Wednesday, February 22, 2012

This Year's Oscars, or, The Stiffs Our Dreams Are Made Of

I have only two sure-fire Oscar predictions: if ten people say the word “Hazanavicius,” it will be pronounced ten different ways, and by 1AM Monday morning we are all going to be sick to death of hearing the word “dreams” used to describe multi-million-dollar market-researched products of the global film-making entertainment complex. I can hear those presenters now, all of them repeating a version of the phrase, “Movies are where dreams come true,” to describe The Artist and Hugo and The Help (“A dream of tolerance and equality.”).  And of course, the irony is that this year’s nominated movies are only like dreams because, ten minutes after they’re over, you can’t even remember them.  (“The Descendants.  A dream of seven confrontations that never actually happen.”)

Actually this poster is more like 
"Look--George Clooney is totally 
checking out that teenager's ass."

So besides the dream thing, is there a pattern in this year's nine Best Picture nominees?  You bet there is.  We have a feel-good movie about 9/11 (Extremely Twee and Incredibly Mawkish), a feel-good movie about World War I (The War Horse, aka Schindler’s Stallion), a feel-good movie about institutionalized racism (The Help), a feel-good movie about nostalgia (Midnight in Paris), a feel-good movie about the birth of movies (Hugo), a feel-good movie about silent movies (The Artist), a feel-good movie about adultery, life support, and family legacies (The Descendants), a feel-good movie about baseball (Moneyball), and an actual honest-to-God film about  growing up in the 50’s and God’s answer to Job (Tree of Life).

When you look at it like that, it boils down to a race between two movies: the one about baseball, and the one where nobody talks.  If The Help had a couple of guys in it, it’d be in the running too, because everybody likes to feel good about racial equality.  But since it’s impossible for the Old White Male Majority of Academy voters to watch an all-female movie without (a) feeling threatened and (b) imagining the envy of their peers if they were seen in public wining and dining all the nubile young actresses in the film, it’s just (you should pardon the expression) a token nominee.

As for the other six movies?  Since most of the Academy voters are old enough to remember World War I, and still think they can get cast as a romantic lead opposite Marion Cotillard, on paper the race should be between War Horse and Midnight In Paris.  But Midnight In Paris has the temerity to presume that you’ve read a book in your life, which makes it a New York movie, so that’s out.  And War Horse was directed by Steven Spielberg (who isn’t even up for Best Director), which means that, from the opening credits, you know that the horse lives and the final shot is going to be a beautiful sunset. (If Spielberg directed King Lear, Cordelia would not only live, she would marry Edgar.  On a hill.  During a sunset.)

What else?  The Descendants?   The only thing slighter is  the chance of rain in the Sahara.  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close?  It’s the 9/11 version of Where The Wild Things Are: call it Where The Mourning Kids Are.  Hugo?   If Martin Scorsese couldn’t win for movies with plot and characters, how can he win for movies with effects and allegory?  (Although since this IS Hollywood, that’s exactly what he’ll win for, right?)  And Tree of Life is one of those no-middle-ground movies (a) you either despise or adore which will (b) be argued about 50 years from now.  In other words, an actual creative work of art that doesn’t pander to an audience, a category that includes a lot of other non-Oscar-winning classics, like, say, Goodfellas. (Sorry--couldn’t resist.)

All of which leaves us with the silent movie from the French team that brought you Those OSS-117 Movies, and The Soderbergh Movie That Never Was.  If it was me, I'd split the difference by giving Brad Pitt Best Actor and The Artist Best Movie.  But I don't think that's the way it's going to go down. There's a lot of buzz for George Clooney as Best Actor, which I don't understand. Mostly because I still don't understand why he was nominated.  I mean the movie was nice, but memorable?  Only the daughter was memorable, and she didn't get nominated.   Is Jean Dujardin memorable? Yes--he has a thousand watt smile and an expressive face.  Will that make him this year's Roberto Benigni?  Probably.  But like everything else this year, and maybe I've just got da blahs, no one really stands out. (I've seen 4 out of the 5 Best Actor performances; didn't see Demian Bichir.) So since it's not about who you want to win, it's about who you think will win, who will get the statue? Either Dujardin or Clooney.  Of the 4 I've seen, Pitt would be the wild card, and Gary Oldman the really wild card, even though he had about as many lines in his movie as Dujardin does in his.  

