Sunday, February 26, 2012

Annual Look at Oscars, 2012

2011 was a good year for movies, but it was not a great year for movies.  Last year, I found The Social Network, The King's Speech and Inception to basically be instant classics.  I knew when I was watching them that these were the great movies of not just of last year but they were some of the best movies of our very young millennia.
This year...generally I found movies to be triumphs of style over substance, notably The Artist which has one of the lightest scripts I've ever seen for a serious Best Picture contender. I liked it but did not love it. While many people had mixed feelings about The Help, it was grounded by its performances and by avoiding melodrama. It was a movie I liked even more the second time I saw it. I liked The Descendents very much. Like The Help it had excellent performances and a script that was layered instead of flat. Finally, while Albert Nobbs and A Dangerous Method were overlooked, in many ways they were bookends of late Victorian and early-mid-Edwardian sexual mores in Europe - in short, movies for history-loving adults.
There were two hopeful trends in moviemaking:
  • The re-emergence of movies with strong casts of actresses.  Movies with strong, female-dominated casts were more prominent in the '30s, '50s and late '70s, then pretty much died out except for, maybe, one movie a year. This year, we had The Help, Albert Nobbs, Young AdultBridesmaids and even, when we want to talk about very strong female characters in a man's world, The Iron Lady and Friends with Benefits. While Bridesmaids ultimately was flawed by humor more suitable for 10 year old boys, it shows there may be hope for more comedies featuring women. Just, please, Hollywood, don't sit there and remake The Hangover or other gross-out buddy-boy movies with women. Listen to Diablo Cody, she generally gets it, and Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo seem to as well. We need more outrageous and committed women both in front of and behind the camera. Make smart flicks about women, not stupid gross-out-flicks and rom-coms.
  • The willingness to take risks with different kinds of movies. While I don't think The Artist was the best movie of 2011, it took risks and it looked great. Ditto Hugo for being one of the rare movies to do 3-D correctly.
Unlike most Americans, I actually went to more movies last year. I saw a few junk movies (the Razzie-nominated I Don't Know How She Does It and Abduction, and at least two other bad movies - the most recent Pirates movie and Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud). But I'd really like to see more movies for adults - movies like Albert Nobbs, The Descendents, The Help, A Dangerous Method, Margin Call, even Young Adult - movies that are thoughtful and don't rely on gore and explosions.
In short, I'd go the the theater more often if I got to see more adult movies and less junk. That would include, for example, the reboot of The Muppets that was frequently a sly and subversive exercise.
Things multiplexes could consider - dedicate some of the multiplex for movies and drinks for adults and keep the kid movies, video games, candy and party rooms in another part of the multiplex.  Have a weekday with special screenings for retired folks and for people who might have to attend a movie with a baby.  You have all that space - target its use a little better.
Now, my look at this year's Oscar nominees. I'll be at an Oscar party this year so I won't be online during the Oscars, but I'm sure I'll have some things to say about the show later tonight or tomorrow. [And I was at the party, briefly. It turned out that there was basically no place to sit and watch the Oscars at this Oscar party. So, I flew home, got out of my party dress, but on my pajamas and watched the show from the comfort of my chair.]

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

  • Demián Bichir - A Better Life
  • George Clooney - The Descendents (should win)
  • Jean Dujardin - The Artist (will win * * WON)
  • Gary Oldman - Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
  • Brad Pitt - Moneyball
Jean Dujardin has a very expressive face...but Clooney's performance was great and he deserves the Oscar. Kudos to Gary Oldman for playing such a cipher in TTSS. [[Caught a bit of an interview from the Oscar lunch with Demian Bichir and he is very funny and bold. He'd be good working on a movie with Clooney and Pitt - he has that same attitude in real life. Excellent to see a likely future Oscar nominee, Benedict Cumberbatch, in a bit of the Gary Oldman scene. "When you get the answer you're looking for, hang up" - great line from Brad Pitt's scene in Moneyball. I do admire Jean Dujardin's performance, but...I just preferred George Clooney's for 2011. It's amazing how good Dujardin always looks when he much be terribly jet-lagged.]]

