Sunday, February 24, 2013

Oscar Sunday

So anyway...

So I am home from the second (and last) day of the 2013 Oscar Showcase and I have now seen all nine nominated movies, and I am ready to give you my choices on my own mythical Oscar ballot:

Best Picture: Silver Linings Playbook* Argo
Best Director: Steven Spielberg Ang Lee
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis 
Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence 
Best Supporting Actor: Robert De Niro   Christof Waltz
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway
Best Score: Life of Pi
Best Song:
Best Editing: Argo
Best Animated Feature:
Best Cinematography: Life of Pi
Best Original Screenplay: Django Unchained
Best Adapted Screenplay: Argo
Best Foreign Film: Amour
Best Animated Short: Paperman
Best Costume Design: Anna Karenina
Best Make-up/
Hairstyling: Les Miserables
Best Production Design: Lincoln
Best Visual Effects: Life of Pi
Best Sound Editing: Skyfall and  Zero Dark Thirty
Best Sound Mixing: Les Miserables
Best Documentary Feature: Searching For Sugarman
Best Documentary Short: Inocente
Best Live Action Short: Dream of a Shadow Curfew

*Please note that I believe that Argo will win; I'd just cast my vote for SLP. I do believe it could pull an upset, though. :-)

Let me say a few words about these choices.

First, the minor category selections are based on what Ii have read in various critical sources. I have not seen most of the films in the short subject and documentary categories, for example.

As to the main events:

Before I saw anything at all, I was ready to be utterly wowed by Lincoln, and I was. The movie is vast in scope, gloriously accurate in its recreation of the era (hence my nomination for Production Design), and brilliantly acted by a gifted cast led by everyone's odds-on favorite to win best actor, Daniel Day-Lewis. (If he does not win, I think a sinkhole may open up and swallow the Dolby Theatre.) No actor has ever won three Best Actor Oscars; Day-Lewis will become the first. But he is only the tip of the iceberg, as the cast is solid from Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln and Tommy Lee Jones (a Supporting Actor frontrunner as a leading House advocate for the 13th amendment) right down to the child actor playing Lincoln's son, who is given a powerful and emotional moment near the end and hits it perfectly. This is an amazing film, and Steve Spielberg deserves the Best Director Oscar he will very likely receive, even if it appears that the award is his only because Ben Affleck is not nominated.

(On that: Ang Lee or David O. Russell could win Best Director, and neither would particularly surprise me. I just think it will be Spielberg.)

Yes, Lincoln wowed me as expected. And Argo was every bit as good as advertised: a dynamite bit of serio-comic film-making that offers a tremendous recreation of a harrowing moment in much more recent American history and a behind the scenes look at one of its lesser known heroic endeavors. I truly enjoyed this movie, with its cast of mostly unknowns telling a harrowing story of survival and escape. It too was brilliantly directed; Affleck has been rightfully rewarded (though I think he may have been a bit aided by the Academy slight). But the movie overall, as great as it is, did not leave me with the emotional high that I felt at the end of Lincoln, and I suspect that the reason has little to do with the story or with Affleck the director; I think it has a lot more to do with Affleck the actor. I don't dislike him as a performer, but he does tend to be dark and clouded in his films, and here, hidden behind a beard, dark and clouded too often equaled (for me) unreadable. I wonder if Day-Lewis might have brought more life into this character.

I loved Beasts of the Southern Wild and Life of Pi as much as I thought I would, but I never thought I would feel that either of them would be Best Picture material. I just thought that each of them, in its own way, would be spectacular, and they are. Beasts goes from outrageously beautiful scenes to incomprehensibly horrific scenes as an island below New Orleans is devastated by a hurricane. What makes it work is strong direction, a dynamic lead performance by the then-6-year-old Quvenzhan√© Wallis as a spunky island girl named Hushpuppy, and a sense of magic that springs from the core of the world she inhabits, a magic that "breaks" when the hurricane hits and is only repaired by an act of faith and acceptance on her part. Pi follows the book faithfully (as far as I can remember), though it exaggerates--or invents??-- the role of a writer to whom Pi is telling his story. It's the cinematography that makes this one incredible, as anyone who has seen any of the trailers already knows. If Lee should win for what he did with this allegedly "unfilmable" book, absolutely no one will complain. 

