Monday, February 18, 2013

Assessing the Oscar Race, On Finding a Hero to Root For

Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

On paper, it seemed easy. Lauded female director had once again made a gritty movie about the military. It was an easy march to Best Director and Best Picture again. Then I saw it.

Zero Dark Thirty, my friends, is no Hurt Locker.

So I want to examine (mostly) these two: the one who should've been Best Picture and the one who is going to be Best Picture, with the others thrown in along the way, by comparison.

Here's my thesis. In awards shows, specifically Emmys and Oscars, the voters like to choose something to win which makes them feel good about themselves. This is why (aside from being top-notch drama) The West Wing won for so very many years.

I think personally (though I know many would argue with me) this is also why Shakespeare in Love beat the dreary, let's-go-find-one-man war saga Saving Private Ryan. Also why the love story Titanic beat the brutal LA Confidential. There has to be someone you can root for, and the quest sought has to be noble.

In Zero Dark Thirty, you have one obsessed woman who thinks of nothing but killing Osama Bin Laden. (Just think what a pain it would be to work with this woman!) And the movie is, in that premise, simplistic. The goal, from start to finish, is to kill Osama Bin Laden.

And, I'm not spoiling anything here. They get him. He's dead. And I feel nauseated.

The woman in question is surrounded by a group of guys who don't even really believe her, but they go in there anyway. So the story is: Ooops, we kinda killed him by accident. We didn't really believe he was there, but good on you, you did. Woo hoo.

It's depressing. It's bad enough that the reviled torture scenes were so vivid that I spent the entire first hour of the movie trying to talk myself into not walking out.

The final thought I was left with is: Is this who we are as Americans? Is this who we want to be?

Depressing and nauseating. And I would posit, why this is not winning the awards it should have, on paper.

The one winning everything along the way, and I would bet, is going to win this Sunday too, is Argo.

Say what you will about one too many Ben Affleck close-ups. The fact of the matter is, while both of these stories were hidden, and are now coming to light, this one is one you can root for.

Americans are in trouble! Americans go above and beyond to help other Americans to safety. Of course that's going to win! Who can't root for that? And it's got a Hollywood angle (Hollywood LOVES that.).

Let me briefly examine the other films.

I have not seen Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Django Unchained.

All I can say about them is this. Amour has a very uphill battle becoming a Best Picture winner, since it's in a foreign language. Life Is Beautiful could do it. I think Amour cannot. (It's also depressing.)

Django Unchained is a very divisive film. Many love it. Many hate it. Many hate it with a passion. It won't win. Just for how many times it (reportedly) uses the N word, it shouldn't win. Appalling.

Now to the others.

Miche's predicted winners: Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables. Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

My favorite to win for a long time was Les Miserables. But I see now that it's really not clear what exactly they are fighting for. The play makes that final moment much more stirring than the movie does. For all intents and purposes, they have a scuffle in a street in which many boys die needlessly. (Which I guess is a metaphor for all war, but still...) Also, many people loved this movie. Many more hated it. Passionately. It won't win.

Les Miserables. Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook. Courtesy of The Weinstein Company.

Silver Linings Playbook, when I walked out of it, had Oscars written all over it. I knew the two leads would be nominated. Suspected DeNiro would be. (Didn't see Jackie Weaver coming.) It's a feel-good movie where you can clearly root for someone.

However, what I can't get past with this movie: the Jennifer Lawrence character is supposedly suffering from sex addiction, yet she uses those very same love addiction/sex addiction tactics to win the Bradley Cooper character's heart, and is applauded for it? Um... She lies, his father lies... it's not behavior one can root for in good conscience. So, no Best Picture. No Best Screenplay. (And, for that matter, none of the actors are winning either.)

Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln. Courtesy of Dreamworks/Twentieth Century Fox.

The odds-on favorite (before Argo started taking every prize) was Lincoln. What's not to love? A world-class director tackling an important time in history with our most beloved president. Visually, it was beautiful. The acting was amazing across the board.

You could argue that it highlighted our fight to rise to our better natures and rid our country of slavery. Well, yes. And that it reflected how Congress, despite its infighting, can once in a while actually get something done. Well, yes. But does it stir your soul? or, in retrospect make you feel like you just viewed a history lesson?

Right. It's not winning. In fact, I want to go on record saying that I don't think Spielberg is winning Best Director either.

Which brings us to, for my money, the only other possibility to win Sunday.

Life of Pi. I will go on record as saying I think Ang Lee is winning Best Director. It was a visually stunning movie. The book involves a guy on a boat with a tiger for days, and somehow, you get an incredibly interesting movie out of that. Bravo!

Courtesy of Fox 2000.
People have complained about the twist ending, whether it helps or hurts the story. I don't think it detracts from the story, I think it enriches it. It is a very spiritual movie, and that certainly helps its chances.

But compare these films (Life of Pi and Argo) in your mind. In one, you see a guy with a tiger (a sometimes CGI tiger) who survives. In the other, you see the police chasing the plane just as it's wheels-up. (A scene which didn't actually happen, according to those involved.)

Life of Pi. Courtesy of Fox 2000.
Still, one makes your heart race. The other makes you think, yeah, Nice movie.

It's Argo in a nose.

Clea Duvall, Ben Affleck, Tate Donovan, others in Argo. Courtesy of Warner Brothers. 


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