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Oscars 2013 :: Go-Go ’Argo’

by Robert Nesti
EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor
Wednesday Feb 20, 2013
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This past year, 2012, was a record year at the box office, something that surprised analysts after a dip in attendance over the past few years. Domestic movie sales took in 10.8 billion with some 29 films breaking the $100 million mark. What’s interesting is how many of those films have turned out to be Oscar nominated for Best Picture: "Lincoln," "Argo," "Les Miserables," "Django Unchained" and "Life of Pi" - five out of nine, which is something of an anomaly in the Award Season. Usually nominees get a boost from the honor - this year, the majority of films didn’t need one.

This may be saying something about audiences embracing more adventurous fare. No one expected "Lincoln" to be such a blockbuster; or the political thriller "Argo" or even the arty exploitation flick "Django Unchained." The biggest surprise of all is "Life of Pi" amassing an extraordinary $600 million dollars worldwide. Even the other nominees are box office hits, which may suggest that Hollywood may be beginning a period like the 1970s when adventurous movies were more mainstream.

This is, though, an odd year for Oscar. With nine titles competing for Best Picture, there was, for the longest time, no clear favorite. "Lincoln" was the top choice amongst Oscar pundits when the nominations were announced; and with twelve nods it appeared to be the film to beat.


But then "Argo" won the Golden Globe, both for Best Drama and Best Director for Ben Affleck. And the tide turned. Perhaps if Affleck had received a Best Director nomination with the Academy, the scenario would have been different. His snub has proven to be the film’s greatest strength. In the ensuing weeks it won every major award: the Critic Choice Awards and British Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director; the Producers Guild of America for Best Picture; Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Cast; and the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Chris Terrio.

The pundits have largely switched camps to "Argo" as "Lincoln" lost its edge in major categories but one (Best Actor). What happened? Could it be that though "Lincoln" is this year’s movie Academy voters were suppose to love for its politics, acting, craft and timeliness, many were just, well, bored by it? I certainly was. It is a bit like one of those museum exhibits featuring animatronics likenesses of historical figures acting out great moments in American history, in this case the passing of the 13th Amendment eliminating slavery. For all its passion, it feels more like a civics lesson. "Argo" may fictionalize some of its events (such as the final escape), but it has a taut, contemporary edge; "Lincoln" feels very last century.


But will this year’s Oscars be the last gasp of Old Hollywood (which it might be because the membership skews older) or a sign that the industry is reflecting the changing demographics that so impacted this past election? A nod to New Hollywood was the smart move to give the hosting duties to Seth MacFarlane, the boyish industry wunderkind behind the sleeper summer hit "Ted," as well as the hit series "Family Guy." His irreverent humor was already in ample display at the early morning nomination announcement last month when he made a crack about Hitler. ("I read’ Amour’ was co-produced by Austria and Germany," MacFarlane remarked to co-host Emma Stone. "The last time Austria and Germany co-produced something it was Hitler, but this was much better.") Whether it will work at the big bash this Sunday night remains to be seen.

As for the nominees, it was encouraging to see "Beasts of a Southern Wild," a critically-lauded, but little-seen art film, receive a Best Picture nomination. The other wild card is the surprising strength of "Amour," the rigorously grim Austrian entry cited in both the Best Foreign Film category, as well as Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. Then there’s "Silver Linings Playbook," David O. Russell’s rom-com about an emotionally-challenged couple starting out on a relationship. It is the first movie in some 30 years to receive nominations in all major categories. Can that be viewed as a sign of a sleeper win?

So here are predictions in major categories:


Best Picture

Nominees: "Amour," "Argo," "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Django Unchained," "Les Miserables," "Life of Pi," "Lincoln," "Silver Linings Playbook," "Zero Dark Thirty"

The biggest influence for Best Picture this year is the snubs in the Best Director category. In other words, will the oversight of Ben Affleck not getting a Directing nomination push "Argo" to Oscar gold? History suggests otherwise: only three times in Oscar’s 84-year history has a film won the Best Picture without its director being nominated. The last time was in 1990 when "Driving Miss Daisy" won; prior to that, you have to go back to Oscars’ early day when "Grand Hotel "took the award in 1932. Yet since sweeping the Golden Globes, "Argo" has been unstoppable. A Best Picture award would be the sweetest revenge for Affleck, who has gone from pretty-boy actor to A-list director with just three films. And, as one of the film’s producers, he’ll get an Oscar of his own.

