Thursday, January 10, 2013

85th Annual Academy Awards Nominations: A Review


We now have the list of nominees for the 85th Annual Academy Awards, with the winners to be announced on February 21.  Surprisingly, we will NOT be hearing "Academy Award nominee Channing Tatum" for yet another year. 

However, there were some genuine surprises as to who was let in and who was left off, showing that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can still provide moments of genuine shock and that at least this year, it isn't afraid to buck the trends.

First, let's start with the actual presentation of the nominations.  Seth MacFarlane, another one of this century's "comedic geniuses", presented the nominees with Emma Stone.  MacFarlane is also the host, making this the first time the host has also announced the nominees since 1972.  One would think that the nomination show was a tryout for his jokes, and while the press loved it, I found the jokes from both MacFarlane and Stone painfully unfunny.  I hope this is not a preview of coming attractions to MacFarlane's hosting. 


Off the bat MacFarlane 'jokes' about the time.  "I'm not sure why we don't wait till noon to do this since the only people who are up right now are either flying or having surgery," he cracked.  Wacka-wacka! 

Stone got into the act when MacFarlane introduced her.  "Emma Stone is the star of the new film Gangster Squad and is one of the brightest talents of her generation.  Some say she's better than Meryl Streep."  A 'puzzled' MacFarlane then turns to ask, "Who, who says that?"  A faux-embarrassed Stone brushes that off by saying, "I don't know.  Nobody.  A lot of people". 

That whole schtick just wasn't funny...not even at 5:30 A.M. California time. 

Stone got worse by punctuating every Best Supporting Actor nominee she announced with the somewhat snide remark, "He's won before".  This allowed MacFarlane to quip, "Breath of fresh air in that category".  Yes, each one of them has won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar save Phillip Seymour Hoffman who won Best Actor for Capote, but it all seemed distasteful, slightly disrespectful, to ridicule that fact.  Maybe they all just give consistently good performances and actually deserved their nominations. 

For me, it just sounded cheap, petty, almost mean-spirited.   

When MacFarlane received a Best Original Song nomination for Everybody Needs a Best Friend from Ted, it allowed for a little improv (I suspect given that no one knows who the nominees are until the announcement).  "I get to go to the Oscars," he commented.  Stone added that the MTV Awards once gave Michael Jackson a Lifetime Achievement Award so that he'd show up.  "I'm not saying that's what's happening today but...I kind of am, I kind of am".  I am not sure if MacFarlane was amused.  "All right, all right," he quietly said.

Well, in the 'turnaround is fair play' school of thought...

Perhaps the nadir of this 'Presentation as Comedy Routine' act was after presenting the Foreign Language nominees.  Amour, the Austrian submission, was a chance for MacFarlane to show off his quick wit.  "I read Amour was co-produced by...in Austria and Germany, right?  The last time Austria and Germany got together and co-produced something it was Hitler, but this is much better, much better."

Well, I'll get into the act.

MacFarlane and Stone's Hitler joke was the biggest bomb connected to World War II since Nagasaki. 

The press laughed at this and most everything else, but I didn't think this or any other cracks they made were clever or funny.  Maybe since I had more sleep than they did. 

The Adapted Screenplay nominees received a trademark MacFarlane cheap shot too.  "These are adapted screenplays, keep in mind.  So that means the writers just basically copied stuff from Microsoft Word and pasted it into final draft."

If this is what I'll be treated to come February 24, it makes me long for James Franco and Anne Hathaway.  Hell, it makes me yearn for David Letterman!

Who do I have to sleep with to get a little love?
Now let's move on to the surprises and snubs.

I've been highly critical of Ben Affleck casting himself as Hispanic Tony Mendez in Argo,  No one ever mentioned him for Best Actor, so a lack of a nomination isn't a surprise.  However, in terms of actually putting a film together, Argo is Affleck's finest achievement as a director.  Therefore, to see his name not mentioned for Best Director is downright stunning.  Affleck's snub is not only astonishing, but does not bode well for Argo winning Best Picture. The last time a film won Best Picture without its director getting a nomination was Driving Miss Daisy in 1989.  In the history of the Academy Awards, the Best Picture/Best Director axis has failed only three times.