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

  • Glenn Close - Albert Nobbs
  • Viola Davis - The Help (should win, will win)
  • Rooney Mara - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Meryl Streep - The Iron Lady (WON)
  • Michelle Williams - My Week With Marilyn
I have loved every single performance Meryl Streep has given on film. I think I've seen them all. She could win every award every year because she consistently makes good choices. However, the performance I thought the most about this year was Glenn Close's amazing performance in Albert Nobbs. She's also added a great deal to movie-making for nearly 30 years, and still has never won an Oscar. But...when I rewatched The Help, Viola Davis was even better than I'd remembered. She had a very tricky role, and, like Glenn Close's performance, it was all about being very quiet and very internal, except when you looked at her eyes. Michelle Williams also captured Marilyn Monroe in a way I did not think she'd be able to. This is one of those categories that if any of these women won, I would not be upset. But, I'm rooting for Viola Davis. [[They chose the perfect note from Albert Nobbs for Glenn Close. They chose an odd bit for Viola Davis because people who didn't see The Help had no clue what she was talking about. Lovely comments for Meryl Streep by Colin Firth (well, they've worked together so it sounds somewhat natural). Great scene for Meryl from The Iron Lady, though it could confuse Americans. Sweet comments for Michelle Williams. I'm not sad to see that Meryl won, but I did rather think it might have been Viola's year. Lovely that Meryl remembered to thank her husband first, and then her make-up artist second. ;-> Good speech all around.]]

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Kenneth Branagh - My Week With Marilyn
  • Jonah Hill - Moneyball
  • Nick Nolte - Warrior
  • Christopher Plummer - Beginners (should win, will win * * WON)
  • Max von Sydow - Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
I do a little extra work, and have can say now that I worked on an Oscar-nominated movie(!) - the Pittsburgh-made Warrior. I was in Nick Nolte's AA meeting at the very beginning of the movie, and if the camera shot had stayed fixed on the church stairs as Nolte drove away for another 3 seconds, I would have stayed in the movie. It was interesting to watch Nolte work, and he wound up giving an incredible performance in Warrior. Neither Branagh nor von Sydow really did that much for me. So as much as I enjoyed Nolte's fine work, I think I'll go along with the crowd and say Plummer will win for Beginners as he's owed for a lifetime of mostly great work. [[Really delighted - he is so owed, especially for The Last Station a few years back. Wonderful speech.]]

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Bérénice Bejo - The Artist
  • Jessica Chastain - The Help
  • Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids
  • Janet McTeer - Albert Nobbs
  • Octavia Spencer - The Help (should win, will win * * WON)
Saw all of these performances and they were all very good. Janet McTeer who was utterly magnificent in Albert Nobbs and Melissa McCarthy was deliciously fearless in Bridesmaids. But I was very drawn in by Octavia Spencer who was so wonderful in The Help [[YAYAYAYAYAAY Octavia!! ]].

Best Animated Feature Film

  • A Cat in Paris - Alain Gagnol, Jean-Loup Felicioli
  • Chico & Rita - Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal
  • Kung Fu Panda 2 - Jennifer Yuh Nelson
  • Puss in Boots - Chris Miller
  • Rango - Gore Verbinski (should win, will win * * WON)
I saw none of the Best Animated Feature nominees, but heard good things about both Rango and Puss in Boots so Rango is my guess.

Best Art Direction

  • The Artist - Laurence Bennett (Production Design); Robert Gould (Set Decoration) (will win)
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 - Stuart Craig (Production Design); Stephenie McMillan (Set Decoration)
  • Hugo - Dante Ferretti (Production Design); Francesca Lo Schiavo (Set Decoration) (should win * * WON)
  • Midnight in Paris - Anne Seibel (Production Design); Hélène Dubreuil (Set Decoration)
  • War Horse - Rick Carter (Production Design); Lee Sandales (Set Decoration)
While I can't speak for War Horse, the art direction for each of the other movies was excellent at capturing a specific time and place. Hugo had more interesting Art Direction, but I expect The Artist will win, though that wouldn't be that bad. But this is an example where I wish Harry Potter would get a special Oscar - its Art Direction and Special Effects have been consistently excellent over eight movies. [[Great to see Hugo win the first two awards of the night!!!!!]]

Best Cinematography

  • The Artist - Guillaume Schiffman (will win)
  • The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - Jeff Cronenweth
  • Hugo - Robert Richardson (should win * WON)
  • The Tree of Life - Emmanuel Lubezki
  • War Horse - Janusz Kaminski
This should be Robert Richard's for Hugo, who, I'm sure with help from director Martin Scorsese figured out the right way to do 3-D. This movie looked absolutely amazing. Instead of using that old and annoying 3D trick of "throwing" things at the audience, the photography in this movie gave the train station great depth. The cinemetography for The Artist was very good, but not ground-breaking. I suspect The Artist will win. [[I'm especially glad that Hugo won this award!!]]

Best Costume Design

  • Anonymous - Lisy Christl
  • The Artist - Mark Bridges (should win, will win * * WON)
  • Hugo - Sandy Powell
  • Jane Eyre - Michael O'Connor
  • W.E. - Arianne Phillips
I don't have a problem with the likely win of The Artist for its costume, but I would like to observe that Hugo walked a fine line for costuming what had started off as a kid's book and delivered a costume look that was slightly "hyper-real" without being "surreal."

