The Definitive Dalcher Guide to the 2013 Oscars

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The Academy Awards—not every year is worth the fuss. In years past, I’ve sometimes only caught the announcements after the ceremony had passed, quite indifferent to the awards given. A Beautiful Mind, Lord of the Rings, and last year’s The Artist were big winners like these—and it’s not that I didn’t care because I disliked these films outright. It’s because I had no team in the running.

 

Just like sports fans have heros, so do we film geeks—and we anticipate the arrival of new projects as soon as they hove into the horizon. A new P.T. Anderson, another David O. Russel, Kathryn Bigelow’s follow-up to The Hurt Locker—the most serious Robert Zemeckis film ever! No, I never saw Cast Away, but Denzel Washington plays the epic hero/alcoholic plane crasher—and there’s a nod to Fallen when John Goodman shows up. Queue  The Rolling Stones’ “Time Is on My Side.”

 

 

—the Contenders:

 

Silver Linings Playbook: The romance: Star-crossed lovers set apart by their own mental conditions. Clever enough to avoid being a gimmick, and medicated enough to keep us relating, the psychopathic chemistry sweeps you up.

 

Les Misérables: The age-old musical: It’s harrowing story and unique phenomenon of what a film adaptation of a stage-play can be—there’s no one who doesn’t know—they sang these takes live—and straight-faced, or tearfully, or while pulling a massive barge…

 

Life of Pi: The Odyssey: Mythic unspoken bonds form between predator kings man and tiger on a lifeboat after their zoo/Ark capsizes. Their journey toward salvation and symbiosis is perhaps the most progressive plot-line of the year.

 

beasts-of-the-southern-wild

Quvenzhané Wallis in ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild.’

Amour: The tragedy: A French Palm d’Or of Cannes—two loved ones endure a stroke and as she falls from herself he takes up her care. The story lives in words and a lack of words; in pity and stubbornness and memories. Sad capital of the world.

 

Django Unchained: The comic-book: A stylized tale of two crusaders battling a southern slave-holding elite. Ultra-Western and ultra-violent, this tall-tale strains credulity about as much as a train-riding hobo who’s story loses it’s way half way through, but keeps on going.

 

Argo: The pulp thriller: A CIA rescue mission out of the 1980 Iranian hostage crisis by way of film-crew masquerade. This is not only an expert blend of genre collision that good fiction strives for;  it’s also as non-fiction as dramatic narrative films get.

 

Lincoln: The monument: Our 16th American President, the legend, Abraham Lincoln. The facts of the story are any history teacher’s gospel, and the instances of Lincoln working the legal and bureaucratic mechanics of the presidency is a puzzle I’ve never before seen depicted as being so understood, nor so righteously wielded.

 

Zero Dark Thirty: An unflinching chronicle of the speedily declassified CIA manhunt for Bin Laden and the female agent who ascended to the rank of headhunter-in-chief. This historic ultra-nonfiction piece has all the urgency of a newspaper. Front page.

 

Beasts of the Southern Wild: This one is a storybook. A hard-nosed child, Hushpuppy, takes us through the brilliant fireworks, rising tides, and giant black boars that are the end of the world—one that’s coming, one living thing at a time. This would be a dream poured onto a page, but it’s not a page; it is instead a film that succeeds past the point of belief.

 

 

—second string

 

The Master: A man who makes a beast of himself, Mr. Freddie Quell, is taken under the wing of a guru, who in his theoretical philosophizing is forming a…group of believers…that might be a cult. Landcaster Dodd, the guru, finds Freddy a perfect case study in the human struggle between man and animal. The trouble is Freddie.

 

Flight: You’re at 10,000 feet when your plane starts falling apart. That’s the bad news. On the upside, you’re dosed for cocaine-ninja reflexes and enough of a buzz to turn that puppy upside-down and casually cruise for a field while you work on the next screwdriver.

 

Anna Karenina: You know those aristocratic setbacks of arranged marriages and sexually repressed social standards that command one to behave themselves? Well Keira Knightly and Leo Tolstoy are of the opinion that you should do whatever you want. Fuck society.

