Friday, January 30, 2004

OSCAR ADVANCE POSTING. O helldamn, this has been a thick and thorny stint of posting lately, so let's talk Academy Awards. It's my plan to see a bunch more of the nominated achievements before February 29, but I will here give readings on those few I can intelligently judge:

Johnny Depp. After all his wonderful and sometimes strenuous prior performances, I think the voters finally named him because this one has a smidge extra of something he has always had (charm) and one thing he's never had (a Disney vehicle). His Jack Sparrow is, in long form, a somewhat sloppy performance -- its highs and lows come and go, and do not describe an arc; but then, neither does the film. Surely his languid incongruousness amid all those laudably stiff supporting performances helped him stand out. His long suit in this competition is his boldness of conception (think Jeremy Irons in Reversal of Fortune) -- his short suit, one nice fat scene that would encompass all the Oscarworthy qualities.

Bill Murray. A New York Post gossip columnist caught Chevy Chase besmirching Murray's underplaying of this role. Truth be told, it's a fair cop, but in this relentless becalmed film, that may be why people applaud him so. In his Oscar-ignored Rushmore breakthrough, Murray was also in perfect low pitch with his cinematic surroundings -- recall him saying, to Max asking whether he was alright, "Mmmm... I get a little lonely sometimes." That Rushmore was brilliant, whereas Lost in Translation is only a nice college try by a Hollywood nepot, matters only in timing: Otherwise we'd be talking about Paul Giamatti right now. Lost is a modish and tidy packaging of middle-age and coming-of-age crises that also affords Murray a reward for his serious late work in films like Rushmore, Hamlet, and The Royal Tannenbaums. I do think Murray is a little stiff here at times (his smile at the end of his last encounter with the girl is thoroughly unearned and unconvincing), but there are many, many times when he is sweetly fluid, and these linger in the memory.

Diane Keaton. Holy shit she's good. The acting-ability gap between Annie Hall and Reds, her next nomination, is on balance small; the gap between Reds and now is huge. Even in the rather dicey, low-comedy early innings of Something's Gotta Give, she is believeable and grounded, on the limited basis the film then offers; but as the love affair takes off, she is b&g in everything. When I saw her part from the Nicholson character by kissing him wildly and declaring, "This... this is heartbreak!" I thought: This, this is Duse, this is Nazimova! For she is not only believeable and grounded, but magnificent and wild, justified and ancient, at every part of the spectrum. And she retains all the best qualities of her earlier career: the unpredictability, the sense of humor, and the tendency to suddenly shatter.

The three best picture nominees I have seen were already here briefly judged, but there will be more viewing and judging, I promise, in days to come.

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