LIFE WITHOUT OSCAR: 2007 and 2008

Posted by · 4:07 pm · January 11th, 2011

Catch up with the idea behind this series here.

Welcome to the final entry in the Life Without Oscar series. Why call it a day with one, possibly two years left to consider? Well, for one thing, we won’t know which films are going to be snubbed from 2010 for another two weeks (although I’ll bet my house and home that the titles I’d be writing about have no chance). Instead, next week I’ll offer up my Best of 2010 wrap-up, which will be my last scheduled contribution to the InContention site.

It’s been fun, marveling at the box office performance of “Avatar” together, trying to convince you to watch “Pootie Tang,” and generally engaging in debates through the comments. But we’re not done yet, so let’s keep things moving here.

“No Country for Old Men” won Best Picture in 2007, in my opinion, the only respectable choice of the decade by the Academy. Then they had to follow it up with “Slumdog Millionaire,” a film that I couldn’t possibly hate more. Of course, more newsworthy among the blogging world was the Best Picture snub of “The Dark Knight,” and the possibly related fact that these would be the last Oscars to feature only 5 Best Picture nominees.

Also, we decided that “I’ve taken like three pregnancy tests, and I’m forshizz up the spout” was dialogue from the best written movie of 2007. But speaking of best lines, Janusz Kaminski might have my favorite Oscar quip ever while becoming the first cinematographer to present an award- “Suck it, Anthony Dod Mantle.”

2007 – “Munyurangabo” (Lee Isaac Chung)

With a meager 210 votes on IMDb, “Munyurangabo” is a criminally underseen drama about life in Rwanda, that’s so straight-forward and honest that it makes a film like “Hotel Rwanda” and its cheap histrionics seem even more embarrassing than it was on its own. While watching it, I remember thinking how fresh it was to see a movie come from Africa and make it to U.S. audiences without being a heavy-handed piece of educational or propaganda cinema. I was amazed to then find that the film didn’t come from Africa at all, but was made by a Korean-American who grew up on a farm in Arkansas.

To put that into perspective, I can’t write it any better than A.O. Scott from The New York Times- “But there is also an arresting audacity in a young American filmmaker’s attempt to tackle the raw and complicated reality of Rwanda, and what is most impressive is the care with which Mr. Chung manages this risky undertaking. He seems to have made this film above all by listening and looking.” Seriously, what kind of balls do you have to possess to think yourself qualified for this type of material?

Chung’s presence as a filmmaker is felt in keenly crafted cinematography, sound design and editing, but his presence as an outsider is never felt. The cast consists of locals and non-actors who each have expressive and commanding faces, which are used in stark, silent close-ups about as often as dialogue is. Chung wisely chooses to focus on the dynamic between one small family and one pair of friends to make his point, avoiding violence but suggesting it at every turn. The film opens with a shot of a machete and the key prop is never not far away from the screen.

I don’t want to spoil too much about the story, but there isn’t much story to spoil. The joy is seeing how much Chung can do with so little and realizing how much greater our grasp of the situation between the Tutsi and Hutu people can be without being told a single fact about it. Just by listening and looking.

The film’s centerpiece and ace up its sleeve comes towards the end, when our main character stumbles across a wandering poet at a cafe. The poet has been tasked with composing an original piece for National Independence Day and he proceeds to recite all ten minutes of it straight into the camera. It, like the rest of the film, is impossible to look away from.

2008 – “Nights and Weekends” (Greta Gerwig, Joe Swanberg)

Okay, so let’s talk about Mumblecore. Nobody knows exactly what it is because it doesn’t really exist, but defenders and detractors stumble over themselves to proclaim it the future of cinema or the work of naval-gazing blowhards. Joe Swanberg found himself as perhaps the figurehead of the idea when he populated the cast of “Hannah Takes the Stairs” with nothing but fellow filmmakers, perpetuating the idea that somehow they all got together, had a meeting, decided to become “a thing,” and dubbed it Mumblecore.

If anybody actually bothers to watch all of the films lumped under this umbrella, they’ll see that it’s not unlike any other genre or coupling in that some of the films are great and some of the films are shit. “Nights and Weekends” happens to be one that showcases the best of what “mumblecore” has to offer- heart-breaking honesty, microscopic focus and wonderfully naturalistic performances. And it is navel-gazing, but who cares? I saw things portrayed in this film that I had resigned myself to never seeing on the big screen. They were just too intimate and subtle to be captured, I thought.

