Oscar Time Again

A few non-predictions for Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony.

The Academy Awards ceremony is coming up on Sunday, as you may have heard, and so the annual empty amusement of Oscar forecasting is at full lather. Picking winners is fun, of course, but pointless. For example, there are nine Best Picture nominees this year, all of them worthy. On what basis can it be said that Les Misérables, a full-blare Hollywood musical, is a better movie than Amour, a grim but gripping account of old age and death? Is the plush history lesson of Lincoln somehow superior to Life of Pi, an elaborate CGI exercise about a tiger in a boat? Comparing apples to Oreos is the fundamental flaw in Oscar competitions. And since there are now 5,783 Academy voters doing the winner-picking (in various guild alignments, for the most part), and since they’ve been buffeted for months by a typhoon of bare-knuckle lobbying, any pretense of simple meritorious selection is clearly absurd.

I don’t propose to pick any winners myself, but I have some thoughts.

Best Picture

It’s been puzzling to watch Ben Affleck’s Argo rolling up best-movie wins at the Golden Globes, the American Film Institute, various regional critics’ confabs, and even the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Argo is a good little movie, and Affleck, who also stars in it, is a skillful director. (He should have been nominated for his 2007 Gone Baby Gone.) The picture also has the advantage, from an Oscars perspective, of portraying Hollywood as a key player in a successful CIA rescue mission. But as a depiction of a notable incident in the age of jihad, Kathryn Bigelow’s altogether hypnotic Zero Dark Thirty blows Argo out of the water. Unfortunately, Bigelow’s film has been hobbled by ridiculous charges that it glorifies torture. (Hollywood wants you to know that it doesn’t like torture at all.) I find it hard to imagine Argo beating out ZD30…but not that hard.      

Similarly handicapped is Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, his most powerfully mature work, which has stirred up widespread fuss about its use of the word “nigger” (something that doesn’t appear to have bothered Jamie Foxx and Samuel L. Jackson, two of its stars). There’s also Michael Haneke’s Amour, which seems too bleak for a best-picture winner (it might more feasibly prevail in the Best Foreign Language Film category, in which it’s also nominated), and hometown boy Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, which could be a little too staid for the glittery top honor.

It would be no disgrace if Les Misérables were the big winner—it’s a mighty crowd pleaser, and has raked in boatloads of money in its two months in release. But if any of the nominated films were to beat out Zero Dark Thirty (and one of them almost surely will), I would hope it would be Silver Linings Playbook, a very funny, very affecting comedy-romance that, rather amazingly, is on the verge of passing the $100-million mark in domestic grosses. I think this is a win that could happen. But what do I, like you, really know?

Best Actress

Emmanuelle Riva gives a heart-crushing performance in Amour. She turns 86 on Sunday, and in the heavily geriatric Academy there are probably many who fondly recall her star debut in Alain Resnais’ 1959 Hiroshima, mon amour. She would still be a deserving winner, though, beyond the pull of woozy nostalgia.

Of the other nominated actresses, Jessica Chastain plays a character in Zero Dark Thirty who isn’t really much of a character at all, and the irresistible Quvenzhané Wallis, of Beasts of the Southern Wild, is only nine years old, and may have other Oscar innings ahead of her. So Riva’s real competition here, I think, is Jennifer Lawrence, who deploys star quality beyond her 22 years in Silver Linings Playbook. Just as important, maybe, this seems to be her moment.

Best Actor

Denzel Washington and Bradley Cooper—as good as he is in Silver Linings Playbook—probably aren’t really in the running here. And Hugh Jackman, as good as he is in Les Misérables, might also be a bit of a stretch. Joaquin Phoenix is memorable—or at least memorably wack—in The Master, but it’s hard to envision him edging out Lincoln’s Daniel Day-Lewis, if for no other reason than…well, hey: he’s Daniel Day-Lewis.

Best Supporting Actor

Let’s immediately strike off Robert De Niro and Alan Arkin here. De Niro isn’t exactly testing his limits in Silver Linings Playbook; and Arkin, who’s fine but not a lot more in Argo, won an Oscar six years ago for Little Miss Sunshine, in which he was a lot more. Philip Seymour Hoffman makes quite a bit out of an annoyingly ambiguous character in The Master, but the movie didn’t make the sort of splash that Paul Thomas Anderson fans were anticipating. That leaves crusty Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) and Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained). Waltz gave a meticulous comic performance in Tarantino’s film—but he also won an Oscar just three years ago for Inglourious Basterds. So…a toss-up, I guess. 

