2012 Oscar Picks

Once again we’ve run into awards season. The golden globes were ignored by most, the BAFTAS offered a chance to see Stephen Fry being Stephen Fry and Christina Hendricks’ dress causing several heart attacks around England, and now we’re building up to the main event. Although the Oscars have consistently failed to reflect the most beloved and well-remembered films of most given years (Chariots of Fire won over Raiders of the Last Ark, Ordinary People over Raging Bull and The Elephant Man, etc) we still get carried away with the spirit of celebrating a years’ worth of cinema.

Our picks will be a mix of what we expect and what we hope, with hope prevailing in most instances. We’re not going to go into the technical categories here. We’re not going to pretend to know the difference between sound mixing and sound editing. And given the visual effects category lacking any impressive practical effects, we’ll stay clear of that too. It goes without saying that we would prefer Transformers Dark of the Moon to lose all three of its nominations.

And with the fact that Transformers 3, one of the worst critically received films of the year, has three nominations freshly installed in your minds, let’s look at some Oscar snubs! Allowing Michael Fassbender to go without best actor for his devastating portrayal of a sex addict in Shame is very unfortunate. Tilda Swinton being overlooked for the haunting realisation of We Need To Talk About Kevin’s Eva is similarly terrible. Additionally, Drive is left out of everything except technical, my favourite film of the year, Melancholia, has been entirely overlooked, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is not included for best picture. These are all quite upsetting, and it does mean that we lack the staggering masterpieces in the best picture category that we had last year. But those matters aside, let’s look at our picks for the ten awards we feel we can adequately judge and be objective about.

So, in reverse order of importance, starting with those losers everybody hates:

Best Writing (Adapted): Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a very dense novel. At its heart is a story of betrayal and disillusionment, wrapped in a hunt for a soviet mole amongst four high ranking British Intelligence Officers. Add to that the Reptile fund, operation witchcraft, operation Testify, Lamplighters, Scalphunters and other technical jargon and you have a lot to pack into a two hour film. A six hour BBC TV show had previously succeeded in bringing George Smiley and his claustrophobic world of espionage to life, but the writers on this film manage to deliver something punchier, whilst somehow maintaining the deliberate pace. Scenes are shortened, rearranged and altered and all to great effect. Some details are even improved, such as the Russian cultural attaché Poliokov being identified as a soviet agent because he is saluted by a soldier, giving away his military background. In the film he mistakenly where medals to a military funeral…that’s quite a clumsy move for a spy! So for doing a difficult job and absolutely triumphing, Tinker Tailor gets our vote.

Best Writing (Original): The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius

If the Baftas were any indication then The Artist should sweep these awards, and deservedly so. The writing was certainly very important. With absolutely no dialogue until the final scene, the script had to find ways of emoting everything through visuals. No exposition to reveal the plot, everything must be articulated through the gestures and actions of the characters. The script delivers a terrific challenge to the actors to get across everything on the page onto the screen. The screenplay also plays with its own limitations as characters suddenly become aware of sound effects or are unable to hear each other speak without title cards. But the backbone of the script is the story, which is a very sorrowful story of times changed and fame lost. The writing is extremely charming and wonderfully poignant. It’s not only my personal pick for best original screenplay, but the most likely winner too.

Best Music: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Alberto Iglesias

The music of the artist needed to last the entire length of the film, and would replace sound effects and dialogue, and is therefore very likely to win this award. But for me, Alberto Iglesias’ sexy seventies jazz soundtrack to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is just too perfect not to highlight here. The sound manages to be sorrowful and yet triumphant, slick and yet sleazy, and just generally perfect for its setting. Any fans of the original series may be sorry not to hear the original theme tune, but it is placed by a lovely trumpet piece to embody our hero and his tireless pursuit of the truth. The music haunts the often densely detailed frames of the film, providing essential atmosphere to the claustrophobic visuals. For perfectly complementing the tone, this soundtrack deserves to win.

Best Foreign Film: A Separation

This is not only my favourite of the five nominations, but also the most likely winner. The film offers an insight into the inner workings of a society all too readily demonized in the west. We follow an Iranian couple undergoing a divorce, and the strains put on this failing relationship by a court case involving the father possibly causing the death of the babysitter’s unborn child. What follows is a courtroom and family drama, as every character attempts to influence each other to bring the case to a close. The writing is very compelling as the characters are rendered with complete realism and portrayed brilliantly by their actors, from the aggressive yet emasculated husband of the pregnant maid to the strong independent mother who is desperately trying to affect a change in her life by leaving her husband. Direction is contemplative and enthralling and every element works well to bring the compelling story to life.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Berenice Bejo in The Artist

Wait, we’re NOT picking Jessica Chastain? The most bewitching creature currently revolving around the sun? Well why the hell not?! Because, for our sins, we did not see The Help this year. We just ran out of time, and there’s no way to buy it before the Oscars. So our real pick is Jessica Chastain, but our moral and most probable winner is Berenice Bejo, the incredible actress somehow managed to match Jean Dujardin’s energy and charisma. She is at the heart of this movie, she drives the plot and signals the change of climate that so terribly affects Dujardin’s character. She plays a lively and extremely talented beauty living in Los Angeles during the golden age of American cinema. She accidentally encounters the biggest film star of the time and accidentally steals his spotlight, to her eventual sorrow. Bejo is able to articulate the spritely enthusiasm and the deep, touching sorrow that she feels for her fallen hero. She definitely deserves this Oscar.

