Archive | February, 2013

Oscar 2012/2013: What a Way to Argo!

24 Feb
Before last summer's super-sized smash Ted, Seth McFarlane was arguably best known as the creator of the animated series, The Family Guy which he also writes and does voicework. Ted was his debut as a feature film writer/director/voice artist. Despite what is known in the business as a hard "R" rating, the raunchy movie ended up earning over 200 million in the U.S. The unqualified success of Ted is no doubt what prompted the Academy--with some assist, I'm sure from ABC executroids--to invite McFarlane to host this year's Oscar telecast. What better way to lure that stubborn demographic of 14-24 year old males--with frat-boy sensibilities--to watch the show. Of course, pandering to this particular demographic doesn't always work as evidenced by the uneasing paring of hipster James Franco with Anne Hathaway just two years ago. Generally, the frat boy crowd isn't too thrilled about watching to see if an 80 year old French woman, that most of Americans have never heard of, will win an award. The flipside is that McFarlane's irreverence is just as easily as likely to alienate the Academy's older fans. His monologue, in which he made swipes at Rhianna/Chris Brown and Mel Gibson, seemed to inspire more uncomfortable titters than genuine laughs, and it seemed to go on forever. I'm not sure that dragging William Shatner into it was a good idea. The show should move, and that means get on with it and hand out some awards, already, for cryin'out loud.

^ Before last summer’s super-sized smash Ted, Seth McFarlane was arguably best known as the creator of the animated series, The Family Guy which he also writes and does voicework. Ted was his debut as a feature film writer/director/voice artist. Despite what is known in the business as a hard “R” rating, the raunchy movie ended up earning over 200 million in the U.S. The unqualified success of Ted is no doubt what prompted the Academy–with some assist, I’m sure from ABC executroids–to invite McFarlane to host this year’s Oscar telecast. What better way to lure that stubborn demographic of 14-24 year old males–with frat-boy sensibilities–to watch the show. Of course, pandering to this particular demographic doesn’t always work as evidenced by the uneasy pairing of hipster James Franco with Anne Hathaway just two years ago. Generally, the frat boy crowd isn’t too thrilled about watching to see if an 80 year old French woman, that most Americans have never heard of, will win an award. The flipside is that McFarlane’s irreverence is just as easily as likely to alienate the Academy’s older fans. His monologue, in which he made swipes at Rhianna/Chris Brown and Mel Gibson, seemed to inspire more uncomfortable titters than genuine laughs, and it seemed to go on forever. I’m not sure that dragging William Shatner into it was a good idea. The show should move, and that means get on with it and hand out some awards, already, for cryin’ out loud. Most of it was pretty tasteless. That noted, I actually enjoy McFarlane in his secondary career as a crooner. Plus, he does nifty job with The Music Man’s “Ya Got Trouble.” You can find the clip all over the Internet.

If you want to know what kind of night it was at the Oscars, look no further than the award for Best Sound (Effects) Editing: a tie between Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall. This is actually a good thing for me since I’m a huge fan of both movies. Of course, it is even better for the people involved. It’s just a surprise to see a tie at the Oscars. It’s not necessarily unique, but definitely a surprise. Furthermore, it’s quite a coincidence that both male winners from the two teams (Paul N.J. Ottoson for the former and Per Hallberg for the latter) have long hair, but I digress.  Anyway, it was an evening full of surprises.

Surprises? Oh yeah, how about this one: the top six awards were spread out over six different films, all of them Best Picture nominees: Best Picture (Argo), Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook), Best Actor (Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln), Best Director (Ang Lee for Life of Pi), Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables), and Best Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained). Of the three remaining Best Picture nominees, Zero Dark Thirty, as noted, took home one trophy as did Amour (Best Foreign Language Film); indie fave Beasts of the Southern Wild was the lone Best Picture contender to go home with nothing. To recap: Life of Pi won the most awards while Argo won in three categories as did Les Misérables.  Lincoln and  Django Unchained emerged with two awards each.

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^ Argo’s Oscar winning team of producers (l to r): Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck, and George Clooney.

Okay, so the top award went to Argo, and good for actor/director/producer Ben Affleck. True, he was overlooked as a Best Director candidate, but being one of the Oscar winning flick’s team of producers has its advantages.  His Oscar is just as shiny and golden as any other Oscar. I’m a huge fan of Argo. I like that Affleck and his team have crafted such an amazingly suspenseful tale from such an unlikely true story, one that is as much about the allure of movies–as the shadowy CIA meets brazen Hollywood politics–as it is about a real-life rescue mission. This is solidly middle of the road, even slightly retro, filmmaking in the best possible way (and not just because it’s set in 1979).  Argo has been a huge hit not only with the critics but also with the moviegoing public that has eagerly embraced the movie.  Last year’s big winner, The Artist, was also a movie about Hollywood (as silents made way for talkies), but it was too self-conscious as an homage, and it was not a huge word-of-mouth hit. Instead, it was a movie that the Weinsteins tried to manufacture into an event. The public never bought into it, but the Academy still fell over its collective self to shower it with awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Michel Hazanavicius), and Best Actor (Jean Dujardin).  Anyway, Affleck’s film was a standout in a sea of strong entries–many of them huge hits (which hasn’t happened lately)–and that says a lot. Its Oscar victory also restores at least some of the Academy’s credibility. Affleck shares his victory with co-producers Grant Heslov and Mr. Hollywood himself, George Clooney. The accolades for Argo also extend to Best Adapted Screenplay winner Chris Terrio and film editor William Goldenberg.

Interesting footnote: there are some people who believe the stats show that whichever movie wins Best Editing also wins Best Picture.  Hmmmmm….I don’t think that’s necessarily true each and every year, but it does often work out that way. Here’s what’s funny.  In 2005, when Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain was seemingly poised to take such high profile awards as Best Picture and Best Director, a bit of a loop was thrown early in the ceremony when Crash captured Best Editing–and then nabbed Best Picture at the very end of the show even though Lee had already been declared the Best Director victor.  Interesting coincidence.

Okay, though, before I forget: I want to applaud the show’s set designer. It was really one of the loveliest I’d ever seen…simple, beautiful, and elegant as though the stage were illuminated only by hundreds and hundreds of candles against a shimmering twilight sky. Breathtaking.

^ Best Actor winner Daniel Day Lewis, now officially in the record books as the first three time Best Actor winner. Take that, Jack!

^ Lincoln’s Daniel Day Lewis, now officially in the record books as the first three time Best Actor winner. Take that, Jack!

Well, among the four acting awards, the highlight for me was Daniel Day Lewis’s victory for Lincoln. Lewis indeed made history as the first three-time Best Actor champ, and good for him. His was also the acceptance speech of the evening–at that point–as he blended a couple of zingers, one directed at Meryl Streep as DDL quipped that at one time he was considering playing former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (for which Streep won her third Oscar last year) while she had been Spielberg’s first choice to play Abe Lincoln. Good enough. At the same time, DDL was also quite gracious and spoke eloquently about writer Tony Kushner, director Steven Spielberg, and of course, the man himself, our nation’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. Good job, Daniel! That noted, as happy as I am for DDL, I don’t love his performance in Lincoln the same way I love his robust oilman Daniel Plainview in Paul Thomas Anderson’s wicked epic, There Will Be Blood, for which DDL won his second Oscar five years ago; his first was for playing artist Christy Brown in 1989’s My Left Foot. Maybe I’ll grow to love Lincoln if–IF–I watch it again on DVD. Ultimately, Steven Spileberg’s Lincoln only went 2 for 12. Not great, but better than Spielberg’s The Color Purple (1985) which went 0 for 11. Again, I was not as passionate about Lincoln as many other viewers–including my own husband–but I was rooting for Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens, who gave the historical drama a little “punch.”  I was also hoping for a victory for Sally Field, but we all knew that was unlikely given the Hathaway steamroller. (Oh, and a pox on the person who decided to show Denzel Washington’s climactic speech from Flight during the Best Actor clips. It’s like the spoiler of all time.)

My other quibble, and, really, this has been eating away at me, is the very idea that the Academy will honor an actor for playing a great statesman who is fiercely passionate and driven about advancing his cause–as it pertains to passing the 13th Amendment, effectively outlawing slavery–yet a movie depicting a woman doing pretty much the same thing–that would be Jessica Chastain’s Maya in Zero Dark Thirty as she vigorously pursues a lead regarding terrorist Osama bin Laden–is not greeted by the Academy quite as rapturously.  Instead, the Best Actress award goes to someone playing a young woman who is vulnerable, after the death of her husband, and, well, manipulative as she schemes to win the romantic attention of an equally lost soul, thereby toying with his emotions as he tries to adjust to life outside a mental home. Lovely.  Oh, don’t get me wrong. I like Jennifer Lawrence, a lot actually, but I just don’t think her performance was the equal of Chastain’s–and it certainly wasn’t as courageous. Props though to Lawrence’s co-star Bradley Cooper, who was beaming during Lawrence’s speech; meanwhile, her other co-star Robert DeNiro wasn’t looking quite as impressed.

The first category of the evening was Best Supporting Actor,  and the award went to Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained).  What a shocker given all the last minute hubbub surrounding Robert DeNiro. To me, this was an early signal that this could very well be a night of upsets with neither Lincoln nor Silver Linings Playbook in the driver’s seat.  I like Waltz well enough, but I probably won’t watch Django Unchained. Still, double winners in this category are rare. Michael Caine, of course, has two: Hannah & Her Sisters (1986) and Cider House Rules (1999). Jason Robards won back-to-back trophies for All the President’s Men (1976) and Julia (1977).  Of course, the very first performer of either sex to claim three Academy Awards was the great “supporting” character actor Walter Brennan: Come and Get It (1936), Kentucky (1938), and The Westerner (1940). I believe Peter Ustinov and Anthony Quinn also have two best Supporting Actor Oscars to their credit.

