I knew this day would come, and it is with a sense of both excitement and sadness. By the end of my long deployment, I will have earned the most difficult and significant achievement of my life – Surface Warfare Officer Qualification, and finally perform the mission that my ship and I have been training toward for over a year. On the other hand, I must sacrifice the time and effort I have placed into a site that has grown so much in such a short time.
As our Editor himself would agree, what makes me value Awards Circuit is the staff – all the different backgrounds and perspectives on film from all walks of life. To proudly welcome Nicole and Tiff into our family, I will be assisting Clay in integrating them into the staff top tens dating all the way back to 2000 before my departure. After that, for operational security purposes, you will not be hearing from me for a while. But I will not be gone forever! One of my shipmates advised me a long time ago not to let the Navy become my sole identity, and I will hold to that. Come late 2013/early 2014, I will be back to resuming my full staff writer duties.
Until then, I leave you with my final Will Win/Should Win thoughts for this awards season, based on very little inside knowledge relative to my colleagues. For personal feelings toward the Academy Awards this year, there is always a welcome competitive spirit that stirs up when I find a mix of masterful (Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild) and blech (Silver Linings Playbook, Les Misérables) up against one another, though predictably, the likely winner falls between those two extremes as it did last year. For my own personal moviegoing highs, I encountered the best from some unlikely places. A flawlessly acted sonata of love and death. An arthouse neo-noir (yes, really!) with themes that would make Ozu proud. A one-of-a-kind apocalyptic bayou fantasy from, of all people, a white college boy from suburban New York. A celebrity filmmaker sometimes vulnerable to maudlin impulse delivering one of the most gripping thrillers of the year. A sci-fi yarn that actually cares about the consequences of its premise.
I will miss discoveries like these, along with discussing, pondering, debating their merits (or, in the infamous cases of Les Misérables and The Dark Knight Rises, lack thereof) this year. I will miss interacting with all of you while overseas. You, the readers, are what keep this site growing, and while Daniel and John depart us for other things and while I leave you for a time, Awards Circuit will still be going strong thanks to a great fanbase and staff. Fair winds and following seas…I will return!
BEST MOTION PICTURE OF THE YEAR
Will Win: When I last set sail for a long training period out at sea, it looked as though Lincoln had comfortably sewn up this race, what with the “shocking” “snubs” of Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck from the Directing nominees. A boringly predictable turn of events, perhaps, but considering the closest contender at the time (Silver Linings Playbook), I wasn’t going to complain. So what happened in the thirty days since that caused everyone to rally so strongly behind Argo, a film that starts off with a condescending Sunday school primer on Iranian history before stumbling through several missed dramatic opportunities (its glancing interest in the Canadian ambassador’s part of the story being one obvious example) and conventional tricks to drum up suspense before concluding itself as a merely passable thriller? I guess, as some detractors of The Artist perceptively noted, Hollywood adores love letters to itself. Hell, it one-ups the previous Oscar champ by having the “magic of the movies” quite literally swoop in and save the day! Only its absence in Best Director keeps Argo from being a sure thing.
Should Win: Speaking of unexpected twists of fate, I was certain that I would be rooting for Steven Spielberg’s taut historical drama among the nominees because there was no way that they go all in for a film as morbid as Amour, would they? Yet there it is, and when everyone was complaining about Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow being “snubbed” for competent but hardly above-and-beyond filmmaking in the Directing category (especially considering both of their past accomplishments), I was awestruck at the Academy’s good sense to recognize a far more rigorous, brave and effective film coming from a world cinema superstar at the height of his powers. Eschewing easy sentimentality for unflinching honesty, there is not one edit or shot or performance that is not flawlessly executed, and is destined to endure far beyond its competitors. Yes, even Lincoln.
Should Have Been Nominated: Am I going to kid myself by being shocked, SHOCKED I TELL YOU!, that films as bizarre as Holy Motors, as sinister as Elena, as boldly unconventional as Tabu or as…I don’t know, sci-fi-ey(?) as Looper didn’t make the Best Picture shortlist, but the pathetically shallow Les Misérables did? Hey, it’s the Oscars, and I’m still too thrilled about the inclusion of Amour to begrudge them for ignoring the kind of movies that they never really cottoned to in their 85-year history. But looking closer into their wheelhouse, it’s sad to see the funny, incisive, ambitious and multi-layered character study Magic Mike (just barely missing my own top ten) totally left in the dust. I maintain that had it not been advertised as the Girls Night Out Stripping Flick, its awards profile would have been much higher and its backlash would not have been so vicious.
ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTING
Will Win: Ah, but isn’t this a doozy? If Argo pulls off a Best Picture win it will be only the fourth in Academy history to do so without a Best Director nod, making the likely Best Director winner…who? I’m actually a little lost on this. Is the Academy looking for another lightning strike by making Michael Haneke the first ever winner for an almost entirely non-English language film, or perhaps make David O. Russell the first to win for an indifferently shot dark-but-quirky comedy? Will Steven Spielberg join John Ford as a 2+ champ, or will Ang Lee become the next George Stevens (two-time winner but no Best Pictures)? Or will that whipper-snapper Zeitlin surprise us all? Many are with good reason shaping this as a two-horse race between Spielberg and Lee, and while Spielberg has a strong claim on the coveted title of “Three-Time Academy Award Winning Director,” I give the edge to Lee’s grander visual canvas and widespread critical kudos for bringing an “unadaptable” novel to life. Even Pi’s divisive ending won’t do Lincoln much good since it found itself – somewhat justifiably – in the same boat among audiences.
Should Win: Michael Haneke and I have had a…rocky relationship over the years. While the accusations of his misanthropy are a little overblown, he does come off awfully snide at his worst, and after his attempts to cram in and distill nearly every idea he’d been exploring for some time in The White Ribbon mostly crashed and burned, I had mistakenly believed this very distinct auteur had reached the end of his run. But with his masterpiece Amour, Haneke achieves a perfect application of his rigor and formal precision to a deeply-felt universal sentiment. But it would be unfair if I only singled him out among the outstanding Best Director nominees, as the incredibly promising Benh Zeitlin expertly managed allusions to painful historical wounds and a child actor and magical realism and a water-based, highly specific regional setting when most veteran filmmakers have a hard time with just one of those. I can’t wait to see what he shows us next.
Should Have Been Nominated: Seeing this at literally the last minute up to this article (and thank goodness I did!), Miguel Gomes makes Tabu something in a class by itself. Split into two parts – the second a near-parody of an arch arthouse character drama and the second a lush and almost completely silent romantic melodrama – both sections compliment each other in rich, unexpected ways. Gomes’ aggressive choices are abundant in nearly every second of this wonderfully beguiling film, from his shot variations to the numerous visual layers he packs in to even the most incidental shots. The second half especially is just pure bliss, using a ridiculous amount of nuance to evoke so powerfully the simple emotions and impressions we get from memory. The result is something that feels like the best of both old and new even as it slyly riffs on both; a politically smart, emotionally heartfelt and visually creative feature that may very well be the most original of the year.
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEAD ROLE
Will Win: The reactions to Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance in Lincoln have been, collectively, the most amusing awards season commentary I’ve seen in some time. While the degree of praise varies, virtually everyone has reacted to his interpretation of our 16th President with (deserved) adulation and an almost exasperated sense of inevitability. So now it’s official, we all collectively declared: water is wet, the sun is bright, and Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the greatest actors of all time. Rather than hinder his chances, this “of course” attitude seems to be solidifying it. Since everyone agrees he’s an acting demigod, why not anoint that with a record-breaking three Lead Actor Oscars? If Cooper were more of an established Great Thespian I might have taken a chance on him, but with nearly every critics’ award and guild citation under his belt it looks like Day-Lewis will have no real obstacles making history this weekend. Hey, sometimes it’s Oscar bait for a damn good reason.
Should Win: Now this is a tougher question since – if we’re being generous to Jackman – all of the nominees here give commendable performances, from Washington’s unique portrayal of some of the oft-ignored symptoms of addiction to Day-Lewis’ dogged commitment to both the man and the legend behind Abraham Lincoln to Bradley-friggin’-Cooper of all people nailing one of the most daunting dramedy protagonists that I can recall. The Awards Circuit and the internet in general have not surprisingly rallied behind Joaquin Phoenix’s feral turn in The Master, and while I remain far less enthused on the film as a whole and not of the belief that his portrait of Freddie Quell is necessarily an all-timer, I will concede that it is quite an achievement. He ventures through such a vertiginous range of odd, funny, squirming and disconcerting notes that you can’t help but feel a little nervous for the character and the performer even as he draws you into his demented world, but just when Phoenix seems to slip away into hammy imprecision, he brings himself back with a kick.
