Academy Awards 2013 Picks

So the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has once again chosen nominees for their 85th ceremony, and though there are typical exclusions and baffling acknowledgements, I must say that this year has been a better year than most in regards to the overall board. So here are my personal picks were I able to vote for the categories myself. I have not listed categories in which I have seen no nominees, and in some cases, I am only given one choice. Nevertheless, here are my personal picks.

PICTURE

WILL WIN – Argo

SHOULD WIN – Lincoln

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Though I am likely in the minority, it is my opinion that Steven Spielberg’s long awaited political epic ranks as a top five film from his oeuvre. When over seventy percent of a film involves people talking politics indoors, it is no small feat to make such a film engaging, and every individual involved with Lincoln makes it a masterpiece of backdoor political cinema. The ensemble in this film, not limited to Daniel Day-Lewis (who I’ll get to later), comprises Spielberg’s strongest to date, which is really saying something. Above all, the thematic issues of the film appear to distinguish between right and wrong, but the journey to true justice is not easily traveled, especially for the President, whose burden of the office has rarely been so acutely felt.

DIRECTOR

WILL WIN – Ang Lee – Life of Pi

SHOULD WIN – Steven Spielberg – Lincoln

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As with Schindler’s List and Munich before it, a primary reason for why Lincoln is one of Steven Spielberg’s strongest films is due to the fact that it features less of his cinematic signature. This is not to discount the redeemable qualities that make the Beard’s work so recognizable, but rather, to applaud the man for stepping out of his comfort zone. When he does, the results can go either way, but in this case, they are exemplary. Instead of opting for an elaborate visual style or beating the theme to death, Spielberg retracts, allowing the critical narrative elements to speak for themselves. Even with this ostensible directorial withdrawal, Spielberg remains in full command of this vessel, recognizing that for all its austere purpose, the political process is a vital (and even funny) business, and completely realizing the most revered of Presidents as an admirably imperfect human being.

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

WILL and SHOULD WIN – Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln

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Already a titan among cinema actors, Daniel Day-Lewis has supplied audiences with several iconic characters, but Lincoln may contain his best performance. It is a matter of preference, to be sure, but Day-Lewis’ realization of the 16th President of the United States is, in my opinion, his most complete portrayal to date. To take on a man whose face is literally carved into the side of a mountain is a massive feat, and Day-Lewis pulls it off flawlessly. Yes, he realizes the man as an emblem of steady leadership and conviction in tempestuous times and he gives him the folksy offhanded humor to bring him down to earth. More importantly, despite Lincoln’s greatness as a leader, he was a deeply flawed husband and father, and the family scenes that Day-Lewis shares with Sally Field and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are the ones that truly illuminate the seemingly out of reach human behind the monuments.

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

WILL WIN – Emmanuelle Riva – Amour

SHOULD WIN – Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook

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I have seen less than half of the performances nominated this year for Actress in Leading Role, yet I get the feeling that even if I had witnessed them all, the unapologetic performance from Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook might still be my favorite. A force of nature for having a true industry presence for only three years, Lawrence’s portrayal in Silver Linings Playbook is a pillar of resolve shielding a fragile young woman. As Tiffany, a terribly young widow, Lawrence could have certainly played for sympathy based upon her character’s story. Thankfully, none of that easy manipulation is there, as Tiffany gradually makes clear that many of her internal bruises are self inflicted. It’s a smart performance from Lawrence, who ensures with this role that her talent is only beginning to blossom.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

WILL WIN – Robert DeNiro – Silver Linings Playbook

SHOULD WIN – Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master

supporting actor

As the exuberant, calculating yang to Joaquin Phoenix’s withdrawn, disturbed ying, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd in The Master stands head and shoulders above all other supporting performances of the year. Displaying a theatrical charisma of Wellesian proportions, Hoffman’s Dodd is very much a co-lead in The Master, naturally giving him an edge in screen time over the other nominees. The leader of a following known as The Cause, Dodd exploits his force of personality in swaying many into his line of thinking. For all his show stopping moments of deluded grandeur, however, when Dodd is confronted personally as to the legitimacy of his teachings, he lashes out violently. Hoffman, who has been in all but one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, arguably gives his very best performance in The Mastershowcasing a man who for all of his devotions to his followers, cannot help but realize deep down that he may be living a lie.

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE 

WILL WIN – Anne Hathaway – Les Miserables

SHOULD WIN – Amy Adams – The Master

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“Behind every great man, there is a great woman,” is an age old phrase, in which the word “great” could be revised to “manipulative” for the purposes of The Master. Indeed, as with all of my picks with the nominated performances this year, the ones that stand out most are those in which the character hides behind a public mask in order to conceal their private persona, and of no performance in 2012 is this more true than of Amy Adams, already a four time nominee. As the devoted wife of Lancaster Dodd in The Master, her Peggy Dodd acts the part of submissive wife when seen with her husband, but behind closed doors, she decisively wears the pants of the relationship. One scene portrays her as scolding Dodd, or is she actually dictating as he punches away furiously on a typewriter? By the film’s conclusion, Adams performance, is as ambiguously memorable as her male co-stars.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

