Donovan's 2013 Oscar PicksSubmitted by ryandonovan at 2013-02-20 22:09:04 EST
Rating: 1.44 on 11 ratings (16 reviews) (Review this item) (V)
DONOVAN’S OSCAR PROGNOSTICATION 2013
Looking to lose your Oscar pool? Then pick somebody other than Daniel Day-Lewis to win Best Actor. But if you want to win, peruse my 14th annual predictions and follow them precisely.
Speaking of Day-Lewis, one of the reasons to tune into the big show will be to watch him make history: He'll be the first male to win three Lead Actor statuettes (Jack Nicholson and Walter Brennan also own three Oscars, but they include Best Supporting Actor; on the ladies' side, Ingrid Bergman and Meryl Streep also have three Oscars, while Katherine Hepburn took home four; he's got a ways to go before he catches Walt Disney, who collected a whopping 22 Oscars). One person, however, will be unimpressed: "Big deal," said the guy who played Honest Abe in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.
SHOULD WIN: Zero Dark Thirty
WILL WIN: Argo
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: The Hunger Games
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: The Avengers
There's an interesting theme with many of the Oscar nominees this year: they are based on events and stories where we already know the outcome ahead of time, but the films are still enthralling wire to wire (for example, Argo, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, and Life Of Pi). The Best Picture race itself has managed to mirror that: one film has established itself as the clear leader, but there's been an unusual amount of drama along the way.
I'm still pretty surprised, but it looks like Argo is going to win Best Picture. That's at least what the run-up awards and pundits are pointing to. On the day of the nominations, I would have said that the race was between Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty, with Argo somewhere in the middle of the pack. While it's not my pick, I don't begrudge it; it's a tense, intriguing, exciting, slick, emotional, nerve-wracking thrill, with the added heft of being more-or-less true. What does bother me is that its increasing support seems to be due to voters overcompensating to make up for Ben Affleck's snub for Best Director (if it wins Best Picture, he'll get a trophy as producer after all). I understand the temptation to do that, but it's a bad reason to vote for a film; on the other hand, it's not at all surprising in Hollywood. I'll hand it to him, it's probably the shrewdest accidental Oscar strategy ever. How is Harvey Weinstein not involved?
In my opinion, the best film of the year is Zero Dark Thirty. Powerful, moving, unsettling, nail-biting… it hits every note with perfection. My only knock, and this is a subjective one, is that it takes the film a little while to get going. Much of that is because it is trying to be faithful to the investigative process that transpired, so the first half of the story plays out like a procedural. Also, we know the film will culminate with the siege on Bin Laden's compound, and we are anxious to get there. At the same time, the buildup is exciting - discovering exactly how the characters will connect the dots that bring them to Abbottabad; as they draw near, the tension is palpable. The film has faced some criticism over the depiction of torture, its use in the hunt for Bin Laden, and whether the torture actually led to useful information. The whole situation could have been avoided if they had followed my wife's advice: "If they wanted to deprive those people of sleep, subject them to constant loud noise, and break them mentally, they should have just handed them an infant."
Daniel Day-Lewis' performance aside, here is the true genius of Lincoln: The filmmakers (director Steven Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner) take what was essentially a nigh-three-hour boring tale of a string of political maneuverings, and make it thrilling. Think about this: they set the film during the Civil War, and do not include one battle scene. Instead, most of the "action" takes place in the House of Representatives, where generally speaking, the only real-life action involves the interns. Moreover, the film chooses not to depict many of the seminal events of the war, favoring instead the intimate conversations that took place behind closed doors - the mental conflict, not the physical conflict. And that is fine, as we've seen those famous events depicted many times before, and probably wouldn’t get anything new out of Spielberg's version. And frankly, the movie doesn't need to be any longer: the audience was tearing up at the end, but not because the Thirteenth Amendment had valiantly passed; but rather because after 2 hours and 45 minutes, they really had to go to the bathroom. The general feeling in the theater after that scene was, "Good stuff, but let's shoot this guy so we can get out of here."
Silver Linings Playbook puts a microscope on the lives of people with personality disorders. The relationship between a bipolar man (Bradley Cooper) and his father (Robert De Niro) is particularly interesting because it examines whether the apple falls far from the tree. In a post-show Q&A session at the Chicago Film Festival, writer/director David O. Russell spoke of how his own son is bipolar, so it's reasonable to think that the way he portrays De Niro in the film suggests something about himself. Notably, in the film, Cooper's character flies off the handle for no apparent reason and speaks his mind even when it is knowingly hurtful. Any doubts about parallels to Russell's own mental condition were put to rest in the Q&A session, when he irrationally insulted and embarrassed a fan of the film in front of hundreds of people, for asking what he considered to be a stupid question. (For whatever it's worth, I thought the question was actually a good one.)
