It’s been entirely too long since I last penned a blog, but in truth, the idea of composing a regular piece is much more attractive than actually…well…doing it. It’s been a busy last twelve months for me and almost all of it has been positive. For the first time in seven or eight years, my usual year-end television rankings behemoth didn’t happen, but I promise to remedy that soon…in fact, maybe in this article. The Academy Awards are just a few hours away and it felt like the right time to jump back into 6PM and start up again. I think the best way to handle it is to say I’d like to think I could have something done each Friday…by 6 PM, rather than…every day. Sometimes there might be more, sometimes just the one, but that seems like a reasonable goal. So with that quick aside out of the way, let’s get to Oscar.
Tonight’s Oscars should be most interesting because of the sheer quantity of award-level content from what was a terrific year in movies. One quick disclaimer…everyone who knows me understands that The Dark Knight Rises was my favorite film of the year…Batman as my obsession since childhood along with good sitcoms dictates it as such; Chris Nolan as by far my favorite director (with Fincher and Scorsese behind him) dictates it as such; Quality of the film itself dictates as such. It will not be included here because it was left out of award consideration. I had once thought that TDKR would be Nolan’s big Oscar night, in similar fashion to how Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was handled…the final installment gets the due for the entire series. But here, not to be…Nolan will have his day.
In order from five to one, here are the best films of 2013.
5. Moonrise Kingdom
4. Silver Linings Playbook
3. Django Unchained
1. Zero Dark Thirty
Silver Linings Playbook was a rarity in American cinema…a film that was utterly predictable, a film that used virtually every traditional rom-com trope, but a film whose predetermined ending was still satisfying. David O. Russell did a masterful job in taking a standard formula and, for lack of a better description, screwing around with it. He also had the benefit of one of the finest young actresses in Hollywood history…Jennifer Lawrence, who is capable of executing the biggest blockbuster (as she did in The Hunger Games) and still being nominated for an overlooked classic like Winter’s Bone. Whereas Gosling, Levitt, and Renner stand as the standard-bearers for a new generation…with Eisenberg and a few others nearby, Kentucky’s Lawrence is in a class all by herself. In many years, SLP might be atop this list, but it’s been a really good twelve months at the multiplex.
Django Unchained will not win tonight…because of the controversy and more notably, where the controversy comes from…the use of racial slurs and intense (even for Tarantino) segments of violence. However, look past some of the sensationalism and stylistic debauchery and what’s left is a tremendous, easy-to-follow, superbly realized neo-western. Quentin has quite a list of accomplishments, and Django stands at worst as his third best film, and quite possibly number two. Foxx was brilliant but Waltz was truly flawless yet again and Jackson, DiCaprio, Washington, and others all played their roles perfectly. Samuel L…folks this was the role he was born to play, and it showed. Truly a special film…if you can handle it.
Let’s speak about the top two together, because they feel linked in many ways. Argo is flat out perfect. The cast is outrageous, the direction magnificent, the pacing consistently suspenseful…even when in many cases, the shots are of characters staring into the abyss fearful of their lives or the risks involved in their outlandish escape attempt. More impressive than any of this is how effective the history is used to illustrate Affleck’s vision. Both Argo and his big brother, we’ll call him “Zero,” relied on telling fairly accurate stories. It’s so easy to write a bad “based on truth” movie. The story is already there…cut and paste…hire actors…film it…release it…rinse, repeat…rent. The reason Zero Dark Thirty is the best film of 2013, just barely surpassing Argo, which will take home Oscar tonight, is because Kathryn Bigelow had the guts to take the researched facts that were compiled…and not change them to fit any particular ideology.
Waterboarding is shown immediately after the pitch-black opening sequence (which was as emotional as anything any of us will ever see at the movies) and guess what, (gasp), it works! The intelligence surrounding the death of UBL indicated clearly that guess what, (gasp), that’s how it happened! It bothers me that at least one Academy voter said that because “torture” was shown as being effective, he would not be voting for ZDT in any category. Are you kidding me? Was the film of the highest quality? Was it moving? Did it succeed in its goals? All an emphatic “yes,” but since it kind of goes against my ideology, I won’t be voting for it. Since most of us don’t believe in talking teddy bears, does that also exclude Ted? How dare Bigelow not toe the Hollywood line and instead tell the story in the way she found it…without creative license and with her integrity intact. I doubt she’s a conservative and it’s immaterial. What she did was treat something of the utmost import…fairly. Whether you are a Marxist, a liberal, a conservative, an establishment Republican, a libertarian, a progressive, or a Nader-loving Green, does disagreeing with a story told in a movie serve as an adequate reason to blackball it (or its director, who was snubbed for the same reason) and eliminate it from award contention? I certainly hope not.
To conclude, I won’t be upset tonight when Argo wins. I’m staring at my Blu-Ray on the table nearby…I’ll be watching you again soon my boy (or girl, I’m not sexist.) It’s absolutely Best Picture worthy. It saddens me that political beliefs could cost Zero Dark Thirty its due when that’s really the only consideration against it. So let’s put it this way…Argo and Zero Dark Thirty are the films of the year. Affleck has gotten better with each film. Gone Baby Gone was good, The Town was tremendous, and Argo is top notch in every way. If filmmaking and achievement is a process, Affleck’s triple-threat has progressed in a rational way. Don’t tell that to Bigelow though…her first real offering…won Best Picture three years ago over her ex-husband’s epic.
