Ladies and Gentlemen: Your SRC Oscar Picks

NEW SLAUGHTERLet’s put talk of sequestration, “modern sport rifles” and the thought of Sarah Palin and Wayne LaPierre giving speeches to conservatives trying to figure why they’re a laughing-stock in public opinion polls … and talk about movies for a moment.

True, the Oscars are at least as bad as the Grammys in terms of being a credible award for artistry, but they’re what everyone knows and talks about. So quickly, my very deep thoughts on the top categories.

BEST PICTURE:

Amour  — As a fan of director Michael Haneke, I was only slightly surprised at the coolness of this film. My wife was quite put off. Mr. Haneke is no one’s idea of a sentimental filmmaker so I went in intrigued at where he was going to take a story about an elderly couple experiencing first a devastating physical breakdown and then death. He did not go for easy tears. The film has received some of the best reviews of the year, but it falters in comparison to last year’s top critical pick, the Iranian film, “A Separation”. Moreover, “The White Ribbon” is still Haneke’s best.

Argo — As adroitly constructed as it is glib, “Argo” is much better than average Hollywood entertainment, but lacks any aspirations to “art”. Very nicely directed by Ben Affleck, who seems to have rubbed his directing colleagues wrong enough not to be nominated, but may have the last laugh since I suspect the film will win Best Picture.

Beasts of the Southern Wild — If metaphor is a criteria for artfulness, here’s the year’s champ. The film’s low-budget seems to have forced the filmmakers to play closer to magic than reality. No other of the nominated films cast quite as deep a spell on yours truly.

Django Unchained — Really? Best Picture? My taste for Quentin Tarantino is all about dialogue and performances. When the cartoon violence sets in it’s like being trapped in the room while some nerd plays “Call of Duty”. Obviously, Christopher Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio had a great time shooting this, but excuse me if I resist the notion there’s a higher point being made beyond, “watch this shit”.

Les Miserables — I’ll go only when Wayne LaPierre personally holds a “modern sport rifle” to my head.

Life of Pi — Very nicely done. Terrific 3D and propelled by a compelling philosophic quandary. I admire directors like Ang Lee who consciously attempt something very difficult. Why it doesn’t have a better chance of winning escapes me.

Lincoln — My teeth were gritted for the first ten minutes, as I braced myself for a stale lesson in eat-your-broccoli nobility. But Daniel Day-Lewis is so damned good in everything he does (christ, his Daniel Plainview in “There Will Be Blood” is an all-time classic) I was soon won over. Having just read Candice Millard’s “Destiny of the Republic”, about James Garfield 16 years later, I was impressed with the verisimilitude of the art direction — and disappointed Spielberg didn’t do more with it.

Silver Linings Playbook — Jennifer Lawrence is damned cute and Bradley Cooper holds up well opposite Robert DeNiro, but the dance-off ending is stock shtick and overall the word again is “glib”.

Zero Dark Thirty — Frankly, I never understood the excitement over “The Hurt Locker”. This is a much better, more sophisticated movie. The discussion over whether it suggests torture aided in the hunt for bin Laden will never be resolved, but it strikes me as honest to depict it, particularly in the context of the “professionalism” of the analysts and SEALs involved. It happened. All of that seemed real — and fits well with another book I read recently, “The Triple Agent”. But “artful”? Not really. More like a first-class documentary. But I loved her line to Leon Panetta — “I’m the motherfucker who found this place”.

BEST ACTOR

Bradley Cooper — Good work, kid. But not good enough.

Daniel Day-Lewis — Why anyone else bothers when he has a film out I don’t know.

Hugh Jackman — Apparently, a nice guy … .

Joaquin Phoenix — “The Master” deserved more consideration than it got. What it was about baffles people, but I was caught up in the spell of conflicting subjectivity it seemed to be playing with. As in: Who’s reality is this, at this moment? Phoenix’ was a very, very unusual character.

Denzel Washington — The guy is friggin’ movie star. It oozes out of him. Every flick of the eye and muted grunt works in service to the character. If it weren’t for that damned Day-Lewis … .

