The Oscars are a joke. We all know this. But let's just set that aside - like we do every year. What I love about the Academy Awards is that it gives us a moment where we can just ramble on about movies with the regular people. You know, those nice folks out there that don't devote hours & hours upon a nerd blog, obsessing over every frame and hidden reference of the latest Quentin Tarantino flick. It's the Super Bowl of Cinema - and as is, they usually get all the nominations wrong and it's mostly just a fashion parade for US Weekly then it is an exploration of art. That being said, I think the nominations are much stronger than they have been in year's past which I find rather amusing since I felt that 2012 was one of cinema's weakest.
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
LIFE OF PI
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
ZERO DARK THIRTY
This is the second year in a row where my Favorite Film of the Year got a Best Picture nomination, but like last year, my pick doesn't have a chance in snowy hell of taking home the little gold guy. Django Unchained is not Quentin Tarantino's best film (that's Jackie Brown), but it is most certainly my favorite. The pacing is choppy; some claim the lack of editor Sally Menke is to blame, but I think Tarantino is just doing what he does best - elevation through mimicry. The Spaghetti Western is a genre defined through false starts & endings, and it's an aspect I cherish when done properly. Django pulls the rug from under you multiple times and what feels sloppy to some feels like perfection to me. We will never know what this film would look like if cut by Menke, but I genuinely feel like it wouldn't appear to be much different. But Django Unchained is the film with the least likely chance to win. It's genre, B Movie territory. Strike One. It's an extremely angry film. Not the revenge drama some make it out to be. This is not Kill Bill. It's a Campbellian Hero's Journey. The revenge aspect is on us, Django Unchained transforms the audience into Khan. Strike two. Finally, it's a Tarantino movie. He's the new Hitchcock and he'll never take home a statue. Strike three.
So, who gets it. There are only two films of the nine nominations that I absolutely destested: Life of Pi & Les Miserables. Their nominations are not surprising, especially when considering last year's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, but Life of Pi is confusing mumbo jumbo & Les Miserables is a musical embarrassment. Lincoln is my second favorite flick in the pack, sharp tight narrative highlighted by an outstanding lead performance. Silver Linings Playbook is fun, sweet, romantic and a complete fantasy. Amour is a beast of emotion. No other film tortured me quite like that movie. Beasts of the Southern Wild is beautifully odd world building with a firm backbone supplied by a six year old actress. Zero Dark Thirty is CSI: Bin Laden. An intense procedural deepened by our own 9/11 memories. Argo seems to be the frontrunner at this point. Fascinating, given Ben Affleck's lack of nomination in the Best Director category. The last time a film took home Best Picture without even a director nomination was 1990's Driving Miss Daisy. Argo is a solid flick. I just don't love it. The first half is intense as hell, and I love all the Hollywood craziness but I just can't get behind the final ten minutes. The airport chase nonsense. Yes, both Lincoln & Zero Dark Thirty have they're way with history, but this feels the most Hollywoody. Still, far worse films have taken home the gold.
Desire: Django Unchained
BENH ZEITLIN (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
MICHAEL HANEKE (Amour)
STEVEN SPIELBERG (Lincoln)
DAVID O. RUSSELL (Silver Linings Playbook)
This is a tough category. I'm gonna immediately dismiss Ang Lee cuz as stated above, I hated his movie. But if I'm going to be fair it was fun to watch him play with technology - taking on James Cameron's 3D, David Fincher's digital zooms, and playfully experimenting in a similar fashion to his Hulk adaptation...and we all saw how well that went down (Screw it - I Love HULK!). Silver Linings Playbook is a lot of quirky fun, but I found David O Russell continues push-in closeups to be rather annoying. Steven Spielberg has an obvious mastery over his craft, but Lincoln's success mostly comes from Tony Kushner's screenplay and Daniel Day-Lewis' deep diving performance. Benh Zeitlin's Beasts of a Southern Wild has the feel of a young man's camera - eagerness mixed with blunt whimsy. He could be great someday, but he ain't there yet. Michael Haneke is a mad man. Sitting down to one of his films, you know your psyche is in danger. Whether he's documenting a home invasion (Funny Games), the hidden violence of a pre-WWI village (The White Ribbon), or the slow death of a loved one (Amour), Haneke has been accused of relishing in human horror. Maybe. But what impresses me so much about Amour is its claustrophobia. We're stuck in this tiny Parisian apartment. One character is slowly deteriorating in front of us. The other character is struggling to maintain his wife's last moments. Haneke never lets the room become tiresome. He finds new ways to shoot it, and concentrates the lens on the humanity of the structure. It's a daunting screenplay for a director to tackle, but Heneke as both writer & director was obviously up to the task.
