In the final part of the Oscar countdown, Sudhish Kamath looks at the films in the fray for Best Film and Best Director Awards and places his pick in the order most likely to win
Ben Affleck and Argo have been on a sweep of sorts picking up every other award this season for the year's most entertaining crowd-pleaser. Now consider that the Academy unwittingly did not nominate Affleck in the Best Director or Actor category. Hence, the only way the Academy can save face now to restore its credibility is by giving that Best Film prize to producer Clooney and Co. Not that the film doesn't deserve it.
It’s a thriller that works without a single gunshot. Argo shows us an America that does not use brute force in a third world country or cause collateral damage. Bonus brownies for being a story based on real events, the smart and funny writing, taut editing that packs the film with many nail-biting moments... And Affleck at his charming best in a period before mobile phones and computer technology in a heist film about smuggling people, full of Hollywood jokes... what more do you want? Give it the prize, already!
Take a look at the other Best Director Nominees and you can tell that the shortlist (from the nine films nominated for the Best Film) packs films that are among the weakest or the most unlikely-to-win: Life of Pi, Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Silver Linings Playbook! Lincoln wasn't this big a film that everyone in America watched but it is rated highly by the political and intellectual class. Which makes it the ideal candidate for the Best Director award that the Academy sometimes reserves for artistic triumph irrespective of box office collections. Sort of like the Critics Prize to balance out rewarding a big grosser in the Best Film category (that Argo would mostly win, given the trend).
Also, it is a difficult film to make considering that it's completely about the deliberations and discussions that went behind passing the 13th Amendment, during the last four months of the President's life when he got the 13th Amendment passed and changed America forever. Very academic, yet inspiring, thanks to Daniel Day-Lewis. And Steven Spielberg — who will win Best Director.
Life of Pi
For purely personal reasons, I will cheer if Life of Pi wins either of the two big prizes. It's a film with a mostly Indian cast and features a 19-year-old Suraj Sharma with nothing but a tiger in the middle of the ocean for half its length! You can see Ang Lee's passion in translating the spiritual core of Yann Martel's book and bringing this extremely surreal film to life, in all its glory and magic, in every frame.
The fact that it is nominated for 11 awards is a little misleading since most of them are technical awards (with no nominations in the Best Actor/Actress category). It is still a worthy contender for Best Director, but Ang Lee will have to pull off a big upset to beat Steven Spielberg this year.
Given that abstractness of the open ending, it is possible that the Academy members might be divided over the choice of ending with a long monologue that goes against the very basics of direction — show, not tell. For a film that's largely visual, it does falter towards the end with too much reliance on voiceover and dialogue.
Zero Dark Thirty
Poor Kathryn Bigelow. She's in the centre of a controversy that's almost made sure that the film will not win. The absolutely riveting Zero Dark Thirty is being accused of being pro-torture despite Bigelow's defence that “Depiction is not endorsement”. The film shows that CIA did use torture techniques that in some way led the agency to Osama Bin Laden. The conservative Academy members are most likely to ignore the film because they wouldn't want to be seen as endorsing a pro-torture film, especially when there's a more crowd-pleasing Argo in the fray.
Bigelow must take heart in the fact that it was the same politics that swung things in favour of The Hurt Locker when she was pitted against her ex-husband's Avatar in which Academy members saw ghosts of American involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, with critics quick to draw parallels between oil and unobtanium.
We can safely say this won't win Best Film though it's one of the year's best films! Why not? Because it has no Best Actor, Best Director or Best Editing nominations. Quentin Tarantino's tribute to Corbucci's Django was probably the coolest American film of the year, dripping with wit, style and attitude. It had the smartest lines delivered with impeccable timing and great panache. It had seasoned performers whose combined star power and presence made every other film produced this year look indie. Yet, there's a price you pay for political incorrectness. Django is just too cool for its own good to stand a chance.
Also, compared to his previous effort, that also delivered cathartic violence in revisionist history, this one's not as tight. Django Unchained is a little loose around the edges. The sum of the parts is a lot more than the whole. Individual scenes of brilliance and punchlines galore make it the film you will whistle for, but purist Academy members may not be as impressed.
The others in the fray that have very little chance.
Michael Haneke's Amour is one of those foreign films the Academy seems to have gone overboard with! Imagine being nominated for Best Film, Best Director and Best Foreign Language Film (apart from the Best Actress nod for Emmanuelle Riva). This means it has a better shot at winning Best Foreign Language Film than the Best Film award. But Haneke who is also nominated for Best Director is one of those who can actually ruin Steven Spielberg's party, though unlikely, given the mood and love for Lincoln.
The film is such a refreshingly sensitive and poignant take on love and aging that refuses to exploit the situations for our sympathy and Haneke ensures that his leads are a picture of dignity throughout.
Tom Hooper's musical, as painstakingly staged and captured on film, is one of those really long films that make for a difficult watch because of sheer inconsistency. One minute there’s a song, suddenly they are talking a line, singing the next word, saying the next line, crooning another para, speaking another word... you get the picture. It's just too random with no design on why some portions are sung and why some portions are selectively spoken.
It will be a surprise if this wins any of the big prizes. The nominations were reward enough.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Directed by Ben Zeitlin (who is also nominated for Best Director), Beasts is a surreal drama film that was an instant hit at festivals around the world given its unusual child protagonist who is also the youngest Oscar nominee. Nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, who was probably a lot younger when they shot the film, carries this film on her little shoulders and says the cutest things throughout.
But like other independent films in the fray in the previous years, this is just a token nomination to show that the Academy cares for the “other” cinema that's American but not Hollywood.
Silver Linings Playbook
Nothing can explain this romantic comedy being nominated in multiple categories, including Best Director. It's one of the most baffling choices the Academy has made in recent years. Eight nominations? There's surely a joke in there somewhere and we are not able to read it. The only silver lining here is that the Academy has finally taken the romantic comedy genre seriously enough to reward it this much.
But if they had to pick one for the genre, why not go for something that really tugs at your heartstrings. Like Judd Apatow's This is 40, perhaps?