Friday, February 24, 2012

Oscar 2012: A Personal Ballot

I’ve been writing all about who I think will take home Academy Awards this year. While some of my own choices overlap, let’s face it, the Academy doesn’t give a fat flying turd what I think should win. And quite frankly, writing letters to the likes of Gavin MacLeod, Jaclyn Smith and Erik Estrada (yes, they’re all Academy members!!) isn’t going to change that.

So, purely for the pleasure of entertaining and horrifying readers, here are my choices for the major categories. As usual, I’ve attached links to the original reviews for some of these films.

Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay: Midnight in Paris

I could watch this movie over and over and over again, and repeat. When I was an English major over a decade ago, I fantasized about traveling to a time period when I could rub shoulders and befriend the literary glitterati of a certain era. For me, that was the Bloomsbury Group in the 1930s in the UK. I used to daydream about watching Dora Carrington and Lytton Strachey act like the early frontrunners of Will & Grace, warding off E.M. Forster’s advances, listening to Vita Sackville-West read out her letters and trying gently to tell Virginia Woolf to stop bumming everyone one before putting her on the train and returning to the café and gossiping about the similarly-themed Algonquin Table in New York. Woody Allen dreamed of Paris, and he made it come true. This was the screenplay I wished I had written all those years ago, and he did it better than I could ever write it. It may not be an earth-shattering achievement with political substance like Milk, or a genre masterpiece like Pan’s Labyrinth, or a game-changer like Inception, but Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris easily, comfortably sits amongst his masterpieces.

Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Art Direction: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tomas Alfredson’s quiet spy game is unquestionably one of the greatest espionage films ever made. This was what that whole world was really like: men in stuffy suits sitting in soundproof war rooms, barely getting to see the sun let alone run around the world cracking Russian war codes and chasing rogue agents with guns and surviving ten-story falls. Spy work, while exciting, could also be exacting, and absolutely requires that only a mind well-suited to playing chess could or would survive in that environment. Gary Oldman gives a brilliantly muted performance as the immortal George Smiley, carrying on with an intelligence burning like an eternal flame behind his eyes, yet saying or giving away nothing. The labyrinthine script by Peter Straughan and the late Bridget O’Connor requires your full attention, and sometimes you may be confused by what you hear, but it is assembled like a Monet: up close, you can’t make sense of it, but far away, it makes perfect sense. And Maria Djurkovic’s period art direction doesn’t look like a fancy movie set: it looks like the entire era had been lifted wholesale and put into Shepperton Studios. It’s an incredible film that I’ll be returning to repeatedly.

Best Director, Best Supporting Actress and Best Costume Design: The Artist

Consider this a pair of valentines for the husband-and-wife team of Michel Hazanavicius and Bérénice Bejo. Everyone has been going on about this lovely diamond of a film’s star Jean Dujardin, which I will not question, but Bejo is the find of the picture. She’s its heart and without her soulful presence, the whole thing might have been more sentimental than it had any right to be. Hazanavicius created this lovely homage without giving a damn about its commercial viability and made one of the most charming, all-out entertaining films in a long time. I could show this to my relatives who don’t speak a lick of English and they would understand everything and enjoy it. It helps that the period’s costume design by Mark Bridges never feels over-the-top, but appropriate to the period without overwhelming the rest of the visuals (and they’re stunning). I reward his gumption, dedication and execution, and I found few other performances by anyone, male or female, to be this breathtaking all year.

Best Actress: Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, both for Melancholia

This is a film about depression, and yet it’s one of the most searing masterpieces of this or any year. Dunst makes a ferocious comeback performance as the depressed bride Justine, who cannot find purpose or joy on her wedding day, and does and says things to spite people and just to feel, well, anything. Having seen friends gone through the same process, I can say that Dunst has it exactly right. It’s so powerful a work and a performance that those same friends of mine (no names mentioned) refuse to see this film no matter how well they are doing, because it may trigger something. And Gainsbourg, one of the most adventurous, toughest, courageous actors of our time, matches Dunst as the uptight sister who, in the face of inevitable cosmic peril, finds that all of her faculties, intelligence and talents fail her in a moment of extreme crisis. I reward them both with my Best Actress prize because one could not have existed without the other.

More categories and who I predict to win the Oscars, after the jump.

Best Supporting Actor, Best Make-up and Best Visual Effects: Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Each of these is a valedictory prize. The make-up and visual effects have always looked lived-in and organic to J.K. Rowling’s world and the story. Nothing looks over-the-top. This is unquestioned. But the real star of these films is the extraordinary Alan Rickman, whose morally conflicted Professor Severus Snape has always been the lightning rod in the Harry Potter series and, it is finally revealed, its bleeding, broken heart. One does not understand the sacrifice he has made until all is revealed in this chapter, and Rickman masterfully underplays the role, rather than making it an excuse for histrionics. Watch the whole series through again and you’ll see his character in a whole new way. This was how I imagined Snape would be in the books when I devoured them, and Rickman understood and honours his character with respect and love.

Best Documentary, Best Foreign Film and Best Editing: Pina

A stunning achievement, it’s incredibly gutsy to make a free-flowing art-house dance film with no narrative and obscure material, let alone make it in 3-D. Wim Wenders’s towering film is the future of the medium, at once rescuing the use of 3-D and making it artistically purposeful, while paying homage to a great figure of the dance world. Everything is cut just right in the dance sequences, so that unlike musical dance films in the past, they don’t cut away from the sequences and we see the bodies in movement, from the right angles. This film is not for the uninitiated, but those who want to see experimental art, this is for you.

Best Original Score and Best Sound: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

First of all, I can’t tell the difference between Sound Mixing and Sound Editing. I don’t know if I could understand unless I actually become a sound designer. All I know is that the Trent Reznor / Atticus Ross score is probably the most badass original music created for film in the last few years, and the sound design makes clever use of even the smallest motions, like the closing of a window in a windstorm, sound like a cry for help. Every time we hear something to break the silence, it sounds like someone is stifling a scream. Should we be worried? It’s these technical aspects that helped elevate the film’s source material and make it the equal of the magnificent original film.

And now, my own personal ballot on who I think will win this year’s Oscars. I usually average about 15 to 18 a year, but last year I went all-in on The King’s Speech and got just 11 of 22 correct. How will I do this year?

Best Film, Director, Actor, Original Score, Costume Design, Editing: The Artist (6)
Best Art Direction, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects: Hugo (4)
Best Actress, Supporting Actress: The Help (2)
Best Supporting Actor: Beginners
Best Original Screenplay: Midnight in Paris
Best Adapted Screenplay: Moneyball
Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation
Best Documentary: Paradise Lost 3
Best Original Song: The Muppets
Best Make-up: The Iron Lady
Best Documentary Short: Saving Face
Best Live Action Short: The Shore
Best Animated Short: La Luna
Best Animated Feature: Rango