Today is Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Best Picture Nominations
Amour: “Amour” is a French film written and directed by Michael Haneke, an Australian filmmaker. It tells the story of an elderly couple, Anne and Georges, played by Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant. Both are retired music teachers. One day, Anne has a stroke, and the couple’s love for each other is severely tested. Anne’s surgery goes horribly wrong and she is partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. The film follows Georges as he tries to take care of Anne, who refuses to go back to the hospital. “Amour” tells a heartbreaking and riveting story that will capture the full attention of any viewer.
Argo: “Argo” is a suspenseful thriller about a CIA agent’s unprecedented means of extracting a team of United States embassy workers from Iran. The movie stars Ben Affleck who plays Tony Mendez, a CIA service agent who is tasked with the seemingly impossible mission of safely transporting a group of captured embassy workers from a Canadian safehouse to the US. Instead of the tired methods of the past, Mendez attempts to rescue the captives by creating a fake movie as a facade for moving the citizens out of the foreign country. Even though many may know the end of the story, as the movie is based on a true story, “Argo” is sure to have you on the edge of your seat, begging to know the eventual fate of the american embassy members.
Beasts of the Southern Wild: “Beasts of the Southern Wild” tells the story of a group of people living in a remote community called “The Bathtub” in an estuary beyond the levees on the Louisiana coast. Six year old Hushpuppy, played by Quvenzhane Wallis, lives with her father, Wink, but when her father’s deteriorating health coincides with the coming of a giant storm, Huspuppy’s world starts to spiral out of control. Director Behn Zetlin skillfully blends themes of harsh reality with magical realism in a way that shouldn’t work but results in a triumphant masterpiece of determination and independence. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” brilliantly captures the essence of family in a surreal world that one could only imagine living in.
Django Unchained: In “Django Unchained,” a retired German dentist, Dr. King Schultz, played by Christopher Waltz, buys the freedom of the slave, Django (Jamie Foxx). Schultz trains Django in the art of bounty hunting, hoping to employ him as his deputy hunter. Django agrees to work for Schultz on the condition that he assists Django in freeing his wife from the ruthless plantation owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). In this absurdist creation by Quentin Tarantino, the tides are turned on the white plantation owners as they meet their fate at the hands of the unchained slave, Django.
Les Mis: In Tom Hooper’s update of the 1980’s musical based on the 1862 novel by Victor Hugo, the three hour long musical is brought to life on film. The story follows wrongfully incriminated Jean Valjean, played by Hugh Jackman, and his pursuit by the virtuous police officer Javert (Russell Crowe), beginning in 1815 and continuing into the French revolutionary period in 1832. Throughout Valjean’s life, he encounters a diverse cast of characters, from the seamstress turned prostitute Fantine, played by Anne Hathaway, to the child he adopts as his own, Cosette (Amanda Seyfried). As they all try to navigate the tumultuous time, they encounter death. tragedy and eventually, redemption.
Life of Pi: Based on Yann Martel’s best-selling novel, “Life of Pi” tells the story of Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma), the son of a zookeeper in India. His life is turned upside-down when his family decides to move to Canada, forcing him to leave India behind. After boarding a freighter with the zoo animals, a shipwreck occurs, and Pi finds himself stranded at sea on a lifeboat with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. As he struggles to survive in his very dangerous surroundings, Pi shows the importance of hope and faith. However, the ending is not what it seems, as the movie forces viewers to choose: reality or faith?
Lincoln: Set in the final days of the Civil War in 1865, “Lincoln” follows President Abraham Lincoln, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, as he tries to obtain passage through Congress for the Thirteenth Amendment, which would formally abolish slavery in the country. Though Lincoln had passed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, he was worried that the courts would strike it out once the war was over, and needed a concrete amendment to the constitution to prevent former slaves from being enslaved once again. As always is the case with politics, it is challenging for Lincoln to get support for the amendment, and so the plot follows him in trying to rack up the votes to support the amendment. With strong performances from Sally Fields, playing Mary Lincoln, and Tommy Lee Jones, playing Republican party founder Francis Preston Blair, “Lincoln” is a story whose moral is still relevant today: compromise is a method for a brighter future.
