2013 Oscar Predictions

            This is my post predicting the Oscar winners for the year. Please note that these are predictions of who will win the awards, not analyses of who should win.

 

Best Picture

Predicted Winner: Lincoln (Steven Spielberg, USA 2012)

            Lincoln is a lock here. The Best Picture Oscar, like sports MVPs, is determined by the building of a narrative that carries the winner rather than reality. Mike Trout in 2012, Peyton Manning in 2012, Matt Kemp in 2011, and Letters from Iwo Jima (Clint Eastwood, USA 2006) were unquestionably better candidates for their respective awards than Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Peterson, Ryan Braun, and The Departed (Martin Scorsese, USA/Hong Kong 2006); but the narratives carried by the latter won the day. Cabrera’s and Braun’s narrative as the “lone player carrying his team to the playoffs” and the “old-school candidate,” Peterson’s narrative as the “only reason his team could compete,” and The Departed’s narrative as “Scorsese’s chance to win after years of coming up short” all won out over clearly superior alternatives.

            Lincoln, a film that is (a) clearly a political statement of support for the very popular current President more than a film about its subject and (b) a seeming hagiography of perhaps the most sacred of the sacred cows in American history, was a lock for this award the day it was announced.

 

Best Director

Predicted Winner: Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild (USA 2012)

            I’m going out on a limb here. First, let’s realize that logically there is no way that this award can be separated from Best Picture. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has seemingly decided that Best Picture has to go to a commercially successful film that does good things for the industry while Best Director goes to its actual best picture choice.

            Now, it’s possible that Lincoln would still be the pick, but here’s the rub: Spielberg has already won two Oscars. Here’s the list of directors with at least three: William Wyler, Frank Capra, and John Ford. William Wyler is on anyone’s list of the 10-15 greatest filmmakers from anywhere in history, and he is easily the least accomplished of those. Spielberg is just nowhere near that level of accomplishment. As a result, I don’t think the Academy hands him another trophy. Since the Academy almost never awards foreign language films with any of the major awards, that leaves us with a battle between Ang Lee for Life of Pi (USA/Taiwan 2012) and Zeitlin. Beasts of the Southern Wild is generally more highly thought of than Life of Pi by the higher class of film critics, and Ang Lee already has one Oscar. That’s enough for me to give Zeitlin the nod.

 

Best Male Actor in a Leading Role

Predicted Winner: Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln

            Um, duh. He’s playing Abraham Lincoln.

 

Best Female Actor in a Leading Role

Predicted Winner: Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow, USA 2012)

            She’s winning all of the precursors. I’m glad to see it, because I’m happy to see Jessica Chastain do anything.

 

Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role

Predicted Winner: Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables (Tom Hooper, USA/UK 2012)

            They love to give this one to “hot” (not attractive but on a hot streak) young actors. Hathaway really isn’t as hot as she was a few years ago, but she’s the closest thing there is this year.

 

Best Male Actor in a Supporting Role

Predicted Winner: Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln

            Raise your hand if you knew that Tommy Lee Jones has only won for The Fugitive (Andrew Davis, USA 1993). Not a lot of raised hands for that one, right? They love to give this one to old guys, like Christopher Plummer last year. Jones fits the bill.

 

Best Original Screenplay

Predicted Winner: Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola for Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, USA 2012)

            They like to give the writing awards to smaller films. Anderson is, for reasons passing understanding, a critical darling.

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Predicted Winner: Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild

            See above. Incidentally, this is going out on much less of a limb than my Best Director pick.

 

Best Foreign Language Film

Predicted Winner: Amour (Michael Haneke, France/Germany/Austria 2012)

            This one is pretty obvious. It’s the one nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, so very clearly the Academy is putting it above the other foreign language films. I’m rooting for it to win Best Picture just so a foreign language film wins.

 

Best Animated Feature Film

Predicted Winner: Brave (Mark Andrews/David Chapman/Steve Purcell, USA 2012)

            I’m not putting too much thought into this. They tend to give it to the big animated film if it’s supposed to be any good, which Brave supposedly was.

 

Best Documentary Feature

Predicted Winner: 5 Broken Cameras (Emad Burnat/Guy Davidi, Occupied Palestinian Territory/Israel/France/Netherlands 2011)

            There wasn’t a big hit documentary nominated (thankfully, Dinesh D’Souza’s Obama film didn’t make the cut). Without that, it’s usually a good bet to pick either the most depressing picture or one about either the Holocaust or the Middle East. This is one about the Middle East.

