Friday, December 5, 2008

Awards Preview: "Milk"

Three years after the disaster known as "Brokeback Mountain loses to Crash," and in the wake of Prop 8 hysteria, comes a movie about Harvey Milk, this nation's first openly gay elected official (in any high-ranking, meaningful office).

The movie has generated strong buzz thus far for its acting performances (Sean Penn, Josh Brolin; wish James Franco got some too), as well as its writing.

But what about the movie itself? Can it win - or even get nominated for - Best Picture?

As one might expect, the problem with a movie like this is that it's going to be labeled "the gay movie." That makes it instantly less attractive to the old, stuffy Academy giving it any kudos (again, remember what happened to Brokeback Mountain). It's the same thing with "black movies," "chick flicks," or anything else. There are certain types of films that are branded as some kind of "other" stereotype that instantly places them outside of the mainstream. So let me just say right off the bat that I think Milk's Oscar chances are dubious because of this.

Reaction to the movie also seems to be split. Andrew Sullivan loved it:
The movie's brilliance is not that it begins and ends with his death as a reflection on the first and last things; it is that it begins and ends with Milk's love for another human being as well. This reach for intimacy - always vulnerable, always intimate, never safe - endures past movements and rallies and elections. These manifestations of the political are the meaLinkns to that merely human end.
While david called it - and this is the best phrase I have EVER heard - "one big gay pile of underwhelming"...
MILK is one big gay pile of underwhelming. sean penn plays the eponymous role as if he were (i am) Sam but liked boys rather than the beatles. that being said, his performance is predictably strong but his nomination will be a result of penn sinking his teeth into a joyful role more than anything else. anyhoo, for a film about such an unconventional and downright revolutionary man, milk is just too bland to really curry any true favor (though reparations for the brokeback mountain losing to crash fiasco might up milk's stock). gus van sant's biopic is rife with absolutely fascinating characters, almost all of which are consistently ignored in favor of redundant stock footage and a cursory and second-rate overview of milk's political achievements, all of which were more indelibly covered in rob epstein's doc "the life and times of harvey milk." van sant's work shines whenever the always-intimidating josh brolin is onscreen and the film threatens to become an intriguing study of a socio-political dichotomy as personified by two riveting individuals but... no. cut to captain of the d-bag brigade, emie hirsch, whining about something or the tragic figure of a crippled gay teenager calling milk directly only at times that impossibly compliment the narrative... ick.
Of the movies we have previewed thus far, I'd say that Benjamin Button remains the only lock for a nomination, while Slumdog Millionaire looks to be this year's best bet to fill the Indie Film Representative Slot in the Best Picture race (taking its place next to Juno, Little Miss Sunshine, Sideways, Lost in Translation, etc.). I still think that the unprecedented uniqueness of circumstances surrounding The Dark Knight will be enough to score a Best Picture nod. That leaves two spots.

As much as I wish it weren't the case, I highly doubt WALL-E's ability to get nominated for Best Picture. I also refuse to believe that Australia will get nominated because I am on the record having stated that it's this year's Mega-Flop. Doubt? Frost/Nixon? I suppose. But I feel like only one Broadway-to-the-big-screen picture at a time can get nominated for the big prize. Maybe they both can do it, and that fills it out. Maybe, maybe not.

So what about Milk? God, I don't know. On one hand, like david says, the Academy might feel it necessary to atone for Brokeback Mountain. There is also the incredible backlash in California and elsewhere to the passage of Prop 8. Oscar loves to make a political statement (or likes to think it's making a political statement). So that bodes well for Milk. But I still just don't know.

This one is really hard to gauge. I feel pretty confident in predicting that it won't win Best Picture, but less confident in predicting that it won't even get nominated. It's got as good of a chance as any movies that's not Slumdog Millionaire or Benjamin Button. But it being what it is - THE GAY MOVIE!!!!!!!!!!!!! - just throws a wrench into the whole damn thing.

It's 50/50. Your guess is as good as mine.

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