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Here’s a quick round-up of what we think should win tonight. Follow along to see what Oscar gets right! (Hint: use the “John” column)

Jared John
Picture Argo Django Unchained
Director Spielberg Lee
Actress Lawrence Chastain
Actor Day-Lewis Day-Lewis
Supporting Actress Hathaway Hathaway
Supporting Actor Waltz Hoffman
Original Screenplay Flight Flight
Adapted Screenplay Argo Argo
Animated Feature Wreck-It Ralph Brave
Animated Short Paperman
Cinematography Lincoln Anna Karenina
Costume Mirror Mirror
Film Editing Argo
Makeup and Hairstyling Les Miserables
Production Design Anna Karenina
Score Life of Pi
Song Skyfall Skyfall
Sound Editing Django Unchained
Sound Mixing Les Miserables
Visual Effects Life of Pi

Click here to join the Oscars liveblog!

I’ve kind of run out of time here. Oh well. I won’t go into any reasoning. Just assume I’m right. If I had an Oscar ballot, here is what I’d submit (voters rank their choices 1-9):

django1. Django Unchained

2. Argo

3. Life of Pi

4. Zero Dark Thirty

5. Lincoln

6. Beasts of the Southern Wild

7. Les Miserables

8. Amour

9. Silver Linings Playbook

The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart (and I, at least, have impeccable taste), we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

The nominees are:

  • Michael Haneke, Amour
  • Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Ang Lee, Life of Pi
  • Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
  • David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Jared

I don’t get what people see in David O. Russell’s direction. I feel like the whole world has gone crazy. I mean, it wasn’t as bad here as in The Fighter, but that’s the lowest of bars. To his credit, he presumably had some role in coaxing great performances out of Lawrence and Cooper, and one of the first non-mailed in one from De Niro in ages. So there’s that.

There’s lots of stuff going on in Beasts of the Southern Wild. And it is technically pretty impressive. So props to Benh Zeitlin for that, but when a ninety minute movie feels like it is twice that long, I’m going to dock the director, even taking the script into consideration.

I found Amour mostly forgettable. It wasn’t quite as terrible as I was expecting, so tip of the hat to Michael Haneke for that. The film started out pretty strong. Opening up on the audience shot was fascinating. And I thought the scene with the running faucet was very well-executed.

Life of Pi has some of the smallest scenes of Oscar contenders (much of the film takes place on a lifeboat, after all) but also some of the largest (the shipwreck, that crazy island). Ang Lee superbly executes this wide range of cinematic effort. When a book that many said was unfilmable ends up looking this great, you have to applaud the work of the director.

spielbergLost in all the hubbub surrounding the omissions in this category is the fact that Steven Spielberg turns in another fantastic effort. He wrangles a massive cast of supporting characters while still always highlight the main one, creating a riveting movie out of a Congressional vote. I’m going through a number of scenes in my head at the moment, and they are all differently memorable and nearly perfectly shot.

Should have been here: I’d keep Spielberg. Ben Affleck, Argo and Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty, obviously. And then I’d throw in Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight Rises and Robert Zemeckis, Flight.

John

The more I think about Silver Linings Playbook the more I dislike it and it is Russell’s project through and through. The tone is especially off. Meanwhile, those who love Amour likely do so based heavily on Haneke’s direction. But I was underwhelmed for the same reason. For me, it’s just too sparse.

The other three movies have their directors’ fingerprints all over them. Isn’t the best adjective for Lincoln “Spielbergian?” Exquisite production elements, powerful John Williams score, and a lack of subtlety. Beasts of the Southern Wild and Life of Pi are more directors’ showcases. Zeitlin has such a neat vision for Beasts with the music, surrealism, and bayou shantytown grunge. It didn’t always work for me, but I love the vision and it probably doesn’t work at all without it. Indie film is full of gritty poverty realism and Zeitlin tries something with much more imagination.

LOP-485  Director Ang Lee on the set of Life of Pi.But Ang Lee is my winner. Life of Pi is all vision. Think of what goes into this film: spectacular visuals, spiritual and surreal elements, and long periods of time with one character alone at sea. This movie lives and dies on how it’s realized and Lee nails it.

