Monday, February 18, 2008

If I Picked The Oscars... probably wouldn't watch.

Put plainly, February sucks for genre fans. Besides being the universally accepted dumping ground for riotously bad horror films, the two major Valentine’s Day themed movies are awful, and no one has had the skills to exploit the true horror of President’s Day. Adding to the indignity, February also brings the Academy Awards – a black tie event for which genre films are rarely even asked to park cars. It’s been nearly 2 decades since Silence of the Lambs’ unheard of clean sweep of the major award categories (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Creepy Van, and Adapted Screenplay), and before that you would have to go back to The Exorcist’s 10 nominations and 2 wins (for Sound and Blatty’s script) to find another film taken even halfway seriously by the Academy.

Now, before we get all weepy at the thought of another years shut-out, were there any truly worthy pictures from our manor this year? Yes, I believe there was.

Though only a serial killer film if you believe the Paramount marketing staff, Zodiac has at least enough of one foot in the house to qualify as horror. It is also the best film of 2007. It could have been its March 3rd release date that saw it shut-out of the Oscars (because we all know that the best films don’t come out until September, right?) or the fact that, aside from a few welcome comic flourishes from Robert Downey Jr., none of the performances carry the stench of a desperate award grab that plague would-be worthy films like Atonement. From the vintage studio logos that open the film to the canny use of one of the most sinister pop songs ever recorded at its conclusion, Zodiac confounds the expectations that Fincher himself established with Se7en over a decade ago.

Anyone who grew up in the 70’s knows how well the decade’s details were nailed, but what surprised many was how restrained Fincher was in his storytelling. The killings, though graphically depicted and harrowing to watch, were front-loaded in the beginning of the film; informing the audience of how violent the crimes were without wallowing in their excesses in the way that nearly all other serial killer films that followed in Se7en’s wake have done. Fincher crafts a story built around not catching a killer; we feel the frustrations of Inspector Toschi (Mark Ruffalo, whose nuanced, low key performance is a stunner), for whom the Zodiac represented professional disgrace, and cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), for whom the case became an obsession that became increasingly difficult to explain.

The Academy also ignored a stunning performance by Drew Carey show alumni John Carroll Lynch as lead suspect Arthur Leigh Allen and the expert cinematography by Harris Savides, whose work with the Viper camera shows the potential of digital filmmaking far better than a film like Beowulf.

Perhaps Juno could see its way clear to step aside and make room? It’s not that we have anything against you, you plucky little indy darling, you. But Little Miss Sunshine’s job was to show us how the members of the Academy weren’t a bunch of fossilized grumps. This is 2008, now, and this isn’t the Independent Spirit Awards. So, Juno out and Zodiac in, and we're all happy.