Thursday, January 10, 2013

Twas the Night Before Nominations

In a few short hours we will learn the nominees for the 85th Academy Awards.  Earlier than usual in an Academy decision to abbreviate the nomination process-- am I the only one who feels that this has just sneaked up on on all of us-- prompting a worry for a bloodier than usual phase two of Oscar campaigning in a year where many films can be viewed as an eventual victor.  And so as talent, executives, publicists and the obsessive lie awake all a flutter of the once a year religious experience in establishing the very best of the past years films, I try to offer reflection, in lieu of last minute prognosticating and agonizing, embracing with heartfelt sincerity that 2012 was a special year for filmmaking, significant enough that personally, I am troubled to pontificate my personal citations for excellence, and scratched over eventual outcomes.  This truly is perhaps the first year since I joined the obsessives where there appears multiple outcomes and plausible scenarios, as there's not yet a confirmed default winner, instead a group of films, some with more weaknesses than others, that fit the mold of "the best picture." 

The takeaways are immense in a field where adult driven dramas like Argo and Lincoln captured rapturous critical acclaim but also lit the box office on fire, a coup for intelligence filmmaking undiluted for risks of commercial isolation, without the branding of tentpoles or needless focus testing.  Where something like Zero Dark Thirty, a ballsy and uber-smart bit of cinematic journalism can be made and marketed with big studio movie.  Where a musical behemoth like Les Miserables proves one of the most controversial titles of the season, but achieves it with immense artistic risks bound to alienate as many as it dazzles.  Where a fantasy spaghetti western account of a historical atrocity can be a box office queen while adding commentary and conversation to the medium like Django Unchained, or the visual bedazzlement of Life of Pi or the misleading conventionalism of Silver Linings Playbook or hodgepodge original creation of Beasts of the Southern Wild, the graceful unbridled truth in Amour, the love it/hate it lure of The Master, or the intoxicating idiosyncrasy of Moonrise Kingdom, 2012 was a different year, a good year, a year of wondrous outcomes and takeaways.  Of good films taking huge risks and them paying off artistically, critically, commercially and yielding enough disparate strands of controversy to make a banner year of Oscar politicizing.

As we eagerly await the results, coming to us in the non-uniform announcement in a few hours by this years Oscar host Seth MacFarland and his girl Friday Emma Stone (some things never change, there's always a pretty actress du jour to help with the commencement-- last year it was Silver Linings hopeful Jennifer Lawrence), there's a soulful refrain, that despite the eventual results, there's plenty to grateful for.  Just as there's a bit of cynicism that may lie ahead as the politics of Oscar-ing may wage it's ugly head in the longer than usual post-nomination period where things, especially in a multiple scenario year, may become nastier than ever.  I'm bullish to offer predictions, but instead what's a given, and (personally hopeful) surprises:

In a five nominees world, this would be easy, but that's in the past (for now) and with the possibility of five-ten Best Picture nominees, things become a bit shaky after the top five.  What's a lock:
  • Argo
  • Les Miserables
  • Lincoln
  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • Zero Dark Thirty
All five of those films present the best indicative of the "Best Picture"- Argo and Lincoln are the carefully constructed classy adult-driven studio dramas of importance, primed and pimped by studios for statues.  That both films passed the precursor and critics awards test with cake is a solid, but that both were $100 million-plus box office hits was even bigger.  Either film in a weaker year could easily be deemed the locked and loaded winner-- together it makes it more interested.  Les Miserables, despite a less than rosy critical reception, is a big and bold and brassy and romantic.  It may appear vulnerable because of some nasty write-ups, but it's popular (another box office mega-hit) and the passion index for the emotional epic is AMPAS fodder, as well as Tom Hooper's DGA nomination a huge boost.  Silver Linings Playbook offers the requisite "lighter"film, despite being a film about emotionally disturbed individuals-- it's a no-brainer, despite some head scratching decisions made on the part of the Weinstein Company that may have hurt it's commercial appeal.  Zero Dark Thirty, the early critical favorite is in no question in part because of the reteaming of The Hurt Locker victors Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, but filmmaking that strong with a plotline so bold and juicy is an easy get.

