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With Oscar nominations just days away, I must admit this is a weird year for me. First, I feel somewhat less engaged than normal. The earlier nominations (they are announced two weeks earlier than they used to be) mean that I’ve seen fewer of the contenders. Perhaps I’m paying a bit less attention. Maybe I haven’t found anything to champion. But this year it’s not for a lack of good movies but because many of the ones I liked are getting plenty of awards chatter.

But surely there will be a few things that would excite me on Thursday morning.

oblivion

1) Let Oblivion get nominated for something. In particular I have M83’s fantastic score in mind. The film’s end credit song, naturally called “Oblivion,” is eligible in the Best Original Song category and would be a good choice in a year of lackluster choices. A nod in the Visual Effects category would be well-deserved too. In other words, I’m hoping for an Original Score nod but would take the others as consolation prizes.

isaac llewyn davis2) I’m worried Inside Llewyn Davis is turning out to be the contender that will be just on the outside. If anything is going to get edged out in some big categories (Picture, Director, Actor, Original Screenplay), this seems to be the one. It’s not a movie I immediately loved, but it’s sticking to my bones and that’s usually a sign of a film that I grow to love. I hope Oscar Isaac sneaks into the Best Actor lineup.

louis dreyfus gandolfini enough said3) Some love for Enough Said would be wonderful. I was the Golden Grouch detractor on Nicole Holofcener’s last film, Please Give, but I was totally on board with this one. James Gandolfini has received due praise (though I can’t help but think his death is playing a role in that) but Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a revelation. It seems extremely doubtful that she’ll claim a nod but she’s at the top of my list so far. A Gandolfini Supporting Actor nomination or one for Holofcener’s Original Screenplay would be excellent.

gatsby lana4) I don’t think it’ll have much trouble getting them, but some craft nominations for The Great Gatsby would be nice to see. Production Design would be at the top of my list. Meanwhile, the film contributes my favorite of the Best Song contenders, Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful,” which has the added benefit of having a killer placement in the film. “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody” from – gasp! – Fergie would also be a decent choice.

 

 

broken circle breakdown5) It’s not exactly a fair wish as I haven’t seen the other films on the shortlist, but I’m hoping for a Best Foreign Language nomination for The Broken Circle Breakdown. It doesn’t always work, but the parts that do pack some of the most powerful punches in 2013 cinema.

So that’s my list. In two weeks when I’ve finally caught up with the likes of Fruitvale Station, Wolf of Wall Street, Her, and Nebraska I’ll probably have a lot more to add. I’ll look back at this prior version of myself who contentedly set his hopes low and pity him once I know better. But for now I’m an easy man to please.

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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

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 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.

Woohoo, made it through all of the big eight categories.  Not that I don’t love you, other categories.

VIRTUAL LOCK

  • Lincoln
  • Argo
  • Zero Dark Thirty

I can’t wait to see how the best picture nominations play out this year.  These three seem like pretty safe bets, but after that, a lot depends on the number of nominees we see.

GOOD BET

  • Silver Linings Playbook

There are certainly scenarios where Silver Linings Playbook only gets two nominations and misses here, especially if we only get five nominees.

LIKELY IN

  • Life of Pi

I dunno, Life of Pi has always been the favorite that looked shakiest to me, but everyone has been saying that Oscar folks love this movie.

ON THE BUBBLE

  • Django Unchained
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Moonrise Kingdom
  • Amour
  • The Master

Any or all of these films could get in.  Where the rest of these films may have trouble finding popular support, Django Unchained‘s problem may well be overcoming its populist tendencies.  I almost wonder if the glut of indieish films are hurting their cases by having to go against each other.  Beasts was an early indie darling, but Oscar buzz is really difficult to maintain, especially on a microbudget.  Many say Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson’s finest.  Is that enough to convince Oscar?  As I’ve mentioned, Haneke has his devoted followers, and each #1 votes is going to be precious this year.  I’ve repeated my The Master is losing ground mantra over and over.  But you know what?  Losing ground means it once had that ground in the first place, and ballots went out weeks ago.

