More often than not, engaging with films is a lot like speed dating for me. I knew within the first few minutes of The Impossible what rating I was going to give it simply based on the sound design and the artful grace in the composition and juxtaposition of images. There was going to be an intense vibe between us that was going to work out. Conversely, I had to force myself to sit through that other deluge film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, after barely making it through the cacophonic, sloppily shot title sequence.
I’ve already ranted about why That Bathtub Movie doesn’t deserve the Oscar nominations it received, which doesn’t mean that The Impossible should have been nominated in its place. The Impossible is, however, on a par with Life of Pi — the big common themes this award season are coincidentally slavery and man’s battle with the sea, certainly more trenchant motifs than toy makers in Paris or Parisian actors in Silent-Era Hollywood, like we had last year.
So I got some wrong and some right, but most of all it seems I hit one prediction on the nose early on: This is going to be the most interesting Oscar race in a long time, with awards being handed out scattershot across a bunch of worthy films.
Rather than begin with a milky froth of what, in my estimation, Academy members missed and misfired, let me highlight the underlying espresso coffee of what they got right:
No Best Picture for The Master. Nor was PT Anderson nominated for Best Director. Hooray! As I said in my review, I found many decisions made in this film to have been fatal, namely the fact that the focus was on Joaquin Phoenix’s character, not on the Master himself as the title suggests. Nobody has done the Scientology story before, it’s an incredible one, a delirious Citizen Kane, and this movie simply didn’t live up to expectations. Phoenix is unlikely to win Best Actor, but Hoffman has a very good chance for Best Supporting Actor, although he will likely lose to,
Robert De Niro, who gave his finest performance in a decade in Silver Linings Playbook. He was right at home in this superbly written role, and knocked it out of the ballpark. His co-star Bradley Cooper also deserved to be nominated for Best Actor, even though I didn’t feel he was completely right for the role. He is also unlikely to win against Daniel Day Lewis, but there could be an upset here; Cooper seems to be well liked. Jennifer Lawrence, the female lead in SLP, is even more deserving of her nomination as Best Actress than Cooper is for Best Actor, but her performance pales in comparison to,
So far, so meh. I had high hopes for this award season contenders when they were just amuse bouches as trailers, but few if any are living up to expectations.
I suspect we might be seeing a minor cultural shift in entertainment preferences with this amicable, incestuous tug of war going on between premium TV and feature film. Theatrical releases are becoming the short stories, the scripted dramas the more satisfying epic novels. Like me, many people are downloading entire seasons and watching them back to back over a few nights, unless they can’t put the series down and pull marathon all-nighters to get them finished, just the way you might read a novel.
Case in point: last week’s episode of Homeland. The interrogation scene between Damian Lewis and Claire Danes positively stomped a similar one in The Master; by comparison, Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman seem like two puffer fish in a Mexican standoff over a choice piece of coral. Both scenes are meant to be showcases of psychological brinksmanship, performance, and the delicate art of making rather humdrum over-the-shoulder reverse-angle editing exciting.
In the spirit of reviewing upcoming films we haven’t seen just based on their trailers, we’re now going to start making early Oscar predictions the same way, nominations for Best Picture only until we actually see the films, at which point we’ll handicap the chances in all categories.
THE WEEK FROM MY VIEW
by James Killough
I had a brief email exchange over the weekend with our contributor Eric Baker in which he brought to my attention that our colleagues in the entertainment biz never leave comments on this blog, but rather send them to us in private emails. Sometimes I might get a “like” or a quick note when I post a link to a PFC piece on Facebook, but that’s still considered private. “It’s like being in a high school exclusively made up of cool kids,” I explained in my reply to Baker.
James Tuttle has similar experiences. For example, in a wee incident last year, he was taken to task by a friend of his, an Oscar-nominated actress, for using the word ‘retarded.’ She protested that he was too intelligent and articulate to need to resort to adjectives that disparaged mentally disabled people; a child of a friend of hers was one such person, etcetera. Even though I pointed out in a post of my own that the definition and etymology of ‘retarded’ was broad enough to excuse Tuttle’s use of it, the actress’ point was legitimate in light of where we are culturally with the bullying issue.