Should Have Been Nominated: Is it surprising that Jean-Louis Trintignant got left out of the Best Actor nominees despite his co-star being recognized? Perhaps not; it was a crowded field this year, after all. Still, it’s more than a little disappointing and unjustifiable that a voting body could willfully ignore the emotional core of a film that otherwise hit them hard. Because the film is called Amour and not Décès for a reason. Without ever shortchanging Anne’s own painful journey, the movie clearly belongs to Georges and his coming to terms with what love is and how it changes during the worst of times. His point of view, his honest portrayal of Georges as a “monster…but very kind” is the most complex character and the most heartfelt arc of Amour, but sadly, also the least “showy” which is probably what killed his chances. I would have happily sacrificed any of the actual nominees to make room for him. Another superior lead performance left out was from Clarke Peters, who I have long advocated for taking somewhat of a sloppily written, contradictory character and making him absolutely mesmerizing.
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEAD ROLE
Will Win: Probably the most disappointing competition among the “major” categories, both of the front-runners for Best Actress completely underwhelmed me. Jennifer Lawrence is fine in Silver Linings Playbook but not much more than your average angsty white guy’s delightfully quirky fantasy girlfriend with magical sadness-erasing abilities (“Oh, but Tiffany Maxwell’s different! She has a Painful Past and deals with Mental Illness, even if both are handled with casual hipster irony!”). The praise for Jessica Chastain is even more frustrating, as she’s not only saddled with an underwritten character, but often fails to be the ultra-feminist superwoman that Mark Boal constantly keeps telling us she is. It’s hard to reconcile the men around Maya describing her as a “killer” when her Badass Line Deliveries handed to her on a silver platter don’t come across as authoritative or menacing in the slightest. It’s a shame, too, because Take Shelter and The Help clearly demonstrate that she has enormous talent with the right vehicle. Too bad the Academy’s habit of scrambling to anoint the next hot young female (never a hot young male, of course!) star will result in one of them getting this award waaaay too early in their careers…probably Lawrence this time around.
Should Win: It’s hard to hear or read about Emmanuelle Riva’s role in Amour and not suspect her Anne’s overt suffering as a mere awards-baiting deglam stunt. And in the hands of most actresses, this might be true. But Riva’s uncommon grace finds a woman whose response to a horrible fate as compelling as it is heartbreaking. Her defiance to losing control of her body and mind, dignity in the face of humiliating ailments, and the ease with which she convinces us of a lifetime of joy, pain and memories from her marriage to Georges leaves her fellow nominees in the dust.
Should Have Been Nominated: As always, the trope that this was a “bad year for lead actresses” proves totally wrongheaded to those movie lovers who knew where to look for great performances from the fairer sex. It’s the Academy failing them, not the other way around. Listen, I have no illusions about the Oscar chances of Nadezhda Markina’s riveting and morally complex titular antihero of Elena, but why, after seeing her coast to so many nominations for less-than-stellar work, did Meryl Streep fail to gain much traction for Hope Springs, arguably the most generous and humane performance she’s given in years? But probably the most disheartening overall snub was Emayatzy Corinealdi’s powerful performance in Ava DuVernay’s smart drama Middle of Nowhere. Her portrayal of torn loyalties and delusion about her future never begs audience sympathy yet earns it anyway and then some. I want to believe she’s not going to be yet another potentially great actress shut down by Hollywood racism…but the past makes it hard for me to hold my breath on that.
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Will Win: Oh, and here’s another sudden turn of luck while I was away: Christoph Waltz is now the favorite! Wait, what? Am I alone in seeing his performance as a lazy retread of Hans Landa, with an even flimsier defense of his status as a “supporting character?” At least he won’t “steal” the Oscar away from any of his fellow nominees; as my future wife Emma Stone explicitly noted, all of the nominees this year have won before, taking away nearly any strong emotional investment one might have had in this race.
