like the basis for a “Saturday Night Live” skit just a year or two ago.
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” led the way with 13 nominations, followed by 10 for “Slumdog Millionaire.” Over the last few weeks, “Slumdog” has gone from underdog to perhaps the favorite to win Best Picture–especially because the other nominees are all well-liked and admired, but not necessarily loved. A lot of people, and I’m one of them, LOVE “Slumdog.”
It’s incredible that “Slumdog Millionaire” garnered 10 nominations–and more than a little odd that none of the actors was nominated. Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor and Freida Pinto were complete unknowns to America before this movie was released, so there’s more of a suspension of disbelief when we watch their performances. When we see familiar faces such as Penn and Streep tearing it up onscreen, we say, “Now THAT’S acting.” When we see unknowns, it’s easier to sink into the story and get lost in the performances–which can actually work against our appreciation of the work when it’s awards time.
As a fan, I was most disappointed to see my prediction come true about Kristin Scott-Thomas. Her devastatingly effective performance in “I’ve Loved You So Long” was overlooked by the Academy–perhaps because she speaks French for virtually the entire performance, perhaps because not enough voters took the time to even watch the film. (Although those very same factors didn’t stop Marion Cotillard last year.) What a shame. It’s one of the seminal acting displays of this decade.
On the flip side, kudos to the Academy for recognizing Melissa Leo’s powerful work in “Frozen River,” Robert Downey Jr.’s brave and hilarious turn in “Tropic Thunder” and Richard Jenkins’ career-crowning performance in “The Visitor.” Hopefully this will translate to increased DVD sales for the smaller two films.
Also disappointing was the lack of recognition for “The Dark Knight,” surely one of the five best pictures of the year. Apparently the Academy isn’t ready to recognize that a “comic book movie” can be just as dramatically compelling, just as thematically rich, just as “important,” as old-fashioned stories such as “The Reader.” (OVERRATED!)
Another curiosity: Kate Winslet, who had been slated for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “The Reader” for other awards, was nominated here for “The Reader”–but in a lead role, which makes more sense. (Who was she supporting in the film?) The expectation was that Winslet would get the Best Actress nod for “Revolutionary Road.” In fact, a number of news organizations incorrectly reported that Winslet HAD been nominated for “RR” and not “The Reader.”
As expected, the late Heath Ledger was nominated for Supporting Actor for his creepy and funny and brilliant turn in “The Dark Knight.” His name will be announced as the winner on 2-22-09. The only category that’s even more of a sure thing: Best Animated Feature, where the nominees are “Bolt,” “Kung-Fu Panda” and “Wall-E.” If they released vote totals, “Wall-E” would enjoy the largest margin of victory of any nominee in any category.
Overall, I’d give the Academy a grade of B for their picks. Safe, solid, occasionally bold, at times infuriating.
We’re just a few minutes away from the Oscar nominations. As usual, the Academy will announce all the nominees in a no-frills news conference at 5:30 a.m. Los Angeles time–just so they can get on the early news shows. It’s such a retro way of doing things.
I was asked to go to Los Angeles to talk about the noms with Julie Chen, but I have commitments here in Chicago–primarily a charity poker tournament, with all proceeds going to Children’s Oncology Services. I was not going to take the chance that I wouldn’t make it back home in time for the event.
Here we go!
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Dark Knight”
(Does “Wall-E” have the momentum to crack the Top Five? Probably not, as voters know they can nominate it for Best Animated Feature, where it will win in a landslide over “Bolt” and “Kung Fu Panda.” Or “Space Chimps.” Just kidding about the chimps.)
Anne Hathaway, “Rachel Getting Married”
Sally Hawkins, “Happy Go Lucky”
Melissa Leo, “Frozen River”
Meryl Streep, “Doubt”
Kate Winslet, “Revolutionary Road”
(I’m still holding out hope for Kristin Scott-Thomas in “I’ve Loved You So Long.” This was my favorite performance by any actress this year. But she seems to be falling off the radar.)
Clint Eastwood, “Gran Torino”
Frank Langella, “Frost/Nixon”
Sean Penn, “Milk”
Brad Pitt, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler”
(Richard Jenkins deserves a nod, but I’m afraid not enough Academy voters found the time or interest to spin their screener of “The Visitor.”)
Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire”
David Fincher, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Ron Howard, “Frost/Nixon”
Christopher Nolan, “The Dark Knight”
Gus Van Sant, “Milk”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
Josh Brolin, “Milk”
Robert Downey Jr., “Tropic Thunder”
Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Doubt”
Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”
Dev Patel, “Slumdog Millionaire”
(Darkhorse candidate: Michael Shannon, “Revolutionary Road”)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
Penelope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”
Viola Davis, “Doubt”
Taraji P. Henson, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Marisa Tomei, “The Wrestler”
Kate Winslet, “The Reader”
(Winslet’s character disappears for a good period of of time–but it’s still a lead performance. The sixth contender here is Amy Adams for “Doubt.”)
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
Woody Allen, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”
Dustin Lance Black, “Milk”
Jenny Lumet, “Rachel Getting Married”
Robert D. Siegel, “The Wrestler”
Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon, “Wall-E”
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
Simon Beaufoy, “Slumdog Millionaire”
David Hare, “The Reader”
Peter Morgan, “Frost/Nixon”
Eric Roth, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
John Patrick Shanley, “Doubt’
(The Nolan brothers might get a nod for “The Dark Knight.” Dominant theory on the Internet: Eric Roth plugged in his “Forrest Gump” screenplay to his “Benjamin Button” script. There are myriad mirror elements in the two stories.)
If you’re reading this, you found me. Welcome! I’m doing the web site equivalent of a restaurant’s “soft launch,” i.e., we’re up and running and open for business, but the operation is still a work in progress. I’ll be adding video reviews and commentaries, as well as other elements, in the weeks to come.
In the meantime, I’ll be blogging on a regular basis, posting print reviews, sharing links to favorite sites and stories, keeping you abreast of speeches and media appearances, etc., etc.
Thanks for stopping by. Hope you become a regular visitor.
The site goes live on Wednesday, Jan. 21. We’ll be doing a “soft opening,” like they do with restaurants and nightclubs. If someone goes to richardroeper.com, they’ll find this site–but I’m going to hold off a while on promoting the site. That way I’ll have a chance to hear what my friends (and my Facebook “friends”) think of the site before I try to get a wider audience to “tune in.”
In 1995, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were celebrating their 20th year of television. When it came time for them to give one interview to a print outlet, it was Gene that suggested they talk to me–even though I worked for Roger’s paper, the Sun-Times. I was deeply flattered. Here’s a look back at that interview, which took place more than a dozen years ago.
October 26, 1995, Thursday, FINAL EDITION
Critics agreed to disagree 20 years ago
BYLINE: RICHARD ROEPER; CHICAGO SUN-TIMES
Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert are America’s best-known TV squabblers.
By taking serious film criticism and making it palatable to a mass audience, they became international celebrities, as recognizable as most of the movie stars whose films they review.
This fall marks the 20th anniversary of the Siskel & Ebert TV partnership, which began as a monthly show, Opening Soon at a Theater Near You, on WTTW in Chicago.
Now seen all over the country, Siskel & Ebert has spawned a gaggle of imitation shows and an endless number of parodies.
It’s also changed the way we watch and think about movies. Everyone from the clerk at Blockbuster to the guy in line at the multiplex is now a critic. And is there a moviegoer who hasn’t used the thumbs up-thumbs down technique of signaling an instant movie review?
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper met with Siskel & Ebert down the hall from the screening room where, shrouded in darkness, they see the latest flicks.
RICHARD ROEPER: Had you guys met before you teamed up on Channel 11?
GENE SISKEL: I think I saw Roger once at O’Rourke’s (a Chicago tavern). An article recently said we also had conversations at Riccardo’s (another Chicago hangout), but that was totally untrue.
ROGER EBERT: No, we never had any conversations at Riccardo’s. Most of the screenings in those days were on the seventh floor of the Chicago Theater.
We basically spent a lot time watching the numbers change on the elevator. We were contacted by Channel 11 primarily because we were the opposing critics for the two Chicago morning dailies.
And I think both of us were eager to do the job because we couldn’t conceive of letting the other guy do it without us.
SISKEL: Chicago was an intense newspaper town — four newspapers, with all four going after everybody. It was our mission to beat the other guy, in every facet.
EBERT: It was bloodthirsty.
ROEPER: And the format hasn’t much changed?
SISKEL: From the beginning, we never got together and talked about the show. We don’t have big planning sessions.
EBERT: We never discuss a movie before the show and we don’t frequently discuss any of them afterward.
ROEPER: Looking back, has there ever been a case where either one has changed the other’s opinion of a film?