Then, of course, Tarantino took the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, besting the likes of Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty) and Michael Haneke (Amour). I’m sorry, but Tarantino no longer does it for me, and when I say he no longer does it for me, I mean he pretty well repulses me. It’s interesting to me in a bitter and disgusted way that Tarantino’s film, which reportedly throws around the N word with so much vigorous abandon, is actually being held up as an example of great writing. Hmmmm…that’s different in a hypocritical kind of way given all the scrutiny leveled at  Tony Kushner’s screenplay for Lincoln, a film about a push for human rights among all people, and even the harsh criticisms suffered by director Kathryn Bigelow–and screenwriter Mark Boal–for Zero Dark Thirty and its depiction of torture. I’m just sayin’.

Of course, backing up to Waltz, there was definitely a kick in seeing a race with 5 previous winners unfold, but I think it might have been a tad more exciting with some “new blood” in the game. Truthfully, as much as I was impressed by Robert DeNiro in Silver Linings Playbook, he was always my least favorite of this bunch. I would have rather seen nods for Dwight Henry (Beasts of the Southern Wild), John Goodman (Argo or Flight), or Matthew McConaughey (Bernie).  Of course, Goodman and McConaughey were hampered by giving much lauded performances in two films, which can lead to split votes. I opted out of seeing Magic Mike, a movie which featured McConaughey’s other lauded role. (The Texas native won Best Supporting Actor for Magic Mike at Saturday’s Spirit Awards, btw.) In the case of Henry, the former baker turned novice actor, I believe his strong performance got lost in all the hullaboo surrounding the potential Best Actress possibilities surrounding nine year old Quvenzhané Wallis. It’s important to understand that the people who manage Oscar campaigns–and, believe me, the campaigning is rigorous–are big on selling narratives to voters, whether it be about a star’s amazing transformation, a startling comeback, or an inspirational tale of working tirelessly to make a long-cherished dream project happen. In this case,  I believe that Wallis’s narrative made the greater impact with voters. On the other hand, some readers might wonder how the buzz surrounding Wallis could have even affected a potential nod for Henry since the two performers were not even eligible in the same category. Duh! I get that, of course, but my point is that I do not believe that the effort to secure a nod for Henry was as concerted as the one to market Wallis, and I guess that’s understandable on some level since child performers/performances are often lost in the shuffle. Anyway, I wish Henry had been nominated, but the campaigning for better known actors, such as Jones and DeNiro, was too much competition for an unknown….perhaps.

Of course, Anne Hathaway won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for Les Misérables. I get it. She was the front-runner the whole damn season, she sang her big song (“I Dreamed a Dream”) live and and almost entirely in close-up. Brava. She full-well earned every superlative that came her way; however, I wish the whole thing hadn’t seemed so calculated. Hathaway has been working the campaign circuit for months and serving a lot of what I believe is false-modesty in the process. (If all the acclaim is so overwhelming, why do you keep milking it so–she even admitted that wining an Oscar was her dream in her acceptance speech.) Plus, as good as she is, and she is quite extraordinary, I just don’t think she supported anything in Les Miz. A friend of mine cracked that at the very least, she helped facilitate the ingenue (Amanda Seyfried’s Cosette), but she never supported her. Ha!  In that regard, in that Best Supporting regard, Hathaway pales in comparison to the superlative work of Sally Field in Lincoln and even Jacki Weaver in Silver Linings Playbook. I also don’t like the message that Hathaway’s victory sends about women playing victims so much though I guess last year’s awards to Meryl Streep for playing Margaret Thatcher and Octavia Spencer for playing a disgruntled cook who takes control of her own life  (in The Help) are rebuttal enough to that notion; maybe the pendulum is swinging back the other way as a result.

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^ Speaking of Life of Pi and the Oscar for Best Visual Effects: Petor Vlahos, who won Oscars for his advances in blue/green screen technology, passed away last week at the age of 96. Although Vlahos did not invent the idea of composite shots featuring live actors and pre-filmed background footage, he was instrumental in refining the means in which such shots were filmed by reducing the appearance of a distracting “halo” effect. The first movie to feature his process was 1959’s Oscar champ, Ben-Hur (above); Vlahos continued to develop the process, which was later used to glorious effect in Mary Poppins (the sequence with Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, and the dancing penguins), and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Ultimately, Vlahos was honored by the Academy six times, in the–untelevised–Scientific and Engineering categories–during his lengthy career. Of course, today green screen is all over the place, including most televised weather forecasts. Such recent Oscar winners as Avatar and Life of Pi have taken Vlahos’s innovations to an all-new level.

Okay, so the tally for Life of Pi:  4, including Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, and Best Original Score. This is Lee’s second Oscar.  Again, he previously won for 2005’s Brokeback Mountain though the Oscar for Best Picture went to Crash. Of course, the narrative being spun is that Lee somehow snatched victory away from Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), but the truth is Lee actually beat four other people, not one. Plus, even though Spielberg and the Academy have often seemingly been at odds, the truth is he already has two Oscars for directing  (Schindler’s List, 1993, and Saving Private Ryan, 1998) and a third for co-producing  Schindler’s List, 1993’s Best Picture winner. He also has millions upon millions upon millions of dollars. Is he disappointed not to have won? Probably. Is he really and truly hurting? I doubt it.

Meanwhile, so much for the old theory that actors tend to gravitate toward movies that are all about acting. Aside from Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook, with its four nominated performances, was all but shut-out. Also, Lee’s victory in the Best Director category is surprising in that regard as Life of Pi featured not a single nominated performance and not even much of a cast–despite his effusive praise for his film’s cast during his acceptance speech.  Best Director winners of movies without nominated performers are not unheard of exactly, as evidenced by the likes of  Bernardo Bertolucci/The Last Emperor (1987), Mel Gibson/ Braveheart (1995), and Danny Boyle/Slumdog Millionaire (2008), to name three, but the difference is that those three movies were also Best Picture frontrunners–which Life of Pi never seemed to be–and they featured large casts, thereby still showcasing the directors’ work with actors. Life of Pi not so much. Oh sure, he coaxes a convincing portrayal out of his juvenile lead (Suraj Sharma), but the film is more about Lee’s vision and his technical expertise.  The movie’s most ardent admirers will likely disagree with my assessment, and I’m okay with that.  I also understand why the movie won Best Cinematography (Claudio Miranda) since almost every image in it is ravishingly beautiful, but I still prefer the work of cinematographer Roger Deakins in Skyfall. It’s hard to articulate why, exactly. Maybe it’s just because I liked the the way Skyfall looked textuarally. Maybe I’m just a huge fan of Deakins. Still, kudos are at least in order for Miranda as one of three male Oscar winners who were rocking long hair. Holla!

Of course, it was no surprise, no surprise whatsoever that Jacquline Durran would win Best Costume design for her fabulous, and fabulously over-the-top, designs for Anna Karenina. Meanwhile, why did Les Misérables win the award for Best Makeup? Simple, it takes a lot of work to make dashing Hugh Jackman look, well, grizzled.  Okay, props, literally, to Lincoln for winning the art-direction/set decoration award. That’s a nice touch.

To the surprise of nobody, Amour won Best Foreign Language Film–and they weren’t kidding: it’s an Austrian movie set in Paris with all the dialogue in French. It’s been a good year for director Haneke, but I’d rather watch paint dry than sit through Amour again. Oh, and about all that last minute nonsense about a possible Best Actress win for Amour‘s nominated star, Emmanuelle Riva. There had been some noise that the Academy would not have nominated 85 year old Riva (now 86) and expected her to come all the way over from France–on her birthday no less–unless she was in it to win it. I guess nobody remembers how the Academy invited 69 year old Fernanda Montenegro to come to the party all the way from Brazil back in 1998/99 for her work in Central Station only to watch the Oscar go to Miramax darling Gwyneth Paltrow for Shakespeare in Love. It seems unfortunate, but that’s the way it is. I think those inclined toward a Riva victory over-estimated the impact that her illustrious career, including Hiroshima Mon Amour, would have on Oscar voters–perhaps, most especially, younger voters.

Mereida, the protagonist of the award winning Brave has red hair just like Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), but I guess recognizing an animated heroine who knows how to use a bow and arrow and rebuffs pre-arranged suitors is the Academy's way of recognizing strong female characters.

^ Merida, the protagonist of the award winning Brave, has red hair just like Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), but I guess recognizing an animated heroine who knows how to use a bow and arrow and rebuffs pre-arranged suitors is the Academy’s way of honoring strong female characters.

Whoah! Who expected Brave to win Best Animated Feature film? Almost nobody. Oh sure, it’s Disney/Pixar and all that, but the movie was not as well liked as some of the studio’s other recent offerings, such as, say, Toy Story 3, Up, and Wall-E. Early in the season, Tim Burton’s extremely derivative Frankenweenie seemed to have the edge, but, lately, the buzz had shifted to Wreck it Ralph, which I had not seen. I think Brave was beautifully rendered, and I could see how it would win given the artful detailing of heroine Merida’s  tumble of bright red hair. That noted, I do not think the film’s depiction of  gender is as progressive as its makers would like for us to believe. I imagine it making girls even more confused, especially when it gets to the point about all that complicated mother-daughter stuff. (My feelings for this movie are probably more complex than can be addressed in this blog entry.)  Still, I guess we should all feel relieved that the Oscar for Best Animated Feature film finally, finally, went to a movie with a female lead–and in a Pixar movie no less.

pitch-perfect-contest

^ 2012’s amazing sleeper hit Pitch Perfect, with college a cappella groups breathing new life into pop classics–always with a twist–would have been an ideal candidate for the long retired “Best Song Score Adaptation/Treatment” trophy, which had once been awarded to the late composer/arranger Marvin Hamlisch for the way he recontextualized the ragtime era ditties of Scott Joplin for 1973’s The Sting. Also, the Academy would have done well to invite the cast of Pitch Perfect as presenters (per the cast of the male dominated The Avengers) or to participate in the “Salute to the Movie Musical” segment. That’s how you make the Oscars relevant to a younger generation. (Left to Right: Rebel Wilson, Ester Dean, Anna Camp, Alexis Knapp, Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, and Hana Mae Lee.)

