I’m going to stick to the system I used last year when writing about the Oscars: I’ll talk about what I think SHOULD win rather than what will. Also, I’ll choose one film from the actual nominees for each category, and also the movie I would pick in a magical universe where everything I like was nominated. And as always, I’m limiting discussion to movies I’ve actually seen.
From the nominees: LINCOLN
(Will it actually win? Probably not.)
From everything: MOONRISE KINGDOM
I saw all the best picture nominees this year except for three — Les Mis, Life of Pi, and Amour. For me, this choice came down to a very close tie between Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook, both of which I really enjoyed. And I do think those two are head and shoulders above the other options here. Both Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook are incredibly competent, well-crafted films, and both are much less conventional than I had expected from their context and their marketing. This is basically a tie, but in the end I chose Lincoln, more or less on the strength of Daniel Day-Lewis’ crazy good performance, and on the very smart script by Tony Kushner.
If I had free reign to pick anything, I think I’d end up choosing Moonrise Kingdom as the best of the year. It was funny, charming, and I think I felt the closest emotional connection with the characters. It pulled off a pretty impressive trick of being incredibly engaging at the same time as coming off as almost self-effacing in its presentation. And everything is presented with straight face; the characters are never being winked at or trivialized, even when what’s happening is ridiculous or funny. My new favorite Wes Anderson movie, and I think Anderson can be either very goo, or awfully annoying. This movie shows off everything that’s good about what he does and never falls into the trap of being trivial or twee. It’s a winner.
From the nominees: DANIEL DAY-LEWIS in LINCOLN
(Will he actually win? Obviously, yes.)
From everything: DANIEL DAY-LEWIS in LINCOLN
DDL on both counts; I think he’s just too good in this to give it to anyone else. He’s completely believable as Lincoln, which must be an immensely hard thing to do. He never reads as parody, or even someone acting. You can never take your eyes off him. I know he’s the easy choice for this, but there you go. I did also really like Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook and Joaquin Phoenix in The Master. It was the first time I’ve seen Cooper actually act — and he’s good! — and Phoenix was blindingly weird but very compelling. I didn’t see Denzel Washington in Flight or Hugh Jackman in Les Mis. (I love Hugh Jackman, but I’m kind of suspicious of Les Mis…) I also think Mark Duplass deserves serious credit for his weirdly naturalistic portrayal of a man who may or may not have a time machine in Safety Not Guaranteed. Obviously no Oscar love there, but that was one of the best performances I saw this year.
From the nominees: JENNIFER LAWRENCE in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
(Will she actually win? I think so, yes.)
From everything: JENNIFER LAWRENCE in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
It’s usually easier for me to think of supporting roles I really liked than leading roles. I think part of that is a lot of good movies don’t even really HAVE leading roles. Moonrise Kingdom is pretty much an ensemble piece; Silver Linings Playbook is close to it. Even in The Master, how exactly do you make the determination that Joaquin Phoenix is the lead, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman is supporting? Anyway, this is by the way of saying that there were a lot of actresses whose performances I liked a lot in 2012, but just a few who were clearly the leads in their respective films. I think my favorite two performances were actually both from Jennifer Lawrence, in Silver Linings Playbook and in The Hunger Games. She has a way of making her characters completely believable that is rare, I think, even among really good actors. It’s like with Daniel Day Lewis, you just don’t see her acting.
I love Jessica Chastain, but not her strange role in Zero Dark Thirty. And Quvenzhane Wallis is adorable, but I just don’t think six-year-olds act, exactly. The other two roles nominated here I didn’t see. Also to get back to Safety Not Guaranteed, Aubrey Plaza was great in that too, and her role had some dramatic meat on it in addition to comedy.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
From the nominees: PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN in THE MASTER
(Will he actually win? I don’t think so, no.)
From everything: PHILIP SEYOUR HOFFMAN in THE MASTER
I was never sure exactly what was happening in The Master, but Philip Seymour Hoffman was really good in it. His portrayal never became caricature; one interesting thing about the movie was that his character of Lancaster Dodd is probably a much more compelling and charismatic person than the real L. Ron Hubbard ever was. There’s some aspect of the con artist to him, but he clearly has incredibly powerful motives beyond that, even though the film never completely illuminates what they are. Hoffman can dip in and out from naturalistic to weird in a way that’s really compelling. He makes the truly bizarre scene where he serenades Joaquin Phoenix with “Slow Boat to China” seem real and believable. If you asked me what was happening in that scene, exactly, I could not tell you, but Philip Seymour Hoffman is awesome.