Should Win: But on principle I’ll still be pulling for Tommy Lee Jones, originally the one to beat for this prize and for good reason. Thaddeus Stevens is Lincoln’s secret weapon. His hyperbolic name-calling on the floor of the House is a rich source of humor without feeling hammy. His interactions with the President reveal him as an unexpected and fascinating foil. He commands attention with the ease of the best political animals. All of these indelible contributions come together beautifully when he finally succeeds in helping to end slavery; this proud man’s silent, overwhelmed reaction to good triumphing over evil being arguably the most poignant moment of a film full of bracing moments.
Should Have Been Nominated: What a waste of a potentially juicy awards narrative for them to ignore Matthew McConaughey. Coming off a stellar year for himself both artistically and career-wise, his screen persona has never been utilized more ingeniously than in Magic Mike. His Dallas is as charming as he is sleazy, evoking the MC from Cabaret in all the right ways but with more warmth, sexual energy and internal skepticism. While I was not a fan of the otherwise pretentious and frustratingly rhetorical The Deep Blue Sea (“A guarded enthusiasm?” Who the hell talks like that?), theater veteran Simon Russell Beale is aces as Weisz’s cuckolded husband, quietly sad in his struggle to suppress his anger, confusion and shame simmering just beneath the surface of his upper-class composure, while the terrifying Noé Hernández stole the show as poor Laura’s tormentor and unexpected guardian angel in Miss Bala. Finally, Christopher Walken was moving and surprisingly underplayed in A Late Quartet. He was easily the movie’s MVP in a borderline lead role as the troupe’s patriarchal leader facing Parkinson’s and the end of his distinguished musical career.
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Will Win: Anne Hathaway, because I’m feeling particularly bold this year.
Should Win: If I were to make this call based solely on the first half of Anne Hathaway’s rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream,” I’d be right there with all those who somehow found a way to cry through her big showcase scene. But by the time she flies off the rails and finishes off too big, I wasn’t touched but baffled at all the love. I’m sorry, but after her nimble exploration of Kym’s overbearing bitchiness in Rachel Getting Married and overcoming her miscasting with wit and slinky energy in The Dark Knight Rises, playing a doe-eyed, ridiculously self-sacrificing whore-with-a-heart-of-gold is something she could pull off in her sleep at this point, ignoring for a minute that she plays right into the film’s disastrously abstracted characterizations. Though I’m tempted to align myself with Sally Field’s surprisingly restrained portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln, Helen Hunt’s is the most fully-formed performance of The Sessions’ appealing ensemble, and manages to wring more complexity out of her relationship to Mark than I suspect it reads on paper.
Should Have Been Nominated: Continuing my trumpeting of Middle of Nowhere’s undervalued achievements, Corinealdi was backed up by a ton of strong supporting players, best among them all being Lorraine Toussaint. Initially positioned as a down-the-line stereotype of Sassy Black Mom With Down-to-Earth Wisdom, she lights the film on fire with her acerbic deliveries almost painfully digging up uncomfortable truths at the heart of Ruby’s conflict. Ruth loves her daughters but is too brutally honest to bury her disappointment in both of them, and Toussaint makes the result exhilarating. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Louise Harris is remarkable as the pitiful, victimized single mom and girlfriend of serial torturer-murderer John Bunting in Justin Kurzel’s brutal true crime story The Snowtown Murders, while Emily Blunt transforms Looper from one kind of great movie to another kind of even better movie with her compelling portrait of a flawed but resilient mom coming to grips with the possible destiny of her powerful son. Not to sound fixated on maternal performances, Elena Lyadova was a magnificently nasty foil for her father’s untrustworthy second wife in Elena, never alienating us despite being an ungrateful little brat.
Will Win: There seems to be a consensus forming that this race is between Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained, and I will admit that the precursors make these outcomes a distinct possibility. However, Amour has something that those two contenders do not: a Best Director nomination. That it attained that kind of love from the Academy makes it hard for me to believe that it will walk away with nothing at the end of the night, and a screenplay win would be an ideal consolation prize from a voting body that’ll most likely see it as “well-made but too depressing.” For those of you who think that a foreign language film is a longshot for a screenplay prize, I direct you to Talk to Her (I mean, I’d direct you to watch it anyway because it’s fantastic, but you get my point…).
