PW breaks down the odds-on favorites and the hypothetical darlings of this year's best (and "best") films.
The Oscars are bullshit. They are a sham. They are middlebrow. They are self-congratulatory. They are onanistic. They are considerably less watched than the Super Bowl because Hollywood hates America. They are a glorified fashion show. They crowned Forrest Gump. There are a plethora of reasons to hate on the Oscars, some of them even legitimate. And yet here’s one reason to care: 2012 was a great year for movies.
I myself am an unapologetic snob, and inevitably my picks for the year’s best do not jibe with what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences considers the best. But there was so much goodness to go around that I can get down with their choices.
What follows is a combination of my picks for what may win, which you can borrow—trust me, I win Oscar pools—what I think should win and what would have won if this was a perfect world. Meaning, if it conformed to my tastes.
What may win: Traditionally, this category tends to favor subject over form. There are two docs critical of Israel (The Gatekeepers and 5 Broken Cameras), which will likely cancel each other out. That leaves muckraker Kirby Dick’s The Invisible War (on rape in the military) and How to Survive a Plague (on the history of ACT UP). A rare feel-good entry (Searching for Sugar Man) may be the dark horse, but let’s guess they’ll go with Plague.
What should win: Plague, not because its subject is the best or some nonsense, but because it’s a formally adventurous non-fiction that benefits greatly from an overabundance of archival footage. Consumer grade cameras were new during the advent of the AIDS crisis, and the throngs who protested, loudly and aggressively, to get the world working on a cure is bottled up by the near wall-to-wall use of real, blistering images.
What should have won overall: If one would consider This is Not a Film, by Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, under house arrest, a doc, then it should have won. But it’s not a doc; it’s a film, title be damned. Instead, get irritated that The Imposter—a sneaky, Errol Morris-y study of collective self-deception writ large—got the shaft.
Best Adapted Screenplay
What may win: Tony Kushner, Lincoln. This seems obvious, although never underestimate Silver Linings Playbook fever.
What should win: People—detractors, but his fanbase, too—tend to overemphasize the look of Wes Anderson’s films, to the extent that they forget the films originate on the page. (Probably inside a typewriter.) Moonrise Kingdom is his most beautiful, if not best, film yet, and the beauty extends to the script Anderson wrote with Roman Coppola.
What should have won overall: David Cronenberg’s script for Cosmopolis makes great a so-so Don DeLillo novel, although its real power emerged when the actors came to speak their lines. Who knew Robert Pattinson was put on earth to deliver overly-stylized DeLillo dialogue?
Best Original Screenplay
What may win: The line is that the (almost entirely misdirected) controversy over Zero Dark Thirty’s depiction of torture led Academy voters to punish director Kathryn Bigelow, who was snubbed a locked-in nomination. Ironically, they feted screenwriter Mark Boal, who was responsible for putting it in there. It will probably win, too, if only for the intense gruntwork of collapsing a decade of snooping into a brisk 157 minutes.
What should win: Zero Dark Thirty, but because it’s uncompromisingly unconventional. Like All the President’s Men and Zodiac, this is a warts-and-all portrayal of the process of detective work: the false leads, the dead ends, the untold hours spent poring over information while drinking bad coffee. Boal was working on it before Osama bin Laden’s assassination, but while he was forced to include narrative closure, very little else remains closed. Instead of fist-pumpingly victorious, the ending stays ambivalent, asking still more questions: Was this about making the world safe or was it more about vengeance? Was it worth it? Boal’s script uses the language of action films—including Chastain’s increasingly shouty snoop—to comment on what we expect from thrillers, and more importantly, to question whether killing bin Laden was a good idea.
What should have won overall: For whatever reason, animation isn’t often thought of written as words typed into a word processor program. And yet Don Hertzfeldt’s It’s Such a Beautiful Day, depicting a stick figure’s looming death, would have been great even if its stars had been flesh and blood.
Best Supporting Actor
Who may win: The Oscars—and the Oscars watchers—love a comeback story, and they may fall for Robert De Niro’s return, in Silver Linings Playbook, to giving a shit about the movies he’s in. (At least of those anyone’s paying attention to: Of late, he’s been rather good or even superb in Stone, Stardust, Killer Elite and Being Flynn.) But they’ll probably give it to Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln, ‘cause who doesn’t enjoy watching Tommy Lee Jones shout epithets at racists while wearing a funny wig?
Who should win: Philip Seymour Hoffman’s L. Ron Hubbard-esque cult leader in The Master is a man at war with himself, convinced of his own bullshit, but tempted by the ways of the flesh. And household products-as-booze.
