Donovan's 2012 Oscar PicksSubmitted by ryandonovan at 2012-03-27 13:26:01 EDT
Rating: 1.07 on 13 ratings (21 reviews) (Review this item) (V)
Donovan's Oscar Prognostication 2012
[This was written before the Oscars, but not posted until now due to the Ubersite shutdown. Nothing was edited; I even got a couple wrong.]
I am good at exactly two things. One of them is pouring liquids from one receptacle into another without spilling a drop. The other? Recognizing celebrity voices in commercials. One thing I’m decidedly NOT good at is predicting Oscar winners. So why this article? Because in 2012, we staunchly believe in celebrating mediocrity, broadcasting personal information that nobody cares about, and assuming that everybody is dying to hear our unqualified opinions. In fact, I’m confident you all will retweet this entire article sentence-by-sentence.
SHOULD WIN: The Artist
WILL WIN: The Artist
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: The Hangover Part II
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: 50/50
This is what it’s come to: they have beaten us at our own game. The best mainstream Hollywood movie in 2011 was made by a group of effete, bicycle-riding, baguette-carrying, slim-cigarette-smoking dandies wearing black-and-white horizontally-striped shirts, whose dogs jump off the Eiffel Tower trying to catch Rusty Griswold’s beret. The French. The creators of The Artist have taken a quintessentially American story, which takes place in America, in English (on title cards), with the great American treasure John Goodman, in an era when Hollywood was king, in an art form dominated by Americans, and have told it better than we could have. It’s akin to going to the Baseball Hall of Fame… in Paris.
The Artist’s writer/director Michel Hazanavicius made a brilliant silent film about silent films, and did it in the purest way, without the winking irony or meta nonsense that would have been so easy (and trendy). It reaffirms that movies really are supposed to be “motion pictures”. A truly great story told visually requires very little dialogue; you should be able to watch it on mute and still follow it. As Alfred Hitchcock said, “Dialogue should simply be a sound among other sounds, just something that comes out of the mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in visual terms.” I saw the film a full month after its theatrical debut, and it elicited atypical audible reactions, like gasps and sighs, plus rousing applause at the end – I can’t think of the last time that happened at a movie I attended, other than on opening weekend. When it rightly wins Best Picture, it will be only the second silent film ever to claim the top prize (following Wings, at the very first Academy Awards in 1929).
So what is the impact of the big rule change for this category? For those who don’t follow Oscar shenanigans on a daily basis like I do, here’s a primer: After expanding from 5 Best Picture nominees to 10 a few years ago, the Academy amended the rules again so that the number of nominees are determined by the voting results. There could be anywhere between 5 and 10, depending on how many get at least 5% of the first-place votes. The idea is that all nominees should be films that are the favorite of at least a few people (and therefore have a chance at winning); there shouldn’t be any that everybody feels are “just okay”. So, films that get a lot of moderate support, but very few first-place votes (ahem, The Blind Side in 2010), would no longer make the field. On the other hand, a film that doesn’t have a ton of fans, but those it does have are fervent and voting it #1, would now make the cut (for example, possibly 2008’s The Diving Bell And The Butterfly).
A film that epitomizes the effects of the changes this year is The Tree Of Life. By all accounts, it is polarizing, with most people hating it, but a fair percent declaring it genius (a classic cult following). And as it happens, the cult percent is at least 5%, therefore landing an Oscar spot. But a cult following won’t be enough to bring home the trophy.
How do you make a film about brutal race relations in the Deep South in the 60s without making it 120 minutes of queasiness? That was the question facing The Help, and I say it meets the task quite well. It manages to be poignant yet entertaining, heavy yet spirited. At times it gets overly melodramatic, but given the subject matter, subtlety is not really called for. The film is anchored by an incredible cast. I realize not everyone agrees with my overall assessment, as everybody has such a different personal experience.
