Saturday, February 23, 2013

Dr. AC's 2013 Oscar Rundown

2013 Academy Awards Nominees

Just in the nick of time, here is my completely subjective take on the Oscar race.  These are not in any way to be seen as my handicapping, so don’t blame me if you don’t walk off with the office pool.  Who does win is completely out of my control.  Who I feel should win?  That’s another story, and I’ve noted my picks with an asterisk (*). 

Read on…

Best Picture

Declared the “most devastating film of the year” by any number of critics and personal acquaintances, I was struck by just how frightened people must be about the nature of growing old and dying.  This is not to diminish the achievement by all concerned, because what we have here is an unshowy, clear-eyed gaze into the latter years of a pair of life-mates (Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva), as seen through Michael Haneke’s unflinching lens.  I found it more human than depressing, more honest than manipulative, and possessing more diamond-edged truth – with all its cold and unyielding connotations – than any other of the nominees.

Affleck not getting his Best Director nod (although all this bellyaching struck me as unnecessary considering it's only his third effort) might have been the best thing in the world.  It’s certainly tipped the scales in its favor.  (I will always wonder how this race might have gone had Ben’s name been up there alongside the others.  I have a feeling most would have found that its own reward.)   It's a well-done thriller with a laudable amount of suspense – especially since most of us know the outcome – but is it revelatory? Not really.  And is it the Best Picture of the year?  Not by a long shot. 

Beasts of the Southern Wild*
A feature so audaciously original yet emotionally accessible, this offbeat fable of a New Orleans community’s struggle for survival in the face of a storm (seen through the young eyes of the stunningly gifted Quvenzhane Wallis) was easily one of my favorite films of 2012.  It possesses jaw-dropping imagery both realistic and fantastic in nature, but always remains anchored in the deep emotional connections between Wallis and Dwight Henry (who deserved a nod) as her father.  As good as you’ve heard. 

Django Unchained
Tarantino’s name is the only reason this film in the mix.  Which is not really a complaint, but if anyone else would have offered up this bloody, revisionist Western, peppered with his uniquely populist/throwback sensibilities, it might have found an audience but not critical consideration.  As has been QT’s wont for the past few flicks, we could stand to lose about 20 minutes, but there’s enough twists, turns, snaps, pops, crackles, and giant exploding blood squibs to keep us occupied.  Samuel L. Jackson’s slyly sinister manservant had me hanging on the edge of my seat, and I’m stunned his work wasn’t recognized here.  Isn’t it time the national treasure that is SLJ got some Academy love?

Les Miserables
Ergh. Great production values, but woefully undersung. It's like the assembled cast of movie stars were afraid of waking the neighbors, so prevalent is the speak-singing here. The decision to do the live-capture singing was a bold but misguided one on director Tom Hooper’s part, but his penchant for too many damn close-ups during the big choral numbers, where you can almost predict who will get the next shot based on their billing, was what really got my dander up. Better in the second half, but lot of goodwill has been lost by then.

Life of Pi
A charming and heartwarming piece of cinema that also happens to be technically dazzling.  It’s like Avatar with half the pretension and hype.  Ang Lee unveils some of the more revelatory use of 3D, although his CGI tiger in a boat never quite convinced me that there was an actual tiger in the boat.  In a way, I wished that they had just told the story as an entirely animated film, because then there would never have been those distracting moments of realizing we were watching a stunt.  Still, there’s a lot more to this story of a young Indian boy’s journey than its “dazzling visuals” marketing campaign would have you believe.  

Again, considering we all know the outcome, the struggle to pass the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is dramatized with an impressive amount of suspense.  Day-Lewis renders another monumental transformation, capturing the 16th President’s thousand-yard stare and gift for persuasion – although it must be said that Spielberg’s penchant for holding on silent contemplative shots of his star in repose borders on the excessive, especially when nothing is revealed beyond impenetrable thoughtful consideration.  Wonderful work from a venerable supporting cast, one that cries out “Here is your ensemble of the year.”  

