Oscar Picks 2013

I have been in unjustifiably deep thought re: Oscar season this year. In light of an upcoming possible Oscar pool, rather than send a private message of [category] – [name] to anyone (probably to one particular redhead whom I’m secretly convinced is, in fact, in charge of the Oscars) I thought I’d rather launch a full-scale discussion, by way of quasi-blog, complete with full my reflections after having seen most of these films. I like to think, without modesty, that I’ve nailed most of them.

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Best Picture – Argo

Aside from the fact that it’s heavily rumoured as the front-runner, we witness sheer process of elimination in this category. Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild are both Why-Not inclusions based on critical acclaim. (Frankly, I found Beasts a tad forgetable aside from certain very well-shot scenes; Amour is typical Haneke, which is not typical Academy.) Django  and Les Mis are too critically polarizing to win; Django also too morally queasy. Lincoln is shockingly, even absurdly boring despite its obvious winning performances. Silver Linings Playbook and Life of Pi are too fluffy and immediate; neither has staying power as a significant film. Finally, I never saw Zero Dark Thirty, but it hasn’t been winning that much on the awards circuit so I don’t think it bears much weight. So really, for my money, it’s gotta be Argo.

Best Actor – Daniel Day-Lewis

This whole category’s such a goddamn depressing shame, because it’s a little obvious that Abe’s gonna win, but there were way too many snubbed but strong leading males this year, including John Hawkes in The Sessions (shoulda ousted Bradley Cooper in the category IMO) and Richard Gere in Arbitrage (who deserves a nomination though not a win) and even Jamie Foxx as Django (who, in a weaker year, could have easily been nominated), and the whole thing kind of makes me prefer the Golden Globes for splitting up comedies and dramas. Rants of praise aside, Bradley Cooper surprised the world but it would be unjust for him to beat either of the addiction-sufferers (Denzel & Joaquin), who in turn didn’t manage to “lose themselves” in the role quite so much as DDL. Hugh Jackman did an awesome Valjean, but the character is written too broadly sentimental for an Oscar win.

Best Actress – Jennifer Lawrence

This category is kind of a toss-up for me, but pundits are saying Lawrence’s name and I assume they’re onto something. Naomi Watts crying, bleeding and screaming for two hours felt emotionally honest but it’s not her year, I don’t think; Jessica Chastain I guess might dethrone Lawrence for the win but, like I said, I missed Zero. Then you’ve got your traditional old lady and little girl (Emmanuelle Riva and Quevenzhané Wallis, respectively), who definitely stood out in their films but I feel will go the way of that chick nominated for Best Actress in Precious; that unfortunately presumptive “Oh look, a minority!” nomination that only in the best and rarest instance actually becomes a winner.

Best Supporting Actor – Tommy Lee Jones

The nominations this year are absurd. It’s just old white dudes who’ve already won Oscars. I kind of don’t even give a fuck about it for that reason, but nevertheless a quick analysis: Christoph already won too recently for a simply better performance; DeNiro is mostly here cause for once he chose a post-Ronin role that, my god, doesn’t suck; Alan Arkin was hysterical but hardly in the film; PSH was awesome but — and let’s be honest for a moment — The Master didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Take it, Tommy.

Best Supporting Actress – Anne Hathaway

Her “I Dreamed a Dream” was fucking beautiful, the way Tom Hooper didn’t cut away and she just started crying and the whole thing escalated and the audience was like, “Jesus Christ, this was well cast.” I mean, who else is gonna win? The mother from Silver Linings? Helen Hunt for gently smiling while saying blunt things about sex? Amy Adams in the role of “brainwashed wife who stares really sternly at Joaquin Phoenix in every shot”? Sally Field stands a solid chance, but it’s Hathaway’s year; she’s been rightfully sweeping it so far and will continue to the Oscar.

