Pre-Oscars: 2012

[As usual, this was written over a period of about a week and is going up last minute. If you’re kind enough to excuse my self-importance and actually read this post, please overlook the mechanical and grammatical errors as well. Also as usual, this is far too long.]

I wrote up a Pre-Oscars post last year and half of it was introduction plus a quarter of it was just a ranked list of Best Picture nominees. This year, I’m going to take a more conventional approach and look at the categories one by one. I’ll do what everyone else always does and give a Will Win/Should Win along with some reasons why. It helps because I already wrote most of this up in an email to a friend. So, apologies to that friend, but you’re going to see a lot of the same here.

I haven’t seen everything this year, though I do think I’ve seen more (prior to the awards) than any other year. Leaving out shorts, docs and foreign films, which are not always easy for average Joe to see, I currently have a record of 102 out of 111 nominations seen. Obviously, you already knock out 37 nominations when you see Lincoln, Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook and Argo, but I still think that’s a good record for someone who doesn’t get paid to see movies.

Please keep in mind that this is all opinion, it is all changeable and I am by no means an expert. That said, I think the Oscars are a great way to start debates and discussions about movies. It’s fun to defend or deride the picks made by the Academy, whether the nominees include our favorite movies, or whether all of the wrong films were nominated again. Here we go!

Odds and Ends

(these are categories where I haven’t seen most of the nominees, or I just don’t know who or how to pick)

  • The Sound categories: It’s strange, but whenever the nominees are announced, I often find I have already seen most of the films nominated in Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. Unfortunately, I never leave a theater thinking “wow, that movie’s audio was mixed really well!” so I have a hard time picking beyond personal bias for certain films as a whole. Just so I have picks, I’ll go with Skyfall in the former and Les Miserables in the latter. Despite how sick I am of hearing about “live singing,” I’ll support Hooper’s bloated musical here.
  • Original Score: Again, I may just be a poor film listener, but I don’t often leave the theater raving about a score. I remember watching this episode of Columbo with my mother when it first aired and I distinctly recall Billy Connolly’s murderous composer saying something along the lines of “audiences only notice a film’s score when it is bad.” While I hesitate to take Columbo as gospel, I think maybe there’s something to that. So, though I’ve seen all five nominees, I’m not going to pick anyone. (Life of Pi seems to be the frontrunner most places).
  • Original Song: Skyfall. Because why not? It’s James Bond.
  • Makeup: The Hobbit, because it’s the one of two nominations for the film, and orcs, goblins and dwarves beat Hathaway’s short trim and Hopkins’ George Lucas chin any day.
  • Costumes: Anna Karenina. Because Marie Antoinette, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, The Duchess and The Young Victoria won this award in four consecutive years 2006-2009 (though Jane Eyre lost last year, hmmmmm).
  • Documentary Feature: I’ve only managed to see two so far, and I’d give Kirby Dick’s The Invisible War a slight edge over David France’s How to Survive a Plague, even if Searching for Sugar Man appears to be the frontrunner.
  • Foreign Film: I’ve seen one. It’s Amour. Amour is nominated for Best Picture. Amour wins. Every time a Best Foreign Film nominee has also been nominated for Best Picture, it has won Best Foreign Film (Z in 1969, Life is Beautiful in 1998 and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000)

Best Production Design
Will Win: Anna Karenina
Should Win: Anna Karenina
Why: I originally picked Lincoln to win this category. I had some issues with the museum-like feel of Lincoln‘s set decoration, but I figured this could be a consolation prize if Lincoln doesn’t win Best Picture. I picked The Hobbit as “Should Win” because, say what you will about the film, the folks who brought you The Lord of the Rings trilogy have worked hard to bring Middle Earth to life again, and it shows. Then, I saw Anna Karenina. The Art Direction is probably the best thing about the film. It might seem a little showy at first, but the film commits completely to its theater/stage setting and the results are beautiful.

Best Visual Effects
Will Win: Life of Pi
Should Win: Life of Pi
Why: This film, like The Avengers (also nominated) had one amazing, standout shot/sequence that was mostly CGI. The boat sinking sequence in Life of Pi stuck with me longer than the somewhat been there, done that city siege in The Avengers. Life of Pi features several moments of CGI-tweaked beauty that provide the film its dream-like quality. Also, I for one was never put off by the CGI tiger. Not once.

