The 85th Academy Awards will be broadcast worldwide on Sunday night. To get you ready, we decided to share some hopes, musings and predictions from the depths of our inbox. Steve Cimino: Good sir Andrew,
I wrote a column back in college about how the Academy Awards are growing increasingly outdated, and I think it's even more relevant today. With the rise of the Internet (so many film critics and top-10 lists to choose from) and numerous ways to consume cinema (Netflix, On Demand, digital downloads) we no longer need a collective body to tell us which major release has garnered the most recent steam among industry types.
That's not to say the Oscars don't matter; there's a certain amount of prestige (and financial rewards) that'll always be associated with Academy Award nominations, and it's one of the few major events (Super Bowl, Grammys, Emmys) that people are guaranteed to watch. Whether I like it or not, it ain't going away.
Luckily, this is an interesting year. I've seen every Best Picture nominee, and they're all solid at worst. Even more surprising, most of them have made a whole lot of money. Seven of the nine have taken in over $88 million; of the 2011 nominees, only The Help broke $82 million. It's always nice to see smart, critically acclaimed films make noise at the box office; in theory, it means we'll get more of them.
Of course, it's never that straightforward; what looks good on paper doesn't always come through in execution. Last year, we were cursed with nominees like Midnight in Paris, War Horse and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, big-name films with pre-release prestige that were rewarded despite falling well short of the hype (dear lord, I hated Midnight in Paris). But there aren't really any bad apples in this particular bunch; I'm not the world's biggest Life of Pi or Les Miserables fan, but that's kinda the price you pay to get Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild some much-deserved love.
Basically, this is a lovely, well-rounded crop of nominees. Hope swells in my heart; perhaps audiences and Academy types alike are paying a bit more attention.
What are you most excited to see on Sunday? Your love-child Argo taking home its nearly inevitable Best Picture statue?
Andrew Johnson: There's a lot to unpack here, and I don't want to get sidetracked into all matters 2011, so I'm just going to let that Midnight in Paris comment slide and press forward.
To answer your last question first, yes, I am quite excited to see what happens in the Best Picture category. For the first time in a few years, we've got some suspense. Argo is the presumptive favorite and has won a whole hecukva lot in the weeks leading up to the Academy Awards. I do think it's going to win the big prize. But the Academy is not always so predictable, and there is the whole Director-Picture precedent, which points to Lincoln or perhaps even Silver Linings Playbook scoring some sort of upset.
I'm heartened by the fact that almost all of the nominees feel deserving of Best Picture to some degree. Les Miserables and Life of Pi pretty clearly fall short of the other seven in my book, but I wouldn't be all that upset if any of those other seven won, despite my affinity for Argo. That tells me it was a great year in film. You pointed out the encouraging box office numbers. Well, it's nice to have films that feel worthy of such gaudy figures too.
For me at least, the Oscars have always been a pop culture pause moment -- freeze, look back on the year that was communally and revel in some great films -- and to actually be able to share those tremendous movies with a lot of people feels better than being one of the four people who sat through The Artist before it popped up in everyone's Netflix queue. I don't want to be some sort of film hipster, clutching to the movies I saw before they were popular, but that's kind of the way it's felt the last few years.
I saw Amour on Sunday night to complete my journey through all of this year's Best Picture nominees. Once I got over being completely devastated by my own mortality, I was buzzing. I've had to sit here the last few years and hear about how we live in a golden age of television -- how that medium has eclipsed film. To channel the immortal Lee Corso, not so fast, my friend. The Big Bang Theory is TV's top-rated show, meanwhile Amour, Argo, Django Unchained, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty are nominated for Oscars (and there were plenty of other movies that could have/should have made the cut).
Television is inherently self-concerned -- almost always fixated on moving the ball forward to next week and next season. Contrast that with a film like Amour, which is inherently self-contained. In two hours it can say more about life and death and the basic emotions that bind all of humanity together than 99.9 percent of everything ever shown on TV and then stick somewhere in your chest forever. What TV show can do that?
I guess this is an awfully roundabout way of saying I too am quite pleased with the year that was in film, and even if Sunday night is mostly a masturbatory Hollywood exercise, I'll take it as my chance to reflect.
What about the acting categories? I find these to be all over the map (Best Actor is a dull foregone conclusion, while Actress is wide open; Supporting Actor is deep, while Actress is painfully shallow).
SC: This was indeed a good year for movies, and those movies being properly recognized by organizations that hand out various shiny trophies. As you so aptly put it, almost everything feels "worthy." It can get a little dicey when the subjective is made made to feel objective ("these are the best movies") but I can't argue with much this time around.
As for the acting categories, I concur. Apologies to Bradley Cooper and Joaquin Phoenix; they both deserve heaping amounts of praise, but no one is going to top Daniel Day-Lewis.
Let's talk about Best Actress, though, which is indeed both wide and open. If DDL is going to rob the voters of their opportunity to christen Cooper a "real actor," logic seems to dictate that Jennifer Lawrence will get a statue that the two of them can kinda share. I didn't quite fall in love with Silver Linings Playbook, but that's not the fault of Lawrence and Cooper. They were outstanding.
But so was Jessica Chastain, and Emmanuelle Riva, and Quvenzhané Wallis. Minus Naomi Watts, who I think received a "thanks for playing" nomination, they're all legitimate contenders. Chastain will probably lose the "sexy up-and-comer" vote to Lawrence, but we know the Academy is not opposed to rewarding cute children or senior citizens. Smart money is on Lawrence, but I'd love to see a Riva upset. Amour forever.
