Who's up for Hollywood's highest honors?

The all-important Oscars 2006 are upon us, so read our definitive guide to what's hot a what's not before the 78th annual Academy Awards...

 

The hilarious news satire show presenter, Jon Stewart will have his work cut out for him as presenter of this year’s Annual Academy Awards on Sunday.

He will be struggling to make light of cowboy love, homicide, hostage-taking, assassination and politician bashing to name a few.

When Brokeback Mountain gets eight Oscar nominations, Syriana two and ‘It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp’ (from the film Hustle and Flow) is one of the five songs nominated in the Song Of The Year category, one ponders if studios sent all academy members a copy of the Patriot Act with the ‘For Awards Consideration’ DVDs.

If this year’s Golden Globe is any indication (it is widely believed that Golden Globe is the dress rehearsal for the Oscars) where Brokeback Mountain took four awards including Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Director (motion picture) for Ang Lee, the film will clinch some major Oscars to become the first overtly gay western love story ever to be nominated and later to win.

It is interesting to watch Brokeback Mountain getting eight nominations when Hollywood is experiencing a total upsurge.

For the last 15 years, Hollywood has produced movies that can be labelled simply as ‘disposable’.

Events like the first Gulf War and the controversial 2000 US election took place. 9/11 happened and coalition forces invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. But Hollywood behaved as if nothing has happened. Superheroes followed disaster flicks and they were soon replaced by cheap thrill horrors. American Pies and Scary Movies were in abundance.

The outburst came in the shape and form of documentaries; Michael Moore made the polemic Fahrenheit 9/11, Errol Morris released The Fog of War, Jehane Noujaim directed Control Room and Jennifer Abbott and Mark Achbar made The Corporation. Audiences across the globe embraced this once forgotten genre revitalised by these passionate filmmakers.

While Schindler’s List director Steven Spielberg was busy doing Catch Me If You Can and The Terminal; films like Sally Potter’s Yes, Danny Leiner’s The Great New Wonderful, John Sayles’ Silver City, Spike Lee’s 25th Hour and Niels Mueller’s The Assassination of Richard Nixon were made.

They talked about America, its people and the segregation, its divided politics and its biased media.

This, in a way, sealed the fate of these wonderful movies too; they either got a limited release or never got released at all. The Great New Wonderful shared this fate and it was only shown at Tribeca Film Festival and was later canned.

Something similar took place from the late 1960s until the end of 1970s when American filmmaking underwent an extraordinary renaissance.

With the Vietnam War, the birth of the flower power generation and the Watergate scandal, Hollywood studios were no longer certain about what sort of movies would make money. So whoever had an idea about a movie received the finance.

This is when directors like Francis Ford Coppola, Alan J Pakula and Michael Camino made movies like Apocalypse Now, The Conversation, All The President’s Men, and The Deer Hunter. These movies offered a vision of an America drenched in loneliness, conspiracy and corruption.

The Academy recognised the contribution made by these great directors and not only have these films, the artists and the directors got nominated but they also won awards in major categories.

Fast-forward to the present day and you will see films like The Insider, Wag The Dog, and Bob Roberts being overlooked in favour of lesser films like Braveheart, Titanic and A Beautiful Mind.

The five films nominated in the best picture category for this year’s Oscars are Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Crash, Good Night & Good Luck and Munich. 

Already hailed as a 'cinematic landmark' Brokeback Mountain - directed by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon man Ang Lee - is about two young ranchers who meet in the summer of 1963 and fall in love.

Steven Spielberg's political thriller Munich is a fictionalised account of Israel's retaliation for the 1972 Munich massacre.

Made on a $15 million budget, the premise of the film is the Israel-Palestine conflict and it is based on the true events of 1972 Munich massacre where 11 Israeli athletes were murdered at the Munich Olympics by the Black September group, a radical Palestinian organisation.

The film itself is anything but intelligent and thought-provoking. Spielberg is famous for making big budget entertainment flicks and he should think twice before ditching his sharks and dinosaurs and replacing them with geo-political conflicts. If you take away these facts from the film, Munich becomes a long and boring C grade thriller.

Crash deals with race relations in today’s America and at times this movie comes across totally irrelevant given the fact that some of the characters featured are inane if not stereotypes. Crash will never reach the stature of In The Heat Of The Night or Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner.

Good Night & Good Luck is George Clooney’s second directorial venture and was originally conceived as a live broadcast special for CBS. The film captures a moment in time of American history when, in the early 1950's, Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin exploited the fear and paranoia created by the threat of communism.