Nominees Life Of Pi and Beasts Of The Southern Wild make for an intriguing duo, as they both deal with fantastical survival tales in similar yet different ways. Both take advantage of dream-like storytelling, which gives the films a fairytale quality. They explore the ways in which we perceive life-and-death events, how we choose to deal with those events, and how they can make us stronger. Each is somewhat horrifying, but is ultimately life-affirming. Both have many layers that the audience can choose to delve into as deeply as they like. They are visual marvels; Pi uses computer-generated means, for which it has been recognized in many technical categories; Beasts relies on organic methods, but has been surprisingly shut out of categories like Production Design. (I actually think the production design in Beasts is more deserving than Pi, for incredible creations like Hushpuppy's "house" and "boat" - it's like Mad Max was born on the bayou.) I don't want to say much about how the films differ, so as not to spoil anything, but Pi is ultimately more tangible - no surprise, I suppose, considering it's a commercial film. In turn, I find Pi to be more accessible; Beasts almost defies conclusions (again, that is surely by design). Two different animals (sorry, bad pun), but if one has a chance at an upset victory, it's Life Of Pi.
Amour is the nominee in this category that voters are least likely to have seen. It's depressing, it's arty, it's in French, and it stars two old people nobody's ever heard of - the kind movie that tends to perpetually slide down your Netflix queue. The film tells the story of a husband watching as his wife slowly dies from an incurable condition. John Edwards, of course, called it "the feel-good movie of the year."
I don't have much to say about Les Miserables, other than I assume the title loosely translates to "Poor French Bastards".
The Snubbed and Omitted picks are a lot harder to make for Best Picture now, with such a large group of nominees. Complaining about a film that got passed over for five slots is a lot easier to find than one that got passed over for nine. This year, pretty much every film that aficionados are passionate about made the cut. I wouldn't call it an actual snub, but I would say the best movie I saw that didn't make the Best Picture roster was The Avengers. Despite the more-than-capable Joss Whedon taking the reigns, I was pretty sour on the prospects of the Marvel team-up flick. Iron Man had been the only real standout in the preceding films, and 2011's Thor seemed to steer the franchise's plausibility off a cliff. Upon learning that story for The Avengers would revolve around characters (aliens, in fact) from Thor's universe, I was prepared to skip the flick altogether. But in appropriate fashion, Whedon swooped in and saved the day, delivering a film that surpassed all expectations. If only he could go back in time and write/direct Thor… (And while he's at it, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2…)
As for the film that I was glad to see omitted from Best Picture: The Hunger Games isn't bad, but as someone who didn't read the book, I can't help but wonder, "What was all the hype about?"
SHOULD WIN: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
WILL WIN: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Ben Affleck (Argo)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: John Hawkes (The Sessions)
Let's not talk about IF Daniel Day-Lewis wins, let's talk about WHEN he wins. Face it: despite their outstanding performances, nobody else even deserves to be nominated alongside Day-Lewis this year. In fact, this will mark the first year when an actor wins the Oscar solely based on the movie poster. So WHEN he wins his third Oscar, there will be no doubt that he is the greatest actor of his generation. (Apologies to Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, and Sean Penn, but Day-Lewis doesn't have a Turner & Hooch, Virtuosity, or Shanghai Surprise on his resume). The real question: Is he the greatest actor of all time? Clearly, nobody in a younger generation comes close. (Calm down, Edward Norton.) Part of what makes the assessment difficult is that he rarely works - he's made eight films in the past 20 years; however, he earned nominations for four of those films. But greatest of all time? Better than Pacino, De Niro, Nicholson, Hoffman, Cooper, Tracy, Stewart, Burton, Lemmon, Newman, O'Toole, or Olivier? I don't think I would consider his previous roles truly timeless or iconic, having life beyond the one he gave it. Say what you will about the genius of My Left Foot or There Will Be Blood, but in 25 years will they stand alongside films like The Godfather or Lawrence Of Arabia or Some Like It Hot, or compare to characters like George Bailey or Hamlet or Butch Cassidy? Debate.
Furthermore, with yet another never-break-character-even-off-set performance, Day-Lewis establishes that he is, first and foremost, a stark raving lunatic. When told of his antics, Gary Busey said, "Well, he's just crazy." After scoring a nomination in her first ever movie (Beasts Of The Southern Wild), little Quvenzhané Wallis advised him, "Acting isn't very hard." Knowing co-star Tommy Lee Jones' no-nonsense personality and general lack of patience for foolishness, I can only imagine the conversation when he met Day-Lewis on-set. "I would appreciate it if you address me as Mr. President." "No."