Best Director – Steven Spielberg

Genuinely difficult category. Again, Life of Pi felt too predictably done; Haneke is too Haneke; and I just don’t like Benh Zeitlin cause, really, dude, why add an H to the name Ben? (Seriously though, I felt Beasts was too emotionally grabby; sounded and looked gorgeous but felt uneven by the end.) I’d be happy if David O. Russell wins, because he’s a fantastic director, but I think he needs to win for a movie worth winning; he’s young enough and in his prime that soon he’ll come out with a Best Picture for himself. The way I see it, Spielberg hasn’t won an Oscar in a while; he can have this one.

Best Original Writing – Quentin Tarantino

I feel like the script to Amour was less than 20 pages. The content of Zero Dark Thirty has been extremely controversial, which would make it a surprise victor; Flight and Moonrise Kingdom seem like obvious fourth and fifth slot fillers with no real chance at the prize. (Though I actually think Seven Psychopaths would have done better to fill the slot than Flight; both had obvious flaws, but Psychopaths was so much more focused on the art of writing that it was impossible not to enjoy.) I don’t especially think Tarantino’s dialogue was as good this time around, but he’s already won the BAFTA and Golden Globe, so that says something.

Best Adapted Screenplay – Lincoln

Tony Kushner is a brilliant playwright, and though I admittedly dozed off through much of Lincoln, it’s hard to argue against his balance of history with entertainment, all while trying to move along an extremely intricate plot, even if his formula was DEBATE-DEBATE-DEBATE-WAIT! LINCOLN HAS AN AMUSING ANECDOTAL MONOLOGUE AND THEN WILL ADDRESS THE FUNDAMENTAL FLAWS IN AMERICAN SOCIETY-OKAY HE’S DONE-DEBATE-DEBATE-DEBATE-REPEAT. None of the other nominated films’ strengths were in their writing especially; surely not Beasts or Pi, which succeeded on a visceral level, nor Silver Linings, which found success in acting but, c’mon, that ending? Are you fucking kidding me? Argo puts up a good fight, but Tony “You All Still Love Angels in America” Kushner has simply found his way into the Academy’s hearts.

Best Animated  – Brave

Wreck-it Ralph totally deserves to win. It’s simply a better film in every way: it’s cleverer, funnier, more enjoyable and uses the medium of animation to a far greater degree of innovation. But, again, I defer to the Globes and to BAFTA, which Brave has handily swept. Fuck Pixar. Personally didn’t see Pirates! or ParaNorman, but Frankenweenie was fun, albeit a bit digressive from itself in the last half-hour where every single secondary character basically resolved his or her problems by seeming to just forget them for a while. (Spoiler Alert: Why is the crabby neighbour even in the goddamn thing? He offers nothing except a mild catalyst at the end which could have been filled by any nameless face. Lazy work, Burton.)

Best Foreign Language Film – Amour

Right, didn’t catch any of these. Gonna just assume that Amour will win ’cause it was nominated for Best Picture, Directing, Writing and Actress. If it doesn’t win this, that’s a huge kick to the pants by the Academy.

Best Cinematography – Django Unchained

Finally! The first broadly applicable category in which some films not contending for Best Picture are appearing. (Whatever, Flight, you don’t count.) That said, I didn’t see Anna Karenina, nor do I think it will win. Life of Pi  featured gorgeous, expansive shots of the ocean ad infinitum, so for sheer repetition I’m gonna veto that one. Skyfall was awesome but it’s frankly a middleweight in a heavyweight’s match. Between Django and Lincoln, I would personally vote for Django because of the diversity of lighting scenarios and seasons, scenes indoors and out, night and day. I feel like most of Lincoln, by contrast, was extremely dark, as every character was more often silhouetted than not; or else much of it was indoors with sunlight beaming through the windows (e.g. that really long court scene at the end).