What's left?  How many will there be?  Life of Pi will likely net a Best Picture nomination, as Ang Lee was nominated by the DGA, and the visual achievement, as well as the difficulty factor, should be enough to court the Academy, the box office was healthy enough, and there's plenty of chances for across the board tech nominations, but I still fear that the film may not have ever peaked enough with anyone.  Django Unchained, with it's stellar reviews, box office, and massive bits of controversy may be to immense to overlook, but I have reservations about the subject and tone and how it will appeal to the older contingent of the Academy.  Beasts of the Southern Wild could float in with enough number one votes considering again the passion index for the film should be strong, but will it be enough-- it's still a scrappy, bare-boned indie oddity that might either be overlooked entirely or dismissed by lack of pedigree.  Moonrise Kingdom netted director Wes Anderson some of the best notices of his career, as well as summer sleeper status, but the quirkiness of the film may distort the fact that the film was impeccably accomplished, and if it manages the obstacle, the grimace of the fact that it was on the outskirts will be known immediately.  The Master appears to have faded long ago, as the critics didn't champion Paul Thomas Anderson's difficult movie in the way it was expected.  Finally, there's Amour, the foreign film by the enfant-terrible Michael Haneke, a provocative and deeply moving film about the twilight of a loving couple's lives that may swoop in for the biggest surprise.

The Skyfall Argument
Fanboys, online junkies, producers of the ABC telecast and Sony Pictures would surely soar if Skyfall could sneak into the Best Picture line-up.  There's a certain credibility considering the film, a billion dollar success story, boosted it's Oscar credentials with its PGA nomination, BAFTA support and Screen Actors Guild nomination for Javier Bardem, as well as amassing the best pedigree for a James Bond film ever with director Sam Mendes and an exemplary (and Oscar-approved) technical department.  The critics aligned and audiences were a twitter, but this is still a James Bond film, and this is still the Academy, compiled of many of the same members that dismissed Casino Royale and nearly every other James Bond in it's illustrious 50 year history.  The Dark Knight argument, the same one that countered with the Academy changing their rules for the hopeful inclusion of mega-hit franchise fare such as this, may call for this as a potential, but I wager that the Academy will likely still dismiss this as a "Best Picture." That being said, Skyfall will and should easily become the most Academy-accepted Bond feature of all (not a tall task), but for every indication that this may happen, I swayed by the genre-biased, franchise-biased, sequel-biased members of the institution who value the Oscars as something different than what it should be, and what it can be.  Star Trek, J.J. Abrams' critically and massively popular reboot of the venerable franchise netted that same PGA mention in 2009, and missed out in a Top Ten inclusion, a fate, I feel will occur again with Skyfall.

Big Time Shocker-oos
Unlike last years strange year, which netted nine nominees in not a particularly strong, there's enough of value in the films of 2012, so that an Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close shock likely won't happen.  If there was, perhaps, maybe it would be The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which was a critically whatever-ed hit, one that features Oscar-favorited actresses like Judi Dench and Maggie Smith and may appeal to the older crowd.  It's success with SAG (with a Best Ensemble nomination) and the Golden Globes, coupled with the British contingent doesn't make this out of the realm of possibility, but not overly provable.  The Intouchables, a Foreign-Language Film contender, may boast a similar shocker, especially with a shrewd Weinstein Company connection, but if there's a foreign prospect, the best bet may lie with AmourThe Dark Knight Rises concluded Christopher Nolan's Batman saga, and while the Best Picture snub of The Dark Knight ignited not only changes in the Academy, but the chagrin of every fanboy in the sight, the shortcomings of the sequel, as well as the successes of the competition will make that nearly impossible.  Similarly with The Avengers, with it's lighter tone and good-time carousing has zero chance of a Best Picture nod and will have to try and compensate with it's enormous piles of money instead.  Cloud Atlas has its champions and again with the passion index, but the perplexing film can only have a chance with tech nominations.  Same with The Hobbit, Peter Jackson's return to the Oscar-loved Lord of the Rings, which will read too been-there-done-that.  In a weaker year, there could be an argument made for The Impossible, a deeply emotional and viscerally made feature, but nonchalance as well as ill-timed Christmas release likely burst that bubble-- it's best chances rely on Best Actress hopeful Naomi Watts.

Something to Consider
For a crazy longshot consideration, I advocate for Rian Johnson's thrilling science fiction fable Looper, one of the most inventive pieces of filmmaking in all of 2012.  Clever, ingenuously plotted, tremendously well cast and gripping in suspense, the film recalls the very best, of not just the genre itself, but offers a call to arms to embrace a filmmaker unafraid of risk nor captivatingly original storytelling.  Matched a visual display that puts many of the big guys to shame, the one thing I wish for in Hollywood is that the adventurous and playful Johnson-- who earned his bonafides with cult favorites Brick and The Brothers Bloom-- will given access to the big studio properties so they may be risen by his bountiful gifts.  On a lesser moo point, it would be grand if the Academy would acknowledge the film and its filmmaker in a surprise move that would not just prove a vital shock, but a happy surprise and a welcome respite from the kind filmmaking primed for statues.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...