Category Archives: Who Should Win

Oscars 2013: Who Should Win

Best Picture: Django Unchained

I probably don’t need to bring this one up again. But this is my blog so back off! Anyway, Quentin Tarantino continues to push the form forward more and more as others try to resist change. More than anything, “Django” was the most interesting, and often the funniest, film of the year. By embracing inaccuracy, it provided a more accurate satire of backwards southern nobility than any serious historical film could ever dream up. The fact that “Django” both balanced a somber condemnation of slavery with farce on the level of “Blazing Saddles” is still a marvel to me. As the Academy voters grow younger and younger, one day they will embrace Tarantino for the master he is, and his films for the masterpieces they almost always are.

Best Director: Michael Haneke (Amour)

Maybe “Amour” went on a little too long for my taste, but I cannot overlook Haneke’s haunting work. Sometimes, the emotions behind “Amour” are too overwhelming for me to even think about. Haneke presented aging and old age in such a removed way that it actually draws us closer to the characters. By stepping back, all of the small details and actions are allowed to unfold.

Best Actor: Joaquin Phoneix (The Master)

Phoenix was the unsung hero of cinema in 2012. After his surreal performance art hoax that culminated in the documentary “I’m Not Here,” Phoenix shows why he is secretly one of the best actors working today, in a performance that could define his career. As self-destructive outsider Freddie Quell, Phoenix had to take on the task of both being the observer and the weirdest guy in the room. He roams around with slouched posture, almost resembling an alcoholic caveman. And in a film so dark and difficult to interpret, he provided some very overlooked comic relief. If you didn’t laugh at that fart, then you’re not human.

Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

As Tiffany, Jennifer Lawrence is masterful at controlling the character’s turbulent mood swings, and channeling all of the right emotion at the right time. That is why the most unforgettable scenes of this film, including one that takes place outside a movie theater on Halloween, and one in which Lawrence basically gets to dig in to Robert De Niro, revolve around her outstanding performance.

Best Supporting Actor: Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)

I was tempted to put Christoph Waltz here for his eloquence and being able to basically be a living embodiment of Tarantino dialogue. However, it wasn’t until I watched Robert De Niro’s return to form in “Silver Linings Playbook” that I realized how much I missed his presence on screen. Unlike his classic performances in “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull,” De Niro, while tough, actually provides some of the film’s most moving moments. While he manages to steal the spotlight from the two fantastic leads every time he asks that someone hold the remote, he never tries to dominate the screen. In that, he does what every supporting actor should. Only someone with as much experience and talent as De Niro could strike that perfect balance.

Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)

While I never reviewed, anyone who knows me knows that I wasn’t necessarily taken by “Les Miserables.” However, I have just as many good things to say about Hathaway’s performance as I do bad things to say about the film.* In just one scene, she combined acting and singing in a way I’ve never seen before. My biggest complaint about musicals is that big musical numbers can often distract from the emotional core of a scene. However, this was not the case for Hathaway’s big solo. After she finished singing “I Dreamed A Dream,” my only thought was, “Anne Hathaway just won the Oscar.” I stand by that thought.

Best Original Screenplay: Django Unchained

Yes, I’m giving out more “Django” love. Tarantino really does belong near the top of the greatest screenwriters of all time. Some would think that he would have never been able to top his early career Oscar win. However, he keeps getting more and more ambitious with every film. Besides twisting history, “Django Unchained” hits a perfect balance of hilarious absurdity and dead serious historical social commentary. Plus, now that Tarantino has figured out how to write for Christoph Waltz, he was able to create one of his best characters ever. Some scenes might feel like they go on for so long, but I always felt like I could keep watching and listening. Also, Quentin is a man so gifted and knowledgeable that he knows how to create violence that is sometimes silly and other times realistic (listen to his recent Fresh Air interview. He also talks about his mom dating Wilt Chamberlain. Seriously.).

Best Adapated Screenplay: Argo

I was tempted to give this one to “Silver Linings Playbook.” But as well written as that one is, I think it is overwhelmingly a triumph of acting. While “Argo” mostly could have done without the backstory of Mendez’s son (“I just wanna go home and read to my son!” should be a new movie trope), the rest of the film is a classic thriller. The Hollywood scenes are fun and self-referential, but the film also splits equal time with the seriousness of the hostage crisis. “Argo” serves as a study of the fascinating politics of both the U.S. government and the film industry. Mainly, “Argo” delivers the most memorable line of dialogue written in any film this year: “Argo f**k yourself.”

The Oscars: Who Should Win

Best Picture: War Horse 
Not because it feels like a Best Picture winner, because movies made solely for the purpose of winning Best Picture are just as bad as movies made solely for profit. “War Horse” simply struck a cord that no other movie this year did. Its combination of sight and sound is unparalleled; its story is the stuff that makes a classic possible. Few movies can come with a large set of flaws, yet still come out as my favorite movie of the year. Spielberg realizes, like few others do, the power of moments of pure cinema.