Best Supporting Actress

I’m not sure what Jacki Weaver, who plays the dithering mom in Silver Linings Playbook, is even doing here. And I somehow can’t picture Sally Field (Lincoln), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), or even Amy Adams (who has some flinty scenes in The Master) standing up to the supremely winning weepiness of Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables. And I’d be okay with that.

Best Director

Ang Lee’s Life of Pi was certainly a digital eyeful, but it felt weightless, and slumped woefully at the end. Benh Zeitlin deserves a large nod of some sort for his first feature, Beasts of the Southern Wild, but it didn’t do a lot of business (not often a plus in movie world). And as wonderful as David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook is, it doesn’t have the stamp of a director’s picture. That leaves the great (but somewhat off-putting) Michael Haneke, whose Amour really is one of the year’s best films, and Spielberg—who already has three Oscars, but could always use a fourth—for Lincoln. If you were for some reason to ask me, I’d say the best director of the year was Kathryn Bigelow, for Zero Dark Thirty (which I thought also had the year’s best script, by Mark Boal). The movie is a prodigious mustering of complex narrative elements and many excellent performers in some very tough locations. But yo—Bigelow’s not even nominated. I’m sure the Academy had some convincing reason for this slap-down. I’d love to hear it. 

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Fir-

    Wahhhhhhhhhhh?

  • Chance J. Alaimo||

    like Marilyn answered I am in shock that you can earn $5455 in 1 month on the computer. have you read this page... www.Snag4.com

  • Jordan||

    Mmmm, Jennifer Lawrence...

  • Mint Berry Crunch||

    'House at the End of the Street' wasn't great, but she did spend a nice portion of the running time in a tight white shirt.

    So I can give that movie at least a mild recommendation, even if it kind of rips off the twist of another movie.

  • Don Mynack||

    Only in Hollywood do the mental cases in Silver Linings Playbook look like Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.

  • josh||

    that's why our mental health laws need real reform and right quick!

  • DJF||

    Never could understand why anyone outside the movie industry cares about the Oscars, this is equivalent to the “Best plumber in Pittsburg award”. Somewhat interesting if you are in Pittsburg and need a plumber but I would rather listen to some customers of plumbers rather then what the industry award says.

  • thom||

    I agree with this, but will probably still watch.

  • Almanian!||

    Never have watched, not starting now, don't see movies in theaters, wait for DVD/cable...GET OFF MY LAWN!

    I only care enough to whine about how much I don't care about it...

  • Trespassers W||

    The Academy Awards ceremony is coming up on Sunday, as you may have heard

    Actually, I had no idea until just now. I hope this means I'll be able to play Borderlands for 3-4 hours without being judged by my wife.

  • ||

    Would it be vulgar of me to admit that I loved the film adaptation of Les Miserables and it would be my pick for Best Picture?

    Have not seen Amour yet, but it sounds like such a downer, I'm not quite ready to delve into it.

    Lincoln was boring. Overrated, historically inaccurate, bland pablum for the middle-brow film goer, whose only purpose is to reassure the bien pensant classes that everything they already thought is indeed as right and good as they always thought it was.

    Django Unchained was much more interesting. And more fun to watch.

    Zero Dark Thirty is a paint by numbers made-for-tv movie that benefits more from it's subject matter than by how that subject matter is portrayed.

    Argo is a solid, competently made thriller about a subject hardly anyone cares about anymore.

    Silver Linings Playbook is a god-awful cliched rom-com in which AMAZING FANTASY WOMAN appears to become MRS. RIGHT for our hero, seemingly being his perfect match - cum - personal psychologist. Over the course of the film Mrs. Love Interest proceeds to solve all of our Hero's mental problems, while he resolves none of hers. And yet, surprise! he is able to be a complete jerk to her and she never rejects him! Happy endings ensure when he realizes that he actually loves her instead of his ex-wife. The film also includes the standard Token Black Friend, and Normal Middle-class Lifestyle common to rom-coms.

  • ||

    Thank you for making me feel better about not having been in a movie theater for several months.

  • ||

    I should also mention there's a horrible scene in which Mrs. Love Interest suddenly displays her awesome knowledge of sports statistics while drinking a beer, thereby showing what a downhome girl she really is when she's not out there ballroom dancing.
    Because, you know, the Perfect Women has to be cool with watching ESPN and knocking back a few Buds on a Sunday afternoon.