Best Film Editing
Will Win: Argo
Should Win: Zero Dark Thirty
Why: I’ve waffled back and forth between Argo and Zero Dark Thirty as my “Should Win” pick. The latter is a lengthy procedural that seldom feels long. The suspense in the final raid sequence is phenomenal, despite its by-the-book nature. Argo also builds up a lot of tension in the climax, but as I’ve mentioned here, I thought it was very manipulative and a bit too Hollywood, even for a film about making a fake movie. I could still go either way on this, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Lincoln nabbed it. [Mea Culpa: I should’ve done a little more homework on this category. William Goldenberg was nominated for Argo and also nominated for Zero Dark Thirty (along with Dylan Tichenor). No wonder I had trouble picking! 2/26/13]

Best Cinematography
Will Win: Lincoln
Should Win: Skyfall
Why: I honestly can’t decide whether the “will win” should be Lincoln or Life of Pi, and i could be persuaded to choose either if it wasn’t for the Roger Deakins factor. I’m sure you’ve heard by now, but the guy has been nominated 9 times prior to this (including twice in 2007), and hasn’t won. I’m not certain that Skyfall is his best work (he also did The Shawshank Redemption and No Country for Old Men), but it’s the best looking Bond Film ever, breathing new visual life in to a 50-year old series. He deserves some Oscar Love (particularly since Emmanuel Lubezki isn’t nominated this year). Still, they might give it to two-time winner Janusz Kaminski for Lincoln as one of several consolation awards. Or, they could go with Claudio Miranda for Life of Pi. However, with that film (and honestly, with several films nowadays), I find that the line blurs between CGI and actual sets/scenery quite a bit, so it’s hard to know what actually counts as cinematography, and how much of a hand the director of photography has in the CGI creations that appear on screen.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Will Win: Argo
Should Win: Argo
Why: I have trouble with the writing categories because I usually haven’t read the works from which screenplays are adapted, and I usually haven’t read the screenplays themselves. That said, I could see them throwing this one to Lincoln too, or Life of Pi because I think that story (especially its ending) is really intriguing. Lincoln was “adapted” from a 1000 page book and it only focuses on one month in history (I’ve got to assume the book covers more). So how great the adaptation is might be questionable. Argo is a good story that very few people might have heard (or remembered). Plus, it has a Hollywood connection, which Hollywood loves.

Best Original Screenplay
Will Win: Zero Dark Thirty?
Should Win: Zero Dark Thirty?
Why: I have question marks because I honestly don’t know on this one. Mark Boal won for The Hurt Locker, so he could take it. Tarantino won for Pulp Fiction and was nominated for Ingloriuous Basterds, but I liked both of those films more than Django, so it would feel wrong for him to win here. A lot of people love Moonrise Kingdom, but I think it’s #3, at best, on the list of Wes Anderson films. Amour has received a lot of love and will most likely win the Foreign Film award (as it’s nominated for Best Picture too). I don’t know if I see them giving it to Amour, but I wouldn’t count it out. Flight is the only one I feel certain won’t win, though it did have one pretty great scene, I feel like Denzel elevated the material in that film.

Best Animated Film
Will Win: Brave
Should Win: Wreck-It Ralph
Why: The above are the only two I’ve seen in this category, but they’re clearly the front-runners. I really enjoyed Wreck-It Ralph. Though it hit somewhat predictable story beats, it was visually inventive, which was a delight. Brave is the weakest Pixar movie I’ve seen that isn’t named Cars. Still, I don’t think anyone’s ready to vote against Pixar, which is too bad because I really feel like Ralph deserves it.

Best Supporting Actor
Will Win: Tommy Lee Jones
Should Win: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Why: Arkin doesn’t do a lot in Argo, though he shares the best lines with a non-nominated John Goodman. De Niro is pretty solid in Silver Linings, and I could see him sneaking in to snatch the award. Line-for-line, minute-for-minute, Waltz was the lead character in Django Unchained (and wasn’t quite as awesome as he was in Basterds). Hoffman probably won’t get it because his nomination was one of 3 consolation nominations for The Master which was snubbed for Best Picture. Jones is great in Lincoln, bad wig and all. He’s got at least 2-3 scenes that they can play during the ceremony which I can’t say for De Niro, his closest competition. Of course, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if they up and give it to Waltz anyway.

Best Supporting Actress
Will Win: Anne Hathaway
Should Win: Anne Hathaway
Why: I’m not going to fight it. “I Dreamed a Dream” is just a powerhouse performance and scene, even if it’s overplayed or overhyped or oscar-bait or whatever. Helen Hunt is certainly memorable in The Sessions (and not just because of her full-frontal nudity), but that’s another film that I feel lacked a lot of real promotion. It’s an odd film with an indie feel that has great work from Hunt and John Hawkes, but one that perhaps suffers from being a comedy with dramatic elements. Field was a great choice for Mary Todd Lincoln, but her performance has a hint of historic revisionism that may be appropriate, but seems odd in the film. Weaver barely registers in Silver Linings Playbook. Adams is good, but is the least memorable of the three actors nominated from The Master. I don’t know why I wasted my time writing all of that. Hathaway it is (though not for The Dark Knight Rises).