Silver Linings Playbook: After being released from a remote mental institution by his mother, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) tries to re-acclimate himself to a society that abandoned him following an intense expression of rage toward the man with whom his wife was having an affair. In his quest to maintain good fitness to impress the ex-wife he wants to win back, he runs into Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a mysterious girl with a complicated past. The two team up to participate in a dance competition and create a strong bond in the process. “Silver Linings Playbook” tells an age-old story of love and friendship, weaving into it the difficuluties of reaclimatizing to society and the rigidity of peoples’ expectations.
Zero Dark Thirty: After the devastation of 9/11, the CIA became entirely fixated on the war on terror in the Middle East, and disabling the terrorist group, al-Qaeda. Following a young but brilliant officer, Maya, played by Jessica Chastain, the movie dramatizes the search and capture of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. From commentary on torture methods used in the early days of the conflict to the ethical dilemmas and tragic losses associated with the CIA action, “Zero Dark Thirty” presents a compelling story about the nature of terrorism, the actions of a country and the place where humanity must exist in an ever changing ethical world.
Hugh Jackman – “Les Mis”: Bringing to life the stage character of the virtuous Jean Valjean, Hugh Jackman plays his part in complete sincerity. The task of playing a lead in this film, as all actors live recorded while filming (as opposed to singing the tracks in a recording studio and laying them down on top of the footage), was certainly daunting, but Jackman was up to the challenge. His extensive experience as both a stage and film actor was undoubtedly helpful, and while his voice may quiver at the near death of his son-in-law, his performance never wavers.
Joaquin Phoenix – “The Master”: In his role as a veteran of World War II, Joaquin Phoenix plays the misguided Freddie Quell, who falls into a dangerous bout of alcoholism. His addiction, though, leads him to stow away on a party boat, of which one man, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, is a passenger. This charismatic man introduces Freddie to The Cause, a quasi-religious movement that leads Freddie on the path of redemption to reconcile with his complicated past. Phoenix holds incredible control over his character, almost making the audience uncomfortable with his perpetual half grimace and continuously vulgar acts. The visceral attachment that the audience member creates with Phoenix while watching ‘The Master’ makes this movie shine among the rest as presenting one of the best performances of the year.
Denzel Washington – “Flight”: Playing the semi-heroic pilot Whip Whitaker, Denzel Washington once again shows us his prowess in acting. His emotional and moving performance gives him his sixth Academy Award nomination. Put through the stress of a National Transportation Safety Board investigation, he plays the role of a distressed alcoholic without flaw, expressing the enormity of his problem and its consequences. As usual, Washington plays an intricate role and brings out the subtle qualities of his character, placing him in the nominations for yet another Academy Award.
Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty: The ensemble of “Zero Dark Thirty” is one of the main reasons for its nomination as best picture; and, as the leader of the cast, Jessica Chastain, delivers one of the best performances of her career. As the CIA agent Maya, the hunger she holds for capturing bin Laden seeps through her skin, enveloping the audience in her quest to avenge those she’s lost in the hunt for the infamous terrorist. Watching Maya develop from an innocent recruit to a bloodthirsty hunter to a desperate risk taker is a journey that Chastain takes us on with incredible skill and finesse, making her craft seem almost effortless.
Jennifer Lawrence – “Silver Linings Playbook”: It should be hard to find charm in a woman who is initially presented as unstable and abrasive, but by the end of the movie the audience has found an abundance of empathy for Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Tiffany, in “Silver Linings Playbook.” In this story of love and loss, Lawrence shines as a beacon of skill and eloquence, helping lead the cast in its impressive tour de force. Her expert handling of the complex character that is Tiffany leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind that this nomination is well deserved.
