It’s been a weird week. Folks who are regular readers of the blog know all too well that much of what happens to me can only be described as weird, odd or strange, but so it is and so it shall be. I find myself writing this on a day when I really shouldn’t be writing about this. However, finishing my epic screenplay Clearwater meant so much to me and was far too important to put any other public or private interest above it (I seriously haven’t left my house since I started writing it) that writing a Friday column after the Oscar nominations and before two incredibly important Saturday playoff games became inevitable. I’ll handle the Oscar nominations first since that seems to be the important thing to everyone and I’ll tackle the playoffs tomorrow.
Of Oscars and Other Entertainment Things:
For the first time in a long time I’m going to agree with Roger Ebert here and say that this is a pretty good set of nominees. Were there oversights? Of course. But as Ebert points out: “The industry spends all year churning out product like last weekend’s box office winner “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D,” and then puts on its evening wear and poses as humanitarians.” My sentiments exactly. The best round-up of Oscars coverage is probably Rotten Tomatoes, so check out their page here. I’m going to start with the stuff I know the least about which is the technical awards and we’ll move on from there and assess who totally got shafted and who really deserved the nom this year.
Visual Effects: I really disagree with Prometheus and The Avengers getting noms here. Neither were good movies and neither did anything that was technically masterful. No one walked out of those movies and said: “I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that before.” On the other hand, you could say that for Snow White and the Huntsman, The Hobbit, and Life of Pi. This award goes to Life of Pi, the visual effects were absolutely spectacular, but I was disappointed that Skyfall didn’t get a nomination here. I know the Academy likes films that take risks or appeal to demographics that the Academy doesn’t traditionally play well to, but Skyfall was such an amazing visual experience that it really deserved a nomination here.
Sound editing and mixing: I’m not happy that Django got a nom here (don’t really see how this could possibly be warranted for a Tarantino film) and I’m not wild about Les Mis getting the nominations that it got. Not only was Les Mis a terrible, horrific, no good, very bad movie, it was boring at parts and it actually made me angry throughout the rest. The music did nothing all that original and wasn’t in any way memorable (which is what’s needed to distinguish a musical from it’s novel or film counterpart) and aside from Anne Hathaway, which stars actually showed up for this movie? Hugh Jackman? Really, Hugh Jackman? I’m not happy that Lincoln got a nom either. It wasn’t a great movie, it wasn’t terrible either, but of all the films that deserved a lion’s share of Oscar noms, Lincoln was the least deserving. Lincoln was one of those movies that history buffs like myself can sit through and appreciate at certain points but at times (and by this I mean just about the entire film) the story is just not in any way interesting or engaging. Most people don’t know nor do they care how the thirteenth amendment passed and I don’t care what you say or what you want me to believe that was Tommy Lee Jones passing that bill, not Thaddeus Stevens! The whole time Tommy Lee Jones was on screen I expected Harrison Ford to rebut him by saying: “I didn’t kill my wife.” It was just sort of sad to see such an ensemble cast wasted on a man whose life is among the most interesting and cherished in American history and there were so many stories that should have been told that weren’t because of the bizarre manner in which the screenwriter decided to tell the story that it just left me feeling betrayed. And then when they don’t show Lincoln getting shot? Are you kidding me? The most climactic moment of the story and Spielberg decides to phone it in? Who does this? Best sound goes to Argo, by the way on both counts.
Production Design: Again I have to voice my displeasure at Skyfall not getting a nom here. Did you watch the epic opening fight through the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul? That was among the best ten minutes of cinema I’ve seen all year and the reason that scene was so awesome was because of how it was laid out. All of that goes to the design team. But let me talk about who should and hopefully who will win this award and that is Life of Pi. Life of Pi essentially takes place on a raft. Trying pitching that idea to execs and see how far you get. To pull off the feat that they did with that film is nothing short of spectacular. I get that people like Lincoln, but the coolest thing that the filmmakers could have done there was to insert a scene where the capital building was being built. There’s a great story there. In 1861, when Lincoln comes into office the roof of the U.S. Congress is still being built, by the time the Civil War ends it’s finished. Lincoln himself used the building of the Capital as a metaphor in many of his speeches and it just seemed tragic to leave that interesting tidbit of history out of the film. Anna Karenina probably deserves this award as well. That was an incredibly technically proficient movie (though it was, in almost no way, enjoyable.)
