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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.