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February 23, 2006 - Image 12

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The Michigan Daily, 2006-02-23

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U a



v w

Best Actress
y mrn Syed Daily Arts Writer

Best screenplay
By Jeffrey Bloomer / Managing Arts Editor

hough you'll have to wait
until the end of the night
to find out for sure, this
year's best actress field
is probably the easiest to
judge of all the acting cat-
The, clear frontrunner
is Reese Witherspoon, as
Johnny Cash's unshakable compan-
ion June Carter in "Walk the Line."
Though the film's best picture buzz
fizzled once it was released, both
lead actors garnered nominations.
Witherspoon's costar, Joaquin
Phoenix, might be the most deserv-
ing in his category,}but he's likely
to lose in the face of immaculate
performances from Philip Seymour
Hoffman and Heath Ledger. His
probable loss will only help With-
erspoon's already-strong chance at
nabbing the award, as the Academy
will look to make up for his snub.
What made Witherspoon's per-
formance far and away the best is
the natural calm and charm she
maintained throughout the movie,
even during the emotionally drain-
ing sequences. Engulfed in the ups
and downs of Johnny Cash's life,
June Carter is thrust into the film's
many trying circumstances. Yet
Witherspoon's portrayal remains
fresh and uncontrived. She makes

her character shine with an appro-
priately Southern aura; her perfor-
mance is authentic and touching.
She's as we would imagine June
Carter - strong, resilient and
almost glowing with grace.
The "It's-such-an-honor-just-to-
be-nominated" inclusion in this
category is Keira Knightley, whose
performance as Elizabeth Bennett,
the headstrong, independent young
focus of "Pride & Prejudice," was
overshadowed by her costars. As
laudable as Knightley's step into
Jane Austen's most enduring clas-
sic is, the Academy will have a hard
time forgetting that she could very
well also be the worst actress of
the year in her other role as bounty
hunter/model, Domino Harvey in
While Knightley and Judi Dench
("Mrs. Henderson Presents")
appear destined to clap politely and
look away from the camera when
the award is announced March 5,
Charlize Theron is a strong dark
horse for her touching portrayal of
a trailblazing single mother/coal
miner in "North Country." Her
film was a commendable project
the Academy may want to reward
either with Theron or best sup-
porting actress nominee Francis
McDormand. Theron is the only

one among the year's field to have
won a best actress award before;
she won two years ago for her
stunning transformation in "Mon-
ster" and there's an outside chance
she could upset Witherspoon and
join the likes of Katharine Hep-
burn, Jodie Foster and Hillary
Swank on the short list of women
who have won the award multiple
That said, it appears as if
Witherspoon's only real challenge
will come from Felicity Huffman
("Transamerica"), better known
for her role in ABC's "Desperate
Housewives." Huffman snagged
the best actress in a motion pic-
ture drama award at the Golden
Globes, but it seems unlikely that
she will beat Witherspoon head to
head (at the Golden Globes, With-
erspoon's nomination was in the
musical or comedy category). Yet
the Academy loves risk takers, and
Huffman's portrayal of a transsex-
ual struggling to find inner peace
certainly meets that criteria.
With limited competition from
Huffman and Theron, and none
from Dench and Knightley, expect
an overjoyed, overwhelmed With-
erspoon to tearfully take the stage
and fumble through a heartfelt
acceptance on Oscar night.


here's not much in
the way of ambigu-
ity surrounding the
forthcoming victors
in this year's best
screenplay races,
which in a way is
surprising, given
that the stories they
tell - purportedly