I saw all the performances nominated for this award, and have mixed feelings. Tommy Lee Jones was great, though to a certain extent he was just being Tommy Lee Jones. Robert De Niro was terrific; he would be my second choice. I don’t ultimately think Christoph Waltz deserved a nomination. He was charming in Django Unchained, but that’s where his performance stopped. Samuel L. Jackson as the slimy house slave Stephen was much more impressive. Similarly, Alan Arkin was great, but John Goodman deserved to be nominated for his performance in Argo more than he did.
Outside the nominees, how about Bruce Willis in Moonrise Kingdom? Jake Johnson in Safety Not Guaranteed? I’ve come down a little off my intense love for Cabin In The Woods, but Richard Jenkins was terrific in it. Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent, and Hugo Weaving were all fantastic in their multiple roles in Cloud Atlas, too.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
From the nominees: SALLY FIELD in LINCOLN
(Will she actually win? No chance.)
From everything: SALLY FIELD in LINCOLN
Interesting I’m ending up sticking mostly within the fields of the actual nominees for most of these. As previously indicated, I didn’t see Les Miserables (not sure I want to), nor did I see The Sessions (which I definitely DO want to see). I thought Amy Adams was fantastic in The Master, but Sally Field gets this one partly just because her role was so interesting. Mary Todd Lincoln was almost as important in Lincoln as Abe was, and nearly as juicy a part. It’s also a role that would be very easy to play badly — I’m crazy and I ruin everything! — but she never gets anywhere near that broad in the film. Mary Todd has gone through a lot and you feel surprising sympathy for her. One of the rawest, most surprising moments in Lincoln is when you’re reminded that Abe threatened to commit her to an asylum.
A couple other great performances from outside the nominees: Judi Dench as M has been consistently one of the best things about the newer James Bond movies since 1995. And in Skyfall she finally got a movie that was as good as she was.
One more, FAR off the beaten path: V/H/S — a found-footage horror anthology movie — was mostly stupid and awful, and I can’t in good conscience recommend it to anyone. But it does feature one of the most memorable performances of the year for me: Hannah Fierman as a girl that a bunch of guys meet at a bar. She seems a little bit off… and it all goes downhill from there. I can’t be too detailed for fear of spoilers, but this actress is is genuinely brilliant, and pulls off the weirdest, most inhuman horror performance I’ve ever seen. (If for some reason you do watch V/H/S, seriously do not watch more than the first and maybe the last segments in the anthology. I promise you they are not worth it; there are some real stinkers here.)
From the nominees: DAVID O. RUSSELL for SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
(Will he actually win? Pretty unlikely but it’s possible.)
From everything: DAVID O. RUSSELL for SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
I think David O. Russell should win here because it’s Silver Linings Playbook where the choices that the director makes are most impressive. He pulls astonishing performances out of all these actors, and the pacing and tone of the movie constantly keep you off-balance and off-your-guard. He NEVER makes the easy choice. Almost any movie would be more interesting and daring directed by Russell, and I think that should be rewarded. To dip very briefly into the real world, this is one of the very few categories where I’m genuinely interested who wins. Would love to see it be Russell, though obviously no crime to give it to Spielberg.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
From the nominees: MOONRISE KINGDOM
(Will it actually win? I have no idea.)
From everything: MOONRISE KINGDOM
Please give this to poor Moonrise Kingdom. It got shut out otherwise and it deserves more. Please do not give this to Zero Dark Thirty, or worse, Django Unchained.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
From the nominees: LINCOLN
(Will it actually win? Still no idea.)
From everything: SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED
Lincoln’s screenplay was terrific: smart, lean, funny and unpretentious — from the occasionally very pretentious Tony Kushner. But how about some love for weird, neglected, semi-brilliant Safety Not Guaranteed? (I’m classifying it as adapted since it’s technically based on a real Craigslist listing.) Cloud Atlas and The Hunger Games were also two very good adaptations of tricky source material. I wish the Hunger Games in general got more recognition here, it was a really good movie and was completely shut out, even for technical stuff. (Of course, it did make 600 million dollars, so maybe they’re not too broken up about it…)
BEST ANIMATED MOVIE
From the nominees: FRANKENWEENIE
(Will it actually win? Gosh I have no idea.)
From everything: FRANKENWEENIE
I saw four out of five of the animated films nominated this year (no Wreck-It Ralph) and enjoyed all of them. Great to see this category working out. I think I most enjoyed Frankenweenie, which had a LOT of similarities to ParaNorman, both about weird misunderstood kids dealing with a somewhat softened horror situation. Frankenweenie I think talked down to its audience a bit less, though, and deserved credit for its whacked-out visual style and for daring to be in black-and-white. (Is it the first black-and-white kids movie in the color era?)
Here endeth my opinions. This pretty much wraps it up for the categories I care about, though I’d love to see The Hobbit win for FX, and I thought Skyfall had terrific music, both the score and Adele’s song. Comments?