Best Director: Terrence Malick
If you put Terrence Malick’s name into just about any search engine, only one picture will consistently pop up of him.* In it, he looks more like a guy who has gone bird watching for two decades (which he actually did). Make no mistake, this is one of the greatest living directors. Part of the intrigue of a Terrence Malick movie has always been the director’s intensely private life. However, he always intended that so the viewer would focus on the movie itself, so that is exactly what we are going to do right now. I still don’t totally understand “The Tree of Life,” but it is the kind of movie that is intended to be as dumbfounding as life itself so often is. The movie brings a sense of wonder to the creation of the universe, and an intimacy in its portrayal of family. And of course, it looks stunning too; as if each frame is another painting.

Best Actor: George Clooney
I have always liked Clooney’s acting. However, he never really stuck out to me until recently. In “The Descendants,” he didn’t go through the physical change that he did in his Oscar winning turn in “Syriana,” but he discovered new emotional range as an actor. In “The Descendants,” he looked less like a movie star and more like an ordinary working family man who has been warn out by both. He continues to impress me with his wide range of performances, and he truly earns the comparisons he receives as a modern day Cary Grant. Like Grant, despite having a huge public persona to live up to, he would still do anything to make a role as funny or dramatic as possible.^

Best Actress: Rooney Mara
Nice girl Erica Albright took a turn for her role in “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.” She created both the strongest, and most vulnerable, character onscreen this year. Lisabeth Salander was already a popular character, but Mara cemented her as one of the great feminine heros of our time. She took a physical and emotional transformation that is nothing short of brave. Bravery is usually the last thing that comes to mind when I think of actors, but Mara truly understands what it means to embody a character, and take a walk in their shoes for a day.

Best Supporting Actor: Jonah Hill
Jonah Hill has been a favorite of mine since his brief scene-stealing performance in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” His comedic chops transferred over well this year in “Moneyball.” He gives such a great dramatic turn because, in a way, he still acted as if he was a comedy. Peter Brand might have just been a more grown up version of himself in “Superbad.” I hope Jonah Hill continues to take comedic roles, but his newfound dramatic talents are worth continuing to explore.

Best Supporting Actress: Melissa McCarthy
Maybe I’m biased because this is the only performance I’ve seen in this category. Screw that, Melissa McCarthy should win an Oscar. Megan may be too sexually overt and a little bit crazy, but its the confidence that McCarthy instills in her performance is what makes her such a funny and memorable character. She is not someone we ridicule for her antics, but rather someone we commend for being who she is. Many critics hailed “Bridesmaids” as the most groundbreaking thing for women since they gained the right to vote. That is a gross overstatement; but comedies that can’t figure out to make a good female character should just look right here.

Best Original Screenplay: Midnight in Paris
“Midnight in Paris” was not merely Woody Allen’s best movie in years, it was one of his best movies, period. I don’t normally believe in fate, but I believe this is the role that Owen Wilson was put on this Earth to play, because he delivered each line of brilliant dialogue with the same neurotic sarcasm that Allen would have, but with his own unique twist. The script also included a plot that broke the space time continuum, and so rightfully didn’t explain why or how this could happen. What “Midnight in Paris” realizes that few other movies do is that oftentimes the more you try and explain the unexplainable, the less sense it will make. Allen understands in this kind of movie that it is more important why the characters are there, not why it exists in the first place. Blending fantasy and reality has never been this funny.

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Descendants
I thought “The Descendants” was a tad overrated. A very good movie, but not the masterpiece many have hailed it as. Also, it will be hard for another Alexander Payne movie (yes, even “Sideways”) to hold a candle to “Election” in my eyes. Nonetheless, “The Descendants” had one of the year’s best written movies, and it certainly is the most mature of all of Payne’s works. It is just as good as any Coen Brothers movie in its close attention to the beauty and humor of regional colloquialisms. The poster image for this movie has been Clooney running down the street in nothing but boat shoes. But truly the most unforgettable image from this movie comes at the end, as Matt King and his two daughters sit on the couch and watch TV, just trying to be a normal family again. I can picture that scene being written out on a script so eloquently, and so quietly moving.

*Malick can also be seen in a brief cameo in “Badlands.”
^I would especially check out Grant’s performances in “North By Northwest” and “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

The Oscars: Who Should Win

In the coming weeks, you’ll find out who I think will be taking home the golden statues on February 27. But I would like to do something more important right now. Here now is who would be taking home all the Oscars if I could cast a ballot.