Should Win: Plus, as impeccably mounted and acted as Amour is, one shouldn’t forget just how much the writing contributes to its power. This is as reliant on character and dialogue as Lincoln, with the added challenge of only three major characters to play off of. Its structure, though carefully assembled, flows as naturally as its character interactions, with not a stilted line to be found anywhere.
Should Have Been Nominated: All the reasons Magic Mike would have been a fine Best Picture nominee also apply in screenplay; its managing of a number of subtle tones, themes and intricate characters is the anti-Misérables. My colleagues have stumped hard for Looper, and its easy to why. Unlike some other sci-fi yarns I could name *cough*Prometheus*cough*, Looper actually uses its intricate world-building in the service of its story to superlative effect. And yes, the storm of venality Oleg Negin and Andrey Zvyagintsev draw up in Elena is as gripping in its tension as it is intimidating in its philosophical darkness, while the ingenuity of Tabu would not have worked if it did not have a strong foundation of a screenplay making it’s case for the power of the melodrama.
Will Win: It’s the Best Picture front-runner, right? Then Argo it is. If Lincoln had held on in the precursors Tony Kushner would have had this award in the bag, but when the WGA weighed in things started tipping over.
Should Win: Damn, another deserved award for Lincoln slipping away! This is really irksome since it not only lives and dies by the abundant strength of its verbal face-offs, but also is ten times as bold as its likely usurper. When just last year George Clooney was wringing his hands over the discovery that *gasp* politicians are corrupt, Kushner and Spielberg shockingly – and lucidly! – make that most reviled of arguments that the ends sometimes do justify the means. That political backroom deals and back-stabbing and outright deception is justified in the pursuit of ultimate justice, and there are few as just as the ending of slavery. Perhaps it is not so surprising to see that kind of courage fall short at the Oscar finish line…
Should Have Been Nominated: Speaking of artistic courage and breaking down cinematic golden cows, how about a round of applause for The Snowtown Murders shutting down the “heroism” of self-appointed vigilante judges of human behavior? The monstrous John Bunting is the perfect antidote to anyone still thinking that the Jigsaw Killer or Dexter Morgan or any one of their dozen like-minded characters “had a point” or “were kinda justified.” Shaun Grant and Justin Kurzel unflinchingly show us the kind of people who actually take that bullshit to heart: vile, mean little men who find any excuse to hurt the weak and defenseless. That it covers such a wide range of characters and a long span of time briskly while still feeling like a comprehensive immersion into human cruelty is just icing on the cake…albeit an unpleasant one. My colleagues have all made great arguments for The Perks of Being a Wallflower, so I’ll turn my attention to making a less popular claim: 21 Jump Street, finding a way to mix and wring freshness out of a whole slew of stale genres (buddy cop, high school comedy, etc.) while being as frequently hilarious and genuinely sweet as it was put it far above most “respectable” scripts from last year.
Will Win: With Brave letting many people down and the critically respected ParaNorman sputtering at the box office, we have a category where the winner isn’t completely obvious for the first time in a long time. Though I personally didn’t care for its saccharine tone and visual unimaginativeness (why would you send your protagonist through several generations of video games but only apply a single animation style to your settings?), Wreck-It-Ralph’s Critics’ Choice, PGA and Annie victories seem to have the slightest edge over the BAFTA and Golden Globe-winning Scottish Princess.
Should Win: While not the most original of Tim Burton’s oeuvre, Frankenweenie is a huge leap in quality over his recent works, and contains generous amounts of the cleverness and heart that we once loved him for. Sure, the third act is a mess, but that seems to be the norm with animated films these days and an Oscar here might be a nudge in the right direction for the once-great filmmaker.
Should Have Been Nominated: I have no strong opinions about any “snubs” in this category, since I didn’t see any animated features worth cheerleading that hard for. I suppose I should get around to seeing The Painting eventually…
Will Win: The rule for this category – as well as Best Cinematography – is that the most visually opulent Best Picture nominee has the automatic edge over the others (see also: Hugo, Avatar, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). Using that logic, Life of Pi would appear to have this one all sewn up despite not actually applying a lot of “production design,” whatever its other significant visual achievements. I invite any reader to correct me in the comments section if I’m mistaken on that front.
Should Win: Is Anna Karenina a misbegotten farrago of noble intention and bonkers execution? You bet, but goddamn was it a remarkable sight, blurring the lines between put-upon stage play and in-the-moment settings of the novel in a way that kills the movie but is nevertheless a visual knockout.
