The Oscars is a very silly thing. It's a ceremony of already pampered entertainers congratulating themselves and everybody else like puppies licking each other in a basket. Everybody should have figured this out by now. Yet we always let ourselves get sucked in by it. Why? Because it's fun. Because the winners and losers make for intriguing debates. Because we like to laugh at terrible acceptance speeches and worse dresses. I myself look forward to the montages of classic film scenes and, in some years, the hosts. But I doubt anybody tunes in expecting to get a serious drill on what's ahead of the curve in film.
It's hard to take the Oscars seriously as an indicator of cinematic greatness. All you have to do is glance at the staggering list of now-classics
that weren't even nominated
for Best Picture: The Third Man
, Singin' in the Rain
, Touch of Evil
, Some Like It Hot
, 2001: A Space Odyssey
, Rosemary's Baby
, Close Encounters of the Third Kind
, Days of Heaven
, The Empire Strikes Back
, Do the Right Thing
, Toy Story
, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
and the vast majority of Alfred Hitchcock's masterpieces. And that's not even counting all the foreign-language classics by Bergman, Truffaut, Fellini, Kurosawa and others – mostly relegated to the Best Foreign Film category, which sounds like the awards equivalent of having a separate dinner table for the children.
All true movie lovers have their Oscar beefs. I'm bitter that Rocky
beat Taxi Driver
in 1977, even though I was only a toddler then. Think of Gandhi
, or In the Heat of the Night
beating Bonnie and Clyde
, or A Beautiful Mind
beating anything at all, or anything at all beating Citizen Kane
, and you want to smack your forehead against a cement wall repeatedly. What were you people
But hindsight is funny that way. Decades after the fact, it's easy to see what films (or books, or music) have outlasted their time and revealed themselves to be the best. It's not so easy to rank the current crop of films, when all you've got to go on is the cultural, social and political influences of the present.
So what can you do? You might as well just break out the popcorn, have some fun and not take any of it too seriously.
So here's yet another article trying to predict the Oscar winners – while highlighting alternative choices that seem to be more deserving. It's all subjective, of course, and I may even change my mind about the latter in a few years. Just take it in the spirit of movie-nerd fun. And if I help you win your office Oscar pool, all the better...
Gonna win: Argo
Oughta win: Amour
The Best Picture race seems to be a wild toss-up this year, but Argo
appears to have the momentum going, with wins from the Golden Globes
, the Director's Guild of America
and so on. And Ben Affleck's thriller about the 1980s hostage rescue in Iran is a feel-good, rah-rah-U.S.A. hit that celebrates not only (largely fictional) American ingenuity, but the movies as well. Argo
is far from a bad film, yet its impact doesn't last long after the final credits. Meanwhile, Amour
, about an elderly man coping with his wife's invalid state, is about so many big things – life, death, love, loyalty, senility, euthanasia, sacrifice, hopelessness – that it stays with you stubbornly, whether you want it to or not. Argo
may be the movie of the moment, but Amour
is the one that film students will still be writing theses about in twenty years.
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
No question that Day-Lewis is one of our generation's greatest film actors, and his eccentric take on Abraham Lincoln is another worthy notch on his belt. Indeed, you get the impression that by now, Day-Lewis could pull off a Lincoln while half asleep. But Phoenix's achievement is equally impressive in its own way; he creates an utterly unique personality with his mentally unbalanced drifter, one like you've never met in a movie before. And his willingness to take risks, coming off as spectacularly crude, self-absorbed and unlikeable, shows a remarkable seriousness and dedication to his craft that could one day rival those of Day-Lewis.
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
It's a race between Hollywood's two new It Girls, Lawrence and Jessica Chastain. Young up-and-comers tend to score well in this category; think Audrey Hepburn, Joanne Woodward, Gwyneth Paltrow or Halle Berry. My money's on Lawrence, who's had a big year with both this film and The Hunger Games
. And no one denies she's talented. But Riva stretches so much further as she convincingly depicts the steep decline of an elderly music teacher following a stroke. When Lawrence has the maturity and experience to pull that off, I'll become her biggest fan.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Scene-stealer Jones will take this one: his lovably cranky rendition of Thaddeus Stevens is arguably the movie's highlight whenever Day-Lewis is offscreen. Still, Hoffman's calmly confident cult leader is the most unexpectedly great achievement here, revealing yet another side of this always surprising actor.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
Here, the Academy will get it right. Hathaway bares her soul bravely as the doomed, suffering Fantine, with a performance devastating enough to overcome the film's terrible lyrics and worse photography direction.
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Michael Haneke, Amour
I won't complain about yet another Spielberg win; I always admire his visual craftsmanship deeply when he's at his best, and Lincoln
is a beautifully directed film. But isn't it about time Haneke got some recognition from the Academy? His style of dark, unpredictable, yet maddeningly obscure and deliberately paced storytelling is a welcome alternative to mainstream bombast and clichés. His deceptively minimalist style gives Amour
exactly what it needs – no more, no less.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
Michael Haneke, Amour
Tarantino will follow his Golden Globe win with this. His script for Django
is exciting, bold and funny, but it could have used some serious trimming, as well as a climax with less shooting and more brains. Haneke's screenplay for Amour
, meanwhile, is a masterpiece of subtlety, restraint and understated agony. He shows more compassion and empathy for his characters in any random five minutes than Tarantino does over nearly three hours.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Chris Terrio, Argo
Tony Kushner, Lincoln
Without a directing nomination for Affleck, the Academy will try to justify its love for his movie here. But Argo
's script, for all its good points, pales next to Kushner's sublime achievement. Kushner's way with words and characters transforms dry political maneuvering into compelling drama and comedy. It takes a truly skilled writer to make dialogue sound historically plausible yet still contemporary and spontaneous to modern ears.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Gonna win: Brave
Oughta win: Brave
It's the Pixar entry. And although it's not one of Pixar's best movies, still... duh
BEST ANIMATED SHORT
Gonna win: Paperman
Oughta win: Head over Heels
All five nominees are good in their own diverse ways. My favourite is Heels
, a sweet little film that uses topsy-turvy gravitational pulls as a quirky, effective metaphor for the distance between an aging husband and wife. But I think the Academy will go for the heart-on-it's-sleeve tone and technical flair of Disney's urban love story, Paperman
BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT
Gonna win: Buzkashi Boys
Oughta win: Asad
Here, four of the five are strong and inventive films (Curfew
, I think, amounts to far less than it could have been). Buzkashi
, about an Afghan boy who wants to escape from his father's blacksmith trade, seems to have the uplifting spirit and triumphant themes that Academy voters traditionally dig. But the mildly similar Asad
, about a Somali boy torn between fishing and pirating, is the better choice, being less predictable and overt in its themes.