Saturday, February 23, 2013

A (sort-of) Oscar Preview: Silver (hopefully) to Gold & More Zero Than Hero

Bear with me because this jumble of a preview isn't exactly going to be objective or terribly well informed because:

a) I haven't seen all of the films nominated


b) It's my opinion based on my thoughts and my experiences


c) I'm not much of a film critic. I go for certain things - like strong character portrayals, a good story, whether its thought-provoking etc.

I've written a whole post about the Silver Linings Playbook - both the book and the film - and this is definitely my favourite film of the year by a mile. It would be so deserving of Best Adapted Screenplay as it gives credit to the astonishingly careful and brilliant transition from book to film. David O. Russell has brought out each character, in all their dark and quotidian glory. This is coming from a narrative which was originally quite restricted in terms of accessing other characters outside of Pat. That's not a criticism of the book - it was absolutely designed to be situated inside Pat's fascinating and complicated mind. The film maintains this kind of feeling but a combination of directing, scripting and just brilliant performances means the other characters make just as much of an impact.

Any one of them could win in the four categories those actors are nominated in, though I am pretty certain Daniel Day Lewis will get Best Actor. Robert De Niro has nothing to prove to anyone. He is Robert De Niro. Jacki Weaver too, in a way her character is more understated than the others but is so crucial to the dynamic - maintaining a balance amidst the chaos. I've never taken  Bradley Cooper seriously before but he was very good as Pat and made me take notice. Jennifer Lawrence is just astounding - I have more praise for her than I can articulate. She dominated the screen with emotional maturity, vulnerability and ingenuity. She's just been perfect in every role she's played.

The more I look at the candidates for Best Director, the more I despair that Ben Affleck isn't there. I know he has been in some questionable films - but most of the things he's written/produced have been excellent - Good Will Hunting, Gone Baby Gone etc. With Argo he has excelled as a director. Really excelled. Even when you know the outcome the film is so intense and gripping, giving the context at the beginning and with some great shots of the storming of the embassy. I only realised how tense I was when I burst into tears when they finally made it - there was such a sense of relief. It's a great story too - I know it's inevitably biased and inaccurate in places, but there's no denying that the concept and success of the 'best bad idea' that they had is a marvel. Obviously the film also benefits from distance - it's been made some time after the actual events - when information had properly been released and when it is possible for people to dispute the presentation. We can take it or leave it.

I wish Zero Dark Thirty had taken a leaf out of this book. If there's one film that I hope does not win tomorrow night than it's this one. The editing isn't bad - the cinematography's okay but the screenplay and everything else is just bad. The controversy over the torture scenes has kind of overshadowed the many other things that were wrong with this film. I don't think it condones torture but I think it's extremely problematic how it claims to tell 'truth' when its such a recent event and kind of ongoing. A much better and more complex film could have been made in the future - after a period of time where perhaps more information could be revealed without so much secrecy and uncertainty.

I will try to summarise the film:

'They blew this up. And this. Then a few years later they blew this up. And that. Let's kill the bad guys.'
There. It wasn't thoughtfully done. Yes they created tension, yes they built the set well but it wasn't an engaging or thought provoking film. It was all: protect the motherland - heroic America - take out the enemies bla bla bla.  I have nothing against Jessica Chastain but she didn't convince me at all. I don't know whether I was disappointed by how the character was written - or the casting - or the acting or all of these but it didn't work. It wasn't engaging. She looks so fragile and it's not a very deep or engaging character study. I know I've said engaging 100 times in this paragraph but it's a pretty big issue. When she says: 'I'm the motherfucker who found this place' I laughed. I don't think I was meant to. I didn't buy it. Her appearance is too perfect - it's hard to take her seriously even as an action hero. Unfortunately the whole thing just felt like a 'cashing in'. It also makes Pakistan seem the root of all evil. It's a shallow and simplistic addressing of issues and events which kind of need to be addressed more intelligently and thoughtfully. That kind of character study does have potential but it's got to go deeper. It can't just be unbrushed hair and slightly more ferocious mouse clicking and random expletives.

This time I don't really think Jessica Chastain should be in contention in the Best Actress category. I haven't seen Beasts of the Southern Wild so can't judge Quvenzhane Wallis and this is all pretty much just my opinion based on what I've seen. I really hope that Jennifer Lawrence gets the Oscar. Basically for all the work she's done in her career - but especially Silver Linings Playbook. My other personal favourite is Naomi Watts - I thought she should have got a nomination for King Kong because she managed to make me believe in the bond between her and a CGI gorilla which, while she was acting, she had to imagine was there. She single-handedly created an emotional relationship with air. In The Impossible she is equally emotionally devastating though obviously in a very different way. Tom Holland, who played her eldest son was incredible too. They carried the film and made the story so vivid and real and heart-wrenching. It was very hard to watch - and that's the way it should have been. Again, I know there's controversy over casting but I thought it was a very powerful film and I know alot went into it. I haven't seen Amour but I know about Emanuelle Riva and she is captivating even in the 30 second clips I have seen. So Lawrence is my choice but I would deem Riva and Watts worthy winners too.

I enjoyed Les Miserables, as much for its ambition as for the film itself. I struggled with some of the casting but it was generally well acted and well sung. I know alot of people are rooting for it but it's not my personal favourite or choice. Anne Hathaway looks to be favourite for Supporting Actress though, and she obviously put everything into the role and I respect that. Have heard from a reliable source that Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman put in great performances in The Master so I will investigate that one soon. Rate both very highly anyway. I'm a bit wary of Tarantino so haven't seen Django, also haven't seen the Life of Pi but have read the book and will give it a watch when it's out on DVD.

Anyway, would love to hear your own thoughts on those nominated and those who weren't!