This year’s Best Picture race is one of the most open in recent memory, with no film being expected to dominate proceedings and take home a swag of awards. Obviously this means that it is going to be trickier than usual to tip the winner. When it comes to tipping Oscar winners it is important to remember that you are tipping who you think will win the award, not necessarily who you think should win the award. For that reason, sometimes it is more difficult to accurately tip award winners when you have seen a number of the films, because your own tastes and opinions tend to cloud your judgement. So what follows is a simple for and against for each of the nine nominees for this year’s Best Picture award. Then you can weigh up the arguments, see which you think is the most convincing, and then blindly guess the same way you do every year.
Notable Awards: Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or, BAFTA Best Film Not in the English Language, Golden Globe Best Foreign Language Film, European Film Awards Best Film, National Board of Review Best Foreign Film, National Society of Film Critics Awards USA Best Film
Why Amour will win: Amour is only the ninth foreign language film in 85 years to even get a nomination for the big award, and the fact that it has five nominations all up, including for Director (with Cannes Film Festival darling Michael Haneke making the cut ahead of the likes of Tarantino, Bigelow and Affleck) and Screenplay, two categories which usually go with a Best Picture win, suggests that the Academy sees this film as a legitimate contender, rather than just rewarding it with an also-ran nomination. And hey, a French film took home Best Picture last year. So it can happen.
Why Amour won’t win: You want to know how many times a foreign language film has won Best Picture at the Oscars? Zero. It has never happened. The closest you can get to foreign language winners are The Godfather Part II, The Last Emperor and Slumdog Millionaire which all won Best Picture and contained sequences of dialogue in Sicilian, Mandarin and Hindi respectively.
Notable Awards: Golden Globe Best Drama, BAFTA Best Film, DGA Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures, SAG Best Ensemble Cast in a Motion Picture, AFI Movies of the Year, National Board of Review Top Films
Why Argo will win: Momentum. After initial fears that Affleck missing out on a Best Director nod meant the film wasn’t really in the running, in recent weeks Argo has firmed as the favourite after taking out a number of lead up awards. Winning the Golden Globe isn’t always the best guide to picking the Oscar winner, but winning the Directors Guild of America Award is. Despite there being two best picture awards at the Golden Globes, one for drama and one for musicals or comedy, only four times in the last ten years has the winner of one of those two awards gone on to win Best Picture at the Oscars. On the other hand, nine out of the last ten films to pick up the Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures award at the DGA awards have gone on to win Best Picture at the Oscars that year (the only one to miss out was Brokeback Mountain which was pipped for the Oscar in a bit of a surprise by Crash in 2006). Hence the reason a number of eyebrows were raised when Ben Affleck won that award this year.
Why Argo won’t win: The big red flag next to Argo is the fact that Ben Affleck did not receive a nomination for Best Director. Across the previous 84 Academy Award ceremonies, only three times has a film won the top award despite its director failing to receive a best director nomination, with Driving Miss Daisy in 1990 being the only example since the early 1930s. Of course, in the last couple of years the Best Picture field has expanded from five nominees to up to ten. So whereas once it was the norm for the five Best Picture nominees to provide the five Best Director nominees, under the new system there will always be at least four or five Best Picture nominees that won’t be represented in the directing field. The temptation is to see those films which don’t also get a Director nod as the also-rans in the field.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Notable Awards: Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize, AFI Movies of the Year, NBR Top Films
Why Beasts of the Southern Wild will win: The Beasts of the Southern Wild is the little film that could. The surprise hit of the year, it came out of nowhere to feature prominently in a number of Best Films of 2012 lists. It definitely stands out in the field as something totally different. A small budget, artistic premise, a six-year-old leading lady and a debut director (both of whom have been nominated in their respective categories). Could the Academy voters get swept up in the fairytale of it all? It’s also not unheard of for a directorial debut to win Best Picture. Sam Mendes’ American Beauty, Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves and James L. Brooks’ Terms of Endearment are the most recent to have done it.