 

Other notes

  • I think Skyfall (Sam Mendes, UK/USA 2012) takes home multiple statues. It will likely win at least one of the music awards (possibly both). It’s also up for cinematography and sound editing. A surprisingly strongly-reviewed film of that stature will definitely win something, and it’s quite possible that we get more than one.
  • Daniel Day-Lewis would become the first male actor to win three awards for a leading role. He would join Jack Nicholson, Ingrid Bergman, Meryl Streep, Walter Brennan, and Katharine Hepburn as the only actors ever to win at least three Oscars. I’ve never been his biggest fan, but it’s at least a good bit of trivia.
  • Peter Jackson is getting shut out, deservedly. I hope he realizes it’s coming.
  • The National Film Critics Society is really the best at doing this of any body that does it. It gave Best Picture and Director both to Amour. Those of you who are going to avoid it for not being in English are likely missing out on one of the best the year has to offer.
  • The San Diego Film Critics Society is my favorite for acting awards, and it gave out some surprises this year. Day-Lewis unsurprisingly won leading male actor and Christoph Waltz wasn’t a shocker for supporting male actor for Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, USA 2012). However, Michelle Williams took home leading female actor for Take This Waltz (Sarah Polley, Canada/Spain/Japan 2011) and Emma Watson (!) won supporting female actor for The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky, USA 2012).
  • Another prediction: Seth Macfarlane says nothing funny all night (like the rest of his career) and never hosts the Oscars again. Next year, they’ll pick another unfunny comedian who does song and dance and we will repeat.

A Review of the 2012 Oscars One Year Later

The Oscars are coming up. While the awards themselves are often stupid and rarely provide any real interest, they are the highest-profile movie awards and they provide a great chance to look back over film history and the past year in films. One of my favorite exercises at Oscar time is to go back and look at the awards for the previous year. So, I’m now looking at the 2012 Academy Awards.

Best Picture

  • Winner: The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, France/Belgium/USA 2011)
    • Current IMDb Score: 8.1
    • My Score: 2
  • The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, USA 2011)
    • Current IMDb Score: 6.8
    • My Score: 7
  • The Descendants (Alexander Payne, USA 2011)
    • Current IMDb Score: 7.4
    • My Score: 3
  • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Stephen Daldry, USA 2011)
    • Current IMDb Score: 6.8
    • My Score: N/A (Haven’t Seen)
  • Hugo (Martin Scorsese, USA 2011)
    • Current IMDb Score: 7.7
    • My Score: 8
  • The Help (Tate Taylor, USA/India/United Arab Emirates 2011)
    • Current IMDb Score: 8.0
    • My Score: N/A (Haven’t Seen)
  • Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen, Spain/USA 2011)
    • Current IMDb Score: 7.7
    • My Score: 10
  • Moneyball (Bennett Miller, USA 2011)
    • Current IMDb Score: 7.3
    • My Score: 3
  • War Horse (Steven Spielberg, USA 2011)
    • Current IMDb Score: 7.2
    • My Score: N/A (Haven’t Seen)

We all knew that The Artist was going to take home the prize, though there was something of a late groundswell in favor of Hugo. Meanwhile, the true prize of the nominees, Midnight in Paris, was the victim of the typical anti-Woody Allen backlash. The surprise nominees, War Horse and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, got almost no attention the entire time. The latter was clear Oscar-bait that just didn’t hit home while the former was the yearly Spielberg entry, though the rare commercial failure in that category. The Help also got little attention, though it interestingly holds the second-highest IMDb score in the group.

My pick for the year would have been Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin, USA 2011), but it inexplicably did not even receive a nomination. Among the nominees, my winner would have been Midnight in Paris, and it frankly wasn’t close. The Artist is among the worst Best Picture winners in history.

Best Director

  • Winner: Michael Hazanavicious-The Artist
  • Woody Allen-Midnight in Paris
  • Terrence Malick-The Tree of Life
  • Alexander Payne-The Descendants
  • Martin Scorsese-Hugo

I often say that Best Director is the real Best Picture. Best Picture is so politically-decided that it makes the other awards look purely artistic by comparison, so the Academy normally gives the award for what it truly believes is the best film in this category. That leads to a lot of years with illogical splits between the two awards. However, in 2012, that didn’t happen. I thought it was quite possible that Woody Allen would win this one, with the Academy considering it impolitic to give his film Best Picture, but instead we got another terrible award. Sean Durkin deserved the award and didn’t even get nominated.