Of course, I’m a veteran of not one, but two long distance, long term relationships and the cripplingly awkward period that follows where you try to navigate a path to friendship. I don’t think you need to have those experiences to recognize what Gerwig and Swanberg have accomplished here, but it certainly amplified the intensity for me. For those that don’t know, the film follows a couple who live in different cities. We see them visit each other in Chicago and New York and then go through an awkward encounter after they’ve broken up.

The original plan was to film the movie simultaneously in Chicago and New York, where Swanberg and Gerwig were actually living, but was shifted to focus on the time that they do get to spend together. The resulting scenes are as claustrophobic and intimate as that time usually is when a lover visits and you try to cram three months of activity and connection into three days. The film changed even more when nine months after principal photography, the directors felt like the movie wasn’t there yet and got the crew back together to film the final act.

It’s that kind of art-imitating-life spontaneity and willingness to adapt that makes good mumblecore so exciting. Swanberg and Gerwig set out to make a film, found themselves changing during the process and adapted the work to benefit from it, all the while keeping it emotionally investing and true. Yes, it’s indulgent but if that’s not what we want from some of our artists, then we’d be missing a great chunk of the world’s most valuable work.

Those are my picks and that’s Life Without Oscar.

[Photo: Film Movement]
[Photo: IFC Films]

→ 43 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Life Without Oscar

43 responses so far

  • 1 1-11-2011 at 4:15 pm

    jrmoviedude said...

    My picks: (based on U.S. release)

    2007: “Paris, Je T’aime”
    2008: “Flight of the Red Balloon”

  • 2 1-11-2011 at 4:18 pm

    Conor said...

    I’m gonna miss your posts Chad. You seem to hate every movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s nice to hear recommendations for films that are actually hard to come by.

  • 3 1-11-2011 at 5:12 pm

    m1 said...

    That reminds me. I need to rewatch Slumdog Millionaire in a couple of weeks.

    Anyway, a film that should have gotten Oscar attention is Hairspray. The acting, costumes, and music were all terrific.

  • 4 1-11-2011 at 5:27 pm

    JJ1 said...

    2007 – Hairspray, absolutely. Such fun. Great performances, music, technicals, and energy. Yet no nominations anywhere.

    2008 – I’ve Loved You So Long. Brilliant perfs. from Kristin Scott Thomas and Elsa Zylberstein.

  • 5 1-11-2011 at 5:34 pm

    Al said...

    2008 – Gran Torino. How this received no nominations is beyond me.

  • 6 1-11-2011 at 5:38 pm

    Bryce said...

    Let the Right One In
    Boy A
    Burn After Reading

    4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
    The Assassination of Jesse James (Under-represented)
    Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

  • 7 1-11-2011 at 5:42 pm

    Derek said...

    2007 “My Winnipeg” Dir: Guy Maddin
    2008 “Love Exposure” Dir: Sion Sono

  • 8 1-11-2011 at 5:46 pm

    Joe7827 said...

    I have this Adam Shankman rule: anyone can make a great movie, as evidenced by Shankman jumping from utter crap (everything else he’s ever directed) to his nomination-worthy effort on Hairspray. I saw the live show version (with Harvy Fierstein), and it wasn’t very good. But Shankman livened things up considerably and made a colorful, entertaining musical. However, my Best Picture of 2007 was “The Great Debaters”.
    2008: how did “Synecdoche New York” not get any nominations? Samantha Morton; Michelle Williams; Catherine Keener; Philip Freakin’ Seymour Hoffman; the best screenplay of the year.

  • 9 1-11-2011 at 6:16 pm

    James D. said...

    2007: 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days.
    2008: Che.

    You will be missed, Hartigan.

  • 10 1-11-2011 at 6:29 pm

    Kevin K. said...