 

Skyfall: When James Bond starts hating technology, you know the sky will be falling. Stupid internet hacking! Putting double-oh-intelligence into coach seats! MI6 is up for redundancy! Clearly a lot of cars need to be crashed, bullets fired, nooses slipped, and women…debriefed. That’ll teach the geek squad how to conduct an operation.

 

Moonrise Kingdom: Wes Anderson’s teenage romance, maybe preteen. A boy scout and the girl—who plays the raven in the school play—run away from their respective homes because of a dirty little secret called angst. I mean love, they’re in preteen love.

 

So without further adieu,

 

 

—Actress in a Supporting Role

 

Sally Field and Daniel Day Lewis as First Lady and President Lincoln.

Sally Field and Daniel Day Lewis as First Lady and President Lincoln.

Amy Adams has been nominated once again as a supporting role in The Master; she was up for it two years ago for The Fighter. In this case, her character is one of understated presence who then serves up some Zen-Yoda-Leary-sounding self-help. You see she, Peggy, and her husband, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, have formed a riddled spiritual uhh…mission—which is that lofty concept of Scientology. Recall a sound; visualize your future; drink the Kool-Aid. Sally Field is another former nominee, in fact also a two-time winner for Best Actress, ’80 and ’85, both times winning for portraying a position of leadership. And now she’s First Lady Lincoln. As a woman of the Civil War era, she finds limited leveraging power, besides moments of formal condescension with the cabinet and hysteria—I repeat: hysteria—over their son going to war. Another nominated role of a mother in a battlefield is Jackie Weaver in Silver Linings Playbook, whose son is dead set on breaking his restraining order and blasts into violent tantrums from which she has to defend herself. Her moment to shine comes when she finds out that her son’s friend, whom she’s driving home from the mental hospital, is in fact—not allowed to leave. Cue the swerving car. Helen Hunt, also a former Best Actress for As Good As It Gets, has received the Best Supporting nod for The Sessions, a Sundance winner in which she plays a sex therapist—the kind of Californian sex therapist that operates physically. Or maybe it’s a physical therapist that operates sexually. The dynamic between she and her essentially paralyzed patient, played by John Hawkes, is like sketch comedy gone feature-length, and their absurd relationship becomes infused with the dramatic elements of real life. The game-changer: Anne Hathaway is nominated for an altogether different performance—she serenades with the song of a prostitute who must give up her young child. She is a show-stopper, and her performance is the tragic heart of Les Misérables. She’ll win this, doubtless.

 

 

—Art Department: Costume Design, Production Design, Makeup and Hairstyling

 

I’ve lumped these all together for brevity’s sake.

 

These departments are where the fashion industry sinks in its teeth, from interior design to the painted fingernails that may or may not wind up onscreen—the most artfully designed, lavishly decorated, or reservedly peppered films are: Les Misérables: Nominated for costume, production design, and makeup and hairstyling, it remakes 19th century France on an epic scale. Shot in the cobble-stoned streets and cathedrals of England, the colors and Victorian garb are the realization of perhaps the finest Broadway production ever—expect it to clean up. Lincoln: Nominated for costume and production design. Staged in authentic Virginia landscape, the forefront of the Civil War. Its elegance of stately attire and modest color palette keep the costuming down to suit selection, and of course, signature top hats. Horse-drawn carriages, telegraph offices, and a refurbished White House makes for the spare-no-expense production design for this finely crafted period piece. Anna Karenina: Revels in the fantasy behind its production design. Shooting was split between Russia, the UK, and an amphitheater in housing an ice skating rink, horse stables—whatever segues they required. Like Les Misérables, this is a theatrical Victorian piece on film; unlike Les Mis, it is on the upper class side of extravagant. Nominations for production design and costumes modeled by Keira Knightly—including that top-hat with femme fatale veil—what’s that cost? Your place in high society. Then again if you’re in the same corner as Peter Jackson’s Tolken franchise, there’s no losing your status. The Hobbit: This marks their—jeez—they’re at 13 Academy Awards, and this could be 14 for the same team that has been with Jackson all the way. Life of Pi: Its nominated for all things…production design, visual effects, total 3-D fakery…best performance by a leading tiger—the problem? I just didn’t’t want to see it.  But read on; I did, and more on that later. Speaking of ‘don’t want to see’—Mirror Mirror—What is that? And Hitchcock—Nominated for hair and makeup—that’s the first good thing I’ve heard about it! Snow White and the Huntsman—Nominated for costume and visual effects—a category now being snuck in—was shot in fictional Scotland, England, and other lands far far away. The witch, Charlize Theron, bathes in milk, in virgin’s blood, sports impossible crowns, and incites epic horse ridden battles, all thanks to art department mastery. This is the feature that makes A Game of Thrones jealous. The team behind Tim Burton’s semi-latest masturbation: Alice in Wonderland, has taken one big step ahead, and while it’s not worth winning, it’s worth talking about. Much unlike Prometheus—Nominated for visual effects—this movie adds up to one giant pooch-screw. Here the “dawn of man” is comprised of animated Egyptian idol people—and their heads explode once infected by…who cares. No doubt this would make a good gag for the ceremony: Prometheus wins, but the golden idol just explodes and splatters purple goo all over the place. And then they’ll give out the real award.

