(First of two parts)
February 24 (Feb. 25 in Manila) has long been marked on the calendar of diligent moviegoers. It is that time of year again when, for half a day, the mutual-congratulations club that is Hollywood turns them beet-red or tickles them pink.
Seconds after the announcement last month of nominations for the 85th Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Awards, netizens were griping about snubs—major, minor and inconsequential.
In the media, it has since become a game of who/what could win vs who/what would win. But here, now, we cite only who and what we think should win, no matter how unlikely.
Nominated for Best Motion Picture are: “Amour” by Michael Haneke; “Lincoln,” Steven Spielberg; “Life of Pi,” Ang Lee; “Silver Linings Playbook,” David O. Russell; “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” Benh Zeitlin; “Les Misérables,” Tom Hooper; “Django Unchained,” Quentin Tarantino; “Argo,” Ben Affleck; “Zero Dark Thirty,” Kathryn Bigelow.
For Best Director, only the first five of the above are nominated. Snubbed were: Bigelow, Affleck, Tarantino; Paul Thomas Anderson for “The Master”; Wes Anderson, “Moonrise Kingdom”; Joe Wright, “Anna Karenina”; Juan Antonio Bayona, “The Impossible.” Any one of them could have replaced Zeitlin and Russel.
For Best Supporting Actress, Helen Hunt as a therapeutic sex surrogate in “The Sessions” is under the radar. She could be the dark horse, though.
Anne Hathaway did rigorous research for her role in “Les Misérables,” yet looking at those full lips and owlish eyes, we still see the Crown Princess of Genovia instead of the fallen woman Fantine. Having convinced most award-giving bodies, however, Hathaway is likely to win.
Sally Field in “Lincoln,” Amy Adams in “The Master,” and Jacki Weaver in “Silver Linings Playbook,” play proper housewives, all iron-willed (even manipulative) women standing behind their men. They delicately delineate the changing roles of women in the 1870s, 1950s and the present, respectively.
Field humanizes mad Mary Todd, a character often misunderstood in history. Her repartee with Tommy Lee Jones at the reception of the White House grand ball is a scene so precious, we’re defying convention and rooting for her.
Snubbed: Gina Gershon in “Killer Joe.”
For Best Supporting Actor, Alan Arkin in “Argo,” as a Hollywood producer who helps the CIA rescue American hostages in post-revolutionary Iran, is his reliable old self, but he hardly makes as deep a mark as he did in his wunderkind years (“Catch-22,” “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter”).
Philip Seymour Hoffman in “The Master,” as a guru of self-actualization, runs the gamut of performance from rollicking song-and-dance routine to steady, stolid monologue. This role is properly for Best Actor.
Tommy Lee Jones in “Lincoln,” as a scowling abolitionist with a dark secret, fluctuates between gloomy silence and rhetorical firework, thus deepening the character and intriguing viewers. Jones’ performance appears to be an audience favorite, so he’s likely to get the trophy.
Robert De Niro in “Silver Linings Playbook,” as a father who has to put up with a difficult son, delivers a controlled performance, yet you can sense the fire-breathing underneath. This is the first time in years that we’ve witnessed this American icon do real acting.
Christoph Waltz in “Django Unchained,” as a German dentist-turned-bounty hunter in the pre-Civil War South, portrays the character with as much irony as panache. He looks so cool and unflappable that, beside him, the other stars seem to be overacting. This is another role properly for Best Actor, so we’d be content if he’s declared Best Supporting Actor at least.
Snubbed: Tom Cruise in “Rock of Ages,” Leonardo DiCaprio in “Django Unchained,” Ezra Miller in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” Jason Clarke in “Zero Dark Thirty,” Scoot McNairy in “Killing Them Softly” and Matthew McConaughey in “Bernie.”
For Best Actress, Naomi Watts in “The Impossible,” as a mother on the brink of losing life and family in the wake of the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, delivers a very physical performance. Unable to move in the film’s second act, she nevertheless conveys terror, anxiety and desperation through her eyes—quite a feat.
Jennifer Lawrence in “Silver Linings Playbook,” as a damaged soul seeking reconnection with society, barges onto the scene like a goth apparition gradually opening up to the possibility of human connection. Here’s another contender who has won many of the awards, so it’s likely she’ll get the Oscar.
Quvenzhané Wallis in “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” as a wild child of the Louisiana bayou caught in a hurricane along with her community, is a fresh talent—but for Best Actress? All she does is flex her biceps, shriek in rage, shed tears on cue. That’s not what we’d call a performance, certainly not on the level of Jennifer Lawrence’s.
Academy members must have been quite taken by the feisty 6-year-old’s charisma (remember when they gave the trophy to Tatum O’Neal for “Paper Moon” in the ’70s). The tot is obviously talented, but still limited. Judging should be based on real acting, beyond cuteness.
Jessica Chastain in “Zero Dark Thirty,” as the CIA analyst who tracks down Osama bin Laden’s lair, looks frail and vulnerable, yet she’s as gung-ho as the Navy SEALs who catch up with the al-QaIda leader. Chastain says she was inspired for this role by Jodie Foster’s badass CIA operative in “The Silence of the Lambs,” which she saw with her grandpa when she was a child.
Chastain finely limns the character throughout one decade, from a squeamish ingénue to a cold-blooded murderer, until her humanity finally unravels. (That about explains the tearful finale.)
