Having finally seen every major Oscar contender (hooray for Oscar screeners!) for the first time in years, I can now throw my proverbial hat into the imaginary ring and announce which films I would vote for – if a non-Academy member (you know, a peon!) like me actually had any say in the matter. (I don’t. Oh well.) These aren’t my guesses of who or what will win, but who and what should win, or at least who I’d give the Oscar to. My office Oscar pool ballot is a coalescence of gut feeling and what I think will happen more than what I hope will come to fruition – the following choices enact more than an iota of said hope while remaining a fantasy of “if only…” (Again, oh well.)
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
LIFE OF PI
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
ZERO DARK DIRTY
Of the nine nominees, I struggled between two – BEASTS and ARGO – as to which I would give my symbolic vote to. Finally, I went with which film I enjoyed the most over emotional heft. Every now and then a film comes along that haunts me with it’s beauty, originality, breathtaking simplicity. And every now and then, a child actor comes along, who’s never acted before, that stuns me. That great film is BEASTS… and that astonishing actress is named Quvenzhané Wallis (more on her later). Yet no other film thrilled me more than ARGO, which harkened back to the days of classic 1970s Hollywood political dramas (it even looks the part) – it’s a fantastic entertainment. While it took liberties with actual events – hey, it was “based” on a true story, and not a documentary – it was simultaneously intense, rousing and, surprisingly, very funny. And, thanks to the snubbed Ben Affleck, expertly crafted. So, by a very thin thread, I would have voted for ARGO.
Michael Haneke AMOUR
Ang Lee LIFE OF PI
David O Russell SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Steven Spielberg LINCOLN
Benh Zeitlin BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
I’m still not sure who I’d vote for here, though I would remove Russel’s name. I enjoyed SLP, but it’s a performance-driven movie, and it’s filled with some pretty terrific ones (having not read the book, I’m not sure if the contrived predictability is the fault of Russell, or if he was just manifesting it onto the screen). Ben Affleck’s snub in this category is already legendary (even risible conspiracy theories!) – every expert and non-expert has weighed in and countless words have been written, so I’ll not comment further other than to agree that he was, indeed, “robbed.” Zeitlin’s masterful BEASTS was a debut – hence the nod was the reward itself – and already he shows a craft that will thrill for years. Spielberg is still on top of his game, and while LIFE OF PI was far from perfect, it was still gorgeous to watch, and Ang Lee proves again his mastery. And it still stuns me that the same man who made the heinous FUNNY GAMES, and it’s equally odious American remake, was the same man who directed the great AMOUR.
Proverbial gun pointed to my head? I’d probably give the Oscar to Spielberg – LINCOLN was fascinating and Spielberg has proven he’s not lost his magic – he’s crafted what could’ve easily become a lethargic, mind-numbingly dull history lesson into a complex, absorbing human drama.
Bradley Cooper SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Daniel Day Lewis LINCOLN
Hugh Jackman LES MISERABLES
Joaquin Phoenix THE MASTER
Denzel Washington FLIGHT
In any other year, this probably would have been the battle of Cooper and Jackman. After two insultingly unfunny HANGOVER shit-fests and THE A-TEAM debacle, it was a revelation to learn that Cooper can actually – no, seriously – act! His multilayered portrayal of a man suffering from bi-polar disorder is infused with pathos and hope. Jackman’s Valjean is what Oscar dreams are made of – he’s a beloved actor, a consummate showman, and a beautiful man to behold – and despite his vocal tics, which didn’t help an already-hindered LES MIZ (read my less than enthusiastic review here), he’s a powerful force. But if there is one absolute at this year’s Academy Awards celebration, it’s that Lewis will win, and incontrovertibly deserves, the Oscar. Arguably the greatest actor alive (the man has never given a single sub-par performance), he already possesses (earned) two, and this will be his record-breaking third. His portrait of Lincoln is nothing short of transcendent.
Jessica Chastain ZERO DARK THIRTY
Jennifer Lawrence SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Emmauelle Riva AMOUR
Quvenzhane Wallis BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
Naomi Watts THE IMPOSSIBLE
Walking through the taut ZERO DARK THIRTY in stone-faced rigidity, I was surprised (but not really) that the omnipresent Chastain garnered her second Oscar nod. But despite that inclusion, this is probably the strongest acting category; the rest of the nominees are stellar. Wallis was 6 years old when BEASTS was filmed and at 9 became the youngest actress to ever be nominated as lead. Of course she won’t win, but what a rare feat of history for the Academy to recognize this profoundly moving film and the stentorian lil’ actress at the center and I would cheer if, by some miracle, her name is called. I will also applaud wildly if Watts wins for one of 2012s greatest films – her performance was miraculous. The real competition, though, is between the 86-year-old Riva (the oldest nominee in history) as a woman who suffered a stroke and is in the diminishing days of her life (her co-star, Jean-Louis Trintignant, as her husband and caretaker, was unjustly neglected this awards season), and Lawrence’s intricately balanced role as a woman living with the demons that haunt her reality, who falls in love with a man with his own ghosts. Both wondrous performances, but my vote would go to Riva. She’s sublime, masterful and heartbreaking – rarely has the sad degringolade of a person’s life been so shatteringly rendered on film.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Alan Arkin ARGO
Robert DeNiro SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Philip Seymore Hoffman THE MASTER
Tommy Lee Jones LINCOLN
Christoph Waltz DJANGO UNCHAINED
It’s a close – and still tough – call between Robert DeNiro and the great Tommy Lee Jones, who, as House abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, is absolutely brilliant in LINCOLN. Once the most vibrant, exhilarating actor alive, DeNiro has been coasting on his legend for two plus decades (see also Jack Nicholson) – his choices of roles have been (predominantly) dubious, with the performances to match, as he happily cashed his paychecks. But in SLP, the aesthetic of DeNiro is resurrected with humor, despair, indifference, sadness and finally joy. And for bringing that humanity back to us, I would vote for DeNiro. I think. Okay, sure. But by a very slim margin.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams THE MASTER
Sally Field LINCOLN
Anne Hathaway LES MISERABLES
Helen Hunt THE SESSIONS
Jacki Weaver SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Another 2013 Oscar axiom is that this is Anne Hathaway’s year. LES MIZ is wildly popular, and Hathaway’s won more than a few awards on the way to the Kodak theater. As Fantine, she was effective, exhibiting the desperation and piteousness of her distraught grisette. Despite winning the New York Film Critic’s award and the nomination, Field has been criticized and even mocked for her periodic histrionics. However, Field has always had a flair for melodrama – it won her two Best Actress Oscars already, thank you very much – and that trademark theatricality elevates the portrayal of Mary Todd-Lincoln’s bi-polarism to a more historical accuracy. Her dramaturgy was a feast. She would get my vote.
Other Nominees, Other Choices:
Original Screenplay: AMOUR
Adapted Screenplay: LINCOLN
Documentary: SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN
Song: SKYFALL by Adele
Original Score: LIFE OF PI
Visual Effects: LIFE OF PI
Animated Feature: WRECK-IT RALPH