Me vs. the Oscar Nominations



Snubbing McConaughey: All wrong, all wrong, all wrong.
  • Snubbing McConaughey: All wrong, all wrong, all wrong.
Some random thoughts about 2013's Academy Awards nominations:

• So you're going to dump a buttload of Oscar nominations on Beasts of the Southern Wild, but not as regards Original Score or Production Design? I am ecstatic for Quvenzhane Wallis, because she was the lifeforce that drove the film. Also, I want to see what she'll wear to the ceremony. You know everybody's going to want to get their picture with her as well.

• There are big problems with the Original Song category as well — the absence of “Who Were We” (from Holy Motors) and “St. Valentine's Day Massacre” (from Not Fade Away) is inexplicable, though the latter was apparently begun in the context of another project (which is a damn shame). I'm a fan of Ted's “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” to be sure, and the song that Scarlett Johansson sings at the end of Chasing Ice is pretty good as well. But the new Les Miz song is, like past entries in the Beloved Musical Needs New Song for Oscar Consideration (ahem, Evita/Phantom of the Opera), weak sauce.

I also want to address something about “Skyfall.” The song is lame. It approximates a Bond theme, but there's just not anything there. Let's be real for a second — Bond themes are like John Carpenter movies. The last great one was “The World is Not Enough.” And if “The World is Not Enough” is the Prince of Darkness of Bond themes, well then, “Die Another Day” is the In The Mouth of Madness (i.e., the last half-decent one). Haters of the “Die Another Day” song are allowed their opinions, but it's the only revolutionary attempt to overhaul the ground-to-nubs formula and I wish someone would take that kind of risk again.

The wonderful world of Eiko Ishioka.
  • The wonderful world of Eiko Ishioka.
• There are two nominations that bring a great deal of joy to my heart. The first is Eiko Ishioka for Mirror Mirror's costumes. I wrote about the late Ishioka and this film at the time of its release here, and it seems completely appropriate to recognize one of the finest visual artists of the twentieth century in this fashion.

Similarly, seeing Prometheus receive some degree of recognition for its Visual Effects is gratifying. Lots of people had problems with the film, but its effects, both practical and CG, were flawlessly integrated. Its stereoscopy, visual sensibility, layout and execution were magnificently achieved. While the other nominees in the category each had their moments of wonder (and don't kid yourself, some of Life of Pi's images were staggering and its determined ecumenicism is much-appreciated), this category belongs to Prometheus.

• The complete absence of recognition for Cloud Atlas in any category hurts a lot. I don't see how anyone could claim that any of the five nominees was better edited, that's for sure.

• Similarly, I feel for Kathryn Bigelow, because she brought her A-game this year and got snubbed, tackily. Granted, as a producer, she'll still be part of this year's Oscar experience (and you know her outfit is going to be flawless), but damn...

• And I want to buy Matthew McConaughey a drink, because if he can't get some love after the year he's had as an actor (The Paperboy, Killer Joe, Magic Mike and Bernie), then there is no hope for any of us. Though I will admit to some actual movie magic amazement at Emmanuelle Riva's nomination. What an amazing and storied career she's had ... Of all the nominations which could lead viewers to a trove of riches in a performer's body of work — Trois Couleurs: Bleu, Hiroshima, Mon Amour ... for heaven's sake, Arrabal's I Will Walk Like A Crazy Horse! — this is a gold mine.

• The way that The Master is simultaneously rewarded (acting noms for Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams) and snubbed (everything else) to me illustrates delicious conflict. It's as if the film pissed off bunches of viewer-voters even as the exceptional acting won them over in spite of themselves — that's what makes for great drama. If anybody is standing between Daniel Day-Lewis and his third Oscar, it is Joaquin Phoenix. And truthfully, I don't want them to have enmity between them. I want Day-Lewis and Phoenix to be buddies who hang out and see who can be more Method to figure out who has to pay for dinner. Admit it: If there were a reality show about the awesome friendship of Daniel Day-Lewis and Joaquin Phoenix, you'd watch it every week.

Hollywood, Mon Amour: Emmanuelle Riva in Michael Hanekes Amour.
  • Hollywood, Mon Amour: Emmanuelle Riva in Michael Haneke's Amour.
• If you had said to me that Michael Haneke was going to become an Oscar power player, I'd have thought you off your rocker. Amour is certainly a more accessible turn from the Prussian taskmaster, but it's still perfectly capable of freaking the shit out of people looking for a light night out at the movies. Here is an instance of the general age of many Academy members actually paying off. Issues relating to the elderly are important, and if the Oscars can help kickstart a national dialogue, that would be great. And if the attention to Amour helps get Haneke's 2003 masterpiece, the unshown-in-Nashville Time of The Wolf, a repertory run, then that's even better.

• There aren't too many awful nominations — but Flight for Screenplay? Come the fuck on.

• I loved Lincoln. Almost everybody loves Lincoln. It should have ended with DDL and Sally in the carriage, and the opening scene shouldn't have seemed so on-the-nose — that's my criticism. And maybe more James Spader.

