Pre-Oscar Thoughts

Contrary to what my lack of updates might lead you to believe, I am still alive and I have in fact still been watching movies. As I mentioned in my last post, I started a PhD Program so I've been busy trying to stay afloat academically and have shirked my duties as a blogger. I hope to get better about this, but since I'd been out of the school game for 4 years, I figured it best to not try and do too much at once. I'm adjusting well and it's now a matter of getting back on the blogging horse...

So, tonight Seth MacFarlane will host the 85th Academy Awards (Oscars). Spielberg's Lincoln leads all films with 12 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Best Supporting Actor (Tommy Lee Jones) and Best Supporting Actress (Sally Field). I hate to use the word, "prediction" because what I believe to be most deserving isn't bound to be the winner, so my predictions would be wrong. I don't want to be embarrassed as the blogger who perfectly predicted the losers for each category, so I'll provide you all with my general thoughts on who/what I think deserves to win and will occasionally mention who/what will probably win.

I think it's important to mention a few things before getting down to the nitty-gritty. First off, I tweeted during the Golden Globes I'd have things shake out this way, Best Director: Ben Affleck for Argo and Django Unchained as Best Picture. Surprisingly, the Academy snubbed both Affleck and Tarantino in the Best Director category. I absolutely loved Django Unchained, as it is immensely entertaining but still has an emotional core to it, but I give Affleck major kudos for making me feel tons of suspense in a movie where a lot of folks were aware of the outcome. That's why I felt he deserved a lot of credit and the Best Director Award. Making you feel emotion in a situation where you probably shouldn't is a special thing and Mr. Affleck did a wonderful job creating tension and putting you into the uncertainty of a hostage situation.

Who should lose their spot as a Best Director Nominee to allow room for Affleck? Since I haven't seen Amour or Life of Pi I don't think it fair to automatically dismiss their directors, so my vote goes for Benh Zeitlin. I just didn't enjoy Beasts of the Southern Wild. I think this is a case of an amazing performance by a young actress causing people to overestimate the overall quality of a film. Quvenzhane Wallis was great as Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild, but overall the film left me with an overwhelming sense of "meh" and a general amazement that so many could proclaim the film one of the years best (even the Academy put it on their list).

Once again, awards time gets me worked up on whether or not people can tell the difference between a boring movie that is artistic and a boring movie. Boring does not equal artistic. I was worried The Master would be mistaken for profound when it was actually just a couple of great performances by its lead actors that gave the film any sort of redeeming qualities. I think The Master is a great example of a boring movie that somehow takes on a transcendent quality because folks get bored by it and they instantly know that because it is boring it's profound and award-worthy. It's not. It's just a shit movie with some great acting. This again raises the question of whether or not a movie is worth watching strictly for performances and I must say that in some cases the performances are good enough to warrant that, but The Master was really terrible and even the strong performances don't make me feel like it's worth another couple hours of my time.

Ok, on to the real task at hand, discussing who I think should win and who will probably win. Let's start with Best Original Screenplay: My heart wants to go with Django because I absolutely loved the movie and Tarantino was snubbed for directing, but I must say, Zero Dark Thirty is impressive in that they seemingly pieced a movie together out of news stories and possibly classified documents. Sure, it's a dramatization, but the story seems plausible, if not accurate, and I hope Mark Boal is rewarded for the great work he did at creating order out of chaos.

Best Adapted Screenplay could get interesting. Life of Pi seems like it would have been one of those books that was too imaginative to properly translate to the big screen and they seem to have done a good job of doing that. Argo also deserves credit because a lot of folks knew the outcome of the story, but we still became invested in the characters and their plight. For me though, the best adapted screenplay award should go to Lincoln. Spielberg's film was great because it wasn't a movie about slavery, it was a movie about the American political process. Sure, slavery is involved, but the movie speaks as much about our nation's history as it does its present.

Speaking of Lincoln, throughout the entire movie I couldn't help but think, "Man, Tommy Lee Jones might be stealing this movie from Daniel Day-Lewis". Of course, Daniel Day-Lewis is a chameleon, blending into his role as Lincoln so perfectly that you don't think, "This is an actor realistically portraying Lincoln"; instead, you think, "That's President Lincoln, let's watch what he does next". Initially I figured Tommy Lee Jones was a lock for Best Supporting Actor, but now that I've seen Django Unchained and Silver Linings Playbook I'm not so sure. Christoph Waltz is wonderful as Dr. King Schultz in Tarantino's "Southern" and Robert De Niro finally returns to dramatic form. Hell, even Alan Arkin is great in Argo. This might be the strongest group, because the last nominee is Philip Seymour Hoffman who put in a solid performance in The Master. For what it's worth, I'll be cheering for Tommy Lee.