Should have been here: Speaking of directorial showcases, how about Django Unchained? This is Tarantino through and through (and is also a better movie than all those that were nominated).

The nominees are:

  • Amour
  • Argo
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Django Unchained
  • Les Miserables
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln
  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • Zero Dark Thirty

A few days ago I was discussing the Oscars with some co-workers and we started talking about the Best Picture category.  As I ran through the nominees, we talked about which movies they’d seen (not many), what Amour was about (my description did not exactly inspire them to go out and see it), and whether or not the Academy had nominated Argo (my co-worker was, of course, thinking about Affleck’s snub for director).  The conversation served as a good reminder that it is important to keep the Oscar race in perspective, I think.  But also the weird duality between personal and public preference.  The fact that someone may have only seen one nominee and be passionately rooting for it isn’t wrong (well, OK, it kind of is).  And whether or not the Academy ends up on my favorite is completely irrelevant to how much I enjoyed it.

I’ve written about all of these movies at length the past few weeks, and I don’t really love repeating myself, so I’ll try to briefly recap my thoughts on the films as I step through them in order of my personal preference.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is shaping up to be my least favorite movie of the year.  It didn’t make any sense and wasn’t fun to watch.  In fact, it was unbearable to watch.  I’ve been working on understanding how and why people do like the film, especially in terms of differentiating it from both other arthouse fare as well as films with a more traditional narrative structure.  Still not there yet.

Les Miserables is shaping up to be my second least favorite movie of the year.  It was a very weird experience watching it in a packed theater.  A combination of that trainwreck feeling where I couldn’t look away from the atrocity and befuddlement at how people seemed so engrossed.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a director singlehandedly torpedo a movie the way that Hooper did here.  Kind of impressive, actually.  And I guess on some level I can appreciate that he was willing to take such a risk.  But that’s the thing about risks. Sometimes they don’t pay off.

Amour is a tough watch.  I’m sure it feels honest or true or however else people who like the movie would describe it.  I left the theater unconvinced that it was a story worth two hours of my time.  The comparison may not be entirely fair, but I think the opening montage  in Up is a tremendously more powerful and engaging way of exploring similar themes.

I wanted to love Silver Linings Playbook.  And I think there may be a great movie in there somewhere.  One where David O. Russell stays far far away.  The film is an inconsistent mishmash of ideas, themes, and characters hiding behind a Hollywood-friendly concept of mental illness.  Incredibly winning performances by Lawrence and Cooper save the film, and the film does improve significantly in the second half when Russell is more focused on the dance competition.

I liked Life of Pi way more than I was expecting.  But that might be because way more of the movie was more than just a guy in a boat with a tiger.  Because really, those scenes (along with the framing device) were the weak parts of the film.  When Lee and Magee got to explore bigger environs, they seemed to explode with creativity, and who knows, maybe it is because they felt so constrained by the smaller scenes.

There were four Best Picture movies I really enjoyed this year.  Which was a pleasant surprise.  Django Unchained was clever, funny, and bloody.  So everything I’d expect a Tarantino film to be.  As I’ve mentioned, I still think he needs an editor or a running time constraint or something.  Especially if it limits the homages and in-jokes and creates a more streamlined movie.

Lincoln is a solid movie.  Bestowed with a broad title, it features a rather focused story and rather sprawling cast of characters.  It boasts strong acting performances and a generally interesting, well-paced plot.  Spielberg and Kushner almost pull the film off flawlessly, but ultimately there are just too many characters and subplots to do so.

I’ll take the last 30-45 minutes of Zero Dark Thirty against 30-45 minutes from just about any other film this year.  Or any other year, really.  The raid is absolutely fantastic.  Some of the most thrilling, edge of my seat scenes I’ve ever seen.  Perhaps necessarily, though,  the first part of the movie doesn’t really hold a candle to the last part.

I’m not tagging along with the presumptive front-runner,you can go back and check my top fives, I’ve been touting Argo since I saw it.  It is extremely taut, which makes the laughs all the bigger.  It may not be the perfect thriller, but it is the closest to perfection we’ve seen in some time.  The climactic sequence is the only one from this year that can compare to Zero Dark Thirty’s raid.  But everything leading up to the daring escape was just a little bit more engrossing.  The bureaucracy was more captivating.  Everything surrounding building the fake film was fascinating.  And once Affleck shows up in Iran, everything gets incredibly tense.  I wouldn’t say I have Argo as a blowout over the three movies I have beneath it, but it is my clear favorite in this year’s crop of nominees.