 

 

—Actor in a Supporting Role

 

Alan Arkin has been playing the crusty yet savagely witted grandfather type for probably twenty years now. He’s also won this very award for doing so in Little Miss Sunshine, and now he’s here again as the grandfather of 1980s Hollywood. A producer, and a satire of a producer, who throws science fiction parties, script readings and blows off the clinging talent—all to smokescreen an Iranian hostage crisis escape attempt! What movie can this be? “Argo-Fuck-Yourself!” And next in the bout between the shouting crusty old men is Tommy Lee Jones as the radical idealist politician in Lincoln. In the battle of Democrat vs. Republican in the 1865 Congress, the man wages war, prying the passage of the 13th Amendment. In the face of having his beliefs scapegoated as reason to block the 13th, Jones swallows his pride, purgers himself, and hurls insults all the while. Quite a complicated poker face. Robert De Niro has a similar web of mitigating circumstances in his role in Silver Lining Playbook—the difference is that many of his circumstances are imaginary. He’s crusty-old-man-crazy—in a story full of crazy—who believes his sports teams win if his son watches the game, or if he’s at the game, with the old jersey maybe, or maybe if he’s dancing with Jennifer Lawrence. He also knows when to bet all the money—like ALL of it. In the superstition that is magical thinking, we stake out truths, either wise or lunatic truths. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a theoretical philosopher of matters such as these—’no coincidences’ being a key beginning in the weaving of his path of belief, which he just might be making up as he goes along. As a wise man who might be crazy, he’s got fascinating conviction and he touts his truths indomitably. Were The Master to capitalize on all the subjects it raises with this role of guru Lancaster Dodd, this would be a split lead at the least. I believe he sings though, so that may put him ahead by a nose. The nominee to have won most recently, Christoph Waltz, has reprised his role as Tarantino’s theater man, whose elaborately laid dialogue structures all plot progression of Django—he is also the deus ex machina that film professors make rules against. Like Arkin, he’s up for the same type of role that last landed him a win, and as a German-cowboy-bounty hunter and fake dentist, he may just be better than believable. It’s certainly a toss up in this categor y with its stack of former winners—Jones for The Fugitive, Hoffman for Capote, Waltz for Inglourious Basterds and Deniro for The Godfather Part II—film history, by the way.

 

 

—Sound: Editing and Mixing, as well as

—Film Editing

 

Things getting real in 'Zero Dark Thirty.'

Things getting real in ‘Zero Dark Thirty.’