Silver Linings Playbook
There’s a lot to like here, but while I enjoyed it mightily in the moment, the further away from it I got the more troubled I was by its perceived “love is all you need” final analysis of mental illness.  As many can attest, all the love and understanding in the world doesn’t fix a broken mind.  I liked it, but as my beloved femalien put it, it feels like there was a scene missing somewhere.

Zero Dark Thirty
I found the dramatization of the “greatest manhunt in the world” to capture Osama Bin Laden to be suspenseful even though (once again) we knew the outcome.  While it does drag a bit at times, this seemed perfectly appropriate to a film that is all about the waiting; to find the right leads, to get the right confessions, to locate the right buildings, to get permission to release the Seals.  Solid fare.  It’s a tough call to say whether Kathryn Bigelow deserved to be bumped – what’s interesting is how the outrage hasn’t translated into the amount of goodwill as it did for Mssr. Affleck. 

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Naomi Watts, The Impossible*
Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

By far the strongest field, without a puzzler in the bunch.  Riva is tender, funny, tenacious and heartbreaking, but I wonder if enough people have seen the performance to vote that way.  Lawrence took her whacked-out widow, who could have been a truly annoying freakshow character, and made it someone we could root for and she did it the same year that she played adolescents in The Hunger Games and House at the End of the Street.  Speaking of versatility, Chastain has never played the same note twice in her nonstop acting barrage over the past two years.  Her turn in ZDT didn’t particularly move me, but there’s no denying the woman’s talents and I could accept a win here as an overall award for her efforts.  Wallis, the youngest Best Actress nominee in history, is the fiery center of the best film of the year.  I’m curious as to how much of the credit goes to her director, but I’d love to believe she’s the real deal.  But at the end of the day, I’m giving my vote to Watts.  Her fearless emotional and physical performance is filled with every human emotion one can imagine, and if anyone is “due” here, it’s her.

Best Actor

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln*
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight

Jackman’s nomination for doing a serviceable job is the sore thumb sticking out here.  Shouldn’t have happened.  Phoenix served up an intense and unpredictably dangerous character and while I didn’t really care about him or the film in general, I was riveted by the sheer gusto and bravura choices made.  Cooper was a bit of a revelation, seamlessly blending the manic with the depressive, the obsessive with the human.  Washington’s work is solid and well-modulated (and it’s also the best thing about the film), showing a mix of vulnerability and unflappable courage, but it’s nothing new. On the other hand, Day-Lewis shouldn’t be able to surprise us anymore, but damned if he didn’t.  Run the highlight reels of Christy Brown or Daniel Plainview next to his turn as Honest Abe – it’s like he isn’t painting with the same brush or color palette or even canvas. 

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions*
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook
Hathaway has been the runaway Oscar fave from the second the Les Miz trailer hit the streets, but in spite of her unbroken-take rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream," she's pretty much one color throughout: desperately mournful with a spine of fury.  I liked Field’s work, but it was nothing earth-shaking.  Weaver is so wonderful and warm and conflicted, but she’s not really given much to do other than stand around and react in her wonderful and warm and conflicted way.  Hunt brings a real strength and gravity to a complex role, superbly balancing emotional engagement and detachment.  Adams is the head-shaker here – her clenched jaw and steely eyed approach left me thinking that anyone could have done what she does here.  There was no one here who blew me away, which makes me want to reach back in the 2012 hopper to see what other names could have been pulled.

Best Supporting Actor

Alan Arkin, Argo
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained*

Interesting that all of these are not only previous nominees, but previous winners.  (My Oscar trivia Spidey-sense wonders if that’s ever happened before.)  Arkin should not be here, plain and simple.  I love the guy, but he’s just doing his same ol’ shtick.  Waltz was wonderful and I was genuinely thrilled to see him get the nod as opposed to Leo Di Caprio even though his character is closer to a leading role.  Hoffman is grandiose and intimate, but it never, ever feels like anything other than a performance.  De Niro actually showed up to play ball like the master he is, tendering one of the most fully organic and fully realize performances of the last 20 years.  Welcome back, bub.  Jones is terrific, and it’s a perfect marriage with screenwriter Tony Kushner who gave him such wonderful lines to chew on.  I’d love to see it go to Waltz because he’s such an anomaly as an actor (only QT seems to know how to use him properly), but I’d be happy with either Jones or De Niro.