If Best Supporting Actor is the most competitive race, Best Supporting Actress is most likely the least competitive category. Anne Hathaway will most likely win for her performance in Les Miserables and I have no problems with that. Ms. Hathaway really nails her limited role in the film. The only potential competition I see for Ms. Hathaway is Helen Hunt. I haven't seen The Sessions, but it seems like an intriguing film and if I've learned anything about The Academy it's they like it when ladies get naked. Nudity aside, I think Anne's got this one in the bag.

If you'd have asked me when I first saw Flight if there'd be a better performance this year than Denzel's I'd have said "no". Unfortunately, the year kept moving forward and Oscars are judged on the entire performance, not roughly 10-15 minutes. Mr. Washington's performance in Flight during the plane crash is some of the best acting I've seen in a while. I almost wrote a review of Flight precisely because I wondered if anyone had ever won an Oscar in a few minutes of screen time: I'd say Denzel came pretty damn close. I think the real battle in this category is Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln vs Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean from Les Miserables.

I know a lot of folks want to go ahead and give the Oscar to Daniel Day-Lewis, but Hugh Jackman really brought his "A-game" in Les Miserables. I don't know how these things usually shake out post Golden Globes, but Day-Lewis won Best Actor in a Drama for Lincoln while Jackman won Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical for Les Miserables. Something has to give and it'll be fun to see how The Academy voted. I'm cool with either winning although I was really impressed with how well Daniel Day-Lewis "was" Abraham Lincoln, not some over the top caricature of The 16th President of the United States. Then again, Hugh Jackman sang every line of dialogue and did a wonderful job of emoting. Well done gentlemen.

Having never seen Amour I can only say, "If Hushpuppy doesn't win, we riot". The performance Quvenzhane Wallis gave in Beasts of the Southern Wild is the only thing I really care to remember from the film. Sure there are some other redeeming qualities to the film, like its portrayal of life in Louisiana (where I'm attending school), but young Miss Wallis' performance makes the movie. If she doesn't win, I'll be upset. As much as I like Jessica Chastain, I just don't think her performance in Zero Dark Thirty was the best by a female in a lead role this year. Jennifer Lawrence was also good in Silver Linings Playbook, but let's not let the fact she's beautiful and charming get in the way of Miss Wallis winning her Oscar. (Full disclosure: I haven't seen The Impossible, so I can't make any snarky remarks about Naomi Watts' performance)

Before moving on to Best Director and Best Picture, it's important to note that Leonardo DiCaprio was most likely snubbed for his portrayal of Calvin Candie in Django Unchained. They could have easily left Joaquin Phoenix off the list (The Master) and made room for Mr. DiCaprio, but I'm starting to perceive a selection bias towards past winners (i.e. Ang Lee, Phoenix, Meryl Streep) from The Academy. I'm not saying these individuals are undeserving, but it almost feels like half of those voting didn't see some of the films and just go with the name they know will put in a solid performance (it's the college football "tradition" effect that plagues poll voting).

Since Ben Affleck isn't included in the Best Director category, I think it's safe to say Spielberg wins this one. Again, I haven't seen Amour, but I think Mr. Spielberg deserves a lot of credit for making a movie that could have easily become a preachy diatribe about the ills of slavery and Lincoln's heroic salvaging of our union much more about the realities of the political process and how real change, as painful as it is to wait for, must occur piecemeal.

Prevailing wisdom seems to be that since Affleck was snubbed for Best Director, Argo will win Best Picture. This predicament is why I hate the potential for selection bias within The Academy. Had they not possibly played favorites with Ang Lee (Life of Pi) or let their love of Hushpuppy's fine performance elevate Benh Zeitlin's stature, we could have had a true vote for Best Picture and not a make up award. I enjoyed Argo, but I don't think it was the best movie of the year. As I already mentioned, my choice for Best Picture is Django Unchained, but I doubt it will get as much consideration as it should simply because voters feel they should act to right the wrong done to Mr. Affleck. I'm not saying Django Unchained would have won Best Picture, but I simply worry there's no chance it or any of the other nominees got a fair shot after The Academy snubbed Mr. Affleck.

*Note: Pretty excited to see what Mr. MacFarlane does as host. I'm personally a fan of a Muppet Oscars, but if Mr. MacFarlane was given creative input and could use some of his circle to write jokes, it should be a fun show. If they made him use the past Oscar writers, it'll be another "so-so" show.

Feel free to comment and rub it in my face how wrong I am! Enjoy the show!