Best Directing

  • The Artist - Michel Hazanavicius (will win * * WON)
  • The Descendants - Alexander Payne (should win)
  • Hugo - Martin Scorsese
  • Midnight in Paris - Woody Allen
  • The Tree of Life - Terrence Malick
Alexander Payne keeps directing small gems of the human experience. Love his work, wish he'd win an Oscar for The Descendants. My hope is that The Descendants gets Best Director and The Artist gets Best Picture. But, I have the feeling The Artist will get most of the awards it's nominated for, including this one. Hugo is a wonderful movie, with a somewhat more complicated script than The Artist and great performances, especially from the kids. I very much enjoyed Midnight in Paris, but I don't believe it would be in this category if it hadn't shown such a return to form by Woody Allen. It is too bad. Because the other person who deserved to be in this category is Tate Taylor for The Help. I made a point of rewatching The Help this weekend, and it's even better on a second viewing. [[Oh well...well, maybe it'll go the other way, and something like Hugo or The Descendants will win Best Picture? I don't begrudge The Artist winning some awards, but I just didn't think it was great enough to win loads of awards (which, as it's turned out, it did not)]]

Best Documentary Feature

  • Hell and Back Again - Danfung Dennis and Mike Lerner
  • If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front - Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman
  • Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory - Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (should win, will win)
  • Pina - Wim Wenders and Gian-Piero Ringel
  • Undefeated - TJ Martin, Dan Lindsay and Rich Middlemas (WON)
Haven't seen any, but I'm guessing Paradise Lost because documentaries that point out injustices tend to win. There's a chance for Wim Wenders' artistic experiment Pina to take the prize. [[The producers of The Undefeated gave a funny speech. Ahh, the Undefeated is related to Weinstein. Oh well...]]

Best Documentary Short

  • "The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement" - Robin Fryday and Gail Dolgin
  • "God is the Bigger Elvis" - Rebecca Cammisa and Julie Anderson
  • "Incident in New Baghdad" - James Spione
  • "Saving Face" - Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (WON)
  • "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom" - Lucy Walker and Kira Carstensen (should win, will win)
Haven't seen any of them, so this is a guess. [[If I'd remembered what "Saving Face" was about, I probably would have thought that one would have won.]]

Best Film Editing

  • The Artist - Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius (should win, will win)
  • The Descendants - Kevin Tent
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall (WON)
  • Hugo - Thelma Schoonmaker
  • Moneyball - Christopher Tellefsen
Will give a "but" - Moneyball has many fans, and maybe it'll win this Oscar. [[Well I was completely wrong on this one - but was bound to happen. I also didn't like the editing of The Social Network last year.]]

Best Foreign Language Film

  • Belgium - Bullhead - Michael R. Roskam, director
  • Canada - Monsieur Lazhar - Philippe Falardeau, director
  • Iran - A Separation - Asghar Farhadi, director (should win, will win * * WON)
  • Israel - Footnote - Joseph Cedar, director
  • Poland - In Darkness - Agnieszka Holland, director
A Separation has great buzz, and In Darkness seems to have some. [[The Iranian director gave a wonderful acceptance speech]]

Best Makeup

  • Albert Nobbs - Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnston and Matthew W. Mungle
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 - Nick Dudman, Amanda Knight and Lisa Tomblin
  • The Iron Lady - Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland (should win, will win * * WON)
I think it'll go for a smaller movie, and make-up made Streep look uncannily like Thatcher.

Best Music (Original Score)

  • The Adventures of Tintin - John Williams
  • The Artist - Ludovic Bource (will win * * WON)
  • Hugo - Howard Shore (should win)
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Alberto Iglesias
  • War Horse - John Williams
Not sure...wonder if the interesting Hugo score has a chance?

Best Music (Original Song)

  • "Man or Muppet" - The Muppets - Music and Lyric by Bret McKenzie (should win, will win * * WON)
  • “Real in Rio” - Rio - Music by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown; Lyric by Siedah Garrett
Haven't heard "Real in Rio" but "Man or Muppet" worked perfectly. [[At least they showed a little of "Man or Muppet," but not the part with Jim Parsons. Yay Bret McKenzie!!!!]]

Best Picture

  • The Artist - Thomas Langmann, Producer (will win * * WON)
  • The Descendants - Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Producers (should win)
  • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Scott Rudin, Producer
  • The Help - Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, Producers
  • Hugo - Graham King and Martin Scorsese, Producers
  • Midnight in Paris - Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum, Producers
  • Moneyball - Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt, Producers
  • The Tree of Life - Sarah Green, Bill Pohlad, Dede Gardner and Grant Hill, Producers
  • War Horse - Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers

I expect The Artist to win, but I really preferred The Descendents, The Help and Hugo to it. The Artist is a nice, inventive movie, but it isn't great. [[Nice blend of Best Picture nominated scenes just before the award was announced. ]]

Best Short Film (Animated)

  • "Dimanche/Sunday: - Patrick Doyon
  • "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" - William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg (should win, will win * * WON)
  • "La Luna" - Enrico Casarosa
  • "A Morning Stroll" - Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe
  • "Wild Life" - Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby
A guess - haven't seen anything in this category. [[The winner looks so cool. "Wild Life" also looked very good.]]

