Academy Awards: Winners and Losers
By David Mumpower
February 23, 2009

Mission accomplished on the Oscars invasion!

The 2009 Academy Awards are in the books and BOP's staff is ready to take a look at the winners and losers on the night. While I have written most of the text here, the suggestions came from several staff contributors. Special thanks go out to Reagen Sulewski, Jerry Simpson, Calvin Trager, Kim Hollis, Tony Kollath and Jim Van Nest for their suggestions. BOP is fully aware that you will see dozens of similar lists over the next 48 hours, so we tried to be as creative as possible. Some of these, however, are not rocket science. For instance...

Winningest Winner Out of all the Winners: Slumdog Millionaire

This movie was the Tiger Woods of the evening, absolutely eviscerating the competition. Danny Boyle's cinematic masterpiece won 80% of the ten awards for which it earned a nomination. Its only two losses were in the minor category of Sound Editing and the category of Best Song, where it lost to itself. That's right. The joke here is that the only thing that could beat Slumdog Millionaire last night was Slumdog Millionaire. The bar trivia from last night's proceedings is that the only other movie that did in fact beat Slumdog Millionaire was The Dark Knight. The Mumbai epic's eight Academy Awards victories are the most for any movie since The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King famously went 11 for 11 five years ago. To put Slumdog Millionaire's accomplishments into perspective, simply consider this. It won as many awards last night as No Country for Old Men and The Departed combined.

Losingest Loser: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

This statement is accurate not only from a meta viewpoint but also from a literal one. The film earned 13 nominations, yet only won in three categories, all of which are minor. When the nominations were announced, no one involved with this production was thinking its only wins would come in Best Makeup, Best Visual Effects, and Best Art Direction. It was perceived as a co-favorite in the Best Picture race just a few weeks ago but something odd happened along the way. Slumdog Millionaire gained more and more momentum throughout the end of awards season while Benjamin Button's candidacy fell apart. As Kim Hollis stated, the key to that may have been the fact that the Academy finally got around to watching both films and realizing just how clear cut the choice was. Whether you agree with this harsh assessment or not, there is no disputing the fact that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button lost ten out of 13 times last night and won no major awards. For the producers of the film that received the most nominations of any title since 2002's Chicago, a movie that won six Oscars including Best Picture at the 2003 awards, last night was a miserable disappointment all the way around.

Winners: Homosexuality

The 78th edition of the Academy Awards was dubbed "The Gay Oscars" due to the nominations of such gay-themed titles as Brokeback Mountain, Transamerica and Capote. While only one of this year's major nominees, Milk, features adult homosexuals -- unless you have a certain interpretation of Phillip Seymour Hoffman's character in Doubt - this year's awards were as rainbow-centric as any in the show's history. With Broadway's favorite son, Hugh Jackman, hosting the show, musicals were always going to be a strong part of the presentation. The combination of key winners happening to be gay, the show's producers editing several scenes of boys kissing boys into the clips, and a lavish tribute to Hollywood's greatest movie musicals, however, made this incontrovertibly the gayest Oscars ever. Clearly, the lingering ill will over the passage of Proposition 8 in California led to a decision on the part of the show's producers to be combative rather than run away from the issue. How well this choice played out in the flyover states remains to be seen, but BOP applauds the bravery displayed here even if we did think that the tribute to musicals was a good 45 minutes too long. Or it at least felt that way.

Losers: Religious Fundamentalists

As if the predominance of the above displays of affection were not enough to outrage the Jerry Falwell crowd, media coverage of the people picketing with less-than-tasteful signs about Heath Ledger's continued location in the afterlife was appropriately savage. And, worst of all, Bill Maher went on stage in front of hundreds of millions of viewers and openly mocked the idea of religion, stating "our silly gods cost the world too greatly".