But trust me--The Artist is a lock to win for Best Picture.  Why?  Because whether anybody says it out loud or not (and nobody does), we are reliving The Depression, and The Artist is the modern equivalent of a Fred and Ginger movie.

As for the other acting awards?  I’d like to see Brian Cox and Vanessa Redgrave win for Supporting Actor & Actress in Coriolanus, and Tilda Swinton win Best Actress for We Need To Talk About Kevin.  But none of them were nominated.   I’d also like to see everybody who’s ever been in one of the Harry Potter movies win a special ensemble Oscar.  That includes the three leads, none of whom was ever arrested for anything in the course of the series, something which would have happened after the third film if they’d been American kids.  (Hell--if they'd been American?  They'd all have slept with Lindsay Lohan during Goblet of Fire.) 

Of the actual nominees, I’d like to see Christopher Plummer get Best Supporting Actor for Beginners (which should have been nominated for Best Picture) and Melissa McCarthy win Supporting Actress for Bridesmaids (ditto).  As usual, these categories will be the bellwethers for the bigger awards. If Max von Sydow wins Supporting Actor, it's a vote for silent movies (he doesn't have a line in the film).  If Jonah Hill wins, Moneyball may have an outside shot at Best Picture.  If Berenice Bejo wins Supporting Actress, it’s Artist all the way.  My gut says Supporting Actress will go to one of the two actresses nominated for The Help, which means the dark horse here is Jessica Chastain, because she’s The Real Deal and she’s one of The Stories Of The Year.  If she wins, it’ll be because she’s been consistently memorable in everything she’s done in the last seven months--during which time she’s worked with almost as many people as Max von Sydow has in his entire career.

Best Actress? On the surface, this is an easy choice, because only one of the films for which the actresses are nominated is a Feel Good Film. (There’s an essay about women and film in that statement; if I feel up to it, I may just attempt it.)  Given that criteria? Viola Davis should win. But the Academy loves women who suffer (and there's my essay), so Michelle Williams has a shot. (Plus she’s playing a real-life tortured movie star, something the Academy voters regularly go gaga for.)  But Glenn Close suffers in Albert Nobbs, so she has a shot. And Rooney Mara is playing the popular culture's Current Epitome of A Tortured Female, so theoretically, she has the best shot of all to win.  The only one who doesn’t have a chance is Meryl Streep, who is playing a woman nobody liked in a movie nobody saw, and is fast turning into a female cross between Paul Muni and Charlton Heston. I eagerly await her Mother Teresa, her Carol Channing, her Ann Richards, her Miss Marple, and her Margaret Mitchell.

Which leaves Best Director. Personally, I’d love to see that go to Scorsese or Terrence Malik, because Hugo was All Direction And Little Else, and because Tree Of Life is, as I mentioned, a creative work of art which nobody else on earth could have made in just this way except the person who did make it.  And I think Woody Allen has a shot, because of the nostalgia angle, and because all the old white male voters think they could get Lea Seydoux in a heartbeat. (Which actually accentuates the whole Woody Allen And Young Girls Thing, so there could be a backlash there.) But in the end, this is one of those categories where who I want to win, who I think should win, and who I think will probably win are three completely different people.  I want Terrence Malik to win, Martin Scorsese should win, but Michel Hazanavicius will probably win for The Artist.

Having said all that, what would make my Oscar Night special? (Besides, y’know, giving up celibacy for Lent with Sandra Bullock?)

One thing: Michael Shannon winning Best Actor for Take Shelter. Too bad he wasn't nominated.

The posters above, as well as a few others, can be found here.


Anonymous said...


And, having grown up 30 minutes from where "Tree of Life" was shot and no more than 10 years after it was set, I can say that, in addition to the spiritual shit, Malick got it EXACTLY right.

Anonymous said...

One more thing--in Nahum Tate's version of "Lear," which held the stage from 1681 till 1838, Edgar does marry Cordelia at the end. And they all live happily ever after. And, having seen it, I can say it's a pretty good show. Kind of an action/adventure take on Lear. Arnold would be good in the title role.