Why, oh why do I still care about the Academy Awards?
We’ve had hard times before. Most notably when Do The Right Thing was ignored in favor of Driving Miss Daisy. But it was never as bad as watching Brokeback Mountain lose Best Picture to a movie like Crash.
Like a teenager getting dumped by my first boyfriend, I swore that I would never watch the show again or even cyberstalk Oscar through various news outlets and blogs.
I even considered dating the Golden Globes. But then I remembered that Madonna has a Globe — for acting. That’s not a world I want to live in.
So being the film co-dependent that I am, I went back to the Academy Awards.
I wish I knew how to quit you, Oscar.
But, since I don’t, I’ll just rely on a liberal amount of snark — glorious, unexpurgated snark — to help heal my still sore Crash-related bumps and bruises.
If you haven’t forgiven the Academy for awarding that Afterschool Special with curse words, but still want to follow the Oscars, (and wash it down with mockery and sarcasm) you’ve come to the right place.
The Gays of the Season
Thure Lindhardt in Keep the Lights On
The Gotham Award nominees have been announced and two titles emerged that may be of interest to AfterElton readers. David France’s stunning How to Survive a Plague was nominated for Best Documentary.
And the adorable Thure Lindhardt was nominated for Breakthrough Actor for his role in Keep the Lights On. Congrats to you both.
Thoughts on the films that may be players in the race.
Ben Affleck in Argo
Ben Affleck’s third turn in the director’s chair turns out to be his best. Tense, expertly crafted and just a tiny bit too cheerleader-ish about Hollywood, Argo tells the story of C.I.A operative Tony Mendez’s (Affleck) brazen plan to rescue of six U.S. diplomats (who managed to escape from the embassy) from Iran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.
The plan is to fly into Tehran to pretend to scout for locations for a fake Star Wars like science-fiction film called ’Argo’ and sneak the diplomats out by switching their real identities for those of a film crew. Of course, this will be easier said than done.
If the fake script featured Jar Jar Binks, I might have rooted for them to get captured. Just putting that out there.
The film is expert at building arm-rest gripping suspense (seriously, I knew the ending and I was still sweating) and the resolution is particularly moving. Easily one of the best films of the year.
Flight takes a mesmerizing, courageous performance by Denzel Washington and wraps it inside a powerful but occasionally clumsy, movie. Washington plays Whip Whitaker (a name that could only be dreamed up by a screenwriter), an airline pilot fueled on massive amounts of booze and cocaine. It’s the Macaulay Culkin story with airplanes.
When the plane he’s flying malfunctions and plummets from the sky, Whip lands the plane with only six fatalities (no, David Spade’s career wasn’t one of them). Instead of enjoying his hero’s status, Whip must confront his addictions as a federal probe into the cause of the crash forms an ever-tightening grip around his life.
John Goodman steals the scenes he’s in as Whip’s dealer, providing some much needed comedy. But the film takes a strange detour into the life of Nicole (Kelly Riley), a fellow addict Whip meets in the hospital. Set up to be a significant part of the story (the hospital stairwell scene is masterful), by the second act, Nicole feels merely like a plot device with no real pay off.
Still, when the film is focused on Whip, it’s firing on all cylinders.
The Sessions (B-)
Surprisingly, this is the most sex positive film I’ve seen in a long, long time. Even more so than ’Eating Out Part 25: Same Plot, New Abs’. If only there was a little more depth to this film. It settles for being very good when it was so close to being great.
John Hawkes is fantastic as poet and journalist Mark O’Brien who, due to polio, can’t move from the neck down and has to sleep in an Iron Lung. But Mark still has needs. And he desperately wants a meaningful experience with the one part of his body that he has yet to have much experience with. Yes, I’m referring to his penis.
With the help of a sex surrogate named Cheryl (Helen Hunt) and the blessing of his open-minded priest (William H. Macy), he sets out on a quest to lose his virginity, traversing premature ejaculation, old fashioned guilt and the real risk of having his heart broken.
I wish that the film were more audacious in its treatment of the male body. Hunt is frequently nude (full frontal) while Hawks is always behind a sheet. That the film chooses not to exude the same free spirit presented by its main character strikes me as more than a little sad.
Much will be made about Hawkes playing the part immobile. But this is idiotic thinking. It’s not about whether an actor can move. It’s about whether an actor can move an audience. And, aided by a jaunty script and a lightness of tone that doesn’t betray the seriousness of the endeavor, Hawkes does that superbly.
Contenders For Best Actor
When it comes to the Best Actor category, it is often said that to be nominated, it helps to play someone who is real, really disabled or really, really drunk. It’s an old cliché… but clichés exist for a reason. The strongest of this year’s crop of contenders feature variations on all three tropes.
As soon as it was announced that Daniel Day-Lewis would play the 16th President in Lincoln, it was assumed that not only would he be nominated, but he would win. But if Mitt Romney wins the election, the last thing anyone in Hollywood may want to think about (much less vote for) is a Republican President.
In Hitchcock, Anthony Hopkins, a beloved figure in Hollywood is playing… a beloved figure in Hollywood — the legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock as he’s struggling to shoot a little known movie called Psycho. Take that, Abraham.
John Hawkes is the man bridging the gap, playing the adorably real and polio affected poet in The Sessions. And his twofer may end up propelling him ahead of those nominees that already have Oscars on their mantles. At least that’s what his publicist will be saying to anyone who’ll listen.
A disability of a whole different sort just might make it in. Bradley Cooper plays a man struggling with mental illness and ’Katniss Everdeen’ in Silver Linings Playbook. He’s well liked and people have been raving about the film, but the competition in this category is fierce and it’s slightly possible he’s a little young for the ’Get off my lawn!’ Oscar-voter set.