I sorta believe the Supporting categories are in the bag, too. That "Robert De Niro hasn't won an Oscar in 23 years" commercial they're running got me thinking that it's time for Bobby to add one more to the resume. Alan Arkin won a few years ago, the Tommy Lee Jones buzz has died down a tad, and no one associated with The Master is winning a goddamn thing. If his recent filmography is any indication, this might've been the last "good" performance De Niro will ever give. Send him out with a nice standing ovation, even if we're really only saying "thanks for not phoning this one in."
And in the ladies' department, it's Anne Hathaway, Anne Hathaway, Anne Hathaway. That song of hers made me cry, and I'm not even a fan of singing and musicals; I can't imagine how many other hearts it's also melted. I'd bet my house on her, and I don't even own one.
AJ: I'm not so convinced the three other than Best Actor are so open and shut, though it's hard to argue with your logic in all three cases (particularly the Silver Linings Playbook consolation prize bit). I will say I'm definitively rooting against the non-DDL favorites you've identified. Lawrence was terrific, but to me Chastain gave an equivalent performance to Day-Lewis' Lincoln in Zero Dark Thirty, right down to the fact that she obscured a lot of other very recognizable actors alongside her.
I feel that De Niro should be punished for punting the last decade of his career; I also think Christoph Waltz was simply better in Django Unchained, so that dovetails nicely.
Finally, I think it'll be an abomination if Les Miz gets recognized for anything because it's just not a very good movie. Hathaway's turn seemed cynically devised to win her an Oscar -- so did the entire film, I suppose -- and so it's hard for me to accept her victory, even when I've been prepared for it for weeks. If you want to give Silver Linings a nod, how about Jacki Weaver in this category?
Let's go down ballot here. What other categories do you feel strongly about? How about the writing categories? Best Director? Best Animated Feature?
SC: I couldn't agree more on De Niro; I don't think he deserves it at all, I just think he'll win. As someone who sat through Righteous Kill and tried in vain not to hate it, I'm done with him. As far as I'm concerned, he died in a tragic submarine accident the day after Meet the Parents wrapped.
And now you're turning me into a Les Miz defender? Three enjoyable songs does not a good movie make; Hathaway and Hugh Jackman were locks for nominations from day one, and I thought Hathaway in particular brought the goods. I did love Weaver's constant offers of "crabby snacks and homemades" but I think she's the least likely of the Silver Linings foursome. And speaking of that foursome, why not a fivesome? No love for the Chris Tucker comeback? Maybe I'm just the world's biggest Rush Hour 2 fan but I thought he was quite wonderful.
Anyway, onto the writing. I'm a sucker for Wes Anderson and Moonrise Kingdom was relatively accessible, so I'm praying for a "sorry we didn't give you a Best Picture nomination" surprise victory. But the obvious answers seem to be Zero Dark Thirty and Argo; I feel like one always goes to the Best Picture winner and the other goes to the outlier that won't take home the big one but deserves some praise. I could also see a Beasts win, though, since I doubt it'll win any of the other categories it's nominated in. It's hard to tell what everyone is thinking when it comes to screenplay, but that means there's often an upset and it gives nerds like us something unexpected to cheer for.
As for Director? Spielberg. Almost as much of a lock as DDL and Hathaway, which should make Affleck and Argo a smidge nervous.
Finally, I'm crossing my fingers for Wreck-It Ralph in the animated category. Or hell, even ParaNorman. Pixar's had this one on lockdown for years, but Brave really wasn't that good. Meanwhile, both Ralph and Norman were great; enjoyably silly while offering something for daddy (or, in Ralph's case, 30ish former video gamers). It seems like the other animation houses are aiming higher these days, and they should be rewarded for it. Pixar deserves its reputation, but it would nice if that doesn't power its film to an undeserving award.
AJ: I must say I'm completely ambivalent about the writing nominees, save for Lincoln. The strength of that film, other than Daniel Day-Lewis, was Tony Kushner's writing. In fact, it was that symbiotic relationship between Day-Lewis and Kushner's script that pretty much exclusively were able to elevate it. The adapted screenplay nominees are otherwise pretty weak (Argo, Beasts, Silver Linings, Life of Pi), which mostly serves to embolden my preference.
It's hard to argue with Spielberg being a landslide winner, and I won't, but this category just feels all wrong. What is Ang Lee doing in this mix while Affleck, Bigelow and Tarantino are on the outside looking in? It just doesn't make sense. Michael Haneke's Amour is a piece of sheer brilliance and that would be my choice if I had a vote, but I don't and I'm glad for it. Picking Haneke without having to weigh Amour against Argo just doesn't feel right.
Finally, agreed on the anti-Brave tip. It was a fine film -- not Pixar's worst -- but it's a second-class citizen compared to ParaNorman, Frankenweenie and (I suppose) Wreck-It Ralph.
That's about that, I suppose. I just read that Russell Crowe will sing on Sunday night and I've already read too many things about films gaining momentum (must everything be a horse race, media of all kinds?), which I'm going to take as a sign that I should bury my head in the sand and far, far away from Oscar coverage for the next few days. We'll be back on Sunday night and Monday morning with more concrete thoughts on the actual proceedings at the 85th Academy Awards.