Best Actor
Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis
Should Win: Joaquin Phoenix
Why: CONTROVERSY! Daniel Day-Lewis just becomes every character he’s ever played. He’s great again in Lincoln, though I think the writing could have used some tweaking here and there to avoid hitting some of the same notes over and over again. I don’t really see anyone else taking the award. Phoenix’s performance is a crazy transformation. We know he’s kind of a weird actor, but his work in The Master is just as immersive as Day-Lewis usually is. Plus, there’s one standout scene in The Master between Phoenix and Hoffman that just might be my favorite scene of the year. Of course, perhaps this diminishes the performances of the other three guys nominated. Denzel is always good, but I don’t think Flight is a great film. Cooper is better than he’s ever been, which might not be saying much if you’ve seen the Hangover series or Limitless, but it’s still saying something. Also, I like Hugh Jackman, but the more I think about Les Miserables, the less I like it.

Best Actress
Will Win: Emmanuelle Riva
Should Win: Emmanuelle Riva
Why: For one thing, the role is very Oscar-bait-y. Semi-spoiler alert, but Riva plays a woman who undergoes a stroke and slowly deteriorates over the course of a 2-hour movie. There are a couple of things Riva has going for her in the performance. First, I wouldn’t really consider Amour an Oscar-bait film, though the Palme d’Or winner is probably Haneke’s most “conventional,” I suppose. Second, Riva’s role is more physical than anything. She’s not a person with a disability/handicap to overcome, nor is she someone who gets a cancer or AIDS diagnosis and spends the film trying to put her life in order and make peace with her situation. She’s a person who is hit hard by a stroke which immediately changes her ability to interact with others and live any kind of normal life. She’s dying and losing control of motor functions and speech. Third, Riva is old. Yes, her age puts her in line with the character, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen an actor her age take on such a demanding role and pull it off. As for the other nominees: as much as I like Zero Dark Thirty, Chastain plays dogged, determined and unwavering for almost the entire runtime of that movie. She has a couple setbacks and shows some emotion, if not growth, but the role doesn’t allow for a lot of range. Wallis is what, 8? Child performances are tricky, and are almost never awarded by the Academy. Her nomination is sort of a “way to go kid” and then we’ll never see her again (where are you Keisha Castle-Hughes?–oh she had a baby at 17 with her boyfriend–one year after playing the virgin Mary–broke up with him, was assaulted by another boyfriend and is now engaged to another). Watts is almost always good and The Impossible is no exception. However, some (including yours truly) might be a little bit put off by the white-washing of the main family in the film (they were actually a Spanish family, but they are English in the film). This is an even stranger choice since the director, Juan Antonio Bayona is Spanish and the film itself is a Spanish production. I don’t think Watts is to blame, but even so, I don’t think she stacks up to Riva (despite her role being very physical as well). Lawrence is good, and often captivating in her performance, and she’s winning a lot, but she’s also in what has been advertised as a romantic comedy. That is not the Academy’s favorite genre, but they seem to love Russell’s film and its stars for some reason. Don’t get me wrong about the quality of Lawrence’s performance, but she was better in Winter’s Bone and I think Riva edges her out here. Still, everyone loves Lawrence and a win for her would be far from shocking. It would be more shocking had she not won so many other awards, considering the Academy’s track record with nominating, let alone rewarding comic performances or performances in comedies–regardless of Silver Linings‘ genre mish-mash–especially for lead roles. Lawrence could also “lose” on the grounds of “she’s young and she’ll be here again.”

Best Director
Will Win: Steven Spielberg
Should Win: Ang Lee
Why: Spielberg wins because neither Ben Affleck or Kathryn Bigelow are nominated, is the short answer. Zeitlin’s film is very good, but he’s young. Russell has done better work than Silver Linings, and I had problems with that movie anyway. The Academy does seem to love Russell lately, however, so they may throw it his way. If that happens, I can’t wait to see his follow-up. Haneke is the darkest of dark horses, but I don’t think he will be awarded for what’s considered his most accessible film yet. It would just seem a bit strange, plus I doubt Haneke will even show up to the ceremony. Lee is Spielberg’s closest competition, and I’ve said over and over how beautiful Life of Pi is, so I’m rooting for him. He won for Brokeback Mountain, and I could see him winning again here for another thoughtful, beautiful film. Spielberg (mostly) carefully juggles a huge ensemble in a sweeping historical drama with surprisingly limited scope given the significance of the film’s subject matter. Lincoln is (arguably) his best film in a decade (I’m going back to 2002’s double shot of Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can). I think Spielberg takes it ahead of Lee, but will Lincoln win the big one?