Why Beasts of the Southern Wild won’t win: Small indie films win festival awards, they don’t win Academy Awards.
Notable Awards: AFI Movies of the Year, NBR Top Films
Why Django Unchained will win: There is the feeling that Tarantino has been working his way towards Academy recognition. He is one of the most influential filmmakers of the last twenty years and the Academy don’t want to find themselves in the same situation that they had with Martin Scorsese where it wasn’t until almost forty years into his career, and after helming a number of films regarded as all-time greats, that he finally won a Best Picture and Best Director award. Inglourious Basterds got close. Could Django Unchained be the film the Academy recognises (even though Tarantino himself failed to get a nomination)? Also, Django Unchained really stands out in the field for its appeal to the youth demographic. The Academy Award ceremony has been trying hard for the last couple of years to appeal to the youth demographic, to maintain relevance and combat a declining viewership. Could the same thinking enter the voting process?
Why Django Unchained won’t win: Tarantino’s eighth feature film seemed to be firming as a real Oscar contender until the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting happened. It changed the story. After that event rather than slavery or spaghetti westerns Tarantino found himself, once again, forced to talk about excessive violence in his cinema. He then failed to receive a Best Director nomination, and unlike Argo and Zero Dark Thirty which have maintained their relevance in this race despite missing Director nominations, Django Unchained seems to have fallen by the wayside. You could also argue that Django Unchained isn’t as good as Inglourious Basterds was and it is competing in a stronger field. So if the Academy wasn’t willing to favour Tarantino in 2010 it doesn’t look like they will in 2013.
Notable Awards: Golden Globe Best Musical or Comedy, AFI Movies of the Year, NBR Top Films
Why Les Misérables will win: Les Misérables seems like an obvious contender. You have one of the most popular stage musicals in history being finally brought to the screen with an all-star cast (two of whom have been recognised with acting nominations) by an Oscar-winning director. Tom Hooper followed up his surprise success with The King’s Speech by opting for this very ambitious project. It is a significant upping of scale from his previous films and could help with the perception of him progressing and evolving from his previous success. The other X-factor for the film was the unconventional approach to shooting the musical numbers, with the actors singing live on set rather than lip-synching to pre-recorded songs. Could this experimental approach, which allows much more performative freedom to the actors, be deemed as worthy of recognition from the Academy?
Why Les Misérables won’t win: In the 1960s there were four musicals that walked away with the Best Picture award: West Side Story, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music and Oliver! In the 44 years since Oliver! won only one musical has the award, Chicago in 2002. That is a roundabout way of saying that musicals don’t tend to fare well in recent times. And Les Misérables isn’t even just a musical, it’s practically an opera. Also, Russell Crowe.
Life of Pi
Notable Awards: AFI Movies of the Year
Why Life of Pi will win: Ang Lee, an Academy favourite, has taken a much-loved book which many thought was unfilmable and brought it to life, at the same time as showing the industry the potential of digital and 3D technologies. Life of Pi is tipped to be a major player in the Visual Effects and Cinematography fields, but the fact that the film also received nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director suggests it is seen as more than just a technically impressive film. For a film which is at best being talked about as an outside chance, it is worth noting that Life of Pi has earned more nominations than any film other than Lincoln.
Why Life of Pi won’t win: With the film being tipped to do so well in the technical categories, there is the danger Academy voters will see Life of Pi’s primary achievement being technical, that it is first and foremost a beautiful looking film. Very rarely do films come out on top in the Best Picture category on the grounds of being amazing technical achievements. Titanic ? Maybe Lord of the Rings?
Notable Awards: AFI Movies of the Year, NBR Top Films
Why Lincoln will win: Do I have to spell it out for you? A period drama about America’s most worshiped president, directed by the world’s biggest director, with an all-star cast led by arguably the finest actor of his, or any, generation. How could it not win?
