Friday, 22 February 2013

The Oscar Round Up - Thoughts and Predictions [Updated]

The Oscar Weekend is upon us! With the 85th Annual Academy Awards airing this Sunday, I thought I'd cash in on the moment by offering my thoughts on the nominees, the overlooked and the predictions for the top prizes. 

[Disclaimer - All of these predictions are based on personal opinions and ideas. I have focused on the major awards and those I have seen  three or more of the nominees. But will offer a prediction for the others based on my knowledge.]

It's common knowledge among most film lovers that the American Academy Awards have a distinguished criteria that is not always indicative of the films quality. That isn't to say that an Oscar is meaningless, most certainly not, but it is not something I feel the need to measure a films standing by. Cast your mind back over the last 85 years and you will find a very long list of talent from every film making corner omitted from the proceedings time and time again. Least of all being the likes of Alfred Hitchcock who, despite five nominations, was never bestowed a statue of his own. 

To return to my initial point, throughout the years the Academy has defined its particularly favored 'formula' for a Best Picture winner, to point where the value of the award has been weakened to a degree; think of the soft core The Kings Speech taking the home the coveted award in 2011 against much stronger and higher valued opposition. Yet with this years list of nominees there is a distinct lack of traditional 'Oscar-bait' (a term designed to blanket award hungry performance pieces) in the nominations. Instead we are given a larger diversity in the nominees ranging from younger directors just finding their footing, some well established back for a second or third time, and perhaps the most renowned filmmaker of all time. 

So with that in mind, I will offer some thoughts and predictions on the nominees for this years ceremony.


Best Feature Film:


If I was a betting man, it would be Ben Affleck's Argo that I would be backing for top prize. Yes the lack of a 'Best Director' nomination to go along with it is curious, but I have a reason for that I will get to later. Argo's momentum continues to grow after successive triumphs at the BAFTAs, AFI and Golden Globes, it looks set on cruise control to sweep up this award. Why? Well for starters its from a new found Hollywood talent, someone who made the jump from acting to directing smoothly with three critically and commercially successful films in a time when America cinema has been come under fire for being either one or the other. But the real reason is simple; Argo isn't just a story of true-to-life American triumph (one achieved through clear-cut, fellow nominee Zero Dark Thirty) but a triumph in which the real hero, is Hollywood.

For what it's worth the film itself is a competently directed little heist film, that looks and sounds the part, made all the more dangerous by it's demonetization of the entire Iranian nation in order to the amp the tension unnecessarily up to number eleven. Affleck's direction draws to mind the works of Sidney Lumet with his textual workmanship, but it misses a distinct opportunity to provide any form of commentary or deconstruction of the duality between the Hollywood and political systems, or even the sheer global dominance of Hollywood's productions.

Still the Academy has a fondness for upset, in which case I think the most likely winner would be David O. Russell's 'drama-dy' Silver Linings Playbook. Taking serious mental illnesses and reducing them to a series of personality quirks is infuriating in it's own right, but the films overarching message that America itself is just one big madhouse is borderline insulting. Still Russell is another figure of new talent, his last film The Fighter was also an Oscar nominated, thinly disguised social drama about inner city communities, it was better than this but I feel Russell wont hit his stride until he drops the framing device.

The other favourite is Spielberg's Lincoln, too hastily dismissed as 'Oscar bait' it manages to be proud and respectful of the former president despite and actually because of his ability to bend the rules of the system he swore to serve. Like Argo it too plays out like a heist film, a race against time gather enough votes in order to secure the ultimate diamond briefcase - the end of slavery. The Academy may downplay this one, fearing that it may be too expected but if this is 'Oscar' bait' then consider me hooked.


Best Achievement Direction:


I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest Michael Haneke might actually get this. The most acclaimed director of the last decade, his films are difficult and often filled with cruelty, but Amour is so very human. Perhaps too difficult and harrowing for a Best Picture statue, Haneke manifestations of his own insecurities about mortality and death is directed with an acute artistry. Maybe this is just wish fulfillment on my part I do confess, but I cannot think of a more deserving film from the nominees.


Best Performance from an Actor in a Leading Role:


Admittedly as of yet I haven't seen Flight, so I can only reserve comment on Denzel Washington's performance in Robert Zemeckis' redemption flick. 

At this moment I'm going to name Bradley Cooper as the one to watch on Sunday. Whilst Daniel Day-Lewis has, once again, transformed himself physically and mentally to recreate Abraham Lincoln as a measured, living sculpture, he has two of the gongs under his belt already, and I suspect he could be the victim of backlash, with academy voters who feel that people expect it. Still despite how ill conceived the film may be, Coopers performance has much to admire. He adopts the manic thought process erupting in his mind into his physical performance with jerky mannerisms and manic eye movements, only to gradually steady over the course of the plot. It's a performance of physical development as much as it is character. 

The other incredibly physical based performance is Joquin Pheonix's turn as the dangerous war vet Freddy Quell in Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master. My favourite performance (and film) of the year. I fear for the Oscars though he is far too difficult and unlikeable, plus I'm sure there are some who are still reeling from his performance stunt in the mock-umentary I'm Still Here. Ball is in your park Academy, surprise me. 


Best Performance from an Actress in a Leading Role: 


I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest Emmanuelle Riva from Amour. At 85 she is the oldest Oscar nominee and her performance one of complete disarming power. As Anne, an upper-middle class cultured piano tutor who gradually wastes a way after suffering a stroke carries a dignity that could easily have been pure exploitative. Just as Phoenix and Cooper inhabited a physicality to their roles, Riva's reverses - her life is increasingly stripped from her. So remarkable is her performance that it becomes a figure of reassurance in the encompassing face of death. 

