What we’re rooting for at the Oscars
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With the 2013 Oscar nominations announced, Oscar-speculation-and-handicapping season is fully underway. But to hell with the prognosticators and guessers and hopers. If you had one definitive vote to cast at the 2013 Oscars in any category, what would you vote for to win—whether it was nominated or not?
Is it odd to say I’d probably rock the vote for Beasts Of The Southern Wild to win Best Picture, not necessarily because I think it’s the year’s best film—of the existing nominees, Zero Dark Thirty came in above it on my personal 2012 best-of list—but because the award would mean so much more to director Benh Zeitlin and to innovative, daring independent cinema than it would to ZD30’s Kathryn Bigelow, much less to Lincoln’s Steven Spielberg, the more likely winner? The idea of this scrappy, savory film rocketing past all these bloaty Hollywood spectacles just inherently makes me happy. Admittedly, just seeing it up for Best Picture (and Director, and Writing, and Actress) is great, but that doesn’t mean I can’t wish for a win, while not realistically expecting it for a moment. (Even less likely to win: The not-nominated Cloud Atlas for Best Editing. Of all the year’s snubs, that one shocks me most.)
So much delicious, transportive cinematography that I bet every single nominee in that category will get some love here. Let me throw my hat in the ring for Seamus McGarvey’s work on Joe Wright’s audacious Anna Karenina, which contained the single most beautifully staged and shot scene of the year: the horse race, with animals thundering across a theatrical stage in slightly-slowed motion while the principals sit, equally on display, in the audience.
I’m assuming Lincoln is going to do very well on Oscar night, and that’s just fine with me. (I’d take it over the other presumed favorites at this point, Life Of Pi and Silver Linings Playbook). But I have to turn my attention down-ticket for a nomination I’m really excited about, and one that leaps out to me is Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer’s work on Anna Karenina for Best Production Design. That film was one of my absolute favorites this year, and the living, breathing theatrical sets that house most of the action played such a crucial part—one of my favorite moments of the year was watching the whole theater open out to reveal the Russian countryside as Levin returns to his estate. God knows one of the Best Picture nominees will probably walk away with that category too, but here’s hoping.
Well, duh, Sally Field for Best Supporting Actress in Lincoln. I haven’t even seen the movie yet but, aren’t we all dying to hear her follow-up speech on how much people like her, and perhaps really like her? (Plus I like it when an older broad beats out the younger actresses, especially in this case, where Field had to fight hard for the role.) Also, I’d pick Hugh Jackman for Best Actor in Les Misérables, but mostly because I feel a sense of pleasure anytime I see him onscreen.
Granted, Kathryn Bigelow already has one Best Director Oscar, but given how often the Academy is criticized for failing to recognize women and minorities, it’s absolutely shocking that she didn’t receive at least a nomination for Zero Dark Thirty, which if nothing else is a feat of logistics and visual storytelling beyond anything the nominated directors accomplished. (Life Of Pi comes closest, in my estimation, strictly as a piece of directing.) I happen to like all five nominees, but since I don’t feel I can argue for an inclusion without citing an exclusion, I’d drop David O. Russell from the list to make room for Bigelow. And then I’d give Bigelow her second statuette.
I’m rooting for Robert De Niro, who got nominated in the Supporting Actor category for Silver Linings Playbook. To be honest, I’m way behind on my movie-watching this year, and I haven’t seen any of the nominees. But for heaven’s sake, De Niro is one of the best actors who’s ever been on film, and he hasn’t won an Oscar since Raging Bull. This would be a fine comeback after 15 years or so of middling roles and Fockers movies have made people long for his Goodfellas days. If Meryl Streep can win another Oscar after 30 years, so can De Niro.