Bradley Cooper stands out in this category as The Guy You Never Thought Would Be Nominated For An Oscar. I mean, he's been extremely convincing while playing douchebags, but the presumption was that it wasn't really acting. I'll give him credit, he's still decidedly unlikeable in Silver Linings Playbook, but he's really good at it. He also shows range that I would not have guessed he had. He handles the absurdities and incongruities in the story and the tone very well - and had he not gotten those right, the film would have collapsed. He plays a man with bipolar disorder who's been institutionalized for a violent outburst, and is trying to make up for it. But for those who have seen the movie, I've gotta say - his violent reaction is not exactly unwarranted, given the situation. Let's just hope he's not still in character at the ceremony when he loses.
It's hard for me to take Joaquin Phoenix seriously (or even take notice of him) after the whole experiment/hoax/waste of time that was his rap career (by the way, Casey "The Lesser" Affleck: you are wholly complicit in that). And in the Best Actor ballot against Daniel Day-Lewis (for his role in The Master), voters are not going to take him seriously either.
If Day-Lewis wasn't in this race, I might have something to say about Denzel Washington and Hugh Jackman, for their performances in Flight and Les Miserables, respectively. But he is, so I don't.
After being passed over for a Best Director nomination, Ben Affleck has gotten nothing but kudos from his Hollywood peers (not to mention the Producers Guild, Directors Guild, Screen Actors Guild, and Golden Globes). So I'm going to try to counterbalance that sentiment, by slamming his acting in Argo (and back when the film came out, there was serious talk of an acting nomination for him - he even got a BAFTA nomination). He carries the narrative well enough, but with very little personality. The flinty, squinty, all-in-a-day's-work expression that he employs to greet every character and situation gets a little old. Sorry, Mr. Affleck, but that's the reality of being you: praise always arrives in lockstep with equal or greater backlash. At least the acting is a step up from Pearl Harbor.
My snubbed pick is John Hawkes for The Sessions. If he was new to the Oscar game, his omission would be less of a surprise. He's not an A-List household name like the rest of the men in this category. But as a former nominee (two years ago for Winter's Bone), and after getting mentions from SAG and the Globes (a combo that usually guarantees an Oscar nom), he should have been on everybody's radar. Before the nominations were announced, I was sure he would be the runner-up behind Day-Lewis. That he didn't even make the top five is a real head-scratcher.
SHOULD WIN: Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
WILL WIN: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Nicole Kidman (The Paperboy)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Marion Cotillard (Rust And Bone)
This category is filled with relative newcomers to the Oscar race: none of the nominees have more than one previous nomination. The five ladies have a total of only three prior nominations; heck, the Best Supporting Actor nominees have twice that many VICTORIES. This looks to be one of the tightest races, with Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain, and Emmanuelle Riva all within striking distance.
21-year-old Lawrence is a veritable veteran in this category, having been previously nominated for Best Actress (in Winter's Bone). She is excellent in Silver Linings Playbook, not an easy feat considering her character's mental state is intentionally ambiguous. While Bradley Cooper's character is definitively bipolar, Lawrence's widow is just plain "crazy" (not to mention angry, manipulative, promiscuous, anti-social, provocative, venomous - a real cupcake). Her performance is even more impressive considering she holds her own against a much older Cooper (which makes their gaping age difference much less creepy than it should be) and a cranky Robert De Niro (their rat-a-tat tete-a-tete is scripted, of course, but plausibly dominating him on-screen requires a unique talent). She may not take home a statuette this year, but there is little doubt that one is in her future.
I have a very hard time deciding who deserves to win, Chastain or Lawrence. Chastain has the more subtle, nuanced performance of the two. I find it interesting to see the parallels between the torture that she supervises and her state of mind. It's as if she subjects herself to a kind of torture through her decade of hunting for Bin Laden: sleep deprivation, starvation, and psychological duress. Is it penance of some kind? Does she feel she has to suffer for the cause, as others have? Is she taking personal responsibility for the failure to find Bin Laden? Whatever it is, it drives her to find him. A minor detraction: While Chastain nails the mental aspect of chasing Moby Dick for 10-plus years, I think her physical appearance could reflect the fatigue more convincingly. I mean, I know Chastain's character is based on a real woman, but I think we can guarantee that she isn't a smokin' hot redhead. In scenes where characters go out of their way to tell her how run-down and sickly she looks, she actually appears fresh-faced, wears professionally applied makeup, and sports perfectly tousled tresses. I would think searching tirelessly for the world's most feared terrorist for years on end might give her bags under her eyes. So whom do I side with between the nominees? I choose Chastain by a (well-coiffed) hair.
