Hollywood observers have been blogging themselves silly of late, chatting up the pluses and minuses of four 2012 films that have provoked considerable public debate.
This quartet of films — “Argo,” “Lincoln,” “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Django Unchained” — makes up a substantial chunk of the package of movies nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards ceremony taking place in Tinseltown Sunday night.
All four films toy with American history. All are critical and box office hits. And all four have sparked considerable conversation among viewers long after they’ve left the dark of the theater.
There’s no disputing these films have taken liberties with real events, like the suspenseful but fictional airport finale of “Argo,” Ben Affleck’s take on the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-1981. Steven Spielberg certainly injected suspense into the ratification of the 13th Amendment in “Lincoln,” on both sides of the slavery issue. It’s that portion of the film that has prompted many to suggest it be shown to Congress in order to promote compromise. (Actually, President Obama did screen it at the White House for an invited group of Congressional leaders.)
“Zero Dark Thirty” seems to look the other way when it comes to torturing terrorists if it means taking down one like bin Laden. The post-screening debate centers on whether or not there’s been a shift to the right on national security.
But there’s no debate about what director Quentin Tarantino has been up to of late. Last time around in “Inglorious Basterds,” he blew up the Third Reich. In his latest effort, “Django Unchained,” he lines up slave traders so a black man can blow their damn heads and other body parts off. While this latest Tarantino picture has something to offend just about everyone, it has been attracting large black and white audiences alike, according to New York columnist Frank Rich.
“These films and the arguments surrounding them add up to an accurate picture of our own divided America,” Rich writes in a lengthy piece on this year’s Oscar race.
While he points out Las Vegas oddsmakers insist the smart money for this year’s Best Picture is on either “Argo” or “Lincoln,” Rich is clear about which film will not take home the award:
“However much it may resonate, ‘Django Unchained,’ to put it mildly, has about as much chance of winning Best Picture as Mel Gibson does of winning the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.” I tend to agree.
In addition to “Argo,” “Lincoln,” “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Django Unchained,” the other films nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for an Oscar this year include David O. Russell’s comedy about starting over, “Silver Linings Playbook,” which premiered at this past fall’s Napa Valley Film Festival; the blockbuster screen adaptation of the Broadway musical, “Les Miserables;” director Ang Lee’s sprawling coming-of-age tale, “Life of Pi;” director Michael Haneke’s touching view of how a couple's bond of love is severely tested in “Amour; and “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” Benh Zeitlin’s amazing drama focusing on an intrepid six-year-old girl’s attempt to help her ailing father in a southern Delta community at the edge of the world.
All of the nominated films are winners in this moviegoer’s eyes. While I’d love to see Russell’s comedic look at mental health issues, family and love take Oscar home, I feel — along with those who make book — the strongest contenders this year are “Argo” and “Lincoln.” While many Hollywood pundits feel that the Academy Award for Best Picture will go to Spielberg’s biopic, “Lincoln,” I’m going with “Argo,” which already picked up several other noteworthy awards in the category. I think Academy members will want to recognize the storytelling excellence of “Argo” because Affleck was snubbed in the best director category this year.
Nominees for Best Director are Lee for “Life of Pi,” Spielberg for “Lincoln,” David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook,” Michael Haneke for “Amour” and Zeitlin for “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Here is the category where voters will give Steven Spielberg his due. All of the nominees here provided film buffs with outstanding cinema. I could live with any one of them getting the nod. However, I’m sticking with the idea that Spielberg will take Oscar home as Best Director.