With that, I'd say, "Bye-Bye, Best Picture Argo".

While Argo's chances are pretty much slipping away, Zero Dark Thirty also failed to get a Best Director nomination for Kathryn Bigelow.  Here, I'd say the fact that she won a mere three years ago played against her.  Liberal Hollywood, true to form, might have thought, 'we've already honored a woman, and we're not honoring a film that might endorse torture'.  Not having seen ZDT yet, I cannot say whether it's a flaw to fail to recognize Bigelow's work, but the brouhaha couldn't have helped.


Really?  The guy from The Hangover?
Another shocker to me is the absence of John Hawkes for his work in The Sessions.  While the film scored a nomination for Helen Hunt (and I'd argue she's in the wrong category because I thought it was a leading role) her partner Hawkes was skipped.  I can't explain that given that Hawkes' performance was simply brilliant.  It does have a little Oscar-bait in it (the physically capable actor as a crippled man) but it wasn't just his lack of body movement that Hawkes brought to the role.  It was his ability to make the character a warm, funny guy, acting only with his face and eyes that made it an extraordinary performance. 

This year, however, the Academy chose mentally ill (in Bradley Cooper) over physically handicapped (in John Hawkes).  I'm not someone who doesn't think Cooper cannot act.  He is someone who is as good as his material: when it's good (like The Hangover), he is good, but when it's awful or mediocre (like The Hangover Part II or Limitless), he's awful.  I wasn't in a rush to see Silver Linings Playbook, but now I have to given my desire to see every Best Picture nominee.

I won't be able to do so given that Amour (a rare foreign-language film to earn a Best Picture nomination) will never hit the West Texas town of El Paso.  This does mean, though, that I'll have to slog through Life of Pi, which I've avoided because frankly even I think it looks a little boring.  Still, I might be pleasantly surprised.  Last year, I wasn't expecting to go crazy over Jane Eyre, but I did.

In other categories, it's no surprise that Skyfall got a Best Original Song nomination.  I am slowly resigning myself to the fact that it will be the first Bond Song to win, even though I don't think it's this breathtaking piece of music everyone else holds it as.  Live and Let Die, For Your Eyes Only, and Nobody Does It Better from The Spy Who Loved Me all lost their respective years, and they are all better songs than Skyfall.  Seriously...Skyfall is where we start...THOSE are great lyrics?  The more I hear it, the more fiercely resistant I am to it.

No Bond film has been thrust upon me as this brilliant piece of art, this alleged Citizen Kane of Bond films than this warmed-over Dark Knight knock-off.  Hell, I enjoyed A View to A Kill better than Skyfall, and I KNOW Skyfall is the better film of the two.

In terms of filmmaking, A View to a Kill is lousy, but at least it didn't take itself as seriously as Skyfall did.  Say what you will about A View to a Kill, but at least I had FUN watching that. 

The song pushed Skyfall's whole score to a nomination, though I'm at a loss to explain why.  At least when Roger Deakins FINALLY wins Best Cinematography for Skyfall (his first from TEN nominations), I might be tempted to shout out, "Let the sky fall/when it crumbles/we will stand tall/and face it all together".

Now, finally on to the actual nominees and our predictions.  Those who are in Oscar pools, listen up, 'cause I've got something to say about this. Those I think will win as of today will be highlighted in red.