Best Film Editing: I don’t understand why Silver Linings Playbook is in this category. For the life of me I just can’t understand it. Every other nominee deserves it, but SLP was a rom-com with class, substance, and humor, but it didn’t do anything new from a technical standpoint. Stuart Baird’s amazing work on Skyfall could have been mentioned here, but of course it wasn’t because in that case it would have been warranted. I think you could make a case for Django in this category as well. Tarantino’s films are always extremely well-edited and Tarantino is a very talented filmmaker when it comes to post-production. Too bad no one seemed to care this time around. Lastly, I think that (though I hated and despised the film) Moonrise Kingdom could have gotten a nom here. It was just the kind of thing that the academy usually goes for, yet it was tossed to the side. The winner here has to be Zero Dark Thirty. Absolutely stunning. Those are the only words I have for what Kathryn Bigelow did with this film.
Best Song: I don’t really have a beef here. Best score and song usually follow the general nominating pattern in that they are given consideration based on the overall performance of the film not the technical mastery that is so often displayed in the Best Score category. But let’s talk about Adele’s Skyfall because I have not been a fan of the Bond songs recently. I liked “You Know My Name” from Casino Royale, but before that you had to go back to Goldeneye to find the last really good James Bond song. Skyfall should win best song. When it comes to best score this is where I’ll throw out some stuff that I’ve noticed as someone who absolutely loves film music, so if you don’t care skip down a page.
Best Music: A lot of people liked Alan Silvestri’s The Avengers and I understand why, it boasts a number of solid action cues and fits the film extremely well. Others will point to James Horner’s brilliant The Amazing Spiderman as perhaps the biggest snub of the awards season and though I do think that The Amazing Spiderman was a spectacular score and an incredibly refreshing one at that I think you need to look at what happened with Kathryn Bigelow and say that that was the bigger disappointment. As much as I love Horner and what he’s done over his career I have no problem saying: “he’ll be back.” My favorite score of the year was, without a doubt, Michael Giacchino’s John Carter. It had everything; strong thematic elements, good development, good action, it was everything you want in a film score and Giacchino did all of this without getting into the electronic elements that have become commonplace in today’s film scores.
John Carter was truly, at least from a musical perspective, a complete and total masterpiece. Among other snubs I also think that Patrick Doyle put out a lovely score for Brave and it seems to me that he should be sitting in Dario Marianelli’s spot for Argo. Again this goes back to the Academy giving the benefit of the doubt to films with lots of nominations. Argo was a decent score, but little stuck out about it and in a year that was filled with such great film music we really could have used another strong nominee. This is also the one category where I would not give Skyfall an Oscar nom. Thomas Newman did an okay job with the Bond score, but he used the James Bond theme just once in the entire score, failed to develop any of Adele’s themes from her song for the film and actually copy and pasted David Arnold’s version of the Bond theme into the lone usage of the Bond theme at the end of the film. Skyfall had some interesting cues, but this was an average score at best. Newman’s Skyfall is simply pathetic next to almost any of Arnold’s efforts. Even the rather despondent Die Another Day stands out as a halfway decent effort next to Newman’s phoned in score. Taking its’ place I would have liked to have seen Alexandre Desplat’s Rise of the Guardians, a neat little score with strong themes, which are two attributes rarely associated with Desplat’s scores.
Cinematography: Of all the categories in which Skyfall is nominated I feel like Roger Deakins has the best chance at bringing home the Oscar for his spectacular work on this film. One could make a very good argument for Life of Pi and it should be taken very seriously as a contender because as I mentioned before the visuals in that film were absolutely breathtaking, but with a Bond movie the way the film is shot defines the picture. One only needs to look at Quantum of Solace to see how important these things can be. I was a little surprised that Zero Dark Thirty didn’t get a nom here, but if they’re going to snub Kathryn Bigelow they have to snub her staff as well.
Best Foreign Film: Amour. Michael Haneke made an amazing film as he does with such regularity that it has become simply expected that he will make a spectacular film. That my friends, is how legends are born.
Best Documentary – How to Stop a Plague. There could be some real strong competition from a Royal Affair here, but How to Stop a Plague is a remarkable film in a category that has only been getting better over the years.
Best Writing (A.S.) This award will go to either Lincoln or Life of Pi, but it should go to Silver Linings Playbook, a very under-rated film that unfortunately doesn’t stand a chance in these marquee match-ups. I’d be perfectly satisfied if Life of Pi won because there were a lot of really little things that they had to get right to avoid completely blowing the story. I don’t think I can overestimate how well the whole staff and crew did with Life of Pi.
