Pre-Oscars: 2011

It’s rather short notice–though that doesn’t mean that this will be a short post–but I thought I should write at least a little something about the Academy Awards prior to the ceremony tomorrow, the 26th of February.

Over the past decade, I’ve tried to make it my goal to see every Best Picture nominee before the evening of the Awards ceremony. Of course, the Academy had to go and make it twice as difficult to see all of the films over the past 3 years, but I’ve done my best and since about 2001, I have manged to see all but 5 or 6 films in time for the awards. I still haven’t seen The Blind Side, and I don’t feel bad about that at all.

Now, despite my devotion to seeing what are considered the “best” films of the year, I find that as time goes on, the Academy Awards hold less value to me as a movie fan. Ever since Seabiscuit got a Best Picture nod in 2003 and Crash won in 2005 I’ve put less stock in the awards. I still find they can be a reasonably accurate way of measuring what some of the better films released in any given year are, however, I find that the Awards don’t always reflect what I personally feel are the best films of the year. That said, at least one of the Best Picture nominees is usually a movie that I like quite a bit. I’m actually happy that they’ve decided to nominate more than 5 films for Best Picture. That definitely increases the chances that I’ll really like the nominees.

One other thing I’ve noticed as time goes on is my increased interest in the writing awards. Of course, this has something to do with my interest in writing more and learning more about writing both about and for film and television. Also, I think that the words on the page are kind of what makes or breaks a movie from the beginning. If you don’t start with a good script (or even a particularly good story), it is hard to create something worthwhile. Sure, there are art films and experimental films that might be made on the fly or might be made without scripts at all, but I’m continually fascinated by the idea and process of screenwriting and to an extent, the translation of a work from script to screen.

Regarding awards for performances, the verdict is still out for me. I think it’s worthwhile to honor the year’s great performances, but I also have a difficult time believing that there aren’t several more performances that are just as deserving of accolades. This year there are 20 nominees from 14 different films (5 of which are best picture nominees). Even if the group seems small, there are always things the Academy seems to get right (it’s about time for Gary Oldman, for instance). Also, they typically throw in at least one or two acting nominations from films that might have been underseen, overlooked, or foreign (consider Demian Bichir for A Better Life, which I must admit, I haven’t seen).

All things considered, I must think the Oscars have some value if I’m willing to devote a post to them, along with trying to watch all of the Best Picture nominees. I think they are a very good starting point for studying which films were big at certain times. I also think that over the years, the Oscars have become a treasure chest full of Hollywood history. Even if something is fair-to-middling, the fact that it has gone on for 84 years gives it some credibility.  I also think that the Oscars are always a great topic for debate. Despite the sometimes narrow field, it’s nice for awards-giving bodies to whittle the nominees down in all categories for film fans/scholars to criticize, argue about and choose sides over. I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say during the ceremony tomorrow, and next year, and the year after.

It wouldn’t be an Oscar post without some kind of prognostication. I must admit that the only major categories that I’ve seen every nominee in are: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay (I’ve also seen every nominee in Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Art Direction, Cinematography, and Editing). Rather than pick for every category, I’ll offer a few thoughts and then rank the Best Picture nominees, according to my current opinion (which is always subject to immediate change).

A) It would be a travesty if Emmanuel Lubezki doesn’t win Best Cinematography for The Tree of Life. He should also have won for Children of Men in 2006, and perhaps even The New World in 2005. If Lubezki gets snubbed, I’d be okay with Cronenweth winning for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

B) I’ll accept it as a victory of some kind if Drive manages to win Best Sound Editing. Even with the relatively small number of 2011 films I’ve seen, I’d probably place Drive at the top of the list. Too bad this is its only nomination.

C) Adapted Screenplay: could see it going to anyone but John Logan for Hugo. Would be cool to see Clooney/Heslov win for The Ides of March, or Dean Pelton from Community (Jim Rash) and the gang win for The Descendants. Wouldn’t count out Sorkin/Zaillian for Moneyball, a film I was surprised that I liked so much.

D) Supporting Actor: Plummer probably deserves it. He’s 82 years old and finally winning an Academy Award will put him one Grammy shy of his EGOT.

E) Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer: I’m not about to get into a whole political/racial debate about the Academy Awards. I just think it’s cool that both of these ladies are nominated and I think they both have a good shot at winning.

F) The Help: It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I liked Davis, Spencer and Chastain especially. I think there were several underdeveloped areas in the story, particularly considering the men in this world, but I also think it’s really interesting to see a movie that (as far as I can remember) might not pass whatever the male equivalent of the Bechdel Test is. (It appears that The Descendants–and perhaps Hugo–are the only other Best Picture Nominees that pass the actual test).

I could go on, but I won’t. Here are the rankings (1 is best):

9. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – too saccharine, probably works better as a book

8. War Horse – some striking scenes, but what was the last “great” movie Spielberg made? It’s not this.

7. The Help – Actually pretty entertaining, could’ve used a bit of cleaning/tightening up of side stories.

6. Hugo – A pretty strange fantasy, though I really like that it’s part of the resurgent trend of Hollywood nostalgia. Sacha Baron Cohen is fun too.

5. Midnight in Paris – I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie. The film was a pleasant surprise, considering what the preview set me up for. I guess there’s a reason it’s Allen’s highest-grossing film. I haven’t seen enough of his work to rank it, but I liked this one quite a bit.

4. The Tree of Life – I’ve only seen it once. I need to see it again. I’ll probably never understand it. But it’s just so darn beautiful. There must be something to a movie when I can watch the preview for it several dozen times in a week.

3. Moneyball – I’d like to watch it again, but I was surprised by how much I liked this one too. Most of the performances were pretty low-key and realistic, and it wasn’t just a baseball movie.

2. The Descendants – I honestly should see this one again too. I feel like Clooney was the least “Clooney” he’s been outside of a Coen Bros. film (and perhaps Syriana), which isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing, I just think I was watching the character on screen, not Clooney playing the character. I also liked Shailene Woodley as his older daughter.

1. The Artist – I was on the bandwagon for this film ever since I first heard about it in the summer of 2011. It took until January for me to get a chance to see it. Despite the fact that it is essentially a 2011 version of any of several movies from the early 1920s, I was won over by it. In particular I liked its spot-on use of the silent film form, its love for old Hollywood and its incredibly charming leading man (go watch the OSS: 117 films when you get the chance).

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3 thoughts on “Pre-Oscars: 2011

  1. I have somehow never heard of the Bechdel Test. Pretty amazing.

    Extremely Loud looks like the worst movie ever, but it was an incredible book. I’m boycotting seeing it on that premise alone.

  2. Pingback: Some Post-Golden Globes Thoughts | slazenger1

  3. Pingback: Pre-Oscars: 2012 | slazenger1

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