On the eve of the Academy Awards, I’ve seen eight of the nine nominees for Best Picture. (You can read my earlier posts here, here, and here.) The only missing nominee? That would be Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. I saw Tarantino’s Inglourious Bastards with its similar fantasy-laden subject area and over-the-top, almost cartoonish violence a few years back, and I simply decided that Django wasn’t Best Picture quality in my book. The fact that it is never mentioned in the top five contenders just confirms my decision.
But this afternoon, I saw another controversial – but much more substantive – movie, Zero Dark Thirty. Despite the controversy surrounding the movie, I’m here to say that it works on many levels and deserves the consideration for Best Picture. Jessica Chastain is a real force, carrying the movie forward with her fine acting.
In the end, however, I have to agree with Timothy Egan of the New York Times, who writes about the problems of Zero Dark Thirty. The lack of a larger context is – in the end – much more problematic than the torture scenes.
It’s not just the torture and its inherent message that young, attractive Americans got the ultimate payoff in part by doing what German bad guys used to do in the movies.
It’s the omissions. In “Zero Dark Thirty,” several larger truths — the many intelligence mistakes, the loss of focus and diversion of resources, and the fallout from the folly of the Iraq war — are missing. This is a crucial point, because the film is likely to end up as the most popular version of the singular trauma in the first decade of the 21st century.
Given that, the flawed movie is still worth watching and I recommend it.
So…it is time for the envelope.
Best Actor: This seems the easiest of all the choices. Daniel Day-Lewis so becomes Abraham Lincoln in a commanding performance, that all the others pale in comparison.
Best Actress: There are three great nominees for this award, and I think it may be the most difficult. As noted above, Jessica Chastain is terrific. Emmanuelle Rive turns in such a wonderful performance in Amour. And I fell in love with Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook. I think Lawrence will win, but I’d be happy with any of these three ladies.
Actor in a Supporting Role: This category also features a great deal of talented actors. Robert De Niro was outstanding in Silver Linings Playbook, a performance matched by Alan Arkin in Argo. But I am betting on Tommy Lee Jones, whose Thaddeus Stevens came alive on the screen and held its own with Lewis’ Lincoln.
Actress in a Supporting Role: The fan favorite is Anne Hathaway for her role in Les Mis, but I would give the award to Sally Field, who did a superb job with the very difficult Mary Todd Lincoln.
Best Picture: The rumor mill has Argo as the winner. And why wouldn’t Hollywood want to give the award to a film that has Hollywood coming to the rescue! I could live with that – it was a terrific movie. My favorite remains Lincoln, which was compelling and it had an important story to tell. I’d also be thrilled if Amour pulled off a surprise win.
Behind those three, I have Zero Dark Thirty and Silver Linings Playbook. These five films were all very good-to-terrific. After that, they drop off for me, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy Life of Pi or Les Mis. In any event, here’s my final list:
3. Zero Dark Thirty
4. Silver Linings Playbook
5. Life of Pi
6. Les Mis
7. Beasts of the Southern Wild
8. Django Unchained
It has also been fun to read other predictions, perhaps the most interesting coming from Nate Silver and his FiveThirtyEight blog.
So let’s sit back tomorrow night, and see what the evening brings. Bring on the popcorn!
More to come…