I don’t think we need a tribute to great movie musicals every other year or so. I guess this was one was designed to spotlight Best Picture nominee Les Misérables (a not entirely successful move as the singing was wobbly and the staging was awkward), but I also could not ignore the fact that the number opened with a song from Chicago, which was produced by the same team (Neil Meron and Craig Zadan)  that was actually producing the awards’ telecast. Seems a little self-referential to me. That noted,  the separate musical performances by Jennifer Hudson (“And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’)  and Adele (“Skyfall”) were top-notch. These two ladies are true powerhouse entertainers. As Hudson pretty well proved when she won the 2006 Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Dreamgirls, she was born to sing that show’s most famous song.  Of course, we love, love, love that Adele shared the Oscar for Best Song (w/Paul Epworth) for her mammoth hit from Skyfall,  the first ever Bond tune to win an Oscar. Oh, and speaking of Bond, we love that Shirley Bassey was on hand to belt-out that memorable song from Goldfinger.  Of course, she  was awash in gold beading. Way to go, Shirley!  (But why not a reprise of “Diamonds are Forever”?) Then, there’s the one and only Barbra Streisand, on board to pay tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch, the composer of Streisand’s Oscar winning hit, “The Way We Were.” Streisand looked like a million bucks with her sleek hair and flawless makeup. I thought her performance was damn near transcendent. The voice is a little raspy, true, but,  hey, The Way We Were is 40 years in the past. Yes, 40 years.  Of course, her voice is no longer quite as supple, but  she’s replaced artful perfection with heartfelt emotion.  Brava.  I also enjoyed Norah Jones’s rendition of Seth McFarlane’s Oscar nominated tune from Ted. Okay, I admit I laughed every time the iconic theme from Jaws was used to cut-off some of the more long winded speeches. A snarky touch, perhaps, but it made the point.

The wrinkles and crinkles are very much apparent, but Fonda is still the total package. The gown is simple yet elegant, and the color choice bold and inspired. A+

^ The wrinkles and crinkles are very much apparent, but Ms. Jane Fonda is still the total package. The gown is simple yet elegant, and the color choice is bold and inspired. A+

Oh, I love watching all the Oscar fashions, no doubt, and I always have, but I think all the red carpet coverage is a bit much. I don’t need to see/hear an hour’s worth–or more–of over-indulged actresses, and some actors, rhapsodize over their borrowed clothes especially since they all make enough money to buy their own outfits.  Still, my pick for the best of the evening would have to be still alluring Jane Fonda. She looked like a goddess, a million dollar bucks kind of goddess, in her beautifully tailored gown with a v-neck and  just a little tasteful sparkle. What sold it for me was the bold color choice: lemon yellow, y’all. She just stood out from the rest of the crowd in all that bright bright color. Of course, we were all pleased to see GMA’s Robin Roberts looking robust and working the red carpet in a velvetydeep blue gown. Jessica Chastain was exquisite in a strapless beaded gown that she clearly admitted was at least partially inspired by Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday, Mr President” look. In Chastain’s case, the gown featured pink beads on a copper background, providing a stunning match to her own luxurious red hair. Lovely. Halle Berry was a knock-out in a beaded gown with ever-so-slightly padded shoulders, by Versace, that looked like something “Adrian” would have designed for Joan Crawford back in the golden days of the Hollywood studio system. First Lady Michelle Obama was also smashing–in her duties as co-presenter–via satellite with Jack Nicholson–of the Best Picture Oscar. Like Berry, her look was sleek and shimmering in a glamorous, old Hollywood Art Deco kind of way.  Charlize Theron was stunning in super-short platinum do and flowing white gown, channeling vintage Ginger Rogers. After her bit in the opening production number, Theron changed into a striking column gown, also white.  Octavia Spencer liked looked splendid in white with a full skirt and lovely gauzy draping around the neckline.  I’m not a huge fan of Jennifer Lawrence’s ballgown/train effect. It seemed a little over the top for my tastes, and again, calculated as though she was expecting a coronation, and then there was that unfortunate wardrobe malfunction. Yikes! I plan to do fashion highlights later this week in a separate entry.

Thanks for your consideration….

The Oscar Dossier 2012/2013

20 Feb

Okay, y’all, the Academy Awards are coming: Sunday, February 24th  on ABC-TV. Please check your local listings for times and channels. (I will be updating/correcting this massive entry –8,000+ words–over the next two days, but it’s pretty much ready to go…for your consideration.)

KEY: ASC (American Society of Cinematographers); BFCA (Broadcast Film Critics Association); DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics); DGA (Directors Guild of America); GG (Golden Globe); LAFC (Los Angeles Film Critics); NBR (National Board of Review); NSFC (National Society of Film Critics); NYFC (New York Film Critics); OFCS (Online Film Critics Society); PGA (Producers Guild of America); SAG (Screen Actors Guild); WGA (Writers Guild of America); USC (Friends of the University of Southern California Scripter Award)

BEST PICTURE

^ Lincoln is the kind of movie that used to win Best Picture, and by that I mean intelligent, grandly scaled historical films such as, among others, Gandhi (1982) and The Last Emperor (1987). Lincoln also has what I believe is the statistical advantage of being the most nominated film of the year as well as the top domestic earner of the bunch.

^ Lincoln is the kind of movie that used to win Best Picture, and by that I mean intelligent, grandly scaled historical films such as, among others, Gandhi (1982) and The Last Emperor (1987). Lincoln also has what I believe is the statistical advantage of being the most nominated film of the year as well as the top domestic earner of the bunch.  That noted, there is huge  support for Ben Affleck’s Argo as evidenced by its ever-growing cache of awards, which by now includes top honors from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts and the Directors Guild. That Argo has won both the Producers Guild award and the SAG prize for  ensemble acting appears to be significant as well. Frequently, a movie with strong actor-appeal is a good bet. Still, Best Picture almost always goes to a movie with a nominated director–even if that director does not also win in his category; the last exception was 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy, which was indeed the most nominated movie of the year. I think it’s worth noting that during the 1995/96 awards season, there was huge outcry when director Ron Howard was snubbed by members of the Academy for his popular Apollo 13, another fact based story that, like Argo, was turned into a riveting movie even though the outcome of its historic story was already a matter of record.  Howard and his film nabbed the same prestigious accolades that Affleck/Argo has so far: DGA, PGA, and  SAG;  however, when it was all said and done, the Academy opted for Mel Gibson’s rousing historical drama, Braveheart, which was also the most nominated film of the year. Like Lincoln. Of course, in a race this tight, the Academy might be swayed by the other actor-friendly pic, Silver Linings Playbook which boasts a nominated performer in each of the four acting categories. I’m also sensing greater-than-expected buzz around Amour, but if the Academy is looking to expand its audience, a movie about 80 year old French people might not be the ticket.  If I were voting, I would be torn between Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, both of which took me by surprise in a way that Lincoln did not.  Argo is taut and highly entertaining, and it has just the right amount of Hollywood gloss: a movie at least partially about movies that doesn’t back away from what it is. On the other hand, Zero Dark Thirty is, to me, dense and complex, and I love that it is so disturbing that it confounds people on so many levels.  Still, Hollywood loves great success stories, and the Academy seems inclined to glom onto the narratives that make “good television.” In that case, Affleck’s picture, which he co-produced with Hollywood royalty George Clooney, among others, is the stuff of boffo ratings. The Academy can feel good about awarding Affleck in a way that it cannot feel regarding honoring Spielberg who already has two Oscars and a whole bunch of money. Spielberg was once the fresh upstart; now, he’s old-guard.