BEST PICTURE

Not A Chance...
Amour
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

As I've already said, no Best Director nominations for Argo and Zero Dark Thirty spells trouble for either winning. Same goes for Django Unchained and Les Misérables, both of which have become polarizing (the former for its liberal use of N----r, the latter for its rather loopy camera work). Neither appears to be overwhelming its core audience (the Tarantino fans or the musical's).  Amour has as much chance of winning as the Dallas Cowboys have of going to the Super Bowl in an undefeated season (Romo is a No-Go).   Of the rest left to battle it out, Beasts of the Southern Wild may be a little TOO avant-garde, Life of Pi a little TOO artsy, and the fact that Silver Linings Playbook is a comedy (or at least billed as one) doesn't bode well for its chances.  Lincoln, on the other hand, has proven popular with audiences and critics (it's literally in my DVD player, so I'll see it very soon), and it also is a safe choice: prestigious, a biopic, a weighty subject...pure Oscar-bait.  That and the fact that some Academy members probably voted for Lincoln the first time around helps.

BEST ACTOR

Just wait till you see The Hangover Part III
Then you'll be sorry.
Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables)
Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)
Denzel Washington (Flight)

I'm going to buck the trend, but this is why.  First, no actor has won an Oscar for a Spielberg movie.  Tom Hanks didn't for Saving Private Ryan (Roberto Benigni did for Life is Beautiful).  Liam Neeson didn't for Schindler's List (Tom Hanks, curiously enough, did for Philadelphia).  Second, Day-Lewis' last win was a mere five years ago (for There Will Be Blood, which I always thought was a wildly over-the-top performance, but then I found that year particularly hideous).  Washington's last win was eleven years (for Training Day) and that might play in voter's mind.  Third, Washington is I think better liked than Day-Lewis, and popularity helps.

Fourth and finally, a secret weapon: my mother.  Yes, that sounds odd, but Mrs. Aragon was the ONLY person to call Meryl Streep over Viola Davis last year when everyone thought Davis had it in the bag.  After watching Flight, she pointed at me and said, "He's going to WIN".  So far Mother Hasn't Been Wrong.  Just sayin'.

Besides, with Phoenix torpedoing his chances and Cooper still not taken seriously, Jackman is the only one who could challenge either of them should they split the vote, but I doubt that will happen.

BEST ACTRESS

No matter who wins, I'm going to lose to an Old Lady...

Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)
Quvenzhané Harris (Beast of the Southern Wild)
Naomi Watts (The Impossible)

Neither the oldest or youngest Best Actress nominees will become the oldest or youngest winners, period.  Watts' nomination is a pleasant surprise, but The Impossible has proven oddly divisive over how it focused on Europeans rather than Thais in the Boxing Day Tsunami story.  The actual battle will be between Jess and Jen, and here, I'm giving the slight edge to Lawrence.  They like to reward young, they like safe, and they like popular.  Jennifer Lawrence is all three.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Pay no attention to the man on the screen...
Alan Arkin (Argo)
Robert DeNiro (Silver Linings Playbook)
Phillip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)
Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)

As Emma Stone helpfully pointed out when announcing the nominees, 'they've won already'.  Therefore, there is a high likelihood that one of them will be called a two-time Oscar winner.  By that I mean, DeNiro's out. Comedy is rarely rewarded.

Will Hollywood really vote an Oscar to a thinly-veiled portrait of L. Ron Hubbard in the 'not-about-Scientology' The Master?  While Hoffman is one of the good things in what I thought was an overrated movie, the 'non'-Scientology connection can't increase its chances.  Really think Tom Cruise, John Travolta, or even a Danny Masterson or Giovanni Ribisi will give this Hubbard-like character a thumbs-up?  That being said, if the Spielberg Rule holds, Hoffman will be Jones' only real competition.  However, Jones might be the one to break it. 

At the moment, the pull is towards Jones, and I don't see another in this group to outrun it.  Not Arkin's small role in Argo, not Waltz's bounty hunter in Django Unchained.  However, back to the Spielberg connection.  On the plus side, Mrs. Aragon didn't say anyone else would win, so...  

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Call me crazy...
Amy Adams (The Master)
Sally Field (Lincoln)
Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)
Helen Hunt (The Sessions)
Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)

Everyone is going for Hathaway, and I suppose that if I were sensible I would pick her.  HOWEVER, she's on screen for what, ten minutes, and she dies early on.  I'm a passionate Anne Hathaway fan, but I think in this case, giving her the Oscar is a massive mistake.  You get Oscars for singing ONE song?  Other than her big I Dreamed A Dream number, what else can you or anyone else really remember about her Fantine? 

