Oscars Countdown

Oscars Countdown: A Guide To What’s Actually The Best Picture 2012

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Long may Rachel Riley keep at Countdown, so I can keep rolling out my dodgy Photoshopping each year.
Long may Rachel Riley keep at Countdown, so I can keep rolling out my dodgy Photoshopping each year.

Oscar time again, and the seemingly never ending procession of women in expensive frocks and men in generally indistinguishable dinner jackets all hoping to go home clutching a shiny bauble or two is nearly over for another year. Thankfully sanity has been restored and the Razzies have returned to their traditional date of Oscar Eve, so they and the Independent Spirit Awards get dished out today, before we get to the main event on Sunday night. While the nominations get revealed before most of Hollywood is sipping their first skinny latte of the day, meaning that we get to watch them in Blighty during the day, the same consideration isn’t given to us Brits for the awards themselves so most of us, myself included, will be tucked up in bed by the time Seth MacFarlane strides out to face his audience.

It’s the most tempted I’ve been for a few years to stay up and watch the awards, given the participation of the intermittently reliable MacFarlane and the fact that I’ve seen every film or performance in all nine of the major categories, for I think the first time ever. (I’m referring to Picture, Director, the four acting and two screenplay categories and best animated, in case you were wondering.) It’s only the fourth time I’ve managed to claim a full set on Best Picture before the awards themselves, so 2012 will go down in history with 1997, 2005 and 2010 as years I’ve claimed a full house and can pass a fully qualified opinion on how wrong Oscar’s voters have got it this year.

But I won’t be staying up, because Oscar will get it wrong. Oscar gets it wrong about 19 years out of each twenty, as I scientifically worked out last year, and I don’t believe this year will be any different. So here again, as I did two years ago, I present my guide to What’s Actually The Best Picture (of those nominated) 2012. Feel free to tell me how wrong I’m getting it in the comments section, but remember kids: this is just an opinion, no more or less valid than that of 6,000 people who actually do this for a living. Probably.

The Least Best Picture is Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook

It has great performances from Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro and especially Jennifer Lawrence, but Silver Linings Playbook is muddled at best, grafting a confused look at various misdiagnosed mental illnesses to an enjoyable but cheesy and predictable romance. It’s not hard to see how it got a nomination, as it ticks pretty much every one of the Academy’s boxes, and the achievement of picking up nominations in every major category is a significant one, but if there’s any justice then that’s the most that Silver Linings will be remembered for. While Jennifer Lawrence isn’t the best performance, either nominated or not, she’s the one win that wouldn’t be begrudged.

Which is not as good as Beasts Of The Southern Wild

Beasts Of The Southern Wild

To describe Beasts as interesting almost feels to be damning it with faint praise, but that’s about the best I can say. Many have been beguiled by its supposed charms, with a mix of admittedly impressive performances from non-actors and a fantastical story set among the aftermath of Katrina, but for my money the realism and fantasy never quite gel to any level of satisfaction. That shouldn’t diminish the achievement of the more realistic parts of the storytelling, but for me this marks out Benh Zeitlin, Quevenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry as talents to watch, rather than the fully formed articles.

Which is not as good as Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty has one of the best performances of the year in the form of Jessica Chastain. She put together a fantastic run last year as well, from a scene-stealing turn in The Help to the supportive, desperate wife in Take Shelter, and if anything her simmering, nuanced performance here is better than any of them. This discussion isn’t Best Actress, though, it’s Best Picture, and Zero Dark Thirty has managed to rule itself out with its slightly iffy political stance and controversy. I still feel that Zero does look the other way a little too much and doesn’t deal with consequence as much as it should; while the impartiality is commendable, just a shade too much agreement with the methodologies of the CIA slips through the net. (Also, as much as I love him I think the world may end if John Barrowman’s ever in a Best Picture winner.)

Which is not as good as Les Misérables

Les Miserables

Take one hot director coming off the back of his own award winning film, a variety of top Hollywood talent with a marked difference in their singing styles which probably won’t gel together particularly well and a grand total of two camera positions, and throw them into the mix with one of the most beloved musicals of the last thirty years, and what do you get? A crowd pleaser, to be sure, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t on the verge of shedding a tear by the end, but Les Miz is too reverential with its source material to make any attempt to address the structural issues with both stage musical and novel to truly satisfy as a narrative. Mind you, I think I’ll still be humming “Do You Hear The People Sing?” this time next year. Maybe by then I’ll have learned more of the words, too.

