Saturday, February 23, 2013

Oscar - Best Picture

What a weird year for Best Picture. So many good films, yet such a strange turnout. Let's recap:

Argo

Metacritic: 86
US Box Office: $128 Million
7 Nominations: Picture, Supporting Actor, Editing, Adapted Screenplay, Music - Score,  Sound Editing, Sound Mixing
Awards: Everything (Critics Choice, Golden Globe, BAFTA, Producers Guild, Directors Guild, Screen Actors Guild Ensemble, Writers Guild, Editors Guild, Scripter Award, 9 Critics Groups' Best Picture)

For:
  • Admired since its release to date
  • No one hates it, everyone can agree on it
  • A (mostly) true story with suspense, comedy & a weight of political importance
  • NB - Hollywood & the CIA working together to make a happy ending
  • When critics scared off Zero Dark Thirty, they nearly unanimously flocked towards Argo, making Ben Affleck seem like a lock for a Best Director nomination
  • When the Oscars felt otherwise and excluded Affleck from the Best Director race (marking it as less significant than Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild), Affleck and Argo became overnight underdogs. And everyone loves an underdog.
  • Immediately after Affleck's Oscar "snub" as Director, Argo wins Picture and Director from the Critics Choice and Golden Globe awards
  • Argo becomes the little Iranian comedy / thriller that could and goes on to win the Directors Guild Award, the Producers Guild Award, the Screen Actors Guild ensemble award and everything else (significantly, its adapted screenplay beats logical frontrunner Lincoln to both the Scripter and Writers Guild award).
  • When even the British Academy Awards name it Best Picture and Affleck Best Director, it's clear we have an unstoppable juggernaut on our hands, barring the Oscars resisting groupthink enough to stick by their guns. 
  • NB - Ben Affleck's charm offensive, backed by Producer George Clooney's legendary smile,  continue to win hearts as their film wins all the awards.
  • All in all, Argo remains the film everyone likes and no-one hates. That does tend to win Oscars these days. It's not the 1970s anymore.
Against:
  • Argo still has no Best Director nomination. No film has won Best Picture without it's Director being in the race since Driving Miss Daisy in 1990.
  • Even Lincoln - a period film about a law being passed - has better Box Office
  • Lincoln, Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook & Les Miserables all have more Oscar nominations than Argo. Box Office and Nominations aren't everything, but they are something. They show to what extent the public and the Oscar voters responded to the film.
  • The Academy may resist the peer pressure from the Guilds and stick to their guns - they presumably excluded Ben Affleck for a reason and may decide to back the films they did initially respond to.
  • There may even be Argo backlash at this point, considering it's a very good film being held up as a great one. Don't count on it, though. It didn't work for The King's Speech

Amour


Metacritic: 94
US Box Office: $4 Million (lowest)
5 Nominations: Picture, Director, Actress, Original Screenplay, Foreign Language Film
Awards: Cannes Palme D'Or, European Film Awards, Cesars, National Society of Film Critics Best Picture of the Year

For:
  • Started off with a bang, winning the Palme D'Or (or Parmz Dorz, as Twitter Michael Haneke would say) at Cannes and went on to win every Foreign Language Film Award (excepting the Golden Satellites who went with Intouchables) and clean out the European Film Awards and the French Cesar Awards
  • The frontrunner by a mile to win the Best Foreign Language Oscar
  • A dark horse to upset Best Actress 
  • With the Oscars announcing their nominees early, they couldn't copy and paste the Producers Guild and Directors Guild. Thinking for themselves, they lavished love on Amour, nominating it for five big ones.
  • Michael Haneke previously contended for Best Foreign Language Film for The White Ribbon in 2010 but lost, unexpectedly, to The Secret in their Eyes. That gives Haneke a bit of an Oscar IOU.  
Against:
  • Subtitles scare the average Cinema goer, and a film that requires them has never prevailed as Best Picture
  • Amour is an unsentimental film about the decay of old age, and death. Not a feel good situation. 
  • The lowest Box Office of all the nominees suggests that the arty Amour has a select audience only 

