That ongoing rumble you hear throughout the movie world is not the thunder of war or uprising (as you might hear in, say, Argo, Les Misérables, Lincoln or Zero Dark Thirty). It’s the chatter of cinema fans going on about the nominations for the 85th Academy Awards, primarily lamenting that voters often replace courage with convenience. And while we prefer not to align ourselves with the oft-bitching mob, I have to agree that this year’s list of nominees is rife with ca-ca.
Not completely, however. As a film critic, I’m honored to see plenty of movies, belong to two whip-smart critics groups, and vote on each year’s best achievements. As such, I usually pore over and contemplate potential votes for weeks, and tend to look at the Oscar opportunities from that point of view. So, if you’re interested, here’s what this one critic thinks, as well as selections I made when asked.
:: The Ease of A Silver Lining
There are plenty of polar opinions about David O. Russell’s mental-illness romantic drama Silver Linings Playbook (no, Golden Globe dunces, it’s not a comedy). I’m in the middle. I generally enjoyed Silver Linings — far more than the haters — but I’m stunned by the constant, persistent attention paid to the film.
There’s only one reason all four featured players have been nominated for Oscars: It’s easy. Academy voters, especially in acting categories, love folks who’ve been recognized previously. It’s a safe vote that doesn’t require much work. That’s exactly how Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver hit enough ballots to be nominated — they have been there before, they’re respected actors, and lazy voters simply go with what they know. De Niro and Weaver’s Oscar nominations have extremely little to do with their acting in Silver Linings. And that’s wrong.
As for the two leads, Bradley Cooper is the only worthy selection here, in my opinion; he brings a clear, unique and consistent energy to his role, not seeming to care whether viewers are annoyed by his portrayal. (And he does a great job with some of the film’s crappier dialogue.) Jennifer Lawrence is strong, but the performance — and the character — are wholly predictable.
As for a Silver Linings Playbook Best Picture nomination? Holy crap, the final act hinges on the score of a dance contest. If there were a cheaper, more contrived plot point of 2012, I may not have seen it.
:: Four Score and a Dozen Nominations
With 12 Oscar nods, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln has a shot in just about every category. Some nominations are earned, a couple are just filler, and one is silly. Daniel Day-Lewis, an often astounding actor, is the one of the only performers in Lincoln to convey an even, honest tone, no small feat in Spielberg’s overly melodramatic effort. Sally Field, on the other hand, is a blueprint of overacting. While that may be appropriate for the film, it’s certainly not worth recognizing for an award. Oscar voters here made a convenient, eyes-closed pick.
:: Not Enough Doc Depth
For many years, those voting for the Best Documentary feature overlooked some outstanding films and excluded others due to asinine eligibility requirements. Their omissions are historic, including The Thin Blue Line and Hoop Dreams.
Well, it looks like the good old days may be back. No sign of The Imposter (my pick for 2012’s best film), This Is Not a Film, or Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry. Oh well. The pool was remarkably strong this year, but there are some important, engaging, incredibly well-made films missing.
:: A Female Farce
The 2013 Best Actress lineup is a circus. It’s not that the nominations aren’t deserved. It’s that there will be an enormous, meaningless amount of press stemming from youngest-ever nominee Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and oldest-ever nominee Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) being in the same category. This is red-carpet, Entertainment Tonight fodder that minimizes the value of the players’ performances, and diverts attention from the truth that Hollywood continues to lack meaty roles for women.
Speaking of the sparkly Wallis, a wonderfully cute little lady: Kids shouldn’t be nominated for Oscars. Period. They’re already placed in dubious situations by appearing in films and, while watching Beasts, I often wondered what it took to inspire a grade-schooler to act angry, frightened, painfully sad. I don’t care how many filmmakers swear they have an environment that embraces and protects kids — the youngsters are being asked to share fairly adult emotions they’re not ready to understand. And what happens on a set when daylight and budget are burning, and the pressure’s on? The Beasts filmmakers probably treated Quvenzhané like gold. But is an overwhelming award ceremony necessary? That nomination is really for us, not for this super-young talent.
:: Quick Picks
For your further laughing and debating pleasure, here’s how I would vote for selected Oscars — plus my picks for 2012.
:: Best Film Oscar Pick — Argo
Best of 2012 Votes — The Imposter; Oslo, August 31st; Argo
:: Best Actor Oscar Pick — Joaquin Phoenix
Best of 2012 Votes — Joaquin Phoenix; Denzel Washington; Anders Danielsen Lie (Oslo, August 31st)
:: Best Actress Oscar Pick — Emmanuelle Riva
Best of 2012 Votes — Judi Dench (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel); Emily Blunt (Your Sister’s Sister); Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks)
:: Best Director Oscar Pick — Michael Haneke
Best of 2012 Votes — Bart Layton (The Imposter); Joachim Trier (Oslo, August 31st); Jafar Panahi (This Is Not a Film)
:: Best Cinematography Oscar Pick — Skyfall
Best of 2012 Votes — Prometheus; Skyfall; Beasts of the Southern Wild
:: Best Original Screenplay Oscar Pick — Zero Dark Thirty
Best of 2012 Votes — Dark Horse; The Master; Zero Dark Thirty
:: Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar Pick — Argo
Best of 2012 Votes — Cloud Atlas; Oslo, August 31st; Argo