DARK HORSES

  • Skyfall
  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
  • The Intouchables

My esteemed colleagues see a nomination for Skyfall.  I hope they are right.  I think.  I can build a case for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but it didn’t do nearly as well at the BAFTAs as that line of reasoning would have suggested.  Kris Tapley is touting The Intouchables and knows way more than me.  The screener went out early and it is a feel good movie beloved by audiences, so sure, it has a shot.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN CONSIDERED

  • The Dark Knight Rises
  • 21 Jump Street

 

Nominations are less than a day away! Time to put our forecasting mettle to the test and see if we can’t pick the nominees. Jared and I did all non-short categories and Brian joined us for the big six. I’ve highlighted in yellow where we differ.

Check back tomorrow to see how we did!

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Over the past two weeks we’ve been revealing our choices for most of the Oscar categories. Here is a handy recap of those picks! Refer to this page often during tonight’s telecast to see if you should be agreeing with the winners! (Hint: use the “John” column)

Adam Brian Jared John
Picture Hugo The Artist Midnight in Paris
Director Allen Scorsese Havanavicius Malick
Actress Mara Mara Williams Streep
Actor Dujardin Dujardin Dujardin Oldman
Supporting Actress Bejo Bejo Spencer Chastain
Supporting Actor Hill Nolte Branagh Plummer
Original Screenplay Midnight in Paris Margin Call The Artist Midnight in Paris
Adapted Screenplay Hugo The Descendants Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Art Direction Midnight in Paris Hugo Hugo Hugo
Cinematography The Tree of Life Hugo The Tree of Life The Tree of Life
Costume Anonymous Jane Eyre
Film Editing Hugo Moneyball The Descendants
Makeup Harry Potter The Iron Lady Harry Potter The Iron Lady
Score The Artist The Adventures of Tintin
Song The Muppets The Muppets The Muppets
Sound Editing Transformers The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Transformers Drive
Sound Mixing Transformers The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Transformers Transformers
Visual Effects Transformers Rise of the Planet of the Apes Harry Potter Transformers
Animated Short A Morning Stroll A Morning Stroll A Morning Stroll Wild Life
Live Action Short Time Freak Time Freak
Documentary Short Saving Face The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

None of the films nominated for Best Picture are even close to my Top 10, and some (I’m looking at you War Horse & Tree of Life) are some of the worst movies I’ve seen all year. Way to go Academy. Your complete inability to select enjoyable and well made movies has hit an all-time low.

My writeups, if you haven’t already gathered, rank  the nominees in reverse order of how I like them.  But here, as John mentioned, we’re ranking the best picture movies as if we were Oscar voters.

1. The Artist.  Yeah, picking this film is almost cliche at this point in awards season.  But that’s only because it is the best film of this lot by leaps and bounds.  The others really aren’t in the ballpark.  At this point I’ve waxed rhapsodic about so many aspects of the movie that really, all that’s left to say is that all these wonderful aspects of the film: writing, directing, acting, cinematography, just everything all combines together into one really great movie.

2. Midnight in Paris.  It is a sign of how poor an Oscar year it is that when I saw the film over the summer, I was wavering over whether I thought I’d give it Oscar consideration and now it is my second-favorite film of those nominated.  It is light, fun, and not particularly deep.

3. The Help.  It is a decent movie, and pretty much nothing like what people are projecting onto it.  Race issues get people riled up, and I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but if you can look past all that, you’ve got a fine movie.  Maybe a little bit bloated and unfocused at times, but it is funny, warm, and entertaining.  Not one of the nine best movies of the year, but certainly no outrage.

4. The Descendants.  And here’s the part of the list with films that make me go, “Eh.”  I currently have  this film as the 36th best movie of the year.  There are certainly plenty of good things about the movie, like George Clooney and Judy Greer and Matthew Lillard and Shailene Woodley constantly being in a bikini.  Each of us has voiced our problems with the plot, chiefly the underdeveloped plotline surrounding the land deal.

