On February 24, 2013, the organization known as A.M.P.A.S. will crown new royalty and old monarchs for the 85th time. The Super Bowl of cinema is one of the most beloved viewing traditions in the US and the world. Although like most years, the 2013 installment will undoubtedly be under heavy scrutiny with first-time host and controversial animator Seth MacFarlane.
Most may be surprised though by MacFarlane, whose capacity and interests range well beyond the intellectual properties that have brought him both fame and infamy. If he uses the full extent of his abilities, which includes his less celebrated musical talent, there is a very good chance that MacFarlane can finally give the Academy Awards stability in the host position it has not enjoyed since the years of Billy Crystal. Hopefully though, he will not step too far into the realm of the mainstream and let a family friendly performance dull the sharp edge of his comedy.
As for the awards themselves, here are my humble predictions for what I consider to be the 10 most relevant categories of “Oscar” night.
Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Alan Arkin – Argo
Robert De Niro – Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master
Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln
Christoph Waltz – Django Unchained
AMPAS Pick: Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)
My Selection: Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)
Jones was exceptional in Lincoln and if he won it would not be a disgrace or outrage to the category in even the most miniscule of fractions. Both actors already have statues on their mantels, but De Niro has not won since ’81 for Raging Bull, while Jones took home his “Oscar” in ’94 for The Fugitive.
This was a particularly outstanding performance from De Niro that really separates itself from his other roles, not an easy task in itself. He was able to combine some of his more vulnerable qualities that shined in films like Awakenings (1990) and Everybody’s Fine (2009) while retaining the stalwart luster that has become De Niro’s branding over his illustrious career.
Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams – The Master
Sally Field – Lincoln
Anne Hathaway – Les Misérables
Helen Hunt – The Sessions
Jacki Weaver – Silver Linings Playbook
AMPAS Pick: Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)
My Selection: Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)
I believe AMPAS will get it right with Anne Hathaway this year. Nominated once before in the “Lead Actress” category for Rachel Getting Married in 2009, this appears to be as close to a “sure thing” as there is at this year’s “Oscars”. Even if you hated Les Misérables and just don’t care for musicals in general, it’s completely futile to deny the overwhelming talent she has as both an actor and a singer, and even more important, her ability to convincingly merge the two disciplines in a single performance.
The only outside chance of an upset here is Sally Field who supplied some of the very scarce influx of adrenaline in Lincoln. Also, some voters may be nostalgic to see a reprise of Field’s now infamous acceptance speech from 1985 when she gushed, “…you like me, right now, you like me!”
Anna Karenina – Seamus McGarvey
Django Unchained – Robert Richardson
Life of Pi – Claudio Miranda
Lincoln – Janusz Kaminski
Skyfall – Roger Deakins
AMPAS Pick: Life of Pi
My Selection: Life of Pi
Whatever you make of the storytelling and frustrating ending of Life of Pi, none can doubt the mastery of the visual effects and cinematography achieved in this film. The visuals are simply stunning with the foremost attention on views from above and below bodies of water. Claudio Miranda was able to present angles and a transparency of aquatic life in ways that even the most jaded audiences will not soon forget.
Best Film Editing
Argo – William Goldenberg
Life of Pi – Tim Squyres
Lincoln – Michael Kahn
Silver Linings Playbook – Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers
Zero Dark Thirty – Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg
AMAPS Pick: Argo
My Selection: Argo
I have faith that the “Academy” will get it right on this one as well, but each time Argo wins an award Sunday night it will only infuriate my disgust with them on the egregious error of excluding Ben Affleck from the “Best Director” category, which I will elaborate on later in the article.
It’s extremely difficult to convey what an amazing job one has done when the result of said job is the absence of material. You can only marvel about a cleanup if you have seen the original “mess,” and unfortunately for editors, the true signal of their admirable contribution to a film from the movie-going public, is that no one complains. However, with editing there are other subtle makers that signify an outstanding job to the trained eye.
William Goldenberg’s superior editing techniques have been acknowledged with multiple awards over his career sans “Oscar”, but this is easily his best shot at one as Goldenberg actually has two aces in the hole for 2013. The other film he worked on in 2012, Zero Dark Thirty, is the only real threat to steal the “Oscar” away . . . from himself.