One person who does not agree with me about The Help is Spike Lee. I saw the filmmaker speak earlier this month, and he had some not-so-nice things to say about the film. While he praised the acting by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, he lamented the fact that the best roles available to black actresses this year were those of maids. He went as far as to (playfully) suggest a lack of progress by drawing a parallel between the first Oscar won by a black actor (Hattie McDaniel in Gone With The Wind), for the role of a maid, and this year’s nominees 70 years later, playing the roles of maids. (He then joked that the progress was two maids this year, not just one.) Point taken, but he didn’t mention the fact that Viola Davis was the lead role in The Help, and that she sought out the rights to book, in order to produce it herself (but they were already taken); and as producer, she still would have chosen to play the same role in the film. (By the way, Lee was a very dynamic, engaging, and entertaining speaker. I was hoping to hear more Hollywood dirt/opinions, but he did express some understandable lack of faith in the Academy. He still harbors a grudge for Denzel Washington’s loss for Malcolm X, and called the actor’s Oscar win for the less-than-astonishing Training Day a “make-up call” – which I agree with.)
With Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams in the leads, Midnight In Paris is not, in fact, a sequel to Wedding Crashers, as I had expected. (But it certainly could use Vince Vaughn as a snooty waiter.) I’m not a huge fan of Woody Allen, and I have little patience for his trademark nattering, nebbishy main character, played by either himself or his surrogate (in this case Wilson). In typical fashion, Allen gives the illusion of saying a lot without really saying much at all (which is in itself a bit ironic, because his characters never shut the hell up). Not surprisingly, the ensemble is well-cast (standouts include Adrien Brody as Dali and Corey Stoll as Hemingway), with the exception of Wilson (more on him later). I really enjoyed the film, but ultimately feel it’s a bit slight for the top prize. And then there are the practical concerns: Wilson’s character questions his relationship with his fiancée, who is constantly mean and belittling to him. Despite being engaged to him, she clearly doesn’t believe in him, and we know she is not truly in love with him. It’s an empty relationship and she will never respect him. But frankly, if she’s Rachel McAdams, I think you get over all that pretty quickly. Then there is the question of whether Wilson’s time traveling is real, or just in his head. When my wife asked my interpretation, I condescendingly explained, “Like with Black Swan, it does not matter whether it is real or hallucinated. The entire movie is a metaphor for the artistic process, the internalized machinations in one’s head turned into visual symbols that depict how one man unearths his inspiration, lassos his motivation, and conjures his art. It is not meant to suggest that Wilson’s character actually meets Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, et cetera. To surmise otherwise would be foolish.” To which she replied, “Then how do you explain the missing detective?” “Well, um…”
I had been expecting to really like The Descendants, as I have pretty much been wowed by Alexander Payne’s previous films. But I was extremely disappointed – I don’t even think it deserves a Best Picture nomination. And, I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that the storyline about a wife in a coma is grindingly depressing. Of course, Bill Clinton called it “the feel-good movie of the year.”
The best movie I saw all year was 50/50. I knew it didn’t have a chance for a Best Picture nomination, but I really thought it would get one for Best Original Screenplay. One disclaimer: it is hardly a half-comedy, as it’s being promoted. It probably should have been called 75/25.
Honorable Mention goes to Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, for making the fourth installment of a tired series one of the best action pics in a long time. Tom Cruise may be a detestable pipsqueak, but I will admit that when makes a movie that is in the zone, it’s pretty goddam incredible.
Quick shout-out to The Hangover Part II, the most disappointing movie of the year. If you loved the first one, it’s the same story, but with none of the humor!
SHOULD WIN: Demian Bichir (A Better Life)
WILL WIN: George Clooney (The Descendants)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris), Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Paul Giamatti (Win Win), Joseph Gordon Levitt (50/50)
George Clooney is going to run away with this award, right? Well, it might not be quite that simple. He was unofficially coronated early in the season, but the Artist juggernaut is catching up to him. Jean Dujardin’s upset at the Screen Actors Guild awards turned this race on its head, as it aligns with the Oscar in this category over 80% of the time (including the last seven years). Then again, SAG denied Clooney for Best Supporting Actor for Syriana, but he won the Oscar anyway. In similar fashion, Clooney’s chumminess with the Academy will pay off, and he will narrowly eke out the victory.