More forecasters have been betting on Riva of late, for her wrenching performance in Amour. I still think it's between Lawrence and Chastain, but many feel she could take it, if enough votes are split between the other two. At the very least, she'll play the Ralph Nader role and get enough support to make the winner unpredictable.
In a different year, Naomi Watts could probably prevail for her work in The Impossible, but this year she's realistically in fourth place. The rash of raw and emotionally bare performances this season makes it hard for any actress to stick out. Watts is hoping for weaker competition when she reprises her role in the sequel, The Impossible 2: Even Tsunamier.
What to make of Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts Of The Southern Wild, who was six years old at the time of filming? Nobody is denying that she's an impressive force on-screen. But is she deserving of a nomination? There are plenty of pundits who feel she does not merit one, because she is so young, and arguably a non-actor (it is indeed her first role). I don't feel as strongly as that, but there is some validity to the argument that without any kind of acting training (or even ability to make mature decisions), she may have been predominantly responding to Benh Zeitlin giving her direction. But it's hard to devalue an acting performance for purely subjective reasons; I tend to think it's either good or it's not. (Then again, judging an acting performance is purely subjective to begin with.) Ultimately, I feel she's deserving of the nomination, but not of a victory.
I assumed Marion Cotillard was a lock for a spot here for Rust And Bone. While the film itself is drawing jeers and yawns, her performance has been fairly universally praised. She seems to have Oscar bait in spades: she plays an amputee, her character overcomes tragedy, she is a previous winner, and she's French. It's a credit to the other strong nominees that she didn't make the cut .
After her SAG and Golden Globe nominations, I thought Nicole Kidman was a decent bet for The Paperboy. Apparently the Academy thought better of it. Maybe it was the subject matter; here is an unfabricated description of her character: Kidman plays a trashy, horny, backwater lunatic with a penchant for falling in love with death-row inmates who urinates on Zac Efron. ("Should've been me," sighed Vanessa Hudgens.)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
SHOULD WIN: Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
WILL WIN: Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Dwight Henry (Beasts Of The Southern Wild)
This category, more than any other, is anyone's guess. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised by any one of them winning. The "experts" are all over the board, with Robert De Niro slightly leading the pack over Tommy Lee Jones, followed by Christoph Waltz. But regardless of who wins, don't feel bad for the losers: all of the nominees have already won an Oscar - and it's the first time that's happened in an acting category.
On a coin flip more than anything else, I'm predicting Jones will win, for his role in Lincoln. Frankly, I think his work here is markedly thinner than that of his previous Oscar winner, for the Fugitive; but on the other hand, you could argue the same point about all of his fellow nominees. As abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, Jones is strong and commanding (and he's a spitting image for the dog on the handle of his cane - a nice touch), but I feel a lot of the credit for his character should go to screenwriter Tony Kushner. It seems like the strength of Jones' performance is his verbal artillery, the words of which were written by Kushner; it just seems like spectacular dialogue delivered in a Tommy-Lee-Jones-like manner. Make no mistake, it's wonderful, but it doesn't seem to require any stretch by Jones (the wig notwithstanding). It's an unfair comparison, but one I'll make anyway: Put Jones' performance up next to Daniel Day-Lewis'. To me, it's the difference between delivery and performance - almost no comparison at all. Though I will say, I would have enjoyed more scenes between Jones and Day-Lewis. They really only have one scene together, and it is electric. They are both portrayed as the two intellectual superiors, with differing viewpoints. It would have been interesting to see more interplay between them, if for no other reason to fill the conversation with eloquent insults.
I'm casting my vote for Hoffman in The Master. I hate to say it, but it's partly because I can't find a better candidate. It's surprising to me that nobody's been talking about him since the nominations were announced - he had been an early front-runner. He seems to have just slipped off the radar as newer movies have made the box office rounds. Hoffman might have a slight advantage in that his role is probably more of a lead than supporting, but such is life on the Oscar campaign trail. It could snare him the victory, but I doubt it.
Welcome back, Mr. De Niro. After an absence of 21 years from the Oscar race, the revered actor scored a nomination for Silver Linings Playbook. He has said that he has a very personal connection to the role of a man with a bipolar son (people have speculated that it's because of his relationship with his real-life son). It's not surprising - it's the first role in ages that he appears fully invested in. Is it as good as the roles that he has been previously nominated for? No. But is it better than anything he's done in a decade? Yes.