WILL WIN: ARGO
SHOULD WIN: ZERO DARK THIRTY / ARGO
ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
These will be shorter segments…hopefully the above felt necessary to you, the beloved reader. Let’s be serious here, Bradley Cooper was realllllllly strong in Silver Linings and Hugh Jackman took it to a new level as Jean Valjean in Les Mis. Denzel played a supremely tough role as a completely unlikeable self-destructive character in Flight, which incidentally is a close cousin to the role that won Jeff Bridges his Oscar a few years ago for Crazy Heart, and the Master was another Paul Thomas Anderson challenge and Joaquin nailed it. But as much as Hollywood tries to sell how “new” and “cutting edge” they are, the Academy voters are some of the stodgiest people this side of the Middle Ages…or Downton Abbey.
With that said, Daniel Day-Lewis wins again tonight. Abraham Lincoln is an interesting role to take, because the only records of how he sounded are written descriptions. That said, it felt like DDL somehow still DID sound like the Abraham Lincoln we grew up respecting. Lincoln was a great film…overshadowed by the overall quality of the field. Over a full year before Spielberg’s film released, the buzz was that THIS movie would be one of those that would walk out with awards in both hands and sweep every major category. When I first saw it…I felt it certainly had that kind of effect, but quite frankly, other films were better. DDL hasn’t won for a while though, and this performance certainly warrants an end to his streak. I feel for Bradley Cooper, because he could win in almost ANY other year, and he wasn’t known for this level of role, though we could see it coming after his performance in Limitless.
WILL WIN: DANIEL DAY LEWIS
SHOULD WIN: DANIEL DAY LEWIS / BRADLEY COOPER
ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Boy is this one going to be close. Jennifer Lawrence captivated us in Silver Linings Playbook with her role as a mentally unstable girl trying to find herself…and her future…following a tragedy. Naomi Watts was strong yet again in a survival tale against Mother Nature. Quvenzhane Wallis made history for being the youngest actress ever to receive a Lead Actress nomination for her work in Beasts of the Southern Wild, which honestly was a film that was nowhere near as good as this girl’s performance, and Emmanuelle Riva impressed the world in Amour.
In the end, the award will come down to Lawrence and to the one lady I haven’t mentioned, an actress whose life since her breakout role in The Help and subsequent triumph in The Tree of Life propelled her to play the role of her career…the female protagonist of Zero Dark Thirty. It was Maya who rarely slept and worked virtually every hour attempting to determine the location of UBL. Chastain wasn’t just good in this film…she was all-time great. She was on camera in a nearly three-hour film for at least two solid hours and not once did she seem out of place. It isn’t an easy role because there was no romance in Zero Dark Thirty, no moments where the focus wasn’t almost entirely on Bin Laden and national security. In short, there were no breaks where stress could dissipate from the exuded performance. Chastain’s performance might seriously be one of the best I’ve ever seen, and she absolutely deserves the hardware tonight. If Lawrence wins, it could be for the same reason Bigelow wasn’t nominated and the same reason the film was left behind in the top category…but in truth, Jennifer really was spectacular. This is Chastain’s night though, and I believe they will get this one right.
WILL WIN: JESSICA CHASTAIN
SHOULD WIN: JESSICA CHASTAIN
ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTION
I watched trailers for Life of Pi for many months before it released and just never cared…then I saw it, and it was amazing. Ang Lee did great work here…his best since Brokeback Mountain without any doubt. We already talked about Lincoln…it was really good. Amour and Beasts were good films…but they aren’t winning films. David O. Russell should walk out tonight victorious and I predict he will; here Silver Linings Playbook gets a major accolade because unfortunately, it’s against true juggernauts in other categories. We’ve talked about SLP, so let’s talk about what’s really interesting here, the two snubs.
How Argo could be as good as it is and Ben Affleck somehow isn’t nominated for Best Director is truly beyond me…I can’t (although I could look it up – but that wouldn’t be nearly as good for my point) remember the last time the Best Picture’s director isn’t even nominated in his or her own category. I’m disappointed that not one of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films got him a nom…but I’m not surprised. But either of my Best Picture choices…neither of those directors have a shot in this category because their names weren’t on the ballot. Explain that to me…no seriously, I really want you to explain it. Affleck, Bigelow, O. Russell… Bigelow, Affleck, O. Russell, either one I’d be okay with. But O. Russell and neither of the other two is pure nonsense. It does make this category pretty easy to determine though…
WILL WIN: DAVID O. RUSSELL
SHOULD WIN: BEN AFFLECK / KATHRYN BIGELOW (100% sure they won’t though.)