Amour – LAFC, NSFC  |  German filmmaker Michael Haneke ‘s French language production chronicles the sad decline of an elderly  couple, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Best Actress nominee Emmanuelle Riva, after the wife has a stroke. Though the husband does his  best, he is not emotionally or even mentally stable enough  to take care of his wife as well as she needs; however, she makes him promise not to send her to a hospital. That’s the movie. It is definitely not a crowd-pleaser though the acting is something akin to miraculous; Amour has been nominated for 5 Academy Awards.
Argo  –  BFCA, OFCS, GG for Best Drama,  PGA, & SAG award for Outstanding Cast |  This is actor-turned-director (and one-time Oscar winning screenwriter) Ben Affleck’s third feature film, and it is a massive commercial and critical hit that shines the spotlight on a once classified mission involving a CIA agent posing as a Canadian filmmaker in order to rescue stranded Americans from Tehran during the Iranian hostage crisis that began in 1979. The cast includes Affleck, doing double-duty in front and behind the camera, Oscar nominee Alan Arkin, Kyle Chandler, Bryan Cranston, Clea DuVall, Victor Garber, and John Goodman; Argo has been nominated for 7 Academy Awards.
Beasts of the Southern Wild – PGA nom  –  A post-apocalyptic fantasia about a young girl trying to survive, along with her dad, in a rapidly eroding bayou community called the Bathtub, this indie sensation has been creating a stir since it first screened at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. Though little Quvenzhané Wallis has delighted audiences and earned a spot among the Best Actress finalists, the movie also features a stunning performance by novice actor Dwight Henry (previously a baker in New Orleans) as Hushpuppy’s tired, conflicted papa; Beasts of the Southern Wild has been nominated for 4 Academy Awards.
Django Unchained   –  PGA nom  | Director Quentin Tarantio’s latest genre piece merges so-called “Spagehetti Western” action thrills with a tale of the Old South, in which an escaped slave (Oscar winner Jamie Foxx)  teams up with a bounty hunter (Oscar winner Christoph Waltz) in order to find the ex-slave’s wife (Kerry Washington). Their search leads them to a plantation owner portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio. Never one to back away from controversy, crude language, or blood-soaked violence, Tarantino’s latest has divided critics and/or scholars, but it has proven popular with audiences and apparently the Academy though Tarantino’s peers in the Directors branch–and in the DGA–declined to follow through with nominations. Movies without nominated directors tend not to win Oscars for Best Picture; Django Unchained has been nominated for 5 Academy Awards.
Les Misérables – GG for Comedy/Musical | PGA nom, SAG nom for Oustanding Cast | The long-running musical version of Victor Hugo’s monumental novel about a petty thief who spends most of his life on the run (after reinventing himself as a well-to-do-gentleman) from a high-ranking and tyranically single-minded officer of the law comes alive on the big screen at last with a cast that includes Oscar nominees Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway as well as Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter, Sascha Baron Cohen, Isabelle Allen, and the smashing Samantha Barks.  Director Tom Hooper is one of this year’s high-profile “Best Director” snubs though he astonished many skeptics by recording the musical performances live on the set rather than have the cast lip-sync or sing along with pre-recorded vocal tracks; Les Misérables has been nominated for 8 Academy Awards.
Life of Pi  – | PGA nom | Director Ang Lee campaigned to make what was considered a largely unfilmable book into a 3-D epic, and he has mostly succeeded. Based on the acclaimed novel by Yann Martel, Life of Pi is a fantastic tale about a teenage boy (newcomer Suraj Sharma) travelling across the sea in a ship with his parents and some of their zoo animals. The boy survives a shipwreck along with a few of the animals, the fiercest of which turns out to be tiger. Well, that’s the short and relatively simple version. The consensus seems to be that Lee has crafted a technical marvel that may very well be too pretentious and/or preachy for its own good; another thought is that the movie’s conclusion is its undoing. Though far from a flop, Life of Pi has been a slow starter in the U.S., lacking any significant bump in ticket sales since it became the second most nominated movie in this year’s Oscar race; the movie’s 11 nominations must count for something.
Lincoln – DFW  | GG nom, PGA nom, SAG nom for Outstanding Cast | Rather than present a traditional biography that spans decades in its protagonist’s life, Steven Spielberg chooses to zero in on the monumental task faced by Abraham Lincoln, our nation’s 16th president, as he struggles to persuade congress to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, thereby abolishing slavery as the Civil War draws to a close. Though historians  have quibbled over some of the movie’s details, the critics have generally been respectful; some have even been rapturous. Spielberg’s film is anchored by the phenomenal Daniel Day Lewis with stunning support by Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones (both Oscar nominees) along with a scene-stealing James Spader and a host of others: Jared Harris, John Hawkes, Hal Holbrook, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Bruce McGill, S. Epatha Merkerson, Tim Blake Nelson, Gloria Reuben, and David Strathairn; Lincoln has been nominated for 12 Academy Awards.
Silver Linings Playbook – | GG nom for Comedy/Musical, PGA nom, SAG nom for Outstanding Cast | A  substitute history teacher catches his wife with another man and goes ballistic. He avoids jail by entering a mental hospital. When he’s released, he contends with familial dysfunction, including a scheming, overbearing father, and a young widow plagued by demons of her own.  With a quartet of nominated performers (Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence, and jacki Weaver), Silver Linings Playbook joins the likes of Reds (1981), Coming Home (1978), Network (1976), and A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), along with a handful of others  as one of only 14 movies to boast acting nominations in all 4 acting categories. This is an important piece of trivia because the acting branch is the Academy’s largest and dare I say its most vocal. What that means is that actors have a lot of sway within the Academy, and actor-ish, character driven pieces are like manna from heaven.  Silver Linings Playbook has been nominated for  8 Academy Awards.
Zero Dark Thirty –  NBR, NYFC – | GG and PGA noms | Director Kathryn Bigelow has helmed the most controversial movie of 2012, a highly scrutinized docudrama about the CIA’s hunt for notoriously elusive terrorist Osama bin Laden.  Three years ago, Bigelow broke decades of Academy patriarchal bias when she became the first woman to ever win a Best Director Oscar–for The Hurt Locker. Zero Dark Thirty is her follow-up and while it has proven to be far more successful with the general moviegoing public than The Hurt Locker ever was, the onslaught of negative publicity–mostly directed at the movie’s sequences of torture–seems to have tarnished the movie’s reputation with Academy members as evidenced by Bigelow’s omission from the Best Director race. The stunning cast includes Best Actress nominee Jessica Chastain along with Kyle Chandler (his second appearance in a Best Picture candidate in one year, both of them spotlighting the CIA), Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle, and Harold Perrineau. Zero Dark Thirty has been nominated for 5 Academy Awards.

BEST ACTRESS

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^ Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) – If I were voting, I’d be all about Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty. Her portrayal of the so-called “Maya,” the CIA agent who diligently pursued one lead for years until she finally found Osama bin Laden, threw me for a loop. Early in the film, she is merely an observer, it seems, without a lot to do, but as time passes, her single-mindedness becomes almost frightening, especially when she erupts in a moment of righteous indignation with one of her superiors. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I know I wasn’t expecting what Chastain delivered; however, I have a feeling that the Academy will go for Lawrence (above) whose character, while damaged, seems relatively “tame,” that is, likeable and/or vulnerable, compared to Chastain’s ball-buster. Even Lawrence’s triumphant Katniss Everdeen in the brutal The Hunger Games is coded in such a way as to be empowering rather than threatening.  It’s hard to deny Lawrence’s talent and her allure though I wonder where her career can go when she wins an Oscar at the age of 22. I do not mean to imply that she is too young to win. I just wonder how it will impact her career. (I also want to add, for the last time, that the only performance by a leading actress besides Chastain’s that took me by surprise and just rattled me to my core was the great Beth Grant’s in Del Shore’s Blues for Willadean. Catch it if you can.)

Jessica Chastain  (Zero Dark Thirty) – BFCA, DFW, NBR, OFCS  GG for Drama | SAG nom | This is Chastain’s second nomination and her first in this category. Last year, she was in the Best Supporting Actress race for her role as a seemingly ditsy social climber whose perky persona masked a lot of pain and a whole lot of backbone in The Help.  Besides her role in that Best Picture nominee, she also appeared as the world’s loveliest earth mother in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, another Best Picture nominee.  Her role in Zero Dark Thirty clearly announces that her fine work in 2011 was hardly a fluke. The question now is whether she will be punished in this race, so the Academy can stay free and clear of the whole Zero Dark Thirty controversy altogether. (Afterthought: Of course, the hunt for Osama bin Laden unfolded the way it did in the time-frame that it did, so Bigelow’s movie could not have come out any earlier than now, but, play along: if the movie had been made 5 years ago, I can imagine that the female lead would have been perfect for Hilary Swank; if it had been made 10 years ago, it would have been an ideal fit for Jodie Foster. Of course, both of those ladies have already won two Oscars each for roles similar to this one.)
Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) – LAFC [<TIE] GG for Comedy/Musical | SAG nom | Lawrence is currently enjoying her second Oscar race for Best Actress. She seemingly came out of nowhere to earn a slot on the roster with 2010’s indie favorite, Winter’s Bone. She was a teenager when she filmed the movie and a mere 20 when she earned her first Oscar nod.  So compelling was she in that film, about a young woman living in the Ozarks and trying to hold her family together in the face of crushing poverty, she was clearly the first and best choice to play “Katniss Everdeen” the heroine of the dystopian young adult epic The Hunger Games, which spent 4 weeks atop the box office charts, earning over 400 million in this country and clocking in at #3 on the list of the year’s top grossing movies.  Her role Silver Linings Playbook as a tart-tongued young widow trying to pickup the pieces of her life by entering a dance contest allows her to show a softer side and to play an actual grown-up. I think right now everyone in Hollywood loves this promising actress. She earns bonus points for taking her act to Saturday Night Live last month.
Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) – LAFC [<TIE], NSFC  | At 85, Riva is the oldest-ever Best Actress nominee, besting previous champ Jessica Tandy, who was 80 when she was nominated–and won–for 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy. Riva’s current role is that of a stroke victim, and her performance has the painful, and exacting,  ring of truth. I do not think anyone would be unhappy if she won, but I also think that it might be too much of a downer to be fully embraced all the way to the winner’s circle. On the other hand, Amour is apparently well liked enough to emerge a serious candidate for Best Picture. This actress has also claimed honors from the British Academy and at the European Film Awards for her work in Amour.  Riva’s  other credits include the now classic Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959), Thérèse (for which she won Best Actress honors at the 1962 Venice Film Festival), Three Colors: Blue (1993), and 1999’s  Venus Beauty Institute (winner of four César Awards, including Best Picture).
Naomi Watts  (The Impossible) – | GG & SAG noms | Nine years have passed since Watts earned her first Oscar nomination for 21 Grams.  In that time, her career has sort of been all over the map, including everything from prestige offerings such as The Painted Veil to big-budget spectacles, mainly Peter Jackson’s much-maligned King Kong reboot, a horror film or two (Dream House), a lesser Woody Allen film (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger), and one of my personal favorites, Fair Game, a ripped-from-the-headlines dramatization of  CIA operative Valarie Plame whose cover was blown by members of the Bush administration.  That one, unfortunately, was not a huge hit.  The Impossible is based on the true story of a family that survived the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami though the film has been met with some skepticism due to the fact that it emphasizes the struggles of European tourists over the troubles of Asian natives; moreover, Watts’s real-life character is actually Spanish, which Watts is most decidedly not. That noted, her portrayal of her character’s terror when the tsunami hits is palpable. Unfortunately, after the first hour (or less), Watts’s Maria is pretty much relegated to lying on a stretcher or a hospital bed. Sure, she looks and acts convincingly bruised and battered, but she does not have much to do–she’s barely lucid–and the emphasis shifts away from her to the other members of her family, most especially her son played by Tom Holland. On the other hand, a recent Entertainment Weekly article suggests that Watts is building momentum among Academy members.
Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) –  BFCA Young Actress winner | Wallis was a mere 5 years old when she auditioned for the lead role in indie feature Beasts of the Southern Wild. Today, she is 9, and she is the youngest ever nominee in this category–the same age as Jackie Cooper when he became the youngest ever Best Actor nominee for 1931’s Skippy. The previous youngest ever Best Actress nominee, Keisha Castle Hughes, was a mere 13 years old when she walked the Academy’s red carpet  for 2003’s The Whale Rider. Meanwhile, Wallis is currently nominated for an Image award as well as a Spirit Award (aka Independent Spirit Award).

