Feb 22, 2013

Franky's Oscar Picks Part II - 2013 Edition

By Guest Blogger Franky C. Cabrera

Best Visual Effects:

  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • Life of Pi
  • Marvel’s The Avengers
  • Prometheus
  • Snow White and the Huntsman

I swear I couldn’t be more torn here. On one end, Life of Pi demonstrates precisely what big budgeted visual effects can accomplish for storytelling through artistic means. Like Hugo last year, it’s part of an emerging sub-genre of 3D films that exhibit a sense of careful artistry in its 3D implementation. Renown and veteran directors challenging themselves with a 3D feature is probably the most exciting thing to come out of Hollywood in a while (here’s to hoping Danny Boyle or Aronofsky tackle it next…). Now with that being said, does this render classic Hollywood blockbusting features and the extravagant big budgeted chaos, completely obsolete and unworthy of enjoyment for us film buffs? The Avenger’s says NO. NOT AT ALL. As a matter of fact, bring on those beautifully rendered explosions and the best looking green super hero monster half a million can buy! I frankly, can’t get enough of it. I’d argue that the craftsmanship of some of those impeccably designed battle sequences possess the same, if not JUST as much artistic merit to them. The special effects were impossibly good, to the point that I couldn’t believe what was besetting my eyes as I sat in the theater with tears streaming down my face because all those fight sequences I realized with action figures when I was a kid were now happening in real time right in front of me. And it’s all mostly thanks to the visual effects crew. I was prepared to call one film “spellbinding” and the other “marvelous” when I started writing this and now I can’t really tell which adjective I originally intended to describe which. Both are Visual Effects masterpieces and compelling arguments for the continued expenditure of masses of money that could be spent feeding 3rd world countries.

Who I would give the Award to: The Avengers, no, Life of Pi, no no The Avengers, oh wait definitely Life of Pi, ok ok The Life of Avengers Pi. There.

Best Actor:

  • Bradley Cooper – Silver Lining’s Playbook
  • Daniel Day Lewis - Lincoln
  • Hugh Jackman – Les Miserables
  • Joaquin Phoenix – The Master
  • Denzel Washington - Flight

I know what you’re thinking. You’re blinking really fast and waiting for your eyes to adjust to their correct visual acuity, because for a second there it looked like Bradley Cooper was placed in the same category as legitimate actors. You’re second guessing this editorial and wondering if we’re in fact discussing the nominations for the MTV Movie Awards. I know the feeling and you know what, I’m here to say that hey, Bradley Cooper acted GOOD in Silver Lining’s Playbook. I’m not saying he’s worthy of a nomination or that he holds a candle to any of these other actors acting skills, but if anything he proved that he can act. As for Joaquin Phoenix, I literally have nothing to say about it due to the fact that The Master wasn’t’ played within a 200 mile radius of where I live and didn’t get a chance to see it. I’m still pissed at the world for that but I’ve made my peace and decided to take out my aggression on baby kittens whenever I get the chance. For me, Best Actor is between two of my favorite actors; Hugh Jackman and Daniel Day Lewis. A year ago when I heard that DDL was going to portray our 16th president in a Spielberg film, the Academy might as well have given the acting trophy to him and just spared everyone in this race the false hope. Fact is: Daniel Day Lewis WILL win this Oscar. Just when you think he couldn’t act any better, he acts completely different from any of his previous roles and acts better than ever. For the rest of my life, I’ll feel like I know President Lincoln with all credit due to one man’s role in a film. When portraying a famous person of almost mythological status, you can’t afford to simply act the way he must have acted. You must become the way he must’ve been. Just look up DDL’s approach to method acting, the dude’s INSANE. A part of me wishes his mastering of the acting art form made him ineligible to win any more awards because I have just as much praise to give Hugh Jackman, who’s starring role in Les Mis is going to define his career as a dramatic actor for years to come and not in the least bit because we were all exposed to his exceptional talent as a singer. Unfortunately, my hardcore man crush on him isn’t enough to say his performance in Les Miserables was better than Abraham Lincoln’s in Lincoln…. Once again, Daniel Day Lewis has to ruin everything.

