Saturday, February 23, 2013

Best Things About This Year's Oscar Race

Tomorrow is the night of the Academy Awards.  As in any awards race it gets a little nasty.  Especially online where movie buffs put full support for their favorite films and talk all kinds of smack about the competition.  During the Oscars fully expect to see Facebook posts from people who celebrate their films that won, victimize themselves over the ones that didn't and curse the winners they did not like.

But amidst all of this intense competition there is a lot to admire about this year's Oscar race.  This has been the best batch of nominees that I have seen.  It is an unpredictable race with a lot of great qualities.  So instead of bashing movies that threaten the movies I love, let's really take a look at what an incredible year for movies 2012 was and how the Oscars are really reflecting that.
10. Perfect Host
The Oscars are the biggest event in Hollywood yet they rarely take a chance on their host.  They usually play it safe with TV personalities that we see every day.  But the choice of Seth MacFarlane is incredibly inspired.  He is a honed showman that we don't often get to see.  He is a personality that we only get small doses of, and in his perfect SNL gig and fun 2009 variety special, he has proven that he does not disappoint.  Also MacFarlane was a driving force behind one of the best movies from 2012.  In celebrating the best of film it makes sense to have somebody active and relevant up front.  Also he is not just a performer but also a producer, director and writer.  He is not going to just do bits that other people wrote for him, he is going to be able to understand those bits and put his personal stamp on them.  After Tina Fey and Amy Poehler did a perfect job at the Globes, I saw a lot of people online say that MacFarlane has a lot to live up to and will fail in comparison.  But it isn't a competition, awards shows are just getting smart about using smart people.
9. Creativity in Acting Nominations
Acting nominations are usually pretty boring.  They are actors who associate themselves with movies who are designed to win Oscars.  Usually it seems like actors get nominations because they are supposed to.  But this year voters seemed to think outside of the box.  Even if they did not care for The Master they still nominated three unique performances.  Denzel Washington earned a nomination based on his acting not his film.  The best actress race usually is exclusive to attractive starlets that paid their dues, but young Quvenzhane Wallis and senior Emmanuelle Riva made it in.  With Riva even having a chance at winning.  Then there is Jackie Weaver, whose nomination was very unexpected.  She had no big Oscar moments, didn't seem to be campaigning and was unnoticed by most precursors.  However she gave a great performance that benefited a great movie.  She was nominated for the performance, not the politics and that sadly does not happen much.
8. An Unsure Outcome
Nobody knows nothing.  Even Daniel Day-Lewis and Anne Hathaway have room for doubt.  Best picture could go to Argo, but it could still go to another movie.  There are four directors and four leading actresses who could conceivably win in their perspective categories.  Not to mention best supporting actor with five previous winners that seem to be on equal footing.  Even animated feature is not a sure thing.  Not an easy race to bet on, but definitely an exciting one to watch.
7. Precursors Spreading the Love
One of the main reasons that this race is difficult to predict is that the precursors are all over the place with their nominations and winners.  Ben Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow, John Hawkes and others were consistently recognized while Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild were not.  A huge shift from previous years where usually only one or two movies win everything.  Which is how it should be.  Why should one movie win every award if there are so many awards?  Seems like these voting bodies are focusing on rewarding movies rather than only serving to predict the Oscars.
6. Frontrunner Without a Director Nomination
Outside of Driving Miss Daisy it is difficult to name a movie that won best picture without being nominated for best director.  It is even difficult to to find a movie that wins best picture without winning best director.  But Argo could very well change that.  Even if Argo loses tomorrow night, it is still incredible that it held the frontrunner spot for so long.  Best Picture should not be about most nominations and wins, it should be about Best Picture.  Which many, including myself feel Argo is.
5. Great Movies Did Not Get Nominated for Oscars
I think it is a great sign for the film industry when great movies miss out on Oscar nominations.  Great movies should not be limited to ten a year.  21 Jump Street, Safety Not Guaranteed, Looper, Rise of the Guardians, Cabin in the Woods, Magic Mike, People Like Us, Pitch Perfect, End of Watch, Dredd, Wanderlust, Chronicle, The Grey, Arbitrage and many others were not nominated for any Oscars.  Many of these are not Oscar movies, but that does not diminish their quality.
4. Great Movies Were Nominated
Personally I did not love all of the nominated movies.  But I have to hand it to the Oscars for nominating the best of 2012.  Even if I thought Django and especially Lincoln were overrated, they are still impeccably crafted films and I understand the audiences that love them.  There were no movies as bad as War Horse, overrated as The Reader or somehow included like Blind Side.  These are all some of the best of film.
3. Lack of Critical Consensus
Les Miserables was nominated for best picture and was included on many worst of 2012 lists.  People don't like Amour, they did not get Beasts of the Southern Wild.  LincolnArgo, Silver Linings Playbook and the rest all have incredible detractors.  Good.  A great movie is not one that everybody loves.  A great movie is not one that is critic proof.  A great movie should have multiple interpretations and be divisive.  The nine best pictures were not made to please everybody.  They were made to tell specific stories, many of these are for different audiences.  I am very happy to see that people like and dislike these films on their own terms rather than just liking something because it is Oscar bait.

2. Controversy Abounds
There is a lot of controversy around Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained.  Even Lincoln and Argo have brought about debates.  Without getting into my personal views on these movies I think it is great that movies are tackling tough subjects.  Movies last year did not play it safe, many took risks (Les Mis for all of its detractors took risks).  But I think the best part about the controversial nature of these movies is that they are causing audiences to think.  These movies are not passive experiences, people are struggling with them and articulating their feelings.  Which is exactly the type of movies that should be recognized.
1. Audiences are Watching These Movies
People say that they don't make smart mature movies anymore.  They say that audiences do not go to theatres anymore.  But the box-office totals of this year's nominees match their critical reception.  Combined box-office totals add up to $415 million dollars, which is 35% of 2012's gross.  That is astonishing considering how Oscar movies are traditionally some of the lowest attended.  Lincoln is the biggest success but they all made a considerable amount of money.  Even Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild are successful.  This is proof that audiences support good movies.  Pay attention Hollywood.

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