Even Bigger Loser: Bill Maher

Politically Incorrect was a show ahead of its time, thought-provoking and challenging. After Maher's 9/11 statement regarding the bravery of suicide bombers effectively ended his network television career, something snapped in the comedian. Who knows? Maybe this had already happened when his movie career failed to take off after he appeared in such classics as D.C. Cab, House II: The Second Story and Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death. Maybe that's the case, but we didn't notice since we had no idea what a Bill Maher was. Under any circumstance, Maher's more and more desperate attempts to garner attention reached a crescendo last night with an intentionally incendiary statement utilized in a mechanical effort to market his documentary. He should have been sympathetic as the person forced to follow the parents and sister of Heath Ledger on stage. Instead, Maher somehow managed to become the most instantly disliked Academy Awards speaker since Michael Moore got political at the 2003 Oscars during his acceptance speech for Bowling for Columbine. He retroactively justified ABC's decision to bury Politically Incorrect.

Winner: Milk

While Slumdog Millionaire and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button were squaring off as the two major contenders of awards season, Milk was quietly building its resume as a political film whose main character's battle for homosexual rights was still being fought 30 years after his death. With Benjamin Button's meltdown last night, an argument could be made that Milk was the second most successful awards contender of the year. It was one of only four titles to win multiple Oscars (the others being the other two films mentioned in this paragraph and The Dark Knight). Even better, its two wins were in major categories, Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay, the latter of which is historically oftentimes used as an apology for the silver medalist of awards season.

Loser: The Dark Knight

The outcries about the most popular film of 2008 failing to garner a Best Picture nod were overblown. It should have received a nod over The Reader, of course, but you could say that about almost any 2008 release since The Reader is such a terrible movie. The Dark Knight still received eight nominations this year, as many as Dreamgirls, No Country for Old Men or Brokeback Mountain had attained in prior years. It was far from ignored by the Academy in terms of Oscar nods. The problem people had largely stemmed from the Best Picture shunning, a nitpick of a concern. What happened last night, however, gives them more fuel for the fire. The Dark Knight won only 25% of the categories for which it received a nomination with one of those being its inevitable victory for Heath Ledger. The other was for the aforementioned Sound Editing category. What the Academy said last night is that Benjamin Button's aging technique was a better usage of Visual Effects than The Dark Knight. I'd honestly love for someone to sit on a panel and try to explain the justification on that one. Other technical awards The Dark Knight could have won but didn't were Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Cinematography and Art Direction. The three losses to Slumdog Millionaire could be justified as part of an Oscars sweep. That happens. The losses to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, on the other hand, feel like some sort of apology vote to Button for not getting the vote in the various major awards. The Dark Knight was a much stronger technical achievement and it deserved several of these minor awards yet the Academy en masse made a decision that copious amounts of box office revenue would be enough recognition for this one. I had thought it may experience the same success that The Matrix did in winning some of the smaller categories, but it was not to be. Maybe if The Dark Knight had been gay...

Winner: The Danny Boyle Library.

Today, Netflix queues are being inundated with requests for prior films from the director. Internet debates are raging about what the best Danny Boyle movie is. My choice is 28 Days Later, the film that re-invented the zombie horror genre, but I am also partial to Millions as well. Others are going so far as to recommend The Beach, something I cannot do in good conscience, and Sunshine, a movie I thought was great two thirds of the way in before turning on it completely. Others are going all the way back to the director's first two projects with their recommendations. If you have never seen Shallow Grave or Trainspotting, now is the time to correct that oversight.

Loser: The David Fincher Library

Had the directors been reversed last night, the same popularity would be shown to Fincher's older works. This would have led to people saying - possibly for the first time ever - I want to watch Alien 3. Most people reading this have already availed themselves of Fincher's most established works, Fight Club and Se7en. I would suggest that if you have never seen his 1997 release, The Game, you should do so immediately. It is my favorite of his works to date as well as one of the 20 best titles of the 1990s in my opinion. For those of you unfamiliar with it, this movie is the reason Michael Douglas so warmly greeted Sean Penn when the latter man accepted his award last night. They play brothers, with Douglas being the well to-do, respectable elder brother who is much like his father and Penn having a smaller role as his immature, always in trouble sibling whose heart is in the right place. The Game is a masterpiece that holds up remarkably well.

