Oscar Coverage: Best Picture

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I wrap up my Oscar coverage with Best Picture. I think it’s more open than people think, and I think “Argo” is more vulnerable than its award record suggests. I might be right, I might be wrong, but that’s the fun thing about predicting awards, isn’t it? No one really knows anything until that envelope opens.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed this coverage.

What do I think?

If I had to rank them…

1) Amour, 2) Life of Pi, 3) Lincoln, 4) Beasts of the Southern Wild, 5) Zero Dark Thirty, 6) Silver Linings Playbook, 7) Argo, 8) Django Unchained, 9) Les Miserables

The first four movies I loved, and all of them made my top ten list (see below) so I’ll sing their praises there.

“Zero Dark Thirty” proved quite an enigma for me. I watched it in December and I’m still not exactly sure how I feel about it. I definitely responded to it and like it a lot, but I’m not sure I love it like I do “The Hurt Locker.” I don’t think that by portraying torture the film necessarily endorses it. Perhaps that’s arguable. What is not arguable, though, is its suggestion that torture led to useful intel; and to its credit, this suggestion definitely leaves the viewer shaken, even discomforted in a good way. “Zero Dark Thirty” is a serious thought-provoker, even beyond its torture conversation. Also, much of the film’s gut-wrenching punch, especially near the end, comes from Bigelow’s strengths as a director. What dissuades me from ranking this film a little higher, or giving it more merit than is due, is that I think the film benefits a lot more from the viewer’s curiosity in wanting to know what happened behind the Osama Bin Laden craze than the film’s actual contributions. In other words, I think “Zero Dark Thirty” gains more from what it shows than from how it actually shows it.

Numbers six through eight on my rankings are three films that definitely have moments I loved, but I don’t think the respective sums of these films are better than their individual contributions.

I thought “Silver Linings Playbook” was only okay when I first watched. Then I watched it a second time and I really liked it. I’m still not blind to its obvious flaws though (problematic characterization, tonal slips, formulaic plot, to name a few). For David O. Russell, I believe, it was somewhat of a directorial step-down from “The Fighter,” “I Heart Huckabees,” and even “Three Kings” all three were much more focused and vivid executions.

There’s no denying that “Argo” is an entertaining movie, even a seat-bolter by the end. However, there’s little to no complex engagement with its story, and I don’t believe it’s anything more than a good thriller. And when compared to Affleck’s previous directorial efforts, it lacks “The Town’s” tautness and “Gone Baby Gone’s” aesthetic risks.

I laughed a lot in “Django Unchained,” but I was also bored sometimes. The only thing that makes it an obvious Tarantino film is its love of bloodshed and its occasional killer dialogue. Other than that, it lacks the consistency, the discipline, and the care (by “care,” I mean the care with which Tarantino usually handles his characters) that make most of his films so alive and watchable.

Finally, there’s “Les Miserables.” I think it’s the most ambitious film in this list, and that’s saying something. But I also think it’s the movie that most brutally trips over its own concepts and ideas. Props to it for the commitment and ambition its makers brought to it. The end result, unfortunately, just didn’t do it for me.

Who got snubbed?

The six movies that were expected to show up (“Argo,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Lincoln,” “Life of Pi,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Les Mis”) eventually did. “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Amour,” and “Django Unchained” all received serious competition from “Flight,” “The Master,” “Moonrise Kingdom,” and even “Skyfall.” These films’ absence didn’t really surprise anyone; but neither would their inclusion have surprised had they actually shown up. It was anyone’s game for those last spots.

Who will win?

Despite “Argo’s” presumed front-runner status, and despite its near sweep of all the guilds and other precursor awards, it’s still rolling to Oscar night with a big question mark: Its omission from the Best Director category. In the Academy’s 85 years, only three movies have won Best Picture without a Best Director nomination, and two of those movies won way back in the 1930s  when the Academy’s tendencies and interests were only being formed. So the odds are against it, but it’s in a unique position in that it actually seems to be benefiting from this snub.

It might be wise then to predict “Argo” as the winner. And it seems like the safe choice. But I think “Lincoln” still has a fighting chance to beat it, given its impressive performance in the nomination tally. Even “Amour” was heavily embraced by voters for a foreign-language film, and it might also be more of a threat to “Argo” than we think.

But I think people might be underestimating how much the Academy loved “Silver Linings Playbook.” They loved it enough to nominate it in all the acting categories, something that hadn’t happened in 31 years. They loved it so much that they saw something in Jacki Weaver, who no one was talking about prior to the nominations. They loved it enough to nominate its leading men, and, if you know your Oscar history, Oscar rarely recognizes the male leads in romantic comedies, even if they love the movies. Last, they gave it an editing nomination, which comedies struggle much more to get. Such impressive feats have to mean something, right? Most likely, I’ll be wrong, but I’m going with my gut feeling and predicting a “Silver Linings Playbook” upset.

My Top Ten (In Order)

  1. Amour (d. Michael Haneke), for being hunting, austere and emotionally direct without seeming detached, and for impeccable acting and execution.
  2. Life of Pi (d. Ang Lee), for using 3D to actually enhance the story; for a deft and lovely book-to-screen adaptation; and for embracing the touchy religious concept at its core.
  3. Magic Mike (d. Steven Soderbergh), for surprising us by being not quite the movie that was advertised, but a smarter, more incisive and ambitious one.
  4. Farewell, My Queen (d. Benoit Jacquot), because it’s so bracing for such a subtle film   and because it feels so contemporary for a period piece, without ever seeming anachronistic.
  5. Lincoln (d. Steven Spielberg), for Spielberg’s light touch, Day-Lewis’s modest playing, Kushner’s rich ideas, and its fascinating blend of macro- and micro-history.
  6. Beasts of the Southern Wild (d. Benh Zeitlin), for diving into the kind of novel-like storytelling rarely embraced by filmmakers, and for polishing it around Wallis’s performance rather than vice-versa.
  7. Looper (d. Rian Johnson), for having a richer and more complex moral dilemma than most dramas ever aim for and also for tightening the circular storytelling, the weird structure and the inventive plotting into a cohesive whole.
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (d. Stephen Chbosky), for being surprisingly tender and modest, without ever milking the sadness, and for three great central performances.
  9. 21 Jump Street (d. Phil Lord, Chris Miller), for seeing into Channing Tatum’s comedic gifts, for guiding Jonah Hill through an impressive arc and for fusing them into magical onscreen chemistry.
  10. Hope Springs (d. David Frankel), because despite its tonal missteps and aesthetic limitations, it treats the middle-age marriage at its center with admirable honesty and earnestness.

Contact Braulio at [email protected].