O S C A R R A C E 2 0 0 6
Felicity Huffman TRANSAMERICA
Kiera Knightley PRIDE & PREJUDICE
Charlize Theron NORTH COUNTRY
1/ Reese Witherspoon WALK THE LINE

drawn together by an overarching,
left-leaning political hook - actu-
ally couldn't be more different from
one another.
In both of the category's wings,
there are stories that comment on
social landscapes vast and dispa-
rate, from modern-day Kenya to
1960s rural Wyoming. To brand
these films "political," as critics
from both sides of the spectrum
have to no end this past year, is fair
to an extent but doesn't come close
to grasping their individual themat-
ic messages.
True, "Munich" grabs the Israe-
li-Palestine conflict by the throat
and is directed by the most popu-
lar Jewish filmmaker in the world.
"Brokeback Mountain" has scenes
of almost casual frankness between
two male lovers, and in many cir-
cles' eyes subverts the most cultur-
ally untouchable of American icons.
Though buried in intricate, com-

pelling human drama, these films
almost universally have underbel-
lies exploring urgently political con-
cerns that go straight to the heart of
the American consciousness.
So, yes, in a sense, these are
"political" movies. But don't let that
define them. Despite the prevailing
notions of blog-mongering zealots
the world over, these movies are not
didactic partisan attacks but rath-
er brash and eager depictions of a
world in which these concerns exist,
and will continue to exist. At their
root, the screenplays nominated are
political only in the sense that most
cinema is inherently so, probing
elements imbedded deeply in our
culture, no matter how risky that
particular subject might be.
B st adapted screen-
p ay


erhaps the least com-
petitive of the major
categories this year, the
relative complacency of
the best adapted screen-
play nominees speaks
not to a lack of quality

writing this past year, but to the
diverse set of films recognized.
The surprise nominee is "Capote,"
the spare and quietly disturbing

Best Actor
qy Zach Borden /' Daily :arts Wricer

Philip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal of Truman Capote should earn him an Oscar.
O S C A R R A C E 2 0 0 6
/ Philip Seymour Hoffman CAPOTE
Terrence Howard HUSTLE & FLOW
Joaquin Phoenix WALK THE LINE

verybody gotta have
a dream," declares
DJay "Hustle &
Flow." as played by
the Oscar-nominated
Terrence Howard.
For many actors, that
dream is winning the
all-elusive Academy Award.
This year's pack of nomi-
nees for the best actor award is
remarkable: A majority of the
performances are interpretations
of controversial personalities
who made marks in popular cul-
ture during the 1950s and 1960s.
And thrown in for good measure,
there's a musically driven pimp
and sexually repressed cowboy.
The clear frontrunner for the
Oscar is Philip Seymour Hoffman,
who loses himself completely as
the emotionally tormented writer
Truman Capote. Hoffman not only
gets Capote's high-pitched voice
down pat, but nails the manner-
isms - such as how he watches
the subjects of "In Cold Blood"
with intense interest and how he
flicks the ash off a cigarette. Hoff-
man has an impressive body of
work behind him, but this is his
best performance to date.

In what became the break-
through performance of the year,
Howard struck a chord as the
pimp, wannabe-crunk-star DJay.
"Hustle & Flow" rests on How-
ard's shoulders, and he commands
the screen with confidence and
charisma. DJay is not the nicest
pimp on the block, but it's a testa-
ment to Howard's abilities in that
he makes him a sympathetic pro-
tagonist who's worth rooting for.
Also nominated is David
Strathairn for his portrayal as
esteemed CBS newsman Edward
R. Murrow in "Good Night, and
Good Luck." Strathairn is riv-
eting as he captures Murrow's
integrity, mannerisms and moral
character with the utmost seri-
ousness. The captivating perfor-
mance anchors the contemplative
film brilliantly.
Another performer that got
a lot of attention this year was
Heath Ledger, specifically for his
role as the anguished Ennis Del
Mar in "Brokeback Mountain."
Ledger is nothing short of phe-
nomenal, and for anyone who is
not familiar with the actor, you'd
never know he's Australian. Yet
Ledger says more with his tense

body language than with his
words, and that's what makes his
acting in the movie so striking
and emotionally affecting.
Finally, there's Joaquin Phoe-
nix who pulls a Jamie Foxx by
eerily channeling a famed, late
musician. In "Walk The Line,"
Phoenix embodies the soul of
Johnny Cash - with all the pas-
sion and demons the artist was
known for. Phoenix, who even
does his own singing, proves
again that he's one of our gener-
ation's most versatile actors with
this role.
Each actor is very deserving of
the award, so it's a shame there's
no way to split the statue five
ways. But out of all the nomi-
nees, Hoffman's performance is
by far the most challenging and
complex. Coupled with his repu-
tation as one of the industry's top
character actors, Hoffman is the
frontrunner to claim the prize.
Hopefully when Hoffman takes
the stage to claim his award, he'll
accept it with dignity. It would
be a shame if he picked up any
bad habits from his forthcoming
"Mission: Impossible III" co-
star, Tom Cruise.