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
I felt like Jason Clarke was snubbed here for his work in ZDT, but that’s par for the course. I wouldn’t have chosen him to win or voted for him, but he deserved a nomination. That said, all five performances here are ROCK solid. Arkin was just as good here as he was in Little Miss Sunshine. DeNiro’s work as a bookie/Eagles fan was an incredibly complicated role for a romantic comedy and his best work in film since Meet the Parents. Hoffman is always good and stands up with Joaquin in The Master. Tommy Lee Jones nearly stole Lincoln from…well…from Lincoln. Thaddeus Stevens really drove that movie and TLJ has never been better or more cantankerous.
With all that in the background, Christoph Waltz should and will win tonight…his second Supporting Actor Oscar in as many Tarantino appearances. He ran away with the Academy Award after taking over Inglorious Basterds and it was Dr. King Schultz that really sticks in our heads after watching Django Unchained. Dr. King was the “good guy” in the film… a bounty hunter who cared about money and found a way to care about a new friend, even though it cost him his life. Waltz is starting to distinguish himself. One more role of this level…he might be the next Daniel Day-Lewis in the Oscars. All five deserve the win, but Waltz deserves it most.
WILL WIN: CHRISTOPH WALTZ
SHOULD WIN: CHRISTOPH WALTZ
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
This one’s REALLY easy, or it is the minute you start watching Anne Hathaway sing in Les Mis. Jacki Weaver was awesome, and trust me, that’s the right word for it, in Silver Linings Playbook. Sally Field played an exceptional Mary Todd Lincoln, Amy Adams is truly one of my favorites, and Helen Hunt continues to shine when placed in roles worthy of her talent. Hathaway, though she wasn’t visible in Tom Hooper’s film for very long, is quite possibly the single lasting impression from Les Miserables. Jackman and Crowe and all the rest were wonderful, but watching Hathaway in her final song…won her the award almost instantaneously.
Spoiler here to me is Weaver simply because it’s an off-the-radar role that kind of sneaks up on the viewer…similar to Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine. It’s disarming because it isn’t the focus, but it’s always a major key in every scene. Hathaway has been knocking on the door for a long time. Tonight, a gold statue opens the portal.
WILL WIN: ANNE HATHAWAY
SHOULD WIN: ANNE HATHAWAY
Original Screenplay: Mark Boal in ZDT certainly makes a strong case and didn’t get the Bigelow treatment…I think the “N” word may end up costing Tarantino…Gatins Flight was a surprisingly deep story…Haneke’s Amour is worthy…but Moonrise Kingdom is the biggest snub of the year for me in Best Picture and Wes Anderson stands right with Affleck and Bigelow. I hope it wins here… if it doesn’t, I hope (and expect) Mark Boal to win.
Adapted Screenplay: Russell will win for direction I believe so they’ll go another way here, though I wouldn’t be stunned to see him win both. Lincoln, Pi, Beasts all good, but here’s where Best Picture wins another key award…Argo and Chris Terrio take this one in a walk.
Original Song: “Suddenly” from Les Mis probably wins…but Adele should win for “Skyfall.” If you heard it, you’d likely agree. It was worth the wait.
Cinematography: Three words… LIFE…OF…PI. Claudio Miranda – should be a good night for you.
ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: In caps because I wanted to make sure it stood out a bit. I feel very strongly that Wreck-It Ralph is the finest animated film since Up. I’m a huge Pixar guy…absolutely enormous, but Brave wasn’t close…Cars 2 wasn’t close… Wreck-It Ralph is a film I will likely watch 800 times in my life. It’s so good, especially for people my age who grew up near gaming and even those of us who worked in the industry. I always feel when I watch it that it’s more for my generation than the kids.
SHORT FILM (ANIMATED): It had BETTER go to Paperman…my favorite animated short…EVER. Seriously.
Foreign Language Film: Um…Amour. I admit I haven’t seen the others, but Amour is a Best Picture nominee, the only one of the five, so it stands to reason that it’s the best of the lot.
So there you have it…Oscar is upon us once again, and so is my blog. Hopefully I’ll have something prolific to say once a week that I can release via the typed word. As promised, here’s my quick TV ranking for 2012 without any explanation – someday I will get to this. Not including comedy:
5. Suits (Just have to mention it – deserves it.) (I call em like I see em…not what people expect. S2 finally ended on Thursday and was the most consistently entertaining show of the year. That single season was the best in USA Network original series history.)
5 (TIE). Game of Thrones (Enough said).
4. Walking Dead (Since mid-S2, stepped up in a big big way)
3. Homeland (Uneven at times, not the level of S1, still super)
2. Mad Men (Still my fave show other than Lost, but S5P1 of BB was more consistent than S5 of MM – it was close, but Gilligan, Cranston, Paul, Gunn, Norris, etc win)
1. Breaking Bad
Out of top five – Sons of Anarchy (too busy, too much going on, lost a little focus – in short, a bit too much anarchy, still love it), Justified (really good Season 3, but not the level of Season 2 for me), Dexter (my favorite season and almost cracked 5) about a thousand others.
Final Fun Fact: Maybe first time ever the three best films (critically) of the year could all be described with one word…ending with the same letter. 2012 was the year of ZERO, ARGO, and DJANGO. Look forward to seeing you guys and gals at the movies again soon…
In the words of one of my personal heroes…my personal sendoff…
“Of course that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.”