Which is not as good as Argo

Argo

I’m not greedy. I know that several thousand Hollywood types will never manage to agree on the sensible choice (indeed, you’ll notice that the film at the end of this list was only fifth on my best of the year last year), so if the Best Picture award does go to a film ranked 9/10 or better in my book, I’ll take that as a reasonable success. That means that I’ll be happy if anything from this point on the list onwards wins, I’ll be reasonably satisfied, but none of that will make up for the ridiculousness of not nominating Ben Affleck for Best Director. I didn’t rate The Town hugely, but certainly Argo and Gone Baby Gone show a man who’s found his true home behind the camera, and I think nomination and win are both well within his capability in future years. But for my money, they may as well start engraving the gold baldie now, for I can’t see past Argo to win the real award tomorrow night.

Which is not as good as Lincoln

Lincoln

It’s in danger of becoming a cliché, and it’s maybe why I’ve struggled to come up with a review for this one as of yet, but it’s absolutely true: Daniel Day-Lewis IS Abraham Lincoln. If you invented time travel and plucked the real man out of history, I doubt anyone would find him more convincing than this supreme performance from the man who is the finest actor of our, and arguably any, generation. It’s not a one performance film, and it has possibly the finest array of beards ever committed to cinema, but what holds Lincoln back from true greatness is an incredibly talky, expository first hour which stifles any forward momentum before Spielberg manages to balance his elements and deliver a rousing finale. It also has the problems with endings which have blighted the Berg’s films for the last twenty years, but that should come as no surprise.

Which is not as good as Amour

Amour

I still feel I’m doing Amour something of a disservice, but I just can’t escape the feeling that Amour isn’t providing radical new insight into the pain and suffering endured by watching a loved one slowly disintegrate before your eyes, while you stand helpless on the sidelines. It is the first film to truly expose that raw nerve and capture that experience in unflinching detail, with superb performances from Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, and it might be the best chance Michael Haneke has to ever win the Best Director Oscar, an award which would be suitable recognition for the compelling body of work he’s assembled in his career. (Would also be worth it to see what the fake Twitter Haneke comes up with next lol.)

Which is not as good as Django Unchained

Django Unchained

Prior to this, I believe that Quentin Tarantino had made two cast iron classics that will endure well past our lifetimes, in Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, Vol. 1. This is the hat-trick film, perfectly blending a set of performances that could have filled the Best Supporting Actor category in a weaker year with Tarantino’s rich and joyous dialogue. That the slave narrative, which could have sat ill at ease with the more exploitative elements of the revenge fantasy, actually serves to enhance the overall ensemble is testament to how good a film maker Tarantino has become, and he finally proves that he can weave gold with a straight line narrative without needing to jump back and forth or rely on extraneous subplots. He’s even seemingly accepted his own limitations as an actor, cheekily making his own role even more ridiculous, but the sad omission from Oscar night of a Best Horse award means that Tony and Fritz will go home empty handed. Criminal. Which means that… (fumbles with envelope)…

The Best Picture Of 2012 is Life Of Pi

Life Of Pi

Filming a supposedly unfilmable novel, and reaping massive box office success around the world? Check. Combining superb acting with huge effects work? Check. Asking fundamental questions about the nature of our existence and our beliefs? Check. A director who’s had one of the most diverse careers in Hollywood showing that he’s as good, if not better, when filming in three dimensions as he is in two? Check. Never more convincing performances from CGI and fake creatures interacting at close quarters with humans? Check. Not going to win Best Picture because the Academy is as clueless as usual? Check. Life Of Pi is my favourite of the nine nominated films this year, but if it wins Best Picture I’ll eat an actual tiger.

Oscars Countdown 2012: The People’s Choice

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Well, just a quick note to wish anyone staying up to watch the Oscars tonight good luck; I have a horrible feeling you’re going to need it, as I said last night. But let’s not forget that the Academy Awards are just that: a bunch of awards picked by people who make the films, or who at least used to, and consequently who should know better. But if the general public had their say, and by that I mean those committed enough to log their votes on The Internet Movie Database, then this is how the top nine films of the year would look:

9. Drive

Those sitting up tonight will be cheering Drive to the big prize. Forget Picture, Director (Nicolas Winding Refn), Actor (Ryan Gosling), Actress (Carey Mulligan) or Supporting Actor (Albert Brooks) – Drive could walk away with Best Achievement in Sound Editing (Lon Bender / Victor Ray Ennis). Surely some consolation?

8. The Help

Four nominations for this one: as well as Best Piccy, Viola Davis, Octavia Spenser and Jessica Chastain are all up for acting statues and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if at least one, if not two, of them, picked up those statues before the night’s out.

