First of all, I must reluctantly admit that I have NOT seen several of the nominated films in major cateogries this year. "Brokeback Mountain" is the only Best Picture-nominated film I've seen. But, I have seen three of the five nominated documentary (full-length) films and as a devout film fanatic, I am familiar with the work of many of those nominated. The Oscars will not be broadcast until March 5, on ABC. Locally, the Grandin Theatre in Raonoke, Va., will show the awards live and free to the public (including free popcorn). I think the Oscars have lost some of their magic in recent years thanks to an overflow of awards shows on cable outlets in recent years. And, it should be pointed out that the Oscars are a reflection of industry views, which are not neccesarily in concert with those of critics and film scholars. David Cronenberg's "A History of Violence" was named best film of the year by the distinguished "Village Voice" critics poll, but it only recieved a nomination from previous Oscar-winner William Hurt (for "Kiss of the Spider Woman) for Best Supporting Actor. But, there were some delightful surprises. The first has to be the nomination of the Palestinian film "Paradise Now," which covers the controversial subject of suicide bombers. The film has ranked highly among critics, but it was expected that this film would not be nominated for political reasons. The other pleasantries were the Best Actor nomination of David Strathairn (Good Night, Good Luck) who first gained notice for acting in films directed by his longtime friend John Sayles. He has always been a good, consistent actor and I'm sure his performance as Edward R. Murrow in George Clooney's film (which I have not seen) was exceptional. It was also good to see Paul Giamatti, who has been looked over by Oscar for his performances in "American Splendor" and "Sideways," get nominated this year as a Best Supporting Actor for "Cinderella Man." It was once again a terrible year for actresses, which makes the snub of Laura Linney, who was in "The Squid and The Whale "this year, all the more glaring. Rodrigo Prieto's cinematography in "Brokeback Mountain" was in my view one of the most exceptional things about the film. Prieto, who first gained attention for his cinematography in the acclaimed Mexican film "Ammores Peros." The academy also did an excellent job recognizing the powerful documentary "Street Fight." The film about the heated mayorial election in Newark, NJ, a few years back was an excellent inside look at local politics in America and how the system is corrupted by outside forces. I saw the film, which was also featured at this year's FullFrame documentary film festival, on the PBS documentary series "POV." The filmmakers were kind enough to answer a question I had about the film in an online forum, and I am glad they are getting this recognition though I expect the surprise box office hit "March of the Penguins" to actually win in the documentary category. The cateogry also featured the outstanding documentary "Murderball" about men in wheelchairs who can play some mean indoor rugby! And, lastly, I was happy to see Woody Allen get nominated for his excellent screenplay for "Match Point,' though I think the academy's nomination of Stephen Gaghan for his screenplay to the messy film "Syriana" was very startling. I respect Gaghan for his screenplay for "Traffic," which deservedly won an Oscar. But, as someone who is working on a screenplay (well, I should perhaps be working on it right now!), I think "Syriana" represents everything that one should not try to do as a screenwriter. It is a screenplay with a convoluted plot that ultimately has too many subplots which simply does not ring true or hold together. (And, I am not saying this for poltical reasons as Gaghan's personal views are probably very similar to my own!) The same was not true of his effort in "Traffic," but after "Syriana," one has to wonder if the formula is indeed one that should be retired- but, having said that, watch him win a Second Oscar!
Update March 1: I did not get to listen to the piece, but the BBC reported that many people in Israel are not happy that "Paradise Now" was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. Since the controversial Palestinian film, by a very accomplished director, deals with suicide bombers I would be shocked if it won an Oscar. I thus expect the South African film "Tsotsi' to win the award, but I've been surprised before!