Emmanuelle Riva – “Amour”: Giving a performance that is tragically beautiful and miraculously fantastic, Emmanuelle Riva proves that with age, comes wisdom in her role as Anne, a retired musician who suffers a devastating stroke. Because it is presented with such skill and accuracy, the eeriness as Anne sinks into delirium after her stroke is painful to watch.
Quvenzhane Wallis – “Beasts of the Southern Wild”: Quvenzhane Wallis’ performance in “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is nothing short of sensational. It’s not enough that she brings mature emotion and complexity to her character, but she does it at the young age of seven. Wallis is the youngest actress in the history of the Academy to be nominated for best actress, the supreme accolade for all Hollywood actresses. Her performance is not in any way a relative measurement based on her age, but rather, her prowess surpasses the abilities of actors many years her senior, making her nomination an obvious choice.
Naomi Watts – “The Impossible”: Playing the role of a injured and distressed mother in the middle of a natural disaster, Naomi Watts takes on the incredibly difficult and complex role of Maria Bennett. Set in Thailand during the December 26, 2004 tsunami, this story puts to the test the bonds between a family. Naomi rises to her role magnificently, putting on a heartfelt and moving performance.
Since there are only a limited number of spaces for nominations in each category for the Academy Awards, each year, movies, directors, screenplays, etc. are considered “snubbed” from the list, or left out when their spot is well deserved.
Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow – It’s always a bit strange when a strong nomination for Best Picture doesn’t also grab a nomination for Best Director, but it has happened before. That said, Bigelow’s direction of “Zero Dark Thirty” is nothing short of miraculous, professional, and if not deserving of winning an Academy Award, certainly deserving of a nomination.
Best Director: Ben Affleck – ‘‘Argo’’ seems to be in the same boat as “Zero Dark Thirty” with a nomination for Best Picture and a nomination for Best Director. With a win for Best Picture at the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards and for best direction at the Golden Globes, it’s odd that Affleck hasn’t even received a nod for best direction.
Best Director: Quentin Tarantino – Perhaps the decision to leave Tarantino from this category stems from the incredible amounts of controversy that “Django Unchained” has inspired. That said, for a movie that has garnered a nomination for Best Picture, and that won a nomination for Best Director in the Golden Globes, “Django Unchained” certainly deserves a nod for Best Director in the Academy Awards, especially when the job is as spectacular as Tarantino’s in “Django Unchained.”
Best Supporting Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio – Despite the fact that DiCaprio gets nominated for just about everything and wins almost nothing, he seems to have not even qualified for a best supporting actor nomination in his role as Calvin Candie in “Django Unchained.” Christoph Waltz got the nod, instead. However, DiCaprio received a nomination for the Golden Globes, so it’s a little strange that he’s been left out of the Oscar fun.
While this is a night to recognize the film industry’s best, there are typically a few shoutouts to musicians throughout the evening.
Two of the nominees for the Best Original Song category will be performing. Norah Jones will be performing “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” from Seth McFarlane’s Ted. Adele will perform “Skyfall,” the song she wrote for Sam Mendes’s movie of the same title.
Barbara Streisand will also take the stage, marking her first time singing on the show in 36 years.
Catherine Zeta-Jones will present a tribute to movie musicals.
Bradley Cooper – “Silver Linings Playbook”: In his role as Pat Solitano, recently released from a mental institution and diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Bradley Cooper effectively captures the audience’s heart, being a man whom they not only sympathize with, but root for. Cooper shows wide depth in the pace of his acting, as the film quickly moves from comedy to tragedy within minutes. As Solitano trains for a dance competition and begins to leave behind some of his struggles, his character becomes one the audience can’t help but wish only the best for, even though they are painfully aware of his shortcomings. This is perhaps Cooper’s best performance to date.