7. Hugo

Eleven nominations, but chances are that Scorcese has the best outside shot of a win, being the most likely person to upset Michael Hava Havinac that French bloke. Sadly I’ve still not seen it, thanks to sold out showings in December.

6. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Five nods for the American remake of the Swedish film that still felt the need to put on Swedish accents. Rooney Mara is the biggest name to get a shout, but both Fincher and the film itself missed out on the big prize. It’s not as good as the original – there, I’ve said it.

5. Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 2

No Lord Of The Rings-style love-in for the end of Potter, which rattled off with eleven awards. Sadly Potter will have to be content with making Warner Brothers and J.K. Rowling filthy stinking rich.

4. Once Upon A Time In Anatolia

Hitting UK screens in March, this Turkish effort was one of over five dozen films submitted on the one per country basis for Best Foreign Language Oscar. Sadly the committee didn’t even put it on their nine film longlist – I look forward to see what Oscar overlooked.

3. Warrior

Nolte got a nod, but will likely lose out to Christopher Plummer in the career sympathy award. Sadly Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton and the film, a totally unexpected crowd-pleaser with dramatic weight, didn’t charm the Academy.

2. The Artist

Lots of awards, cute dog, French winner, black and white, blah, blah, blah. Next!

(Yes, it’s extremely good and the most deserving nominated film. But…)

1. A Separation

If the American Academy could overcome its foreign bias (only eight foreign language films have ever been nominated for Best Picture, and the last of those was directed by Clint Eastwood), then A Separation should be celebrating success. Hopefully it can pick up some glory in the condescending foreign appeasement category.

There you have it – all that’s left is to wish everyone concerned the best of American luck. I’m off to bed, to sleep, perchance to dream of Drive or Shame winning Best Picture…

Oscars Countdown 2012: Another Fine Mess

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If the Oscars are good for one thing, it's at least the chance to roll out last year's dodgy Photoshopping one more time.

In a little over 24 hours, the eyes of the world will be on the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles for the handing out of this year’s two dozen tiny shiny bald gold men. Once upon a time, I would take the day off work the Monday after the Oscars so that I could be up all night, often in those days being glued to a tiny stream off the internet with a picture four inches wide, which was all my primitive internet connection could deal with, and watching with expectation and fascination while the awards were handed out. Then about four years ago I actually began watching enough films to have seen the majority of nominees, and quickly came to realise that a group of donkeys with pins tied to their hooves could do a better job of picking the best films and performances of the year than the Academy.

This article clearly breaks down the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences (AMPAS) membership: the overall vote for Best Picture is voted for by the whole Academy, which if you’ve not clicked on the link is made up of a membership that’s 94% white, 77% male and 54% over 60 (and a crippling 98% over 40). I’m white, male and much too close to being over 40 for my liking, but my typical movie choices couldn’t be further from the conservative choices typically favoured by Academy voters. Consequently, looking back at the twenty years since I left school and went to university and started to get bitten by the film bug, I’ve been disappointed more often than not by the Academy’s picks. Take Best Picture for example.

Three columns. The first is the film which won Best Picture that year; the second column is, of the five or ten nominated films, the one I’d call my favourite, and the last column is my actual favourite film of that year, regardless of whether it’s in the nominated films or not. As you can see, there are only eight years of the last 20 when my favourite film has even made the nomination list, and only five when the film I enjoyed most of the nominees picked up the top award. Only in one year, 2007, did my top film of the year actually pick up the top prize of the year. One year in twenty, and that year There Will Be Blood lost out, so as many people will have disagreed with me as will have agreed.

Now, I’m not saying that I should be replacing Oscar as the definitive authority on what’s good and who’s worthy, although I probably couldn’t do any worse. No, the issue here is that there are three possible sources of enjoyment from watching the Oscar ceremony itself: to enjoy the ceremony itself, to marvel in the frippery of red carpets, fashion choices and Ryan Seacrests and to see what’s won. The last of these is undoubtedly the main purpose, the awards themselves being the Christmas cake to the icing of the ceremony and the strange marzipan that no-one ever eats on anything other than a Christmas cake that’s the red carpet. So if you’re not feeling the love for what actually wins the awards, is there any point in watching the Oscars, or at the very least sitting up all night to watch them?