After winning the Golden Globe and the BAFTA, Christoph Waltz could sneak in for Django Unchained. But I don't see it, after he won so recently for Inglourious Basterds (a role that was universally considered superior), especially against such heavyweights. Not to trivialize the achievement, but he's essentially holding the spot that everyone knew would go to somebody from Django Unchained, it was just a matter of who.
Alan Arkin's performance in Argo is thoroughly enjoyable, but not terribly surprising. He plays his character in exactly the way you would expect him to; fortunately, it suits the character very well. If he happens to win (probably the longest-shot of the bunch), it will be on the strength of a single well-delivered catchphrase.
There are a number of unrecognized men who would have been reasonable choices for Supporting Actor this year: John Goodman in Argo (the welcome square peg in the round hole of 70s Hollywood), Jason Clark in Zero Dark Thirty (the window into a "good guy" who inflicts torture for a living), and almost anyone from the ensemble of Lincoln (James Spader, Jackie Earle Haley, and Peter McRobbie come to mind). But my snubbed award goes to Dwight Henry, playing the troubled father in Beasts Of The Southern Wild. Like Quvenzhané Wallis, Henry was a non-actor when he was discovered for the film. In fact, he was found because he owned the local bakery that the director and crew frequented. I can only imagine how the conversation went: "We are looking for a foolish, borderline-abusive, undereducated, unsophisticated, yet slightly tender bastard. We think you'd be perfect."
Special shout-out to Irrfan Khan for appearing in TWO films this year where he referenced a character named Richard Parker (the tiger in Life Of Pi, and Peter Parker's father in The Amazing Spider-Man).
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
SHOULD WIN: Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
WILL WIN: Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Maggie Smith (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Rosemarie DeWitt (Your Sister's Sister)
I hereby anoint Anne Hathaway the New Kate Winslet. And that's not a compliment. Hathaway is a fine and deserving actress, but she's becoming like Kate in a different way: her gratingly annoying acceptance "performances". She nearly drove her Golden Globe speech off the rails by pretending to appear nervous, flustered, breathless, and surprised (oh, so surprised). Think she's being genuine? She's an ACTRESS (you never see a costume designer or cinematographer pulling that kind of nonsense). And remember, she hosted the Academy Awards two years ago, so she's no stranger to that spotlight. I guarantee that every single moment she spends on any awards stage is 100% choreographed and rehearsed. (By the way, she's nearly a lock to win for Les Miserables.)
Co-starring in the most popular movie of all the nominees, Sally Field will certainly get her share of votes for Lincoln. As the campaign season has progressed (and Daniel Day-Lewis has strengthened his stranglehold on the Best Actor race), Field seems to have adopted her co-star's tactic by saying she ALSO stayed in character the whole time. But since, as Mrs. Lincoln, that amounted to being irritable and loony… apparently nobody noticed any difference.
With her fourth nomination since 2006, Amy Adams is due for a victory… just not yet. Based on her track record and her age, there's little doubt that she's a future winner, and probably sooner than later (frankly, she should have won for Junebug). Her career choices have been impeccable, to say nothing of her performances. She pretty much hasn't appeared in a clunker since she was starting her career, way back in 2000, with Cruel Intentions 2 (you mean there was a sequel?). Maybe her upcoming Janis Joplin biopic will be the role that finally clinches it...
Helen Hunt garnered a nomination for her career-reviving turn as a sex surrogate in The Sessions. Despite critical raves, the film has gone mostly unseen, and her role seems to be best remembered for the massive amounts of nudity. "Seriously, you couldn't do that in Twister?" lamented Bill Paxton.
Jacki Weaver's nomination is probably more interesting as a historical footnote than it is as a personal achievement: her film, Silver Linings Playbook, scored nominations in all four acting categories, a rare feat that hasn't been accomplished since Reds, 31 years ago. The performance itself is good, but is seemingly pedestrian when compared to the other scenery-chewers in the film. Her character is an interesting contrast though: she's set up as the "normal" one, but as the story progresses, and it becomes clear that she's an enabler (under the earnest guise of being a peacemaker), I feel she's revealed to be no more sane than the rest of the bunch. But still not nearly as wacky as Anne Hathaway will be when accepting the Oscar.
Is it possible that at age 78, Maggie Smith is suffering from overexposure? With recent nominations and awards from other groups (Golden Globes, SAG, Emmys, BAFTAs) for Downton Abbey, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and Quartet, it's been a little hard to escape the crotchety dame. I, for one, am content to see her left off the Oscar ballot. In response, I'm sure she would put me in my place by serving up some witty, hyper-articulate, cutting bon mot of an insult - without me understanding a word of it.