Why Lincoln won’t win: For all the above reasons, Lincoln feels almost too good to be true. In the eyes of many people it just smells like Oscar bait, and sometimes the Academy reacts against that. Also, this film more than any other in the category had to deal with the weight of serious expectation when it came out. It is a fantastic film, but everyone expected it to be. Has it done enough to exceed people’s expectations and win voters over, or will the high expectations it had to deal with mean it gets overlooked in favour of one of the more “surprising” films.
Silver Linings Playbook
Notable Awards: NBR Top Films
Why Silver Linings Playbook will win: While it’s eight nominations is not the most by any candidate this year, it is the categories they came in which is significant. Usually we talk in terms of the ‘Big Five’ categories (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and one of the Screenplay categories). In also getting nominations in the Supporting Actor and Actress categories, Silver Linings Playbook is the first film in 32 years (since Warren Beatty’s Reds in 1981) to get nominations in the Big Seven categories. It suggests that the Academy sees this as being an excellent achievement across the board. It also should be noted that the last three films to receive nominations in the big five categories (Million Dollar Baby, American Beauty, The English Patient) all went on to win Best Picture.
Why Silver Linings Playbook won’t win: While it feels unfair to pigeonhole Silver Linings Playbook as a romantic comedy, when it boils down to it that is what it is, a brilliantly written romantic comedy. And unfortunately for David O. Russell, comedies don’t traditionally fare well in this category. In the last thirty years the only two films which could be described as comedies to have won Best Picture are Shakespeare in Love in 1998 and The Artist in 2012. Also, despite scoring nominations across the big seven categories, it is really only Jennifer Lawrence who is considered among the favourites. So it is entirely possible that Silver Linings Playbook could be staring down a shutout.
Zero Dark Thirty
Notable Awards: NBR Best Film, AFI Movies of the Year
Why Zero Dark Thirty will win: Before it had even been released, Zero Dark Thirty had already won the New York Film Critics film of the year award, and early on it was seen as Lincoln’s primary competition for the Best Picture Oscar. In recent times its momentum has plateaued a bit, particularly with Bigelow failing to receive a Best Director nomination, but still remains among the serious contenders. The film is a harsh and unimpassioned look at the hunt for bin Laden and, as such, has an immediate political significance. As yet we haven’t seen an Oscar go to a film dealing directly with the events of 9/11 and its aftermath, but none of them have been as good as this one and perhaps the closure to the story that comes from the death of bin Laden means voters are ready.
Why Zero Dark Thirty won’t win: While Zero Dark Thirty is seen as one of the real contenders it has had to deal with some controversy surrounding the perceived messages it sends about the use of torture as an interrogation method. Is the film pro-torture? The Oscars are not a ceremony that tends to court controversy. There is nothing particularly edgy about the Academy. The hint of something being divisive could frighten off the voters.
So with all that in mind, I think the nominees can be broken up into four categories…
The Contenders: Argo, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty
The Potential Dark Horses: Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook
The Outsiders: Amour, Django Unchained
Thanks for Coming: Beasts of the Southern Wild, Les Misérables
by Duncan McLean
1. Argo (Ben Affleck)
People have to stop talking about Ben Affleck “being on a hot streak” or “enjoying a purple patch” as a director and accept that perhaps he is just a really talented director. Maybe he didn’t ride Matt Damon’s coattails to that screenwriting Oscar for Good Will Hunting all those years ago like so many joked. Argo, Affleck’s third film, is the year’s best thriller and mixes moments of extreme tension with some great laughs. Alan Arkin and John Goodman are fantastic as the CIA’s Hollywood collaborators.
2. Hugo (Martin Scorsese)
A few eyebrows were raised when it was announced that Scorsese was going to adapt a children’s book as his next project, but with David Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret it made perfect sense. Hugo was Scorsese’s love letter to the early cinema. A visually stunning film it is also one of the few films that have been made which have convinced me there may be some merit to 3D.
3. The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)
Of course, Hugo was not the only film in cinemas this year which celebrated the early days of cinema. Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist went one step further, engaging with the long-lost art of silent storytelling. This was such an ambitious project, but it was just so endearing and charming that it won people over. It also came out at exactly the right time for me as I’d recently been watching a lot of Charlie Chaplin films and my interest in silent cinema was peaking.