Consequently Oscar night is more than likely to be a crushing disappointment for me, and this year is no exception. No Drive, Shame, Tinker Tailor or Take Shelter in Best Picture, no Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling or Tom Hardy in Best Actor or Olivia Coleman, Tilda Swinton or Kirsten Dunst in Best Actress, and the four big acting awards – which should go to the big names of George Clooney and Meryl Streep, and the talents of Jessica Chastain and Nick Nolte if justice is to be done – could well end up in the hands of Jean Dujardin and Viola Davis, Christopher Plummer and Octavia Spencer. Don’t get me wrong, I loved all four of those latter performances – even if the film I saw two of them in occasionally made me want to throw things at the screen – but for me they’re not the right choices, and the odds of all four prizes going to the names I’d like are about as high as Jack Nicholson turning feral and chasing the rest of the front row out of the auditorium.  When all the awards ceremony itself can offer up is rehashing Billy Crystal and excluding the performances of Best Original Song (“I’m a maaaan, I’m a MUPPEEEEEETTTTT!”), I’ll be heading for my bed at a normal time and picking out the bones from the latest fine mess in the morning. If you are staying up, best of luck, but I just hope you’re not in it for the winners; trust me, you’re going to be disappointed somewhere.

Oscar Meh Nominations Blah

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Oscar nominations were announced today. Most of the film industry has gone absolutely mad over them. I’m left wondering if the people who voted have actually seen half of these films. So here’s a little exercise. Listed below are the nine films nominated for Best Picture this year. I’ve seen the first five, and have ranked them in order, the other four are somewhat random.

  1. The Artist
  2. Midnight In Paris
  3. Moneyball
  4. The Help
  5. The Tree Of Life
  6. The Descendents
  7. Hugo
  8. War Horse
  9. Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close

Now here’s a list of eighteen films which weren’t nominated for Best Picture. Your task is to count how many films on the bottom list should have been on the top list, and consequently vice versa. If you can’t find at least four films to swap over, you’re doing it wrong.

  1. Shame
  2. Drive
  3. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
  4. Take Shelter
  5. Super 8
  6. We Need To Talk About Kevin
  7. A Separation
  8. Tyrannosaur
  9. Warrior
  10. Submarine
  11. Melancholia
  12. Senna
  13. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes
  14. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
  15. The Ides Of March
  16. 50/50
  17. Bridesmaids
  18. Beginners

Excellent. If you’re not weeping into your cocoa at the sheer injustice of it all by now, then you have my pity.

Oscars Countdown: A Guide To What’s Actually The Best Picture

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Well, it’s almost upon us. The 2011 Academy Awards take place around six o’clock on Sunday evening, local time, or stupid o’clock on Monday morning for those watching on these shores, and two dozen of the frankly odd looking (well, they are) gold statues will be handed out to those deemed the most worthy recipients. There will be few people in attendance, though, that have seen every nominated film and can give a genuine view on the respective worthiness of each of the nominees; to be honest, for most people with busy lives seeing all of the nominations for Best Picture is enough of a challenge.

And for all my love of movies, rather shockingly only three times in my life have I managed to see all of the nominated films before tiny gold men were handed out. It gets easier every year, thanks partly to those people who don’t fork out the cash to watch films in the cinema, as piracy has reduced DVD and international release windows, so most of the films in question arrive on these shores either at the same time, or very close to, their debut in America.

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Oscars Countdown: The World Championships Of America

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There are two events that booked February in the worldwide calendar, and there is a striking similarity between both. At the beginning of February each year, over 150 million viewers tune in to watch one of the most viewed events in the sporting calendar, the Super Bowl, in which two teams fight for the title of world champion. Except all of the teams involved come from America, of course, so it’s not much of a “world” championship. But it would be hard to argue that there’s a team better at the sport anywhere else in the world, although it would also be hard to argue that there’s much interest elsewhere in the world, when that audience is composed over 100 million people in America watching, and barely half that across the rest of the planet.

At the end of February, there’s an event that’s a different story. Typically getting a US audience in only the 30-40 million range (still enough to beat top rated shows like American Idol), but getting a worldwide audience higher than the shoulder-pad wearing ball-throwers, the Academy Awards have a much bigger reach, with audiences genuinely around the world tuning in. But sadly, there’s not much more chance of something non-American winning than there is at the Super Bowl.

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Oscars Countdown: Does Size Matter?

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Just two weeks to go until the annual climax to the Awards season, and we’re up to the BAFTAs this weekend. It’s easy to think of the Oscars as quite literally a marathon; thousands of runners, many of which are there to look stupid or make up the numbers, which are narrowed down as they can’t keep the pace, until there’s either a front-runner out on their own, slogging through the awards season like Paula Radcliffe, or there’s a couple which are competing in a nail biting finish right up to the line. At this point this year we have what has pretty much become a two horse race – it would seem that it’s either going to be The King’s Speech or The Social Network, unless something sneaks in and springs a Crash level of surprise at the last minute, like a charity runner in a comedy outfit beating out the professional athletes. There is one thing that stands out about both of these films, and indeed all but one of the Best Picture nominations this year – they’re all really, really short.