But I won’t be happy about it. In fact, I think Clooney might be the least worthy of all the nominees. The critics who have been raving about his performance in The Descendants must have seen something that I didn’t. To me, he doesn’t really inhabit the character (or more accurately, he doesn’t let the character inhabit him). He never ceases being George Clooney, with all his familiar expressions, tics, inflections, and ‘isms’ crowding the screen. If by “great acting” you mean “not smiling”, then sure, it’s great acting.
Does that mean that Dujardin deserves the award instead for The Artist? His worthiness is a bit hard to judge for three reasons: 1) He’s unknown to most Americans, so we don’t know if he’s acting or being himself, 2) He’s in a silent film, and 3) He’s French. Well, I say there is no way the guy is just being himself, because the film requires such a unique performance and style. And that style demands a very delicate balance, so as not to veer into hamminess, parody, or hyper-realism, which he executes perfectly. As for the film being silent, Dujardin has arguably a tougher job, because he has to tell his story and convey his thoughts and emotions without using the crutch of dialogue. And as for his nationality… there is nothing I can say to defend his being French.
Demian Bichir’s nomination for A Better Life was a surprise to everyone… everyone who hadn’t seen the film, anyway. While I’ll take Dujardin over Clooney, I’ll take Bichir over all of them. Playing an illegal immigrant in Los Angeles trying to make an honest living and keep his son away from the allures of gang life, he quietly yet demonstratively gives the performance of the year.
Initially after seeing Moneyball, I was unimpressed by Brad Pitt. He just seemed like the same Pitt you routinely see in interviews and other movies, alternately affable, charming, and stubborn, as the scene required. But after the film had sunk in for a few days (and after seeing the decidedly unimpressive Clooney), nuances in the performance became much more apparent, and much more appreciated. He plays a desperate man truly at wit’s end, but he cannot admit it to anyone, including himself, or it will mean the end of his career. He puts himself in a position where he glad-handles and lies to everyone (his staff, his players, his ex-wife, his boss, his manager, his rival general managers). And he does it with varying degrees of screw-you grins, confident sarcasm, and transparent bravado. At first, it all felt a little forced to me, like he was just laying on the “Brad”. But I slowly realized he actually performs with three different faces at all times: the one for the other characters in the scene, the one for the audience, and the one for his character’s true self. The scenes that finally got me were the ones with his daughter. Those are the only scenes where his character isn’t putting on an act. His smiles are genuine, his intentions are honest, his expressions are true. Interestingly, he still sometimes lies to his daughter. But he does it for other reasons, not to shut her out, but to protect her. He isn’t always truthful with her, but he isn’t giving her a line, like with everyone else – and there is definitely a difference. Credit Pitt the actor for recognizing that difference, and layering it into his performance without going over the top. All that said, to hell with him. I hope he doesn’t win.
I was happy to see the surprise nomination for Gary Oldman (a.k.a. the best actor never to have been nominated for an Oscar). It’s a little hard to believe that for all his amazing work, the relatively vanilla role in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the one that finally got him nominated. After receiving the news, Oldman released the following statement: “Seriously?” I’d be clamoring harder for him this year if I thought this was his crowning performance, or if this was his only chance (then again, at this rate, maybe it will be). One accolade he is guaranteed to collect this year is induction into the elusive Double Trilogy club (appearing in three different movies in two different series), when The Dark Knight Rises opens. But for his Oscar chances, I’m thinking: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy… Loser.
Owen Wilson was nominated for Best Actor (Comedy/Musical) at the Golden Globes for Midnight In Paris, and I’m still baffled. To me, he is the weak link in an otherwise strong film. Wilson said that director Woody Allen gave him the freedom to experiment with the role and invent his own character. So he made the character… exactly like Owen Wilson. The audience needs to believe that the character will achieve something great, to validate his grand artistic journey. But while Wilson is at ease with Woody’s trademark neurotic, eternal-skeptic dialogue, it’s impossible to believe in him achieving anything worthwhile, ever. We are required to believe that he could exist as a peer among the great early-twentieth-century intellectuals, but when we think he’d have a hard time keeping up with Kardashians, there’s a problem.