Getting things rolling with startling bursts of gunfire is Zero Dark Thirty with nominations for sound editing and film editing. Spent shells eject in the black of the hidden compound as Navy SEALS take room after uncharted room. Quieted helicopter propellors, phantoms tracking phantoms, enhanced interrogation techniques, and grindcore lullabies by Rorschach—this sound team landed a dual win in this category four years ago for The Hurt Locker, whereas the film editing team is new to director Bigelow’s force. These editors, William Goldenberg and Dylan Tichenor, is particularly of note since he’s also nominated for his work in Argo. In fact, Argo is nominated across the board in this category. It sounds like blood in the streets and has enough B-cameras rolling to edit the film into a frenzied documentary-feel as escapees find themselves in the eye of social upheaval. Cross-cut with white knuckles at the Pentagon, and cross-cut that with the Hollywood big shots—and a score, mixed to the film’s pulse, heightening the style and pulling the bindings tight—I can’t take my eyes off of it. Life of Pi is also holding the flush of nominations in every category—and having finally seen it—just the other morning, in the midst of writing this piece—I’ll admit to astonishment. This sound and editing category as well as the visual effects nomination are all involved in the process of recording, manipulating, and inserting this tiger into his leading role. Richard Parker, leading tiger, is created in an unstageable interaction—between tiger, actor, and ocean. Where the departmental lines are drawn I have only theories, but people will be walking home with tiger awards, not to mention phosphorescent ocean awards. In the boat of polar opposite is Django Unchained—a sound editing nod for its ballistic spinning pistols, bullet-struck human shrapnel, whips, chains, and dogs that tear a man to pieces—it’s the opposite boat because I find this movie in no way believable and it’s hard to hype a magic trick that’s not working. Les Misérables is a musical, so its dual sound nominations come as no surprise. In the world of sound mixing, it’s as mic-ed, leveled, and produced as any album, so it may have a leg up. Lincoln might not. Nominated for sound mix and film editing, it’s a rather straightforward affair, and this is not where it shines. For an example of what shines in it’s straightforwardness, take Skyfall—a disarming come-on, then devastating car chases and marketplace mayhem. Add glib comments sparsely, then explode amidst collapsing twisting metal and the debonaire swagger of the soundtrack—it all amounts to our believing this guy never bats an eye. Nominated for sound editing and sound mixing, it’s the action film of the year, and these sound awards traditionally go to action films. In a year like this, however, all Bond’s got is two shots.

 

 

—Actor in a Leading Role

 

“If you could fight any historical figure, who would you fight?
. . .
Lincoln. Tall guy, big reach—skinny guys fight to the burger.”
-Tyler Durden, Fight Club

 

As if he needed an invitation, just give Joaquin Phoenix a brick wall this year—he’ll put he head through it. Better yet, how about two cops? Nominated previously for playing Johnny Cash in Walk the Line, in this year’s The Master, Mr. Freddie Quell is the uncivil counterpoint to “man’s separation from the animal kingdom.” His posture remains shrugged and downright simian; his unbridled urge to defy authority is a one-billion-year-old allegory trapped between a wall and a window. He and director Paul Thomas Anderson have made a brilliant thing here, and any other year they’d have a strong suit. Bradley Cooper is the underdog in this competition, known for the anti-academy Hangover films. In Silver Linings Playbook, he plays another basketcase even more oblivious to himself than Phoenix. Fixated, paranoid on the verge of psychosis, does he fight cops? Yes. Does he fight Hemingway? Sort of. Does he inexplicably come through in the end? What? Hugh Jackman—a singing wolverine?! My vote goes to the best performing tiger! Yes, they do the impossible over here, and Denzel Washington‘s Whip Whitaker is no exception. A hero, and a drunk—as self-righteous as he is wrong—this powerhouse performance plays smartly to that enigma as he makes every argument to the contrary while tying on another and another emblem of his guilt. We see this strong man’s control shaken from him, as a disaster he circumvented exposes him as a criminal whose number is up. Washington has won this one before, as Training Day‘s crooked LA detective, but nobody’s taking this award from Daniel Day Lewis. The legend of our 16th President, brought to life; the fusion between idealist, politician, and lawyering rule-weaver. Lewis makes the role of the presidency seem tangible—the same way athletes make their sport look easy—the delivery of his dialogue spells out bureaucratic function, estimations of individual reactions, and how each can be made to suit Lincoln’s purposes—making such a thing understandable is a drastic success of performance and script. Lewis completely carries the plot on his sleeve and then pauses for moments of quietude, elaborating on tangent stories to all those around. This performance is already film history, and you can bet the farm it will win.