Winner: Favorites

The collective BOP staff correctly predicted nine out of the ten major categories. The only one we missed was the true coin flip of the bunch, Best Actor. That merits special discussion in a moment, but the point here is that we wouldn't have done that well if last night's show had offered a lot by way of surprises. Instead, candidates that were heavily favored throughout awards season won for the most part. Even the categories that appeared up for grabs such as Best Supporting Actress wound up defaulting back to the strongest early contender. On the whole, last night's show lacked a genuine "WOW!" moment.

Loser: Underdogs

Always a bridesmaid is not a phrase that applies to Meryl Streep since she has won twice, but since her second wedding to Oscar ended in 1983, she's been single, on the market and available for about 25 years now without another offer. Beyonce has even written a (terrible, terrible, truly vile) song about it. The Academy hasn't put another ring on Streep's finger since 1983. Meanwhile, something called A. R. Rahman won two just last night. That's a strange flaw with the process. Similarly, Anne Hathaway seemed like she was on her way to a coronation three months ago, but the Golden Globes made it clear that a reversal of fortune had occurred between Kate Winslet and her. As I said last night, it is unfortunate that one of Winslet's worst films becomes her first Oscar, but it is equally tragic that a performance as great as Hathaway's was overlooked by the Academy. Similarly, people like Richard Jenkins, Frank Langella and Robert Downey Jr. all offered brilliant performances this year. Their timing just didn't seem to work out since the former two men ran up against two spectacular Best Actor performances and the latter happened to be in the same category as the ghost of Heath Ledger. None of the people who won the major acting categories yesterday stole an award, even Winslet, but having just one of them be a shock would have been a pleasant surprise for the viewer.

Winner: Sean Penn

He won. That's why. As BOP's Calvin Trager points out, the very exclusive list of men who have more than one Academy Award for Lead Actor are: "Frederic March (whoever that is), Spencer Tracy, Marlon Brando, Gary Cooper, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, Tom Hanks, Daniel Day Lewis, and now Penn." Penn also managed to thank his wife using some subterfuge involving the modifying of her ethnicity. Princess Buttercup is Japanese. Who knew?

Winning Loser: Mickey Rourke

Despite not winning the award last night, the man who became infamous in the early 1990s for hitting women has finally regained celebrity in spite of his crippling personality flaws. A six minute acceptance speech at the Independent Film Awards on Saturday evening reminded people what it is about Rourke that makes him so engaging. He is among the most sincere talents in the industry, for better and for worse. People always know where they stand with the man, a rarity in this industry. While his career resurrection failed to capture a Best Actor title, Rourke garnered public sympathy for his emotional response to the loss of his dog and his classy request to give Eric Roberts a similar opportunity at a second chance. His willingness to pay it forward should sustain his momentum, particularly if his next project is something huge like the on again/off again role in Iron Man 2.

Shakiest Winner: Kate Winslet

We have finally found the Achilles heel of one of the greatest actresses of our generation. She is not a sound extemporaneous public speaker. In fact, she's something of a train wreck. Somehow, this makes her even more adorable, though.

Most Supportive Parent: Kate Winslet's Dad

All of those whistling lessons finally paid off for the man last night. As his daughter attempted to maintain her composure, she asked for a noise from the crowd in order to reassure her. A high-pitched blast from up in the skybox provided a laugh for everyone and managed to calm down a woman whose emotions had been controlling her. That's what the best parents do. They always let their child know they are not alone. Your mileage may vary, but that was my favorite moment of the evening.

Most Heart-wrenching Parents: The Ledgers

As the video of their acceptance speech takes its place in the annals of YouTube, what will stand out on replay is how many celebrities fight off tears as they speak. No matter what any of them thought of Ledger as a talent or a person, all of them immediately identified with the pain of a relatively young looking couple seeking to come to terms with the shocking death of their child. It's a pain that all of us fear the most in life and they had to re-live it in front of hundreds of millions of people. They did so with honor, with dignity and with love. If only they had beaten up Bill Maher on their way off the stage.