The question becomes though, with Ben Affleck out of the running, where do the Academy voters cast their ballot? Zeitlen is too new to the game. Haneke's an outsider and in their eyes its enough that the film will most likely take home Best Foreign Film. Ang Lee certainly offers the visual feast and Life of Pi apes a lot of its praise from the novel's pre-owned enthusiasm. So could Spielberg take Oscar home? His last nomination was in 2007 for Munich, and he won in '99 for Saving Private Ryan & '94 for Schindler's List. No. I think Lincoln is not a significant enough departure from the Spielberg norm to land him back at the podium. David O Russell lost to Tom Hooper in 2011; I think we make up for that now. Silver Linings Playbook is not a showy picture, but neither was Hooper's The King's Speech, and performance can carry this category. Plus, Hollywood mogul Harvey Wienstein knows how capture Oscars via politics.
Prediction: David O. Russell
Desire: Michael Haneke
BRADLEY COOPER (Silver Linings Playbook)
DANIEL DAY-LEWIS (Lincoln)
HUGH JACKMAN (Les Miserables)
JOAQUIN PHOENIX (The Master)
DENZEL WASHINGTON (Flight)
Well, lets just yank Hugh Jackman out of this category immediately. I thought he was atrocious. The man can sing, he's proven that before, but the man is no Jean Valjean. Especially when you have Colm Wilkinson, the real deal, putting him to shame in the Bishop cameo. I guess Denzel Washington does a decent job as the alcoholic cokehead pilot in Flight, but the movie is so run-of-the-mill that to grant him any acknowledgement would give Zemeckis' live action pap too much credit. Bradley Cooper has never been better than he is in Silver Linings Playbook, and I could see him winning if Harvey Weinstein manufactures a clean sweep for that movie. Definitely possible. I'd love to see Joaquin Phoenix take it; his turn as the sex starved madman in Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master is a masterpiece of anxiety, and makes Bradley Cooper's kooky nutjob look absolutely adorable. But there is no question who's taking home Oscar this Sunday. Daniel Day-Lewis puts in another one of his method absorption pieces as Abraham Lincoln. I appreciated his choice of accent, going for realism and dropping the iconic stature we're used to seeing on the five dollar bill. There is more humanity in his portrayal of Lincoln than we've yet experienced, he showcases the badass bravado we want from the great emancipator but I love the little moments with his bickering wife, and his war-thirsty son. And if we weren't allowed to give it to him for Bill The Butcher than we most certainly give it to him for the 16th president.
Prediction: Daniel Day-Lewis
Desire: Daniel Day-Lewis
JESSICA CHASTAIN (Zero Dark Thirty)
JENNIFER LAWRENCE (Silver Linings Playbook)
EMMANUELLE RIVA (Amour)
QUVENZHANE WALLIS (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
NAOMI WATTS (The Impossible)
This category is even tougher than Best Director. I don't know if you remember or care, but as 2012 was winding down and I had to put together my Dorkies, I could not list five female roles to save my life. Since then I've managed to watch all the above flicks and I think that each of these nominees turned in killer performances. As Hushpuppy, the adventurous orphan wandering the bayou wastelands of The Beasts of the Southern Wild, Quvenzhane Wallis delivers the most naturalistic realization. Jessica Chastain is all macho bravado, a little too on the nose, but solid. Naomi Watts is a tattered mess - flesh ripped, torn, and bleeding for nearly 90 minutes. Jennifer Lawrence is the It Girl of the moment, and as much as I was unimpressed with her previous nomination for Winter's Bone, her dullfaced turn in The Hunger Games, and her sourdough smirk in X-Men First Class, I have to admit that I was captivated by her mentally unbalanced love interest. And I think she might have this locked - and part of me wants to bet on all the Silver Linings Playbook nominations. But Sunday is also Emmanuelle Riva's 86th Birthday. Wouldn't it be a wonderful gift to win the big prize? And her slow decay on screen is pure Oscar bait gold. Utterly heartbreaking even if I think her partner, Jean-Louis Trintignant has the real winning role.