Who I would give the Award to: Daniel Day “Let Me Act Better than Everyone All the Time” Lewis

Best Actress:

  • Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty
  • Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Lining’s Playbook
  • Emmanuelle Riva – Amour
  • Quvenzhane Wallis – Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Naomi Watts – The Impossible

The moment I saw 8 year old Quvenzhane (Qua-vin-jah-nay) Wallis’ performance in ‘Beasts’, I knew I had seen the best performance of the year. She didn’t just knock it out of the park “for a kid” or for a “newcomer”; put her alongside respected actresses such as the ones above all you want. I’d still choose her. Every line, every posture, every brooding stare she gave into the camera to elicit only the subtlest or complex of emotions achieved by the most experienced of actors could just not be put into words. Consider the fact that she’s a first time actress who’s the same age I was when I was still learning to tie my shoes and good heavens, it’s UNBELIEVABLE. And it’s not like she’s up against a mediocre group of actresses here either. Naomi Watt’s performance is probably the most underrated of the year (from one of the most underrated films of the year), with Emmanuelle Riva’s uncompromising depiction of an old lady literally dying in front of your eyes – both being equally effective and heartbreaking as ANY of the great female performances of all time. Chastain and Lawrence were great too (meh, but I rather give them my number than my Oscar pick). Point is, I don’t say this lightly but Quevenzhane Wallis is not only the best word for a game of Hangman of all time, it is one of the best performances of all time, of any gender, age, race, species, or whatever, PERIOD. So as far as this group of females is concerned, it couldn’t be any more game, set and match for Q in my opinion. In the film, her character Hushpuppy says that in the future, scientists will remember her and who she was. Now I’m not a scientist, but I certainly will never forget her, or her performance in this film.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

  • Argo
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln
  • Silver Lining’s Playbook

Argo is a great flick, I understand it’s nomination for this category but overall it’s just another “based on a true story” tagline getting the Hollywood treatment. It has a tight script, it’s funny, suspenseful and has well fledged out characters but it isn’t reinventing the Thriller genre or really doing anything different for it. I feel similar about Silver Lining’s Playbook. Although it exceeded my expectations tenfold when I first watched it (because really, this had “annoying indie Rom-com” written all over its trailer), when it was all set and done there’s nothing separating this from any of the feel-good indie romantic comedies that aren’t that cliché of the last 10 years. Maybe I just don’t like movies that end on blatant high-notes but I digress because I adored Lincoln’s screenplay and they don’t even show him get capped (although I will admit, that I would’ve liked the film more with that scene in it, so maybe I do hate happiness after all). If this award was based solely on dialogue, Lincoln would take this. The script is deliberate and wordy to the point that it’s hard to digest it all at times but frankly, the fact that it’s so heavily dialogue driven is what makes it so captivating. But this award ISN’T solely based on dialogue and I personally like to evaluate a films screenplay by how intent it is on showcasing TRUE originality. Something that ‘Beasts’ and ‘Pi’ both possess in excess compared to everything else in Hollywood (the fellow nominees of this category included). I feel like Beasts of the Southern Wild is a story I’ve been waiting for my entire life. It manages to be artful without being tedious or pretentious and while the story is capable of inspiring over-dissection and discussion over its brimming allegorical content, it’s never to the point that it would hinder another filmgoer’s enjoyment of it if that simply wanted to view it as a parable of hardship, morality and love. As inclined as I am to give this award to ‘Life of Pi’, for reasons I could spend all day trying to conjure in words, in the end half the job was already accounted for because merely sticking to the remarkable source material was an essential key to its success. When on the other hand ‘Beasts’ took a one act play as inspiration and injected it with poignant themes and settings not originally found in the source material to intensify the narrative and thus deliver us something wholly different and vastly superior.