 

 

—Cinematography

 

Here’s someone you may have heard of: Roger Deakins—he shoots for the Coen Brothers and Sam Mendes. This is his first nomination for being on Mendez’s team, though he was last nominated for True Grit and also for Fargo—this is his 10th time at the winner’s table and he still has yet to walk away with the gold. This year: Skyfall, the A-list Bond film. It’s the first time in the 50 years of the franchise that it’s gotten treatment like this, and it shows. The film’s look is excessive: From the highly motivated lighting of the first shot, to the abandoned city-island, to the two Shanghai showdowns, one classically in a casino and the other in a glass tower—all silhouettes and reflected Chinese signs—the guy should have won a long time ago, and here he is, just making flaming hoops. Onto a name I should know: Claudio Miranda.This is the research that made me eat my words about Pi. The cinematographer to Ang Lee’s team is formerly gaffer to David Fincher—Se7en, Fight Club—he shot Benjamin Button for Fincher once he graduated to cinematographer, thereby earned his first nomination. Life of Pi is a most beautiful thing. I had never seen a 3-D film before this morning, but in a field where the mantra is ‘vary your shots,’ just watch for the closeups on the boat. They’re few and effectively potent. It’s a life boat! More than an hour of screen time! I count the closeups as less than ten. From disciplined to frivolous, an upset Seamus McGarvey for Anna Keranina beats out Les Misérables for photography of a Victorian piece! This is team Wright, Knightly & McGarvey’s second rodeo together, and their second nomination—Atonement was their first McGarvey’s look for this film is a strong stylish improvement on Pride and Prejudice, made prior to his placement as the team cinematographer. Janusz Kaminski for Lincoln—MVP of team Spielberg—Schindler’s List seems to have made his name for him—one of his first professional films and for which he won the gold—he scored a second for Saving Private Ryan. He does more than World War II movies though—he was most recently nominated for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and now, having shot Lincoln, he’ll most likely hang [pause for laughter]. The real question is can the Academy resist making these jokes? Django Unchained‘s Robert Richardson was originally Oliver Stone’s guy, responsible for film history like Wall Street and JFK. He most recently made Shutter Island with Scorsese, so he specializes in films that are just over the line of realistic. He’s shot every Tarantino project since Kill Bill began, and he’s in for three Oscars already. Who’s going to win this? Too good a match to call. Deakins deserves one, but having made a Bond film, he’s probably the least likely.

 

 

—Actress in a Leading Role

 

Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva in 'Amour.'

Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva in ‘Amour.’

It’s a good sign for an actress’ career when she’s nominated for her first onscreen role as a child—Quvenzhané Wallis may just one up Anna Paquin’s record for her Best Actress in a Supporting Role win for The Piano—they’re both about eight, though Wallis’ is a leading role. And she’s got that death punch on her side, as well as the capacity to add insult to injury: “When you’re dead, I’ll go to your grave and eat birthday cake all by myself.” Don’t try her, she’s almost ten now. As for Amour‘s Emmanuelle Riva, she stiffens and gnarls herself into a stroke victim’s mortal coil. In moments of lucidity, she shows the pride and understanding of a wise elder stolen by old age. Naomi Watts might know something about what Riva has been through, since she’s a veteran and producer of Funny Games, another work by Amour’s director. The interview might sound like this: “Naomi, why do you like to suffer so? Why would you produce and star in a film about the restraining, torture, and murder of a family of three?—I mean, you play the mother!” And she’d say, “Oh I just love to suffer! You should see The Impossible this year! It’s all about me suffering—with children, I mean, we’re all half-dead, wandering the tsunami devastated island—I die at the end.” Beaming smiles. Okay—now this is the contention that could go either way and none other:  Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty—a rogue beyond ideals who is neck-deep in doing what needs to be done—whatever needs to be done to acquire her target. Assassin movies are rarely so real and politically relevant and that’s what she is—the modern American application of an assassin—via coveted information and shadow-tracking all the way to the hive. Opposite of the girl with the exoskeleton is the dancer with the goth eyeliner, a character with asteroid craters worth of damage—Jennifer Lawrence. Here she exhibits the clear advantage of thin skin—mood swings: “You think that I’m crazier than you?!” Tearing all the glass and silverware off a diner table, she storms out into the street before it’s finsiehd crashing on the floor. She tries to shake her counterpart, Bradley Cooper’s, pursuit by inciting a few people from a nearby crowd—”Are you bothering this woman?” Policemen approach as well, he’s getting panicked, people are closing in around him, an intensity of hate and fear comes over his face—when she suddenly changes her mind. Calling off the aggressors, she leads him away on her arm. Hell hath no fury…and these two actresses are the yin and yang of the scorned. Can there be a tie?