4. Skyfall (Sam Mendes)
With MGM’s financial troubles we were forced to wait four years to see James Bond back on our screens after the disappointing Quantum of Solace, but boy was it worth the wait. Skyfall had everything you want in a Bond film, some great action sequences, a bit of humour, a fantastic villain. But on top of that, having a real filmmaker in Sam Mendes at the helm meant that the film also had an attention character development and an emotional depth that we’d never seen in a Bond before. Skyfall is not just a great Bond film, it is a great film.
5. Les Misérables (Tom Hooper)
This was not going to be everyone’s cup of tea just because of the sheer volume of singing, but Tom Hooper’s ambitious film is a cinematic achievement, successfully translating one of the West End’s most successful and most tragic musicals to the screen. Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway gave two of the year’s best performances in this gut-wrenching story of poverty and injustice, rebellion and redemption.
6. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Tomas Alfredson)
The thing that struck me about this adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel was its stillness and quietness. You feel like it is moving slowly, but when you stop and think about you realise that a lot has been happening. We are so used to seeing spy movies in the James Bond mould, that the stillness Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is quite intriguing. An absolute all-star British cast led by a great performance from the chameleon-like Gary Oldman.
7. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson)
Moonrise Kingdom is a Wes Anderson film through and through, which means some people will love it and others will hate it. Many of his usual collaborators are back with the key additions of Bruce Willis and Edward Norton. Anderson’s films are always deadpan and contain a touch of darkness, but this ups the ante on that. As always, the use of music, in this case Benjamin Britten and Hank Williams, is very clever. But for me, the sight of Harvey Keitel in shorts alone makes this film noteworthy.
8. The Muppets (James Bobin)
This may look like a strange pick alongside the other films on this list but The Muppets was a hard film not to love. No other film this year projected pure joy the way The Muppets did, and that should be celebrated. Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller’s screenplay showed a real love for these classic characters and, along with Bret McKenzie’s songs, found the perfect balance between nostalgia and contemporary comedy.
9. Looper (Rian Johnson)
There is nothing better than being genuinely surprised (in a positive way) by a film, and for mine Rian Johnson’s Looper was the surprise movie of the year. I saw it on a whim, expecting it to be a reasonably run of the mill sci-fi romp but what I got was the most original and interesting science fiction movie since District 9. The story of an assassin from two different periods in time going head to head with himself also engaged with that moral conundrum “If you could go back in time to when Hitler/Stalin/Pol Pot was a baby, would you kill them to save the world future suffering?”
10. Seven Psychopaths (Martin McDonagh)
Martin McDonagh’s comedy isn’t going to appear on a lot of Top 10 lists but this is my list, dammit, so I’m including it. This sharply written comedy about a screenwriter who finds himself in a tough situation after his friend kidnaps the beloved dog of a local crime boss is a strong follow-up to McDonagh’s 2008 debut In Bruges. Yes there are some holes and some problems, but there are also some big laughs, with terrific comic performances from the always brilliant Sam Rockwell and the always quirky Christopher Walken carrying the film.
Not far off: The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson), The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan), Shame (Steve McQueen), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (David Fincher), The Avengers (Joss Whedon)
The Worst Movie of the Year: Act of Valor (Mike McCoy, Scott Waugh). Not even close really. This military propaganda film in disguise (and not much of a disguise at that) proudly trumpeted the fact that all the major characters were played by real life Marines as though that were a good thing. It wasn’t.
Cinematic Highlight of the Year: Getting to see Steven Spielberg’s Jaws on the big screen as part of its high definition re-release. It was the movie which started the whole blockbuster movement, and which launched Spielberg into stardom, and it still holds up. Similarly, it was good to see Titanic on the big screen again. While the 3D transfer didn’t do much for me it was interesting to see that enough time has passed that we are all over our anti-Titanic bias and can accept that, while it has its faults, it is actually a very good film.