Best Picture: Black Swan

To some, “Black Swan” may seem like the most atypical Best Picture nomination out there. Yet, few other movies could fit the category so perfectly. After all, its story of being obsessed and enveloped into the process of making art mirrors the entire filmmaking process itself. The reason I really want “Black Swan” to win is that even three months after viewing it, I still have no idea what it is. And that makes it all the better. It’s exhilarating, weird, and sometimes even hard to watch and despite all that, it will never leave my head. It reminded me of watching something like “A Clockwork Orange” and “The Deer Hunter” for the first time: like those films, certain images from “Black Swan” will forever be engraved into my memory. It might be rare for us to ever see a movie about psychological deterioration this real, and this good, ever again.

Best Director: Darren Aronofsky

Because shouldn’t the Best Picture also have the best director? “Black Swan” represents a crossroads in Aronofsky’s career. It is a mixture of the distorted reality of “Pi” and “Requiem for a Dream” and the hyper-realism of “The Wrestler.” All of this perfectly formed a view of reality through a damaged psychological mind. Aronofsky is truly a genius at using the camera to put the audience into a certain state of mind and never lets them leave it, even after the end credits have rolled. He succeeds not only at creating a new world and a set of emotions, but letting the viewer live in them and be haunted by them. He may not win the Oscar this year, but if he continues to make movies as good as “Black Swan,” the trophy will one day soon be his.

Best Actor: James Franco/Colin Firth

This was a difficult one. Firth is the frontrunner here, and he has earned his praise by being able to bring so much compassion, warmth, and humor to what could’ve been a stale performance. He is also a year overd
e for the award (he should’ve won for “A Single Man”). Yet Firth’s brilliance this year did not stand as strong as James Franco’s riveting performance in “127 Hours.” Really, what other actor could pull off

a performance that involves them being stuck in a canyon, by themself, for 90 minutes? “127 Hours” was a one man show in the truest sense and if Franco had messed up this performance, this movie would never have worked. He didn’t and alas, “127 Hours” was more than just a great movie: it was a transformative, gut-wrenching experience. Mr. Franco, between earning all those PhDs please, don’t stop acting.

Best Actress: Natalie Portman

Sometimes, in order for an actor to truly show off their abilities, they must play that role
no one ever thought they could pull off, and then pull it off. That emotional girl from “Garden State” has transformed into a disturbed young woman, trying to break free from the chains holding her down. With this role, Portman proved herself an actress who will do literally anything to achieve perfection. Yes, that even includes brutalizing her own body. In the end, her eventual transformation and descent into madness doesn’t feel forced or over-the-top; it just feels so sad and real. Aronofsky made “Black Swan” a visual marvel, and Portman became the big, twisted heart in its center.
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale

Because who the hell else would I choose? Bale didn’t just steal every scene he was in in “The Fighter,” he makes every other character in the movie totally insignificant. Bale’s method acting is comparable to De Niro in his prime. Bale is so good that he is constantly trying to find new ways to act; as he acts with every inch of his body. Even when he isn’t front and center of ac certain scene, he still manages to steal it. For a character who suffers from a serious crack addiction, Bale brings an unexpected quality to the film, something missing from most films of this subject matter: joy. I could probably use this entire blog space to talk about Bale’s performance, but some things are better off left unsaid.

Best Supporting Actress: Hailee Steinfeld

You’d have to be a pretty talented fourteen-year-old to hold your own against the likes of Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, but Hailee Steinfeld managed to do it. Rather than being some annoying teenage girl, she was instead poised and wise, outshining all of her superiors. In just one role, she has proved herself mature enough to do anything, even firing a rifle. In a world where teen idols include Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus, Steinfeld is a nice breath of fresh air.

Best Original Screenplay: The Kids Are All Right

I desperately want to say that my choice is “Inception.” However, that would likely be just because I wish Christopher Nolan was nominated for Best Director. Also, “Black Swan” was criminally snubbed in this category. So instead, I’m going with that comedy I can’t get enough of: “The Kids Are All Right.” Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg’s screenplay found a sense of humor deriving from character, rather than gags and forgettable one-liners. The whole thing has a quality of honesty that is missing from most movies made nowadays. Most importantly, it handled its subject matter with such truth and delicacy. No message was being shoved down our throats, this was simply a movie about a lesbian couple, and a dysfunctional family. In order to make something acceptable, it is best to show how similar, rather than how different, it is from our regular lives.

Best Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network

It takes a lot to be compared to “Citizen Kane” without sounding hyperbolic.
Of course, Aaron Sorkin was able to somehow make this a reality. For

a film about a bunch of court cases, it has a quality of fast-paced humor and entertainment missing from most films based on true stories nowadays. Despite the fact that a lot of this story may be fictionalized, it still managed to capture a moment. That moment is the moment when the internet suddenly became the new driving force of our lives. And then in the end, it made Mark Zuckerberg both a raging anti-hero and a tragic figure, someone to admire and even pity at the same time. Aaron Sorkin, you are the glue that held this fine piece of filmmaking together.