BEST ACTOR

Okay, the truth is, I think any of these performances are well worthy of the award.  There's not a weak entry in the lot. I have no true preference for one over the others; however, Daniel Day Lewis is by all accounts the man to beat. That noted, I think a landslide victory for DDL might be just a bit too easy. Yes, playing Lincoln might be the role of a lifetime for any actor, and, yes, Lincoln is both a smash hit and the most nominated picture of the bunch, but DDL already has two Oscars, and he was just named the greatest of all actors on the cover of Time magazine, so the Academy might be inclined to throw all of us a curve.

^ Daniel Day Lewis (Lincoln) – Okay, the truth is, I think any of these performances are well worthy of the award. There’s not a weak entry in the lot. I have no true preference for one over the others; however, Daniel Day Lewis is by all accounts the man to beat. That noted, I think a landslide victory for DDL might be just a bit too easy. Yes, playing Lincoln might be the role of a lifetime for any actor, and, yes, Lincoln is both a smash hit and the most nominated picture of the bunch, but DDL already has two Oscars, and he was just named the greatest of all actors on the cover of Time magazine, so the Academy might be inclined to throw all of us a curve. Some prognosticators are preparing for an upset by Hugh Jackman.  (I still feel badly for John Hawkes, who seemed a sure-fire nominee for The Sessions, but his startling omission only illustrates just how competitive this year has been for leading actors in films, specifically American made films.)

Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook) – NBR | GG & SAG noms |  Cooper had been around for years, appearing in such TV shows as Alias and several others before he hit the big time with the 2009 comedy smash The Hangover. Since then, Cooper has not lacked for work in high profile projects–often with mixed results, and that includes last fall’s strange drama about a plagiarizing novelist, The Words.  That movie was a dud, but Silver Linings Playbook is a wonderful showcase for this actor.  He plays a man  just released from a mental hospital into the care of his dysfunctional parents. The trouble is, he doesn’t want to take his meds, preferring to deal with his issues in his own way, which does not do him, nor anyone else in his life, any favors;  however, as the title indicates, he has a plan–and that is to do whatever it takes to get back with his estranged wife, but that, of course, is not as easy as it initially seems.  Cooper is quite wonderful in this tricky role. He’s fun to watch even when his character is insufferable.  This well-liked actor has a great marketing team working in his favor, but so far he has not rocked the pre-Oscar prizes, and my feeling is that he is steadily losing momentum.
Daniel Day-Lewis  (Lincoln) – BFCA, DFW, NYFC, NSFC, OFCS  GG for Drama, and SAG |  If Daniel Day Lewis wins for his acclaimed performance as our nation’s 16th president, he will make Oscar history as the first three time champion in this category. If you think Jack Nicholson already pulled off this feat, you’re just a bit off as Nicholson does indeed have three Oscars, but only two of those are for Best Actor: One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and As Good as It Gets (1997). He also won Best Supporting Actor for 1983’s Terms of Endearment. At any rate, this is DDL’s fifth Oscar nomination. His two previous wins are/were for My Left Foot (1989) and There Will Be Blood (2007). He also scored nods for In the Name of the Father (1993) and Gangs of New York (2002).  DDL is about as well-positioned as anybody ever has been in this particular category.  First, the role of Abraham Lincoln is undeniably iconic–like Ben Kingsley playing Mahatma Gandhi–and Lincoln is  not only a huge hit–so far, the top earner in this bunch–it is also the the year’s most nominated flick. Many prognosticators believe Daniel Day Lewis is about as close to a lock as anyone in the current Oscar race, but sometimes Oscar likes to watch the mighty fall and instead awards an underdog.
Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables) – GG for Comedy/Musical | SAG noms –  Jackman’s career has certainly been erratic.  Everyone loves him as “Wolverine” in the X-Men films, but how long can that gig last? Van Helsing (2004), his attempt at another big budget action packed franchise, flopped hard as did the splashy Australia from fellow country man Baz Luhrmann, which was supposed to be the Down Under equivalent of Gone With the Wind.  Not so much; meanwhile, The Fountain, from director Darren Aronofsky, was a painful non-starter.   Still, there have been some highlights, including The Prestige (for which he was nominated for the top Aussie film award) and Kate and Leopold (which netted him a Golden Globe nod). Les Misérables, as has oft been reported, is the first big screen role that allows Jackman to display the talents he has honed in musical theatre, winning Tony awards for The Boy from Oz and his own one man show (Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway) as well as an Olivier nomination for the West End revival of Oklahoma. The role of put-upon Jean Valjean not only allows Jackman to show off his fine singing voice–live, it seems–it also packs plenty of pathos and a wide character arc. That he bested Bradley Cooper for the Golden Globe in the Comedy/Musical category speaks volumes given the latter’s slick p.r. campaign courtesy of the Weinstein Company.
Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)  – LAFC | GG nom – During the fall, just as The Master was being released across the nation, Phoenix made headlines by criticizing the whole awards season. At the time, many industry watchers began to wonder if the often controversial actor had doomed his chances of being considered for this year’s Best Actor Oscar. Clearly, that is not the case. This is actually Phoenix’s third Oscar dance. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for 2000’s Gladiator and for Best Actor for 2005’s Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line. I personally think he was robbed that year. In The Master, he plays a WWII vet who cannot adjust to life during peace time, the nifty 1950s with all its alleged prosperity and goodwill for all. Instead, Phoenix’s character is mentally unstable, with an incredibly short-fuse, besides being a nasty alcoholic. He’ll drink just about anything it seems and in vast quantities. His misery lands him under the spell of a charismatic cult leader though even that relationship is pretty much a mess, a homoerotic contest of wills. Make no mistake, Phoenix, with his haunted eyes and twisted, tormented body language, is magnificent in The Master, and I don’t think anybody will complain if he wins, but his film does not have the same mainstream appeal as some of the other nominees in the bunch.
Denzel Washington (Flight) – | GG & SAG noms | Daniel Day Lewis isn’t only actor hoping to take home Oscar number 3. Washington is already a two time winner: Best Supporting Actor (Glory, 1989) and Best Actor (Training Day, 2001). This is his 6th nomination overall. The others include a Best Supporting Actor nod for 1987’s Cry Freedom, and two more for Best Actor: Malcolm X (1992) and Hurricane (1999); clearly, some of Washington’s most memorable roles have been men drawn from the pages of history. In Cry Freedom, he played slain South African anti-apartheid activist Stephen Biko; in Malclom X, of course, he played the controversial civil rights activist (also slain), and in Hurricane, he played boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who was railroaded in a New Jersey homicide case; after  multiple appeals and almost two decades behind bars, Carter was released and the charges were dismissed. Lately, Washington has scored big at the box office in a series of action-thrillers, but Flight reminds all of of us that his is an extraordinary talent. Indeed, despite Flight‘s grim subject matter–a substance abusing pilot on the skids–it has turned out to be a solid hit. Washington deserves a lot of credit for that, especially given the movie’s “safe” marketing campaign.

BEST DIRECTOR

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^ Stephen Spielberg (Lincoln) – All bets are officially off on this one now that Ben Affleck has been snubbed by the Academy while being awarded the top prize by the Directors Guild. With the 12 nominations for Lincoln and all that, it seems like Spielberg would be the logical choice, but what has logic got to do with any of this? All the attention focused on Argo just seems to take away from Spielberg’s achievement, and, let’s face it: Spielberg and the Academy have had a rocky relationship. At this point, actors might be leaning toward David O. Russell while artists and technicians might be more taken by Lee’s vision. Spielberg might squeak by as the safe choice; after all, unlike Lee’s Life of Pi, which has no nominated performances, Spielberg’s film boasts a trio of acting contenders, maybe not as impressive as Russell’s–but not “nothing” either. Frankly, with Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow out of the game, not to mention Moonrise Kingdom’s Wes Anderson, I just don’t give a damn, really.