Prediction: Jennifer Lawrence
Desire: Emmanuelle Riva
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
ALAN ARKIN (Argo)
ROBERT DE NIRO (Silver Linings Playbook)
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN (The Master)
TOMMY LEE JONES (Lincoln)
CHRISTOPH WALTZ (Django Unchained)
Why is Alan Arkin on this list? I mean, he did a fine job in Argo but there was absolutely nothing special about his character. A Best Actor nomination for Ben Affleck would make more sense. Robert De Niro is a lot of fun as the gambling addict father struggling to understand his son's crazy. He manages to be sympathetic one moment, and infuriatingly obtuse the next. It's been a long time since he's won the hearts of the Academy but I'm just not sure this role is showy enough to make them care again. Phillip Seymore Hoffman is the internet critic's pick. And he's darn good, but not a standout like his partner Joaquin. Christoph Waltz gets my vote. As the Obi Wan to Django's Luke Skywalker, King Schultz has all the happy mannerisms of the villainous Hans Landa (the role Waltz won for just a few years back) but pacts the film with warmth and understanding. The Landa/Schultz coin is a showcase for Waltz's incredible talent. Put him in every movie, I say. Tommy Lee Jones, though? He's grumpy, adorable, and powerful. He's a miserable old bastard of righteousness in Lincoln, and the emotional wallop of the climax is delivered through his character. I'd be perfectly happy to see him win.
Prediction: Tommy Lee Jones
Desire: Christoph Waltz
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
AMY ADAMS (The Master)
SALLY FIELD (Lincoln)
ANNE HATHAWAY (Les Miserables)
HELEN HUNT (The Sessions)
JACKI WEAVER (Silver Linings Playbook)
This is a less exciting race. Jacki Weaver is perfectly fine as the delicate wife to Robert De Niro's bull in a china shop. And it's lightyears away from the psychotic matriarch of Animal Kingdom, her previous nomination in 2011. Another loser from that year was Amy Adams (The Fighter), and she's going down this year as well. She's perfectly troubled as the wife of Hoffman's cult leader, but her best scene involves an epic handjob which of course makes it hard to showcase during the sizzle reel. Sally Field is good in Lincoln. But the character is a touch annoying. The tight focus of Lincoln's screenplay doesn't allow for Mary Todd showboating, but there are one or two moments in the film that might land her on top. I think Anne Hathaway is the winner though. She's the only good thing in Les Miserables, and her snotty/teary rendition of "I Dreamed A Dream" will get her the win. My pick, though, is Helen Hunt. The Sessions is the type of indie darling that stormed Hollywood during the early 90s, but despite its twee narrative centered around John Hawkes' quadriplegic virgin, I found myself suckered by its sweetness. And a lot of that has to do with her welcoming, forgiving, and accepting smile. Not to mention her sexual sincerity.
Prediction: Anne Hathaway
Desire: Helen Hunt
THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS
There is no denying that Brave is a lesser Pixar. It's perfectly suitable, but the mother/daughter story is less interesting than the female empowerment quest that the trailer promised. The Pirates! Band of Misfits is a ton of fun. It's winky, jokey, and very British. Wreck-It-Ralph is gleeful, but I was kinda hoping for a Who Framed Roger Rabit reference-a-palooza and I found the Candyland setting a bit claustrophobic. Still, this seems to be the film that gets the most attention. Frankenweenie has no business here. It doesn't celebrate the oddity of youth, it mocks it. And Tim Burton just needs to take a break from filmmaking for a while. His ideas are played out. Old. Tired. Boring. Paranorman is everything that Burton was trying to do, but done successfully. It celebrates the strange of youth, it tells kids that it's your weird, unique talents that make you special. To ride ahead of the pack and not with the herd. And it's properly spooky the way Halloween stories should be.
