[22 February 2013]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
It could be one of the more interesting Oscar years ever. When the Academy decided to snub both Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow for their highest directing honors, it seemed to suggest a desire to move beyond the slow, steady slog of ceremonies and given accolades (and their accompanying predictability) to actually acknowledge something beyond the rote and the routine. Complicating matters further was the desire to include a formidable foreign film entry among the other Best Picture nods. Yet even within that anomaly, the same old malaise sets in. By Sunday night, the 24th of February, 2013, we will learn if an upstart indie set against the backdrop of a Katrina like Gulf Coast can really compete against a blood slavery exploitation revenge flick, as well as the usual end of year fare.
Naturally, the other given is predictions. This time around, SE&L will only concentrate on the big categories. We love short form documentaries and life action mini-films but with limited access to the actual material, we can’t properly judge the potential outcome. Similarly, we admire the artists and technicians who put the polish into the productions (both pre and post), yet once again have no proper gauge to give “Best Sound Editing” or production design the right profile. Of course, we will thrown in our own picks for who we think ‘should’ win the award, knowing full well that most of the time said selection are the limited oasis near a fool’s paradise. Still, the field seems open in many cases, and without said patented predictability, Oscar 2013 could be one of the more open fields ever. Of course, don’t be surprised if things go according to script, so to speak.
What will win: Argo
What SHOULD win: Argo
Let’s face it - the Academy doesn’t dare give the top prize to something as controversial as Django Unchained or as counterintuitive to the mainstream mindset like Beasts of the Southern Wild. That just leaves seven other entries to consider, and without a lot of insular support, Les Miserables and Life of Pi are also out of the picture. WIth five, you’ve got viability with Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty. In essence, the race boils down to Amour, Lincoln, and the eventual winner, Argo. Affleck’s burn in the director’s category will not go unnoticed. Besides, the pro-USA should resonate with an often indifferent voting memberships. Besides, it’s a great film.
Who will win: Daniel Day-Lewis
Who SHOULD win: Joaquin Phoenix
With his third Oscar for Best Actor, Daniel Day-Lewis bests many a name Hollywood heavyweight. DeNiro only has two (and they are divided amongst actor and supporting). Nicolson has three, but again, one was in a “lesser” category. If he should win, and his work as the sainted 16th President means he’s pretty much a given, it will be quite a coup. Of course, we would rather see the risky turn by Phoenix in The Master walk away with the gold. In the movie, River’s rebellious brother does such a great job of cementing his character’s discomfort with the Scientology-lite on display that he comes across as physically deformed. It’s a body language tour de force as amazing as Day-Lewis foot-oriented first win.
Who will win: Emmanuelle Riva
Who SHOULD win: Jessica Chastain
This could be the night’s biggest upset. While a mainstay of French theater, Ms. Riva is really only known for her work in another, similarly titled film - Hiroshima Mi Amour. So as part of the meaningful kowtowing to the otherwise difficult Haneke film, the realism of her performance may walk away with the win. It is a devastating turn - but Chastain does something equally authentic in 0D30 and yet few can actually see it. She is just as realistic - tired, frustrated, elated, defeated - as she hunts the most notorious terrorist in history. Many may feel Jennifer Lawrence will get the goods as a belated acknowledgement of her work in Winter’s Bone. Don’t be surprised if some other name is called Sunday night.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Who will win: Tommy Lee Jones
Who SHOULD win: Christoph Waltz
We have the biggest aesthetic crush on Christoph Waltz. He can do nothing wrong with that wonderful voice of his. In fact, he may be one of the rare actors who can use his amazing vocal skills to life him above otherwise average material. While dentist turned bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz is a bit like his Oscar winning work in Inglourious Basterds, it’s still terrific. But Jones will win - he has the showiest role, in the most meaningful movie, about the touchiest subject in America’s history…a subject the Academy has been guilty of giving in to for more decades than defendable.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Who will win: Anne Hathaway
Who SHOULD win: Sally Field
She gets the show-stopping tune- “I Dreamed a Dream” - and the massive razor cut makeover. Her character is also doomed, a tragic heroine stuck in a film without a real majestic center. So flaky or not, Catwoman or not, Hathaway will win. But we really, really like Sally Field’s work as Mary Todd, the insane yin to her thoughtful, meditative husband’s yang. Playing her age (or what seems like a decade or two older) and constantly fidgeting to find her place in her spouse’s superlatives, she deserves the award for one single scene. When Mary dresses down the President’s detractors, those who would keep the 13th Amendment from passing, everything about the performance is pitch perfect. Hathaway gets the tin, but Field wins the time.
