In the alphabetical list of films below, find brief context for the Oscar predictions in this shorter version of “The CampChuck Reviewer.” (shaped from four printed pages instead of eight, because of a combination of sloth and active engagement in our inaugural re-retirement getaway, snowbirding in southern Arizona for six weeks)
Amour: Picture, Director, Actress
An intimate little foreign language film, it and its director Michael Haneke have no chance to win. Neither does the oldest ever Best Actress nominee, Emmanuelle Riva, whose character fades toward death from multiple strokes. The French-style, matter of fact qualities of this film keep it modest. It’s nice that Oscar would tip his hat to the routines of dying and devoted caretaking in “Amour” but winning would be out of proportion with the deserved respect.
Argo: Picture, Supporting Actor
Despite a prediction-quavering string of pre-Oscar award wins, only one film since 1932 (“Driving Miss Daisy,” 1989) has won Best Picture without its director being nominated. Ben Affleck’s film works especially well, achieving tension while downplaying typical Hollywood overkill (except for the ending). Alan Arkin flavors “Argo” nicely but doesn’t stand out in the competitive supporting actor category.
Beasts of the Southern Wild: Picture, Director, Actress
Being small and poetic toward weird stops any chance to win for this film or its director, Benh Zeitlin, although this is what makes for an interesting, alternative night at the movies. Tugging, almost haunting in her little girl maturity, Quevenzhané Wallis should not be too quickly dismissed for Best Actress Gold just because she’s 9 years old. Alas, her youngest-ever age and the type of film will line her up behind more competitive, better known performances.
Django Unchained: Picture, Supporting Actor
Director Quentin Tarentino, again, shows masterful flare, scene for scene. He disregards that more violence doesn’t make a violent movie a better movie. Serious respect for his evocative depictions of slave treatment is undermined by his playful filmmaker core. Christoph Waltz rides his likable edge with the same aplomb he employed playing an Oscar winning villain in Tarentino’s “Inglourious Basterds” – but not enough to Oscar him again.
Denzel Washington does a marvelous job getting us to root for him despite his character’s alcohol and drug addicted arrogance. After the nail biting airplane crash scene, the Hollywood scripting travels a personal journey that Washington makes especially real. Denzel, however, is one of those A+ actors who won’t get a third Oscar merely because he was excellent in a film that optimized its stock elements.
The Impossible: Actress
It is not quite fair to say that Naomi Watts had an easier time being excellent compared with the other Best Actress nominees. Nonetheless, as a loving doctor, wife and mother suffering a devastating tsunami that nearly kills her, the acting challenge in this stomach-wrenching film is strangely more dismissable compared with the story environments in Jennifer Lawrence’s and Jessica Chastain’s films.
Les Misérables: Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress
This sincerely overwrought approach to musical cinema succeeds and drags for the same reason. Delivering the ambitious vision of this filmmaking, Hollywood flavoring will win Anne Hathaway an Oscar and keep it from Hugh Jackman. She’ll win, not merely because she wrings every ounce of pathos out of the economic injustice of early 19th century Paris. She’ll win because penetrating close ups show off not only how well she sings and acts, but also how beautiful she still looks while playing convincingly wretched. You can claim analogous things about Hugh Jackman, but it’s just too tiring to experience his heavily burdened life in this difficult- to-digest operatic format. Both excellent, Anne is a melodic elixir. Hugh is an expository overdose.
Life of Pi: Picture, Director
Once again, it’s worth going to a movie just knowing that Ang Lee is the director. With “Life of Pi” he has risen to a difficult challenge. He’s delivered a brilliant visual rendering of a story that is literally adrift in the ocean. A shipwrecked young man drifts and drifts on a lifeboat with a wild tiger. Other wild animals and scene locations wrap around the storytelling, but staying enriched by this film can’t help but be harder work than it should be.
Steven Spielberg is the best film director alive (or more conservatively, the best commercially remarkable director alive). With Ben Affleck not even nominated, Spielberg will have no difficulty with “Lincoln” becoming his third Best Director Oscar (“Schindler’s List,” 1993; “Saving Private Ryan,” 1998). With Affleck and his “Argo” notching wins in so many other awards venues, a Best Picture Oscar for “Lincoln” is less sure. Stir in the depth and breadth of life that Daniel Day-Lewis breathes into America’s most iconic human being. Count the factors from casting and performances all around, to the historical pith for then and now, to audaciously narrowing the focus of this film to a four month period. Note that only one film has ever won Best Picture without its director even being nominated, “Lincoln” should and will wrest Best Picture Gold from “Argo.” Day-Lewis will surely win his third Oscar. Sally Field will not. However significant her supporting role is, she is ultimately overshadowed by the Abe-ness of the film and more so by the glow of Anne Hathaway in “Les Misérables.” Tommy Lee Jones, more than Field, fuels the historical weight and political muster of the story. Actually, just the visual language in his rumpled expressions says Oscar for Jones this year.
The Master: Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress
Only Joaquin Phoenix rises above the randomness of this story about a cult guru. Phoenix combines a vulnerable intensity with a unique physical posture that would be a top Oscar contender in a better realized film and a non-Daniel-Day-Lewis year. Philip Seymour Hoffman is always a master actor, but not enough so to pull an Oscar out of a film that only partially gels. Amy Adams adds a creditable turn to a career that is advancing admirably well.
The Sessions: Supporting Actress
Tricky, Helen Hunt plays a professional who offers medically prescribed sex therapy, in this case to a quadriplegic who had never experienced sex. Hunt manages, with grace, one of cinema’s better justified reasons for naked. A stubborn puritanism lingers around screening nudity. This boosts Hunt’s “courage rating” somewhat artificially, perhaps more so because she is now a 49-year-old beauty. Despite all this in a lead actress sized supporting role, the name Anne Hathaway will still emerge from the envelope.
Silver Linings Playbook: Picture, Director, Actor and Actress, Supporting Actor and Actress
The dark horse with Oscar legs this year, this film boasts nominations in all of the major categories.The way it injects mental health issues into a romantic comedy formula, it could have tripped up or at least trivialized itself, but this film works surprisingly well. Bradley Cooper’s performance may be key to lifting the script above formula, but, as with the film and David O. Russell’s direction, he doesn’t seem destined to become classically memorable. Cooper’s regular guy, sex appeal wraps well around the character’s off putting behaviors. It’s impressive, but still in the realm of a People’s Choice award, not the most prestigious film award. Robert De Niro showcases better than he’s been shown in recent years, but not enough above formula. Jacki Weaver runs the most forgettable course in all the acting races. Dark horse legs will only score Oscar for Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence demonstrates acting range and a nice fit between a sensitive reality in “Winter’s Bone” and a blockbuster heroine in “The Hunger Games.” She’s a darling big talent with something of a quirky appeal. She’s primed to run young to this first Oscar.
Zero Dark Thirty: Picture, Actress
Well done as it is, this film manipulates our curiosity about torture and finally vanquishing Osama bin Laden. This (and some nagging controversy about the source and fact of certain content particulars) somewhat dismisses the snub that Kathryn Bigelow received no director nomination. Anyway, the film doesn’t say Oscar the way it did for her deserving Best Picture/Director coup with “Hurt Locker.” Rising star Jessica Chastain plays a relentlessly focused CIA agent. The role carries a certain “been there, done that” quality except that this is a young female agent. Call it fresh for that reason, and Oscar chances brighten. Allow it to be largely irrelevant for that reason, and Oscar chances dim just enough in the face of a more complicated performance by rising star Jennifer Lawrence.