Michael Haneke (Amour) – NSFC | Haneke was not one of the five contenders for this year’s DGA award; however, he won the Golden Palm, the top award, at the recent Cannes fest. He is no stranger to accolades, having won at Cannes just a few years ago for the magnificent The White Ribbon, which was also an Academy nominee for Best Foreign Language Film.  Prior to his win for that particular entry, he earned other Cannes prizes for Cache and The Piano Teacher. His films also tend to do well at the annual European Film Awards and the  (French) César Awards. Amour recently nabbed top honors at both of those events.  The White Ribbon showed him to be a true cinematic visionary; Amour shows his skill and/or care with actors.
Ang Lee (Life of Pi) –  DGA Nom | Lee is already an Oscar winner thanks to 2005’s alleged breakthrough hit Brokeback Mountain (the so-called “Gay Cowboy Movie” even though the two male leads were not technically “cowboys.” They were shepherds. Manly shepherds, true that, but shepherds nonetheless.) He was also nominated for the phenomenally popular martial arts epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which also broke ground as the first film of its genre to land a Best Picture nomination besides scoring more Oscar nods (10)  than any previous foreign language film (Mandarin in this case), setting box-office records in the process. Lee was famously snubbed for directing 1995’s Sense and Sensibility even though it was considered a major Best Picture contender. The general thought on Life of Pi is that it is technically dazzling, thanks to Lee, though it has been slow to catch on at the box office, even with all the Oscar buzz. On the other hand, Lee’s passion and dedication to adapting what was widely considered an “unfilmable” book, starring an inexperienced juvenile actor and shooting sequences in water, in 3-D no less, might resonate within the Academy’s rank and file.
David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)  – Two years ago, Russell turned around his nasty reputation–famous for on-the-set blow-ups (with George Clooney and Lily Tomlin for starters)–and scored a major hit with The Fighter, which not only earned him an Oscar nod but also landed victories for Best Supporting Actress (Melissa Leo) and Best Supporting Actor (Christian Bale) besides netting a Best Picture nomination. Today, of course, there can be no doubt that Russell is known as an actor’s director, as further evidenced by the fact that Silver Linings Playbook has that rare distinction of earning nominations for all four performance categories. What’s more: actors, who make up the Academy’s largest voting bloc, tend to be attracted to directors who work well with actors. On the other hand, that whole actor-love thing did not work out so well for Rob Marshall, who guided four performers to Oscar nods (in three categories) in Chicago, 2002’s Best Picture winner.

Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)  DGA nom  | There can be no doubt that Spielberg is the heavyweight in this category. He is a two time winner already: Schindler’s List (1993) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). He also boast nominations for Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), and Munich (2005); he was famously snubbed in this category for Jaws, the 1975 blockbuster that nonetheless earned a Best Picture nod; likewise, he was overlooked for the big screen adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer winning The Color Purple, a movie which went 0 for 11 at the 1985/86 Oscars. At the last Oscar race, Spielberg’s War Horse was in the running for Best Picture. Of course, Spielberg is not only a director, he’s also a producer and a partner in the Dreamworks SKG studio. In short, he is far and away the most successful American filmmaker of all time.
Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild) –  This isn’t just Zeitlin’s first nomination, Beasts of the Southern Wild is also his first feature film. He actually began developing the project with the support of the Sundance Institute. Once the film was completed, it won the Sundance Festival’s “Grand Jury Prize.”  Beasts was also massively popular at last year’s Cannes fest, where it took honors in four categories, most prominently the “Golden Camera” for best directorial debut. Even though Zeitlin as not as many high profile “Best Director” awards as some of his competitors, he has earned his share of “newcomer” accolades from, among others, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the National Board of Review.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

If this category were entitled "Best Performance by Anyone Male or Female in Single Scene," then I would have no trouble awarding Anne Hathaway for her breathless rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream."  She simply becomes as one with the material, and the the effect is astonishing.  At the same time, I do not believe she supports much of anything in her film. Even her big moment is a solo one.  I think a better case can be made for Fields, whose Mary Todd Lincoln is a formidable presence throughout the entire film.  Plus, Fields, an actress whose best work seemed long behind her, and with whom I've often found maddeningly inconsistent at best, made a believer out of me. She more than holds her own against the mighty Daniel Day Lewis.

^ Sally Field (Lincoln) – If this category were entitled “Best Performance by Anyone Male or Female in a Single Scene,” then I would have no trouble awarding Anne Hathaway for her breathless rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream.” She simply becomes as one with the material, and the the effect is astonishing. At the same time, I do not believe she supports much of anything in her film. Even her big moment is a solo one. I think a better case can be made for Field, whose Mary Todd Lincoln is a formidable presence throughout the entirety of Lincoln. Plus, Field, an actress whose best work seemed long behind her, and with whom I’ve often found maddeningly inconsistent at best, made a believer out of me. She more than holds her own against the mighty Daniel Day Lewis.  It seems like everyone is in agreement about Hathaway being the runaway favorite, and I don’t want to dispute that; after all, this category has often been won by the ingenue in the bunch though at 30, Hathaway might be a bit too seasoned to play the ingenue card.  I’m not saying Hathaway can’t win–or that she won’t. I’m just saying I won’t be surprised if Field, my personal preference, wins instead. I also would not be too quick to write off Weaver as I think she would be the most surprising choice in the most welcome kind of way.

Amy Adams (The Master) – LAFC, NSFC | GG nom  | Is it really just a matter of time until Adams finally, finally, wins an Oscar? This is her fourth nomination in this category, beginning with Junebug in 2005, followed by Doubt (2008) and The Fighter (2010). In The Master, she plays the seemingly eternally pregnant second wife of the buffoonish cult leader portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Beneath her “simple” exterior, there’s a lot of Lady Macbeth going on with this one.  The whole relationship between Adams’s character and Hoffman’s is bizarrely comic because they’re both strange unbalanced people who live by their own rules, clearly making them up as they go. Though Adams has to play one of the most thankless scenes in the movie–in any movie for that matter–her role is not necessarily sympathetic, so even though she already seems “overdue,” so to speak, she might have to wait just a bit longer.
Sally Field (Lincoln) – DFW, NYFC | GG & SAG noms | Field is already a two-time Best Actress winner: first for 1979’s Norma Rae and then again for 1984’s Places in the Heart. This is Field’s first Oscar race since winning for Places in the Heart almost 30 years ago though I would have nominated her for playing the role of a protective mom in Steel Magnolias.  In real-life, Field is actually older than Daniel Day Lewis in the role of Abraham Lincoln though Mary Todd Lincoln was actually younger than her husband; however, it matters not a whit in Lincoln since Field is practically ageless, and since she delivers a knockout performance.  She represents inspired casting.
Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables) – BFCA, OFCS, GG , & SAG –  In 2008, Hathaway was nominated for Best Actress for her role as a substance abuser with scads and scads of unresolved issues in Rachel Getting Married; she did not play the title character but rather the black sheep–make that dark cloud–whose presence at her sister’s wedding is like throwing acid on a festering wound. Frankly, I thought that movie was phony, and Hathaway tried too hard in it to make-like a serious actress. Her performance as Les Miz’s doomer Fantine, who finds release in the gut-wrenching ballad “I Dreamed a Dream” (arguably the show’s best known number), feels like the real deal. Did you know that Hathaway, who has a background in musical theatre,  was reportedly one of the leading contenders for the role of “Christine” in the movie version of Phantom of the Opera (2004)?  Ultimately, she was not cast due to a scheduling conflict with Disney’s The Princess Diaries sequel, the original of which was her first big break in movies. Hathaway has been busy lately. She also scored as Catwoman in the recent The Dark Knight Rises. Trivia note: Hathaway’s mom under-studied the role of Fantine in a touring production of the show.
Helen Hunt (The Sessions) | GG & SAG noms | Helen Hunt spent many years toiling as a child actress in the business, and then as an adult she became a household name and multiple Emmy winner when she was cast opposite Paul Reiser in the long running sitcom Mad About You. Her success in that venture no doubt gave her the necessary clout to land the leading female role in As Good as It Gets–starring Jack Nicholson–on the big screen. Hunt and Nicholson both won Oscars, and then Hunt returned for another season of her hit TV show. When Mad About You left the air, she capitalized on her success by appearing in quartet of movies in 2000, including Cast Away (starring Best Actor nominee Tom Hanks) and Dr. T. and the Women, a Robert Altman feature filmed in and around Dallas. After that burst of activity, Hunt slowed down and then all but disappeared. She’s been raising her family in the interim. Well, good for her. Her role as a sex therapist in The Sessions is an eye opening comeback, not the least of which is because she’s “very nude” throughout chunks of the movie–and that is something we do not often see a woman of Hunt’s age (she’ll turn 50 this year) do in American movies. Plus, it’s eye opening because Hunt’s a damned good actress, and this role reminds audiences just how powerful she is.  We’ve missed her. That noted, I think Hunt is in the wrong category.  Simply, she’s the female lead in a story that would not exist without her character: a male poet  (John Hawkes) who spends most of his days in an iron lung hires a female sex therapist (Hunt) to help him learn about intimacy; the experience has a profound effect on both of their lives. Again, there is no movie without the therapist; however, the same cannot necessarily be said about, say, Sally Field and her role in Lincoln.
Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook) – Weaver was nominated two years ago in this category for the Aussie film, Animal Kingdom, in which she portrayed the matriarch of a crime family; the part was apparently written especially for her. Interestingly, though she was positioned as a supporting player for that role in this country, she won the Australian Oscar equivalent of Best Actress for the same performance. She also has film awards in her own country for Caddie–which I saw 30 some odd years ago at the old Granada theatre (hers was a supporting role)  and Stork. In Silver Linings Playbook, she holds her own–in a movie filled with much flashier performances–as a woman who just wants to maintain some semblance of order in an often dysfunctional family.  I don’t expect Weaver to win, but I think there’s something engaging about this performance in the way that it plays well without seeming like so much awards bait, which might explain why Weaver was overlooked for both Golden Globe and SAG nods.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

tlj as thad stevens

^ Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) – Over the past several years, perhaps decades, the winner in this category has almost always been a veteran, and by that, I mean someone in the 40-50 and over range who has either been nominated multiple times and never won, or has never been nominated in spite of an impressive body of work. This is the first time that I can recall in which all five nominees are previous winners, so it’s hard to make a case for a sentimental favorite. That noted, when I first saw Lincoln, I was certain that Jones would be the guy to beat.  His role as the tireless abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens is gutsy, quirky, and colorful.  Plus, Jones is on a roll right now, what with last summer’s Hope Springs, co-starring Meryl Streep, and his upcoming gig as General Douglas MacArthur in The Emperor. No actor has truly dominated this race so far, but Jones won the SAG prize, and that is telling. I’m still betting on him though a strong sentimental case can be made for De Niro and the Weinsteins’ noise machine.