Best Picture
Will Win: Argo
Should Win: Zero Dark Thirty
Why: Argo has come back in a huge way in recent months. It has the momentum. It has the snubbed director who is now winning all of the OTHER awards. It has the Hollywood factor. It’s entertaining, thrilling and it has a happy ending. Lincoln appears to be next in line and could still manage to take it, but I almost feel like it could be a letdown for everyone considering the wave that Argo is currently riding. I picked Zero Dark Thirty because it was probably the film I liked the most and with which I had the fewest problems. That may seem strange considering the controversy surrounding the film, but I embraced the ever-present sense (or at least hing) of ambiguity the film displays. Obviously, to some extent, a film is what you bring to it, so anyone can love or hate this movie for any number of reasons (that’s a drawback to ambiguity). I’m not going to get into the whole torture debate here, nor am I going to get soapbox-y on whether or not the hunt for Osama was worth it, or to what degree it was a victory for the US. Myriad readings of the film aside, of the nominees, it’s my pick for right now. Zero Dark Thirty is a fairly procedural film, and it presents us with a by-the-numbers climactic sequence that is really thrilling considering how straightforward it is (and considering we all know the ending). It’s a reasonably entertaining film that still allows us to “enjoy” what we see on a dramatic level while at the same time asking what it was all about. Yes, Osama has been dead for almost two years now, but I think that time (and this film) give us at least some measure of hindsight through which to contemplate what happened, how we got there and what it really meant then and now.

Like last year I have a ranked list of the Best Picture nominees, for what it’s worth. Keep in mind that these are the “best” movies of the year, so even if I rank one of them at #9, that doesn’t mean it’s terrible, just the worst of the nominees, or “ninth best”.

Also, as a last minute addendum: Just last night I had a wonderful and enlightening conversation with a friend of mine regarding our thoughts on the Oscar nominees. We differed quite a bit when covering the Best Picture nominees and she convinced me that I probably need to reevaluate some of my opinions on Argo, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty. That’s the great thing about judging movies: being able to discuss them intelligently and articulately (at least on my friend’s part) and to consider them from a new perspective. That also underlines the trouble with trying to say anything worthwhile about films I’ve seen only once. I might know whether I liked it or not, but it can be difficult to consider a new point of view in hindsight. Guess I’ll have to watch ’em all again. Despite the temptation, I haven’t amended the list below based on that conversation. Just know that my stance on the four films listed directly above (particularly Lincoln and Silver Linings) are in flux.

9. Les Miserables – I liked this film a lot more right after I saw it than I do right now. Maybe I should see it again and give it a proper write-up. Either that, or I could watch the superb trailer over and over again for two-and-a-half hours.

8. Silver Linings Playbook – Maybe I’m too harsh on this film. I like it, I think it’s good, but I think it’s overpraised and uncertain of what it wants to be.

7. Django Unchained – This didn’t quite live up to my expectations for a western by Tarantino (as if I could fathom what QT might do), despite the return of Christoph Waltz and the nice turn by DiCaprio.

6. Amour – Yes, the title is “Love,” but the film is kind of cold and removed. That’s not to say it’s inaccessible, though it’s a very Haneke take on the most celebrated of emotions.

5. Beasts of the Southern Wild – An impressive little film that looks at a unique community in the American South. For some reason, I really have trouble describing my thoughts on this one.

4. Life of Pi – This film is gorgeous. The framing device doesn’t work that well for me, but I found the film to be a wonderful exploration of the nature of storytelling (and story-hearing).

3. Lincoln – I’ve said my piece about Lincoln already. It’s not a biopic, it’s not a Civil War movie, it’s not an assassination thriller. It is a crowd-pleasing historical drama about an important piece of American history and a maybe-not-so-larger-than-life American man.

2. Argo – I’ve also written about Argo already and my major criticism is clear. However, if I forgive that a little bit, it’s no surprise the film has won so many awards.

1. Zero Dark Thirty – See above for my brief thoughts. Maybe it’s the Zodiac-esque procedural nature of the film. Maybe it’s the clinical climax. Maybe it’s the questions it leaves us with. Whatever it is, this is my favorite of the nominated films.

For right now anyway.

3 thoughts on “Pre-Oscars: 2012

  1. Pingback: Post-Oscars: 2012 | slazenger1

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