EBERT: Both of us have had changes of opinion but it may not be the other person who has changed our mind. It’s the film that has changed our mind.
SISKEL: I got smarter about Apocalpyse Now. He’s getting smarter about A Clockwork Orange.
EBERT: And you’re beginning to come up a little bit about Thelma and Louise and Silence of the Lambs.
SISKEL: No, not Thelma and Louise.
EBERT: Silence of the Lambs?
SISKEL: No, I saw it again and I still couldn’t buy it from the beginning. I appreciate Jodie Foster’s work but I think the run around the house at the end … I’m sorry, that is mad-slasher with a better director and a better protagonist.
EBERT: But Psycho was mad-slasher with a better director.
SISKEL: Psycho, to me, has a much bigger mystery to it than Silence. I would like similarly to put Roger under the thumb for a two-star review of A Clockwork Orange.
EBERT: Gene has been dining out on my review of A Clockwork Orange for at least 20 years. It gives him so much pleasure I don’t see why I should change my mind — which would just give him more pleasure.
ROEPER: So you’d rather deny Gene pleasure than offer a revised review?
SISKEL: It sounded like he just said that: Check the tape.
EBERT: It does, it does sound as if I said that and, you know, it’s interesting. I hope to see Clockwork Orange again, and I will say whatever I think about it. I think it’s interesting that Kubrick has never allowed the movie to be shown in England. I don’t think he likes it very much either.
ROEPER: Your names and faces are often used as punchlines and characters in movies and other media.
EBERT: Just last week we were in the comics — both Ziggy and Cathy. Big deal.
SISKEL: Mad magazine is a big deal.
ROEPER: What do they call you? They usually make fun of the names.
EBERT: Frequently they just call us Siskel & Ebert.
SISKEL: No no, I think it’s “Sissy and Ebore.”
ROEPER: Have you ever been asked to appear in movies?
EBERT: Yes, and we’ve always turned it down. We don’t feel it’s proper, as long as we’re film critics. We have a couple of rules. We don’t do commercials. We’ve been offered the opportunity to be in commercials for some of the best-known brand names around. We also won’t do bit parts in movies.
ROEPER: You guys need each other. Are you always going to be doing the show?
EBERT: I have a feeling we’ll be doing this show until no one wants us to, and at that point we’ll stop.
SISKEL: My fantasy is that in another 40 years we’ll be in wheelchairs and we’ll have attendant nurses and we’ll do the show.
EBERT: Every time I see pictures of Anna Nicole Smith with her late husband — I think, that’s Gene and me doing the show in 40 years.
SISKEL: You’re going to have the implants?
EBERT: Um, yes, no, no, no.
SISKEL: You don’t need ’em.
EBERT: I’m going to have the nurse — never mind.
ROEPER: If you guys didn’t have this mutually beneficial, adversarial relationship, would you hang around as friends?
EBERT: I don’t think we’re naturally compatible.
SISKEL: Here’s something we have never talked about: The ways in which we’re similar. One is, we have a love of newspapers. Reading them, writing for them.
EBERT: Another thing we have in common, we both have almost infallible detectors for when somebody is telling us a line or a fudge or an evasion, and it sets off kind of a killer instinct in us.
SISKEL: We’re like an old married couple in the sense that we finish each other’s sentences. We know what we’re talking about. We know the other person gets exactly what we mean and every nuance. For all the bickering on the show, that comes through. On the other hand, Roger isn’t, for example, a sports fan.
EBERT: Gene is a Bulls groupie. I once asked if he’d rather have dinner with Michael Jordan or Jimmy Stewart and he thought a long, long time and finally said, “Michael Jordan.”
ROEPER: What’s the biggest disagreement you’ve ever had, on- or off-camera?
EBERT: We had a fight once over a coin toss. Gene redefined what we were tossing for. Here’s the thing. If it’s heads or tails and you call heads, what have you won? The right to choose, or the right to do what you said was going to happen?
You have choices A and B. So it’s heads A, tails B. Gene won the toss with heads but he wanted B so he said, “I get to choose.” But then he wins whether he wins or loses.
SISKEL: It’s a nice fantasy he’s created here. What caused the problem was that we hadn’t clearly defined what the rules would be.
EBERT: But if that was true, why wouldn’t Gene just agree to flip the coin again?
(For the next seven minutes, the coin-toss argument gets more convoluted and heated. Nothing is resolved.)
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