November 22, 2014

Film: The 85th Annual Academy Awards

 

The more I break down these award shows the more I realize how wonderfully subjective they are.

Even if your favorite film doesn’t win in a particular year (The Descendants, 127 Hours), it doesn’t necessarily mean that it was better or worse than the actual winner (The Artist, The King’s Speech).

In thinking why I chose the (losing) films I chose in consecutive years, I realized it was with my heart instead of my head, something some people would consider a film faux paus. As I’m putting together this Oscar-year-end-award-season-extravaganza-palooza, I happened to read Bill Simmons’ amazing performance enhancing drugs article from “Grantland.com.”

In the column, he realized that there were two sides to him fighting for word count: Simmons the ESPN talking head/”Grantland” Editor-In-Chief and Simmons the (sometimes) cynical sports fan. The conclusion ultimately was there’s no reason to separate the two because it’s his dedication as a fan that adds to his effectiveness as a columnist.

I couldn’t identify more with that piece given my current state of mind.

It was a weak Oscar year in 2011, which led me to post odds on the nominees to make it more interesting. For the record, I did well enough on last year’s predictions to live comfortably from wagering, if I did such a thing (which I don’t…?).

Back to Simmons’ point, while I am a critic, it was my mania for cinema that led to where I am. It’s years like these that make the critic and the fan a singular entity. 2012 was a year where the platitude, “It’s an honor to be nominated,” was more than empirical.

Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

PHOTO COURTESY TOUCHSTONE PICTURES

Film: The 85th Annual Academy Awards

Daniel Day-Lewis is nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Lincoln.

Bradley Cooper—Silver Linings Playbook

Daniel Day-Lewis—Lincoln

Hugh Jackman—Les Misérables

Joaquin Phoenix—The Master

Denzel Washington—Flight

Breakdown: In one respect, I feel bad for the other nominees as they all had pantheon performances this year. Cooper showed he’s more than a pretty face (same for Jackman), while Denzel came back after a glut of shoddy action/thrillers.

On the other hand, as soon as I read the dailies saying that one of the best actors ever is playing arguably the most iconic president directed by one of the best directors ever, I may have to come to terms that my Oscar turn will have to wait another year.

If there is any chance for an upset, Joaquin Phoenix has it. The Master, as convoluted as it was, has great credit with critics and the actor was all raw nerve.

…And the winner is: Daniel Day-Lewis. By a mile.

Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Alan Arkin—Argo

Robert De Niro—Silver Linings Playbook

Philip Seymour Hoffman—The Master

Tommy Lee Jones—Lincoln

Christoph Waltz—Django Unchained

Breakdown: This one’s tougher. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association gave the globe to Waltz but I’d be surprised if he won this round seeing as Tommy Lee Jones is the odds-on favorite.

I smell upset here. DeNiro has turned in his strongest performance in years, plus director David O. Russell’s last film (The Fighter) landed Supporting Actor/Actress wins for Christian Bale and Amy Adams. We might see a similar pattern this year. Hollywood loves to give itself a pat on the back whenever the opportunity arrives (See: YouTube George Clooney acceptance speech), so you have to like Arkin’s chances as film producer Lester Siegel. Siegel helps provide the CIA a cover for rescuing hostages while also providing funny-because-it’s-true fourth-wall humor about the movie industry. Sounds like a win-win.

…And the winner is: Hedging on Arkin because I think Jones will win.

Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

PHOTO COURTESY THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY

Film: The 85th Annual Academy Awards

Silver Linings Playbook is nominated for Best Picture of the Year.

Jessica Chastain—Zero Dark Thirty

Jennifer Lawrence—Silver Linings Playbook

Emmanuelle Riva—Amour

Quvenzhané Wallis—Beasts of the Southern Wild

Naomi Watts—The Impossible

Breakdown: Another category that is so anomalous with regard to criteria in this two-horse race. Take Jennifer Lawrence. She was part of an ensemble cast. Does that take away from Jessica Chastain carrying Zero Dark Thirty? Powerful and unflinching, her character’s obsession was a foil for our country’s obsession for the past decade. Wallis and Riva were great as well but they were also byproducts of a script nearly tailored to them. It’ll be Wallis’ next film that shows her real potential. Again, she’s nine, so she has some time.

...And the winner is: Jennifer Lawrence. She is clearly the star of Silver Linings Playbook. What wins it is that she toggles between crazy, angry, smart, sexy, vulnerable and defensive with seemingly sheer effortlessness. Maybe Meryl Streep should watch out.

Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams—The Master

Sally Field—Lincoln

Anne Hathaway—Les Misérables

Helen Hunt—The Sessions

Jacki Weaver—Silver Linings Playbook

Breakdown: This year’s nominees are similar to 2011, which was filled with strong performances but one clear winner. Sally Field—like Denzel—had a comeback year, showing what they’re capable of when the right script meets the right amount of effort. Amy Adams was more than capable of holding her own in a film full of actor’s actors. Helen Hunt was utterly fearless, compassionate and committed to her role as a certified sex surrogate in The Sessions. Her performance would be a no-brainer winner in most years. However….