SHOULD WIN: Ang Lee (Life Of Pi)
WILL WIN: Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Ridley Scott (Prometheus)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty)
Are we done feeling sorry for Ben Affleck yet? Everybody seems to be so concerned about his Best Director snub for Argo, after being a presumed Oscar front-runner. Admittedly, winning the Directors Guild, BAFTA, Critics Choice, and Golden Globe awards, as Affleck did, should practically guarantee winning the Oscar; failing to get even a nomination is unprecedented. (It's the first time in 25 years that the Globe winner didn't get an Oscar nomination.) But it's getting to be a bit much, all the outpouring of woe across the industry for Affleck (who's even grown a serious "director beard" for the awards season - honestly?) . Two people who surely DON'T feel bad for Affleck are Jennifer Lopez (for obvious reasons) and Christopher Nolan (after being snubbed by Oscar several times - and I think we can agree that Argo was no Inception). "How does it feel, pretty boy?" Nolan recently tweeted. And I'm sure Affleck himself is not expecting anybody to shed a tear for him: he's still married to Jennifer Garner, he's still an award-winning writer, director, producer, and - yes - actor, and he's still f---ing Jimmy Kimmel.
The true unjust snub here is Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty. Sentiment may not be as strong for her as it is for Affleck, since she won this category three years ago for The Hurt Locker (and because she is not chummy with every actor in L.A. like Affleck is). But when you compare the directing of Zero Dark Thirty to Argo… Argo looks like child's play. I don't know how you can watch the last half hour of Zero Dark Thirty and not be blown away (another terrible pun). Filming an extremely complicated situation, incorporating a helicopter crash, using no light, while paying meticulous attention to the non-fictional details, all in an adverse environment (in every sense) - I still don't know how she pulled it off. When I think of what she accomplished compared to Steven Spielberg with Lincoln, it's even more impressive. Spielberg is a master of grand scale, but he also has all the clout and resources of the industry at his fingertips, without having to breaking a sweat. Bigelow is now a serious Hollywood player, but nowhere near Spielberg - it's safe to say that she had to fight for every inch of film in Zero Dark Thirty. If she was a nominee, she would get my vote.
Of the directors that actually received nominations, Spielberg is the likely favorite, for Lincoln. If he does win, he'll be the only living director with three Oscars (late greats William Wyler and Frank Capra also won three, and John Ford scored four). However, he's not a lock; many Academy voters will be more impressed by somebody else. He has created something of a disadvantage for himself: he is such a consistent master of the craft that people expect nothing short greatness from him. To set himself apart (from himself), voters will need to see something that is absolutely awe-striking. And for many, Lincoln isn't it. While it's clearly a well-directed film, it doesn't have many of the imprints that Spielberg often leaves on his films, and it doesn’t boast many qualities that call excessive attention to the "direction". His previous Oscar winners (Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan) were overtly "directed", and were clearly directed by Spielberg. We'll see if the Academy puts Lincoln on the same level.
So if Spielberg doesn't win, who else will the Academy voters be impressed by? I, for one, am most impressed with Ang Lee's Life Of Pi. Nearly every critic agrees that it's the most visually stunning film of the year. The 3D, special effects, and scale are remarkable, especially when they highlight the gravity and scope of what the main character is dealing with. When Pi watches the gigantic ocean liner sink while underwater, it literally sucks the air out of your lungs - it's as close as it gets to being underwater yourself. Interestingly, Lee has been in a situation similar to Affleck's - he won the Globe, DGA, and BAFTA for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but failed to win the Oscar (but at least he was nominated). Of the nominees, Lee gets my vote (and not just because we both attended the University of Illinois). I would say there's a fair chance Lee will in fact take it instead of Spielberg.
Some voters will also be impressed by David O. Russell, as evinced by Silver Linings Playbook's slew of acting nominations. Kudos to him for making the impossible possible: he turned a dark story about mental illness into a comedy, he made the 16-year age difference between a pair almost romantically plausible, he finished a movie without getting into a single fistfight, and he molded Bradley Cooper into an adequate actor. And I have to admire the fact that he openly despises actors, yet every actor wants to work with him. Then, on set, they have to deal with his "directing style": standing just off-camera and shouting at them about all the things they're doing wrong, until they finally get a take that's mildly acceptable.
Michael Haneke is a surprise nominee in this category for Amour. Not a surprise because he's untalented, but because he's so bizarre. He's an art-house auteur that other art-house auteurs tend to find a bit absurd. Even David Lynch thinks he's strange. In fact, he goes so far that his movies tend to look like spoofs of art-house films. (Watch the trailer for the original Funny Games and try not to laugh.) After a history of polarizing critics, I think voters were pleasantly surprised to see Amour tell such a (relatively) conventional story. The film is still artsy, but when Haneke applies his style to a coherent and realistic narrative, it can have a wonderful and powerful effect. Amour will take the Best Foreign Language prize, so it won't win here. Actually, Haneke has a much better chance at winning in the Best Original Screenplay category than he does here.
