by Jim Keller
Last month, I revisited my preliminary predictions in all of the major categories and offered up my final take on the season to date. Since then, the votes have been cast, the nominees announced, and two of the major awards programs came and went—all leaving in their wake a pile of bruised egos and, for the lucky ones, fluttering hearts. This edition includes a breakdown of my predictions versus the actual nominations as well as some short reviews of those films in the running, and concludes with my winner predictions. The table reflects those predictions along with an asterisk for films discussed in this installment. Misses have been crossed out and actual nominees not predicted are in bold. Predicted winners have been underlined.
As I mentioned in the last installment, the road to Oscar is paved by the studios. Here is a list of this year’s casualties—those that failed to land a nomination in the main categories: Focus Features, Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment (the former acquired the latter), IFC Films, Music Box Films, Millennium Films, Magnolia Pictures, Columbia Pictures.
Argo (director: Ben Affleck, studio: Warner Brothers):
FYC: What begins as an innocent high-stakes plot to rescue six Americans from the home of the Canadian ambassador in early 1980s Iran, evolves into a seat-grabbing thriller that surprises and stuns. Ben Affleck, once again, proves his might behind the lens and on this third outing his efforts will not be ignored.
Lincoln (director: Steven Spielberg, studio: DreamWorks Studios):
FYC: Steven Spielberg’s deft hand guides us through one of the most turbulent times in US history as our 16th President scrambles along with his cabinet to secure enough votes to abolish slavery, end the Civil War and reunify our nation. Daniel Day-Lewis is magnificent as Abraham Lincoln—a man unclouded by inherent clout who boasts a golden spirit in the body of a gentle giant. Sally Field gives a rousing performance as Mary Todd Lincoln and Tommy Lee Jones portrays Thaddeus Stevens as an iron-fisted man who emboldens Lincoln’s plight. There is much to love here.
Beasts of the Southern Wild (director: Benh Zeitlin, studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures):
FYC: Tragedy translates through the eyes of a young girl as she learns the ins and outs of growing up in a small delta community. Quvenzhané Wallis is a force to be reckoned with as Hushpuppy—a girl with a steel spine we’re privileged to follow along on a quest of the mind, body, and spirit. First time director Benh Zeitlin captures the innocence of life and seamlessly juxtaposes it against the urgency of death—it’s truly masterful work.
Life of Pi (director: Ang Lee, studio: 20th Century Fox):
FYC: A young boy’s fight for life at sea becomes complicated thanks to a determined tiger in this retelling of a remarkable journey. While Ang Lee’s adaptation of the novel is visually stunning, I expected something bigger and wondered if some greater message could be culled from the novel.
Les Misérables (director: Tom Hooper, studio: Universal Pictures):
FYC: While Tom Hooper’s much-touted, live theatrical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s French Revolution classic is ambitious, it’s replete with enough cheese to make a pizza pie. Fortunately for us, it has given way to some of the year’s best performances. Anne Hathaway’s Fantine sets the bar for years to come and Hugh Jackman sinks his teeth into Jean Valjean, the tale’s most versatile character. Samantha Barks and Eddie Redmayne also hold their own in this sprawling cast. The age-old question is: can the performances lift the film high enough to avoid being dragged into the dregs by this weighty production?
Silver Linings Playbook (director: David O. Russell, studio: The Weinstein Company):
FYC: Bradley Cooper may be the bipolar Pat freed from a mental institution to resume life and mend fences in this adaptation of Matthew Quick’s novel, but it’s Jennifer Lawrence who scores. She builds a would-be supporting character into a woman brimming with defiant spirit and a solid heart as Tiffany, Pat’s pal and confidant. Robert De Niro is also of note as Pat’s OCD Eagles-obsessed father. While David O. Russell took several liberties with the script, it’s bound to be a sure-fire hit.
The Impossible (director: Juan Antonio Bayona, studio: Warner Brothers):
The true story of a family separated during the 2004 tsunami that rocked Southeast Asia carries the weight of the world on its shoulders, and doesn’t let go. Through this impossible journey, Naomi Watts’s matriarch battles every step of the way as she gives a breathtaking, masterful performance. Newcomer Tom Holland, as the eldest of her three sons, also commands the screen. While difficult to watch, the fruit of this family’s endeavor is as satisfying as a meal fit for a king.
Django Unchained (director: Quentin
Tarantino, studio: The Weinstein Company):
FYC: Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti western-cum-slave provocateur is another tried and true effort from the blood-spattering auteur, but is a little too big for its britches. Featuring a throw-away performance from Jamie Foxx, the film’s strength lies instead in its supporting players: Christoph Walz, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Samuel L. Jackson. Word is Harvey Weinstein pushed Tarantino to finalize the film for a Christmas Day release and it shows. I can’t help but wonder if Django’s chains could’ve grappled tighter had the film not been rushed to completion.
The Sessions (director: Ben Lewin, studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures):
FYC: A man in an iron lung reaches out to the world to assist him in losing his virginity—based on Mark O’Brien’s true story. John Hawkes and Helen Hunt shine as O’Brien and his sex surrogate, respectively, but the plot skips plainly from point A to B, leaving very little to savor.
The Master (director: Paul Thomas Anderson, studio: The Weinstein Company):
FYC: Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant as Freddie Quell—an unsettled naval drifter lost on the currents of life, who discovers “The Cause” in 1950s’ America and is swept up by its charismatic leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his wife (Amy Adams). Throughout his journey, Quell seeks to leave behind the damning dogs of his dark past, not knowing what lies before him or how to achieve his innermost desires. But who really pulls the strings on our lives?
Zero Dark Thirty (director: Kathryn Bigelow, studio: Sony Pictures):
FYC: Kathryn Bigelow’s long-gestating hunt for Osama Bin Laden sparkles with life thanks to the sure-fire talent of Jessica Chastain as the cagey, calculating Maya—a CIA operative with a keen sense for tracking, armed with willful determination. Bigelow once again proves herself a force behind the lens and is clearly comfortable presiding over a sprawling cast. This is one hell of a film.
Next up will be my annual Crystal Ball edition where I spitball from some of 2013’s film offerings.