Alan Arkin  (Argo) – GG & SAG noms | Arkin won in this category six years ago in the well-liked Best Picture nominee Little Miss Sunshine.  His victory was as much for his role as a well meaning granddad who makes questionable choices as it was tribute to a career that has spanned more than four decades, dozens upon dozens of film and TV credits, and, yes, two prior Oscar nods: The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming (1966) and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1968). His role in Argo is that of crabby producer of cheapie exploitation films who helps the CIA orchestrate a plan to free Americans during the Iran hostage crisis.
Robert De Niro ( Silver Linings Playbook) – SAG nom | Like Best Actor nominee Denzel Washington, De Niro already has Oscars for both Best Supporting Actor (Godfather Part II, 1974) and Best Actor (Raging Bull, 1980).  This is actually his 7th Oscar nod; the others are all for Best Actor: Taxi Driver (1976), The Deer Hunter (1978), Awakenings (1990), and Cape Fear (1991). After too many years of over the top performances in films of varying quality (including such comedies as Analyze This and Meet the Parents), De Niro shows admirable restraint as Bradley Cooper’s controlling dad in Silver Linings Playbook.  I didn’t think the performance was 100% convincing–which I’m willing to concede could very well be a flaw in the writing–but it was relatively fun to watch even when the character was hard to take.
Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master) – BFCA, OFCS | GG & SAG noms | This is Hoffman’s 4th nomination. He actually won a Best Actor Oscar,  with his first nomination, for playing the one and only literary genius Truman Capote in the 2005 Capote biopic, a project expressly written for him. Since then, he has been back with supporting nods in Charlie Wilson’s War (2007) and Doubt (2008).  In The Master, he plays a cult leader who’s more charlatan than visionary. In theory, his character is based on L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. In actuality, the similarities are merely superficial.  Because Hubbard is such a polarizing figure, especially in Hollywood, which is like ground zero of the Scientology movement, I cannot imagine that Hoffman can go all the way with this one even though, as always, he doesn’t mind going out on a limb for a characterization. (On the other hand, a little of Hoffman goes a long way for me since he seems to act from the head rather than the heart–and by that I mean I can seldom shake the feeling that Hoffman actually judges the characters he plays.)

Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) – DFW  & SAG | GG nom |   Jones is a Texas native–and current resident–who won Best Supporting for the law enforcement officer hot on the trail of Harrison Ford in the big screen version of the classic TV series The Fugitive (1993). It was Jones’s second Oscar race after initially being nominated in the same category for playing suspected Kennedy conspirator Clay Shaw in J.F.K. (1991).  Jones eventually segued to the blockbuster Men in Black film franchise before earning his first Best Actor nod for 2007’s In the Valley of Elah…the very year in which he also starred in Best Picture winner No Country for Old Men.
Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained) – GG | Waltz won the Oscar–and just about every other major award–in this category for 2009’s Inglourious Basterds, director Quentin Tarantino’s souped-up revisionist fever dream on World War II and America’s plan to stop Third Reich leader, Adolph Hitler. Well, that’s sort of what it was about. Waltz played the villain of the piece, an SS officer with a reputation for ferretting-out Jews. It was a grand showy performance that required Waltz to speak four languages. Now, Django Unchained finds him working with Tarantino again and also portraying a character who speaks multiple languages. This time, he scores as  a bounty hunter in the  Old South. Many critics have attacked Tarantino for filling his film with racial slurs–which he defends as being true to history–and basically trivializing the real issue of slavery for the purpose of reductive genre film that is part ’70s era “blaxploitation” flick and part “Spaghetti” western.  On the other hand, some critics love the movie, and it has done well at the box office. That noted, I think the film’s moment has passed–and Waltz’s chances with it even with a Golden Globe though he also impressed in a recent SNL hosting gig, which now seems to be part of the Oscar game plan.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

^ There's no doubt that Lincoln's Tony Kushner brings huge amounts of prestige to any projects, and the critics love him.  I think he might just squeak by in a tight race with Terrio, who just nabbed the BAFTA, the British equivalent of the Oscar. Here's how I think this works: victory for Kushner does not necessarily signal a Best Picture win for Lincoln; however, if Terrio

^ There’s no doubt that Lincoln’s Tony Kushner brings huge amounts of prestige to any projects, and the critics love him. I think he might just squeak by in a tight race with Terrio, who just nabbed the BAFTA, the British equivalent of the Oscar. Here’s how I think this works: victory for Kushner does not necessarily signal a Best Picture win for Lincoln; however, if Terrio triumphs, that most likely means it’s all over for Lincoln.

Argo by Chris Terrio   – USC and WGA  | After the records about the daring rescue mission upon which Argo is based were released, an article by Joshua Bearman about the case appeared in Wired magazine: “How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran.” George Clooney optioned the material with his partners; Affleck and Terrio came aboard shortly afterward. Terrio shows scant credits on the IMDb; he co-wrote and directed 2005’s Heights and has also directed TV’s Damages
Beasts of the Southern Wild – by Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin  – USC nom  | Beasts of the Southern Wild is based on Alibar’s one-act play entitled, Juicy and Delicious, in which the main character is a young boy rather than a young girl; Zeitlin and Alibar’s film was apparently ineligible for the WGA prize since it was not a recognized Writers Guild project
Life of Pi by David Magee  – USC and WGA noms | Magee’s screenplay is based on Yann Martel’s Booker prize winning novel of the same name; Magee is a previous Oscar nominee for 2004’s Finding Neverland.
Lincoln by Tony Kushner   –  USC  and WGA noms | The source for Kushner’s script is Doris Kearnes Goodwin’s massive Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. The book reportedly weighs in at a whopping 900+ pages; Kushner’s screenplay only draws from about six pages worth of material–or at least that’s the tale being marketed. At any rate, Kushner is a previous nominee for 2005’s Munich though he is likely best remembered for the groundbreaking epic two part play, Angels in America, which won  top top honors from both the Pultizer Prize committee and the Tony Awards.
Silver Linings Playbook by David O. Russell  – USC  and WGA noms  | Though Russell has twice been nominated for Best Director, this is his first nod as a director. Silver Linings Playbook is adapted from Matthew Quick’s Silver Linings Playbook. Russell generally writes most of this own material, including Three Kings and Flirting with Disaster.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Austrian director Michael Haneke holds the coveted Golden Palm award at the closing ceremonies of the 65th Cannes Film Festival.

If I were voting, I’d be all about Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola for Moonrise Kingdom, one of the most sheerly enjoyable movies I saw in all of 2012. It was not necessarily deep or profound or any of those things. It wasn’t even especially original as its tale of star-crossed puppy love clearly evokes Romeo and Juliet. Still, it was fast and fun. Plus, Anderson thinks visually, and that’s a plus for any screenwriter.  I know some Oscar forecasters are projecting a win Boal, and that’s okay too, but I worry that he’ll suffer from all the Zero Dark Thirty backlash–unless the tide turns back in his favor, which might be the case give his recent WGA win. Still,  my gut tells me that Haneke’s finely observed screenplay has just the right amount of gravitas to click with voters. That’s not a prediction by any stretch…just a hunch.

Amour by Michael Haneke –  Once upon a time, it would have been just about impossible for a foreign language film to win in this category. Pedro Almodovar’s Talk to Her changed all of that. Still, films are a visual medium, and Haneke’s latest is stage-bound as its action unfolds largely within a nicely appointed though far from lavish apartment.  Still, what’s onscreen is powerful without a lot of tricky cinematic flourishes, and that has appeal also.
Django  Unchained by Quentin Tarantino  –  Tarantino famously won an Oscar in this category for co-writing (with Roger Avary) 1994’s landmark Pulp Fiction, which was only his second feature film as writer-director; he was again nominated in this category for 2009’s Inglourious Basterds. Though Django Unchained is an original piece, Tarantino has gone on record acknowledging that he was influenced by such films as Django, Mandingo, and The Great Silence.
Flight by John Gatins  – WGA nom | This is Gatins’s first nomination; he is perhaps best known for writing the fact based Coach Carter (starring Samuel Jackson) and Real Steel (starring Hugh Jackman); the latter film spent two weeks at the top of the box office charts in the fall of 2011. Gatins’s nominated offering is big on character development, but it also asks the audience to make a huge aerodynamic leap in a pivotal sequence, and without that leap, there is no story. Go figure.
Moonrise Kingdom by Wes Anderson  and Roman Coppola – WGA nom | Anderson is the Texas native who was once a cult wonderboy thanks to such films as Bottle Rocket and Rushmore; he’s in his forties now, but he’s still the critics’ darling. He was previously nominated in this category for 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums (shared  with local dude, Owen Wilson); he also earned a nomination in the Best Animated Feature Film category for Fantastic Mr. Fox; Coppola, of course, is the son of Francis Coppola. Anderson and Roman Coppola previously collaborated on The Darjeeling Unlimited.
Zero Dark Thirty by Mark Boal – WGA | – Three years ago, Boal won in this category for The Hurt Locker, directed by Kathryn Bigelow who also directs Zero Dark Thirty.  Boal wasn’t as badly affected by the negative publicity surrounding Zero Dark Thirty as was Bigelow, but that doesn’t mean some Academy members don’t resent him.