Should Have Been Nominated: Coming off of his visual peak in Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom continues Wes Anderson putting his deliberately fussy dollhouse compositions to such good use. His visual geometry instantly and unmistakably evokes not only its time period but the childlike point of view of a picture book, and should have been a nominee.
Will Win: The rule for this-wait, I already went over this in Best Production Design, remember? It was, like, a few paragraphs ago. Anyway, Life of Pi wins this for the same reason.
Should Win: The cinematography of Skyfall, possibly the most overrated Bond film of all time, was the only thing about it that completely impressed me. While in retrospect Roger Deakins does occasionally focus too much on some breathtaking setups at the expense of others, Skyfall is nevertheless a wonder of lighting and Sam Mendes’ trademark showmanship.
Should Have Been Nominated: One more shoutout for Middle of Nowhere, if you’ll allow me: not since Amy Vincent has a DP given so much consideration towards how to light African-Americans on screen. For this and his gorgeous employment of soft lighting, Bradford Young’s absence here is a damn shame.
Will Win: Because Keira Knightley is the spokeswoman for lavish period costumes-no, well, maybe…because Anna Karenina’s costumes are lavish as all get-out and were an early front-runner before the race started to even begin to take shape, the great Jacqueline Durran will likely be winning her first Oscar this year.
Should Win: My praise of Mirror Mirror’s ingeniously crazy fairy tale threads (which actually got nominated…thank goodness I was wrong there!) remains as strong as ever, and though it’s heartbreaking to remind myself that we’ll never see Eiko Ishioka’s trippy contributions to cinema again, she could not have gone out on a higher note.
Should Have Been Nominated: Lawless, for maybe the first time since Atonement, actually made my jaw drop at a striking dress worn by a gorgeous actress, but Margot Wilson goes far from simple one-time awe and into surprisingly distinct character creation through her costumes, from the vibrant all the way down to the mundane. Lawless may have been mediocre in the end, but its visual sense was anything but. But I can’t let go of my continued banging of the drum for outstanding contemporary work (because Oscar sure as hell won’t do it), and the sheer variety of absurd themes Christopher Peterson puts his strippers through was one of the funniest parts of Magic Mike.
Will Win: Argo has two advantages here. The first is that it is the Best Picture front-runner, and Best Picture and Best Film Editing have historically coincided quite often (but not always!). The second is that as a thriller, Argo is also very obviously “edited,” through frequent scenes of (sometimes telegraphed) tension. The Academy often sees crafts categories the way your high school math teacher saw assignments: you only get credit if you show your work…which is why editing is continually the most misunderstood discipline in filmmaking.
Should Win: I agree that Lincoln should have ended about ten minutes earlier than it did. And Robert Lincoln could have probably been nixed. Can we also all agree that editing is a lot more than that? Unlike the setups of Zero Dark Thirty (another film with problems maintaining suspense organically) and Argo, Michael Kahn faced the challenge of having to work with almost nothing but dialogue and quiet character moments. Most editors know what needs to be spliced together and presented in an action scene, but what about a debate between multiple people, all with different expressions conveying equally compelling emotions and insights to the audience? Who do you cut to and when? How long do you hold the take? Mr. Kahn had to ask himself these questions throughout the entirety of Lincoln, all while maintaining its steady pace and even salvaging its misbegotten denouement.
Should Have Been Nominated: At the risk of sounding like a broken record with these two, Amour and Tabu both represented film editing in top form. The former was cut with surgical precision, its long, clinical takes letting its overwhelming tragedy and unexpected beauty speak for itself. The latter was a triumph of experimental technique, a free-flowing sea of sensations and spare moments that evoke the deceptive warmth of nostalgia like no other.
MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
Will Win: Oh Makeup Branch, how I despise you ever so much. You seem to be allergic to actually honoring the best of this craft even when its obviousness smacks you on the prosthetic nose. Because I’m convinced you’re actually trying to piss me off, I predict Les Misérables will take this one.
Should Win: And because the blindingly obvious Oscar-baiting choice wasn’t even nominated, I’ll root for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey even though it was probably the least impressive makeup work of all of Peter Jackson’s excursions to Middle Earth.