Director: Tom Hooper
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Samantha Barks, Aaron Tveit, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen
Les Misérables first appeared on stage on the West End in 1985 and in the 27 years since it has become one of the most successful musicals of all time. That said, it was still a bit of a risk for Tom Hooper to announce it as his next film project after winning an Oscar for The King’s Speech. It was always going to be a high profile event film, and let’s face it, history has shown us that when you get a big budget musical wrong it can be really, really bad. Hooper assembled a great cast lead by Hugh Jackman – amazingly making his first movie musical despite his strong musical pedigree. But early critical reviews were mixed. Some called it a mess, others heralded it as one of the year’s best. So I was really keen to see it for myself, particularly as I saw the stage production in London earlier in the year and loved it.
The big experiment with Les Misérables, and again part of what made it a risky project,was having the actors sing live. Usually when you make a musical one of the first things you do is get the cast into a recording studio and record an album. Then a couple of months later when it is time for the shoot, the actors simply lip-synch to the mastered recording. With Les Misérables, Tom Hooper decided that he wanted his actors to sing live on each take. The major advantage of doing it this way is it frees up the actors creatively. When you record the songs in advance, the actors are forced to make many of their acting choices well before getting on set, and once on set they are restricted by the necessity of matching up with the recording. This would be far from ideal for a musical like Les Misérables where so much of the emotional crux of the story is delivered through song. This greater level of freedom in performance for the actors has resulted in a musical which is not necessarily as brassy and robust as the stage show, but packs an incredible emotional punch.
This different approach was then complemented by the way the musical numbers have been shot. Unlike a traditional musical, Les Misérables only features one heavily choreographed number, the comical ‘Master of the House’ performed by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter’s grotesque tavern owners. The other numbers are shot very simply, often in close-up. The beauty of this approach is you get to see characters faces, something you don’t get on stage. Les Misérables is a very tragic, very emotional story, and the impact of being able to see the faces of characters as they sing is quite powerful. Never is this more apparent than when Anne Hathaway sings ‘I Dreamed a Dream,’ shot entirely in one shot, a medium close-up.
Hugh Jackman was always the logical choice to play Jean Valjean. With his baritone voice, his award-winning musical theatre experience, broad chest and handsome features, Jackman seems born to play the part. As Valjean, he carries much of the emotional weight of the film and he does it admirably, imbuing the character with a real strength and masculinity. The film’s other clear stand out is Anne Hathaway as Fantine. She delivers one of the most gut-wrenching performances you will ever see, demonstrating her versatility in a year which also saw her playing Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises. While Jackman will be in the mix come award season, Hathaway can start deciding where she wants to put her Best Supporting Actress Oscar now.
One of the big questions in the lead up to the film was the singing ability of Russell Crowe. Everyone knew Jackman and Hathaway could sing, but the fact that Crowe used to have a band, Thirty Odd Foot of Grunt, not to mention his old Russ le Roq days, didn’t have people convinced he was the right man to tackle the demanding role of Javert. This concern was not helped by the fact that his voice was notably absent from a couple of the early trailers. As it turns out, he does alright. His voice is nowhere near as full as some of the others in the film, but you get used to it. He definitely looks the part, and still manages to give some emotional depth to the character.
Hooper’s film is a very faithful adaptation of the musical, plus the requisite new song, ‘Suddenly,’ so that they have something to submit for Award consideration. This faithfulness means that if there was anything in particular that irked you about the stage musical, it still will in the film. In my case, it is the fact that Cosette and Marius are still really boring. It also means that, as is the case with many film musicals, the critical reception will be varied. Musicals are really divisive. People tend to like them or they don’t and if you are someone who can’t get behind the concept of a musical, you’re never going to enjoy one. Even people who like movie musicals may struggle with this one as the ratio of dialogue to song is much closer to an opera than to a normal movie musical. So with a film like this it is difficult to make a general judgement. Instead, I can only speak as a person who enjoys musicals, and who particularly loves this one. I thought it was brilliant.
Rating – ★★★★
Review by Duncan McLean