Best Actor

  • Winner: Jean Dujardin-The Artist
  • Demian Bichir-A Better Life (Chris Weitz, USA 2011)
  • George Clooney-The Descendants
  • Brad Pitt-Moneyball
  • Gary Oldman-Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson, France/UK/Germany 2011)

There was real intrigue about this award going in, with attention given to both Clooney and Pitt (though the Pitt talk always seemed rather far-fetched). However, Dujardin was the favorite and walked away with it. My pick would easily have been the incredible performance by Michael Shannon in Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols, USA 2011), but it did not even receive a nomination. Of the nominated performances, I never saw A Better Life or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Of the other three, I would have taken Clooney, but I wasn’t terribly impressed with any of them.

Best Actress

As usual, this category was mostly dominated by performances of historical figures (Margaret Thatcher and Marilyn Monroe) and a woman pretending to be a man. While Rooney Mara got a ton of undeserved attention for her decent performance that didn’t live up to what her predecessor had done in the role, it was clearly a battle between Streep and Williams. On her 17th nomination, Streep took home her third Oscar, tying the great Ingrid Bergman and the iconic Jack Nicholson for the second-most acting wins in history behind only Katharine Hepburn. The failure to nominate Elizabeth Olsen, while unsurprising given her youth, was an absolute travesty. She gave one of the great performances a person could see, and deserved an award.

Others

The supporting awards went to Christopher Plummer for being old (Okay, so technically it was for Beginners [Mike Mills, USA 2010].) and Octavia Spencer for The Help. Midnight in Paris and The Descendants took the screenplay awards, without Martha Marcy May Marlene, Take Shelter, Contagion (Steven Soderbergh, USA/United Arab Emirates 2011), or The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, USA 2011) even nabbing a nomination.

Overall, it was an excellent year in films, with Martha Marcy May Marlene, Midnight in Paris, Contagion, Take Shelter, The Cabin in the Woods, Drive (Nicholas Winding Refn, USA 2011), and Hugo all rating 8-10 for me. However, the Oscars were really a travesty, even more so than they usually are. Even the relatively reliable acting awards were terrible. The real performances to watch for are Michael Shannon in Take Shelter and Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene, not the Oscar winners.

Movie Review: “The Woman in Black” (James Watkins, UK/Canada/Sweden 2012)

Films are, almost by definition, built on three-act structures. This film was interestingly easily divisible into its acts, with severely differing moods and levels of quality.

In the first act, a depressed widower lawyer is sent to search a recently-deceased old woman’s house for her will (A strange premise, but it’s just a MacGuffin anyway.), given the stern warning that this assignment is his opportunity to show that his dedication to the firm (and one wonders how exactly he will show dedication or a lack thereof in searching her papers for a will) is sufficient. He arrives to a series of typical horror movie harbingers warning him to go home and leave the house alone but of course unwilling to explain their reasons for their treatment of him. While it’s certainly not groundbreaking stuff, it’s handled reasonably well, except for a rather hackneyed exchange between the lawyer and his young son that really features some spectacularly bad writing from Watkins and screenwriter Jane Goldman, building up some tension and mystery about the house and what could be so frightening the locals.

The film at this point is very dark and gloomy, filled with mists outside and a mix of dark browns and deep blues inside. Interestingly, the color is actually warmer than most Hollywood films of its type due to the much more full color range. It’s really a fairly traditional look, but it’s a traditional look that has so fallen out of favor that it’s noteworthy. Watkins and cinematographer Tim Maurice-Jones should be commended for reaching further into the past for a look that once served films well but has fallen by the wayside.

It moves along at a very slow pace save for a completely unnecessary flashback sequence, taking its time to build up tension even as it introduces its element of danger.

The only actors who get anything to do in the first act are Daniel Radcliffe, playing the lawyer, and Janet McTeer, playing the town skeptic/rich guy’s (Ciarán Hinds) deeply disturbed wife. Radcliffe is put in a difficult position, given a character who ham-fistedly opens the film with a straight razor to his throat and tears welling up but is also going about his life in a sort of slow-burn depression–a character whose inconsistency is difficult to take no matter the actor. He has difficulty with the flashier scenes but is adequate at simply looking downtrodden the rest of the time. Hinds has a fairly large role but really has nothing to do. Janet McTeer is a major problem, her ghastly bursts of psychosis being painfully over-the-top and her more “normal” moments being so flat and wooden that it was laughable.