With the announcement of the 2012 Academy Award nominations last month, Emmanuelle Riva became the oldest person ever nominated for a Best Actress Oscar (at age 84). She broke the record of the previous oldest-ever Best Actress nominee (and winner), Jessica Tandy, who was nominated for “Driving Miss Daisy” at age 80. Riva was nominated for her starring role in “Amour,” the official entry of Austria to the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 85th Academy Awards. The same day that Riva became the oldest-ever Best Actress nominee, Quvenzhané Wallis (age 9) became the youngest-ever Best Actress nominee for her role in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” The other nominees in this category are Jessica Chastain for “Zero Dark Thirty,” Naomi Watts for “The Impossible” and Jennifer Lawrence for “Silver Linings Playbook.” Leading the pack are Chastain, who plays a CIA operative who heads up a decade-long hunt for al-Qaida terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, and Lawrence, a recovering sex addict who finds a unique bond with Bradley Cooper in Russell’s terrific romantic comedy. My pick for the Best Actress award is Jennifer Lawrence.
While my personal pick for Best Actor is Cooper, the confused young man with bipolar disorder who’s trying to get his life back together in “Silver Linings Playbook,” I don’t think he’ll be rewarded Sunday night. His competition includes Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th U.S. president during the Civil War in “Lincoln,” Denzel Washington as a pilot with drinking problems in “Flight,” Joaquin Phoenix as a Navy vet suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome who falls in with a cult in “The Master” and Hugh Jackman who plays out the struggles of ex-convict Jean Valjean and his experience of redemption in “Les Miserables.” While no one has ever won three Best Actor awards, I feel that a new record will be established because Day-Lewis will be honored with an Oscar for a mesmerizing portrait that outpaced his rivals in the Best Actor category.
The nominees for Best Supporting Actress can all be proud of their accomplishments last year. They include Anne Hathaway for “Les Miserables,” Sally Field for “Lincoln,” Jacki Weaver in “Silver Linings Playbook,” Helen Hunt for “The Sessions” and Amy Adams for “The Master.” While I feel Hunt’s role as a sex therapist was remarkable, and Field was equally fine as a mother dealing with loss, I’m not picking either in this category. Sure, Field is two for two in Oscar contests. But Hathaway’s performance as Fantine in “Les Mis” earned her the right to take Oscar home. Many say that single new song in her soul-searching scene will earn Hathaway the title of Best Supporting Actress.
The choices for Best Supporting Actor bring together five incredible talents — Tommy Lee Jones for “Lincoln,” Phillip Seymour Hoffman for “The Master,” Christoph Waltz for “Django Unchained,” Alan Arkin for “Argo” and Robert De Niro for “Silver Linings Playbook.” I really liked Christoph Waltz’s sarcastic, quick-on-the-draw bounty hunter but the fact that he picked up this award in Tarantino’s last film, “Inglorious Basterds,” makes it less likely that he’ll get the Oscar this time around. I also feel Robert De Niro gave one of his best performances as Cooper’s Philadelphia Eagles obsessed OCD father who’s resorted to being a bookie to earn a living in Russell’s comedy. But I think the showiest role of the tough-talking abolitionist congressman in “Lincoln” will earn Tommy Lee Jones an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor.
Traditionally, this film fan makes a couple of other picks at Oscar time. One is Best Original Song. The nominees include “Before My Time” from “Chasing Ice” (Music and Lyric by J. Ralph); “Everybody Needs A Best Friend” from “Ted” (Music by Walter Murphy; Lyric by Seth MacFarlane); “Pi's Lullaby” from “Life of Pi” (Music by Mychael Danna; Lyric by Bombay Jayashri); “Suddenly” from “Les Misérables” (Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg; Lyric by Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil); and “Skyfall” from “Skyfall” (Music and Lyric by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth). I don’t think there’s a contest here. Adele’s “Skyfall” will get the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
The other pick is for Best Foreign Language Film. Nominees include Austria’s “Amour,” Denmark”s “A Royal Affair,” Norway’s “Kon-Tiki,” Chile’s “No” and Canada’s “War Witch.” In “Amour,” an elderly couple (played by France’s acting legends Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) struggle through their heartbreaking final days together in director Michael Haneke’s compelling drama. While the film has no chance of taking home an Oscar as best overall film, it has a lock here. The Oscar for Best Foreign Film will go to “Amour.”