Who should have won overall: No one saw the movie, so no one knows that the most enjoyable performance of the year was Michael Shannon in Premium Rush, playing the cartoonish baddie with a chuckle unheard outside of a Looney Tunes short.
Best Supporting Actress
Who may win: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables. You heard it here first!
Who should win: Not Anne Hathaway, who was good but wasn’t even the best one-song supporting player in Les Mis. (As ever, poor Éponine.) Amy Adams, however, is a motherfucker in The Master. Using the energy she often reserves for good, but this time for bad, she owns the intense killjoy whose belief in her husband’s bullshit is stronger than his own.
Who should have won overall: Cécille de France kills it in the Dardennes’ The Kid With a Bike, playing an impromptu caretaker whose cold demeanor masks a bottomless selflessness.
Who may win: Is the star of Midnight Meat Train really about to become an Oscar winner? Daniel Day-Lewis does more than impersonate Lincoln, but it’s still an impersonation. Denzel Washington is a good alkie, but it’s still an alkie role. Hugh Jackman struggles to sing with Tom Hooper’s camera pressed into his nose. And The Master seems to be punished for being difficult, so sorry, Joaquin Phoenix. Not that BCoop won’t deserve it: He’s movie-crazy without being show-offy, and he always keeps his character grounded by his sense of humor.
Who should win: Phoenix. This is a full-bodied performance, in that Phoenix reimagines how the human anatomy works from the ground up, even if that means delivering half his dialogue out of the corner of his mouth à la Popeye. Watching Hoffman’s charlatan try, and fail, to tame this wild beast was a direct pleasure in a movie otherwise stubbornly ambiguous.
Who should have won overall: As much as I want to say Denis Lavant, for his literally shape-shifting work in Holy Motors, no performance was as exciting as Tim Heidecker’s raging wealthy dickhead routine in The Comedy. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Robert Pattinson wuz robbed—for Cosmopolis, not Breaking Dawn 2.
Who may win: Oh, you know: Jessica Chastain or Jennifer Lawrence. Flip a coin.
Who should win: It depends which you prefer: internalized to the point of inhumanity or forthright to the point of inhumanity. Chastain’s agent in Zero Dark Thirty is so inside herself that she’s not even likable once she starts telling off superiors. That’s a compliment, and another sign at how the film toys with audience expectations. Meanwhile, Lawrence takes a dreaded character type—the Manic Pixie Dream Girl—and makes her a flesh-and-blood person, capable of the full spectrum of emotions. So, flip a coin.
Who should have won overall: Neither is as incredible as Greta Gerwig in Damsels in Distress. Her aloof, seemingly mildly intoxicated mien clashes bizarrely with Whit Stillman’s patented urbane chatter, creating a perfect storm of constant amusement. Also, where the fuck are Rachel Weisz (The Deep Blue Sea) and Ann Dowd (Compliance)?
Who may win: A talented but troubled auteur—who became an Internet celebrity once his outbursts on the I Heart Huckabees set went viral— cleans up his act and writes and directs a populist, but edgy, product. David O. Russell will probably win for Silver Linings Playbook, and that’s nice in that Russell is extremely talented and the best director of all time when it comes to scenes of mass character chaos. And if he wins, we might get to see Nailed, the movie he made before The Fighter and which still lives in legal catastrofuck limbo.
Who should win: Ang Lee directed the shit out of Life of Pi. There were a lot of problems with the film, but as long as it’s a dude, a boat and a dwindling number of animals, it’s an example of someone using not only technology but “camera” “placement” to tell a story visually.
Who should have won overall: Again, Don Hertzfeldt for It’s Such a Beautiful Day. As with screenwriting, animation is rarely perceived as “directed.” But Hertzfeldt came up with some of the most unique and exciting ways to explore his grim storyline, all without using technology older than about 1940.
What may win: I usually choose one nominee that I don’t hate to pretend to hate. But Silver Linings Playbook is, if not a film I like, one I feel has taken enough of a beating amongst my peers and elsewhere. Tell your crew to be easy on it.
What should win: Zero Dark Thirty. Because I love torture.
What should have won overall: It’s Such a Beautiful Day. Perhaps one day you all will get a chance to see it.
This year, there are pretty much zero LGBT nominations for the big ones, both in terms of content and the people responsible for the film. Last year was a different story: Out filmmaker Tate Taylor’s The Help got a nod for Best Picture.
PW's Summer Guide 2014