    (Nevermind that there's absolutely no reason for her character to be interested in sports. She exists entirely to be Mrs. Love Interest, so liking sports is obligatory. )

  • hotsy totsy||

    This is a common female fantasy I think...that if you UNDERSTAND the man and are patient and kind, he will finally realize he loves you. And some men take advantage of that fantasy. But it's a costly fantasy for the woman.

  • Paul.||

    This is a common female fantasy I think...that if you UNDERSTAND the man and are patient and kind, he will finally realize he loves you.

    Wait, that's my fantasy about women. That if I understand her and are patient and kind...

    So I've been living a lie?

  • Paul.||

    and Normal Middle-class Lifestyle common to rom-coms.

    Wait, the one where no one ever sees the inside of an office and everyone seems to have shit-tons of free time?

  • ||

    Argo is pretty historically inaccurate as well, I wouldn't limit that criticism to just Lincoln.

  • Trespassers W||

    Serious question, though: why do all movies suck now? I can't remember the last movie I watched that made me feel like I'd hadn't just burned two hours of my life.

    I guess I'll watch Django Unchained and The Hobbit once they're out on DVD, but I'm not especially looking forward to either, and I'll probably be doing something else while watching.

  • ||

    Black Swan was great. Aronovsky's masterpiece.

  • josh||

    maybe you have bad tastes in movies?

  • NeonCat||

    Supposedly Cary Grant used to stay at home, take LSD and watch the Oscars. Since I don't have any LSD, I guess I'm not going to watch.

  • Faithful34||

    like Francisco explained I'm shocked that a single mom can earn $4886 in four weeks on the internet. did you look at this web link http://WWW.FLY38.COM

  • Rasilio||

    "Hollywood wants you to know that it doesn’t like torture at all"

    Really? Then how do you explain Michael Bay movies?

  • ||

    Not to mention Batman.

  • Dallas H.||

    Hathaway, Waltz, and Daniel Day Lewis are the locks on the night.

    Spielberg is just shy of a lock, but will almost certainly win as consolation for not getting Best Picture.

    Best Actress is the hardest call. To me, Watts is the longest shot. I can see a solid case made for just about any of the others based on other award wins this year. My gut says it ends up with Riva or Wallis for sentimentality, but Chastain and Lawrence would be completely unsurprising wins, too.

    Best picture is tough. Argo seemed to have peaked too early and then picked up momentum again at just the right time. I don't get the feeling anyone really likes Lincoln all that much, but it is pure awards show catnip and the other reasonable option. Les Mis could be an under the radar dark horse propelled by some voters, but it would be a pretty huge surprise at this point. In the end, it feels like Argo is the one to beat.

  • josh||

    waltz is nowhere near a lock. and people are underestimating de niro. he's in a very popular movie, and when are they likely to be able to reward one of the great actors again for an actual movie. that, and i'm not sure he doesn't deserve it.

  • Dallas H.||

    "waltz is nowhere near a lock"

    You were saying?

  • Paul.||

    Unfortunately, Bigelow’s film has been hobbled by ridiculous charges that it glorifies torture. (Hollywood wants you to know that it doesn’t like torture at all.)

    I haven't seen ZD30, (I'd like to) but Hollywoodies get a little jumpy the moment they see a film that might swing a little... patriotic... no matter how well the film is made. Having not seen it, I'm guessing that its portrayal is somewhat neutral, ie, not giving the people doing the torture campy villainous roles?

    Django Unchained, his most powerfully mature work, which has stirred up widespread fuss about its use of the word “nigger” (something that doesn’t appear to have bothered Jamie Foxx and Samuel L. Jackson, two of its stars).

    Spike Lee doesn't like the use of the word. So we're done here.

    Silver Linings Playbook, a very funny, very affecting comedy-romance

    Never even heard of it. I'll have to check it out.

    and Spielberg—who already has three Oscars, but could always use a fourth—for Lincoln

    Why not? Spielberg is one of the most consistent directors of our time.

    I long got over complaining about movies or directors merely because of their 'bigness'. Leave that to pretentious college kids who think they have special insight into what "good" movies are.

  • StackOfCoins||

    I stopped watching the Oscars after the downgraded the importance of Best Original Score. A few years ago they just stopped sending out promo CDs, making it much harder or impossible to hear the source material independent of the film, and depriving film score buffs (me) their go-to source for quality recordings.

    When they gave best score to Santaolalla for his soporific Babel over Philip Glass or Javier Navarrete, I realized it was no longer about the music. It's just more politics.

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