Relitigating The Oscars: 5 years ago

And so we come to the end of the study. I’ve always felt five years is the absolute soonest to start looking back and really you need 10 years. But five is a good way to at least sense what was most glaring and what’s still in the conversation. 2012 wasn’t nearly the year 2002 and 2007 were but it wasn’t as bleak as 1997 either. It presents a nice middle ground to exit on.

Best Supporting Actress

The nominees were:

  • Amy Adams – The Master as Peggy Dodd
  • Sally Field – Lincoln as Mary Todd Lincoln
  • Anne Hathaway – Les Misérables as Fantine
  • Helen Hunt – The Sessions as Cheryl Cohen-Greene
  • Jacki Weaver – Silver Linings Playbook as Dolores Solitano

Who won: Anne Hathaway
Who should’ve won: Anne Hathaway
Analysis: Gotta start by noting my joy at seeing that Hunt was nominated this year. I’d forgotten that. But on to a rant. Hathaway is one of the most weirdly reviled people in the business to the point where I’ve been mocked for crushing on her. Um, why? I’ve never heard any stories about her being a pill to work with, in fact quite the opposite. She’s ridiculously talented. She takes chances and makes solid films. Why is someone like that the subject of so much derision? Anyhoo, she deserved this win.

Best Supporting Actor

The nominees were:

  • Alan Arkin – Argo as Lester Siegel
  • Robert De Niro – Silver Linings Playbook as Patrizio “Pat” Solitano, Sr.
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master as Lancaster Dodd
  • Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln as Thaddeus Stevens
  • Christoph Waltz – Django Unchained as Dr. King Schultz

Who won: Christoph Waltz
Who should’ve won: Tommy Lee Jones
Analysis: Leonardo DiCaprio was the best choice for this category to be clear but he’s not up. Waltz, well he’s perfectly fine here but this was the moment it became clear range might not be in his arsenal. I’m putting my vote on Jones who showed a bit more range than the norm for him. He’s tenacious but also human. It’s wonderful work from an actor who rarely phones it in.

Best Original Screenplay

The nominees were:

  • Amour – Michael Haneke
  • Django Unchained – Quentin Tarantino
  • Flight – John Gatins
  • Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
  • Zero Dark Thirty – Mark Boal

What won: Django Unchained
What should’ve won: Django Unchained
Analysis: PROBLEMATIC! Django Unchained is a problematic script by a problematic man. There, I’ve said it so I can focus on the actual quality of the script. Because damn is this a hell of a script. It tells a nicely epic story but moves so fast you’re swept up in it. The dialogue is killer. The characters are great. It’s just phenomenal writing start to finish. Tarantino needs therapy badly but he can write.

Best Adapted Screenplay

The nominees were:

  • Argo – Chris Terrio based on a selection from The Master of Disguise by Antonio J. Mendez and the Wired magazine article The Great Escape by Joshuah Bearman
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild – Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin based on the play Juicy and Delicious by Lucy Alibar
  • Life of Pi – David Magee based on the novel by Yann Martel
  • Lincoln – Tony Kushner based in part on the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • Silver Linings Playbook – David O. Russell based on the novel by Matthew Quick

What won: Argo
What should’ve won: Lincoln
Analysis: Look, I thought Argo was a blast. It was a film I loved so much I called my dad to recommend it. But the script is patent Hollywood bs of the worst kind. The same is likely true of Lincoln but I still preferred Tony Kushner’s work on it. He took the driest material and made you care. This is a film about the passage of a constitutional amendment but it’s gripping.

Best Actress

The nominees were:

  • Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty as Maya
  • Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook as Tiffany Maxwell
  • Emmanuelle Riva – Amour as Anne Laurent
  • Quvenzhané Wallis – Beasts of the Southern Wild as Hushpuppy
  • Naomi Watts – The Impossible as Maria Bennett

Who won: Jennifer Lawrence
Who should’ve won: Jessica Chastain
Analysis: Lawrence is a true talent but I’m not sure why she won for this. It’s fluffy work anybody could’ve pulled off. Chastain is by far and away the superior choice. Her work as a woman whose single minded devotion destroys her is nightmarishly hard to pull off since it’s really not conveyed in dialogue but Chastain sells it. When she breaks at the end, it’s powerful.

Best Actor

The nominees were:

  • Bradley Cooper – Silver Linings Playbook as Patrizio “Pat” Solitano, Jr.
  • Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln as Abraham Lincoln
  • Hugh Jackman – Les Misérables as Jean Valjean
  • Joaquin Phoenix – The Master as Freddie Quell
  • Denzel Washington – Flight as William “Whip” Whitaker, Sr.

Who won: Daniel Day-Lewis
Who should’ve won: Daniel Day-Lewis
Analysis: Here is a performance guilty of much I hate. It’s a biopic turn famed for how far Day-Lewis went into the role. But this one time? It’s right. The work done here by DDL is profound, humanizing an iconic figure. The scene between him and Joseph Gordon-Levitt arguing over the latter’s right to go to war will stand as one of the most devastating I’ve seen. This isn’t stunt acting. It’s great acting.

Best Director

The nominees were:

  • Michael Haneke – Amour
  • Benh Zeitlin – Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Ang Lee – Life of Pi
  • Steven Spielberg – Lincoln
  • David O. Russell – Silver Linings Playbook

Who won: Ang Lee
Who should’ve won: Ang Lee
Analysis: I run hot and cold on Ang Lee. Actually that’s untrue. I either utterly love what he does or I utterly hate it. He has yet to make a so-so film in my opinion. This? This I adore. Life of Pi is transcendent. It made me feel so joyous and fulfilled while leaving me with something to think on.

Best Picture

  • Argo – Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck and George Clooney, producers
  • Amour – Margaret Menegoz, Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka and Michael Katz, producers
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild – Dan Janvey, Josh Penn and Michael Gottwald, producers
  • Django Unchained – Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin and Pilar Savone, producers
  • Les Misérables – Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward and Cameron Mackintosh, producers
  • Life of Pi – Gil Netter, Ang Lee and David Womark, producers
  • Lincoln – Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, producers
  • Silver Linings Playbook – Donna Gigliotti, Bruce Cohen and Jonathan Gordon, producers
  • Zero Dark Thirty – Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow and Megan Ellison, producers

What won: Argo
What should’ve won: Life of Pi
Analysis: Argo was probably the back of the pack here. Not as moving as Life of Pi or important as Lincoln. It’s better than Silver Linings Playbook for sure. But overall not a bad set of nominees. Definitely nothing I feel much like discussing.

Final analysis: 2012 was the definition of very good. The movies were really enjoyable by and large. But here’s the thing: very good doesn’t make for very inspiring. It’s hard to find highs and lows when most art hits a single note. I think the Academy did fine but the films I most remember from 2012 were the mainstream films. The tide shifted.

So, what are my final thoughts on this experiment? I found that the academy overall chose the best of the five nominees about half the time. However that was because I limited myself to what was nominated. If I hadn’t, that number would’ve plummeted in every year but 2007, where I would’ve had the same choices. If we treat Best Picture as the one that matters then I feel secure in saying the hit rate would be 25% and that sounds right.

The Oscars are a great barometer for what’s fine. The films that win are rarely ghastly films (hello Crash) but they’re not great. They’re definitely not what endures. Chicago might be fun but when you say 2002, Minority Report jumps out, not that.

What matters is our own opinion. Not a trade show popularity contest. So yes, they’re fun to debate. But matter? No.

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