SHOULD WIN: Viola Davis (The Help)
WILL WIN: Viola Davis (The Help)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Kate Winslet (Carnage)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids)
Without a doubt, the Best Actress performances this year trump the Actor counterparts handily. The male nominees don’t feature any that scream “role of a lifetime” (though some are saying that for Clooney and Pitt, which is a back-handed compliment, when you think about it). But the Actresses feature nothing BUT roles of a lifetime, with the possible exception of Meryl Streep (I mean, she had Sophie’s Choice). There were other actresses that failed to score nominations that also had roles of a lifetime (Tilda Swinton and Kirsten Dunst come to mind). In fact, if Best Acting was a category for both genders, men might not even get one of the nominations this year. Of the year’s top 10 leading performances, 7 or 8 were probably women.
With all these standout performances, who will win? If Streep loses, it’s her own damn fault. Movie to movie, she’s just too good. What does she have to do to win another Oscar? She’s set the bar so high for herself that nobody is surprised when she delivers a phenomenal performance. If any other actress gave the equivalent of her Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, a trophy would be more or less assured. But from The Meryl Streep, Greatest Actress Alive? It’s about as impressive as seeing her wash dishes. And it doesn’t help that almost nobody saw the film. Her supporters swear that if voters actually watch The Iron Lady in its entirety, they would see that Streep’s performance is worlds more deserving than Viola Davis’ in The Help. But how many of them actually sat through it, as compared to The Help? Consider the domestic box office: $17M for The Iron Lady versus $170M for The Help. So if only a fraction of the voters saw Streep’s performance, even if they all vote for her, will that be enough?
Which is not to say that Davis doesn’t deserve to win. She is completely transformed (most of it non-physically) into her character in The Help. Many will see it as exactly on par with Streep’s performance. Throw in (whether they are legit criteria or not) the gravity of the role, the emotional impact of her victory, and the underdog factor, and I think the scales tip in Davis’s favor. Unlike at the Golden Globes, I don’t think Streep will need her reading glasses.
I’ll now reduce each of the other nominated performances to a single sentence. Rooney Mara in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: How do you say “Not as good as Noomi Rapace” in Swedish? Michelle Williams in My Weekend With Marilyn: Marilyn Monroe didn’t win any Oscars either. Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs: Excellent, but looks a little too much like a late-career Red Buttons.
It seems like a lot of the focus about Bridesmaids has been about Melissa McCarthy. But if anyone should have gotten an acting nomination for the film, it’s Kristen Wiig. She is a genius, plain and simple. She should be in every single skit on Saturday Night Live; anything less is a disgrace.
Perennial award-show fave Kate Winslet was passed over for Carnage… and hasn’t life been more pleasant without her faux gratitude, manufactured hyperventilating, and insincere humility?
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
SHOULD WIN: Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
WILL WIN: Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Brad Pitt (The Tree Of Life)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Alex Shaffer (Win Win)
No real mystery here, Christopher Plummer should bring home his first Oscar, for Beginners. Interestingly, he and Max Von Sydow (nominated for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) are in a strikingly similar situation: Both have had long and illustrious careers, both were immortalized in monumentally iconic roles decades ago, both are foreign, both are 82 years old, and shockingly, both have had only a single previous nomination. Really, is that possible? Plummer was nominated a couple years ago for The Last Station, but not for The Sound Of Music, The Man Who Would Be King, The Insider, A Beautiful Mind, Syriana, The New World, Inside Man, or most shamefully, Dragnet. Von Sydow got his first nom years ago for Pelle The Conqueror, but was passed over for The Exorcist, The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Seventh Seal, Three Days Of The Condor, Hannah And Her Sisters, and disgracefully, Judge Dredd. (If you want to see an awesome film with both of them in it, check out the trippy 80s-time-capsule thriller Dreamscape.) Fans of cinema history would be thrilled to see either of them win the Oscar.