• I'm puzzled by the Jacki Weaver Supporting Actress nomination. In no way am I besmirching her work or career: I think she's a dynamite presence who can bring much to films, and she looks awesome in the upcoming Nashville-shot Stoker. But when Silver Linings Playbook was over, my first comment was, "Why you would cast that part with someone as awesome as Jacki Weaver and then give her nothing to do?" De Niro — sure, I get it, he's trying for the first time in ages, and it's good to have him back.

Of course, this being a David O. Russell film, there could be hours of alternate twists and turns that let this Antipodean treasure shine. That's what happened to Naomi Watts in Russell's unfairly maligned I Heart Huckabees (where you had to purchase the deluxe DVD to see where her character ended up), so maybe that's part of how she ended up with some recognition for The Impossible, a well-made but sort of shamefully racist film that could have been much more.

Will bradley Cooper get the Oscar denied him for Midnight Meat Train?
  • Will Bradley Cooper get the Oscar denied him for Midnight Meat Train?
• One other thing about Silver Linings Playbook — if Bradley Cooper's nomination gets more people to check out Midnight Meat Train or Wet Hot American Summer, then it's absolutely worth it. Here's another case of the mobius whorls of a David O. Russell film teasing the possibility of different shadings of a character — his Pat should have been scary at some point. But there was always a line that was never crossed ... Hats off to Jennifer Lawrence, though. In the same year, she got an Oscar nomination and starred in a blockbuster that made hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. There's also the fact that she's the best thing about Silver Linings Playbook, because her part is a construct on the page, and she breathes fierce life into that construct and makes something magical out of it.

• Alan Arkin may be one of the most beloved actors working today.

• You know, when David Cronenberg dies and the Academy realizes they really screwed the pooch by ignoring him over and over again (save Jeremy Irons, who did right by the universe by making a point of thanking DC when he won his Oscar for Reversal of Fortune), I've no doubt that Cosmopolis will get some reevaluation. It shouldn't have to be that way.

• My issues with the film adaptation of Les Miserables are well documented, but I am exultant that Tom Hooper was excluded from Director nominees. I still have yet to hear a single halfway-convincing explanation for just why Les Miz is shot the way it is. I feel Anne Hathaway has her nomination locked up, with more than a little residual Catwoman oomph to help things along. And my, I can't believe The Dark Knight Rises got completely shut out. It's a problematic film on a lot of levels, and there are already thinkpieces saying that the spectre of Aurora makes TDKR simply untouchable. It's the same sort of wordless feeling that posits Bigelow's omission as being part of the debate going back and forth regarding Zero Dark Thirty and its relationship to torture. I dunno. It's interesting to ponder, certainly, but I don't think the nomination phase is that overtly political. Now that the real-deal campaigning starts, though — watch out.

• The Argo vs. Silver Linings Playbook match-ups are going to be interesting because I want to see George Clooney and David O. Russell have it out. (Note to whoever handles such things: Make sure they're seated near one another.)

• I've said it before and I'll say it again — it's good to have Sally Field back in movies.

• Cinematography is always an interesting category to look through. Of this year's five nominees, what's most intriguing is that the two frontrunners (Life of Pi and Skyfall) were both shot digitally, the former in native 3D, even. The look of Anna Karenina was certainly one of its strengths (and chalk me up as favoring it in the Production Design race), but even a devotion to 35mm isn't enough to derail one of the two digital wonders.

The Gatekeepers, one of the Oscars sharpest selections.
  • The Gatekeepers, one of the Oscars' sharpest selections.
• A couple of these nominations are for films that haven't even begun their domestic limited releases yet, but I'd love to direct your attention to The Gatekeepers, an Israeli documentary about the heads of the Shin Bet, and No, a Chilean political dramedy that managed to be educational, hilarious and moving. Both of those films will play Nashville at some point this year (knowing distributors Sony Classics, the when is highly unknown), and both will be well served by the attention their nominations can throw their way.

• Best Documentary is a very strong category this year (hands up if you saw the wrenching How to Survive a Plague or horrifying The Invisible War), but even it has to take a step to the side for the category that has no bad choices in it...

• Best Animated Feature. Even minus the strangely underrated Rise of The Guardians, this category can do no wrong. Brave and The Pirates! Band of Misfits are both delightful films that are well worth your time. But the trifecta of Frankenweenie, Wreck-It Ralph and ParaNorman is like the dream team of contemporary animation. All three of those films were "see it multiple times in the theater" experiences, each coming from surprisingly heartfelt and weird places. It's also fascinating to note that all five of these films were also 3D films, indicating that (as expected by analysts and such) the greatest inroads for that particular narrative device are in animation and effects-driven cinema.

• I always work during the Oscars, but you can bet that I'm interested in what Seth MacFarlane will contribute. He made the biggest R-rated comedy of all time this year, he dominates an entire night of television with three different shows, and he's a crooner. Dare I dream that he and Hugh Jackman will have a song-and-dance-off?

• I'm not a betting man when it comes to the movies, but I still think Argo is going to take Best Picture. Despite ignoring Actor/Director Ben Affleck, the Academy knows the game, and the only one of the nine nominees this year that says Hollywood helped make the world a better place is Argo.

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