For Your Consideration

Calling the Oscars

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Although I’d like to say the past year at the movies really wowed me, frankly, I’d be lying. It’s not that I’m disappointed by what 2012 had to offer, it’s more that, with every film I saw, I was waiting to be absolutely amazed, truly touched, totally transported—in short, I was waiting to feel some of that good, old fashioned Hollywood magic that causes us to seek out the local multiplex or art-house theater and keeps us paying those ever-increasing ticket prices.

That said, a fair number of the movies I saw were indeed solid, fine pieces of filmmaking, dealing with a variety of interesting subjects and fascinating topics, expertly helmed by surefooted directors, and featured many a memorable performance. All told, 2012 can be considered a silver-screen success, and my time at the movies was well spent.

Which brings us to the awards season, and its inevitable culmination, the Academy Awards. As ever, the vagaries of the theoretically esteemed Academy escape me, and this year’s Oscar nods are as remarkable for who didn’t garner nominations as they are for who did make the cut. And, as ever, if there are predictions and prognostications to be made, I can’t resist getting in on the action—if only because it gives me a chance to vent about what woulda coulda shoulda happened. So, without further ado, here’s my carefully considered roundup of who I believe should go home with that gold-plated nude dude that’s got all of Tinseltown in his thrall.

Best Picture
Nominees: Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty

Will Win: Might as well get the big one out of the way, and delve straight into this year’s biggest Oscar controversy. With 11 and 12 Oscar nods apiece, it would seem this is a race between Life of Pi and Lincoln. But awards season sometimes brings with it surprises, and with Argo having swept most of the Best Picture awards leading up to the Oscars, it is now poised as the film to beat. Curious that, given the fact that the movie—which deals with an unusual rescue mission undertaken during the Iran hostage crisis (and Hollywood’s role in it)—is nominated, but its director, Ben Affleck, was overlooked in the Best Director category. Conventional Oscar wisdom says that as Best Director goes, so does Best Picture, but look for this to be one of the rare instances in which the Academy splits its vote.

Should Win: There’s a reason that, of the films in the field, Argo has emerged as the frontrunner. Capably mixing suspense, action and humor to tell a little-known but mostly true story, cast impeccably and directed expertly, this was certainly the best movie I saw in 2012—and Hollywood loves a movie in which Hollywood plays the hero, and Argo definitely fits that bill.

Should Have Been Nominated: This is one of those times when I actually believe the Academy pretty much got it right. Sure, one could make the case that such films as Skyfall or Moonrise Kingdom should’ve earned nominations, and I could make the case that Dark Knight Rises should’ve resulted in a nod as acknowledgment of what Christopher Nolan has done for that franchise, but, in the end, none of those films would’ve stood even an outside chance of winning. As such, their omission could hardly be considered a crime.

Best Director
Nominees: Michael Haneke (Amour), Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Ang Lee (Life of Pi), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)

Will Win: While Ang Lee and Benh Zeitlin, of Life of Pi and Beasts of the Southern Wild respectively, showed the most real directorial vision of any of this year’s nominees, neither is likely to take home Oscar. Despite its 11 nominations, Lee’s Life of Pi has proven to have little awards-season traction, while for first-time director Zeitlin, the nomination is the award. Which leaves us, for various reasons, with Steven Spielberg. Although the Academy’s love for Spielberg is tepid at best (they love to nominate the director, but rarely reward him), his Lincoln biopic is easy to like and tough to find fault with. Plus, it’s bolstered by an excellent screenplay courtesy of Tony Kushner and an impossibly spot-on performance by Daniel Day-Lewis. If you’re going to make a film about a beloved American icon, this is how you do it.

Should Win: Ben Affleck, Ben Affleck, Ben Affleck. Alas, he wasn’t even nominated. If Argo takes home the Best Picture trophy as predicted, this will go down as one of the biggest snubs in Oscar history.

Should Have Been Nominated: See above. And add to that either Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty or Tom Hooper for Les Miserables. Those are far from the slight suffered by Affleck, but each bears a mention.

