Another year in film has come and gone, and Awards Season is here at last. I perk up to follow the happenings in Hollywood this time of year the way some people emerge from hibernation for March Madness. There’s excitement and competition and attractive people in expensive clothes. It’s a time when achievement is recognized and talent is rewarded. We’re in the thick of it now and the Academy Awards, the crown jewel of all awards shows, are just around the corner. Who will get to take home Oscar? Let’s take a look at this year’s nominees for Best Picture.
It’s always good to see a foreign film make it into the Best Picture nominees, and it’s even better when it is a film that is as sweet and thoughtful as Amour. Directed by Michael Haneke, this love story centers on Georges and Anne, an elderly couple who are clearly still very much in love. After Anne suffers a series of strokes that leave her in ever-increasing states of dependence, Georges and his family are left with the responsibility of caring for her. This is a story that is at times happy and at times sad, but always beautiful.
I don’t know many people who have seen this film, or are interested in seeing it. I find subtitled films to be a fine way of combining books and movies, my two greatest loves, so I was eager to see this highly acclaimed film. While I enjoyed the storyline and was blown away by Emmanuelle Riva, recently the oldest woman to be nominated for Best Actress, I found that I couldn’t really lose myself in this film. I wanted to feel Anne’s frustration and Georges’ undying love, but instead, I was checking my watch and letting my mind wander. Despite that, this film is beautiful in its own way; while most of it takes place in Anne and Georges’ apartment, it shows off the European architecture and is shot in a unique and captivating way. I would recommend seeing this film at least once, as long as you are wide awake and ready to focus.
I have always been a Ben Affleck fan, even through the Lopez years, and I’ve been so happy with his recent work as a director. Argo is no exception. This film is loosely based on the events of the 1980 hostage crisis in Iran, in which enraged Iranians took control of the U.S. Embassy and held a group of American diplomats hostage, while six other Americans escaped and took shelter with the Canadian ambassador. Ben Affleck plays Tony Mendez, the CIA agent tasked with finding a way to get the six Americans out of Iran and back on American soil.
This movie grabbed my attention, held it, and didn’t let it go until the credits started to roll. The whole cast turned in a spectacular performance. Alan Arkin managed to snag a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his character as a Hollywood producer who is in on the plan, but Bryan Cranston was the real show-stopper for me. His portrayal of a harried CIA agent trying to control a mission from across the ocean while wading through bureaucratic red tape swept me into the urgency of the film and had me on the edge of my seat. Ben Affleck is always at his best when he’s his own director, and he pulled off his character in winning form.
This film was incredibly well-done, and is accurate and controversial enough to be relevant in this year’s race to the Oscars. While Affleck missed out on a nod for Best Director this year, I’m hoping this film continues its winning streak and takes home the most sought-after award.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
This movie took me by surprise. I saw it after the nominees had been announced, but it hasn’t gotten the kind of buzz we’ve seen with Django Unchained or Les Misérables, so I didn’t really know anything about it. This film, with a cast of people completely new to the film industry, was a heartwarming look at how truly free spirits on the edge of society live, love, and laugh together. Hushpuppy, played by the adorable Quvenzhané Wallis, is the heroine of this story – a precocious, self-sufficient girl who is one with the universe and feels a deep connection to her home and her father. This film is equal parts comedy, drama, and fantasy as tragedy strikes the bayous of Louisiana, sweeping Hushpuppy and her close-knit community up with it.
The acting in this film was phenomenal, considering the two leads were played by a then-7-year-old and a bakery owner. But what I really enjoyed about it was the music. The soundtrack throughout this film complements the actors’ performances as well as the story line; the score rises and falls with the action, sweeping viewers into its ethos until you’re right there with Hushpuppy as the water rises around her. Surprisingly, it was not nominated for Best Original Score.
While I enjoyed this movie and would recommend it to anyone, I don’t think it has generated enough buzz this year to take home the Oscar. I’d love to see Wallis turn her Best Actress nomination into a win, if only to hear the acceptance speech a 9-year-old comes up with.
One of the most anticipated movies of the year, Django Unchained is Quentin Tarantino at his most Quentin Tarantino-est. Jamie Foxx plays Django, a slave-turned-bounty hunter under the tutelage of the ever-amazing Christoph Waltz, and together, they go in search of Django’s wife, Broomhilde (Kerry Washington). Waltz is, unsurprisingly, nominated for Best Supporting Actor, while Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance as the reprehensible villain Calvin Candie has somehow been overlooked by the Academy.
This film is everything we are used to seeing from Tarantino. Exaggerated blood splatters abound, profanity is spread liberally throughout the script, and Tarantino himself makes a (cringe-worthy) appearance. However, it seemed to me that behind all the blood, guts, and gore, there was something else to this film. It sheds light on our nation’s scar tissue by portraying slavery through the eyes of a very recently freed slave and gives us a story in which the good guy wins and the bad guys get what’s coming to them – something that history often lacks. Some prominent members of the African-American community have protested the film, saying that it makes light of slavery. For me, it left me feeling like I really, really needed to rewatch Inglourious Basterds.
I really wanted to like this film. I saw the musical on stage a few years ago when I was too young to really understand or appreciate it, but I’ve always carried around a sense that this is something that I should like. So, I was excited to see this story played out through a medium that I love with actors whose work I’ve enjoyed, for the most part.
That said, I was really disappointed in this adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel (which, granted, I have never read). While I know that all the actors in this production are talented and have impressed me before, it felt like they didn’t really bring it for this one. The vocal talents of each lead performer are well-documented, and yet I was only really impressed with those characters whose roles were reprised from Broadway. Hugh Jackman, who hosted the Tony Awards this year and has an impressive Broadway career himself, is usually so charismatic in all his roles, and yet I felt like his Jean Valjean fell flat. Russell Crowe, a musician on the side, also seemed to only be half-hearted about the whole thing. Eddie Redmayne, an actor I have always admired, had the enthusiasm but lacked the vocal range to bring Marius to life.
After winning the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress, Anne Hathaway seems like a shoe-in for the Oscar. Her overwrought and much-hyped performance as Fantine was the part of the film I disliked the most. While the musical numbers have stayed in my head, and I have a renewed desire to actually read the book, this film won’t make my Top Ten list this year.
Read Part 2 for more thoughts on the rest of this year’s nominees!