Sunday, February 26, 2012

THE LISTS: My 5 Favorite Oscar Wins

I could go on about how this Oscar season has been a treacherous road from the start, or some other jargon you've heard dozens of times before and will likely hear dozens of times again. However, I felt applied towards a list for this occasion, and one that strays on the much more optimistic side of things. I've been watching the Academy Awards since March 24th, 2002, when the biggest award I remember was "Shrek" winning Best Animated Feature. Of course, the young mind will only remember that which is acquainted well with it, but since then I have had plenty of significant Oscar moments based on the phenomenon of who won.

In picking out five, I felt inclined to strip away the facade of what was most overwhelmingly deserving. As such, Heath Ledger's Best Supporting Actor win for his knife-edge performance in "The Dark Knight" didn't make the cut, because I didn't feel the moment. Everyone knew it was going to win, but to the point where nobody really cared as much as they should have when it happened. To me, this list always had to be about the passion I felt for the winners, sometimes at that moment, and others massively in retrospect. This night marks ten years in the game, however inadvertently, and I doubt a win will surface that disrupts one of these, but I remain optimistic that it will.

5. "Moulin Rouge" for Best Art Direction (2001)

This is the only case in which I was too ignorant at the time to know what was happening from Oscar to Oscar, and I frankly didn't care. Looking back, this seems like such a significant win, perhaps more than prognosticators felt at the time. This may have been the obvious win, because in this and costume design, it most commonly goes to the biggest on spectacle, and few really hit above Baz Luhrmann in that category. All expectations aside, the art direction on this piece was so much more than an aspect of the production. It was a living character in the film, with boundless exuberance and detail down to the overlooked crevice. This very well may be the only win that got in based on merit alone and not experience.

4. "Finding Nemo" for Best Animated Feature (2003)

I don't think I'm able to remember any wins as vibrantly as I do those for animation, mostly because of my personal bias at the time. The eyes of a kid see what they will, and when animated characters are presenting the awards, it's just so much more fun. But there is a massive piece of tightly knit sentimentality, and a tiny personal tragedy, tied to my affection for Andrew Stanton's debut film. "Finding Nemo" is the film that made me want to become a filmmaker, because of how it communicated with me on a deep-seeded emotional level. Watching it in theaters, I was feeling like my dad would love it, as every kid did. I wanted nothing more than to bring him to see it, and he didn't care. More than any film of darker subject matter, "Finding Nemo" brings daddy issues to the foreground for nearly every child who watches it. To this day, I can't shake that feeling. Just because you feel it, doesn't make it real.

3. "Brokeback Mountain" for Best Original Score (2005)

To me, this is just a classic moment within the show in which everyone just stops what they're doing and applauds. Of course it's just a function of any Oscar telecast that when a film wins, the music from that film inevitably chimes in, and it's most effective for this particular category. I'm feeling a sort of dread for tonight when the whimsical beats of "The Artist" invade and trump any feeling of emotionality drummed up by the win, though I hope I'm wrong. This moment worked so well simply because of how deserving the score was. In the film, it works just as much to accent the work of the ensemble and the filmmaker. At the Oscars, it was a soaring moment of victory for Gustavo Santaolalla, and quietly witty. Any score composer should keep in mind that if it catches on, they will want it to be able to define the winning moment for them, if that isn't too narcissistic to them.

2. "Logorama" for Best Animated Short (2009)

I don't think a win has ever come as so delightful for me, as I knew exactly what was happening, as two years ago when this took Animated Short film. The night before the awards, my brother and I looked up every single nominee in that category, shrugged off "French Roast", "Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty", and "The Lady and the Reaper", couldn't find "A Matter of Loaf and Death", and were just plain sad that "The Cat Piano" wasn't nominated. And then we came along to "Logorama", the obscene berzerker of a farce on everything commercial, and we were so pissed because we knew it wasn't going to win. And the fact that it did win was so interesting, because it was the Academy addressing their chief problem in the lightest of ways. Today, it serves as a hopeful beacon for an optimistic change, as well as a "FUCK YEAH!" acknowledgment of something truly spectacular.

1. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" for Best Original Screenplay (2004)

And in nailing down a single one as the most adoringly heartfelt Academy decision in my lifetime, I couldn't help but keep coming back to their decision to give "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind", a film that was as overlooked by the Academy then as "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" is now, the Original Screenplay honors. For those who think me mad in believing that Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan's script for Tomas Alfredson's spy thriller could win tonight, this is why. Because every once in a while the Academy gives credit where credit is due, and decides to award boundless creativity and rigorous attention to detail over the automatic acknowledgment. Charlie Kaufman, in all likelihood, will never win an Oscar again. For the passion he displays here after a rough road following "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation", he doesn't have to.

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