Best Actor
Nominees: Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables, Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), Denzel Washington (Flight)

Will Win: I’m of the opinion that Daniel Day-Lewis is Hollywood’s greatest living actor, hands down, no question. And as evidence of that assertion, I’d like to offer up his astonishing, amazing portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. Our 16th President, with his distinctive appearance and incredible feats of political machination, is probably our most beloved democratic icon, and attempting to portray him as human while placing him in his proper historical context could easily have been an exercise in theatrical folly. But from the second he appeared onscreen, it was clear Day-Lewis was going to knock this out of the park. His embodiment of Lincoln was fully fleshed out, surprisingly human and utterly riveting. If anyone else takes home this Oscar, I will lose what little faith in the Academy I have left.

Should Win: See above. I’ve heard various people make the case for Joaquin Phoenix’s turn in The Master—and it was extraordinary—but he his role wasn’t as risky and his performance not as commanding as that of Day-Lewis.

Should Have Been Nominated: Overlooked last year for Martha Marcy May Marlene and this year for The Sessions, John Hawkes is amassing quite the body of criminally ignored work. Even flat on his back as a polio patient, Hawkes managed to dazzle. Give him a little credit, Hollywood.

Best Actress
Nominees: Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Naomi Watts (The Impossible)

Will Win: During the run-up to the Academy Awards, the question has been: Who will it be, Jessica Chastain or Jennifer Lawrence? Indeed, in this field, these are the two actresses to beat. Even with little big-screen experience under their respective belts, both actresses seem to be in the Academy’s sweet spot, having each earned previous nominations despite their relative newcomer status. However, during the past few weeks, Lawrence has pulled ahead in this race, scooping up awards that generally act as pretty good Oscar indicators. As well, Zero Dark Thirty is a tricky movie for the Academy to embrace, and that could hurt Chastain come Oscar night.

Should Win: In a perfect world, Oscars would only be awarded to those actors who, via their performances, create indelible characters that live with us long after we leave the theater. Adhering to that standard, the only one in this year’s crew of Best Actress nominees who hit that high mark was someone so young she’s probably never even watched the Academy Awards, much less given any thought to winning one. Nine-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis stands nearly no chance of winning in this category, but her portrayal of Hush Puppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild isn’t likely to be forgotten anytime soon.

Should Have Been Nominated: Yes, it’s unlikely that more than one French actress would garner a nod, and given that scenario, Amour’s Emmanuelle Riva was the proper choice. But without that limitation, Marion Cotillard should’ve earned a nomination for her work in Rust and Bone.

Best Supporting Actor
Nominees: Alan Arkin (Argo), Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln), Christolph Waltz (Django Unchained)

Will Win: The supporting categories are often the richest ones, and this year is no different. Conventional wisdom suggests the winner will be Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln, but opinions certainly aren’t unanimous, which could make for an Oscar-night surprise. As each nominee in this category is a previous Oscar winner, the Academy won’t dole out an award simply to reward someone who has been overlooked in the past, but if they’re looking to do something akin to that, De Niro will almost certainly benefit, as he hasn’t won the gold guy since 1980 (for Raging Bull), despite his many nominations.

Should Win: I’m in the minority on this one, but I’m of the mind that Philip Seymour Hoffman turned in an award-worthy performance as a shady religious leader in The Master. Every time this unassuming-looking actor steps onscreen, he does something memorable, and in that context, his standout performances sometimes get lost in the shuffle of his unfailing excellence.

Should Have Been Nominated: It says something pretty profound about Quentin Tarantino’s ability to draw unforgettable characters that, although one of Django Unchained’s actors—Christolph Waltz—earned a nomination, the snubs in this category belong to two of the actors who shared the screen with Waltz in the same film. Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson may not have gotten the acclaim, but Waltz definitely could not have been nominated without their help.

Best Supporting Actress
Nominees: Amy Adams (The Master), Sally Field (Lincoln), Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)

Will Win: Oh, just give the Oscar to Anne Hathaway. Yes, she had barely any screen time in Les Miserables, but awards have been given for less. Tom Hooper’s big, elaborate musical should be rewarded in some fashion, and Hathaway’s performance was the definition of fearless. Not to mention the fact that the actress belted out that song like her very life depended on it. She has the hunger. And her hunger deserves its reward.

Should Win: See above. Besides, I don’t think any of us wants to live through another Sally Field “You like me! You really like me!” moment.

Should Have Been Nominated: This is another category in which I have no beef with the Academy. All the should’ve-been-nominated names that have been floated in this category—Judy Dench (Skyfall), Nicole Kidman (The Paperboy), Maggie Smith (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)—wouldn’t stand a chance in hell of winning, so their omission can hardly be considered snubs.

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