    2007: Sweeney Todd should have gotten more attention in Picture and Director. I think it’s actually Tim Burton’s finest film since Ed Wood, and possibly his best. I am a little biased since the musical it’s based on is very near and dear to me, but I think the film shows and uncharacteristic maturity and restraint in Burton and Depp that is really something to behold. I shouldn’t be complaining, as the film did get 3 nominations and win one for Art Direction, as well as a nom for Depp and Costume design. but still, a criminally underrated film. Zodiac getting completely, of course, is a big head scratcher as well, but given the violent nature of the film and a terrible release date, it’s not surprising. I’m just shocked it got no attention at all, considering how many people count it as their favorite David Fincher film. And of course, as Kris has pointed out, how can you not nominate The Assassination of Jesse James? That’s just a no brainer if you ask me.

    2008: This was a rather weak year, but there are some obvious omissions. The Dark Knight in picture, director, and screenplay, of course. But also The Wrestler being left out of those three categories, as well as song, is kind of embarassing when the Academy goes for a mediocre Ron Howard film instead. WALL-E, in my opinion, should have been Pixar’s first Best Picture nomination, not Up (as much as I love Up). Che, while not an unexpected snub, still stings, as that’s one of the finest pieces of filmmaking of the last decade to me.

    Anywho, that’s my two cents.

  • 11 1-11-2011 at 6:30 pm

    Cameron said...

    2007 – Sunshine, Zodiac
    My pick – There Will Be Blood

    2008 – Hunger, Tropic Thunder
    My pick – In Bruges

  • 12 1-11-2011 at 7:03 pm

    Maxim said...

    Chad we rarely agree but I cannot agree with you more on Slumdog. Trite shite.

  • 13 1-11-2011 at 7:04 pm

    Nicolas Mancuso said...

    2008: I’ve Loved You So Long

    It’s been over two years, and Kristin Scott Thomas’s eyes still haunt my dreams…

  • 14 1-11-2011 at 7:14 pm

    Erik said...

    Chad – have you seen ‘Ballast’? Just want to know your thoughts about it.

  • 15 1-11-2011 at 7:19 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Love Ballast

  • 16 1-11-2011 at 7:28 pm

    Andrew Rech said...

    2007. Once or This Is England.

    2008. Hunger. Wow. Can’t wait for Steve McQueen’s Shame. Definitely one to watch.

    Great series Chad, you really provided me the opportunity to seek out on some truly buried gems.

  • 17 1-11-2011 at 7:41 pm

    red_wine said...

    2007 – Zodiac (also 4 months)
    and 2008 – Synecdoche (also A Christmas Tale, Two Lovers)

    Both are almost American semi-masterpieces. I hope people would look back to Zodiac as Fincher’s career achievement rather than Social Network.

    Synecdoche NY remains the best screenplay of the decade and one of the most audaciously ambitions pieces of writing for cinema in recent memory. It creates a problem for Kaufman, what could he possibly write than on a screenplay level could top Synecdoche.

    The Academy not nominating The Dark Knight for Picture-Director-Screenplay remains one of the most joyous moments in Oscar watching. I remember how I jumped from my chair and almost screamed with delight.

  • 18 1-11-2011 at 8:17 pm

    Kevin K. said...

    “The Academy not nominating The Dark Knight for Picture-Director-Screenplay remains one of the most joyous moments in Oscar watching. I remember how I jumped from my chair and almost screamed with delight.”

    You really are a joyless sonofabitch, you know that?

  • 19 1-11-2011 at 8:57 pm

    RJL said...

    2007: 4 Months, 3 Weeks, And 2 Days
    2008: Burn After Reading
    but I also enjoyed The Other Boleyn Girl

    I’ll miss the series. I only wish submitters had followed your guideline of non-nominated (i.e. not nominated for anything) films. No matter how many times you mentioned it, it seems to have gone unheeded by a large number.

  • 20 1-11-2011 at 9:00 pm

    Speaking English said...

    I’m surprised you didn’t pick “Hunger.” That’s my choice.

  • 21 1-11-2011 at 9:03 pm

    Kevin K. said...

    I forgot to mention Hunger. Good call English. Beautiful film with a masterful turn from Fassbender. Can’t wait to see Shame.

  • 22 1-12-2011 at 12:20 am

    le duff pascal said...

    ” That reminds me. I need to rewatch Slumdog Millionaire in a couple of weeks. ” One is not enough ??? I also hate this dreadful movie. And WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONNAIRE is not live !!! The phone call does not last three ages long !!!!!! Danny Boyle and writers should have watched the show at least once before you’re writing or directing a movie. The dramatics could not work with that. It’s not the only bad thing about that movie…

  • 23 1-12-2011 at 12:26 am

    /3rtfu11 said...