WILL WIN – Argo

SHOULD WIN – Lincoln

“It was right after the revolution, right after peace had been concluded. And Ethan Allen went to London to help our new country conduct its business with the king. The English sneered at how rough we are and rude and simple-minded and on like that, everywhere he went. Til one day he was invited to the townhouse of a great English lord. Dinner was served, beverages imbibed, time passed as happens and Mr. Allen found he needed the privy. He was grateful to be directed to this. Relieved, you might say. Mr. Allen discovered on entering the water closet that the only decoration therein was a portrait of George Washington. Ethan Allen done what he came to do and returned to the drawing room. His host and the others were disappointed when he didn’t mention Washington’s portrait. And finally his lordship couldn’t resist and asked Mr. Allen had he noticed it. The picture of Washington. He had. Well what did he think of its placement? Did it seem appropriately located to Mr. Allen? And Mr. Allen said it did. The host was astounded. ‘Appropriate? George Washington’s likeness in a water closet?’ ‘Yes,’ said Mr. Allen, ‘where it will do good service. The world knows nothing will make an Englishman shit quicker than the sight of George Washington.’ I love that story.”

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY 

WILL WIN – Amour

SHOULD WIN – Django Unchained

Calvin Candie: Are you brooding ’bout me getting the best of ya, huh?
Dr. King Schultz: Actually, I was thinking of that poor devil you fed to the dogs today, D’Artagnan. And I was wondering what Dumas would make of all this.
Calvin Candie: Come again?
Dr. King Schultz: Alexandre Dumas. He wrote “The Three Musketeers.” I figured you must be an admirer. You named your slave after his novel’s lead character. If Alexandre Dumas had been there today, I wonder what he would have made of it?
Calvin Candie: You doubt he’d approve?
Dr. King Schultz: Yes. His approval would be a dubious proposition at best.
Calvin Candie: Soft hearted Frenchy?
Dr. King Schultz: Alexandre Dumas is black.

ANIMATED FEATURE

WILL WIN – Frankenweenie

SHOULD WIN – Brave

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I confess I have only seen one nominee this year from the animated category, though I am told that several others are quite strong contenders. Nevertheless, Brave is my choice and while I, like many, don’t think its a high water mark for the Pixar brand, were it a production from nearly any other animation studio, it would be considered a breakthrough. The narrative of a young lass looking to prove herself in a masculine dominant society is far from fresh, yet this male supremacy is something of an allegory for Pixar itself, as Brave is their first film to feature a heroine. Even with a familiar setup, Brave still had plenty of good tricks up its sleeve, was visually resplendent, and turned out to be a touching tale about the relationship of mothers and daughters.

DOCUMENTARY

WILL WIN – Searching for Sugar Man

SHOULD WIN – How to Survive a Plague

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Documentaries have an advantage in cinema, for the stories they tell are through a prism of truth, and few stories are more worth witnessing than How to Survive a Plague, a firsthand account of the effect of AIDS in the late 1980s through the early 1990s. Vastly presented through archival footage, the film is a feat of editing, which is the highest compliment a documentary can be given, for they are inherently “written” by the cut and not by the pen. Told from both a deeply personal level by the individuals who were affected by the crisis, the film also captures a sociopolitical war. While the federal government remained largely idle in the face of millions who were dying, the determined groups of the affected fought tirelessly for treatment. Was there ultimate success? Yes, but was not without cost. Such is the power of this documentary.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

WILL WIN – Life of Pi

SHOULD WIN – Skyfall

Action films don’t come much more gorgeous than Skyfall, nor does cinema in general come more handsomely lensed than with the ever sharp eye of Roger Deakins. The 23rd Bond is Deakins’ ninth nomination for an Academy Award and one of his most deserving. Working with digital for only the second time in his career, Deakins color codes Skyfall by location, from the familiar greys of London, to the neon greens and blues of Shanghai and the swelling red and yellows of Macau. Even in action scenes, every composition is immaculately framed, and Deakins even finds room for homages. For instance, several shots in the foggy valleys of Scotland evoke Renoir’s The Rules of the GameSkyfall is quite simply one of the most beautifully filmed action films ever, and the above scene makes a perfect case for that assertion.

COSTUME DESIGN

WILL WIN – Anna Karenina

SHOULD WIN – Lincoln

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Judging costumes has never been a strong suit of mine, and the Academy often looks towards the fantastical and the period pieces when singling out the wardrobes of cinema. I only saw two films from this category, and yet Lincoln is still very impressive, since most period pieces only seem to focus on the elaborate visuals and not much else. In the case of Lincoln, however, from Mary Todd’s gowns, to the suits in the United States Congress, the wartime uniforms in the opening war scenes, and even President’s iconic hat, the costumes are as memorable as the robust ensemble wearing them.