Initially "Lincoln" with twelve nominations and the embrace of the Beltway/NYC cultural elite was the front-runner. It marks Steven Spielberg’s return to greatness after last year’s less-than-stellar "War Horse." It also expresses a liberal sentiment (courtesy of out screenwriter Tony Kushner) that is in perfect pitch with the zeitgeist of post-election America. Still, it polls poorly amongst regular viewers, making it this year’s coffee table movie. "Les Miserables" had a bump after its first screenings, but that quickly evaporated, with many finding its in-your-face directorial style and live (and sometimes raw) singing to its determent. "Django Unchained" is popular - it is Quentin Tarantino’s biggest hit to date - but Hollywood isn’t still ready to embrace his digressive talents.


With ten nominations, "Life of Pi" is a huge international hit, but most pundits are delegating it to win technical awards. Though worthy, both "Amour" and "Beasts of the Southern Wild" are the art house films for whom getting a nomination is the ultimate award. This leaves "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Zero Dark Thirty." Both films have their partisans; though "Zero Dark Thirty’s" chances are mitigated by Kathryn Bigelow also being snubbed in the Best Director category and the backlash for its depiction of torture. An early front-runner, it will likely not bring the talented director her second Best Picture award. (Her "The Hurt Locker" won in 2009.)

If there’s a sleeper in the nine, it is "Silver Linings Playbook," an unusual feel-good rom com about mental illness. It may be the film that rises to the top as "Lincoln" and "Argo" cancel each other out.

What will win: "Argo"
What should win: "Life of Pi"


Best Actor

Nominees: Bradley Cooper, "Silver Linings Playbook;"; Daniel Day-Lewis, "Lincoln"; Hugh Jackman, "Les Miserables"; Joaquin Phoenix, "The Master"; Denzel Washington, "Flight"

A category of four decent performances up against a towering one. Bradley Cooper shows that he’s much more than a pretty face; Joaquin Phoenix is terrifying and haunting in a film largely ignored by the Academy; Denzel Washington again proves why he is one of the movie’s most appealing actors, elevating the otherwise predictable "Flight;" and Hugh Jackman not only sings and saves souls, but he dropped twenty pounds to play Jean Valjean - in any other year, that would have been enough to win. But, then there’s Daniel Day-Lewis, who captures the eloquence, humor and mystery of Abraham Lincoln in an exacting performance. It should win him his third Best Actor award.

Who will win: Daniel Day Lewis, "Lincoln"
Who should win: Daniel Day Lewis, "Lincoln"


Best Actress:

Nominees: Jessica Chastain, "Zero Dark Thirty"; Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"; Emmanuelle Riva, "Amour"; Quvenzhane Wallis, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"; Naomi Watts, "The Impossible"

With the oldest nominee (Emmanuelle Riva) in Oscar history and the youngest (Quvenzhane Wallis), this is the year’s most interesting category. It is also the toughest to predict because there are no front-runners. Naomi Watts’ physically-challenging performance as a woman caught in the 2004 tsunami is daunting; but the movie has been little-seen and may be too wrenching for some viewers. Film buffs remember Emmanuelle Riva fondly from her appearances in the seminal French New Wave film, "Hiroshima mon amour;" but whether that will translate to votes for her devastating performance as a woman nearing death remains to be seen. The 9-year old Quvenzhane Wallis is a wonder, though it is hard to gauge a child’s performance competing with her adult counterparts. (Her nomination is the best argument for the reinstatement of the Academy Juvenile Award, last awarded in 1960.) This leaves the race between Jessica Chastain, so forceful as the CIA agent in pursuit of Osama Bin Laden in "Zero Dark Thirty," and Jennifer Lawrence, candid and touching as the troubled widow in love with Bradley Cooper in "Silver Linings Playbook." Chastain was the early favorite, but Lawrence - Hollywood’s latest "It Girl" most spectacular in her first adult role - looks to be actress to beat.