5. Moneyball.  As I’ve mentioned, great job figuring out how to turn the book into a movie, but they didn’t get quite all the way there.  Every single supporting character seemed underdeveloped and underutilized to me.  But hey, it is hard to be angry about a best picture-nominated film about the economics of baseball.

6. Everything Loud and Incredibly Close.  Another one of those issue movies where people make all sorts of outlandish claims about the film trying to “solve” some really huge issue and obviously failing to do so.  It is insane, to me, that anyone could think this film was about healing the wounds from 9/11.  Sure, clearly, the events form the backdrop here, but the movie is much smaller than that.  It is about a kid who lost his dad, isn’t particularly close to his mom, and is trying to figure out his world.

7. War Horse.  Not as bad as some people would have you believe, but hardly a great movie.  My biggest problem was that it was hard to get attached to any character, so while obviously it was sad when they died and happy when they lived, it wasn’t that sad or happy.

8. Hugo.  Just a bad movie and and a horrible movie-watching experience.  Sure, it is pretty and it is great that it references the birth of cinema.  But I dunno, I prefer my movies to have an interesting story and not be boring.

9. The Tree of Life.  Speaking of boring movies that don’t have a story!  Look, I understand if you want to make the argument that this film is high art.  I won’t even disagree.  But as a movie, it is horrendous.  One of the items on the film’s imdb trivia page states that in an Italian theater, two reels of the film were switched and nobody realized the mistake for an entire week.  If your film can be shown out of order for an entire week, there is something seriously, fatally, tragically wrong with it.  I’m not saying it is the worst movie I’ve ever seen in my life, but I’m also not saying I’ve ruled it out.

Unlike other categories where voters pick one nominee, in Best Picture they rank them 1-9. Therefore my pick the winners post will follow the same format.

1. Midnight in Paris. In a season filled with nostalgic pursuits, this is the only one that seriously worked for me. It’s just an absolute delight and I had so much fun watching it. It has an enjoyable, original story and fills it with interesting characters. They’re most characters you’re already familiar with, but the film’s takes on them and their interactions are a good time. It’s all just a whimsical fantasyland. And its simple if elegant message about the nature of the past and nostalgia hit home for me.

2. The Tree of Life. Ambitious, beautiful, moving, grand. I love its structure of wispy memories paired with gorgeous music. It’s a bizarre creature that washed over me and I loved it. Plus it’s the only nominee with dinosaurs.

3. The Help. Probably the film here that surprised me the most. It’s very entertaining and I found it really effectively evoked a time and place (which always helps get me through the times the schmaltz gets dialed up to eye-rolling level). Great performances as well.

4. The Descendants. I didn’t love it, but it has some undeniable beautiful, heartfelt sentiments and moments. Even as the stories never really came together in a satisfying manner – this is the only movie where I wanted to hear more about a perpetual trust! – a sense of sadness settled within me. I have a lot of goodwill for this film though I wanted it to be more.

5. The Artist. I just never took to this like everyone else seems to have. It’s fine enough, but there’s just not enough there. It gets some flak for being slight in that it’s thematically light, but its bigger sin is being narratively slight. Not enough happens and the thrill of the silent, black and white aesthetic wears off.

6. Moneyball. I can’t deny its technical proficiencies, but even after a second viewing it still feels like maybe a quarter of a story. I just think the filmmakers concentrated on parts of the Moneyball story that I find less interesting.

7. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. I never expected to like this and hell if it isn’t… adequate. It can be contrived and exasperating, but its unique perspective and occasional moments of earned emotion pull it through.

8. Hugo. It just didn’t do much for me. In fact, it mostly just bored me. I kept waiting for the magic to begin… then it ended. I guess my hard heart is a tough nut to crack.

9. War Horse. I’m going to ruin this movie for you: it’s just a damn horse. So when people do a bunch of stupid stuff for the main character they’re doing stupid stuff for a horse. And judging from the music you’d think the horse scores a winning touchdown every 20 minutes or so. Still, it has a few good WWI scenes.

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