Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wednesday Oscar Retrospective: The Deadlocked Duel of 2008

Welcome to a new weekly feature here at Movies with Abe, Wednesday Oscar Retrospective. The Deadlocked Duel is the fourth in a series of projects looking back at the past eight years of the Oscars, dating back to the first ceremony I watched and closely followed.

Each year after the Oscar nominations are announced, there’s at least one category where two nominees end up in a heated battle for the award right up until Oscar night, dividing predictors and keeping Oscar watchers anxiously in suspense. This series is devoted to analyzing the biggest and most intense of those battles each year, in any category.

The Deadlocked Duel of 2008:

Sean Penn (Milk) vs. Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) for Best Actor

The background: The recent winner vs. the comeback kid. Rourke’s role as an aging wrestler struggling to regain his once-held fame was a perfect metaphor for Rourke’s career as an actor, initially strong but ultimately unsustainable. Penn, on the other hand, had four previous Oscar nominations and one win, for 2003’s “Mystic River.” His part was exactly the kind of challenging and serious work he had done in the past, playing real-life gay politician Harvey Milk.

Why it was just the two of them: Frank Langella was the only other sure thing, for his performance as Richard Nixon in “Frost/Nixon.” While the film fared reasonably well in terms of nominations with almost every awards guild, it hardly took home any actual trophies (IMDB lists it as having won eleven out of fifty-five nominations). There wasn’t quite enough buzz for the film. Richard Jenkins didn’t emerge as a contender for “The Visitor” until his SAG nod, and some (notably me) weren’t sure that Brad Pitt would even get nominated in the end for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” He did, but he didn’t have a shot at winning.

Setting the stage: Initially, Rourke came out ahead at the Golden Globes, where he beat Penn. Both films had been shut out of the Best Picture race, and “The Wrestler” had earned three nominations (Bruce Springsteen also won for Best Song). “Milk,” on the other hand, landed only one nod, for Penn. In subsequent awards races, it became clear that “Milk” was going to do better after it got DGA, PGA, and WGA nods. Penn took home the SAG Award, putting him pretty much even with Rourke. When Oscar nominations were announced, “Milk” got eight, including one for Best Picture, while only Rourke and costar Marisa Tomei represented “The Wrestler,” which mystifyingly got shut out of the Best Song race.

Oscar night: Since Penn had been rewarded only five years earlier, it seemed to some (including me) that it was time to give the award to someone else. That wasn’t the case however, as Penn won the prize, sending Rourke and “The Wrestler” home empty-handed. “Milk” also won the Best Original Screenplay award.

Consolation prize for the loser: The rejuvenation of Rourke’s career, starting with his role as villain Ivan Vanko in this year’s “Iron Man 2.”

Other notable duels: “The Class” vs. “Waltz with Bashir” for Best Foreign Film (victor: third nominee “Departures”), Kate Winslet (The Reader) vs. Meryl Streep (Doubt) for Best Actress

Come back next week for a look at the Deadlocked Duel of 2007. If you have a prediction or a suggestion, please leave it in the comments.


Jorge Rodrigues said...

Yeah, that could be the deadlocked duel of 2008. Surprisingly, I really thought you were going with Winslet vs. Streep.

Just because I recall that in 2008 I was one of the few that never got into that Penn vs Rourke debocle. I loved Rourke in "The Wrestler" but him winning the Globe was like a pat on the shoulder (like Robert Downey Jr. this year), I never thought he had an actual chance at winning (although he was a worthy oponent to Penn with his very strong campaign and probably came close in #2).

For me, Kate Winslet vs. Meryl Streep was THE duel. I know A LOT of people (including me) thought that, by the time Oscar noms were announced and Winslet's nom for The Reader had been in the lead category, she was never going to lose that Oscar.

But the whole Oscar campaign was pretty much about who was going to win Best Actress. There was even a time when they thought Winslet would win in supporting, Meryl in lead.

So this would be my pick for deadlocked duel. And in my opinion, Hathaway or Leo should have win based on individual performances only. If we're going to consider background and all those other things Oscar likes to balance, Streep would be my winner. I liked Winslet in The Reader just fine, I just think Streep was better. She gave me chills every time she was on screen. That scene with the ball point pen... Even Amy Adams seems pretty scared :)

Movies with Abe said...

You make a very strong case, Jorge. With these series, there are always some years that will be much more fun and interesting than others, but I do think that Penn vs. Rourke was a more deadlocked duel for the very reasons you cite - Rourke had a strong campaign and probably came in close at #2 while Winslet seemed like a sure thing by the time Oscar night rolled around. Interesting discussion, though.

Regarding who should have won, my ballot ( actually included all of the nominees EXCEPT Winslet, with her "Revolutionary Road" performance in the runner-up slot (I wasn't as taken with her part in "The Reader"). My winner, of course, wasn't even nominated but really should have been - Sally Hawkins.

Greg Boyd said...

Sally Hawkins: so good. It was a crime that she wasn't nominated, I agree.

Regarding Sean Penn vs. Mickey Rouke, it's a good choice. Rourke would have been my pick, but Penn was great as well.

But then, I loved "The Wrestler". If it had been my decision, it would have gotten nominated for Best Picture as well.

Jorge Rodrigues said...

Yes. Sally Hawkins was amazing in Happy-Go-Lucky.

Greg Boyd said...

Regarding Hawkings: it's frankly quite similar to last year with Abbie Cornish. She gave the single best performance in any film (apart from Christoph Waltz of course) in "Bright Star". Instead, she got snubbed for "name" actresses like Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep.

The Oscars are more credible than, say, the Emmys or the Grammys. Not by much, though.