The difference is the perception of the performances. Plummer’s film debuted early and with huge buzz, and it’s been loud ever since. Even before other potential nominees surfaced, critics generally agreed that this would be his crowning role. Von Sydow’s performance appeared very late in the season, and was a surprise gem hidden behind underwhelming outings from Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. And despite Incredibly Loud’s Best Picture nomination, Beginners has been much better received with the masses. Von Sydow is gaining favor, but he simply doesn’t deliver enough wallop to make voters forget about Plummer. Expect Plummer to win in a landslide, with the only dissenters being women of a certain age that can’t handle Captain Von Trapp kissing another man.
Another person in the category who is a revered actor with an impressive oeuvre, yet scoring only his second nod, is Kenneth Branagh for My Weekend With Marilyn (of course, he is not as old as Plummer and Von Sydow, and he has 3 other Oscar nominations for writing and directing). I’m sure it just frosts his cupcake that he scored this nomination for playing his idol and fantasy subject Laurence Olivier. He says he’s been preparing to play Olivier his whole life, which might explain why he’s such an arrogant, pretentious asshole.
Nick Nolte let the world see him as a growling, mumbling, ex-alcoholic hard-ass with a checkered past and a chip on his shoulder. He was also in the movie Warrior. I think the Academy members nominated Nolte just so they could see what the hell he does at the show. It’s not a question of IF he’ll get arrested, but WHEN. Bookies are currently taking bets on before the ceremony, during the ceremony, and after the ceremony.
I’m not going to enter into any gauche debates about whether Jonah Hill is funnier when he’s fat or thin (besides, we all know the answer). However, I will congratulate him on assuaging my early skepticism and say that he is a revelation in Moneyball. The nomination is well-deserved, but voters won’t see him in the same class as the other contenders. One of my own reservations is that, by many accounts, his understated portrayal in this film is not far off from his real personality. Am I falling into the trap that an Oscar-winning role must be showy? Maybe, but so be it.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
SHOULD WIN: Octavia Spencer (The Help)
WILL WIN: Octavia Spencer (The Help)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Sandra Bullock (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Shailene Woodley (The Descendants)
Octavia Spencer is the clear favorite here. I don’t see any scenario where she doesn’t win. The only criticism I’ve heard is that she doesn’t quite embody the same flair that people envisioned from the book (even though the personality of the character in the book was actually based on her in real life). And since she’s such a new face (as are most of the nominees in this category), it’s a little hard to tell how much is “acting”, without many other memorable roles to compare it to. But no matter, what is on screen is more than enough to win her the award.
Jessica Chastain might have scored a nomination for any one of her seven film roles this year, as she was widely considered the “breakout actress” of the year. To me, it’s a little surprising to single her out in the cast of The Help, especially alongside Viola Davis and Spencer, when you could easily tip your hat to Sissy Spacek, Cicely Tyson, or Bryce Dallas Howard instead. (Speaking of Howard, she might not have scored an Oscar nomination, but between The Help and 50/50, she was easily Bitch Of The Year.) Chastain’s recognition might have more to do with the role than the performance: the fact that she is the comic relief, the sympathetic outcast, and the morally balanced member of the clique helps a great deal. And her kooky delight in shaking the bag of chicken certainly doesn’t hurt.
Janet McTeer is an interesting wildcard here. The only previous nominee in the group (Best Actress for Tumbleweeds), her contribution to Albert Nobbs is (not surprisingly) overshadowed by Glenn Close, but she is every bit as transformative as her co-star. She has her fans, and will get some votes.
Berenice Bejo’s expressive eyes and the charm of black and white make for a magnetic performance in The Artist. She is an excellent foil/complement to Jean Dujardin, but she’s no real contender here. The tide for The Artist might start rolling on Oscar Day, but I don’t think it will carry her to victory.
I loved Bridesmaids, but I’m not sold on Melissa McCarthy’s nomination. She was funny and endearing, but I hardly think she steals the movie (Kristen Wiig owns it). It was fun to see her as the underdog getting her day for a while (e.g., winning an Emmy), but at this point, she’s no longer an underdog.
I chose Shailene Woodley for my snubbed pick because, simply put, she gives a better performance than George Clooney in The Descendants.
Sandra Bullock was not considered for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Thank Christ.