Every other nominee would make a better choice THIS YEAR.  Again, I'm at pains to say that Hathaway is a genuine talent.  I'm convinced she will become an Icon, a Legend, but should she win (and I think she has the best chance), history will mark it more as a Most Promising Oscar than an actual Best Supporting Actress Oscar.  Which leaves us where?  Weaver is out (she doesn't have the name recognition although she's on her second nomination in three years).  Hawkes' snub pushes Hunt down.  That brings me to Adams, the perennial nominee, against Field, the perennial winner.

Isn't about time Adams were rewarded?  As the brittle wife of the guru, she was brilliant (which she almost always is).  Now, should Jones AND Day-Lewis win, it's extremely rare for three performances from the same film to win.  The last time I can remember that happening was in 1951 for A Streetcar Named Desire, and the expect choice of Marlon Brando lost to Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen.  Never discount popularity in these races.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Talk about a snow job...

Brave
Frankenweenie
ParaNorman
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Wreck-It Ralph

The Pirates! is a surprise given the movie bombed (and was embroiled in a non-controversy about how it was offensive to lepers).  With no Pixar domination (Cars 2 having ended the Animated Feature as the de facto Pixar Prize), we can move on to Wreck-It RalphBrave was underwhelming, and both Frankenweenie and ParaNorman a slight creepy.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Preach it, Deakins...
Anna Karenina
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Skyfall

A general rule of thumb is that the Best Cinematography and Best Picture go hand in hand.  That puts Skyfall and Life of Pi in danger, Lincoln's only real challengers. That being said, if there is one thing everyone is saying about Skyfall is that it is a beautiful-looking film.  As much as I might dislike Skyfall as a Bond film, I thought it breathtakingly beautiful.  Will Deakins really be denied when his work was beyond comparison?  Everyone talked about Skyfall's look.  Lincoln isn't as highly praised. 

I truly believe Skyfall will break the Bond's dry spell of Oscar wins and give Roger Deakins his first win in ten nominations.  Otherwise, No Oscar, No Peace...expect riots in the streets.

COSTUME DESIGN

Anna Karenina
Les Misérables
Lincoln
Mirror Mirror
Snow White and the Huntsman

Well, with no royalty to sweep in save for the storybook kind, there is no front runner.  Having said that, Eiko Ishioka's final work before her death might be a nice way of honoring her with a posthumous Oscar win.  That and the fact that Mirror Mirror was a costume feast I think makes it a worthy and likely choice.

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)

I might say that Zeitlin was not the Ben I was expecting to hear.  That and Russell's nomination bode well for Silver Linings Playbook, a film that charmed the Academy members.  Ironically, their surprise nominations clears the way for Spielberg to win because his only serious rivals, since Argo's Affleck and Zero Dark Thirty's Bigelow are both out of the running.  Lee's Life of Pi might be a little remote for the membership, and Lincoln is the type of film they love.  Spielberg's reputation as one of the Great Directors will be solidified come Oscar night. 

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

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

Curiously, unlike last year when I saw four of the five nominees via screeners, this time I saw only one (Invisible War).  Therefore, here I'm taking a guess, but given the Documentary Branch's penchant for rewarding political fare (particularly left-wing), and the subject matter (the early days of the AIDS epidemic), I expect How to Survive a Plague to be singled out.

BEST FILM EDITING

Argo
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Again, Editing and Picture tend to be the same, but again, Argo's work (particularly in the actual escape from Tehran) is simply too impressive to dismiss.

MAKEUP AND HAIR



Hitchcock
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Misérables

Is it possible to make a dwarf...sexy?  Well, Thorin Oakenshield hardly screamed "midget".  While Hitchcock made Anthony Hopkins appropriately Hitchcockian, the work on the various dwarves and hobbits might make keep the Lord of the Rings franchise's Oscar streak going.