Best Original Screenplay
Amour – Michael Haneke
Django Unchained – Quentin Tarantino
Flight – John Gatins
Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Zero Dark Thirty – Mark Boal
AMAPS Pick: Amour
My Selection: Looper (Not Nominated)
My Selection from Nominees - Moonrise Kingdom
This is one of the tougher contests to call correctly. Many odd’s makers have either Django Unchained or Zero Dark Thirty taking home the “Oscar”, but since politics always comes into play I’m going out on a limb here thinking the “Academy” will go with the safer and less controversial Amour. Amour is not what you would call an uplifting story by any means, but it also doesn’t fall under the recent shroud of “violence in the media” that the aforementioned films have been hit with since the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary. Also, many critics have declared Amour should win the award outright, but are hesitant to put their stamp on it since foreign films historically do not fare well in this category.
As for my choice, Looper, arguably one of the best science fiction films with a coherent time travel plot in over a decade, was insultingly left absent from all lists of “Oscar” nominations and is probably the grossest failure of the “Academy” since ’95 when The Shawshank Redemption lost in all seven of its categories. Looper’s originality alone warranted a “Best Picture” nod, but it should’ve been FedExe’d its “Oscar” early for “Best Original Screenplay.”
The only way AMPAS can even begin to right such an abominable oversight is by at least bestowing the “Oscar” to the second best original screenplay and award it to Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola for their genius work on another film unacceptably snubbed from a “Best Picture” nomination, Moonrise Kingdom. Anderson is a comedic cult hero for his unmistakable brand of eccentric writing that usually polarizes audiences at first viewing but has a way of dragging even those with a more conservative sense of humor into his realm by the end of the film.
However, it is Anderson’s greatest strength that both gets him nominated but keeps him “Oscar”less. Voters seem to be ok with acknowledging Anderson with previous nominations in 2010 for The Fantastic Mr. Fox and in 2002 for The Royal Tenenbaums, but they have yet to pull the trigger on completely legitimizing the originality and diverse style of storytelling that has inspired young directors and is quickly becoming its own genre of film.
If you are a fan of Anderson’s previous works and have not yet seen Moonrise Kingdom, immediately move it to the top of your Netflix queue, or better yet, just go out and buy the Blu-ray as I definitively believe it to be his paramount effort to date.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Argo – Chris Terrio
Beasts of the Southern Wild – Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin
Life of Pi – David Magee
Lincoln – Tony Kushner
Silver Linings Playbook – David O. Russell
AMPAS Pick: Argo
My Selection: Argo
Argo was simply a masterpiece in storytelling, especially when 95% of the audience already knows the outcome from not only the published work but from history books as well. The only real competition Chris Terrio has is from David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, but that’s enough to yank the result from the “sure thing” column. Russell’s screenplay is equally impressive and in some aspects even superior to Terrio’s. Being able to convince actual doctors and professionals of an authentic portrayal of people suffering from mental health issues is an achievement that deserves it own unique admiration for shedding light on a taboo subject, enabling those dealing with such adversities on a daily basis to not be ashamed to seek help.
That being said, (which usually means the writer is about to completely negate the previous statement) “Oscars” are not humanitarian awards, first and foremost they represent excellence in filmmaking. And in 2012, no film from top to bottom was a greater achievement than Argo.
Michael Haneke – Amour
Benh Zeitlin – Beasts of the Southern Wild
Ang Lee – Life of Pi
Steven Spielberg – Lincoln
David O. Russell – Silver Linings Playbook
AMAPS Pick: Steven Spielberg – Lincoln
My Selection: Ben Affleck – Argo (Not Nominated)
My Selection From Nominees: David O. Russell – Silver Linings Playbook
Until 1994, it was considered an injustice that one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema had never won an Academy Award for an individual work (he was presented with the “Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1987). But since Schindler’s List, Spielberg picked up another win with Saving Private Ryan in ’98. Now, in an ironic twist, it looks like Spielberg will win for a film that is not even up to par with some of the snubbed nominees.
Here’s where I get really upset with AMPAS. Better than anyone, the voters of the “Academy” should know what it takes to make a great film. All of the components complement each other and some facets would never be able to reach their pinnacle without the parallel effort from a supporting division. So how in the “Wide-Wide-World of Scorsese” can a film be nominated for “Best Adapted Screenplay,” “Best Editing” and “Best Picture” but somehow the director had nothing to do with it? How can the person responsible for translating words to images and making sure every aspect of the film works in harmony with one another not have an integral affect on the outcome? The answer is “they can’t.” All “Best Picture” nominees should correlate with “Best Director” nominees, sure that may be boring and predictable, but sometimes that’s the price for following coherent logic. It’s ridiculous for a film to be heralded as the best of the year and the person who’s basically responsible for its “vision” to not even be considered.