Django Unchained won't win and shouldn't, but it is undeniably a fun movie, a typical Tarentino bloodfest with great performances by Jamie Fox and Christoph Waltz (who could take Supporting Actor, but I don't think he will). What it should win (unless Lincoln does) is Best Original Screenplay. Amour won't win either, but it will emerge with an Oscar anyway, as it is a shoo-in to win Best Foreign Language Film. Emmanuelle Levy could pull an upset in Best Actress--at 84, the Academy may feel, she won't get any more chances--but I don't think so.

Two more films that had early Oscar buzz but faded were Les Miserables and Zero Dark Thirty. (The former is the only one of the nine that I had seen before.) I went into both expecting to like them a lot and wondering if I'd think them worthy of Best Picture. Well, I did like them a lot, but neither is Best Picture this year. Les Miserables, on second viewing, suffers from a grievous flaw: the casting of Russell Crowe as Javert. I was able to look past it the first time because the spectacle of the rest and the magnitude of Tom Hooper's accomplishment with his live on set singing to create more dynamic performances overwhelmed me--I've never cried so often during this musical (which I'd seen more times than I can recall)--but not this time. Crowe's ineffectual singing was, in a word, offensive. Javert is supposed to be able to provide a counterpoint to Valjean, and Crowe simply is not up to the task. (Some fault Hugh Jackman's singing too, especially on "Bring Him Home," but I cut him slack there: even Colm Wilkinson said he should not try to do it the way that it was done originally but rather make it his own.) So I ended up being moved and impressed by the film but held back by its serious flaw.

Zero Dark Thirty was a bit of a different story. I admit that the torture thing was off-putting, but I disagree that the film appeared to be endorsing it. In fact, it appeared from the film that no actionable intelligence was gained from the torture scenes, so if the film was doing anything it was condemning torture. No, this was a strong film of a ten-year long quest for an elusive and hated man, and who cares if it is completely accurate or not? It's a movie. Like Argo or Lincoln, it's accurate enough. This is an excellent movie in almost every way, with an outstanding performance by Jessica Chastain (whose Best Actress star has inexplicably faded). But it, too, has a flaw that keeps it out of my consideration as Best Picture. At its core, this movie is a procedural. And as a procedural, it is filled with long, slow stretches of dull bureaucracy at work. This one happens also to be filled with repetitive scenes of people being tortured. The combination is not healthy for a movie, and although it is undeniably exciting in its last half hour, there is a lot of territory beforehand that I ended up wishing had been covered differently.

Which leaves me with one:

David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook, when I first heard of it, seemed as if it would be a fun movie, a good entertainment for an evening, and a vehicle that would allow Jennifer Lawrence to be nominated for the Academy Award they would never give her for The Hunger Games. I had no clue, before seeing the nine nominees in the Showcase, that this film would be The One. And yet...

Of all of them, it is Silver Linings Playbook that stays with me. It is this film that sticks to my gut and won't let go. It feels very real and honest even while it tells a story laid out in romantic comedy fashion. Its handling of mental illness is no holds barred. The family at its core is severely flawed but loving and lovable. The two main characters, brilliantly performed by Oscar nominees Bradley Cooper and Lawrence (who should take the trophy home), become endearing by being exactly the kind of characters that, in another movie, you might find utterly annoying. Cooper and Lawrence infuse them with dark and manic energy, and the resulting chemistry is explosive whenever they are onscreen together. In addition to them, fellow nominees Robert De Niro (my choice for Best Supporting Actor) and Jacki Weaver create such a memorable family for Cooper's character that the side stories here become every bit as important as the main one. 

By the time I saw this film, I had read that it was a sleeper possibility as an Oscar upset. I can tell you right now that I'll be rooting hard for that possibility. Argo and Lincoln are strong films, but Silver Linings Playbook is, without a doubt, the Best Picture of 2012.

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