Every January when the Academy Awards nominations come out, my reaction follows the same emotional arc. Before I see the list, I start out excited. Last year, for instance, I didn’t expect to find Take Shelter on the Best Picture list (even though it deserved to be immeasurably more than, say, War Horse), but I thought it was more or less a given that Michael Shannon would get a Best Actor nod, or that Jeff Nichols would garner a Best Original Screenplay nomination. These inevitable injustices lead me to the second emotional phase in my trajectory: disappointment mixed with rage. “There are 10 slots in the Best Picture category. Why didn’t you nominate 10 fucking films?” This year the elephant in the room—or rather the elephant standing in the yard because no one invited him into the room—isn’t Ben Affleck or Kathryn Bigelow getting left off the Best Director’s list. It’s the fact that The Master only gathered nominations in the acting categories. Paul Thomas Anderson is the only American director working on a large scale (besides David Fincher, perhaps) telling unconventional stories with uncomfortable conclusions.
But my rage usually subsides. After the shock of some egregious omission—Michael Shannon last year, P.T. Anderson this—I find some silver lining. (No, Silver Linings Playbook isn’t the silver lining of this year’s Oscar cloud; it’s proof that the system is corrupt.) This year’s unexpected triumph is Amour. It won’t win for Best Picture, Haneke won’t win for directing or writing, and Emmanuelle Riva won’t win for Best Actress. It’ll win Best Foreign, and that’s absolutely, positively fine. The other four nominations are what an optimist might construe as the evolution of taste in Hollywood. So for the time being, let’s be optimists. The Academy Awards don’t exist in a vacuum; nominations may be political, but they aren’t arbitrary. In a very real way, we the filmmaking community—whether by voting or blogging—influence them. The Oscars may be a sham, but they’re our sham.
Now, without an further delay, here’s the 2013 list with MovieMaker‘s handicap.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
Life of Pi
Expectation: Zero Dark Thirty
Runner-up Hope: Beasts of the Southern Wild
There’s no shame in ZDT winning Best Picture. It’s an incredibly solid film. But Amour is both the toughest to watch, and the most rewarding, film of the year by one of (if not the) world’s most sure-footed director, Michael Haneke.
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Denzel Washington, Flight
Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Expectation: Daniel Day-Lewis
Hope: Joaquin Phoenix
Runner-up Hope: Daniel Day-Lewis
Everyone knows that DDL is the best actor extant, but Joaquin gets overlooked too often because he’s crazy. That’s why he gets our nod.
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Expectation: Jessica Chastain
Hope: Emmanuelle Riva
Runner-up Hope: Quvenzhané Wallis
Chastain has spent three years proving that she can pick good roles, and then act very well in them. That said, I was afraid that Emmanuelle Riva actually came down with Alzheimer’s during Amour. Quvenzhané Wallis, suffice it to say, is also a literal force of nature in Beasts, but she’ll have many more opportunities to win awards. Ms. Riva might not.
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Alan Arkin, Argo
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Expectation: Tommy Lee Jones
Hope: Tommy Lee Jones
Runner-up Hope: Philip Seymour Hoffman
TLJ hasn’t won since The Fugitive, and he deserved wins for No Country For Old Men and (for which he wasn’t nominated), so he’s more or less due. PSH always brings it, too, but his Lancaster Dodd ran out of character arc, if you ask me.
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Amy Adams, The Master
Expectation: Anne Hathaway
Hope: Amy Adams
Runner-up Hope: Sally Field
In no fewer than four grocery checkout lines I’ve heard someone say, “Anne Hathaway is only in Les Mis for 15 minutes, but she’s incredible!” I guess that means she’s going to win an Oscar. Amy Adams played a pretty ballsy Peggy Dodd, though, and even appeared naked and pregnant. To the brave the glory. It’s also nice to see Sally Field being relevant again.
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Michael Haneke, Amour
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Expectation: Steven Spielberg
Hope: Michael Haneke
Runner-up Hope: Benh Zeitlin
Spielberg still does big and important better than anyone, but Haneke does small (and tragic) and important better than anyone. Benh Zeitlin, I suppose, did a small version of big better than anyone else in 2012. If there were an award for getting the most from your budget, Zeitlin would win hands down.
Foreign Language Film
War Witch, Canada
A Royal Affair, Denmark
Runner-up Hope: War Witch
It should go without saying that if I think Amour is the best film of the year, that also makes it the best foreign language film. But I’m thrilled to see War Witch, a Canadian film, shot by a guy named Kim Nguyen (who looks like a handsome Israeli), in and around Kinshasa—one of the most dangerous cities in the world. War Witch is sort of the Beasts of the Southern Wild for child soldiers, with a lot of terrifying violence and a white rooster.
Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin
Argo, Chris Terrio
Lincoln, Tony Kushner
Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell
Life of Pi, David Magee
Expectation: Lincoln, Tony Kushner
Hope: Lincoln, Tony Kushner
Runner-up Hope: Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin
It’s rare to see the sort of high diction that Kushner employs in big Hollywood movie (or a small independent one, for that matter). For language alone, it’s Kushner all the way. But Zeitlin and Alibar did a great job converting a stage play to something so uniquely cinematic as Beasts.
Flight, John Gatins
Zero Dark Thirty, Mark Boal
Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino
Amour, Michael Haneke
Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Expectation: Zero Dark Thirty, Mark Boal
Hope: Amour, Michael Haneke
Runner-up Hope: Zero Dark Thirty, Mark Boal
I’ve already said enough about Amour, so instead I’ll say that I was impressed as hell by how Mark Boal tackled the scope of the narrative in ZDT. The film covers the better part of a decade, and never once devolves into a music montage to indicate time passage. Well done, Boal.
Seamus McGarvey, Anna Karenina
Robert Richardson, Django Unchained
Claudio Miranda, Life of Pi
Janusz Kaminski, Lincoln
Roger Deakins, Skyfall
Expectation: Seamus McGarvey, Anna Karenina
Hope: Robert Richardson, Django Unchained
Runner-up Hope: Roger Deakins, Skyfall
If you haven’t watched “The West Wing” recently (it’s streaming on Netflix right now, FYI), you might be impressed by McGarvey’s tracking shots, and Joe Wright’s misc-en-scene in Anna Karenina. But don’t be fooled. We never see shots wide enough or long enough to get a sense of space or movement. I’m picking Django Unchained, though, very sullenly. It’s arguably Tarantino’s worst film. But, as always, it looks stylish—without being overly stylized. Yay?
5 Broken Cameras
How to Survive a Plague
The Invisible War
Searching for Sugar Man
Expectation: Searching for Sugar Man
Hope: How to Survive a Plague
Runner-up Hope: Searching for Sugar Man
I’ve done an awful job watching documentaries this year, so I probably shouldn’t be weighing in on this category. Oops.
William Goldenberg, Argo
Tim Squyres, Life of Pi
Michael Kahn, Lincoln
Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers, Silver Linings Playbook
Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg, Zero Dark Thirty
Expectation: William Goldenberg, Argo
Hope: Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg, Zero Dark Thirty
Runner-up Hope: Michael Kahn, Lincoln
I happen to be a fan of patient editing, where cutting is minimized. The Academy tends to reward the films, though, with the most editing (which is why Danny Boyle’s films always get nominated). I don’t love the editing in any of the nominated pictures, but I promise you that I like Argo‘s the least—which is why it’s going to win.