Early February is here, and I’m prepared to mail my Oscar ballot to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences offices in Hollywood, California. It will be sealed and posted in my mailbox for pickup on Saturday. It’s sad to know the Postal Service will no longer be delivering mail Saturdays by this time next year. With the advent of cable television’s video-on-demand, and the available streaming from Netflix, I wonder how long we have before a Saturday night at the movies becomes a thing of the past as well.
“Quirky” best describes the method with which the Academy now asks us to use when we vote for Best Picture. Having us rank the ten films 1st through 10th assures, according to them, that this highly coveted award goes to the most qualified. Allow me to digress: Best Picture is rarely given to the box-office darling. And since the business of America is business, much attention is paid to how much money a particular film rakes in at the box office. “Box office” comes from days of old, and refers to the room upstairs in theaters where they kept the “box” with the cash. In my ballot envelope, on a separate page, I suggested the film industry discontinue reporting how much a film earns every weekend. Is the dollar amount taken at the gate indicative of a film’s worth? Apparently. I advised them to release instead the number of people that view a movie, much like box scores from baseball games show the attendance and not the gate. To take this a step further, I suspect less than one percent of the people scanning those dollar amounts have a financial stake in the box-office ‘take’ of those films. And lastly, the number of theaters that screen films mature adults would consider praiseworthy is far less than those showing the blockbusters marketed to the guns, blood, and explosions crowd. To help the public see that, I instructed the representatives of all media outlets, and the major as well as independent studios, to release a new type of screen/audience ratio we could use to see for ourselves the unbalanced opportunities to choose between say, Hushpuppy and Stallone, Timothy Green and Bruce Willis.
So, on we go to the envelopes.
Of the ten films nominated for Best Picture, I proposed the Academy now give out gold, silver, and bronze statues of Oscars, with the producers and directors of all three films together on the stage to receive them. No more whittling ten to one…let’s spread the wealth, Olympics-style.
Gold – Beasts of the Southern Wild
Silver – Silver Linings Playbook
Bronze – Amour
Go see these three movies. I think you’ll agree.
Les Misérables has already been done, and Hugh Jackman is no Liam Neeson. Life of Pi was very ambitious – anything Ang Lee creates is. Argo does not belong on this list. Lincoln belongs on The History Channel. Django Unchained is the feel-bad movie of the year, and Zero Dark Thirty would play better on either C-Span or in a theater on a military base.
Beasts (see my previous article), filmed in 16mm, is a revelation. Here’s an analogy: Countless sunsets have taken place, but B.O.T.S.W. takes one of those sunsets, drenches it with cherry and orange metaphor, the clouds drip, our skin crawls with wonder, and everyone abandons their cars on the highways to step out and watch as the sun disappears. This is unlike anything we’ve seen. Beasts is a film heads and shoulders above the other nominated nine. Silver Linings Playbook wins, appropriately, silver. A gem of a story, told with an ensemble pulled together to work like the family they portrayed. The music is perfect, the dialogue crisp, and the cinematography is smart. Amour comes from the Austrian director Michael Haneke. A scan of his filmography will provide you with hours of great cinema. Here Haneke uses a small cast and small set – this sublime movie rarely leaves the apartment of the elderly couple. Charlotte Rampling portrays their daughter, and her role’s touch in the film is another great reason to see this movie.
For the acting categories, my ballot proposed a winner and runner-up, a gold statue and a smaller also-gold mini-Oscar. With this caliber of talent, how can we pick just one?
Bradley Cooper – Silver Linings Playbook
Joaquin Phoenix – The Master
Emmanuelle Riva – Amour
Quevenzhané Wallis – Beasts of the Southern Wild
Best Supporting Actor
Robert De Niro – Silver Linings Playbook
Alan Arkin – Argo
Best Supporting Actress
Helen Hunt – The Sessions
Sally Field – Lincoln
Of the remaining categories, the six I chose to include in this article are of the most interest to me. For directors, I selected one for gold and two for the silver, and the other 5 categories get single gold statues.
Benh Zeitlin – Beasts of the Southern Wild
Michael Haneke – Amour
(Haneke and Russell tied for silver)
David O. Russell – Silver Linings Playbook
Best Original Screenplay
Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola – Moonrise Kingdom
Best Adapted Screenplay
Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin – Beasts of the Southern Wild
Best Foreign Film
Kon-Tiki – Norway
(foreign films have scored nominations for Best Picture before, and since Haneke’s film is a dual-nomination, it seems a lock for it to win this category. I highly suggest you enjoy the rest of this field:
No – Chile
A Royal Affair – Denmark
War Witch – Canada
Past foreign films to capture Best Picture nominations were:
Grand Illusion – French, 1938
The Emigrants – Swedish, 1972
Cries and Whispers – Sweden, 1973
Il Postino – Italian/Spanish, 1995
Life is Beautiful – Italian, 1998
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Mandarin Chinese
Last year’s Best Picture Oscar went to the 2011 film The Artist, a foreign film from start to finish. For that film, both the producer and the director is French, and both lead actor and actress are French, but apparently the lack of subtitles (it was a silent film), the presence of John Goodman in a story set in Hollywood, and the financial backing of the Weinstein Company combined to make it a domestic film. It was a “cute” movie, but in no way a better film than The Dependents, also nominated for B.P. in 2011. Ah, yes, the politics of money.
No foreign film has ever won Best Picture. Perhaps the large percentage of film-goers in America that do not “do subtitles” blocks the success of foreign films, but I jump into a seat whenever I get a chance. The Tampa Bay Area has venues that occasionally screen foreign films, and I encourage you to seek them out.
Chasing Ice – Jeff Orlowski’s visionary film. (not nominated…my write-in pick)
Best Production Design
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Enjoy the 85th Academy Awards, hosted by first-time host Seth MacFarlane, shown on ABC on Sunday, February 24, 2013. Be discerning when choosing a movie, try to not be “market-driven” with those choices, and don’t forget to please pass the popcorn.