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Metacritic: 86
US Box Office: $12 Million
4 Nominations: Picture, Director, Actress, Adapted Screenplay
Awards: Sundance Grand Jury Prize (Dramatic)

For:
  • Micro-budget Sundance Jury Prize winner
  • An Indie Spirit favourite, with four nominations
  • A very early, dark horse Best Picture and Best Actress contender that somehow survived the hype & release of Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Miserables and Django Unchained to be embraced by the Academy 
  • A wildly unique cinematic experience with a bold perspective and execution, it marks the arrival of a distinct new talent in producer / director / writer / composer Benh Zeitlin  
Against:
  • Shoestring indies about poor, 8-year-old black girls' metaphorical, emotionally cathartic journeys, flooded with poetic impressionist imagery and ambiguous magic realism don't tend to win Oscars.
  • If the Academy loved it enough to give it Best Picture, they wouldn't have overlooked its exceptional cinematography and score.

Django Unchained

Metacritic: 81
US Box Office: $158 Million
5 Nominations: Picture, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Sound Editing  
Awards: None

For:
  • Tarantino is a true original with only one Oscar to his name - for writing Pulp Fiction
  • Django joins Lincoln in bringing America's slave history back into the zeitgeist. It's a topic worth talking about 
Against:
  • Django is a morally challenging, abrasive film. It is also indulgent and unfocused and, though significant and daring, certainly not Tarantino's best. The only equality at play here is the equal right to an unhealthy gun culture. That is my opinion, but I raise it because I am sure Django is not everyone's cup of tea. It's highly unlikely to be backed by enough Academy members.
  • The film's strong black performances - by Jamie Fox, Samuel L Jackson & Kerry Washington - were overlooked
  • Leonardo DiCaprio's much buzzed villain was similarly overlooked, indicating a lack of support from Academy voters.

Life of Pi


Metacritic: 79
US Box Office: $112 Million
11 Nominations: Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Cinematography, Production Design, Music - Score, Music - Song, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects 
Awards: None (other than every Visual Effects Award, almost every Cinematography Award, a Golden Globe for Score and two surprise Sound Mixing Awards)

For:
  • Eleven nominations suggest the Academy loved Life of Pi, and certainly it's an easy film to like and a hard one to hate.
  • With Life of Pi, Ang Lee filmed an "unfilmable" book (can we please stop using that clearly irrelevant term?) which previous directors (Jean Jeunet for one) had attempted and walked away from. He stretches himself technically and has to balance the spectacle of the film with its nuanced spiritual undertones. He pulls it off beautifully and clearly the Academy noticed. It's a distinctive visual film with enough heft and gentle emotion to feel like a significant Oscar contender.
  • It's the clear frontrunner to win Score, Cinematography and Visual Effects, and a strong contender for Sound and Sound Mixing as well. Wins beget wins and these could translate to bigger categories like Best Director and, at a stretch, Best Picture.
  • Ang Lee appreciation has really taken off in the weeks leading up to Oscar night
Against:
  • It may be too lightweight or family friendly for a Best Picture winner.
  • No wins so far other than the technical categories.

Lincoln


Metacritic: 86
US Box Office: $177 Million (highest)
12 Nominations: Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Cinematography, Music - Score, Production Design, Costumes, Sound Mixing
Awards: None (other than every Best Actor Award, a Screen Actors Guild award for Supporting Actor and some Critics Awards for Supporting Actress)