…And the winner is: There has to be something that Anne Hathaway can’t do well, right? Besides being bad at losing. “I Dreamed a Dream” was the showstopper in a film full of showstoppers.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

Brave—Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman

Frankenweenie—Tim Burton

ParaNorman—Sam Fell and Chris Butler

The Pirates! Band of Misfits—Peter Lord

Wreck-It Ralph—Rich Moore

Breakdown: This category is the best example of art versus commerce. Brave may have been the best seller but was certainly the least artistic of the lot. Frankenweenie all the while is Burton’s love letter to his youth and the influences and culture that have come to define him. Similarly, Wreck-It Ralph plays on the heart strings of Millenials creating an interesting, existential story within the confines of 8-bit.

...And the winner is: You don’t bet against Pixar. You just don’t. Sigh.

Achievement in Directing

Amour—Michael Haneke

Beasts of the Southern Wild—Benh Zeitlin

Life of Pi—Ang Lee

Lincoln— Steven Spielberg

Silver Linings Playbook—David O. Russell

Breakdown: There are five slots available and each director is obviously deserving but I think hindsight will show the directors who weren’t nominated—Richard Linklater (Bernie) and Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)—had extraordinary works that play with revisionist history while still possessing their auteur trademark. It's insane that Kathryn Bigelow isn't in this race. The Hurt Locker won Best Picture in 2009 while the exponentially better Zero Dark Thirty isn't even nominated for Best Picture. Crazy.

…And the winner is: I thought Zeitlin had this category locked up since June. To pull the performance out of nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis that he did, is an art in itself. Then I saw Silver Linings Playbook. It’s the first film in over 30 years to have a nominee in all four acting categories. With the screenplay also adapted and nominated by O. Russell, the director has the auteur streak that’s essential to film.

Best Documentary Feature

5 Broken Cameras

The Gatekeepers

How to Survive a Plague

The Invisible War

Searching for Sugar Man


Best Foreign Language Film of the year

Amour—Austria

Kon-Tiki—Norway

No—Chile

A Royal Affair—Denmark

War Witch—Canada

…And the winners are: Amour/ Searching for Sugar Man. Haneke’s meditation on love and loss is so palpable that it forced its way into the Best Picture category. The film, the director and Riva run into stronger performances in their respective categories but it’s refreshing to see a foreign film receive as much attention as it has.

Extra credit goes to No from Chile. Director Pablo Larrain and Gael Garcia Bernal give a thoughtful, satirical (and accurate) look at the media’s pull in politics. Malik Bendjelloul went looking for a story and found one in Rodriguez, Cape Town’s version of Bob Dylan. Rodriguez’s Searching for Sugar Man is a tragedy/commentary on the environment of the turbulent ‘60s, the music industry and apartheid resistance.

Content is essential in documentary filmmaking and Bendjelloul keeps the audience questioning.

Best Motion Picture of the Year

Amour—Nominees to be determined

Argo—Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck and George Clooney, Producers

Beasts of the Southern Wild—Dan Janvey, Josh Penn and Michael Gottwald, Producers

Django Unchained—Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin and Pilar Savone, Producers

Les Misérables—Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward and Cameron Mackintosh, Producers

Life of Pi—Gil Netter, Ang Lee and David Womark, Producers

Lincoln—Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers

Silver Linings Playbook—Donna Gigliotti, Bruce Cohen and Jonathan Gordon, Producers

Zero Dark Thirty—Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow and Megan Ellison, Producers

Breakdown: Seriously, how do you define Best Picture? Do you go strictly by nominations racked up (Lincoln), visual masterpieces (Pi, Beasts) or by emotional stunner (Amour)? Big musicals (Les Misérables) and historical pieces (Argo, Django—sort of) are always strong. Did I mention that Silver Linings Playbook is the first film in over 30 years to have a nominee in all four acting categories along with O. Russell being nominated for Best Director on the script that he wrote, which was also nominated? I tend to look historically. Twenty years from now, I want fans to look at the winner and think, “Yeah. Of course it won.” Hopefully, history is on my side.

...And the winner is: Zero Dark Thirty.

Think about it. The King’s Speech. The Hurt Locker. Schindler’s List. Platoon. Patton. Bridge on the River Kwai.

All Best Picture winners that have real-life war as a major force in the film, if not on the front line. These films are not only a thematic device but moreover serve as a subtle (although not always) commentary on our nation’s view of war from the “Greatest Generation” to the psychological turmoil of Vietnam, the ripple of the Holocaust to our current zeitgeist regarding the Near East.

It will be interesting to see what revisionist history will say about this film besides winning Best Picture of 2012.

That is, unless, the juggernaut of Argo has anything to say about it.