 

 

—Writing [Adapted Screenplay]

 

Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russel: Adapted by the writer/director, this novel is just Russel’s taste of bent and forms amongst his better known works a real highpoint: Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees, and The Fighter.

 

Argo, Chris Terrio: Three very different worlds shaken into one sick cocktail. It’s frightening, intense, hilarious, and satirical. It’s also a celebration of filmmaking—as an adventure. This is the first big thing for Terrio, who is of the independent New York City background.

 

Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin: This is the big-huge indie that can. It’s a dream, written with lurid imagination and a childlike philosoph, and its script refines these elements into dialogue and voice -ver perfectly. Also two NYC independent filmmakers, Alibar and Zeitlin adapted this story from a play.

 

 

Life of Pi, David Magee: Magee was nominated previously for Finding Neverland—what? A fantasy writer, it seems, transformed a book loaded with spiritual thinking into a script that’s…well…zen—if you drop the Forest Gump narration points and the moments that ‘prove god’s existence,’ you’ve got a piece completely about the lifelong meditative act of taming a wild beast, be it internal or external. It’s got its crutches, but it remains an excellent reworking.

 

Lincoln, Tony Kushner: Spielberg’s political thriller writer, formerly nominated for Munich, has outdone a lot of scripts of the past. As I’ve said, I’ve never seen the Presidency portrayed so tangibley, and for these points to come across in a dialogue heard once—and retained—it’s in this respect that Lincoln is a substantial front-runner.

 

 

—Writing [Original Screenplay]

 

Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola: Cute as a button, quirky, obsessively compulsive, filled to the brim with insights into children and the adults they become, Kingdom is the sum of a multitude of people, fantastic people. It is also a cartoon on the same weird subject of dissociative love and disfunction as Silver Linings Playbook, an Academy favorite this year. That hurts. Thunder stolen.

 

Amour, Michael Haneke: What is it to lose a loved one to the slow deterioration following a stroke? What is it to use an unflinching hand to hold the mirror to our behavior and shine it back at us? As we keep the suffering clutched to our chest: “Do you presume to just breeze in here and tell me what’s right?” This script will show you what isn’t right.

 

Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino: Clearly on the fast track to winning a Pulitzer Prize here—didn’t Spike Lee recommend him for a Pulitzer?

 

Flight, John Gatlins:  A first nomination for the former actor, he’s made some things in the past, but nothing of merit, nothing like this. Flight is perhaps the most under-nominated film in the running, and, mirroring what the film’s lead actor puts in—it’s a Oscar vehicle, a very smart script that understands the intricacies of the proud, and the holes a proud person can dig for themselves.

 

Zero Dark Thirty, Mark Boal: A key man on the Bigelow team and producer and writer of The Hurt Locker as well. Sheerly the first person to deal with the declassified Osama information creatively. Like Lincoln‘s script, the breakdown of complicated ever-many facts into digestible dialogue is quite the feat. Unlike Lincoln, our heroine has completely internalized emotional arc and overt command: Always get your man. This moody meta-military film looks like it’s going by the wayside, and that is bullshit. It should win this.

 

 

—Directing

 

Suraj Sharma as Pi Patel, and Richard Parker, in 'Life of Pi.'

Suraj Sharma as Pi Patel, and Richard Parker, in ‘Life of Pi.’

Ang Lee: Third film to be nominated, one win for Brokeback Mountain. I can’t put a name to his style, I can’t see his films as a body of work, and I’ve never been a fan. I’ve spoken of Life of Pi‘s crutches, but they’re preferred to stumbling points, and the fact of the matter is he’s made something really substantial and new from a Cast Away formula.

 

Michael Haneke: First film to be nominated—and a powerful thing Amour is. But those believing him to be preaching sympathy may be surprised to find that he’s turned his unflinching eye on the sadistic as well. With the aforementioned Funny Games as my tool of comparison, I’ll say I find his devices to be far too cruel to be palatable to anyone outside a film, psychology, or philosophy class—or  to anyone with a disposition to sadism.

