Thursday, January 10, 2013

Oscar speaks. I listen and react

Another year. More Oscar nominations.

And guess what? Overall, it's not a bad crop.

Although there's plenty to complain about (see below), this year's crop of nominations were, for the most part, well deserved and showed a surprising amount of diversity. From Beasts of the Southern Wild to Django Unchained to Zero Dark Thirty to Life of Pi (best picture nominees along with frontrunner Lincoln), this year's nominations argue against the idea that Hollywood turns out nothing but formula and pap, which is not the same thing as saying that Hollywood always aspires to artistic excellence, but still ...

For a complete list of nominees, click here:
A few quick reactions to this year's nominations, some favorable, some not.

Nice Surprises:
Silver Linings Playbook. After The Directors Guild of America omitted David O. Russell from its list, I expected the Academy to follow suit. It didn't, and I'm glad. Not only was Russell nominated for best director, but Silver Linings Playbook scored in every major category: picture, actor (Bradley Cooper), actress (Jennifer Lawrence), supporting actor (Robert DeNiro), supporting actress (Jacki Weaver) and adapted screenplay. Very cool. And for all the Lincoln hoopla, I'd have no objection to seeing Silver Linings Playbook win best picture. What's wrong with "enjoyable" anyway?

Beasts of the Southern Wild earns Oscar nominations for best picture, best director, best adapted screenplay and best actress. Nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis received a best actress nod for playing Hushpuppy, a strong willed six-year old living in the Louisiana bayou. I'd be really shocked if Beasts won in any of its categories, but I was surprised to see it so strongly represented the early going.

Wallis, who's now nine and the youngest person ever nominated in the best actress category, auditioned for Beasts at the age of five. So what exactly does her nomination say to all those striving actors studying, auditioning, hoping and praying for a chance to be seen?

Michael Haneke is nominated in the best director category. Haneke (The White Ribbon, Funny Games and Cache) is a brilliant, uncompromising director, but in many ways, his Amour is an actor's movie. Still, any time the Academy recognizes a talent such as Haneke, it's cause for celebration. Amour is nominated for best picture, best foreign-language film and best original screenplay with its lead actress, Emmanuelle Riva, earning a nomination as best actress.

Alan Arkin. OK, it's not really a surprise. I expected to see Arkin's name on the list of best supporting actors, but this is one instance in which I'm happy to see the Academy do the predictable thing. Arkin was great as a fading, cynical movie producer in Argo.

And, no, I wouldn't have been disappointed to see Matthew McConaughey on the list for his performance as a Texas prosecutor in Bernie, perhaps replacing Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained) on that list.

And now for some Oscar missteps:
John Hawkes is bypassed for best actor. In The Sessions, Hawkes played Mark O'Brien, a writer who's confined to an iron lung. Not wanting to miss out on one of life's great pleasures, O'Brien hired a sex surrogate to help him fulfill a dream of experiencing life to its fullest. Hawkes's performance? No pandering for sympathy, lots of humor and a thorough physical transformation. I might have bumped Hugh Jackman, nominated in this category for Les Miserables. To make matters worse, Helen Hunt, who played the sex surrogate, received a well-deserved nomination in the best supporting actress category.

Dark Knight Sinks. No nominations for Dark Knight Rises. Not one. Director Christopher Nolan brought his Batman trilogy to a conclusion with style and with hints of ambiguity that are unusual for a big-ticket summer movie. It should have been the 10th nominee in a nine-movie, best-picture field.

Ben Affleck. Affleck was bypassed in the best-director category, which must have left him shaking his head. Entertaining, relevant and boasting some of the year's tensest scenes, Argo should have earned Affleck a nod. I might have dropped surprise nominee Ben Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) from the list. Zeitlin's movie about a six-year-old girl's struggle for survival in the Louisiana bayou country was a critics' darling and a strong movie. To make it, Zeitlin had to overcome a major difficulties (heat, mosquitos, a cast of non-actors, and a limited budget by Hollywood standards). I understand why he made the cut. But I think Affleck has grown as a director, and if someone gave me a choice of which movie to rematch, I'd pick Argo, which did make the best-picture list and also was nominated for best adapted screenplay, where it will compete against Beasts and three other movies.

Kathryn Bigelow is bypassed in the best-director category. Zero Dark Thirty was nominated for best picture, and also earned a best-actress nod for Jessica Chastain, as well as a nomination for best original screenplay. Oscar nominations are always full of anomalies, but did the Academy think that an actress and a screenplay were sufficient to produce one of the year's most compelling and provocative movies?

Paul Thomas Anderson. No best-picture nomination for The Master. No best director nomination. No best original screenplay nomination. Odd because all the principal actors from The Master (Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams) received nominations in acting categories. Of all the directors on Oscar's list, I'd say that none is as consistently creative and daring as Anderson. And while we're at it, how about Jonny Greenwood's score for The Master? No nominations there, either.

Jean-Louis Trintignant was shut out of best-actor category as one half of an aging couple in the brilliant Amour. Look, I'm happy that Amour is receiving a lot of recognition, a best picture nomination, a best foreign-language film nomination, a best actress nomination for Emmanuelle Riva, who played Trintignant's wife. But he was every bit as good as Riva, maybe better.

I could go on, but I think I'll call a halt to carping and return to the original thought that, overall, the Academy did a decent job.

If you're awards crazy, don't forget to tune in for The Critics' Choice Awards of the Broadcast Film Critics Association this evening (Jan. 10) on the CW network (8 p.m. MT) and, of course, The Golden Globes will be broadcast on NBC Sunday at 6 p.m.

One more thing: Denver may not be the center of the film universe, but it does have a critics' association: For the record, here are the 2013 winners as selected by the Denver Film Critics Society:
Best Film - Argo
Best Achievement in Directing - Ben Affleck, Argo
Best Lead Performance by an Actor, Male - Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Best Lead Performance by an Actor, Female - Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Supporting Performance by an Actor, Male - Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Best Supporting Performance by an Actor, Female - Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Best Animated Feature - ParaNorman
Best Original Screenplay - Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom
Best Adapted Screenplay - David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Documentary Feature - Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Best Original Song Skyfall, Adele, Skyfall
Best Original Score - Hans Zimmer, The Dark Knight Rises
Best Non-English Language Feature - Amour

1 comment:

Rich Cain said...

If 9 or 10 films can be nominated for Best Picture, why can't there be more nominees, when warranted, in other categories?

I'd like to see the rules changed so that a certain percentage of votes received (5% maybe?) garners a nomination even if the total is not in the top five. That way, if there are worthy nominees, they'll at least get recognized with a nomination. Recognizing great performances like John Hawkes is never a bad thing.