With the nominees announced, and my opinions literally bursting from my chest, it’s time for me to weigh in. Here are my (generally) informed predictions for the 85th Academy Awards, our culture’s famously anachronistic and unfair method for determining filmic accomplishment.
Best Picture - Life of Pi
This category is as vexing as it is exciting this year. With an absolute deluge of contenders recently (half the nominees were released in the last month or so), this category almost seems wide-open. But think for a minute.
Zero Dark Thirty is easily the year’s highest-quality movie, but it won’t win for two big reasons. First, Kathryn Bigelow just won for The Hurt Locker in 2009, and is still riding high from its critical acclaim. (Traditionally, the Oscars aren’t necessarily about the end product. Rather, they’re about who the pompous insulated movie community feels “deserves” career recognition.)
Second, the Academy is likely weary about what my be perceived as an endorsement of the hallucinated political message of ZD30, i.e. that it somehow stands for the proposition that torture is awesome. The preposterousness of that view is heartbreaking, but it’s a reality that the Academy probably takes seriously.
Meanwhile, enjoying Les Miserables, truly beautiful as it is throughout, depends in large part on your preexisting love for the material. While anyone with a pulse should be brought to the edge of tears by “I Dreamed a Dream,” I’m not confident a viewer with no prior knowledge of the book or musical could walk in to that movie and feel that it was all together a soundly structured, perfectly intelligible film. There are differences in form and convention between film and stage musicals, such that an A+ stage musical may make for a B+ film experience. So to the extent that Tom Hooper got pretty hardcore in his faithfulness to the source (stage) material, that may ultimately detract from its strength as a film qua film.
Silver Linings Playbook was my pick for a while after I first saw it. I truly loved this movie. But if you watch closely, there are unfortunate albeit nit-picky blemishes (like continuity gaffes, e.g. Pat walking in with his dancing shoes taped up, and then sitting down to tape up his shoes seconds later) that just kind of bring it down an imperceptible level. I’d be stoked if it won, and it’s Brett Easton Ellis’ pick. But I think the attributes that make it so endearing- its quaintness and exuberant naïveté - are simultaneously the attributes that make it a deserved nominee, but not a winner.
Lincoln seems to be many casual observers’ prediction, and understandably so. It was thorough and competent. But a conventional historical procedural designed to make proud informed Americans out of proud uninformed Americans doesn’t deserve an Oscar. And is anyone out there really anxious to adorn Spielberg any further? Could anyone really stomach it?
Argo was great, but not Best Picture material, particularly considering Affleck’s Best Director snub.
Amour is the only nominee I haven’t seen. If that wins, I won’t be alone in #SMH.
Finally, that brings us to Life of Pi. I don’t know too many people who have actually seen it. The trailer was too overwhelming, I think. But the few I know who did see it left the theater feeling like they had witnessed a vast cinematic accomplishment. I won’t gush. But this movie was jarringly beautiful, technically innovative, and deeply powerful. If you get a chance, just see it, and I think you’ll agree.
Best Actor in a Leading Role - Daniel Day Lewis, Lincoln
His performance was too cheesy for my taste, but the actor everyone worships playing the president everyone worships is a slam dunk.
Best Actress in a Leading Role - Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
She’s one of the most versatile and hardworking female actors we have seen in a long time. She glows in every role she inhabits. When she was passed over in 2011 for her breakout role in Winter’s Bone, the craziest part was that everyone thought such a young relative unknown actually had a chance. After grinding for a few years in a host of diverse roles, she’s past due for some very deserved recognition. I’m excited.
Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
This category sucks this year, mostly because Leonardo DiCaprio deserves to win for Django and was somehow denied even a nomination. I thought Phillip Seymour Hoffman was actually not very good in The Master, and the Academy seems to have mostly seen through PT Anderson’s thickly pretentious charade. It was nice to see DeNiro get off his ass finally in SLP, but Travis Bickle has been dead and gone for a long, long time.
Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
No discussion needed. The lock of all locks. The only other possible contender seems to be Amy Adams, who I personally found dreadfully miscast in The Master.
Best Animated Feature Film - Brave
Screw this whole category. (see The Case for Eliminating the Best Animated Feature Award.)
Best Cinematography - Life of Pi
You have to see it to believe it.
Costume Design - Lincoln
All I can remember from this movie actually is the ridiculous atire Mary Todd Lincoln slouched around in.
Directing - Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
It takes incredible talent to somehow capture just how surreal Louisiana’s reality was during Katrina. And the performance he got out of Quvenzhané Wallis is nothing short of marvelous.
However, bear in mind that this category will eternally bear an enormous asterisk. I join those who are enraged that Kathryn Bigelow was snubbed, and add also my disdain for Ben Affleck being excluded. He’s an exceptional director, and I really thought this was his year.
Best Original Screenplay - Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom
This script was brave, delicate, and heartwarming. I waver on my appreciation for Wes Anderson, but this was his first truly perfect film. Possibly my favorite movie of the year. I’m disappointed that this didn’t get Best Picture or Director nods, but I’ll take what I can get.
Best Adapted Screenplay - David Magee, Life of Pi
The conventional wisdom about this book was that it was un-adaptable. Well guess what? It’s wasn’t.
Visual Effects - Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott, Life of Pi
LIKE NOTHING I HAVE EVER SEEN BEFORE.
Film Editing - Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg, Zero Dark Thirty
Clean and tight editing was what made each and every act of terrorism feel completely terrifying and unexpected. Even when you just knew it was coming.
Remaining categories? Pass.
So that’s it. Disagree? Come @ me, bro.