Best Editing – Argo

The amount I can write per category will diminish here. I base this guess solely on Argo’s kinetic and successfully suspenseful ending. Silver Linings had some nice stuff with the dance sequences and mental freakouts; Lincoln had a similarly tense ending but mostly feels thrown in here for the sake of another nomination; again, I didn’t see Zero. With regards to Pi… I mean, I dunno. I guess it had editing?

Best Production Design – Lincoln

Lincoln just seems like one of those movies that’s gonna win a lot of these smaller technical awards. To be honest, I’m still not entirely sure what Production Design is.

Best Costume Design – Mirror Mirror

Wikipedia’s Best Costume Design history page nearly answered this for me. Look at the winners from 2005 til 2009 – Memoirs of a Geisha, Marie Antoinette, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, The Duchess, The Young Victoria. Historical chick flicks! All of them! One would assume, then, that Anna Karenina would be a surefire victor. Not so. Not only has the historical chick flick trend ceased in recent years with Alice in Wonderland and The Artist, but Mirror Mirror has the ace of the posthumous nomination of an apparently lovely Japanese woman who’s already won an Oscar for Dracula. I think that’ll twist enough hearts for those who knew her.

Best Makeup – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

God, I don’t know. The dude’s apparently won an Oscar before, for Return of the King, so maybe he’ll do it again?

Best Original Score – Life of Pi

I mean, hey, it won the Golden Globe, so… I guess it might just be another category that Lincoln will win for some reason.

Best Song – Skyfall

Yeeeeeah, Adele is pretty cool. Plus it was an awesome song and she’s been raking in a few awards for it already. It would be super weird for Seth MacFarlane to present someone else to pass him back an Oscar. And what the hell is Chasing Ice?

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing – Skyfall

Explosions! Boom! Thwap! Fwoom!

Best Sound Editing – Zero Dark Thirty

I didn’t see it, but I bet it sounded awesome.

Best Visual Effects – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Finally, a category I can once again comment on with any legitimacy! Would be surprised to find Snow White or Prometheus on top of this one. The Avengers is directly akin to Transformers or either Iron Man nomination. Life of Pi stands a chance, but The Hobbit was pretty visually spectacular — and I only saw it in two dimensions.

Best Documentary – The Gatekeepers

Ashamed to say I skipped this category entirely. None of the movies were released in Korea; the streams were tricky to find and I just didn’t catch Oscar fever soon enough. I have seen Sugar Man, and can attest that it’s an awesome film and absurd story, but the Academy seems to go for slightly controversial picks when it comes to full-length docs, and from the little I’ve read this one seems to have garnered a lot of traction. If not this, The Invisible War seems ripe, too.

Best Documentary Short – Inocente

I tried to find a place to watch any of the short docs but came up, well, short. I read somewhere that this will win; so be it.

Best Animated Short – Adam and Dog

In contrast, a category I have seen all the films of. The Simpsons shouldn’t win, nor should Paperman, despite being cringingly adorable. Fresh Guacamole is really cool but literally a two-minute-long YouTube video. My runner-up is Head Over Heels, an adorable 10-minute tale of a married couple who’ve gotten too complacent ignoring each other — it is the best kind of creative, as well as succinct, which means it may very well triumph in the end. But I’m rooting for Adam and Dog because it’s directed by a Korean and I live here, and also it’s delicate and beautifully drawn, and perfectly subtle when dealing with subject matter that could very well have been sensationalist or broad.

Best Short Film – Buzkashi Boys

Didn’t see any of ’em, only did a bit of research. Either this or Asad. I dunno, man… I guess middle-eastern or central Asian stuff should work?

Movie Roundup: Attack the Gas Station!, About a Boy, Safety Last!, Argo, F For Fake

Attack the Gas Station! (Kim Sang-jin, 1999):  The plot is beyond simple: four youths find a gas station and raid it, holding its staff hostage by threatening to bonk them on the head with blunt sticks. (The film notably exists in some bizarre universe where where everyone is deathly afraid of this.) Partway through they each fall into daydreamy flashbacks of disappointment and disenchantment with authority; these kids clash with an older generation that’s anti-art and anti-music, filled with old men who bully students just to show that they can. These moments bring to light a deeper meaning behind Attack the Gas Station, and realizes the story as a warning sign to an aging Korean society that if it doesn’t start being more open-minded, its youth will rebel. Problem is, the film’s shallow exterior and often unfunny slapstick facial expressions don’t warrant more than a single cursory viewing.