Who I would give the Award to: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Best Original Screenplay:

  • Amour
  • Django: Unchained
  • Flight
  • Moonrise Kingdom
  • Zero Dark Thirty

Even though at best I think it has a .02% chance of winning this award, I have to give the utmost respect to the Academy for at least considering awarding a film like Amour in this category. Amour’s screenplay makes the previously lauded ones by Life of Pi and Beasts of the Southern Wild seem like TRANSFORMERS. The idea that so many people in the writing branch saw brilliance (‘cause really, it’s all rather brilliant) in a script for a film that is mostly filled with soundless rooms and sparse dialogue (not spoken in English by the way) gives the art-house aficionado in me so much satisfaction, and reassures me that this Awards spectacle is truly capable of surprises sometimes. Then again Flight is a different kind of surprise nomination. It’s a solid film no doubt, but it’s at the opposite end of Amour’s spectrum when it comes to storytelling tropes and completely fell apart in the 3rd act. At least it had the greatest plane crash sequence in HISTORY (I really mean that), so that’s something. Moonrise Kingdom was a pleasure but it wouldn’t land on my top 5 Wes Anderson screenplays. As for Zero Dark Thirty, a spot on this ballot surely doesn’t feel farfetched because although I think it lacked some essential ingredients, the good definitely outweighed the bad and it handled its subject matter with careful finesse by opting to be the “KILL OBAMA USA USA!” film that NOBODY probably wanted it to be. All in all, I gotta reward this to Django. If there’s one constant in Quentin Tarantino’s left-field, genre mashing, frenetic screenplay’s, it’s that they’re ALWAYS good. Up until this point at least. A film about US slavery, told on the pallet of a spaghetti western with trademark stylistic violence and extremity sounds like it’d be something incredibly laughable on paper, but QT never sacrifices the substance for the style and always adequately balances the tender heartfelt drama with the playful humor and extravagant “cool-factor” his films always need to have. A good script has thematic elements so effective they make you cry, or humor so spot-on it makes you cry laughing, but few scripts manage to stimulate both emotions in the same film.

Who I would give the Award to: Django: Unchained

Best Director:

  • Michael Haneke – Amour
  • Behn Zietlin – Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Ang Lee – Life of Pie
  • Steven Spielberg – Lincoln
  • David O. Russell – Silver Lining’s Playbook

I still freak out when I see Michael Haneke on this list. He was arguably the FIRST director to mesmerize me with his unique style of filmmaking when I first decided to plunge into the realm of what was considered “art-house film”, thus being inherently responsible for the mentality and perspective towards FILM I would come to develop and have retained for nearly a decade now. He is my favorite director on this list and his body of work never ceases to astound me. I wouldn’t say Amour is my favorite film here, because honestly it wouldn’t even make my top 5 Michael Haneke films of all time, but should he - by some impending divine intervention - win this award on Oscar night, I’d be the first to start the applause. Behn Zietlin is another director I’m so glad managed to make the cut (suck it Ben Affleck), and I know my enthusiastic appreciation of his film hasn’t gone unsaid before. As a first time director, he somehow accomplished to do something that long-time directors of MANY films have still yet to do… and that is, MAKE A GREAT FILM. If ‘Beasts’ is any indication of where his imaginative vision will take us to next, I cannot wait for Zietlin to get his legacy in contemporary film started.