Should Have Been Nominated: So how did the Academy screw this up? You have a period piece, transforming an acclaimed actor’s face in an Oscar powerhouse, and aging in Lincoln, the perfect cocktail of everything they seemingly go ape for in this category…and they pass it up! Less obvious but perhaps more artistically significant was Holy Motors, failing to even make the shortlist despite having its clever makeup and hairstyling being so central to the experience.
Will Win: For some reason musicals do very well in this category: Dreamgirls, Ray, Chicago…and one of those wasn’t even a Best Picture nominee. Les Misérables also has the advantage of not shutting up about it being the first movie musical with live singing on set as opposed to synching it in post-production. Great job, Hooper. Next step is actually taking that and making a good movie out of it.*
Should Win: From the immersive terror of a storm swallowing a ship whole to the omnipresent purrs and snarls of Richard Parker and vastness of the seemingly endless open ocean, Life of Pi was as much an aural joy as it was a visual one.
Should Have Been Nominated: Feeding into the stereotype that I’m an arthouse snob with a fetish for misery, the most effective soundscapes for me last year were also the most quietly devastating. Hearing Anne’s cries of pain throughout her spacious apartment is right up there with the most effective horror in Amour, and The Snowtown Murders completes its all-encompassing oppressiveness with a near-perfect evocation of a particular place, time period, and misery through odd sounds and smart employment of its thrumming musical score. And of course, that constant howling wind in The Turin Horse was probably so close to a nomination, I just know it!
Will Win: Sound’s sister category, on the other hand, is all about the noise. Action films, war epics, sci-fi blockbusters, submarines; the Academy is a fan of giving Sound Editing to the films that punish their eardrums. It also helps if the blockbuster in question was widely liked, which Skyfall fulfills on both fronts.
Should Win: Part of the reason I do not subscribe to the argument that Zero Dark Thirty “endorses” torture is that the torture scenes themselves are so stomach-churning. I credit some of that to Bigelow’s sober eye for the subject and Jason Clarke’s casual cruelty, but most of its sheer unpleasantness comes from the sound of it. If you were ever wondering what a defenseless man choking on water sounds like…here you go. Now, what was it you were saying about it being “necessary,” Mr. Fox News Mouthpiece?
Should Have Been Nominated: The Raid: Redemption is a blistering roller coaster of violence and aggression that is thrilling to watch for those who can handle its relentless savagery. Yes, it would be the perfect template for a Sound Editing winner if it were an English-language feature, but every gunshot, punch, kick, explosion, and howl of pain is as nuanced and textured as they’re assaulting. Bonus points for its smart, if rare, use of quiet moments to ratchet the nerves anyway.
Will Win: Life of Pi, not only because it’s a Best Picture nominee but because…
Should Win: …it needs to. Because no matter how painful its first act is, no matter how much I disagree with its overall point of view, there is something profoundly gratifying about a truly epic film that uses astonishing, groundbreaking visual effects and 3D for something that isn’t about superheroes or Middle Earth or alien invasions. We need more effects-driven spectacles that attempt the kind of warmth and thoughtfulness that Life of Pi displays, and an Oscar will be a HUGE step in the right direction.
Should Have Been Nominated: One of the reasons I enjoyed Ted so much despite hating most other films of the man-child-bro-comedy genre (i.e. The Hangover) is the surprising level of commitment it showed towards its own premise. Far from being simply a computer generated Peter Griffin punchline delivery machine, Ted never forgets that its vulgar star is a plush toy magically brought to life. This isn’t just apparent in the amusing story turns; the team responsible for animating Ted placed a remarkable amount of detail and thought into his every interaction with the world around him. This one exquisitely executed cartoon character deserved a nomination over less memorable effects from The Avengers or The Hobbit: A Completely Expected, Overlong and Totally Boring Journey.
Will Win: The Academy sure loves those exotic, international-sounding scores, from Slumdog Millionaire to Frida. This means that Life of Pi is probably destined to be the crafts champ of this race, since its musical flourishes are obvious and abundant. And okay, pleasing in its own way.
Should Win: Mechanical yet oddly seductive, Anna Karenina’s brittle music highlights the film’s own problems while drawing you in and respecting its aesthetic chutzpah anyway.