5 BROKEN CAMERAS
HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE
THE INVISIBLE WAR
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN
As usual, the Best Documentary category is loaded with a lot of downers. In 5 Broken Cameras, a Palestinian farmer records the Israeli occupation of his backyard. Protests inevitably turn to violence. Friends & family loose their lives. The Invisible War is almost unfathomable with its nearly endless interviews of women raped while serving in the military. I never managed to catch The Gatekeepers. Can't comment on it. How To Survive A Plague left me a weeping mess. Following two bands of protest groups in late 80s New York while the Aids epidemic spread and politicians sat quiet. Searching For Sugar Man is the frothiest story depicting the mysterious rise of a Detroit castoff in the music scene of South Africa. While incredibly engaging it doesn't quite hold the terrifying punch of the other nominations. For it to win over How To Survive A Plague seems as insulting as Driving Miss Daisy taken the big prize from the nominationless Do The Right Thing.
Prediction: Searching For Sugar Man
Desire: How To Survive A Plague
SEAMUS MCGARVEY (Anna Karenina)
RALPH RICHARDSON (Django Unchained)
CLAUDIO MIRANDA (Life of Pi)
JANUS KAMINSKI (Lincoln)
ROGER DEAKINS (Skyfall)
Based on the trailers, Anna Karenina sure does look artificially pretty. Spielberg's longtime collaborator Janus Kaminski knows how to fill a room full of light. I think Life of Pi has the most attention for its animated beauty, but how much of that is Miranda's skill and how much is it the FX company? Ralph Richardson would normally take home the glory for me and if this was Kill Bill in the hot seat than he most surly would. However, Roger Deakins delivers the most beautiful Bond film in the franchise, and with it he proves that digital photography is the future. Seriously, can you tell me that this does not look like film? No. The fiery Scottish moors. Shanghai's neon assassination. The gray windy skies of London. An absolutely stunning action film.
Prediction: Claudio Miranda
Desire: Roger Deakins
AMOUR (Michael Haneke)
DJANGO UNCHAINED (Quentin Tarantino)
FLIGHT (John Gatins)
MOONRISE KINGDOM (Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola)
ZERO DARK THIRTY (Mark Boal)
I won't drone on and on here. You already read my Django Unchained rant. I still feel it. And I'm fighting myself from diving back into the theater for a fourth go around, the blu ray will be here soon. I thought Flight was barely above an After School Special. Amour is more about the performances than the screenplay, but the life brought into that tiny apartment started here on the page. I'm happy to see Moonrise Kingdom get some love, but no one really seems to care. I loved it. But compared to previous efforts I think it's lesser Anderson. Zero Dark Thirty is not going to be taking home any of the top awards, so if the Academy wants to throw it a bone it'll happen here.
Prediction: Zero Dark Thirty
Desire: Django Unchained
ARGO (Chris Terrio)
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin)
LIFE OF PI (David Magee)
LINCOLN (Tony Kushner)
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (David O. Russell)
Another tough selection. Argo will take home the Best Picture, but as stated above, I felt that the screenplay took one too many liberties with the event. Life of Pi might nab this with its confounding, muddy morals. No one has read the source material for Beasts of the Southern Wild, so that's out. Silver Linings Playbook might have a shot, but I think it suffers the same problems as Beasts. Lincoln is the obvious winner here. Adapting Doris Kerns Goodwins' Team of Rivals was a beastly challenge, but Tony Kushner's choice to focus solely on the passing of 13th amendment was inspired. Taking what could have been another blathering, sweeping biopic and transforming it into a taught, political thriller. In that one month of January you get all the greatness & humanity of Lincoln boiled down to its essence.
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