I don’t have much to say about David O. Russell, other than admit he was probably the thing that kept Silver Lining’s Playbook so grounded and likeable. It never treaded too closely to self-importance or cynicism despite its subject matter and there was an omnipresent aura of casualness that kept the film grounded, which in my opinion was the necessary component to its success as a story. He also made Bradley Cooper act good, so that alone is deserving of a nomination. Steven Spielberg is, well, STEVEN SPIELBERG. What can you say about him that hasn’t been said already? He was BORN to make films and Lincoln is another great addition to his already SUPERB résumé. I can’t imagine anybody else making a better film about Abraham Lincoln and overseeing the pandemonium that ensues when you tackle big budgeted biopics such as these. The way he always emerges with a film watchable by ANY audience is a characteristic his work continues to establish, time after time. He’s probably going to win this award on Oscar night, and I understand why, but let me tell you why ANG LEE deserves to win. The novel that Life of Pi is adapted from had a long standing reputation of being considered UNFILMABLE. Producers had wanted to make this film for years but the conversation always came back to the same argument; can a novel as dense with majestic elements and descriptive surrealism, with two alternating points of views and religious imagery, with a setting that literally takes place on a lifeboat with a Tiger, a hyena and a ZEBRA, get made any sort of justice to on the silver screen? After all, some stories are better left in novels… right? Thankfully, Ang Lee opposed that mentality and proved that some stories would be BETTER on screen. The capacity of cinematic talent he breathed onto the film is unmatched by any other from 2012. If there was ever a paradigm that 3D films needed to be this bloated big budget action movie, Ang Lee with Life of Pi dispelled that once and for all, creating a masterpiece on nearly every conceivable facet of filmmaking art. You’d have to be running on bolts, screws and an engine low on oil to NOT be moved by some aspect of the film’s technical mastery or story. It reeks of passion and by the time it reached the delicate climax, I literally shed tears. It’s a marvelous achievement that reminds film lovers that the greatest films are not watched, but rather, experienced. Ang Lee has almost exclusively directed great films in his long and formidable career but with Life of Pi, he reached a landmark that will undoubtedly be remembered as his greatest work. Dear Ang, thank you.

Who I would give the Award to: Ang Lee (for Life of Pi, duh)

Before we go on to the big award, let me do some Oscar quickies (aka: the awards you guys are all gonna go take your restroom break during because Brangelina aren’t nominated)

  • Best Documentary: Searching for Sugar Man
  • Best Foreign Film: Only saw Amour, typically these films aren’t available in the U.S. well into 2013.
  • Best Animated Short: Adam and Dog (US)
  • Best Live Action Short: Death of a Shadow (Sweden)
  • Best Sound Editing: Life of Pi (duh)
  • Best Sound Mixing: Les Miserables

Best Picture:

I like presenting this award a little differently. Rather than simply stating which film I think most deserves to win, as with the previous categories, I’m going to rank all nine Best Picture nominees in order from least to most liked. So without further ado…

9. Les Miserables
8. Zero Dark Thirty
7. Argo
6. Silver Lining’s Playbook
5. Amour
4. Lincoln
3. Django: Unchained
2. Beasts of the Southern Wild
1. Life of Pi (… duh)

I’m proud of this year’s nominees for Best Picture, because while usually there is that pocket of support for a trite piece of filmmaking garbage (The Help, The Blindside, any other movie that Hollywood pretends is about black people but is actually about white people, etc.) that ultimately finds its way to the ballot, this year INSTEAD of that, we got the best American indie film of the year and a strongly untraditional, non-conforming art-house foreign film somehow finding a way to squirm into a list that rarely embraces their type.