I know Adele has already conquered the world, to the point where we will soon have to invade and subjugate alien planets just to refresh the consumer base for 19 and 21. Why fight it? She’s one of the rare pop artists who can transcend just about any boundary, from the willful cluelessness of the masses to the snooty tastes of elitist jerks like me. Although the humble, soulful singer has won just about every award and accolade the music industry has to offer, I’m still rooting for her to snatch a statue from the other side of the aisle: the Best Original Song Oscar for Skyfall. Not only is it a classic, classy James Bond theme that harkens back to halcyon days of Shirley Bassey, it incorporates Bond’s signature riff in a chillingly awesome, insidiously sinuous way. And anything that brings Adele one step closer to realizing her destiny as Intergalactic Overqueen is fine by me.
Taking yet another opportunity to root for the underdog while also reminding myself just how few Oscar-nominated films I actually managed to see this year, I’d throw my vote behind The Pirates! Band Of Misfits for Best Animated Feature. I went to see it with my wife and daughter, and my daughter literally fell asleep, but I thought it was an extremely funny flick, with great voice acting from Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, David Tennant, Brian Blessed, and, oddly enough, Jeremy Piven. Unfortunately, it has no chance in hell of winning the Oscar, owing to the formidable competition (none of which, for the record, I would reject as a viable winner), so if my one definitive imaginary vote can do anything to change its fortunes, it’s the least I can do.
I know it’s a gimme and that a lot of people are sick of Anne Hathaway/resent how blatantly she’s courting this award, but I will be very happy for her to win her Best Supporting Actress statue. That said, I’m not going to cast my single imaginary vote for her, because come on, she has that locked. Instead, I’m going to follow up on what David said and also give it to Anna Karenina for Best Costume Design, because holy shit, did you see that one red dress? And all the veils? And the fur?? (I don’t even like fur, but that HAT!) I gather that something else having to do with social change in Russia and forgiveness and blah blah was going on in between all the taffeta and mink, but frankly, the film wasn’t nearly as good at making that stuff compelling as it was for making me wish bustles would come back into fashion.
This is one of those years when I have zero investment in any of the major categories—the 10 minutes of Django Unchained I watched before a projector broke is the most I’ve seen of any of the Best Picture slate, and as fine as those 10 minutes were, it’s not enough to get worked up about. So I think I’ll root for Colleen Atwood in Best Costume Design for her work on Snow White And The Huntsman, for three reasons: 1. The costumes Charlize Theron and Kristen Stewart wore were fine, and easily the least objectionable thing about the movie; 2. Atwood is a talented artist who has done design work for a lot of films I love; and 3. The idea of someone saying “the Academy Award-winning fantasy film Snow White And The Huntsman” amuses the hell out of me.
I’ve seen five of the nine Best Picture nominees, and while I agree with the Academy that they’re all varying degrees of excellent (in order from best to not-as-best, in my mind: Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained, Silver Linings Playbook, Argo, Beasts Of The Southern Wild), I don’t think any of them is as powerful or striking as The Master. I understand that it isn’t as easy to swallow as Paul Thomas Anderson’s other films—There Will Be Blood was nominated for everything—but I’m surprised The Master didn’t slide into that 10th Picture slot. I’d have been even more surprised if it were nominated and actually won, but stacked up against this year’s competition, there’s really no competition at all, in my mind. (Nor in the minds of the A.V. Club hive, which declared The Master the best film of 2012. That’s way more prestigious than a stinkin’ Oscar anyway.
I’ve only seen four of the five nominees for Best Foreign Language Film, Norway’s Kon-Tiki being the odd film out, but I’d be beyond thrilled if Pablo Larraín’s No were to pull off an upset win. It’s wonderful to see Michael Haneke’s great Amour nominated in so many categories—pretty much the only time you’ll see “Haneke” and “wonderful” in the same sentence—but it’s hard to overlook the fact that the Academy is effectively rewarding the famously provocative Austrian auteur for finally settling down to make a “proper” film, especially one whose protagonists aren’t far off from AMPAS’ voters median age. No, which follows the 1998 referendum on whether Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet should stay in power through the eyes of the PR whiz (Gael García Bernal) assigned to the opposing campaign, is incisive and daring, casting a harsh, satirical light on a moment usually viewed as a triumph of democracy. I’ll be happy if Haneke grabs a statue, as he almost certainly will, but I’d be ecstatic if No trumps Amour.