Should Have Been Nominated: Beasts of the Southern Wild will be the only film score from 2012 that people will remember a decade from now. Mark my words. It’s not just instantly memorable or soaring to listen to or beautifully composed, but also matches its regional tone and the simple but fiery personality of its firecracker protagonist perfectly. A phenomenal piece of film music that not only trounces the nominated scores, but every other one from last year. One of the few snubs from this year that I can call – without a trace of hyperbole – utterly shameful.
Will Win: Despite the fact that no James Bond song has ever won this award, and despite the fact that “Suddenly” is from a Best Picture-nominated musical, Adele is the type of ultra-successful and respected singer/songwriter that the Academy can feel good about siding with the popular culture on. It’s Skyfall’s to lose.
Should Win: Can I make a embarrassing admission? I don’t think that “Skyfall” from Skyfall is that great of a song. Hey now, calm down, I still stink it’s pretty damn good and a sight better than the nominees! Adele’s voice is sexy as hell, and the musical hooks are smooth and integrate the Bond theme smartly. It’s just that those lyrics are so…asinine, and they strongly imply that neither she nor Paul Epworth even glanced at the premise before writing it. Still, even with her tortured attempts to make “Skyfall” rhyme with “Craumbaaaool,” it’s a catchy number that would be a respectable Oscar winner in this wretched category.
Should Have Been Nominated: Only two songs that I heard from films last year were actively enjoyable to me: Fiona Apple’s “Dull Tool” is as wickedly funny and acidic as her best songs and the most clever part of the otherwise awful This Is 40, while “The Sambola! International Dance Craze” is a vital ingredient to the bubbly, weirdly funny gender satire Damsels in Distress’ odd flavor. Now, that would have had guaranteed smiles from everyone on Oscar night!
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FEATURE
Will Win: Amour because…well, I won’t waste anyone’s time on this.
Should Win: Amour because…well, it should be obvious by now.
Should Have Been Nominated: The fact that almost none of the submitted entries have opened near my area forces me to abstain from commenting, except to briefly say that among them, Beyond the Hills is the one I’m most looking forward to see.
Will Win: Yet another disappointment of this Oscar season was seeing Searching for Sugar Man inexplicably rack up most of the documentary awards over a whole slew of richer, bolder non-fiction works from last year. It’s slickly done, but nothing more, and often dips into repetitiveness and suspicious presentation. Why did Bendjelloul feel the need to make it seem like Rodriguez only recently surfaced? And why in the world would you put forward the idea that he politicized whites in South Africa and then spend hardly any time exploring it? But it seems like my objections are among a tiny minority in a sea of BAFTA, Sundance, Los Angeles Film Festival, Cinema Eye, IDA and DGA trophies carrying it to the Oscar this weekend.
Should Win: How to Survive a Plague is the most rousing and powerful documentary I’ve seen since The Interrupters. Not only does it utilize archive footage expertly to honor the decades-long struggle against AIDS and national apathy while never feeling bloated, but David France displays a remarkably clear vision of events. Knowledge and skeptical inquiry are honored as much as emotion and determination. ACT UP’s triumphs are highlighted as well as their pitfalls. But despite its irreproachable journalistic integrity, France never loses the deep, aching humanity at the heart of this dark time in American history turned around by a small group of heroic individuals. It’s the kind of film that makes you want to be a better person.
Should Have Been Nominated: Eugene Jarecki has always been a, shall we say, less than perfect documentary filmmaker in my eyes, which is why I was surprised at how much I liked The House I Live In. Okay, so the argument that the United States’ “War on Drugs” is totally absurd and incompetently handled is not the boldest one can make in this day and age, but Jarecki’s case is as strong as any I’ve seen, keeping an admirable focus despite touching on a broad array of subjects. Not without its faults, but certainly would have been a worthy Oscar nominee.
And now we come to those “make or break” predictions on the short film categories that prognosticators not on the most inside of tracks can only get lucky on. I have not one good reason to stick with any of these other than my “gut,” and if that works for Stephen Colbert I can go with that excuse from time to time, can’t I?
Will Win: Inocente
Will Win: Paperman
Will Win: Curfew
* As a side note, I want to thank Clayton for his zen-like composure and patience during my relentless bashing of his favorite film of the year in this pre-deployment article. If you end up hating Tabu, boss, I promise I won’t say a word!