The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart (and I, at least, have impeccable taste), we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

The nominees are:

  • Michael Haneke, Amour
  • Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
  • John Gatins, Flight
  • Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom
  • Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty

John

This is another tough category for me. It contains a number of films I admire but trying to pick the best writing achievement from them is a hard proposition.

Amour is at the bottom of the pile for me. For those that love the movie, what do they love? The story? The dialogue? The character arcs? No, it’s probably the performances, the shot choices, the pace, and Haneke’s visual style. So vote for him for Best Director.

The problem with Zero Dark Thirty is not torture, per se. All the political hand-wringing about whether it condones torture is overblown. I don’t think it has any duty to explicitly show the downsides of torture (though it is pretty explicit about its horrors). But I think it may have been a better movie if it had. I found the story to be distressingly linear. The key to finding Bin Laden gets discovered very early in the film and much of the rest of the story relentlessly follows that lead, overly simplifying a fascinatingly complex process. Yesterday, Jeff Wells published a response from someone connected to ZDT to yet another editorial about the film. He argues that the film does show the inefficiencies of torture and the years of false starts, but cites literally two lines of dialogue to back that up. I just think the film could have been richer; the film mostly left me with a desire to read a book on the subject to get a more complete view of it. One other script quibble I have is that the film diverts to show literally every major terror attack after 9/11, presumably to add some explosions to the film.

Django Unchained is my favorite film in this category. My favorite film nominated in any category, in fact. Tarantino has made an immensely entertaining film, which is a compliment coming from me as someone who has never fully been on the Tarantino bandwagon. But while I enjoyed the story and the dialogue, all the other elements are what make it so great. The shots, the music, the visual flourishes. There’s no doubt Tarantino “authored” this movie’s success, but in the sense that I’d vote for him for Best Director. (Plus the story tends to meander a bit. People say he needs an editor to cut down on bloated runtime but I think he needs some help tightening up the scripts as well.) I could say the similar things about Moonrise Kingdom. Interesting characters and story but non-script elements make it special.

John Gatins

John Gatins

This leaves Flight, which I think is the movie whose success is most fueled by its script. It takes a story about alcoholism in a creative and compelling direction. Whip Whitaker is a fantastic and complex character. The script also injects some levity into the story, keeping it from getting too bogged down in dreariness. Denzel Washington’s performance and a harrowingly-realized plane crash are other important elements, but a lot of the film’s success started on the page.

Still, if I’m being honest, I’m rooting for Django or Moonrise so that one of them can win something.

What should have been here? I really had high hopes for Looper and it’s a shame it didn’t make it.

Jared

I get on Wes Anderson’s case a lot and I don’t regret any of it. However, his script with Roman Coppola for Moonrise Kingdom does have a lot of sweet moments. The quirkiness gets in the way of everything, but underneath is a touching story of first love and adolescence and being an adult and lots more interesting stuff.

The events of Amour are…”mundane” might be the wrong word, but they are largely commonplace. Which isn’t necessarily an obstacle to making an engaging movie, but throughout Michael Haneke’s whole script I felt like I was watching someone’s home videos. I understand that’s an appealing quality for some people, but I didn’t see the point.

The next three are among my favorite original screenplays of the year. Mark Boal’s script is part procedural and part action thriller. Perhaps unsurprisingly I prefer the latter. The first part of the movie is less remarkable, but it slowly builds to an epic climax. Boal seems really in his element writing tense war action, and maybe a little less confident in the investigation side of things.

I still maintain that Quentin Tarantino would benefit from an editor of some sort to tighten up and slim down his films. But not too much, because there’s a lot of fantastic stuff in there. Tarantino has an absolutely wicked sense of comic relief, the scene with the hoods may be one of the funniest of the year. But like the gruesome shootout at the end (which may be one of the best showdowns of the year), I question how they fit into the movie as a whole.