SHOULD WIN: Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
WILL WIN: Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Kenneth Branagh (Thor)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: J.J. Abrams (Super 8)
Since Michel Hazanavicius is nominated for both Director and Original Screenplay for The Artist, I think there is a strong chance he will not win both. Voters will feel one Oscar is enough for his contribution. And since the film has been heralded more for its trademark visual (and lack of audio) style than, say, original storyline, it will be seen as a Director’s achievement. He already has the backing of his peers, having won the Directors Guild Award. The DGA is easily the most accurate of any of the pre-Oscar prizes (86% correct since 1990, including the past 8 in a row). So despite Martin Scorsese’s Golden Globe victory and perceived recent surge, Hazanavicius is the favorite.
I’m not trying to dismiss Hugo, but I can’t help but feel that some organizations (especially the Globes) have been rewarding Scorsese for simply stretching out of his comfort zone. A movie about kids? Rated PG? And in 3D? He’s never done any of that before, so let’s give him some awards! Are they going to give him an Oscar nomination the first time he plays golf too?
It seemed like Alexander Payne started the season as the favorite here for directing The Descendants. But while people keep talking about George Clooney (and I’m not sure why), they seem to have stopped talking about Payne. The eye candy in The Artist and Hugo have eclipsed the intentionally dank and subdued Descendants in conversations about visuals. And it’s not helping that Payne’s film is DEPRESSING AS ALL HOLY HELL.
Then there is the notoriously press-shy director, who is adored by all actors, but is extremely overrated, patently crazy, and probably won’t even show up to the Oscar ceremony. I have to be more specific? Ah, yes, I could be talking about either of the remaining nominees, Terrence Malick or Woody Allen. Crazy, there’s no argument there… but overrated? Yes. Malick’s The Thin Red Line was an extremely meticulous and exhaustive exercise in wasting my goddam time. And Allen’s Annie Hall is one of the most over-praised films ever. Best Picture and Best Director over Star Wars? Go to hell, Academy!
Special commendation goes to J.J. Abrams for his sci-fi thriller Super 8. His script isn’t exactly profound, but the finished product and the direction are downright riveting. A few of the scenes are among the most jaw-dropping of the year. I wasn’t sure what to expect, after Alias (never watched it), Mission: Impossible 3 (underwhelming), and the Star Trek reboot (a dilapidated mess). But what Abrams does with Super 8 is nothing short of spectacular. It’s like he’s saying to the film’s producer, Steven Spielberg, “Hey Stevie, remember how you USED to be good at making action movies?” My wife (and mother of our young boy) had a different reaction to the film than I did: “Why did they have to take the f—-ing locket?!”
I might as well use this category to take another jab at Kenneth Branagh. Having Thor on your resume as a director should be embarrassment enough. But I think it’s worth taking a moment to further shame Shakespeare’s least favorite interpreter (“Thanks for taking a break from ruining my plays,” said the Bard on Thor’s opening weekend.) It is a horrible movie, even by Bruckheimer-era standards. Easily the worst Marvel film ever, it casts serious doubt over the viability of next summer’s Avengers. I can’t figure out how nobody noticed, throughout writing, pre-production, filming, editing, and marketing, that the flick looks like a silly 90-minute Capital One Viking commercial. “What’s in your wallet?” Somehow, $450 million, thanks to me and a lot of other idiots.
An interesting footnote to this year’s awards is that while Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was nominated for Best Picture, its director, Stephen Daldry, was passed over for Best Director. That breaks his perfect record of Oscar nominations (he was previously 3 for 3). I blame Tom Hanks.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
SHOULD WIN: Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
WILL WIN: Woody Allen (Midnight In Paris)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Terrence Malick (The Tree Of Life)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Will Reiser (50/50), Tom McCarthy & Joe Tiboni (Win Win)
I know I cited 50/50 as my Best Picture snub, but the real crime is its lack of Original Screenplay nomination. While it was never a realistic contender for Picture, most oddsmakers deemed it a solid bet for Screenplay. Not only is it probably the best script of the year, it has the added dimension of being based on the writer’s actual experiences. The fact that Will Reiser lived to write the movie should be reason enough for accolades. I was also rooting for Win Win, which is one of the finer stories this year.