Leading the charge of the drunken brigade, Denzel Washington’s work in Flight is virtually assured his nomination because he’s that good. Also, many in the Actors Branch will relate to a man that wakes up in a pool of his own blood.
Someone who’d consider Flight the feel-good-movie-of-the-year is Joaquin Phoenix’s alcohol-soaked character in The Master. But will the Academy respect Phoenix’s stance against campaigning or will they consider it ’bulls**t’ coming from a man who spent a year pretending to be a psychotic rapper?
Richard Gere is a bone fide veteran who, strangely, has never received an Oscar nomination, not even for the juggernaut Chicago. That could change with his stunning work in Arbitrage. But will enough people get behind a character that screws people over like his last name were Madoff?
If there were any justice, we’d be hearing a lot more about Logan Lerman’s astonishing work in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. But it seems that the studio distributing the film couldn’t campaign for Student Body President, much less an Oscar. Shame, really.
Meanwhile, Hugh Jackman is a serious and lurking threat to snag a nod for the film adaptation of Les Miserables. The man is seriously loved. But he isn’t earning that ’benefit of the doubt’ buzz that some of his Oscar-loved co-stars have gotten. And that beard he’s sporting is cray-cray!
Contenders For Best Actor (cont.)
François Cluzet in The Intouchables
There’s a limit to how many clichés one category can hold. So, sorry François Cluzet, your moving performance as a rich quadriplegic in The Intouchables will probably be left off the list. Just as well… You didn’t want to make the trip from France anyway.
Jack Black could earn his first nomination for the little seen but raved about Bernie, but is anyone ready to hear the words, “Academy Award Nominee – Jack Black”?
Ben Affleck will be a nominee for Argo but it won’t be for his acting.
Jamie Foxx is a past Oscar winner teaming up with in Quentin Tarantino in the yet to be seen, but much hyped Django Unchained. But while his fortunes may rise when the film is released this December, his buzz is currently about as existent as Lance Armstrong’s dignity.
Jean-Louis Trintignant, the dedicated husband of a stroke victim in the Austrian film Amour might end up making serious waves in this category. But I have a feeling that his co-star will win the lion’s share of attention.
Matt Damon in Promised Land
Finally, there’s Matt Damon in Promised Land. The trailers have reminded us that last time he worked with Gus Van Sant, Good Will Hunting was the result. But because the film is getting such a late start, he’ll probably end up behind his buddy Ben Affleck.
Hmmm… I’d kinda like to see — NO, NO, NO!!!
So my early predictions for the Oscar five (in alphabetical order) are:
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln; John Hawkes, The Sessions; Anthony Hopkins, Hitchcock; Joaquin Phoenix, The Master; Denzel Washington, Flight
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook, Richard Gere, Arbitrage, Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
My Fondest Wish
Logan Lerman, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
For Your Consideration
Unless it happens to be a pair of dreadfully written, corporate controlled, over-merchandised, faux-folksy movies about talking motor vehicles with the personalities of balsa wood, you can pretty much count on the fact that anything Pixar churns out will be a lock for a Best Animated Feature nomination.
In most cases, that nomination is well-deserved: Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, WALL-E and Up are all titles that justified the praise heaped upon them.
But this year’s predictable (and probably unavoidable) nomination for Brave is not one of those cases, in my most humble opinion. It isn’t a bad film, per say. It’s just so simplistic. A featherweight and formulaic cross between Freaky Friday and Brother Bear.
But Pixar fans are already beginning the ole’ apologists campaign to spin the mediocre movie into a something that sounds better than it actually is — all in an effort to push it into a race it was already preordained to be a part of anyway.
Which is why I am ready to do the opposite. My request, therefore, is a simple one.
Academy, this year please kindly remove your lips from Pixar’s Apple-bottomed posterior.
Instead, consider the far superior ParaNorman, a clever, quietly cunning film about what it means to be different and the quest for acceptance.
Since this is a trait our society hasn’t shown much in an election year where, all too often, campaigns use all of us pesky “others” as political punching bags, the film came out at a perfect time to remind us of what the word ’acceptance’ really means.
If a great message were all the film had to offer, I’d shut up right now. After all, they all have great messages (including The Lorax).
But the truth is that the stop-motion film has everything we go to the movies for… bravura storytelling, thematic weight, thrills, laughs, suspense… and, above all, heart. The film, so wonderful for 3/4ths of its running time, saves the best for last; containing a powerful, moving climax that you won’t necessarily see coming.
Because stop-motion animation hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, this is exactly the kind of film that needs champions. So instead of going on Pixar auto-pilot, look past the brand names and seek out a quality family film that embraces what it means to be different and special.
Now I must be off. There’s a computer generated lamp waiting to stomp on my a** like I’m the letter “I”.
Next week, I’ll have mini-reviews of Skyfall, Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook. I’ll also tell you what’s going on with Best Actress.
But for now, it’s…
Among the ranks of the main cast members of the 1984 classic (That’s right, damnit. I said classic) The Karate Kid are three that have honest-to-goodness Academy Award nominations. Who are the three and what were they nominated for? The person who correctly answers first will get a special BriOut shout-out next week.
Hint: One of them wasn’t nominated for acting.
Did I ignore your favorite actor? Have any burning questions about the award season ahead? Want to throttle me for something I said… or didn’t? Well, go ahead and leave them in the comments section or email me at BriOutAE@gmail.com and I’ll provide some good (or at least fun) answers in next week’s column.