Great characters start on the page

Great characters start on the page

I was absolutely thrilled to see John Gatins get a nomination here. I thought he had two major roadblocks in his way: the fantastic crash sequence and the stellar work of Denzel Washington. Both of which, of course, stem from the fantastic screenplay. The story is well-plotted and the main character is fascinating. From hotel bed of sin to plane crash to hospital to farm to hearing, the film is always riveting, exquisitely paced, and thought-provoking.

Should have been here: I’d keep Boal, Tarantino, and Gatins. And I’d throw in David Wain and Ken Marino, Wanderlust and Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, and Wellesley Wild, Ted.

The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart, we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

The nominees for Best Actress are:

  • Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
  • Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Naomi Watts, The Impossible

John

Whew, this is a tough category. It’s so tough that if I was a real voter I would consider not casting a ballot at all. My preferences between Riva, Chastain, and Lawrence are just that tight.

Riva plays a woman who has been partially paralyzed after a stroke. Her performance is naturally very physical and she puts that on display in a few particularly harrowing scenes, like when she’s shouting gibberish through half her mouth. Chastain is a study in resolve. She is commanding, direct, and, yes, a little cold. She’s also the one actress of these three that could be said to really dominate her movie, that her performance is a defining elements of the film.

It’s a function of the material she has to work with, but I occasionally had trouble believing the lines Lawrence was delivering. This was mostly the case when she was at either her most fierce or most vulnerable. To some extent I just don’t think the film utilizes her character well: I feel like she’s a character I want to see in a movie and I don’t know what the hell the other people are doing there. Still, it’s a good performance and except for those few quibbles she pulls the movie through some real rough spots. She’s almost a breath of fresh air when she comes on the screen, saving us from Bradley Cooper’s neurosis.

So who to choose? I’m not sure. My mind may change before the Oscar ceremony both for who

is most deserving and who I hope will win. I’ll admit I’m kind of rooting for Riva. But I will choose Jessica Chastain on merit.

Going into The Impossible knowing that Watts earned a nomination, I expected more from the role. Her struggles in the tsunami are terrifying but the final 2/3 of the movie finds her bedridden, injured and moaning. I feel like if this sort of thing appeals to you, you have Riva doing it to greater effect. And I certainly don’t begrudge Wallis’s nomination and she really carries her movie. Adages about child acting aside, I just found her the other nominees more compelling.

Jared

Quvenzhane Wallis is more anecdotal proof that child actors keep getting better and better.  I’m not sure I’d put her in my top 20, but part of that is the material and anyway I’m not going to say anything bad about someone whose age is in the single digits.

I liked The Impossible more than I was expecting, and some of that was definitely due to Naomi Watts.  Her problem here is mostly screen time.  I don’t think it would be category fraud to bump her down to supporting actress.  Because she doesn’t really have the material needed to compete here.

I suppose it is possible I’ve got a personal backlash against Amour going on, but I’m clearly missing something here.  Emmanuelle Riva was good, but if you want to give her a lifetime achievement award, fine,  then give her a lifetime achievement award.  Don’t overrate her performance.  She virtually disappears for a good chunk of the movie, leaving me wondering why Jean-Louis Trintignant wasn’t getting the awards attention.

Jessica Chastain is quickly rising up the list of actors or actresses I would cast in a movie if I had to pick a cast without knowing anything about the script.  The first third or so of the movie isn’t particularly strong, but Jessica Chastain a large part of the reason to stick through it.  The role isn’t really what jumps to mind when one thinks Oscar – there’s no big crying scene or wild emoting, which makes it all the more impressive Chastain got the nomination.

For me, though, Jennifer Lawrence is this year’s best actress.  Frankly, it is isn’t particularly close.  Saddled with a rather mediocre script, Lawrence lights up the screen, creating a vivid and interesting character.  She nearly singlehandedly turns Silver Linings Playbook into something watchable.  I firmly believe the awards love that the film and script are getting are ridiculous.  But I just as firmly believe none of that would be happening without Lawrence.  Honestly, I find it baffling that anyone could reach a different conclusion for this category.