Life-of-Pi2

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: If I were voting, I would award the Oscar to the great Roger Deakins for Skyfall, the most visually sumptuous movie I saw last year. Plus, I think Deakins, nomiated 8 times previously without a win (most recently for 2010’s True Grit), is long overdue. Deakins won the coveted ASC award, but that honor does not necessarily translate into Oscar victory. He should know since he has twice been recognized by the ASC for the likes of The Shawshank Redeemption (1994) and The Man Who Wasn’t There  (2001) while watching the Oscar go to someone else.  My guess is the apparently seamless blend of live action and computer generated imagery in Life of Pi will prove irresistible for voters, thereby signaling a win for Claudio Mirando. Just like the cinematographers of Avatar (2009) and 2011’s Hugo before him, Mirando wins points for “degree of difficulty” since Life of Pi was also shot using 3-D technology. (Since I wrote this, I have actually–finally–seen Life of Pi; it’s beautifully done, and I can see why it seems like such a sure-bet, but I still prefer Skyfall.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: The heavy betting is also on the team from Life of Pi to win in a contest hat also includes The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Avengers. (With these two awards seemingly destined for Life of Pi, it looks like a case can definitely be made for Lee to snatch a Best Director victory from Spielberg; even more likely if Life of Pi also takes BEST EDITING.)

SKYFALL

BEST SONG: I have to believe that Adele and Paul Eppworth’s “Skyfall” will triumph here. Lyrically, I’m not a huge fan of the song; the rhymes are a little too simplistic for my tastes. On the other hand, I love the way the melody just soars. Of course, Adele’s powerhouse vocals and the full orchestral arrangement help tremendously. All in all, it’s just a beautifully crafted piece of pop music, and I think it has wormed its way into our collective consciousness. If it wins, it will be the first song from a Bond movie to do so, and that includes “Live and Let Die” (1973) and “Nobody Does It Better (from 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me); incredibly, the vintage title tracks to Goldfinger and Diamonds are Forever, both performed to a fare-thee-well by Shirley Bassey, weren’t even nominated back in the day.
BEST ORiGINAL SCORE: Another likely victory for Life of Pi (by Mychael Danna). Danna’s score relies heavily on the influence of world music, which fits within the Academy’s message of international good will, and Danna already has the Golden Globe. Still, he’s got stiff competition among the likes of Thomas Newman (Skyfall) and John Williams (Lincoln).

kinopoisk.ru

BEST COSTUME: Right now, Anna Karenina’s Jacqueline Duran is the nominee with the most buzz, She’s the likely pick by the editors of Entertainment Weekly, and she already has the British Academy award. She recently won a Costume Designers Guild award (for period films). This is Duran’s third Oscar race. Her previous nods are for Pride and Prejudice (2005) and Atonement (2007), with that now iconic green evening gown. The costumes in Anna Karenina are more than just appropriately lavish, they are also “fun” in that ridiculously over-the-top eye candy sort of way, and they fit perfectly with the film’s entire wildly theatrical conceit. I whole-heartedly agree with the folks at EW on a personal level, but the Academy members might prefer the relative realism of Les Miserables (Paco Delgado) and Lincoln (Joanna Johnston). The other two nominees are from the last spring’s dueling Snow White pics: Collen Atwood (Snow White and the Huntsman) and Eiko Ishioka (Mirror Mirror); both ladies are previous winners though Ishioka’s nod is a posthumous one. She won for 1992’s lavish Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Ishioka was also recently honored by the Costume Designers Guild in the “fantasy” category.
BEST ART DIRECTION/SET DECORATION – I could also easily, easily go for Anna Karenina in this category as well (the team of Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer). I’m gaga over director Joe Wright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard’s conceit of reimagining Tolstoy;s classic tale of star-crossed love among the aristocracy as a lavish theatrical pageant set in a magnificent performance hall. Sounds stagey, but it is not; however, the Academy might opt for, say, the authenticity of re-creating the Civil War era White House–and other historic–locations in Lincoln (Rick Carter and Jim Erickson).

A complete list of all the nominees, including a printable pdf, at the Academy’s official website: http://oscar.go.com/nominees#

Ben Affleck, Steven Spielberg, and the Directors Guild Award: Isn’t It Ironic?

3 Feb
Actor and nominee Affleck attends the 65th annual Directors Guild of America Awards in Los Angeles, California

Congratulations to Ben Affleck on winning the prestigious Directors Guild of America award for Argo.

If this were a normal Oscar year, Affleck would surely be sitting in the catbird seat, confidently awaiting benediction at the annual Academy telecast. Simply, since the late 1940s when the DGA launched its own prize, the Oscar for Best Director and the DGA’s prize have overlapped in all but 6 or 7 times (depending on one’s point of view). The last such occurrence was during the 2002/03 awards season when first-time feature film director Rob Marshall won the DGA prize for musical blockbuster–and Best Picture front-runner with 4 acting nominees–Chicago while Roman Polanski was honored by Academy members for the harrowing tale of Holocaust survivor Wladyslaw Szpilman in The Pianist.

Of course, Affleck was snubbed by his peers in the directors branch of the Academy, so an Oscar for Best Director is not in the cards this year; however, as one of the co-producers of Argo, Affleck could still walk away with a trophy for Best Picture, and that would be great. Interestingly, Affleck is one of only three DGA winners who were not even nominated for the Oscar. The first person to do so was Steven Spielberg, who made headlines when his big-screen adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer winning The Color Purple scored 11 nominations, including Best Picture–and three performance nods–though Spielberg was locked-out of the Best Director race.  The guild saw fit to make a statement by honoring Spielberg anyway, or at least that’s the way it seemed at the time.  The Academy ultimately opted for the safe route by bestowing top honors on Out of Africa, which also earned 11 nods, and its director, Sydney Pollack. Come Oscar night, The Color Purple went 0 for 11, tying with 1977’s The Turning Point for most Oscars lost in a single evening.

Now, history appears to be repeating itself as Affleck assumes the role of the odd man out, and Spielberg’s Lincoln is the leader of the current pack with 12 nods–including Best Director, natch. Of course, this Oscar race is unlike any other–at least in recent memory–since there are nine  Best Picture nominees, and since Affleck is only one of three DGA nominees who were also glossed over by members of the Academy, the others being Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) and Tom Hooper (Les Misérables).

Spielberg’s movie reeks of prestige as it follows President Lincoln’s mission to hold the Union together and abolish slavery during the waning days of the Civil War. Timing is essential. Everything about Lincoln is first-rate.  Argo, on the other hand,  also borrows from history as it shines the light on a little known episode during another bleak time in American history. In this case, Affleck shows what happens when a CIA operative goes undercover as a Canadian filmmaker in Tehran on the pretext of scouting locations while actually orchestrating a rescue mission during the Iranian hostage crisis.  In both instances, the outcome is already known, but the films offer plenty of drama and excitement anyway. Excellent films, both. “Best” is really a matter of taste in this instance. At this point, Spielberg is almost certainly the man to beat in his Oscar category, but the race for Best Picture is not as easy to call. Stay tuned.

The Exceptions:

  1. 1968 |   DGA:  Anthony Harvey (The Lion in Winter) | Academy – Carol Reed (Oliver!); Oliver! also wins Best Picture
  2. 1972 |   DGA: Francis Coppola (The Godfather)  | Academy – Bob Fosse (Cabaret); The Godfather wins Best Picture
  3. 1985 |  DGA – Steven Spielberg (The Color Purple) | Academy – Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa); Out of Africa also wins Best Picture
  4. 1995 |  DGA – Ron Howard (Apollo 13); Howard was not nominated for the Oscar | Academy – Mel Gibson (Braveheart); Braveheart also wins Best Picture
  5. 2000 |  DGA – Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) | Academy – Steven Soderbergh (Traffic); Gladiator wins Best Picture
  6. 2002 | DGA – Rob Marshall (Chicago) | Academy – Roman Polanski (The Pianist); Chicago wins Best Picture

Additionally…

  • Originally, the DGA did not follow the same traditional calendar year as the Academy, which is why two 1949 releases, All the King’s Men, directed by Robert Rossen, and A Letter to Three Wives, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, competed in separate DGA races, each a winner,  while duking it out for honors at the same Academy ceremony with Mankiewicz snaring Best Director and Best Picture going to All the King’s Men.
  • Oliver Stone won both the DGA award and the Oscar for 1989’s Born on the Fourth of July while the Oscar for Best Picture went to Driving Miss Daisy, the director of which, Bruce Beresford, was snubbed by both organizations.
  • Ang Lee likewise triumphed in both the DGA and Oscar races for Brokeback Mountain (2005) though the Academy’s top prize was awarded to Crash (directed by Paul Haggis).

Thanks for your consideration…