Who will win: Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Who should win: Jessica Chastain, "Zero Dark Thirty"


Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Alan Arkin, "Argo"; Robert De Niro, "Silver Linings Playbook"; Philip Seymour Hoffman, "The Master"; Tommy Lee Jones, "Lincoln"; Christoph Waltz, "Django Unchained"

This year’s Supporting Actor nominees feature actors that have all won Oscars in the past - four in this category. It is also another tough one to call. Alan Arkin, despite his spot-on performance as a Hollywood producer in "Argo," is the least likely to win; followed by Philip Seymour Hoffman as the messianic cult leader in "The Master," a film a bit too esoteric for the Academy. Christoph Waltz is drolly funny as the well-mannered vigilante in "Django Unchained." His winning of the Golden Globe is a plus, though his role isn’t that much different than the role he won for in "Inglourious Basterds." Robert DeNiro is the dark horse here, since he hasn’t been nominated since 1991, and his film is popular. But the likely winner is Tommy Lee Jones as abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens in "Lincoln."

Who will win: Tommy Lee Jones, "Lincoln"
Who should win: Philip Seymour Hoffman, "The Master"


Best Supporting Actress

Nominees: Amy Adams, "The Master"; Sally Field, "Lincoln"; Anne Hathaway, "Les Miserables"; Helen Hunt, "The Sessions"; Jacki Weaver, "Silver Linings Playbook"

The surprise nominee is Jacki Weaver, the Australian actress who should have won for her amazing turn as the mob matriarch in "Animal Kingdom" last year. That she was nominated at all only looks to the hidden strength of "Silver Linings Playbook." Perennial nominee Amy Adams will again need to wait until next year, partly because she plays such an unlikeable character in "The Master." (Likeability is always a factor.) Helen Hunt was an early favorite for her fine sex surrogate in "The Sessions," though the film was otherwise ignored. This leaves the race between Sally Field as the abrasive Mary Todd Lincoln in "Lincoln" and Anne Hathaway as the pathetic Fantine in "Les Miserables." Hathaway is due, and she nails "I Dreamed A Dream."

Who will win: Anne Hathaway, "Les Miserables"
Who should win: Amy Adams, "The Master"


Best Director:

Nominees: Michael Haneke, "Amour"; Benh Zeitlin, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"; Ang Lee, "Life of Pi"; Steven Spielberg, "Lincoln"; David O. Russell, "Silver Linings Playbook"

Though the award is voted on by the entire academy membership, it is the directors that pick the nominees, which may be why Austrian Michael Haneke and first-time director Benh Zeitlin were nominated over Affleck, Bigelow and Tom Hooper ("Les Miserables"). Both Steven Spielberg and Ang Lee have won this award before - not that it makes a difference, but sometimes this award, especially in a year where the Best Picture may go to a film where the Best Director is not nominated, is given to someone in appreciation for his or her body of work. This is why David O. Russell - the dark horse - may just win. "Silver Linings Playbook" is very much loved and this could be its biggest win.

Who will win: David O. Russell, "Silver Linings Playbook"
Who should win: Ang Lee, "Life of Pi"


Some other categories:

Foreign Language Film: "Amour," Austria

Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio, "Argo"

Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, "Django Unchained"

Animated Feature Film: "Brave"

Production Design: "Anna Karenina"

Cinematography: "Life of Pi"

Sound Mixing: "Skyfall"

Sound Editing: "Zero Dark Thirty"

Original Score: Mychael Danna, "Life of Pi"

Original Song: "Skyfall" from "Skyfall," Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth

Costumes: Anna Karenina

Documentary Feature: "How to Survive a Plague"

Film Editing: "Zero Dark Thirty"

Makeup and Hairstyling: "Les Miserables"

Visual Effects: "Life of Pi"


Robert Nesti can be reached at rnesti@edgemedianetwork.com.

This article is part of our "Awards Watch 2013" series. Want to read more? Here's the full list»

Comments

  • Anonymous, 2013-02-21 20:03:07

    Such lackluster choices are very unbecoming of such a tremendous year for cinema. Where are the nominations for movies like The Grey, Jesus Henry Christ and Killing them Softly? Read about the Top 10 Movies of 2012 with reviews and other honorable mentions at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2013/01/top-10-movie-picks-of-2012.html


  • David Broeg, 2013-02-22 21:08:40

    I’M with Brandt! AGREED!!!


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