Emmanuelle Riva in “Amour,” as a woman in her 80s whose mind and body deteriorate after a series of strokes, is even frailer, more vulnerable, and quite defenseless. The first time we saw Riva, in “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” we were struck by her sensual, yet patrician face. Now the sensuality is gone, but the dignity of that countenance remains.
Only someone who has lived enough can deliver this kind of performance. Riva is a favorite of award-giving bodies this year, and she deserves it.
Snubbed: Marion Cotillard in “Rust and Bone,” Nicole Kidman in “The Paperboy,” and Meryl Streep in “Hope Springs.”
Is Streep really out of the running? How could they have overlooked her turn as a comedienne? With her, nearly every scene is priceless—not even triplets of a Jennifer Lawrence could have pulled that off. Watch Streep’s infectious reaction when the marriage counselor asks if she has had sexual fantasies (sex on a mountaintop, maybe?). We doubt if even Sally Field can top that.
For Best Actor, Bradley Cooper in “Silver Linings Playbook” has reinvented himself in the role of a bipolar man, in the process redeeming himself from “The Hangover” limbo. When news of his nomination came out, the initial reaction was similar to Jonah Hill’s last year, upon scoring a nod for “Moneyball.” The dramedy “Playbook” showcases Cooper’s emotional range as actor (why, the guy can even dance!). He could be a contender.
Hugh Jackman in “Les Misérables,” embodying Christian martyrdom as Jean Valjean, convinces with his physical transformation, serviceable voice and no-nonsense acting. But he has done better.
Denzel Washington in “Flight,” as a coke-snorting airline pilot plunged into reckless heroism during a crash, gives a moving performance as a man trapped in a moral quagmire. He also delivers an authentic portrayal of an alcoholic, with all the tics and incoherence.
Joaquin Phoenix in “The Master,” as a Navy vet drifting in post-war America seeking spiritual anchor, typically sketches a complex, unfathomable character. (Was he under the influence during the shoot?) He might have won this one, but having been quoted as saying the Oscars is “the stupidest thing in the world,” that would seem like a long shot now.
Daniel Day-Lewis in “Lincoln,” as America’s most beloved president, not only gets the looks, voice and gait of the man right; he also shows no arrogance about that achievement. His performance is grounded, he is just so natural, he lives the man. In other words, he is our man.
Snubbed: Anthony Hopkins in “Hitchcock,” McConaughey in “Killer Joe,” Jack Black in “Bernie,” Matthias Schoenaerts in “Rust and Bone,” John Hawkes in “The Sessions,” Tom Holland in “The Impossible” and Jean-Louis Trintignant in “Amour.”
Holland is the 14-year-old boy who stole the thunder from Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor in that horrifying movie.
Trintignant, famous for “A Man and a Woman,” “The Conformist” and “Z,” we saw a few months ago as a dashing soldier-chronicler in Gance’s “Austerlitz” (sequel to “Napoleon”). It’s quite a shock to see this icon of French cinema in such physical state in Haneke’s film. Nonetheless, his quiet presence dominates “Amour” and only the myopic wouldn’t see that restrained performance as Oscar-caliber.
Cartoons can no longer be taken lightly. The fact that, at one time, Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein declared Walt Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” as “the greatest film ever made,” should be enough validation of the animated movie’s present status.
Cartoons have attained such significant power through the years that, from time to time, Academy members can’t help but nominate them for Best Picture, although it seems wrong, simply because it’s a different category altogether.
Every year this children’s staple is getting more and more adult and cutting-edge. Consider last year’s big winner, “Rango,” a cartoon western referencing “Chinatown.”
For Best Animated Feature this year, “Paranorman,” about zombies and a witch’s curse, would be too scary even for prepubescent kids. Just as scary is the transformation of the Scottish queen into a ferocious bear in “Brave.”
Creepiest of all is “Hotel Transylvania,” which has been snubbed by the Academy. A cartoon about misunderstood monsters, it has managed to crib the love angle of the “Twilight” movies and an indelible image from “Nosferatu.” For an all-star cast of weirdos, none comes near.
Except maybe “Frankenweenie,” which centers on the death of a boy’s beloved pet (and we thought the death of Bambi’s mother was the ultimate in childhood trauma). As if its subject isn’t edgy enough, it is done in chilling black-and-white, its American suburbia imbued with a ghoulish air, and it is directed by Tim Burton, a filmmaker whose name is synonymous with “twisted.”
This is a virtual remake of “Frankenstein,” with sly nods to “Dracula,” “Godzilla,” “Gremlins,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Though in stop-motion animation, it can creep you out as much as any live-action monster movie. It is endearing, but it leaves a sourish aftertaste: Necrophilia triumphs.
Much as we love Burton’s craft, our heart goes to “Wreck-It Ralph,” which is more inventive and wildly imaginative. Set in the world of the video arcade populated by characters from games like Pac-Man, Street Fighter and Super Mario Bros., Rich Moore’s film has a visual intricacy that can rival that of the outlandish world of Miyazaki (Hayao, one of Japan’s greatest animation directors).
“Wreck-It Ralph” is about a bad guy who wants to do good, to get a medal for heroism, a villain who longs to be loved, to belong. It is edgy but with a lot of heart.
For Best Foreign-Language film, “Amour” has it in the bag.
Snubbed: “Holy Motors” by Leos Carax, “Rust and Bone” by Jacques Audiard, “Wu Xia” by Peter Chan, “Bronze Sparrow Terrace” by Lin Shan Zhao, “Caesar Must Die” by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani.
(Monday: Who really should say which are the best movies?)