Should have been here: My top five  goes Chastain, Lawrence, Jennifer Lawrence (again), The Hunger Games; Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea; Michelle Williams, Take This Waltz

The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart (and I, at least, have impeccable taste), we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

The nominees are:

  • Amy Adams, The Master
  • Sally Field, Lincoln
  • Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
  • Helen Hunt, The Sessions
  • Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

Jared

I’m a big fan of Amy Adams. Watching Junebug (and her performance in it) was one of the reasons I started down this Oscar-obsessive path. She’s pretty much always fantastic, and one of the reasons I suggest people check out the underrated Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. That all said, there’s absolutely no good reason she was nominated for her role here. Sure, it was darker than she usually plays, and she was good. But it kinda seems like she got the nom for jacking off Philip Seymour Hoffman, which is maybe not the best reason ever to nominate someone.

It was surprising to me that Jacki Weaver hadn’t been receiving more Oscar buzz for her role, given she was a recent Oscar nominee and lots of people love Silver Linings Playbook. She’s actually pretty good as a character who is pretty much the complete opposite of her Oscar-nominated character in Animal Kingdom. But I don’t really get it. Especially considering Ann Dowd was in the mix this year as another middle-aged woman who struggles to keep things together while making a lot of food. Weaver and Adams’s nomination kinda make it seem like the Academy needs to get out and see more movies. Which is bad, since it is sort of their job to do that.

You know, I don’t quite get the love this year for Sally Field. As I mentioned earlier, I thought Kushner’s script had a little difficulty fitting the Lincoln family into the cast of thousands. Her scene with Tommy Lee Jones in the receiving line was fun, sure. And she does some good work in a bedroom scene. But in my mind there’s just not enough there to merit a nomination.

John and I both had Helen Hunt as the runner-up in our Spirit Awards picks, and we talk about her performance a little bit there. I’m not really a fan of the use of “brave” to describe acting, and the fact that Hunt got naked doesn’t really affect my opinion here. But how well she used her nakedness while portraying a sex therapist does. Nudity in movies often serves as a distraction (good or bad), and while it serviced the plot here, the impressive part was Hunt jumping into the character, almost teaching the audience to be comfortable with skin as she taught Hawkes the same. She also gets credit for the emotional scenes at home and in the car, even if I’m not sure they really added to the film.

hathaway1

But, yeah, obviously it is Anne Hathaway in her Sinead O’Connor homage. I don’t really have anything new to the conversation here, so I’ll just say that I watched the pilot episode of Get Real, which starred Hathaway and Jesse Eisenberg, among others. It was actually pretty decent. And kind of a fascinating link from the television of the late 90s/early 2000s and the often hyper self-aware television of today.

Should have been here: Man, this is a really tough category. If you asked me right this second, I have Hunt and Hathaway in my top five, along with Samantha Barks, Les Miserables; Rosemarie DeWitt, Your Sister’s Sister; and Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. But a few seconds later I’d figure out a way to get Ann Dowd, Compliance; Emma Stone, The Amazing Spider-Man and/or Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect in there. And I’m leaving out a handful more performances I really want to mention. It was a great year for supporting actresses, if you are willing to think outside the box a little bit.

John

She really cleans up after she dies

She really cleans up after she dies

I’m a lemming and going with Anne Hathaway. She doesn’t have much screen time but she sure is memorable. She gets a little bit of derision since for “winning for one song,” but she does do at least a little more there. Not that it matters. Her “I Dreamed a Dream” is very powerful and instantly iconic.

Hunt is my second choice. The Sessions walks a fine line. It needs to be sympathetic to its subjects – it finds humor in the situation without ever mocking – but doesn’t want to stray into maudlin territory. The performance are a big reason why it succeeds.

Twice now in the short history of this site I’ve discussed that I like Amy Adams but that she was swept to an undeserved nomination as part of an acting showcase. Jared makes the same argument above because here she is again for a film that also landed nominations for two other actors. This time, though, I’m totally fine with it. Its hard to not be dominated by the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix in a film, but she manages to be memorable in her own right.

Finally, not to disparage their work, but Field and Weaver made very little impact on me.

Who should have been here? You have to think that Ann Dowd finished 6th or 7th in the voting for Compliance and she would have been a favorite for me in the category. Compliance is a film that requires all its characters to continually do stupid things at the behest of a prankster. Through Dowd’s character we can at least understand how a well-meaning person could be duped so much. At least she got our Independent Spirit vote. Jared says it was a good year for this category but I disagree. Even his outside of the box suggestions do very little for me.