BEST ACTRESS

Jessica Chastain — She carried a lot of narrative weight in “Zero Dark Thirty” and delivered on pretty much every level. But as good as she was I don’t have a hard time imagining a dozen other actresses pulling off the same quality of work in the same role.

Jennifer Lawrence — As I say, damned cute, and with a base of gravity beneath the sass. Still, there was too much obvious easy formula to the role to suggest she had to dig deep for what we saw.

Emmanuelle Riva — The grand old French actress is actually secondary, in terms of the moral conflict of “Amour”, to her co-star, Jean-Louis Trintignant. She may win on a lifetime achievement vote.

Quvenzhane Wallis — The child star of “Beasts” is a remarkable character, a genuine bloom of imagination. But the film is (wisely) constructed for her to react more than lift and drive the story.

Naomi Watts — I like Watts a lot, (ever since “Mulholland Drive”), but her primary task here is to be pummeled by a tsunami and suffer in a hospital. The camera magic of the tsunami is what everyone will remember from “The Impossible”.

BEST DIRECTOR

Michael Haneke  — “Amour” — Typically idiosyncratic work from a guy who operates by his own rules of storytelling. But not quite “The White Ribbon”.

Benh Zeitlin — “Beasts … ” —  A very good case could be made for this guy, who without question made far, far more out of what he had than any of his much better financed competitors.

Ang Lee — “Life of Pi” — This would be my vote. He pulled off a beautiful piece of work on a supposedly unfilmmable book and no end of technical obstacles … and without sacrificing an “artful” challenge to the intellect.

Steven Spielberg — “Lincoln” — Thank you again, sir. Very solid work.

David O. Russell — “Silver Linings … ” — Good script. Good characters. Well-directed. But that’s where it ends.

22 thoughts on “Ladies and Gentlemen: Your SRC Oscar Picks

  1. Jeremy Powers says:

    I have not seen Argo, but Ben Affleck is the fourth worst actor in modern cinema, after just Adam Sandler, Pauly Shore and Duane Johnson and right before Arnold Schwarzenegger and Steven Segal. He makes Nicholas Cage look like DeNiro. So I am sitting around dumbfounded that Argo is even considered OK, let alone a great film. I haven’t seen it for the same reason I don’t see Adam Sandler films. (Gee, Ben Affleck is in it? I wonder if it will suck?) He almost singlehandedly ruined Good Will Hunting, Armageddon and Pearl Harbor. And that doesn’t even get into unintentionally riotous films such as Daredevil, Gigli and The Sum of All Fears or his early films, which all seemed to include the appropriate word “daze” in the title.

    Also, I read part of the book The Life of Pi and therefore will never see the film.

    I agree that depressing musicals based on French revolution are not my favorites, but compared to some of the films they have here it looks like Gone With the Wind by comparison.

    And Brian, tell me what you were smoking while watching Beasts of the Southern Wild that actually cast a spell.

    1. PM says:

      OK, Jeremy, i usually never care enough about movie posts to engage seriously, but Dogma is one of my all time favorites…..

        1. Minnesotan says:

          If Ben was here Jeremy, he’d tell ya to “Argo F yerself.” I thought Argo was decent. Walking out of the theater I wasn’t disappointed that I hadn’t just waited to Redbox it. That’s not exactly two thumbs up, but it’s a compliment.

          1. Jeremy Powers says:

            I’ve had several friends grinning greedily every time it wins another award because they know how little respect I have for Affleck and that, eventually, I will be eating some, even if not much, crow.

    2. Dennis Lang says:

      Ah, why so cynical Mr. Powers? Heck, I remember when nobody paid any attention to the Academy Awards. Somehow, like so much in our celebrity-driven lives they have managed to ascend to spectacle. Do we really care about a bunch of the beautiful well-to-do patting their well-to-do equals on the back for four hours preceded by weeks of media glad-handing and meaningless speculation? I guess we do or we wouldn’t be smothered with it. In truth some wonderful, deeply experienced films in the crop–stories masterfully told. And “Armageddon” and “Pearl Harbor” I recall as wasteful abominations with or without Ben Afleck.