    Tilda Swinton became an Oscar winner in 07
    The best part of 08 were the two Milk wins for me

  • 24 1-12-2011 at 12:43 am

    Kevin K. said...

    As per Chad’s guidelines, I’ll mention films that got no nominations

    2007: Zodiac, Sunshine, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
    2008: Hunger, Che, Gomorrah

  • 25 1-12-2011 at 1:01 am

    Silencio said...

    2007: Once, Lars and the Real Girl
    2008: In Bruges, Redbelt. (In Bruges did get a nom, but it was still largely under the radar.)

  • 26 1-12-2011 at 1:03 am

    Silencio said...

    (same for Once, song nom but that was an obligatory breadcrumb.)

  • 27 1-12-2011 at 2:43 am

    Edward L. said...

    For me,

    2007: Lust Caution (the first Ang Lee film I’ve seen that I thought worked really well…)
    2008: Quantum of Solace (I accept that this might not be the majority view – but I just think it’s terrific!)

    I’ve enjoyed this series, Chad. Thanks!

  • 28 1-12-2011 at 4:48 am

    m1 said...

    22-Well, considering I’m apparently the only one who wants to bother seeing how it holds up, yes, I will be seeing it again soon.

    27-Quantum of Solace? Really? I thought that movie was horrible.

  • 29 1-12-2011 at 4:56 am

    Edward L. said...

    28 – As I suggested, I accept I might be in the minority! But truly (and I say this as a massive Bond fan) while there are lots of pleasures that film withholds from us or denies us, I believe that what it does do it does brilliantly. I think the whole film is an intensive character study on how Bond comes to be a bit more ‘refined’ – smoothing off the rough edges he showed as a newbie in Casino Royale and moving more towards being the experienced man of the world we know the character in general to be. Everything else – plot, villain, the ‘Quantum’ macguffin – is part of the ‘changing landscape’ through which we chart Bond’s changing mindset, that leads him towards his act of clemency and the last, bittersweet image.

  • 30 1-12-2011 at 5:22 am

    Bernard said...

    If anyone is curious about Nights and Weekends (or Hannah Takes the Stairs), they’re both available on Netflix Streaming. Can’t say I felt as strongly about either as you, Chad (I actually prefer Hannah), but I do agree Gerwig gives a some fantastic naturalistic performance.

    2007: Zodiac, In the Shadow of the Moon, Once (if we don’t count song)
    2008: The Fall, Defiance (if we don’t count score score – I recognize I’m in the stark minority on this one)

  • 31 1-12-2011 at 9:00 am

    Jack Wyle said...

    The snub of TDK was the nail in the coffin for me as to the Academy’s process. I just couldn’t care less about the Oscars going forward. Love the history of the institution and the idea behind awarding the year’s best films, but the Academy and its minions are dead to me.

    Like Sasha Stone says, “The trick is not minding.” After the announcements that morning, I began not minding. I love film and the discussion of it- thank you to Kris for this great forum to discuss – but could ultimately care less about the Oscars. I haven’t even watched the past two years.

    We can all decide for ourselves what the best films in a given year are- we don’t need the Academy to interpret that for us. I mean, isn’t the purpose of this series to go back and discuss how wrong Oscar has been over the years?

  • 32 1-12-2011 at 9:22 am

    Mike_M said...

    2007: Zodiac, Sunshine, and even though it got 2 noms: The Assassination of Jesse James (needed to get a nom (and win) for best pic, best actor, best score) – Deakin’s needed to win for this too,
    2008: The Fall, Che

  • 33 1-12-2011 at 9:39 am

    Rashad said...

    2007 – American Gangster definitely. I also think Sweeney Todd is one of Burton’s best.

    And Into The Wild was criminally ignored.

    2008 – Tropic Thunder! Revolutionary Road for some reason was overlooked but whatever

    Hunger was tedious.

  • 34 1-12-2011 at 9:52 am

    Maxim said...

    Kevin K., why insult someone just because he doesn’t share your beliefs?

    Silencio, good call on Redbelt. Good underseen film though my favorite Mamet film of the decade (not counting the superb “Edmond”) is “Heist”. Still, love that unexpectedly poetic final shot in the ring.