O S C A R R A C E 2 0 0 6
Good Night, and Good Luck
Match Point
The Squid and the Whale

portrait of "In Cold Blood" author
Truman Capote. Based on the book
by Gerald Clarke, first-time writer
Dan Futterman draws the story by
embracing its inescapable one-man
focus and then astutely character-
izing the tinge supporting parts,
some of which fade as the story
progresses and others who become
its central tenets. But like all the
film's nominations, this is a glory
nod, deserved but never really des-
tined to be anything more.
Then we have Tony Kushner and
Eric Roth's "Munich" screenplay
from a book by George Jonas, prob-
ably the weakest in the category
but deserving praise if only for its
clean, compact dialogue and taut
construction . of elaborate action
sequences. It doesn't hurt that it has
two playwrights at the helm, but the
general feeling that the narrative
loses steam in its final third will
likely close the book on whatever
chances the movie might have had.
Elsewhere there are two of the
year's most thematically complex
screenplays for films so intricate
that they were largely ignored
despite near-universal acclaim. "A
History of Violence," adapted by
small-time screenwriter Josh Olson
from the famous graphic novel by
John Wagner and Vince Locke, is
a purposefully exaggerated small-
town thriller that develops into a
brutal satire of a culture simulta-
neously fascinated and repulsed
by violence. Its simple, archetypal
cover is brilliant, but it will work
to its detriment here, because the
Academy historically prefers less
stylishly pointed work. Function-
ing similarly is "The Constant Gar-
dener," screenwriter Jeffrey Caine's
interpretation of the John le Carr6
novel, which doubles as an inter-
national potboiler veiled in human
rights concerns and an incendiary
dialogue for change. It has a shot,
but because the film was passed
over in nearly every other race, its
nomination is probably the end of
the line.
That leaves "Brokeback Moun-
tain," the Golden Globe winner in
this category and the almost-certain
winner here. Larry McMurtry and
Diana Ossana's reserved, expressive
rendering of the raw and unforget-
table E. Annie Proulx short story
is the headline-spawning screen-
play of the year, already pressing
dialogue into the American collec-
tive of classic film quotes ("I wish I
knew how to quit you!"). The movie
captures its historical moment with
confidence and resolute grace,
expanding the minimalist story into
a 134-minute epic of love lost. As
one of Ennis Del Mar's (Heath Led-
ger) flames tellingly concedes to his
daughter, "You don't say much, but


lightly more difficult
to call, but then maybe
not, is the best origi-
nal screenplay race, a
shortlist that this year
includes more boldly
and bluntly written films

O S C A R R A C E 2 0 0 6
V/ Brokeback Mountain
Ca pote
The Constant Gardener
A History of Violence

Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rh
you sure get your point across." And
it really does.
Original screenplay

than its sister adapted category. The
race continues the trend of recogniz-
ing films overlooked by the Academy,
most notably "Match Point," Woody
Allen's most literate and daring piece
of work in years. That this is the film's
only nomination is among the biggest
question marks of the Academy's year,
but with dialogue this self-assured
and darkly inspired ("The innocent
are sometimes slain to make way for
grander schemes. You were collateral
damage"), this is probably where it
most deserves to be recognized. That
said, it doesn't have much of a shot at
the award, though it's probably the best
writing of the last year.
"The Squid and the Whale," the
well regarded but fiercely small-scale
story of a family of intellectuals going
through a divorce in 1980s Brooklyn,
has about the same odds. Once again,
the writing is the film's biggest asset,
but its widespread absence from other
year-end competition will hurt it, as
will a still-limited release that never
gave it the exposure it would need to
win. It's cutting, perceptive, disarm-
ingly funny work from writer-direc-

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