I hate to say it’s the “worst” film of the lot, but Les Miserables was certainly the one I least liked. Acting-wise it was phenomenal, the cast was overloaded with remarkable singing talent (minus Russell Crowe who sounded like that uncle we’re all too ashamed to confront about his poor singing whenever he insists on keeping the karaoke mic) which we all know is an important factor if you wanna tell a 2 and ½ hour long film entirely through singing. Tom Hooper’s direction was great and his decision to practice unorthodox techniques for a musical film were intriguing, but I think the adaptation from stage to screen didn’t transcend as well as I would’ve hoped and that was its biggest flaw, being unable to separate the musical numbers from the storytelling therefore not allowing a personal connection to thoroughly develop for the characters or plot. Still a good film though. Everything after Les Miserables would get an above average rating by me, including the pair of “true story” CIA films nominated. I think aside from the previously mentioned similarities and all the critical praise both are receiving, not much else about these films are comparable. Zero Dark Thirty is like the introverted, intellectual twin and prefers conveying suspense through subtle filmmaking methods and a reliance on unfiltered information-centric storytelling. While by no means a documentary, it informs you with enough real names, faces and dates to qualify as an editorial and it might be the birth of a new genre of filmmaking (the “Report Film”). Argo in a lot of ways is the other twin; it’s fast paced, exciting, and uses very familiar filmmaking methods to tell a thrilling drama. I personally think it’s overrated and the weakest Ben Affleck directed effort as of yet, but it’s an enjoyable flick for what it is, no doubt. As I’ve mentioned before, SLP (get with it) was a film I initially thought I would absolutely detest but I was pleased to find out it wasn’t the quirky for the sake of being quirky, heartwarming “indie” tale that is so abundant and by-the-numbers nowadays that they’ve completely lost any sense of identity in the independent film world. It was something a bit different and a bit more.

I can hardly believe I’m giving the edge to Lincoln over Amour, but as previously stated, I’m a HUGE Michael Haneke enthusiast and I personally wouldn’t rank Amour among his best work (then again, his best work would make 90 percent of Academy voters’ mind’s explode, so I’ll take a Michel Haneke nomination anyway I can). Lincoln on the other hand was one of the most satisfying period pieces I’ve ever watched and I typically don’t care for historical epics. Plus, you just can’t go wrong with Daniel Day, Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field in the same film. My top 3 films for Best Picture is actually where it begins to resemble my REAL top 10 of the year, as each of these films would be found on it, with numbers 2 and 1 literally being my favorite films of 2012. I had a hard time deciding which one trumped the other for my personal choice for Best Picture, but in the end Life of Pi is closest thing to a perfect film I’ve seen in years. Beasts of the Southern Wild is stripped down, powerful and honest while never insulting the viewer’s intelligence; but a lot of my favorite aspects of it can be likened to films that already presented similar sensations. Sometimes I loved it because it reminded me of the best parts of Terrence Malick and David Gordon Green and evoked a hint of otherworldly Del Toro. However, Life of Pi has a hard time being compared to much of ANYTHING that film has had to offer in its century long reign. Life of Pi isn’t memorable because it’s 2012’s ‘X’ film or ‘Y’ film for the new millennium… Life of Pi will stand the test of cinematic supremacy because it is purely, the FIRST Life of Pi. Subject-wise it manages to present an elegant argument for the proof of God and the importance of human faith. In an industry where the only positive representations of said themes are so easily susceptible to ridicule for lack of competent or well-versed depictions, Life of Pi strived to present the opposite and never in a heavy handed manner but alternately as a simple piece of narrative that seamlessly fit into a larger puzzle. It’s also a great tale of survival and adventure, of imagination and symbolism and – really just stop reading this and go watch Life of Pi (in 3D) if you haven’t already. It is the best film of 2012, my favorite film of 2012 and one of the best films I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing in my entire life. Oh, it is also my pick for Best Picture at the 84th Academy Awards. Duh.

Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment, reply, agree, disagree, insult, cuss out, call me out on my distracting use of parentheses and comma’s, or share any your own opinions! What do you think should win on Oscar night? Think ‘The Vow’ was snubbed? Tell me!

Editors Note: In case you missed it, check out Part I of Franky's Picks, and get a better sense of where Franky is coming from with this years Oscar Picks by checking out his Intro.

1 comment:

Marisol said...

Great job Franky! Loved ur picks especially o loved ur commentary on best director and best movie of course!lol i literally wanted to cry for best movie cuz all the feelings i felt watching it came back to me. Def Life of pi is the first movie of its kind! Loved it agree with it and i hope it wins!! Even though it prob wont. And i pretty much agreed w evwrything else esp w django as original screenplay