I’ll be rooting for Zero Dark Thirty for Best Picture, even though it now has no chance with the Bigelow snub (though I very much enjoyed Lincoln and will be fine with its inevitable triumph). So I think I’ll shift my real rooting interests to Jessica Chastain, who has a fighting shot for Best Actress and gave what seemed to me the performance of the year (though I haven’t seen Emmanuelle Riva in Amour, who could easily shake everything up). I loved the way Chastain played everything like a slowly cracking opaque surface, only letting brief glimpses of what was behind. The film’s complicated relationship with everything from torture to history is all bound up in her work, and she somehow pulls it off. And if that’s not too much, I’ll also root for Moonrise Kingdom for Original Screenplay, because Wes Anderson is one of my favorite filmmakers, and I’d love if he had an Oscar.
If left to my own devices, I suspect I would volunteer Searching For Sugar Man for every single AVQ&A. I love the movie and the man that fucking much. Most memorable experience of 2012? Seeing Rodriguez. Art you’d give everyone? The Searching For Sugar Man soundtrack. Favorite breakfast cereal? Searching For Sugary-Os. So I am going to shock none of y’all and argue that I would use my magical vote to give the Best Documentary Oscar to Searching For Sugar Man. True, The Queen Of Versailles captured the spirit of the time better than just about any other movie out there, but that didn’t even get nominated, so I’d love for Rodriguez’s heartwarming, soul-stirring, and downright life-affirming journey from anonymity and failure to international fame to end with him heading up to the podium to accept an Academy Award along with the filmmakers. Now that would be a hell of a happy ending.
Tasha has already explained the reasons why it would be wonderful to see Beasts Of The Southern Wild win on Oscar night, so I will go with another film I was pleasantly surprised to see nominated, the French-language film Amour. I hope the four big-ticket nominations (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay) will encourage people to seek this one out. This movie just gutted me from the opening scene until the closing credits. I think it’s a film that stuck with me long after the viewing, and I’d imagine it would be a big boost to international cinema to have a film that’s not in English be awarded the Best Picture Oscar. (Yeah, I’m aware that’s unlikely, but someone should root for the under-est of underdogs.)
The only legitimate reason to care about the Oscars is the effect they can have on the careers of the people involved. They may not be valid arbiters of artistic accomplishment, but they can make a nice moment for someone who’s endured some lean years, like Martin Landau, and they can help up-and-comers and underappreciated veterans alike stick their heads out of the pack. For that reason, I’m very happy to see Jennifer Lawrence’s Best Actress nomination for Silver Linings Playbook. There’s not a chance in hell she’ll win; young actress don’t win Oscars for being that funny and sexy and insanely alive, unless (like Marisa Tomei and Mira Sorvino) they can be squeezed into the Best Supporting Actress category, and even then they can expect to spend the rest of their lives being expected to apologize for it. But Lawrence’s performance gave me as much pleasure as anything I saw at the movies this year, and anything that tips the world off that she’s a lot more than Katniss and a top finisher in those stupid “Most Hottest Lady Person” men’s-magazine polls is all to the good.
The great cinematographer Roger Deakins has never won an Oscar. Here are some of the films he’s photographed: 11 films by the Coen brothers, including Fargo, The Big Lebowski, The Man Who Wasn’t There, and No Country For Old Men; Kundun; The Shawshank Redemption; The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford; Homicide; Dead Man Walking; Passion Fish; The Village. This year, Deakins is nominated for Cinematography for his exceptional work on Skyfall, and I think there’s a feeling about there that it’s finally his time. The only problem is that the “prestige” labels attached to some of his competitors’ films tend to be persuasive apart from the actual craft of cinematography. For that reason, I’d have to give two-time winner Janusz Kaminski the edge for Lincoln—and he’s deserving too, as are the others in this excellent field. But Deakins is widely and properly acknowledged as one of the world’s elite cinematographers, and his expressive work on Skyfall—the Shanghai sequence alone should merit an award—did as much as anything to make that film more artful and striking than most of the others in the franchise.