Best Director

Michael Haneke, Amour
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Behn Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild*

Spielberg did a terrific job of keeping suspense high in a storyline with a foregone conclusion, but he’s also guilty of the aforementioned prolonged shots of his star in repose.  Haneke’s work is quietly revelatory and I’m so gratified the Academy decided to honor the man after all this time.  He’s doing his usual “unflinching long take” thing, but since most U.S. viewers might not be familiar with his name, I’m glad they’re being introduced to him at last.  Lee is being celebrated more for his command of the technical elements, but he also coaxed a pretty terrific lead performance out of non-actor Suraj Sharma.  Russell’s whizbang cracking dialogue sits well in his well-cast ensemble’s respective mouths and the swirling, whirling camerawork suits the crazycakes world presented.  But it’s Zeitlin that stormed the gates this year.  Time after time, I found myself with my jaw literally hanging open at the audaciousness and imagination being unfurled before me, unforgettable visuals that ranged from the human to the fantastic.  Plus he got an Oscar-nominated performance out of his six-year-old lead. 

Best Original Screenplay

Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom*
Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty
John Gatins, Flight
Michel Haneke, Amour
Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained

Tough pick, but I came out of Kingdom saying, “Well, there’s your Best Screenplay winner,” and nothing has changed my mind since.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Tony Kushner, Lincoln
David Magee, Life of Pi
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Chris Terrio, Argo
Benh Zeitlin, Lucy Alibar, Beasts of the Southern Wild*

Another tough pick.  All had memorable dialogue and imaginative scenarios, and there’s not one that I’d be bummed out about.

Best Animated Feature

The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Wreck-It Ralph

I feel bad weighing in, having not seen Brave, but this should be a good race between Ardman’s Pirates, Burton’s Frankenweenie and Disney’s Ralph.  As technically impressive as ParaNorman was, I just couldn’t get behind the dum-dum jokes and ill-conceived characters.

Best Foreign Feature

Amour (France)*
Footnote (Denmark)
Kon-Tiki (Norway)
No (Chile)
War Witch (Canada)

I’m more than a little embarrassed to say that I’ve only seen Amour at this point, so this is an ill-informed vote. 

Best Cinematography

Roger Deakins, Skyfall*
Janusz Kaminski, Lincoln
Seamus Mcgarvey, Anna Karenina
Claudio Miranda, Life of Pi
Robert Richardson, Django Unchained

Didn’t see AK, but everyone else was memorably impressive in this category.  I’m inclined to go with Deakins, just because the guy is so very due although it’d be weird seeing him win for a Bond flick among his amazing body of work. 

Best Costume Design

Colleen Atwood, Snow White and the Huntsman*
Paco Delgado, Les Miserables
Jacqueline Durran, Anna Karenina
Eiko Ishioka, Mirror Mirror
Joanna Johnston, Lincoln

Didn’t see MM, although the other Snow White flick was pretty solid.  Honestly, I don’t care about this category.  Not my thing.

Best Documentary Feature

Searching for Sugar Man*
How to Survive a Plague
The Gatekeepers
The Invisible War
5 Broken Cameras

Only seen Sugar Man, but it’s pretty freaking great.

Best Documentary Short

Sean Fine, Andrea Nix Fine, Inocente
Sari Gilman, Jedd Wider, Kings Point
Cynthia Wade, Robin Honan, Mondays at Racine
Kief Davidson, Cori Shepherd Stern, Open Heart
Jon Alpert, Matthew O'Neill, Redemption

I’ve not seen any of these.  No vote.

