Opinions Are Like Livers
Opinions are like livers. Everyone has one. Or at least part of one, even if it is malformed, atrophied and withered. Like livers many people have half of one or less. In fact most opinions today are formed as if the person was on life support and ready to expire in moments.
I care about the quality of movies today and I am exposed more and more to opinions that are based from the narrowest frames of reference. Still, all opinions are important. But like livers some opinions are healthier, stronger and more vital.
The Oscar is the ultimate. The final word on opinion in the culture of the moving image. Many of these opinion makers are passionate and informed and the film community takes these things seriously.
These days this only goes so far, so I will take the meat from the rumor mills and publicity machines and chop it into a few digestible pieces.
Are there sure things? No, there never are but it looks that way sometimes. So let's talk about some sure things.
Zero Dark Thirty is jumping to the head of the pack. It has been cited as the best picture by an number of groups. It is an intense portrayal of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. It is directed by Katheryn Bigelow whose career was legitimized with her previous film, The Hurt Locker. Katheryn had made a career of somewhat schlocky and fun, ultra-violent men's pictures like Point Break and Blue Steel. As a woman director she felt marginalized and more and more irrelevant, yet miraculously she re-invented herself. Good for her.
Another name that was dragged out of the ashes and reinvented was Ben Affleck. There was no bigger joke in hollywood a few years ago than Affleck. Then he directed his first movie, Gone Baby Gone which was so good that it was hard to believe. Then he did The Town which was also pretty damn good. It seems like his latest film Argo is getting wide-spread acclaim because everyone now is willing to admit that Affleck is not a talentless hack but a brilliant force to be reckoned with. It should be mentioned that Argo and Zero Dark Thirty have striking similarities, depicting dangerous missions in the Arab world.
Steven Spielberg is a household name and as much of a generic brand as Walt Disney. But unlike Disney, Spielberg has tried to stretch his talents in different directions over the years. The average person on the street can list the Spielberg movies they like, but critics generally grudgingly respect him but also snicker at some of his trademark directorial flourishes that now have become almost cliches. Lincoln is probably Spielberg's best movie because he has truly submerged his ego this time. The subject has overshadowed him, and this works well, because it seems Spielberg works well in the shadows. The complexity, subtlety and nuance seem to come from every performance and every word of the script and every lighting choice. This film is clearly a miracle of collaboration and a homage to greatness that is undeniable but perhaps never fully understood. The Lincoln we see in this latest film is so human and real that we feel closer to him than statesmen alive now.
Daniel Day Lewis is a sure thing as Lincoln but Joaquin Phoenix (The Master) was a sure thing as well. Until he shot his mouth off and insulted everyone in the industry, in so many words. He has since apologized but I don't think it will matter. His performance stood so powerfully on it's own merits that it would stand tall in any year. These two names dominate in the best actor category among a very strong field including Denzel Washington (Flight), John Hawkes (The Sessions), Jean Louis Trintignant (Amour), and Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook).
There are three directors who are making claims to join the ranks of the greats even though they are still young. Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) and Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom) all make films with strong personal visions and all three are in contention this year. Sorry, no Coen brothers or Darron Aronofsky this year. But personal vision is also showing up in giant showy entertainment pieces like The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit, The Avengers, and Les Miserables.
There is a dark horse candidate that should be noted. The foreign film Amour was named by the LosAngelos film critics after having won the Grand Prix at Cannes a while earlier.
Passion, intelligence and integrity are what make greatness in film. Film is a representation of the experience of being human in all it's forms. There is so much excellence that I will just list some of the other names that have distinguished themselves in this year. This is only a partial list of many who have done great this year. Matthew McConoughey, Ang Lee, Helen Hunt, Sally Field, Jessica Chastain, Jennifer Lawrence, John Goodman, Tommy Lee Jones, Leonardo DiCaprio, Anne Hathaway.....and many more.
By the way, as opinions go, mine isn't so bad and my liver isn't bad either. Here is my top ten for 2012.
10: The Hobbit
09: Cloud Atlas
08: Life of Pi
07: Moonrise Kingdom
06: Les Miserables
05: Zero Dark Thirty
04: The Master
03: Silver Linings Playbook
02: The Sessions