CBS journalist Edward R Murrow and producer Fred Friendly’s commitment towards unbiased journalism and their sense of patriotism led them to take a stand against this, and to challenge McCarthy and expose him as the scaremoger he was. Good Night & Good Luck is nostalgic yet topical and a must see.

Capote is a brilliant film, beautifully conceived and realised. It deserves to win the best picture award. The movie is based on American author Truman Capote and looks at the backdrop, which inspired Capote to write the non-fiction ‘In Cold Blood’, a book that later went on to influence and change American literature of the 20th Century. Even though Capote is a biopic, at times it feels like you are watching a fiction. A true masterpiece.

In the Best Director category there is Ang Lee for Brokeback Mountain, Steven Spielberg for Munich, George Clooney for Good Night & Good Luck, Paul Haggis for Crash and Bennett Miller for Capote. Bennett Miller has done an outstanding job directing Capote given the fact that this is his directorial debut.        
In the Best Male Actor category Joaquin Phoenix gets his nomination for playing legendary musician Johnny Cash in Walk The Line.

If Jamie Foxx hadn’t won last year’s best actor award for playing Ray Charles, this could have been Phoenix’s year for his brilliant portrayal of tormented Cash.

David Strathairn’s measured yet powerful portrayal of CBS journalist Edward R Morrow will definitely put the actor on peoples ‘one to watch’ list. But it’s the flawless performance of Philip Seymour Hoffmann playing American author Truman Capote, which deserves the nod from the academy.

Judging from previous Academy Awards, although Hoffman already won the best actor’s Globe, he will be denied like Susan Sarandon was denied in the past for her performance in Lorenzo’s Oil and Denzel Washington for his performance in The Hurricane.

The dilemma for the Academy is that though they love to award real life character portrayals, the problem this year is that they have two too many. The worry is Heath Ledger might walk away with the statue. The other nominee is Terrence Howard for his role in Hustle and Flow.

Keira Knightley’s nomination in the Best Actress category for her role in Jane Austen’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is headache-inducing.

In this age of 'The Pussycat Dolls’, who watches classics that are not even faithful to the original material? One reason could be that Knightley is still unknown to wider American audience and since many Hollywood movies have cast her in leading roles, this is a wonderful platform for an introduction.

From now on her movies will come with the tagline “Oscar nominated actress”. Whatever the case, because of this nomination, Pride and Prejudice will now go on to earn some extra revenue.

Reese Witherspoon is America’s sweetheart and in Walk The Line she plays June Carter; a country singer and girlfriend-turned-wife to Johnny Cash.

She prepared so well for the part that she did her own singing. She might just win the award. But it’s Felicity Huffman who deserves it without a question.

Her role in the movie Transamerica is of an emotionally damaged, pre-operative male-to-female transsexual. She already bagged the Globe and lets hope she gets the Oscar as well.

Other nominees are Charlize Theron for North Country where she plays abused and humiliated mineworker and Dame Judi Dench for her role in Mrs Henderson Presents.

Last year the Academy forgot to nominate Paul Giamatti for the excellent Sideways. So Academy is playing catch-up and he is nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category for his part in Cinderella Man.

George Clooney also got a nomination in this category for Syriana and no one deserves it more than him. Other candidates are Matt Dillon for Crash, William Hurt for A History Of Violence and Jake Gyllenhaal for Brokeback Mountain.

In the Best Supporting Actress Category the competition is actually between Catherine Keener and Globe winner Rachel Weisz. Keener plays Harper Lee, the famous author of To Kill A Mockingbird and companion of Truman Capote in Capote.

Rachel’s character in The Constant Gardener is of an activist and later a victim when she tries to expose the illegal and unethical activities of the multinational pharmaceuticals doing business in poverty-ridden Africa.

Other nominees in this category are Amy Adams in Junebug, Frances McDormand in North Country and Michelle Williams in Brokeback Mountain.

It is a shame to see Syriana getting nominations in Best supporting Actor and Original Screenplay category. The film deserves nominations in directing, editing, best picture and original score.

In Syriana, Hollywood has produced a film that is reminiscent of the 1970s conspiracy thrillers.

Even though the right-wing section has snubbed it as propaganda and some media labelled it as a film that looks into the corruption in the global oil industry, it actually does more than that.

Syriana talks of American Dream replaced by nightmare and paranoia. In Clooney’s words: “Its unpatriotic when you don’t question your government”.

This film asks questions but leaves no answers. 

One thing for sure is whoever wins that night, the ultimate loser will be the Academy as they have missed the opportunity to seize upon the dawn of Hollywood’s second renaissance.

Let’s hope Jon Stewart compensates that with his funny one-liners.