Best Writing (O.S.) Again, Skyfall! John Logan is one of the most under-appreciated screenwriters in Hollywood. As soon as I read his script I was psyched for Skyfall and he didn’t disappoint. The nominees being who they are I think you have to take a look at Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained and Mark Boal for Zero Dark Thirty. Among my other snub nominees would be first and foremost P.T. Anderson’s The Master. It’s a great little film. But then again it’s a little film. Ideally this goes to Django, but knowing the Academy I’m going to say that they give the award to Wes Anderson for Moonrise Kingdom. Is it fair? Of course not. It was terrible film. But the Academy is not always rational. I could imagine a scenario where Haneke wins here too, but Amour would have to be doing very well at this point in the night for this to even be a possibility.
Best Director: Ang Lee, Life of Pi. This isn’t even a contest, at least it shouldn’t be. Spielberg dropped the ball on Lincoln and he’ll probably win the award anyways. It’s important to remember also that the winner of Best Director usually goes on to win Best Picture, but consider 2000 where Ang Lee won for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and American Beauty won for Best Picture. Those occurrences are the exception not the rule however and because I believe the Academy is having a bromance with Spielberg (and indeed they have been going at it for awhile now) I think this award goes to Spielberg though he clearly doesn’t deserve it. I am also among those who think that Kathryn Bigelow is an outstanding director who is constantly underestimated by her peers, which is something that they do at their own peril. Her movies are great and well made, something the Academy should be encouraging the rest of it’s members to strive to emulate, not something the Academy should be trying to push to the side.
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, Les Mis. Remarkable, just remarkable. Her performance seemed to carry the film. Unfortunately she carried it into a place that the audience had no desire to go.
Best Supporting Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master. Has Hoffman ever not delivered in a role? I can’t think of a single bad performance he’s given throughout his entire career. He deserves this because his performance warrants it and because he is far too under-appreciated by far too many.
Best Actress: Emmanuelle Riva, Amour. You know what Ebert said about Hollywood being a bunch of humanitarian wanna-be’s? Here’s your case and point because no one else stands a chance though personally I’d like to see Jennifer Lawrence get the recognition she deserves. It would be a Fatal Attraction/Wall St. scenario, but Lawrence deserves it regardless. Remember back when Douglas was nominated for Fatal Attraction and won the award for that film? He deserved it for Wall Street and the iconic Gordon Gecko character that he created, but the Academy decided to give it to him for Fatal Attraction. That’s what the Academy would be doing here with Lawrence. She should have won last year for the spectacular Winter’s Bone which she carried on her back, but in another Hollywood love saga the Academy decided to give that Best Actress award to Meryl Streep because she hasn’t won enough awards over her career.
Best Actor: Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook. Wow am I going out on a limb here. Daniel Day-Lewis was extraordinary as Lincoln, but do you have any idea how hard it is to play a paranoid, bi-polar person with family problems? There’s only one actor besides Cooper who’s done it as well as he’s done it and it was Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot.
Best Picture: Zero Dark Thirty. That’s my pick at least. In reality it will go to Lincoln or Les Mis sending me into fits for weeks or perhaps months. It really should be between Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook and Argo. Those were the three best films to come out this year and I’d feel most comfortable with Life of Pi winning as it was such a spectacular achievement. I can’t reiterate how difficult Yann Martel’s book must have been to adopt. It’s a challenge that was done not only successfully, but with great care and it’s a story that is unique, challenging, and one that defines what the Academy loves in a motion picture: heart.
Great moments in Cinema 2012:
The Jennifer Lawrence – Bradley Cooper medication-off at the dinner table of their friends in Silver Linings Playbook. This movie is worth seeing for so many reasons, but see it just for the scene where they talk about all the awesome effects of drugs (and Chris Tucker’s best performance this side of a Rush Hour movie.)
The two epic chase scenes in Skyfall. The opening trip around the Grand Bazaar is one for the ages as is the chase through the London Underground. See it for these scenes and John Logan’s spectacular screenplay (I should be his agent I’ve lauded that thing so much, but it really is that good.)
Nearly every singing scene in Pitch Perfect. That was one of my favorite movies of the year. By far one of the most intriguing rom-coms in years and in my book it’s right up there with SLP as one of the best rom-coms of the year.