Best Film Editing

Michael Kahn, Lincoln
Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, Silver Linings Playbook
Tim Squyres, Life of Pi
William Goldenberg, Argo*
Dylan Tichenor, William Goldenberg, Zero Dark Thirty

Gotta go with Argo here since editing is half of what makes a great suspense yarn, although ZDT is a solid contender as well.  Guess this Goldenberg fella is the guy to call.

Best Make-Up

Howard Berger, Martin Samuel, Hitchcock
Lisa Westcott, Julie Dartnell, Les Miserables
Peter King, Tami Lane, Rick Findlater, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

This category ticks me off EVERY SINGLE YEAR.  Where are the horror films?  This is their domain but they are completely overlooked.  GAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH…  But along the same lines, where is the nod for The Impossible?  Naomi Watts has a HUGE GAPING GASH IN HER LEG AND BREAST.  You people suck.  No vote.

Best Original Score

Mychael Danna, Life of Pi*
Alexandre Desplat, Argo
Dario Marianelli, Anna Karenina
Thomas Newman, Skyfall
John Williams, Lincoln

I remember liking Life of Pi’s music quite a bit while listening, so we’ll go with that.  Nothing else really stood out to me.

Best Original Song

“Before My Time” from Chasing Ice, Music and Lyric by J. Ralph
“Everybody Needs A Best Friend” from Ted, Music by Walter Murphy and Lyric by Seth MacFarlane
“Pi's Lullaby” from Life of Pi, Music by Mychael Danna and Lyric by Bombay Jayashri
“Suddenly” from Les Miserables, Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Lyric by Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil
“Skyfall” from Skyfall, Music and Lyric by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth

Um, yeah.  No vote.

Best Animated Short Film

Minkyu Lee, Adam and Dog
PES, Fresh Guacamole
David Silverman, Maggie Simpson in The Longest Daycare
John Kahrs, Paperman*

Only saw Paperman (shown before Wreck-It Ralph), so I hesitate to venture an opinion.  It was good though.

Best Live-Action Short Film

Bryan Buckley, Mino Jarjoura, Assad
Ariel Nasr, Sam French, Buzkashi Boys
Shawn Christensen, Curfew
Tom Van Avermaet, Ellen de Waele, Death of a Shadow
Yan England, Ellen de Waele, Henry

Didn’t see any of these.  No vote.  Although clearly we need to keep an eye on this de Waele lady.

Best Sound Editing

Erik Aadahl, Ethan Van der Ryn, Argo
Wylie Stateman, Django Unchained
Eugene Gearty, Philip Stockton, Life of Pi
Per Hallberg, Karen Baker Landers, Skyfall
Paul N.J. Ottosson, Zero Dark Thirty*

I’m swinging toward ZDT here, because that final 30 minutes was breathtaking and a lot of the impact was aural.

Best Sound Mixing

John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, Jose Antonio Garcia, Argo
Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, Simon Hayes, Les Miserables
Ron Bartlett, D.M. Hemphill, Drew Kunin, Life of Pi
Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, Ronald Judkins, Lincoln
Scott Milan, Greg P. Russell, Stuart Wilson, William Goldenberg, Skyfall*

I’ll confess that Les Miz probably had the toughest job of it, what with the live singing and all.  Still, eff that movie.  Going with Skyfall.

Best Visual Effects

Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Donald R. Elliot, Life of Pi
Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, R. Christopher White, David Clayton, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Janek Sirrs, Guy Williams, Daniel Sudick, Jeff White, Marvel’s The Avengers
Richard Stammers, Trevor Wood, Charley Henley, Martin Hill, Prometheus*
Philip Brennan, Neil Corbould, Michael Dawson, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, Snow White and the Huntsman

I suppose conventional wisdom would have me picking Life of Pi, but as cockamamie as the Prometheus script was, there was no faulting its visual splendor (little surprised there was no nod for cinematographer Dariusz Wolski).  However, credit must also be given to the flawless compositing of full sized actors like Toby Jones and Ian McShane turned into dwarves and seamlessly stuck alongside their “regular sized” co-stars.

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