For:
  • Spielberg's biopic is such a lovingly detailed, layered, respectful, immersive work. It's a pity it has so many people actively campaigning against it - wait, that's against. I'll get there.
  • Pre-release, it was already considered a strong Best Picture contender, just based on calibre
  • Post-release (to critics), it had lived up to expectation, even exceeded it, and was cemented as a Best Picture contender
  • Post-release (to the public), the public loved it, earning it the highest box office of all the Best Picture contenders, the president loved it, screening it at the White House, Bill Clinton loved it, endorsing it at the Golden Globes
  • With 12 nominations, the most of all this year's contenders, the Academy clearly loved it.
  • If any director was to join ???, a??? and ??? in the distinction of having three Best Director Oscars, wouldn't you want it to be Spielberg?
  • A huge cast led by the brilliant and universally acclaimed Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones.
Against:
  • Jeff Wells, & a whole bunch of critics / bloggers actively campaigning against Lincoln, mainly on grounds of it being boring (regardless of its great box office)
  • The NY Times, at least for more ostensibly moral / historical reasons 
  • Spielberg already has two Oscars
  • Despite consistent nominations across the board, Lincoln has yet to win a major award outside of the acting races.
  • There's no way Tony Kushner should have lost the Scripter and Writer's Guild awards for his adapted screenplay. But he did. 
  • Although each of its 12 nominations are richly deserved, it is the frontrunner in only one - Best Actor. It's even only a strong threat in two - Best Supporting Actor and Best Director.

Les Miserables


Metacritic: 63 (Lowest)
US Box Office: $146 Million
8 Nominations: Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress, Music - Song, Production Design, Costumes, Make Up & Hair, Sound Mixing
Awards: Golden Globe Best Picture (Comedy / Musical) (Also every Best Supporting Actress award and Best Actor (Comedy / Musical) Golden Globe)

For:
  • Pre-release expectations for Les Miserables were epic
  • Although divisive on release, those who loved it were giving tear-soaked standing ovations and declaring it the obvious, hands-down Best Picture winner.
  • Anne Hathaway's live, single-close-up-take rendition of I Dreamed a Dream is zeitgeist dynamite
  • Wolverine sings in a tenor and weeps, and wins a Golden Globe
  • Les Mis beat Silver Linings Playbook, which is understandable as the Globes are such suckers for Musicals they even nominated Mama Mia, but still significant, considering Playbook's general momentum
Against:
  • Wall to wall singing isn't everyone's cup of tea
  • Hooper's creative choices - mostly his preference for extended close-ups - have been criticised
  • The live singing trick has been as much criticised as celebrated; mostly it is celebrated in reference to Anne Hathaway & criticised in reference to Russell Crowe.
  • Hooper's snub in Best Director implies appreciation, but not passion, from the Academy

Silver Linings Playbook

Metacritic: 81
US Box Office: $103 Million
8 Nominations: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Editing
Awards: Golden Satellites Best Picture (and sweep)

For:
  • It's this year's quirky little indie that could. Who can resist a quirky, crowd pleasing romantic comedy? Well, many, actually, but far many more ate it up hook line and sinker and those who really support it, really support it
  • No one really cares about the Golden Satellites, but when an indie comedy wins pretty much everything, people do notice, and wonder if the movie can repeat the trick elsewhere
  • Bradley Cooper - he of The Hangover - gives a career-changing performance, and instantly ups Oscar telecast ratings
  • Jennifer Lawrence's brilliant, sudden rise to the very top of the A-List with this & Hunger Games' $408 Million box office
  • David O'Russell's comeback - he fell badly out of favour when he screeched insane insults at Lily Tomlin on the set of I Heart Huckabees - yes, you can relive it here - and pissed off George Clooney by allegedly assaulting extras, but made a big comeback with 2010's The Fighter, earning universal praise, his first Best Director nomination and Oscars for Christian Bale and Melissa Leo. That appreciation clearly remains, as he is the very unlikely recipient of a Best Director nomination over presumed frontrunners Kathryn Bigelow & Ben Affleck.
  • More than that, O'Russell has a great PR story, making no secret of the fact that he adapted Matthew Quick's book to make his son, who suffers from unspecified mental illness, feel he has a place in the world. Even I can't resist that story, and I only mostly like the film.
  • The film was nominated in every category it reasonable could have been - including each of the four acting categories: an honour it share with Sunset Blvd, A Streetcar Named Desire, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Network and, most recently, Reds (amongst others). The Academy clearly like this movie. A lot.
  • Dr Oz, who has helped lend the film a heft of seriousness as an important film about the stigmas around mental illness.  The jury's out on that one, but the speculation can't hurt it's Oscar campaign.
Against:
  • Don't tell anyone, but ultimately this is just a romantic comedy, which drops in quality somewhat in the second half. It's still a really good rom com, but as a film about mental illness it feels underdeveloped, and it may not hold up well as a Best Picture winner. 
  • Bradley Cooper gives a good performance, yes, but his portrayal of bi-polar highs and lows doesn't stand up against 10 minutes of Claire Danes in Homeland. Sorry bro.