Though Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain have received wide-spread acclaim neither performance is as effecting or universally relatable (though one cannot undersell the brave and important turn produced by Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty.) Though they are also too newly discovered Hollywood talents that received nominations for earlier efforts, though in this case I think it may boil down to a matter of 'next time.' 


Best Performance from an Actor in a Supporting Role:


As much as I would love to give the award straight up to Philip Seymour Hoffman as the fascinating Lancaster Dodd, very few actors could harbor the key to unlocking a person in the trembling vein on their neck. I think the most likely winner will be Lincoln's Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stephens. The heart of Spielberg's biopic, it has all the hall marks of an Oscar performance; brimming with snappy courtroom comebacks and self deprecating humor ('This is the face of someone who has fought long and hard for the good of the people without caring much for any of 'em. And I look a lot worse without the wig') but most importantly he's an Academy favourite - an unsung hero.


Best Performance from an Actress in a Supporting Role:  


Although I haven't seen The Sessions yet, I'm going to back Helen Hunt for this one. A frank, but confident film dealing with sexual surrogacy, a program designed to teach physically disabled or restrained about how to have and deal with sex. Helen Hunt has been met with universal acclaim across the board for her performance. Again the Academy is prone to backlash, which Anne Hathaway may feel the wrath of, but maybe not. She's a great actress who's been doing excellent work for a number of years, and her turn in Les Miserable could have been excellent, but Hooper's inept direction sees nothing past the tears.

Else where Amy Adams' turn in The Master is just as remarkable as her co-stars, but I suspect most chance of the coveted statue was flushed away with the remnants of her kung-fu handjob on Hoffman. Weaver is brilliant as always, but she's not given enough to do in Silver Linings Playbook and as impressive as Sally Fields is as the First Lady, it simply doesn't offer as much as the rest in the category.


Best Cinematography:


I haven't been able to see Anna Karenina, so I will withhold judgement on that film's visuals, though the mixed reaction might sell it short.

The most common choice here will fall between peoples cinematographer Deakins and his excellent work on Skyfall and Claudio Miranda's mythic painting in Life of Pi. The former must be thinking his time has finally come after receiving ten nominations (including two in 2008) without ever being granted a victory. Skyfall's flamboyant theatricality added to the Greek tragedy workings of the plot, as well as embodying the a suitable visual styling for Bond, setting him apart from the shaky-cam proceedings of today's action stars. 

Life of Pi
however has the benefit of using the new three dimensional computer camera; now this brings forward arguments about cinematography's very nature. Can we praise and reward the work of something that doesn't exist? Personally I found the film tacky and overcomposed, lacking an urgency or roughness to expose the harshness of reality and letting the spiritualism work itself out in the background. 

Lets not overlook the work of Robert Richardson in Tarantino's Django Unchained. I said before the films visuals lacked an anger bubbling below its vistas and charismatic zooms, but its desire to draw upon the heritage of the beloved American western might do enough to tip the edge in his favor. Janusz Kaminski's softly lit Spielberg biopic might be the one to take this, if my predictions come true, Lincoln's victories might be limited to the technical categories. Not to sell the film itself short, its just as deserving as the other films in the category with Kaminski sculpting light and even time itself around Mr Lincoln, it embodies the respectful gaze that the film takes up when looking into the past. 


Film Editing:


The work of Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers on Silver Linings Playbook act as one of the more interesting elements on the film; extending Cooper's mental state into the film's editing patterns to create a manic and confusing opening half is a clever approach. One that develops over the course of the film to become more rhythmic and constructed. 

Though my own pick would undoubtedly be Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg's incredible break down of the editorial device in Zero Dark Thirty. This might the award that the film deserves most, on one level it deconstructs all boundaries of cinematic space through a rhythmless chaos presenting the world as a cannibalistic mess. This carries through into the film's structure, creating huge juxtapositions and by extension frustrations, it wears the audience down before producing the most flatly terrifying action sequence in years. 


Best Writing from an Adapted Screenplay:


I'd expect Life of Pi to take this award due to the source material being touted as 'unfilmable.' Still this is one of the more diverse selection of nominees, perhaps the Academy will offer it to newcomers Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin with Beasts of the Southern Wild, a coming of age modern day fairytale set within the beautiful Mississippi that is faux-Malick combined with half-assed social commentary of a world that only an outsider-looking-in could provide. 

Then again, Argo is based on a real story. And we know how much everyone loves those...


Best Writing from an Original Screenplay:


With only the one nomination, I'd like to see Moonrise Kingdom take this award. Wes Anderson's film story of adventure, love and boy scouts is charmingly romantic and surprisingly personal (it was written for the directors girlfriend.) It encapsulates every boy's dream of childhood as an emancipated freedom against the unrest and unsatisfied adults. 

Though I fear Tarantino may be chosen winner, if for anything as a substitute for best director should he not be victorious in that field. Though the film's heavy handed and excessive discussions of slavery amount to nothing, the ideal of blending blaxsploitation and American freedom may tip the odds in his favor. 

Best Animated Film:Frankenweenie 

Best Costume Design:
Lincoln or Les Miserable 

Documentary Feature Film:
Five Broken Cameras

Foreign Language Film: 

Make-up and Hair Styling:
Les Miserable 

Music Original Score:
Life of Pi 

Music Original Song:
Skyfall - Adele

Production Design:
Les Miserable

Sound Editing: 

Sound Mixing:
Les Miserable 

Visual Effects:
Life of Pi

For the full list of nominees you may go to the official Oscar Site (Here) where you can also vote for your own favourites. 

See you Sunday!

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