Benh Zeitlin, director of Beasts Of The Southern Wild, and this year's hipster nominee, is undoubtedly panicking. Panicking? After scoring an Oscar nod for his first feature film, a micro-budget indie lark that overcame the longest of odds, doesn't he feel on top of the world? Nope. Instead, he's wondering how in god's name he's going to follow it up. "What the hell do I do now?" Almost certainly, the answer is: fail. There is practically no way he can top this. Having reached such a zenith with his first film, he can, at best, expect a series of experiences less fulfilling than what he's experienced so far. He will face a string of projects that are generally considered inferior. He will spend every day feeling worse than he does today. And that's just with a nomination. What if he actually wins?
I'm calling out Ridley Scott's Prometheus, as it was one of the most anticipated movies of the year, and it fails on many levels. Scott basically sends a cadre of disagreeable nimrods to an alien planet, lets them wander around and ask, "Hey, what's that?", has them make a bunch of terrible decisions, then arbitrarily chooses which characters would make it out alive. I'm told the original working title of the movie was "Don't Touch That, You Idiot". For example, the characters learn the hard way that in outer space, you do not touch: alien rattlesnakes, living black goo, decapitated heads, bodies that appear to be dead, and Noomi Rapace's lady-parts.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
SHOULD WIN: Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty)
WILL WIN: Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Lynn Shelton (Your Sister's Sister)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises)
Three years ago, I predicted Quentin Tarantino would beat Mark Boal (with Inglourious Basterds and The Hurt Locker, respectively) in this category, and I was proven wrong. Will the same thing happen this year, with their entries for Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty? The circumstances are nearly identical, so why would I put my chips on Tarantino again? In 2010, The Hurt Locker was a favorite (and eventual winner) for Picture and Director, and very often Screenplay aligns with those. But this year, neither Boal's nor Tarantino's films are contenders for either category (all the strongest Best Picture candidates are in the Adapted Screenplay category). And Boal just won an Oscar recently. So I think the table is tilted in Tarantino's favor this year.
But it doesn't mean Tarantino SHOULD win. I suppose I forfeit any shred of film-geek cred when I say that Tarantino doesn't merit the prize. (Cue the loud gasp from the 1990s version of myself.) But I think Boal deserves it anyway.
Voters nominated the screenplay for Amour (somewhat uncommon for a foreign language film), recognizing that it is a touching and heartfelt story. Or at the very least, they recognized that the story makes more sense than that of another acclaimed Haneke film, the overrated, illogical, and manipulative Cache. I think one of the reasons Amour resonates with all audiences (and not just elderly French ones) is that the theme - losing something important, and not being able to do anything but watch helplessly - is universal. (Unlike the theme of Cache - watching your childhood friend slit his own throat just to spite you, and not being able to do anything but watch helplessly - which is pretty specific). There are several worldly cinema elitists who are certain Amour will win this award, but I don't see it.
I'm always happy to see Wes Anderson get a writing nomination, but I'm puzzled by which of his films receive them. Moonrise Kingdom and The Royal Tenenbaums got nominated, but Rushmore and The Darjeeling Limited did not? I like Moonrise Kingdom, but… I fear Anderson is in jeopardy of slipping into inadvertent self-parody. I know this is more of a directing criticism, but in Kingdom, his trademark highly stylized scenes are at times a bit over the top. I realize he's going for a certain tone, mood, and I suppose symbolism. But while his stamp is usually charming, everything in the film, from sets to acting to dialogue to action to cinematography - even the title! - feels manipulated. It's all a bit too "Wes Anderson". I feel like if a foolishly ambitious film student with an unlimited budget set out to imitate (or send up) Anderson, Kingdom is what he/she would create. And frankly, the subject matter isn't even fresh: Anderson explored misunderstood youth much better in his unparalleled masterpiece Rushmore. I don't mean to be harsh (and lord knows I've been accused of over-praising Anderson in the past); after all, it's a good film with plenty of merit. It's just not my favorite. I hope it's a misstep, and not that his vision is wearing thin on me.