Best Female Actor
Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva – Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis – Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts – The Impossible
AMPAS Pick: Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook
My Selection: Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook
After coming out of nowhere last year, nominated in the “Best Actress” category for her work in the small budget film Winter’s Bone, Jennifer Lawrence has catapulted herself into the top tier of female actors in Hollywood. After some blockbuster hits, Lawrence is now showing everyone she’s much more than a “one-nom wonder” with an extremely memorable performance in Silver Linings Playbook. Lawrence is just beginning to scratch the surface of her talent and this awards ceremony should be the coronation of an actor that has a legitimate chance at living up to the much too liberally used moniker of “the next Meryl Streep.”
Best Male Actor
Bradley Cooper – Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln
Hugh Jackman – Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix – The Master
Denzel Washington – Flight
AMPAS Pick: Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln
My Selection: Bradley Cooper – Silver Linings Playbook
Any and all lists accounting for the greatest actors of all time must have Daniel Day-Lewis checked off no lower than the top 5 positions in order for it to have any credibility. If everything goes according to plan, Lewis will stand on a pedestal of his own after February 24 as the only male actor to ever house three “Oscars” in his trophy case for “Best Male Actor in a Leading Role.”
That being said, (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) Bradley Cooper is the one that should walk away with the gold statue. Of course Lewis was great, he’s always great, but pulling off what is assumed to be a flawless impersonation of a historical figure that existed before any audio or visual recording devices were invented, has to take a back seat to a flawless interpretation of what it’s like to live with extreme societal flaws.
Just like Jennifer Lawrence, Cooper’s performance will not soon be forgotten. It’s the kind of role that sticks because it relates to so many people no matter where they come from. Countless numbers of people have family members or friends that suffer in some way from varying degrees of mental illness, but most are too shammed or afraid to admit it, or worse, even acknowledge it.
We all have some vague idea of what President Lincoln might have been like, and Lewis’ portrayal should erase that stereotypical stiff posture and baritone voice parody for at least a while, but to bring attention to a chronic taboo in human society and actually affect peoples’ lives by the magnitude of truth and compassion in a performance, is something that goes far beyond any role of impersonation, no matter how intricate or accurate it may be.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
AMPAS Pick: Argo
My Selection: Argo
Before I discuss the prospective and much deserved winner, I’d like to touch upon the films that were not even considered even though there are only 9 nominees this year.
AMAPS changed a rule a few years back concerning the quantity of nominees in the “Best Picture” category. It was no longer a requirement for 10 films to be nominated. The minimum remains at 5 but there can by any varying amount up to 10. This new rule was a welcome change so voters didn’t feel forced to nominate films they didn’t truly feel were worthy, however when the tally of films in the category is below its ceiling of 10, it rubs even more salt in the wounds of films not considered for AMPAS’s top honor.
Last year it was Drive that received the “super snub award” when clueless voters didn’t even think it was worthy of the 10th and ultimately vacant spot for “Best Picture” in 2012. This year, three films can take turns spit shining that proverbial trophy, Looper, Moonrise Kingdom and The Impossible. I’ve already discussed how deplorable the omission of Looper is from any and all categories at this year’s awards and bias toward Moonrise Kingdom, but I have no idea what the producer’s of The Impossible may have done to anger AMPAS voters. It’s the type of film that fits the “Oscar” criteria to a tee. It also happens to be one of the most emotionally charged and uplifting films I’ve ever witnessed. Inexplicably, the only nomination The Impossible received was for Naomi Watts in the “Best Actress” category, who was probably the least deserving of the entire cast. Not that Watts was subpar in any way, but she was absent from a large portion of the film, while outstanding performances from Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland went unrewarded.
As for the moment when Ben Affleck should be going up on stage for the second time, instead of his first, and receives his “Best Picture” Academy Award as one of the producers for Argo, it will at least end the show with an appropriate upswing. The script, editing and yes . . . directing, of Argo far outclasses its fellow rivals, but not just with a fantastic story. The pertinent reason Argo deserves to have its title forever enshrined in “Oscar” gold is the incredible magic trick it pulls on its audience. Even though the outcome of the film was widely known before the first patron ever had their ticket stub handed back to them, it was still able to manifest the type of tension needed to elicit an implausible reaction from its viewers, and perhaps even more of an accolade, forever cement itself as a “movie day” in high school history classes across the country.