The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart (and I, at least, have impeccable taste), we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

Best Actor in a Leading Role

The nominees are:

  • Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
  • Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
  • Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
  • Denzel WashingtonFlight

John

ddl2Yes, of course I’m going with Daniel Day-Lewis in this category. It’s one of those instantly classic performances that will be remembered for a long time.

But it’s still not an instant choice because there are two other really good nominees in this category. Phoenix is intense as hell, squirmy and angry. Washington turns in what I’d call a classic leading man performance. There’s not much in the way of showy acting in Flight but Washington totally carries the film with charisma to spare. He really nails his character’s charming yet dickish personality.

Cooper didn’t make much of an impression on me and I think Les Miserables actively sputters when Jackman is on screen. I know it’s a stylistic choice to give the singing a ragged quality, but Jackman’s gasping and over-emoting didn’t work for me and paled in comparison to his costars that took a more conventional approach to their singing. “Maybe the director should have worked harder to make sure his cast members took similar approaches to singing,” you might say. Yes. Yes he should have.

I would have dropped Cooper and Jackman for John Hawkes’s marvelous performance in The Sessions. I suspect the real Mark O’Brien would have felt very well-represented by the portrayal. Logan Lerman in The Perks of Being a Wallflower never really got the acclaim he deserved. Forget Cooper; Logan gives the mentally ill performance of the year! Finally, he may win in Supporting Actor, but Tommy Lee Jones really knocked my socks off in Hope Springs, pairing his trademark gruffness with a lot of vulnerability.

Jared

When I have Hugh Jackman in the cellar, you know it is a strong year for this category. I’ll probably never have a bad thing to say about Jackman (and I’m always reminded of SNL’s Best of Both Worlds sketch), I think he was a little bit let down by his director and the material here. The sing-talking was mostly distracting and a lot of the time he just didn’t seem to be in the same movie as everyone else. I think there’s a potential Les Miserables that would see me have Jackman as my favorite, but this wasn’t it.

phoenix poseIt is admittedly a little difficult to get past the sheer boredom induced by The Master. But I think Joaquin Phoenix helped create a very distinct character. I don’t know if this is going to sound insane or not, but I was most taken by a particular pose Phoenix struck throughout the movie. Hands on his waist, elbows out, almost chicken-like. It felt vaguely unnatural, but maybe since nothing else was going on in the movie, I noticed it over and over, and was impressed with how well Phoenix stuck with it (and other mannerisms) throughout the movie.

I say this as a very big fan of the guy, but doesn’t it seem like Bradley Cooper’s star power is outpacing the movies he’s starred in by a significant margin? He’s got The Hangover and its sequel, this one, and…what else? Limitless? You have to start counting He’s Just Not That Into You and Valentine’s Day, or, like The A-Team. Now, that’s not any sort of knock on his acting, a rewatch of Wet Hot American Summer and, say, The Midnight Meat Train will reveal a perhaps surprisingly impressive range. Anyway, to be more relevant here, this nomination is absolutely deserved. Cooper overcomes a subpar script and direction to deliver a refreshingly nuanced take on mental illness.

Flight is an underrated movie, and I think maybe as a result (along with the fact that there’s a clear front-runner in this category), Denzel Washington is getting lost in the shuffle a little bit. Which is ridiculous, because he’s Denzel. Like most actors, he’s more fun to watch when he’s playing someone who isn’t the ultimate do-gooder, and his character here is just fascinating. There’s a wide spectrum of ways of playing drunk, none of them necessarily wrong, but it is a lot more difficult to play a character going through an entire movie in an alcohol and narcotic infused haze of dependency. And Washington nails it.

ddl1I always love the stories of Daniel Day-Lewis so fully immersing himself into a character – texting like Lincoln, staying in character for the entire production and dearly hope the more ridiculous they are, the more true they are. To me, he’s a testament to what we can accomplish if we want something badly enough, including putting in the work. And for me, there’s not necessarily a value judgement there. His Lincoln is pitch perfect, of course. But when you think about what he sacrificed to prepare and stay in the character’s mindset, it is hard to say if it is was “worth” it.

At any rate, I think the world has pretty much acknowledged this race is and should be set, and everyone’s OK with that.