    Once, on the other hand I simply could not stand. I’ve taken flack before for calling it amateurish but it is what it is. Also tedious and incredibly obvious. I won’t deny that it has one good scene in it but everything else is really mediocre.

  • 35 1-12-2011 at 10:31 am

    Kevin K. said...

    Maxim: Part harmless jab, part pointing out a trend. If all someone ever does in the talkbacks is rant about how much they hate everything other people like and want to see succeed, that’s a rather joyless, lonely, sad person if you ask me.

  • 36 1-12-2011 at 10:38 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Thanks for this series, Chad. It’s been a weekly delight, and more welcome than ever in the claustrophobic thick of awards season itself. Hope it’s inspired readers to check out not just the films you’ve spotlighted, but any number of others that fall outside the arbitrary bracket of the Academy-approved. Can’t wait to see your list next Wednesday, though I can’t say I’m looking forward to future weeks without your writing.

    Oh, and “Wendy and Lucy” for 2008.

  • 37 1-12-2011 at 10:47 am

    Maxim said...

    I will just point out the obvious: at least red was commenting about how he felt towards the movie and not anyone else in particular. You are basically accusing him of being a hater but that can take many forms.

  • 38 1-12-2011 at 11:20 am

    Kevin K. said...

    Maxim: red_wine is perfectly capable of defending himself if he feels insulted by my jab. I will just say that if the highlight of someone’s day is seeing a film get snubbed by a group of 6000 people, that’s a little sad if you ask me. When I see a trend of comments that revolve around “Pick people or films you want snubbed this year” and then “It’s sad that you had to rack your brains to think of something you wanted snubbed” that just reeks of bile and joylessness. Moving on.

  • 39 1-12-2011 at 3:03 pm

    Keil Shults said...

    Again, I’m following the rules, because once you start naming films that have at least one nomination it quickly descends into chaos.

    2007: ZODIAC – no question; it’s inconceivable that this didn’t land a single nod, even in the craft categories. one of the decade’s unquestionable masterpieces.


    Death Proof
    Hot Fuzz (still the best Edgar Wright film, IMO)
    The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
    The Orphanage
    Paranoid Park

    2008: Let the Right One In


    Wendy and Lucy

  • 40 1-12-2011 at 3:04 pm

    Bernard said...

    King of Kong and The Orphanage are great calls. Let the Right One In also

  • 41 1-12-2011 at 7:00 pm

    red_wine said...

    I don’t think what you wrote really merits a response but I’ll just say that I hate conformity and think it is the killer of all conversation and marginalizes other candidates. The mind-numbing “yes-ness” of the award season positively begs for some dissent. That is all.

  • 42 1-12-2011 at 8:07 pm

    Kevin K. said...

    I just think it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy to hope for surprises in awards season. I just don’t let it bother me. It drives a lot of people nuts, and as you pointed, out, yourself, but I don’t think it’s worth getting upset about because it’s just how the game is played. At the end of the day, you just have to decide for yourself what films and performances you thought were most deserving of accolades and stick with that. If you let predictability during awards season get to you, that just seems like a bit of self-abuse if you continue to follow awards season. It is the way it is.

  • 43 1-12-2011 at 11:46 pm

    Zac said...

    For 2007, it’s a no-brainer. My #1 movie of the year garnered a grand total of 0 Oscar nominations: Zodiac. David Fincher’s 3rd masterpiece just might be his best one. After showing the murders in the first half hour or so, Fincher then spends the next 2 hours showing us how the case took over and ruled the lives of numerous people, in particular, Robert Graysmith and Dave Toschi. John Carroll Lynch to me, despite not showing him doing anything, was scarier than Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh or Daniel Day-Lewis’ Daniel Plainview. Showing the progression (or lack thereof) of the case reminded me of All the President’s Men. One of the decade’s best that was criminally snubbed by Oscar.

    For 2008, it was harder to come up with my choice: Synecdoche N.Y.

    When I first saw this, I thought to myself: WTF did I just watch? Then as days went by, I found myself thinking about it, mulling over what went on and trying to figure out what it all meant. Even now, as I type this, I’m not sure I fully understand it and will have to watch it again. Brilliant, bold and brave screenwriting and film making make this one of the most original movies I’ve ever seen.