This is an interesting category. Only two of the films are nominated for Best Picture (The Artist and Midnight In Paris). The Writers Guild Awards don’t give any insight, because The Artist was not eligible for WGA consideration, and therefore wasn’t nominated. The Artist will win Best Picture, and therefore Screenplay, right? Well… The Artist has been received as an incredibly original idea (at least, an original take on an old idea). As I mentioned earlier, it’s seen as an overall achievement, particularly in acting and directing. But the story itself, about one’s rise and fall, changing with the times, and romance against the test of time, is nothing new. (That said, writing a script with almost no dialogue would be exceedingly difficult.) On the other hand, Midnight In Paris has been heralded as a very novel story, especially for the famously grounded Woody Allen. It’s the highest-grossing film of Allen’s career, and considered (at least across the masses) as one of his finest. It’s a long shot for Best Director, and longer shot for Best Picture. But voters will want to reward Allen for something, and with The Artist unlikely to take both Director and Screenplay, they will bestow this trophy on Allen (which is exactly what happened at the Golden Globes).
So Midnight In Paris will win, but does it deserve to win? Like any Woody Allen protagonist, I am conflicted. The film is whimsical in the best and worst ways. It’s candy-colored, it’s trite, it’s predictable, it’s implausible. The plants are clichéd and the payoffs are obvious. But it’s also introspective and satirical, and cleverly so. There is the illusion of depth due to the subject matter – a somewhat lazy but not entirely unwise maneuver by Allen. The main character asks himself all kinds of questions about what he’s doing with his life (both professionally and romantically), universal questions that just about anybody with an ounce of rational thought has asked themselves at some point. So it’s very easy for the viewer to extrapolate all sorts of meaning from the scenes and witty interplay, which is not necessarily there. The viewer can see reflections of himself onscreen (because everybody is introspective and self-doubtful), so when he walks away asking himself all kinds of meaning-of-life questions, he attributes the ensuing self-analysis to Woody. For example, you (and I mean YOU, reading this) left the film thinking that, like the main character, you are unfulfilled, working a hack job, with potential to do something meaningful and important. (Spoiler alert: You ARE unfulfilled, you ARE working a hack job, but you will NOT do anything meaningful and important. As Judge Smails once said, “The world needs ditch-diggers, too.”) But all Woody does is put a doofus onscreen who says “Am I really fulfilling my potential?” All the rest of the intelligent thought is done by the viewer, not Woody. But the viewer thinks Woody is a genius. Pretty genius, huh? Woody’s no dummy.
So what does that all mean? I like the movie, and I appreciate that it explores the creative process while inspiring the audience, but the more I think about the screenplay, the more I feel like it was a bit of a parlor trick. I didn’t pull for Allen’s Match Point in this category in 2006, and that was a superior script, so I have a hard time choosing Paris now. My vote goes to The Artist.
Have I mentioned Kristen Wiig? Bridesmaids is the fan favorite here, of course, and a welcome nominee, especially in that it recognizes the multi-faceted talent of Wiig (and her writing partner, Annie Mumolo). It has no chance of winning, but the recognition for broad comedy (no pun intended) is refreshing. What’s even more impressive is that Wiig co-wrote the script on an effortless whim, without any training. Bitch.
While it’s unlikely to win this category, the presence of A Separation is yet another indication that it will win Best Foreign Language Film. Similar to when an animated film makes the screenplay shortlist and is a shoo-in for Best Animated Film, the rare foreign film in this race is a no-brainer for Foreign Language prize. If A Separation had been seen by more people, it would have a fair upset chance, if enough voters were split between The Artist and Midnight In Paris.