Should have been here: Along with Day-Lewis and Washignton, I have John Hawkes, The Sessions; Matthew McConaughey, Killer Joe, and Logan Lerman, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. With Cooper; Channing Tatum, Magic Mike; and Liam Neeson, The Grey on the outside.

The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart (and I, at least, have impeccable taste), we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

Best Original Song

The nominees are:

  • “Before My Time,” Chasing Ice (Scarlett Johansson)
  • “Everybody Needs a Best Friend,” Ted (Norah Jones)
  • “Pi’s Lullaby,” Life of Pi (Bombay Jayashri)
  • “Skyfall,” Skyfall (Adele)
  • “Suddenly,” Les Miserables (Hugh Jackman)

Jared

For all my hate of Les Miserables, there actually is some good (maybe even great) music in there. “Suddenly” is not that. There are a few exciting measures around the “Trusting me the way you do/I’m so afraid of failing you” bit, but the rest feels like a poor man’s imitation of a lesser Muppet song or something. John and I were talking about the problems with Jackman’s speak-singing, and I think some of those are manifested in the song, in that the music isn’t terribly interesting to begin with, and since Jackman isn’t going all out, the song ends up pretty boring.

Maybe it is because I first came across the song on YouTube, but “Before My Time” sounds exactly like it should be played over the end credits. Always gently moving forward, it presumably allows for some mild reflection as it provides the soundtrack for your exit. Somber and inoffensive, I’ll completely forget this song in 15 minutes.

So, my listens of “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” are probably colored by two other things I’ve been listening to lately. Norah Jones’s “Miriam” (thanks Ian!) is a murder ballad that, frankly, makes me terribly frightened of the chanteuse. But she’s so good on it, I keep wanting to hear a sinister undertone to this song. Which is on me, I know. And then yesterday I listened to Emmy Rossum’s new album of standards. Anyway, where I’m at is that “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” is a perfectly fine throwback to the olden days, and one of the reasons I’m cautiously optimistic about Seth MacFarlane hosting the show. The song is an earnest attempt at a standard, but I’d argue is hampered by its timidness. MacFarlane can be quite clever, but the lyrics lack a hook or spark that I heard in some of the stuff on Rossum’s album. Granted, it is a bit much to ask an Oscar nominee to be a classic, but the point still holds.

I have to admit that the first three or four or times I listened to “Pi’s Lullaby”, it felt inconsequential. But then something finally clicked. Especially once the main theme kicks in around a minute and a half into the song. I think the key is to think “lullaby”. Danna creates a dreamy, almost lush, sound that is light and effervescent, playful and calming.

adele

But obviously it was always going to be “Skyfall”. Obviously it sounds exactly like what you’d expect an Adele Bond theme song to sound like. But that’s OK, because I’d expect an Adele Bond theme to be amazing. You know, I’ve spent the past ten minutes trying to figure out how to reconcile this song with the rest of the Bond movie (which I’d argue save for the opening sequence, the plot point cribbed from The World is Not Enough, and maaybe the last five minutes, isn’t really a Bond film). I think it was too easy for this collaboration to happen, it would have been more difficult to come up with a different plan. And while everything about this is on the nose, again, that doesn’t make it bad.

John

I enjoy the Original Song category, but damned if it isn’t frustrating. Some years there’s a crappy crop of songs and the Academy dutifully nominates a crappy slate. Then other years there are a number of good and compelling songs… and the Academy nominates a bunch of crappy songs. At least this year they are nominating five unlike last year’s debacle. This was a decent year and if you made a playlist of the eligible tunes you’d be sure to find many you like. So it’s too bad this year’s list of nominated songs is so bland.

There’s a clear winner. Thankfully, it’s also a darn good song used to good effect in its film and not just the best of a weak crop. And that winner is “Skyfall.” Adele was made to sing a Bond song, don’t you think?

“Pi’s Lullaby” is the only other nominee I like and it’s sort of an unmemorable Indian chant tune. “Chasing Ice” and “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” are totally bland. “Suddenly” is not helped by Hugh Jackman’s heavily-emoted singing and it sounds pretty bad out of context. I might say maybe it would be better if it was recorded in studio, but it just isn’t a very good song.

