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My Oscar Picks

The Oscars are next Sunday, hosted by the ever-entertaining Billy Crystal.  I probably won’t watch the ceremony; I’d rather be watching a movie.  But here are my picks, opinions, complaints and rants about the goings-on.

Best Picture

I’ve seen 7 of the 9 nominees (haven’t caught up with “Extremely Loud” or “War Horse” yet) and I must say, I’m surprised at how weak the field is this year.  I loved “Tree of Life,” and felt like it was a truly elevating cinematic experience.  And I really liked “The Descendants.”  But after that come a bunch of movies that I enjoyed, but seem of little consequence.  “The Artist” and “Hugo” crest the current tide of nostalgia that is sweeping Hollywood, but I can’t imagine anyone still talking about them (except as cultural oddities) in ten years.  “Midnight in Paris” rides that wave, too, though it offers its own commentary on nostalgia.

Great movies missing from this list include “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “Another Earth,” and “Drive,” among others.  But I’m no longer surprised that my favorite movies aren’t the Academy’s.

 My Pick: Tree of Life

 

Best Director 

Here we do have five solid contestants.  Michel Hazanavicius brought loving care and a great deal of clever creativity to “The Artist.”  “The Descendants” walks a fine line between humor and pathos, and is probably Alexander Payne’s best movie to date, and he’s made some good ones.  Martin Scorsese shows that 3D can be more than a fad in Hugo, using the technique better than anyone except James Cameron (and bringing levels of depth to his story that Cameron can only dream of.) “Midnight in Paris” is Woody Allen’s best in years, and makes nostalgia feel light and airy.  And then there’s Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life.”  I know I already gave this film Best Picture, but seriously, what makes it so great?  It’s not the acting or the script, or the cinematography.  It’s the director.

What’s missing from this category?  Again, “Drive” comes to mind; I think Nicolas Winding Refn deserves a nomination for the direction there, all gloss and sheen with darkness underneath.  And I know dumb action flicks don’t get nominated, but if they did, Brad Bird’s work reviving the “Mission:Impossible” franchise with “Ghost Protocol” deserves some praise.  But really, this year more than most, this is a solid category of worthy nominees.  Any of these films could win and I wouldn’t be sad.

My Pick: Terrence Malick, Tree of Life

Best Actor

I’ve seen 4 out of 5 here; maybe Demian Bichir deserves the award and I’m not aware.  I love Gary Oldman on principle and would love to see him get some Oscar attention, but really, for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy?”  He’s silent and stoic most of the way.  It’s just not a terribly demanding role.  Jean Dujardin has to keep an audiences attention without words in “The Artist,” and does so admirably.  George Clooney does the best work of his career in “The Descendants,” and so I would love to see him win the award – and continue to take on challenging roles like this one.  And I feel like Brad Pitt gotnominated for the wrong movie here.  “Moneyball” is fine, but his performance in “Tree of Life” — I know, I’m starting to sound like a broken record” — was so much deeper, more nuanced, and more memorable.  He’s really the only actor required to do much in that movie, but the demands on him are great.  He manages to make a strict, disciplinarian father seem both worthy of hate and of love.   He’s the heart of the film; if we don’t identify with him at least a little, the whole thing falls flat.  But it doesn’t.  It’s an incredible performance in a great movie.

 

My Pick (of the nominees:) George Clooney, The Descendants

My Pick (if I had my way:) Brad Pitt, Tree of Life

Best Actress

I’m going to have a hard time speaking to this one, as I’ve only seen two of the films on the list– “The Help” and “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”  I don’t think Rooney Mara deserves an Oscar, but Viola Davis might, so between those two, she’s my pick.  The other three are formidable actresses, so I don’t doubt that the performances are worth seeing.  I’ll have to catch up with them later.

Two of my favorite performances of the year aren’t on this list– Elizabeth Olsen in “Martha Marcy May Marlene” and Brit Marling in “Another Earth”  both are basically unknowns (though Olsen has two famous older sisters) and neither of the movies that the attention I think they warranted.  But they are both subtle, nuanced but powerful performances in memorable films.  They deserve recognition.

My Pick (of the nominees:) Viola Davis, “The Help,”  by default

My Pick (if I had my way:) Elizabeth Olsen “Martha Marcy May Marlene” 

 

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Only seen one of these (“Moneyball”) so my opinion can’t count for much.  I don’t think Jonah Hill’s performance was Oscar-worthy, for the record.  Maybe a few of the others are.  But I doubt any of them were as powerful or unnerving as John Hawkes’ supporting role as the cult leader in “Martha Marcy May Marlene.”  He was both charismatic and creepy, powerful, alluring and scary.

My Pick (of the nominees): I abstain

My Pick (if I had my way:) John Hawkes, Martha Marcy May Marlene”

 

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Bejo’s performance in “The Artist” seemed a little thin to me, but maybe that’s because I could never stop comparing her to Judy Garland in “A Star is Born.” Melissa McCarthy was a lot of fun in “Bridesmaids,” but it was standard comic relief fun; if this type of performance won Oscars, Seth Rogen and Jack Black would need new double-decker fireplace mantles. I’d like to see Jessica Chastain get some love; she had an amazing year, with meaty roles in four excellent films this year (“The Debt,” and “Take Shelter”, as well as “Tree of Life” and “The Help.”)  But really, if anyone from “The Help” deserves this award, it would be Bryce Dallas Howard, for sinking her teeth into the role of the deliciously cartoonishly evil villain of that film. She was the best/worst villain in a film since Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight.”  Indeed, Chastain had a great year, but Howard wasn’t far behind her; she was wonderfully evil in two films (the other was “50/50”) in 2011, and it makes one wish she would never play anything but beautiful-but-evil queens for the rest of her career.  Octavia Spencer brings salty humor as well as gravitas to her role in “The Help.”   This is both the problem and the most entertaining thing about that movie:  the black actresses are playing real people, while the white actresses are playing cartoon characters.

My Pick (of the nominees:) Octavia Spencer, “The Help” 

My Pick (if I had my way:) Bryce Dallas Howard, “The Help” 

 

That’s all the categories I’m even remotely equipped to have an opinion about.  A few notes about the others:

  •  This is the first year since 2006 that Pixar won’t be winning the Best Animated Feature Oscar.  “Cars 2” was such a stinker it didn’t even get nominated.  This is the first year since the category existed that Pixar made a film and it didn’t get nominated.  This situation has apparently thrown the Academy into confusion, as a French cartoon made in 2010 (“A Cat in Paris”) somehow got nominated.  The three American films that got nominated all seem uninspired to me.  Also, where’s “The Adventures of Tintin?”
  • There were a number of great documentaries made in 2011, including Errol Flynn’s “Tabloid,”  “The Interruptors,” “My Perestroika,” and “The Arbor.”  There was also Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams.”  None of them got nominated, though.  Instead, we get a fawning documentary about eco-terrorists and a film that almost shares a title with that documentary about Sarah Palin, but is instead about a football team.  Do you think the Academy voters got confused?
  • I can never make sense of the complicated rules that govern which foreign films can be nominated for Best Foreign Language film and which ones can’t, but it’s good to see “A Separation” on the list.  I haven’t seen it, but it’s got the highest metascore of any film released in 2011 over at metacritic.com.   I haven’t seen (or heard of) any of the other films on the list, and I’m sad to see that “Poetry,”  “Of Gods and Men,” “I Saw the Devil,” and “13 Assassins” didn’t warrant nominations this year.

 

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