Best Short Film (Live Action)

  • "Pentecost" - Peter McDonald and Eimear O'Kane
  • "Raju" - Max Zähle and Stefan Gieren
  • "The Shore" - Terry George and Oorlagh George (WON)
  • "Time Freak" - Andrew Bowler and Gigi Causey (should win, will win)
  • "Tuba Atlantic" - Hallvar Witzø
A guess - haven't seen anything in this category. [["The Shore" was made by a friend of Michael Moore's]]

Best Sound Editing

  • Drive - Lon Bender and Victor Ray Ennis (should win, will win)
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Ren Klyce
  • Hugo - Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty (WON)
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon - Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
  • War Horse - Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom
Like Moneyball, I expect Drive to win something, somewhere...

Best Sound Mixing

  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Bo Persson
  • Hugo - Tom Fleischman and John Midgley (WON)
  • Moneyball - Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, David Giammarco and Ed Novick (should win, will win)
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon - Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Peter J. Devlin
  • War Horse - Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson and Stuart Wilson
20-time Oscar nominee (and no wins) Kevin O'Connell managed to not be nominated (he worked on The Muppets this year). Maybe this will be Moneyball's Oscar?

Best Visual Effects

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 - Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler and John Richardson
  • Hugo - Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossmann and Alex Henning (WON)
  • Real Steel - Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor and Swen Gillberg
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes - Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White and Daniel Barrett (should win, will win)
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon - Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew Butler and John Frazier
I keep going back between Harry Potter and Planet of the Apes. Hugo's effects were fine, but Real Steel and Transformers were so-so. I think I'm going with Planet of the Apes for its excellent integration of San Francisco and apes.

Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

  • The Descendants - Screenplay by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash (should win, will win * * WON)
  • Hugo - Screenplay by John Logan
  • The Ides of March - Screenplay by George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
  • Moneyball - Screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin. Story by Stan Chervin
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Screenplay by Bridget O'Connor & Peter Straughan
A tough category. The Ides of March had two great first act and a great scene in the third act, but a horrible, horrible, horrible third act. I found Tinker Tailor... very engrossing despite my strong dislike of spy movies. Really caught that mid-70s angst very well. Hugo was about the only movie I had a slight "instant classic" vibe about this year. Ultimately, I have to go with The Descendants for its excellent characters and for the sense that life is always a little off-kilter. Because often it is.

Best Writing (Original Screenplay)

  • The Artist - Written by Michel Hazanavicius (will win)
  • Bridesmaids - Written by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
  • Margin Call - Written by J.C. Chandor (should win)
  • Midnight in Paris - Written by Woody Allen (WON)
  • A Separation - Written by Asghar Farhadi
And, actually, this category isn't so tough, but it'll probably go to The Artist anyway even though the script is very cliched throughout. There was much to admire about Bridesmaids and it's nice to see a comedy be nominated, but there were too many scenes that were, frankly, juvenile. Midnight in Paris was a sweet ode to 1920s Paris intellectual life, and it has a chance. However, Margin Call was the sharpest script of last year, and that's the script that deserves to win. [[Nice to see they showed a very good scene from Bridesmaids. At least The Artist didn't win - Midnight in Paris was a lovely flick.]]

Governor's Awards/Honorary Oscars

  • James Earl Jones
  • Dick Smith
  • Oprah Winfrey (Gene Hershalt Award)

Comments on the Show

Two tech awards were given out in the first 20 minutes. They could have saved another five minutes by dropping the Billy's Oscar song which was pretty awful this year. Liked the small clusters of musicians on the balconies.

I liked Sandra Bullock's presentation, but didn't she speak German as a joke during a presentation a few years back?

Liked the acknowledgement of the love of movie-going, and the popcorn girls were amusing.

The JC Penny ads with Ellen were all very amusing.

Enjoyed the short inserts with actors talking about movies they loved.

Sad to see there are still so few women who work in the technical end of movies.

Good to see Michael Douglas looking better!

Award Counts

  • The Artist - 5
  • Beginners - 1
  • The Descendants - 1
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - 1
  • The Help - 1
  • Hugo - 5
  • The Iron Lady - 2
  • Midnight in Paris -1
  • The Muppets - 1
  • The Separation - 1

My guesses - 12 out of 24 - 50%