Winner: Acceptance Speeches

Almost no one had their speech cut short by a musical sign-off. That may be historically unprecedented for the show and it comes on the heels of last year's ceremony, which might as well have been sponsored by the STFU Orchestra (which has no affiliation to Brian Setzer). There were also a couple of truly winning speeches, particularly from the writer of Milk, all the Slumdoggers and especially the family of Heath Ledger.

Loser: The Orchestra

Dudes, when someone more famous than you is talking, you are not supposed to be playing. As we speak, Reese Witherspoon is having all of your cars wired to explode the next time you turn the ignition. And she is right to do so.

Winner: India

Hollywood has joined Dell and all of the other bigwig tech companies these days by outsourcing all of our major awards to Mumbai. Heck, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon even beat that crazy octuplets mother to the eight-baby-punch.

Loser: USA

Somewhere, Lee Iacocca needs a hug. His dim view of a dystopian future wherein Americans get beaten by foreigners at everything we hold dear has almost come to pass, at least in Hollywood. Wait, are we still counting Hollywood as part of America? Sean Hannity must be shaking with glee in anticipation of tonight's show.

Winner: Be Kind, Rewind:

A film that earned only $11.2 million at the box office against a $20 million production budget somehow became the inspiration for the entire opening segment.

Loser: The Viewers

The producers went out of their way to put Jennifer Aniston right in front of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in hopes of a Wrestlemania-flavored cat fight. Sadly, no punches were thrown nor were any vicious looks exchanged, at least on camera. What a letdown. We do, however, think this is a fantastic idea for a reality show. A jilted lover is forced to sit in a room with their ex and the other woman taunting them for an hour while whispering onlookers try to incite violence. Oh wait, Jerry Springer beat us to the punch.

Winner: Pixar

Not only did WALL-E win the Best Animated Film category, the producers cruelly forced the voice actor of a fellow nominee to hand them the award. When Jack Black and Jennifer Aniston walked off-stage last night, they probably bitched to one another for 15 minutes straight. Then, they got drunk. Very, very drunk. Richard Nixon midnight calling David Frost drunk.

Loser: Animation in General

After an early awards season brimming with hope, WALL-E wound up as the latest Pixar film shut out of non-animated categories. BOP doesn't mean to brag but we called this one all the way back in June. We've noticed a trend after it happening eight previous times. We're quick like that. The Academy's constant overlooking of brilliant Pixar releases is wearisome and disheartening. Of course, WALL-E's disappointment was not the only bad news for the animation branch of the industry. Waltz with Bashir failed to win Best Foreign Language Film. A title that was once considered a potential winner in Best Animated Film and Best Foreign Language Film wound up getting only one nod and no victories. A year that saw the release of several wonderful animated titles such as Bolt, Kung Fu Panda, Horton Hears a Who and these two titles ends with the lot of them garnering almost no attention from Academy voters. But BOP has a good feeling about Up next year!

Winner: High School Musical stars Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens

Three years and a month ago, a made-for-Disney Channel movie received a low key release. Six months ago, the third film in the series became the biggest musical opening weekend of all time. Last night, the stars of that franchise were central players in an Academy Awards tribute to musicals. Let's just say that their star is at its pinnacle.

Loser: Grown-ups

Who the Hell were those two kids singing with Beyonce and Hugh Jackman?

And finally...

Push: Hugh Jackman

He has not received the exemplary praise some of his predecessors attained but he also avoided the "Orpah! Uma!" pitfalls that have slain previous hosts. There are divisive opinions among our staff about which side of the ledger Jackman's performance merits. On the plus side, he was as charming as always and he offered rare polish for a host, which is unsurprisingly given his experience with The Tonys. On the negative side, he flubbed his lines a couple of times, he sang the wrong line during a musical number, and he occasionally suffered from Harvey Korman-itis, failing to extract himself from a giggle loop in the appropriate amount of time. On the whole, we don't think his performance is going to wreck X-Men Origins: Wolverine's box office or anything, but we also don't see him getting Van Helsing 2 or the like greenlighted because of this.