      Heck, I’ll be watching the damn thing Sunday night.

      1. Jeremy Powers says:

        I come across more cynical than I really am because I have a great love of situational irony. Like Sen. Pete Domenici voting to impeach Bill Clinton for having an inappropriate affair and being from the party of “family values” after having sex with a much younger lobbyist who could use the secrecy of the child’s parentage to garner favors. You can’t make that shit up.

        I won’t watch the Academy Awards. Almost never have. Ever since Shakespeare in Love won best film, I’ve pretty much written them off as self promotion. To Hollywood, it really doesn’t matter who wins because the only real winner will be Hollywood. If I pay any attention it is to see if even saw any of the films that were nominated.

        And I not only find it to be just pure journalistic fluff, but even lazier than that, it is repetitive journalistic fluff – the same coverage of the same awards year after year. It’s worse than the stories about Super Bowl ads for predictability. You just wait until February and you know you have copy or b-roll for weeks without even having to leave the office.

        1. I was going to go off on a screed about exactly this — the mainstream media’s compulsion to play publicist for the greatest goddam publicity machine the world has ever known …Hollywood. The poor, poor cash-strapped PiPress back when I was there (and those were the paper’s salad days), could not print enough Oscar-related crap. “Research” (as cheap as they could buy it) “told” them it was what their “female readers” wanted to read, along with birthdays of local anchor celebrities.

          But as you can see, I restrained myself and did not go off on that tangent.

          But I hear what you’re saying.

          A better discussion is the politics of the Oscars that prevents it from actually awarding their prize to the “best” achievement in film art … which last year would have been either “The Tree of Life” or “A Separation”.

          But those would be too snoozy for a TV audience watching the second-most expensive set of commercials after the Super Bowl.

          1. Jeremy Powers says:

            I was always amazed at how much effort newspapers spent trying to attract people who would never read any newspaper as opposed to trying keep their current readers happy.

            1. This is eery. Were you in the room(s) for the long, anguished discussions of how to find resources and edit space to “properly” cover Hmong issues? It didn’t matter that there was no detectable Hmong readership … .

            2. Jeremy Powers says:

              No, but newspapers were so predictably stupid facing their own mortality. When I worked for the Des Moines Register, the editor managing our department counted bylines. You could write 12 inane stories from 12 little cities and you were a champ. Write one really good story from one town and you just weren’t working hard enough.

            3. We had the opposite problem. Because the management-union face-off the number of stories you wrote couldn’t be taken in to consideration. Which left only the subjective judgment of … someone … somewhere.

            4. Jeremy Powers says:

              I always figured it had to do with distrusting professionals. Publishers, who can’t edit, hire editors and then they don’t trust them to do a good job, etc. Same as we have teachers we don’t trust to teach. You try to quantify something that can only be qualified.

  2. Jeremy Powers says:

    By the way, I find Sarah Palin as a spokesperson for firearms to be hilarious. Any hunter who saw her on her own “reality” show hunting for elk will simultaneously laugh their ass off and worry for the future of hunting in America. She goes hunting in clothes suited more for matching your outdoorsy husband at the VFW than actually doing any real hunting. She is handed a rifle, which she has never held before, to shoot an elk at like 300 yards. The elk is sitting at the top of the ridge for an inordinate amount of time, giving the suggestion that it is tied there – because then both Palin and the cameraman can get a clear shot of it. She takes possession of the rifle and asks: “Does it kick?” A rifle for elk? Yes, it will kick. If it doesn’t kick, don’t use it for elk. Then she takes like four shots at this elk, without the elk moving a muscle. Also, there is no sign of the bullet hitting anything nearby, giving the viewer the impression that the bullet either dropped a 100 yards in front of the animal or went way over its head hurtling off to who knows where. Finally her father, who gave her the gun in the first place, takes it back and after two shots kills the elk.

    That’s Sarah Palin – firearm proponent.

    I bring this up here because, although the plot is different, it too could be called Les Miserables.

    And I am pretty sure they somehow got the elk to smoke a Thai stick.

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