The nominee nobody saw coming was Margin Call, by J.C. Chandor. If Will Reiser is looking for somebody to punch in the face over his stolen spot, look no further.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
SHOULD WIN: Stan Chervin, Aaron Sorkin, Steven Zaillian (Moneyball)
WILL WIN: Nat Faxon, Alexander Payne, Jim Rash (The Descendants)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Cameron Crowe, Aline Brosh McKenna (We Bought A Zoo)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Tate Taylor (The Help)
There are two reasons I’d like to see The Descendants win Best Adapted Screenplay. One, so I can see co-writer (and Community actor) Jim Rash start his speech with “Hi diddily-dean!” Two, it’s unclear who exactly wrote the film, and therefore who will be accepting the award. Rash and Nat Faxon, by all accounts, wrote several drafts as a team, based on the original book. However, according to director Alexander Payne, “They did some wonderful drafts that I chose ultimately not to use; I started from scratch.” However, the official credits (and nominations) were given to all three. Here’s hoping for a wonderfully awkward moment at the podium.
On the other hand, there are many reasons I’d like to see The Descendants lose. Fundamentally, I think it’s missing some key structural components (and if you think I’m complaining that it’s not “formulaic”, then you should stop reading this, because you will hurt yourself thinking). George Clooney, the main character, has no objective (or at best, a weak objective). As a result, there is no resolution, rendering any possible theme thin and generic. Clooney is passive through most of the movie, just dealing with events as they happen, making only a simple decision (one that I might argue is inconsequential to the story) at the end. Does he become a better man? Is he wiser? Does he have a new outlook on life? Does he improve as a father? I can’t really answer any of these. This much is certain: his kids are still idiots when the film ends. You could argue that he comes to terms with his situation, but that hardly makes for a satisfying resolution. I want to see a character that drives the story, not one who goes for along for the (slow) ride. If you say, “That’s real life,” then I say, “Guess what, it’s not a documentary.” There is a clear start point and end point, but where are all the story beats in between? The lack (or at the very least, flatness) of those beats makes the beginning and ending seem almost arbitrary. I don’t demand a film to be showy in order to like it (case in point: Win Win), but I demand more than this. When the credits on The Descendants rolled, I just couldn’t help but feel I had only seen part of the movie.
This is pretty strong criticism coming from a casual audience member. He is Alexander Payne, and who the hell am I? Touché. I’m not suggesting that Payne is a bad writer, or that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Quite the opposite; I think his screenplays for Election, Sideways, and About Schmidt are nothing short of excellent, and don’t have the “problems” that I’m citing. (On the other hand, I won’t bother mentioning his script for I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry.) The man knows what he’s doing; I fully believe that he made these choices conscientiously. I’m simply saying that I don’t like all the choices, and I don’t think they make for a compelling film.
The Moneyball writing duo of Aaron Sorkin (um, The Social Network) and Steve Zaillian (uh, Schindler’s List) is pretty much no fair. One of the benefits of being a pro of their caliber is knowing the rules so well that you know when to break them. The Moneyball script does this to achieve desired effects, and without drawing too much attention itself. For example, by nearly every standard, many scenes are too long, and should be boring and painful. But in their hands, the scenes are deliciously long, with deluges of dialogue that ricochet and burrow, and ebbs of silence that envelop and fester. Another benefit of being a scribe of their ilk is making the boring compelling to everyone. After watching the baseball season play out in the film and enjoying every minute of it, my wife asked me, “Is that how it really happened?” “Yes,” I replied, “but it wasn’t that interesting in real life.”
One of the most bittersweet stories of the Oscars this year was the surprise nomination for Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It’s not a story that’s being widely publicized, but they were a husband and wife writing team, and they wrote the script while O’Connor was battling cancer. Shortly before filming started, she succumbed. Their nomination was a wonderful moment; their victory at the BAFTAs in their native England was even more so. If you’re looking for something to truly root for at the Oscars, you’ve found it.
Hugo seems to be everyone’s second-favorite film in every category. Unless it gains some momentum and takes either Best Picture or Best Director, I don’t see it taking home the screenplay prize (if people want to reward the film for something, it will be Martin Scorsese for Director). Conversely, if John Logan wins here for Hugo, watch for upsets for Director and possibly Picture.
Clooney himself is nominated in this category, along with Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, for The Ides of March. As an Academy member, who will Clooney vote for, his own screenplay, or the one that got him a Best Actor nomination? Pompous ass, he’ll probably vote twice.
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