So what should have been here? I don’t know how both of the folksy tunes from Brave, “Learn Me Right” (Mumford and Sons” and “Touch the Sky,” missed here. The latter is even part of a neat early scene in the film. For some hip hop, check out “100 Black Coffins” from Django Unchained. “He’s Everything” (Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah) from gospel choir movie Joyful Noise and “Let It Rain” (Badly Drawn Boy) from Being Flynn are two longshot favorites of mine.

Best Original Score

The nominees are:

  • Dario Marianelli, Anna Karenina
  • Alexandre Desplat, Argo
  • Mychael Danna, Life of Pi
  • John Williams, Lincoln
  • Thomas Newman, Skyfall

John

We have a nice slate of Original Score nominees and there isn’t an obvious winner. I’d say Anna Karenina and Life of Pi are the only two nominees whose scores truly caught my attention during the film. Joe Wright always lines up some interesting music for his films. Marianelli’s previous contribution to a Wright film in Atonement won him a well-deserved Oscar and check out last year’s Hanna for a pulsating score from the Chemical Brothers. The Anna Karenina score doesn’t have quite the gusto of Atonement, but it is a great complement to the film’s inventive scenes. Life of Pi works better in the film than on its own. Without the stunning visual displays it feels a bit incomplete but it is a vital part of the film as a whole.

Every year there always seems to be one understated nominee in this category and Argo fits the bill this year. Good music with interesting Middle Eastern twinges to some of the compositions, but not particularly memorable.

Finally, there are the brash nominees. Williams leaves no doubt that he is scoring a Spielberg film and sometimes Lincoln is suffocated in swells of music that hammer home every emotional beat. But the woodwind motifs make it feel like an instant classic (or is it so derivative of previous Williams compositions that it just feels like a classic?). Finally, Skyfall is in your face, loud, and thrilling. It’s probably the best of the bunch when listening to it on its own.

Mychael Danna

Mychael Danna

So which to choose? Is it better to lean towards the work that I simply like the best or is its use in the film most important? It’s a very close race for me between Life of Pi, Skyfall, and Lincoln. At any given point my mind may change, but for now I lean towards Life of Pi. It doesn’t quite hold up to the other two as standalone compositions, but it’s so successful in the context of the film and essential to the film.

Should have been here: Aside from Les Miserables, the only soundtrack that has received numerous replays from me this year is Brave with its Scottish folk compositions. It can be overbearing, but the music in Cloud Atlas sometimes feels like a separate character while the pulsing music from Beasts of the Southern Wild perfectly punctuate a few great scenes, particularly at the end. And I’m not sure if it was eligible, but Johnny Greenwood gives Paul Thomas Anderson another brilliant, off-kilter composition for The Master.

Best Sound Editing

The nominees are:

  • Arog
  • Django Unchained
  • Life of Pi
  • Skyfall
  • Zero Dark Thirty

Best Sound Mixing

The nominees are:

  • Argo
  • Les Miserables
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln
  • Skyfall

John

I’m no expert on the subject, but I usually have some sort of opinion on the sound categories. But I look at these nominees and I’ve got nothing. The mixture of Western and blacksploitation styles in Django Unchained gets my vote for Sound Editing. That film wasn’t nominated in Mixing, so I’ll switch allegiance to Les Miserables. I didn’t think the live singing always worked as a stylistic choice, but it did always feel realistic and gave the mixers an extra challenge to properly balance the vocals, backing music, and effects. Plus bonus points for the extra-loud, extra-gross sound of Jalvert’s body slamming into the stones below while committing suicide!

 

The Impossible: Not nominated but memorable

The Impossible: Not nominated but memorable

Last year I made a comment that action movies do not have realistic sounds and compared the digital clangs in Transformers to the terrifying noises produced by tsunami footage found online and in last year’s Documentary Short nominee The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom. I said an action movie should try some more realistic sounds and one actually did this year, with a tsunami to boot! The Impossible‘s tsunami scenes expertly use sound to terrify the audience. The relentless pounding of the current displays the awesome power of the sea. The groans, cracks, and crunches of debris feel deadly and not just digital creations. Then the film does all the above while underwater to bring home the utter chaos of it all. This is immersive, thrilling, and terrifying work.

February 2013
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