Monday, February 25, 2008

Surprises at the 80th Academy Awards®

Yes, I admit to watching the entire Oscar show last night! Happily, the televised presentation was filled with glamour and glitz, because most of the stars tried to look their very best. Still, just as I feared, “No Country for Old Men” won in the big categories of Best Picture, Director and Supporting Actor. And the expected Best Actor Oscar went to the great Daniel Day-Lewis. But there were some surprises – both good and bad.

When Tilda Swinton’s name was called out for Best Supporting Actress, I could hardly believe my ears. But I cheered loudly – maybe too loudly. Can you believe my husband actually frowned at me? Never mind that. He was also happy about Swinton’s win. She’s such a terrific actress, and her tough-as-nails performance in “Michael Clayton” is a memorable one. I expected Ruby Dee or Cate Blanchett to pick up an Oscar in this category. Speaking of Blanchett, I really enjoyed Jon Stewart’s jokes about this chameleon-like actress. “Cate Blanchett is playing me right now,” Stewart quipped.

Marion Cotillard winning Best Actress also surprised and pleased me. Portraying legendary French singer Edith Piaf in “La Vie en Rose” couldn’t have been easy. She had to lypsynch and show Piaf aging as well as developing considerable infirmities. This was a role demanding great emotional as well as physical changes, and Cotillard delivered the goods. Did I expect Cotillard to go home with the Oscar? Not at all. I thought Julie Christie would be victorious here for "Away from Her."

My biggest disappointments involved “The Bourne Ultimatum” earning three Oscars, Alan Menken going away empty handed, and “Juno” winning only one golden statuette. With “Bourne” picking up two awards for sound and one for editing, this will probably encourage more loud, jerky filmmaking. Arrrrgh! In the original song category, I thought Menken and partner Stephen Schwartz were the likely winners. After all, they had three songs from the delightful “Enchanted” nominated – and I absolutely love all three of them, especially “So Close.” (Granted, the winning song, “Falling Slowly” from “Once,” is also lovely.) Although Diablo Cody received the “Best Original Screenplay” nod for “Juno,” I wish this practically perfect little movie had garnered more recognition last night.

Winners in the fashion department? Marion Cotillard, gorgeous in her lush ivory gown; Helen Mirren, glowing in red and silver; George Clooney, who’s born to wear tuxedos -- or anything else, for that matter; and Harrison Ford, proving he can be classy even without a bow tie.

Best acceptance speech? Tilda Swinton, who insisted the Oscar statuette looks just like her agent, so she plans to give it to him in thanks for obtaining the splendid "Michael Clayton" role for her.

NOTE: Swinton, in a one-armed velvet shroud, also tied with Diablo Cody for worst-dressed. Cody wore something hard to describe. Watch for photos.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Pre-Oscar Jitters

Only one more day until we find out who wins those coveted golden statuettes. As always, I'm on pins and needles because I fear my favorites might not win. We already know Daniel Day-Lewis is practically a sure thing for Best Actor for his powerful portrayal of that ruthless oil tycoon in "There Will Be Blood." I even found myself picking him over my all-time fave actor Johnny Depp (please forgive me, Johnny!). But most of the other categories seem up in the air to me.

By the way, did you know there are no new movies starring Johnny Depp being released during 2008? Bummer. Still, he has three in production for 2009. He plays John Dillinger in one of them. Maybe he'll get another Oscar nom for that role. I think he's destined to win an Academy Award or two in the future for his marvelous acting, don't you?

Back to this year's Oscars. I hope one of Alan Menken's ditties wins in the Best Song category, but I'm worried because Menken has three songs nominated ("The Happy Working Song," "That's How You Know," "So Close"). Remember the same was true of "Dreamgirls" last year, and a forgettable tune from "An Inconvenient Truth" won. Go figure!

I think it would also be a shame if "Ratatouille" lost out to another movie in the Best Animated Movie category. Still, stranger things have happened on previous Oscar nights -- such as Grace Kelly winning for "A Country Girl" instead of Judy Garland for "A Star Is Born." Sometimes there's no justice in the world.

I'll stand up and cheer for any awards given to "Juno." What an absolutely perfect little film. And I almost feel as supportive for "There Will Be Blood," "Michael Clayton," and "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" -- all three are wonderful movies. My biggest fear? That "No Country for Old Men" will walk away with almost everything. I couldn't get into that violent picture anymore than I could follow the pretentious "Atonement."

Okay. I'm glad that's off my chest. Sharing all this has helped me calm down a bit. However...

Dear Oscar, please don't disappoint me too much.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

An Awesome Testimonial

Thanks so much to Joanne Ross for her comments concerning "The Reel Deal: Writing about Movies,” my online course for the LSS School of Writing. Below are excerpts from her feedback e-mails.

Betty Jo, thank you for a wonderful experience.

I love the topics and the progression, the way one lesson builds on the other. For such a brief course, you manage to cover a lot of ground and in a way that makes perfect sense. I especially love starting out with first lesson on developing a reviewing philosophy… I'll only add a request that you don't ever change this lesson -- it is the perfect starting place and chance for each student to take his or her "reviewing pulse" at the outset.

The content is rich, yet delivered concisely. You somehow managed to impart a lot of information in each lesson in a clear, succinct, and enjoyable way, while keeping the lesson brief and manageable. That is a special talent. You have a humorous, engaging touch to your writing that is very appealing and made me feel that I could learn to write reviews. Your inclusion of links, recommended reading, and references to other critics was very helpful by way of illustrating the points you were making--not to mention just furthering our movie review education.

I’ve always wanted to write film reviews, and what I learned in this course has helped me make it a reality. I know I have a big learning curve in front of me, but I feel better prepared to meet the challenge.

To sum it all up: studying with you has been a real pleasure and a fruitful experience as well—I learned a great deal. Even more, it is a start for something new for me, so I can add “life changing” as well.

Joanne Ross, San Francisco
January, 2008

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