In the second act, the lawyer finally visits the house and begins his investigations, discovering that the old woman had essentially gone insane with anger after the death of her son. He then suffers a series of bizarre ghostly encounters at the house. He comes to the conclusion that the home is haunted and has one of those annoying horror movie conversations where the rational person in the cast is told, “Oh, but you’re just a zealot who doesn’t want to admit that ghosts are real!” with Hinds. It’s again fairly by-the-numbers, and while the first few scares are based on ratcheting tension up, the film then unfortunately falls for the easy jump scares so common to horror films. Worse still, the film lacks a real sense of how to make those jumps work.

The scenes in the house are interesting visually in that the type of old-but-still-opulent look of the house in general is another example of a look that has long gone out of style. The house is filled with candles, appropriate for the time setting but also lending a warming light that most horror films would avoid in favor of a completely cold blue look. The film is also unafraid to use a fair amount of greens and reds inside the house, again showing a full range of color that’s uncommon to modern horror films. The low-key lighting remains standard-issue, darkness obscuring everything without any sign of real contrasting light. However, the long shots that had helped to build tension early in the film are replaced by quick cuts for jump scares and scenes that should be built on composition are instead built on close-ups. It’s unfortunate, because the opening really had some potential, but this act turns the film from self-consciously old-fashioned to standard fare with a hint of an old-fashioned look.

In this act, Radcliffe is almost entirely alone, and, while his depression of the early film seems to have disappeared, he handles what little his character has to do well enough. He appropriately registers feeling as he reads the old woman’s disturbing letters but doesn’t go over the top and his sense of growing fear is quite obvious.

Finally, the third act involves the lawyer finally learning the secret: the old woman’s son died in the marshes around the house and now she haunts the town, apparently at random, appearing to people and then taking control of their children in order to lead them to their deaths (and randomly screaming). He and the skeptic then set about finding the body to “reunite” the mother with her child and thus put her to rest.

Here, the film continues its devolution. The depressed, fearful lawyer has a sudden attack of bravery and tries to save a child from a burning building for no apparent reason, and the bigger emotion once again overcomes Radcliffe, as he just looks laughable throughout the sequence. The reliance on jumps continues and even the film’s previously old-fashioned look devolves into more standard-issue horror fare. A number of logical bumps also appear: The child’s body wasn’t found, so Radcliffe climbs into the marsh to look for it and finds the carriage in which the child died instantly. While the film explains away that it’s the modern technology of the car that lets him pull the carriage up and find the body in it, it’s more than a little silly to think that no one in the village could find that carriage before, and if they could get to the carriage, the body was easy to find. The children, once they die, apparently go to work helping the ghostly woman kill more children, which is just bizarre.

Radcliffe, Hinds, and McTeer continue as they were, with Hinds getting a little bit to do finally and proving capable enough while McTeer remains awful and Radcliffe remains fine at smaller emotions and troublesome at larger emotions.

The film does have a surprisingly appropriate ending instead of falling into the usual trap of implying that somehow love conquers the anger of a ghost, but that doesn’t save the film from its post-first-act flaws.

One note for all acts: Marco Beltrami’s score is all kinds of awful. It’s often distracting, it’s over the top, and it’s just a big pile of horror cliche. He has not been noteworthy in the past–really just a standard-issue Hollywood composer–but this was egregiously bad work in this film.

Overall, it’s actually not a bad film. It’s not groundbreaking in any way, but it does what it sets out to do for about 40-45 minutes before it starts to fall apart. However, it’s really just one good act followed by some standard issue horror movie fare that ruins the possibilities opened up by the first act.

Elsewhere on the internet, discussion of this film is mostly just a discussion of its lead actor, with fans insisting that he’s the next Al Pacino while detractors say he’s the next Keanu Reeves. The truth is, unsurprisingly, in between. I’m interested to see what Radcliffe does in the future, really. I found him unbearably awful in the one truly good Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Alfonso Cuarón, UK/USA 2004), but he was later one of the strengths of the series return to form in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I (David Yates, UK/USA 2010). He seems to be dedicated to the craft and he has talked often about the efforts he made to learn from some of the excellent actors (most notably Kenneth Branagh) with whom he worked in the Potter series, so I’m sort of rooting for his development as an actor. However, he most definitely has some limitations as a performer at this point, which actually jibe with the Potter differences (Azkaban expected more big emotion out of him, while Deathly Hallows expected some subtlety that’s usually more difficult to play). That makes it difficult to know whether he’s just a limited actor who’s poor at big emotions but fine otherwise or a young actor improving as he ages.