Who will win: Steven Spielberg
Who SHOULD win: Someone Not Nominated…
Let’s face it - the hose job applied to both Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow in this category is near unconscionable. Sure, we like Amour, and admire most of Beasts of the Southern Wild, but where both better jobs, directing wise, than what the aforementioned filmmakers managed to accomplish with their movies? Certainly not. So axed out Haneke and whoever for the time being, we are left with Ang Lee (no), David O. Russell (not yet) and the man who truly knows the definition of being snubbed. By process of elimination - and his understated work here - the Popcorn King gets another trophy for his already straining mantle. We still think Affleck owns it.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
What will win: Lincoln
What SHOULD win: Beasts of the Southern Wild
Oops - guess that oversight about Connecticut and its voting record on slavery arrived a bit too late to jinx author Tony Kushner’s chances here. The famed playwright, best known for his brilliant AIDS allegory Angels in America, has Tonys, Pulitzers, and an Emmy. He has also been nominated before, for his equally excellent work on the thriller Munich. If the voters want to hold his feet to the fire over fictionalizing the actual outcome of the 13th Amendment debate, he could lose out to someone like David Magee (for turning the unfilmable into the filmable) or Beast‘s Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin. This is usually a bellwether award, so if Kushner wins, it’s Lincoln‘s night. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for this category’s other well know trait - as the consolation prize, an attempt to give an otherwise ignored title some AMPAS TLC.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Who will win: Zero Dark Thirty
Who SHOULD win: Django Unchained
Tarantino is screwed. He got his award for Pulp Fiction, perhaps his most important and endearing film, and from that point on, everything else is just AMPAS lip service. He has no chance of winning this award as he did picking up one for Inglourious or Kill Bill. So we go to the other choices, and for what he managed within a small, simple storyline (the hunt for Bin Laden), Marc Boal gets our vote. Unless the Academy decide to go squirrelly on us an pick a true dark horse (we’re looking your direction, Moonrise Kingdom), another look at our War on Terror should win the day.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Who will win: Searching for Sugar Man
Who SHOULD win: The Invisible War
This is a weird one. We love a good “where are they now” expose, especially when it revolves around a famous (or should have been famous) musician from the past. We dug the Blowfly film, and are still swimming from the discovery of Anvil. But in this case, there are at least three hard hitting, issue-oriented films that normally have the Academy in a self-congratulatory lather. So how can the voters avoid the dark cloud of such concerns as AIDS, the Middle East, and the ongoing issue of sexual assault upon females in the military. Apparently, something uplifting like Sugarman will make provide said respite. For us, rape is far more important…and The Invisible War makes that abundantly clear.
BEST FOREIGN FILM
What will win: Amour
What SHOULD win: Amour
Haneke has been left at the altar before. His brilliant The White Ribbon, almost everyone’s pick for the 2009 Best Foreign Film, lost to The Secret in Their Eyes, and while he has two Palme D’Ors, he has yet to win an Oscar. So this should be his year, in many ways. Amour is the kind of film you can see studio suits wringing their hands over, wondering how they can convince Haneke to hand them the remake rights…especially with a boat load of aging America actors and actresses vying for the lead roles. But beyond its viability as a commercial cash cow, the film works. It’s a gut punch to the otherwise overly schmaltzy sensibility in movies like this. Everything seems very real - and very painful. Hopefully, it doesn’t hit too close to home for the aging Academy membership.
BEST ANIMATED FILM
What will win: Brave
What SHOULD win: Wreck-It Ralph
We love Pixar - well, all except for Cars 2 - and wouldn’t care if Brave took home the top prize. After all, the animation studio remains the gold standard in digital cartooning. But the companion piece from Disney, a delightful romp through arcade game tropes, is like the aforementioned studio on crack. It’s so outrageous, so brilliantly bubbly and over the top that you can actually feel the love and imagination pouring off of the screen. In fact, we would even be happy if Frankenweenie or ParaNorman won. Having said that, if that pathetic Pirates takes home the award, we are quitting the category forever. All four of its competitors are borderline masterworks. That sea sick saga? Hardly.