Zero Dark Thirty

Metacritic: 95 (highest)
US Box Office: $90 Million
5 Nominations: Picture, Actress, Original Screenplay, Editing, Sound Editing
Awards: National Board of Review Best Picture, 10 Critics Groups' Best Picture

For:
  • Still the best reviewed film of the year
  • Jessica Chastain's Maya remains one of the definitive screen characters of 2012 (okay that's just my opinion, but it will endure to be true. Just watch!)
  • Pre-release, Zero Dark Thirty was one of the most hotly anticipated films of the year and, post-critics-release, it didn't disappoint, being hailed almost universally as a masterpiece
  • Before the torture debate started, it was winning every single Critics Choice Award available, paving a seemingly unstoppable path to an Oscar clean sweep.
Against:
  • Even before the torture debacle really took off, the possibility of Bigelow joining the distinguished company of Frank Capra, Fred Zinneman, Robert Wise, William Wyler, Billy Wilder, Elia Kazan, David Lean, Milos Forman & Clint Eastwood as history's two-time Best Picture / Best Director winners - in the span of only three years no less - freaked people out. Some felt her career filmography simply doesn't warrant this kind of distinction, which is probably a fair point. Personally, I feel if she made the best movie of the year twice in a row, power to her. As for being distinguished by Oscars, Kevin Costner had one before Scorsese. Sandra Bullock has one, but Julianne Moore doesn't. Mira Sorvino has one, but Annette Bening doesn't. The list goes on. Career filmographies and Oscar wins are clearly separate things.
  • Then the torture debate began and things got really ugly. Bigelow & writer Mark Boal were accused of being pro-torture, the CIA was accused of sharing classified information and actors like Ed Asner & Martin Sheen (although he later clarified his position) actively campaigned against Zero Dark Thirty. It stopped winning awards and ended up nominated only in the most unavoidable fields.
  • Critics needing something new to vote for quickly bandied behind Argo, a lighter, happier, non-controversial middle eastern alternative to Zero Dark Thirty.
  • Its lack of nominations for Directing, Sound Mixing, Score and Cinematography are telling.

What will win: Argo
What should win: Zero Dark Thirty
What might win: Lincoln


After the cut, the Best Picture contenders ranked by Metacritic scores & Box Office:




Metacritic:


1. Zero Dark Thirty - 95
2. Amour - 94
3. Lincoln - 86
4. Beasts of the Southern Wild - 86
5. Argo - 86
6. Silver Linings Playbook - 81
7. Django Unchained - 81
8. Life of Pi - 79
9. Les Miserables - 63

Box Office:



1. Lincoln - $177 Million
2. Django Unchained - $158 Million
3. Les Miserables - $146 Million
4. Argo - $128 Million
5. Life of Pi - $112 Million
6. Silver Linings Playbook - $103 Million
7. Zero Dark Thirty - $90 Million
8. Beasts of the Southern Wild - $12 Million
9. Amour - $4 Million

Nominations:

Lincoln - 12
Life of Pi - 11
Silver Linings Playbook - 8
Les Miserables - 8
Argo - 7
Zero Dark Thirty - 5
Amour - 5
Django Unchained - 5
Beasts of the Southern Wild - 4


Naturally good reviews are mostly inversely proportional to box office. Lincoln is closest to the top in both lists, for what it's worth.