Well, not short in terms of the average film you see these days, but they are a lot shorter than the average Oscar winner of years gone by. Allow me to prove this with the use of a well placed graph.

The blue line indicates how long each Best Picture winner has been since the awards began in 1927. There’s a few where the lengths have varied over the years due to Director’s Cuts, studio interference and the like, but to be honest it doesn’t matter how many versions of Gone With The Wind they make, there’ll never be one short enough to remove the need to wear surgical stockings to avoid getting a DVT while watching it. The black line is the underlying trend, which as you can see got longer in the Fifties and then longer again through the Seventies and Eighties, but has been getting shorter since.

They key point in there has been the two hour mark (120 minutes if your mental arithmetic isn’t as sharp as you’d like). Only three winners of the biggest of the little gold men in the last two decades have been under that mark; they were The Silence Of The Lambs, Chicago and Crash, and on that basis not a suggestion that shorter films are a trend we should welcome. The midpoint average in those two decades is actually over two hours and ten minutes. But this year, we only have one film out of the ten which is over two hours:

To illustrate how short this year’s field are in comparison, looking at the bottom end, there have only ever been two winners shorter than 127 Hours (and they’re Annie Hall and Marty, in case you were wondering). Right, that’s the science bit out of the way, but what does it all mean? (Other than I spend more time coming up with pretty but pointless graphs than I really should, but of course you knew that already.) The key question is, of course, are these films getting shorter, and is it a trend we can expect to continue?

There was a view that Inception this year proved that audiences can cope with more demanding fare and that films don’t need to be dumbed down, but at the end of the year it’s proven to be the exception rather than the rule. What’s missing from many of this films that has characterised winners in the past is the level of sub-plots and secondary characterisation. Often sweeping historical epics will concern themselves with great expanses of the passage of time; although The King’s Speech nominally spans two decades, most of the drama is over two fairly short periods. That’s not to say this year’s films are poorer by any means, but they are somewhat leaner affairs than most winners from the past.

As to what’s driving that, then look no further than the box office. The Hurt Locker, last year’s winner, was the lowest in terms of box office performance for many years; films have largely been shunted into this two month “corridor” around December and January in order to be fresh in voters’ minds, but that means that there’s stern competition for screens, and for the studios to get the return that they perceive award nominations and the shiny statues themselves will bring in terms of extra cash to line their pockets. A film like Inception could play only three or four times a day at the box office due to its length, but the films at the other end of that spectrum above could get five or even six showings a day in, and films like The King’s Speech have been packing out most of their showings. That driver of box office is likely to keep lengths down; while we might get the occasional longer film, three hour epics in awards season will be very much the exception rather than the rule for as long as cinemas are in business.

As to what will win this year? The Social Network is two minutes longer than The King’s Speech, so if historical precedent means anything, it might just give it the edge, but that’s not even enough time to go out and buy extra popcorn, so it probably doesn’t mean very much in terms of choosing a winner from those two. But ultimately, this year’s nominees have proved one thing – it’s not how long it is, it’s what you do with it that counts.

Oscars Countdown: Do We Really Need Ten Best Picture Nominations?

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Yesterday the countdown began to the biggest night in movie self-aggrandisement of the year, the 83rd Academy Awards. The cycle of the modern era is thus: everyone from top print critics to plebs such as myself produces end of year lists, then spends the next couple of months being repeatedly and increasingly disappointed when their favourites are overlooked. I’ve become increasingly disenchanted with the Oscars for just that reason, but old age and boredom have led me to realise that while I may not enjoy them as much as I once did, I still have an opinion on them. In that respect they’re like the weather or The X Factor – you may not really enjoy them, but it’s good to have an opinion on them.

So between now and the big night in a little over a month, I will, whenever I get bored of talking about other things, give my view on some of the big issues surrounding the Oscars. The biggest talking point after the nominations is couldn’t they have found anyone more interesting than Mo’Nique and that old guy to announce them why your own personal favourite didn’t make the cut, of course. As much as I was pleasantly surprised that Dogtooth made it into Best Foreign Language or that The Illusionist made the final cut for Best Animated, my disappointment at such exclusions as Christopher Nolan for Best Director, Andrew Garfield for Best Supporting Actor, Tron: Legacy for Best Soundtrack and especially Lesley Manville for anything at all just increases my frustration with the whole process.

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