Best Actor in a supporting role: Kenneth Branagh in My Week with Marilyn

We are at a bit of a loss here. We didn’t see Moneyball or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close due to a lack of interest in baseball and terrible reviews, respectively. But Kenneth Branagh definitely deserves some credit for his portrayal of Lawrence Olivier, and he does seem the most likely candidate (though it would be nice for Von Sydow to win this late in his career). Upon seeing the film, we didn’t even manage to recognise Branagh’s distinctive face in the role as he absolutely merged into the part of Lawrence Olivier. Although the camp pomposity is a little bit Johnny Sessions, it’s still a charismatic and enjoyable turn, distinguishing an otherwise fairly bland film (Miss Williams was quite good too).

Best Actress: Rooney Mara in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Let’s none of us be fooled. This Oscar is going to Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady. There is absolutely no question about this, it’s going to happen. But although we did appreciate how faithful her performance was, we really hated that movie. The sappy script, the ugly direction, the utterly uncontroversial approach to an extremely controversial subject, we just hated it for being so…bland. So we couldn’t bear to give Streep her props for an accurate portrayal and would much rather see the statue go to Rooney Mara for being extremely brave. This script was sent around Hollywood for a few years, and several actresses turned it down because it was too controversial or difficult or nude. But Mara took the role, she dared to portray this character, and she did so masterfully. She succeeded in being incredibly fierce and strong whilst also conveying the fragility and weakness at the heart of the character. Amongst the difficult plot and incredibly hard to watch scenes of brutalisation, you needed a character you could like and be fascinated by in the foreground, and Mara was exceptional. It would be very gratifying to see her properly rewarded for this effort. Shame she won’t. As it’s definitely going to Streep…

Best Actor: Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The academy sometimes delivers Oscars to unworthy performances just because it is that actors turn, and they’ve never gotten one before, and are getting on a bit. Hence John Wayne winning for True Grit. This is one reason that Gary Oldman may win this Oscar, but it is not the reason we hope he will win and this role is far from undeserving. George Smiley has already been portrayed masterfully by Sir Alec Guinness, but Oldman is not doing a Guinness impression…he’s doing a John Le Carre impression. The tiny movements and restrained emotions Oldman is able to bring to this film really suits a world of tiny details. The character is one who has been betrayed by his country and by his wife, and he is just as unlikely to leave one than the other. He carries out his duties as a top ranking MI6 agent despite having lost faith in the system he defends “Don’t you think it’s time to recognise there is as little worth on your side as there is on mine?” His best moment is when he describes to Guillam the only time in his career in which he met his adversary, Karla, a scene he carries all by himself to powerful effect. This award will very probably go to Jean Dujardin, but I certainly hope it goes to Oldman. But it’s only his first nomination, there’s still plenty of time. Let’s hope this is only the start of him taking lead roles again.

Best Director: Martin Scorsese, Hugo

This, too, will probably go to the artist for its daring, if not particularly modern, directorial decisions, but frankly I’m running out of things to say about it, so with nothing for Tomas Alfredson or Fincher, let’s go with Hugo! A lot of this will have been said in the top ten list earlier this year but let’s focus on the direction. The characters are given time to develop and explore the mystery at a deliberate pace, whilst not losing the wonderful momentum that drives the plot. The comedic elements compliment the more thoughtful and sweet, and the tone is consistently strong throughout. The technical decisions are fairly bold, with most of the action occurring on a large set constructed at Shepperton replicating a period perfect French railway station. Significant moments are very memorable, such as the awakening of the automaton, the chases through the station and the on-set experiences of Méliès. Scorcesse defends his position as one of the most viscerally interesting and stylistically unique directors working, and we feel stands out amongst the other nominations…except Hazanavicius, perhaps.

Best Picture: The Artist!

Yes! Obviously. It’s the best film of the year! …or at least the best one they’ve bothered to nominate. Once you get past the charismatic and charming leads, the brilliantly original script and the fantastic music and production values you still have a worthy best picture winner in terms of the unique style, the ambitious scope and the significance of its message of optimism in the creative industry. The initial nostalgia inducing element works well, and is kept fresh by the little self referential sections, often occurring in dreams. The focus may be seem a little esoteric to people outside the industry or not huge fans of movies in general, but this story of a man who finds himself lost in new times is easily identifiable to anyone who has woken up one day to find the world has left them behind.  This is not only the most probable winner for best Oscar, but our personal choice….unless Melancholia was nominated…or Tinker Tailor…or Drive…It’s very good! Really.

P for Picture (Best)

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