The Dark Knight Rises was obviously a gigantic box office success, but I was disappointed that it didn't get lauded more for its screenplay. Maybe it's not Oscar fare, but I give the writers credit for tying up the trilogy in a satisfying way, considering the astronomical expectations. The script meshes very well thematically, especially with the first installment. In fact, it's impressive to watch Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises successively (while skipping The Dark Knight) - many of the themes set up in the first one (especially in the teachings of Ra's Al Ghul) are paid off cleverly yet organically in the third. There are also blueprints in Batman Begins that lay out and justify the ending of The Dark Knight Rises, and suggest how the Batman story could potentially continue into the future (I'm being intentionally vague for the two of you who haven't seen it). At this point, I don't think it's hyperbole to say that Christopher Nolan is a cinematic genius.
In the Best Supporting Actress category, I chose Rosemarie DeWitt as my Snub for her impressive work in Your Sister's Sister. It's just a shame that the film itself isn't as strong - the screenplay gets my Gloriously Omitted slot. The movie has all the hallmarks of an over-praised Sundance darling: disheveled charm, overcast natural environs, ramshackle coziness, overlong montages substituting for actual story, morons who need love, and most importantly, the ambiguous ending. It aims to be earnest, absurd, and heartwarming; there is no doubt it's earnestly absurd, but whether it's heartwarming probably depends on your mood. It's the kind of quippy, romantic-ish, comedic-ish, intimate, occasionally hilarious, unconventional film that I would have absolutely loved 10 years ago. Now, I tend to think, "Grow up, people."
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
SHOULD WIN: Tony Kushner (Lincoln)
WILL WIN: Tony Kushner (Lincoln)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: William Nicholson, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer (Les Miserables)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: None
In Lincoln's opening scene, I feared that the film would suffer from self-importance, sagging under the weight of the hefty subject matter. But it doesn't, and I credit screenwriter Tony Kushner. Sure, there is grandstanding, self-righteousness, and speechifying, but this is a Hollywood movie, and it's an incredibly important series of events in U.S. history. Did each of the historical figures actually give gut-wrenching, tear-jerking, award-worthy speeches in every conversation they participated in? Presumably not, but I think that can be forgiven. In fact, that's a major aspect of what makes the film so riveting. It's a dull concept, told as a thriller. Kushner accomplishes this with true "drama" in the storytelling sense: fighting with words, not guns (ironic, considering the tale takes place during wartime). It's no surprise that much of the film feels like a stage play, considering Kushner's theater background (he wrote Angels In America, among other things). This will probably take the Oscar, and rightfully so.
Depending on how much of a groundswell rises for Argo, it could end up taking this prize. As it seems more and more likely that it will win Best Picture, the odds also increase in this category - no doubt, it will be close. I was dumping on Ben Affleck earlier, but his film and Chris Terrio's script are outstanding. Credit them with not over-glamorizing the story's CIA operation of rescuing Americans trapped in Iran (which would be only slightly better than being trapped in Canada). It's not a snappy joy ride like Mission: Impossible; it's treated like an actual impossible mission. For the characters, it's not fun, it's not a rush, it's not thrilling; nobody caps a harrowing action sequence with a witty line of ironic dialogue. Those choices go a long way in elevating the script from popcorn flick to Oscar contender.
For years, the book Life Of Pi was considered unfilmable. Most of the credit goes to Ang Lee for willing the film into existence, spending many frustrating years on an endeavor that even Sisyphus would have found punishing. But the first step was for David Magee to write a coherent script. As someone who didn't read the book, I was not expecting a spiritual film. But it is spiritual, in a non-denominational way. Detractors of the script argue that it's a safe cop-out, but others find it refreshing and reassuring. I feel the point of the story is affirmation of spirituality, which can't help but make you feel good.
David O. Russell is best known as a director, but he's also an interesting screenwriter. Specifically, I've been fascinated by the tone of several of his scripts (which he also directed). They're hard to categorize: they're not dramas, but they're not necessarily comedies either. I suppose they're as varied and inconsistent as real life (or movie versions thereof). His latest example is Silver Linings Playbook. For a film that deals with serious personality disorders, the tone is surprisingly playful, closer to I <Heart> Huckabees (still his best film) than The Fighter. At times, the film comes off as a bit "Hey, aren't we all at least a little bit crazy?" But ultimately, I think it plays on the fact that maybe some forms of "crazy" are more socially acceptable than others. And if you don't believe that, then you've clearly never dealt with humans before.
Beasts Of The Southern Wild is probably the most polarizing nominee in the writing categories. It's intentionally confounding, which some people dismiss, and others revel in. Is it real? Is it fantasy? Is it literal? Is it metaphorical? Is it simply the imagination of child? Frankly, I had no idea, since I'm not well-versed in Greek mythology, bionomics, hoodoo culture, paleontology, or bayou urban legend - each of which seem to be a prerequisite to interpreting the film properly.
One quick comment about another category… I can't believe this wasn't nominated for Best Short Film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1kw3lTva7U