 

David O. Russel: Second film to be nominated, The Fighter being the first, and he stands a good chance to win for this one. There’s a restless variety of life embraced by Silver Linings Playbook—like a manic tumble through channels on a television—each character with their different shade of glasses through which they view life: the silver-lined, the black dahlia, the green-backed pigskin.

 

Benh Zeitlin: First film to be nominated, won the Grand Jury Prize and the Excellence in Cinematography Award at Sundance—this work is a triumph. Zeitlin’s directing of a six-year-old unfolds like fate, and he performs visual dreamlike execution on film as I’ve never seen. This young man has used immense visuals without making them overbearing; they are subtly nightmarish with no chance to look again and giggle at all its fakery.

 

Steven Spielberg: Tenth film nominated, two of those films went on to win for a total of three statues. Though I did not see War Horse—best horse in a supporting role of last year—I’m glad Spielberg is back to making films of real substance. If anyone was going to make a film about Lincoln, I’d rather it be him than probably anyone else—especially Quentin Tarantino. He’d probably have the 16th President punch through Robert E. Lee’s brain and strangle John Wilkes Booth with a whole six rounds lodged in his chest.

 

 

—Nuts.

 

I thought Ben Affleck was on that list—and Kathryn Bigelow and probably Robert Zemeckis. Not Paul Thomas Anderson’s year. I’d like to have seen an art direction nod to Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, or Oliver Stone’s Savages for that matter. Best visual effects failed to recognize Flight‘s cockpit scene—and how did Greg Fraser shoot those Zero Dark Thirty scenes without light? Because that’s what it looks like—no light sources projecting shadows, a picture that looks as though it’s been distinguished in the near pitch-darkness by the human eye and not a camera aperture—cinematography recognition, please! Not to mention Argo‘s cinematographer is Rodrigo Prieto, a veteran of Iñárritu’s films who has the best B-camera coverage plan ever—just watch 21 Grams—and where’s some recognition for Nick Cave and John Hillcoat whose grizzly works finally produced a blockbuster? This year also saw new releases by Richard Linklater, David Cronenberg, and Steven Soderbergh, who made a movie about male strippers. While we’re talking about unsung heros: Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio have simply the most viscous animosity towards one another in Django—MTV award for Best Hero and Villain? So granted.

 

—Best Picture

 

Not gonna, can’t possibly win, just not happening: Django UnchainedAmidst its brilliant moments, there are such detractions that I’m surprised it’s nominated. Amour—this unflinching look at how old age ends is simply not a subject that wins Best Picture, it is, however, well-worth witnessing and its message is well-worth recognizing.

 

Second Seat: A far tougher call here, Les Misérables—has damaged critical acclaim, and its past Broadway productions to live up to. Similarly, Life of Pi‘s massive visual realization of the book—including the socializing of the leading tiger—still leaves a gap in the deeper theological and spiritual elements which have generated such a following for the book. Zero Dark Thirty—strictly speaking by nominations, this picture is falling behind. Not the year for Bigelow’s gritty no-apologies realism. If anyone’s miscategorized here, it’s Pi.

 

Cinderella: Beasts of the Southern Wild—the world is a gravy boat for this film. It’s writer/director has already won—people everywhere will now be saying ‘yes’ to his ideas. If Beasts wins this however, it’s flat out historic.

 

Top Shelf: Silver Linings Playbook—to spite its ugly designation as a romantic comedy, the film is just bursting with insane, lovable humanity. Lincoln—my opinion: it’s got all the odds. And as my opinion continues…it’s a conventional safe bet that is a stiff and dull and sanctimonious pick for best picture. Argo—”Don’t ever tell me the odds!” A little 1970s scifi film called Star Wars, the coattails of which are being ridden by the Argo smokescreen. This best-bad-idea has won out in several of the award ceremonies that don’t count, so what will happen on February 24? Argo certainly has a good catchphrase for a losing sentiment.

 

 

Watch the 85th annual Academy Awards this Sunday, February 24.
The red carpet opens at 7pm.

For more information on this year’s nominees, visit oscar.go.com.

by & filed under Arts & Music, Previews & Reviews, Top Stories.