About a Boy (Chris & Paul Weitz, 2002):  A pretty convincing performance by Hugh Grant as an emotionally handicapped pretty boy saves About a Boy from being an awfully contrived quasi-rom-com between a mature child and a childish man. Between this and High Fidelity, one wonders if Nick Hornby’s novels are so well adapted to films because they lack the complexity a properly packed novel should have? Or maybe they’re just easy to summarize? Either way, its final act loses throws away its emotional impact along with its once-natural dialogue, namely when its leading characters refuse to have frankly easy conversations confronting their lies and real feelings. (One wants to reach into the screen and scream at Grant: “Just explain how you met the kid! It’s obviously endearing!”) It falls under a trite emotional arc and culminates in one of the most awkward climaxes ever filmed. Not sure if that’s called “success”.

Safety Last! (Fred C. Newmayer & Sam Taylor, 1923): It is easy to see why Harold Lloyd has not withstood the test of time as much as Chaplin or Keaton; Safety Last!, his most famous film, has no deeper meaning beyond the purely extraordinary stunt of him climbing a 15-story building. But, that said, it’s a helluva scene. Somehow, nearly 90 years after the fact, watching Lloyd slowly inch his way skyward, losing his footing, balancing on ledges, still makes one cover one’s eyes in fear, as if we were still watching him in 1923. Lloyd’s flamboyantly awkward intellectual (big round glasses to later inspire Woody Allen, a three-piece suit he could barely afford) is a pleasant divergence from Chaplin’s immortal tramp or Keaton’s quiet, subdued face, which means, to answer the obvious question, no, just because you’ve seen one silent comedy does not mean you’ve seen them all.

Argo (Ben Affleck, 2012): The opening sequence promptly displays the text: “Based on a true story.” Really, Affleck should have at least italicized “Based on“; it’s unclear why Affleck needed to make this already so ridiculous story even more ridiculous. Still, with the exception of an unnaturally tidy wrap-up, Argo is a totally enjoyable thrill ride, dabbed but not drenched in political history. While the hostages’ three-month-long bottle episode in the Canadian embassy gets occasionally tiresome, viewers will probably most remember the movie’s early Hollywood contingent,  featuring the suave, Oceans Elevenesque Alarn Arkin and John Goodman giddily composing this fake movie, from nothing into dressier nothing. Affleck himself sidles into the background of every scene; he’s gotten some flak for the self-cast, but he does more nothing than harm, allowing the better actors (mustn’t forget Bryan Cranston, breaking out of Breaking Bad to join the authority’s side for a change) to carry the film’s weight.

F For Fake (Orson Welles, 1973): A tsunami of ambiguity, Welles’s last full-length movie has been called more a “film essay” than any other genre, but even that gives it a bit too much credit re: organization. It’s not sloppy, but demands an intense eye and ear from the audience if they wish to understand, well, anything at all–which you won’t, for the first 15 minutes at least; Welles concedes this in the narration, steering the film from story to story, one anecdote to a lie. Flying in the face of these narrative pirouettes is Welles himself, doing his distinctly deep-voiced Wellesian thing, bound only by his dozens of amusing costume changes. There is a moment about an hour in when Welles slows the action down to a monologue about death, which seems both startlingly out of place and the most profoundly beautiful moment in the film. Thirty minutes later, as the credits roll, I was struck by the same feeling I’d gotten after watching 2001: A Space Oddysey and Apocalypse Now: that I had no idea what’d I’d just seen, much less if I actually enjoyed watching it.