FILM EDITING

WILL and SHOULD WIN – Argo

The first ten minutes of Argo encapsulate one of the most unrelentingly intense scenes from last year. Although there is a minor subplot it could have done without, Ben Affleck’s tale of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis is one of the best cut films from 2012. Yes, many of the film’s editorial virtues feature more or less textbook examples for building tension, but more impressive here are the juxtapositions of tone. What makes Argo to stand out from many contemporary Hollywood thrillers is how well it juggles the humor of the situation in Hollywood with of the life and death stakes in Tehran. Nowhere is this more vivid than in a central scene in which a mock public cast reading of the “Argo” script is held, parallel cut with an Iranian woman reading out what will happen to the captured hostages. Tonal shifts are incredibly difficult to manage, but Argo pulls off the feat and much more as the final fifteen minutes attest.

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

WILL WIN – Les Miserables

SHOULD WIN – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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This category has been won twice before by the team at Weta for their immaculate work on The Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit is no less deserving. From thirteen different beard types, nose types, and hairstyles for the company of dwarves alone, Richard Taylor and his crew had their hands full, no doubt. Even at the divisive, hyper real 48 frames per second, the makeup for all of the dwarves, Gandalf, Radagast and even Bilbo held up under scrutiny and of course, contributed immensely to the believability of Peter Jackson’s film.

ORIGINAL SCORE

WILL and SHOULD WIN – Life of Pi

Life of Pi was one of the most emotionally grueling films I experienced in many a year and a prominent reason for its effective storytelling was due to its score. While its more jovial and relaxed pieces are a necessary aspect of the bookends in Life of Pi, especially the use of traditional Indian music for the film’s opening thirty minutes, the score truly shines in times of conflict. Featuring swells of choral power as well as meditative strings, Mychael Danna’s compositions provide a vital aural lifeline to the film’s central hour in the ocean.

ORIGINAL SONG

WILL AND SHOULD WIN – “Skyfall” – Skyfall

From its opening chord, Adele’s “Skyfall” becomes instantly iconic. It’s an obvious choice for the Oscar this year, given the fiftieth anniversary of the franchise, but it is entirely deserving of the award. As each Bond song draws from high end vocal talent from its time, the choice of Adele certainly has a contemporary lean to it, but the sound of her voice in this case has an evocative and classy inspiration to it. Certainly, Skyfall as a film, recalls its decades old predecessors, and so the song is just as much of a throwback, turning out to be nearly the most memorable asset of the entire enterprise.

PRODUCTION DESIGN

WILL WIN – Anna Karenina

SHOULD WIN – Lincoln

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Like the costume design category, the Academy tends to lean towards period pieces and fantasies in this category, and yet my admiration for Lincoln is present here. Much of the film is a literal chamber piece, but what chambers! From the cabinet meetings and private residence rooms in the White House, to the chamber of the House of Representatives, so much of Rick Carter’s work to bring 1860’s Washington succeeds in adding veritable texture to Lincoln. When the film opens up in its occasional exterior scenes, the film is allowed to breathe, and yet we are still treated to such indelible images as the Capitol Dome under construction, as well as the President’s second inaugural. Needless to say, the efforts here were a monumental undertaking.

SOUND EDITING

WILL WIN – Skyfall

SHOULD WIN – Django Unchained

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Action films fare the best in the sound editing category, where layers upon layers of sound effects are conceived, recorded, or drawn from archives in order to embellish an atmosphere for the ears to embrace. Most impressive from the nominees was the work of Django Unchained which naturally drew upon the spaghetti western genre. Sure, there were plenty of uses of weaponry, but variety counts. Tarantino’s blood soaked revenge thriller was chocked full of pistols, rifles, and the dreaded crack of the whip. Add in the brilliant over the top whooshes accompanying the snap zooms for surreal effect, and Django Unchained made for one of the most aurally imaginative films of 2012.

SOUND MIXING

WILL WIN – Les Miserables

SHOULD WIN – Life of Pi

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What separates the sound mixing from its editing counterpart is that it is tasked with the overall blend of all audible aspects of the picture: on set audio including dialogue, ADR, score, archive sound effects, foley, as well as other elements. All of these elements need to be balanced and since many of them are heard at the same time, it is the task of the mixer to choose which sound deserves the most audience attention at any given moment based upon the narrative needs. With this respect, Life of Pi was absolutely incredible, if only for its sensational two storm sequences. With the thunder and lightning from no less than God, the tumultuous and unforgiving ocean, Mychael Danna’s score, and the sole voice of Pi preparing for what he expects is his death, Life of Pi had a wealth of sound elements that were mixed for the precise emotional response.

VISUAL EFFECTS

WILL and SHOULD WIN – Life of Pi

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I cannot say with certainty if the tiger above is the real thing or if he is CGI. That is simply how impressive and seamless the visual effects are in Life of Pi. As with Richard Parker, many of the other animals seen in Ang Lee’s epic vary between the flesh and blood and the computer generated counterparts. As evidenced in the film, animals are a specialty for Rhythm and Hues, the visual effects company behind Life of Pi. Of course, there is much more to the film than the animals, and all of the visual effects work here completely serves the narrative. Witness the two hellacious storms, which not only are a feat of visual grandiosity, but of deep emotional release as well. Until recently, Rhythm and Hues was on the verge of bankruptcy, but with a deserved Oscar on their mantle, they may find much more on their plate in the coming years.

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~ by romancinema on February 22, 2013.

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