Daniel Day Lewis – “Lincoln”: As the most celebrated president in American history, Daniel Day-Lewis completely loses himself in this role. Known for his vigourous ‘method acting,’ Day-Lewis as Lincoln captures all of the nuance and mannerisms of the Civil War hero. Day-Lewis has said in interviews that his method acting extended even so far into texting his co-stars as Lincoln, and the dedication he gave to his role paid off. Beautifully portraying the complex ethical issues Lincoln had to face, at the helm of continuing or ending a way, passing a bill or letting it lie dormant until the next election, Day-Lewis deserves this nomination and all of the critical praise he has received. If he wins the award, he will be the first actor to ever win three awards in this category.
What Will Win vs. What Should Win
Nominees: Bradley Cooper – “Silver Linings Playbook,” Daniel Day Lewis – “Lincoln,” Hugh Jackman – “Les Mis,” Joaquin Phoenix – “The Master,” Denzel Washington – “Flight”
Will win: Daniel Day Lewis – “Lincoln”
Could win: Joaquin Phoenix – “The Master”
Should win: Daniel Day Lewis – “Lincoln”
In the past, the SAG Awards have generally been premonitions of the outcome of some of the categories in the Oscars. In this case, it’s extremely likely that Daniel Day Lewis, coming off his win at the SAGs, will snatch the award for best actor here, too. His flawless portrayal of Honest Abe beats all of the other performers in the category by a considerable amount. That said, Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of the misguided Freddie Quell stands out against the others as one of the most painfully gritty and thought-provoking performances of the year. In the end, though, Day Lewis deserves the award due to his performance and professional command of his role.
Nominees: Jessica Chastain – “Zero Dark Thirty,” Jennifer Lawrence – “Silver Linings Playbook,” Emmanuelle Riva – “Amour,” Quvenzhane Wallis – “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” Naomi Watts – “The Impossible”
Will win: Jennifer Lawrence – “Silver Linings Playbook”
Could win: Emmanuelle Riva – “Amour”
Should win: Quvenzhane Wallis – “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
This has been the year of “Silver Linings Playbook,” specifically one of the co-stars of the movie: Jennifer Lawrence. After claiming the Golden Globe’s award and the SAG Award for best actress, the next obvious step is for her to receive the highest accolade of her career, thus far. Lawrence’s portrayal of the insane but helplessly vulnerable Tiffany is nothing short of incredible, and it is an example of Lawrence’s versatility and prowess as an actress. However, few performances are as eerie and beautiful as Emmanuelle Riva’s in “Amour.” Her poise and elegance while maintaining the demeanour of a woman descending into madness is magnificent, and it is certainly deserving of acclaim. Quvenzhane Wallis’ portrayal of Hushpuppy in “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is simply magical and speaks to the fact that age in no way correlates directly with ability. Wallis leads the cast of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” with skill and makes it almost seem effortless to put on an Academy Award worthy performance.
Nominees: “Amour,” “Argo,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Django Unchained,” “Les Mis,” “Life of Pi,” “Lincoln,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Zero Dark Thirty.”
Will win: “Lincoln”
Could win: “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
Should win: “Zero Dark Thirty”
“Lincoln” seems like the obvious choice, having the biggest edge of the best director category. Only three films in Oscars history have won best picture without winning best director. That said, while “Lincoln” is considered most likely to win best director, Affleck’s “Argo” has been claiming the best direction in the past award ceremonies (Golden Globes, SAG Awards, Critic’s Choice and PGA’s), so it’s entirely possible for “Lincoln” could go down in history as the fourth film to win best picture without winning best director. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” certainly has a chance of snatching the award considering its outlandish qualities, which generally give any film an edge in the Academy. Originality is an admirable quality, and of all the nominees, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is by far the most original in terms of story and presentation. The competition for best picture, this year, is an extremely close race, which should see “Zero Dark Thirty” come out on top. Composed of action, suspense and overall incredible performances, ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is the best combination of cohesive story and wonderful acting.