ORIGINAL SCORE
Anna Karenina
Argo
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Skyfall

I'm puzzled by Skyfall's inclusion.  The music didn't stick with me.  I'd say it's a carry-over from the song.  Argo's score is appropriately Middle Eastern, but on the whole I'm taking a stab in the dark and say they'll reward a film that might require a lot of music.  A film about a kid stranded on the ocean with a tiger might need a lift.

ORIGINAL SONG

Before My Time (Chasing Ice)
Everybody Needs a Best Friend (Ted)
Pi's Lullaby (Life of Pi)
Suddenly (Les Misérables)
Skyfall (Skyfall)

I don't like this song.  I like Adele, and I like the fact she controlled herself in the delivery, giving us a more restrained rendition than is her norm.  However, Skyfall isn't among the Top Ten Bond Songs, let alone a worthy Oscar winner.  The words I kept hearing from non-critics were "boring", "slow", "fit for a funeral".  It didn't scream excitement or adventure or romance: all traits good Bond Songs have. 

However, there's no way MacFarlane will win, a lullaby hasn't won since Into the West in Return of the King's juggernaut, and what IS Before My Time?  However, if past is prologue, just as no one has won an acting Oscar in a Spielberg film, no Bond Song of the now-four nominated has ever won.  Suddenly from Les Misérables is Skyfall's only competition, and at the moment it is too soon to discount Les Miz's pull.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN (FORMERLY ART DIRECTION)

Anna Karenina
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey              
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Lincoln

I can't express enthusiasm for any of the nominees.  Anna Karenina is one of those films where the production design is to be rewarded, but I'm going to go for the appropriately ugly streets of Paris over the waters of Pi.

BEST SOUND EDITING

Argo
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Skyfall
Zero Dark Thirty

If it's sound you reward, why not reward a war film?  Therefore, Zero Dark Thirty.

BEST SOUND MIXING

Argo
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Skyfall

Normally, Bond films get rewarded in these types of technical categories.  However, war films get the most notice in the sound categories, and I figure the Lincoln nod here will give it the edge.  However, in a sound category, can I really ignore a musical?

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Life of Pi
Marvel's The Avengers
Prometheus
Snow White and the Huntsman

I remember when Hugo won last year.  The 3-D worked wonders for what was considered an artsy film, and I suspect Life of Pi to do the same.  Why Snow White & The Huntsman is in this category when the effects weren't all that good is a mystery, and the dwarves' dinner scene in The Hobbit were simply awful.  With that, a little art goes a long way.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook

This one is a toughie.  We have a film based on a book that was dismissed as unfilmable (Life of Pi), and the best chance for David O. Russell to win an Oscar (for Silver Linings Playbook).  However, a real-life based story where despite knowing the end the audience is still on the edge of their seat I think will ultimately win out.  Also, given that Lincoln will win Best Picture and Argo got snubbed for Best Director, the writers may want to acknowledge the film.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY



Amour
Django Unchained
Flight
Moonrise Kingdom
Zero Dark Thirty

I was surprised that Moonrise Kingdom received only one nomination, but at least it was in the right category.  I'm someone who has never warmed up to Wes Anderson's style of whimsy, but when something good comes from someone I detest, I acknowledge the fact.  With that, Moonrise Kingdom's screenplay was witty, funny, and touching.

Also, did I mention it is the only nomination the film got?

On the other categories (Documentary Short Subject, Foreign Language Film, Animated and Live-Action Short Film), I don't feel fully qualified to offer an opinion given I haven't seen them.  However, I'll give it a whirl:

Documentary Short-Subject: Redemption
Foreign Language Film: Amour (Austria)
Animated Short Film: Paperman
Live-Action Short Film: Henry

Should I come across them between now and February 23 I might offer a different opinion but for now I'll say I have no confidence in my choices save for Amour (films that get both Foreign Language and Best Picture tend to win the former). 

Well, those are my immediate reactions and predictions, likely to change once I get a gander at all the nominees.

Good luck to them all.

    

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