Midnight in Paris
Tree of Life
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Best Picture is a tough call this year, thanks to new rules regarding the number of nominees. After two years of experimenting with 10 nominees, the Academy decided it wasn’t done tinkering, and changed it so that films have to reach a quota of about 300 first-place votes (or 5% out of about 6,000 Academy voters) to qualify for a nomination. (New York Magazine has a good explanation of it here)
So, if six films reach that 5% mark, then there will be six nominees. If 5 or fewer films reach the threshold, then the top 5 votegetters will be the only nominees, regardless of percentage. So on and so on.
This obviously makes gauging Best Picture harder than before. We can’t just rank the top 10 buzzgetters; we also have to factor what films are likely to be ranked as the favorite film by 5% of Academy voters.
The top bracket of the category is easy. The Artist has been a frontrunner for a long time now, with no sign of losing momentum yet. Hugo has been right there behind it for the bulk of the race, and The Descendants and The Help are on its tail. Midnight in Paris has been doing well on the precursor circuit, and is Woody Allen’s most successful film yet. In a 5-nominee year, those would be my picks.
Of films on the outside looking in, Tree of Life stands to benefit most from the voting rules. Not a mainstream film by any stretch, it’s been largely ignored by the guilds, while critics have heaped awards all over it. It’s the kind of film that develops a fervent fanbase that might well propel it to a nomination. I think it’ll sneak in
I’m less confident about Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and, the last film likely to get nominated, Moneyball. The former has done extremely well with the guilds. I can’t ignore that, even as I doubt it will appear first on as many ballots as Tree of Life. Meanwhile, Moneyball strikes me as the kind of film that the Academy will view as having many elements worthy of praise, but that doesn’t stir much passion as a complete package. I think it falls short.
Michel Hazanavicius- The Artist
Alexander Payne- The Descendants
Martin Scorsese- Hugo
Terrence Malick- Tree of Life
Woody Allen- Midnight in Paris
Four of the top five Best Picture contenders. Swap out the most Oscar-baity, least directorial-vision driven film (The Help) with the most visionary film of the year, by a legendary director.
Brad Pitt- Moneyball
George Clooney- The Descendants
Jean Dujardin- The Artist
Michael Fassbender- Shame
Michael Shannon- Take Shelter
Pitt, Clooney, and Dujardin are pretty much set. They’ll battle for the award. Fassbender is a trendy outsider’s pick. He should sneak in. The 5th spot is tough. There are several actors who could get in, but I’m going with Shannon, whose performance in Take Shelter earned major accolades, and has inspired the kind of small but vocal support that can lead to surprise nominees.
Meryl Streep- The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams- My Week with Marilyn
Viola Davis- The Help
Tilda Swinton- We Need to Talk About Kevin
Glenn Close- Albert Nobbs
Streep, Williams, and Davis are locks. Swinton was nominated for a Golden Globe and SAG. She should be safe. Other than Berenice Bejo getting a surprise lead nomination (not likely; if the Academy refused to move Hailey Steinfeld to lead last year for True Grit, I doubt they do it for Bejo), I think Close gets in for her acclaimed performance.
Best Supporting Actor:
Christopher Plummer- Beginners
Albert Brooks- Drive
Nick Nolte- Warrior
Jonah Hill- Moneyball
Kenneth Branagh- My Week with Marilyn
Plummer looks hard to beat in the category. Brooks, for some reason, is the only aspect of Drive to get any awards momentum. Not that he doesn’t merit it; it’s just stunning to see one of the best films of the year do so well in one category and get consistently ignored in others. Nolte’s performance in Warrior is right up the Academy’s ally (a broken, recovering alcoholic dad trying to reconnect with his grown sons), and he has a couple of stellar scenes that will put him over the top for a nomination. Jonah Hill’s Oscar buzz is a bit puzzling to me (it’s a solid, likable performance, but nothing extraordinary) but he’s been getting it. He’ll get in. The last spot is where, in the past, I’d talk myself out of the obvious choice (Branagh in My Week with Marilyn) and try to predict a surprise, like Viggo Mortensen in “A Dangerous Method” or John Hawkes in “Marsha Marcy May Marlene”. But I’ve learned my lesson. I’m going with Branagh.
Best Supporting Actress:
Octavia Spencer- The Help
Jessica Chastain- The Help
Berenice Bejo- The Artist
Shailene Woodley- The Descendants
Melissa McCarthy- Bridesmaids
Spencer is the front-runner. Chastain has had a hell of a year, and will get in for something. That something will almost certainly be The Help, although it’s too bad she hasn’t gotten more attention for her ethereal turn in Tree of Life. Bejo will ride the wave of love for The Artist. The Academy loves to nominate new, young actresses, and Shailene Woodley is their best bet this year. The last spot is a toss-up. I’m going with McCarthy, a comic performance from a breakout star (McCarthy has been having a magnificent year as well, factoring in her Emmy win and popular SNL appearance) that will likely earn a lot of top votes.
Ever notice how one gives a damn about about “best” when naming their favorite movies? Anyone who loves movies can list the small handful of movies that have been deemed, historically, the “best”. “Citizen Kane.” “The Godfather.” “Casablanca.” “2001: A Space Odyssey.” If we add foreign films, we can include films like “The Bicycle Thief”, “Breathless”, “A Tokyo Story”, and your choice of films from the canon of Akira Kurosawa (preferably “Rashomon”) Ingmar Bergman (preferably “The Seventh Seal”) and Federico Fellini (preferably “8 1/2” and “La Dolce Vita”). I’m not disputing any of these films’ place in the canon. Most of them would make my personal top 100 list. These films are considered great because they’re magnificant stories told with perfection.
But I don’t give a damn about that right now.. Determining our favorite films is never a technical exercise. My two favorites are “Princess Mononoke” and “Three Colors: Red”. If I was forced to save two films from the inevitable alien invasion/zombie apocalypse that’s going to hit on December 21, these would be the two.
Why? I’m glad you asked. “Princess Mononoke” is the film I’ve seen more than any other, apart from “The Lion King”, which I viewed every day on video during the summer of 1995. I’ve watched “Princess Mononoke” about 25 times. I’m not particularly an anime buff. I am an unabashed fan of Hayao Miyazaki. I discovered “Princess Mononoke” when I was 14, when I watched in on Starz one lazy afternoon. I was gobsmacked. I never knew animation could be that… sophisticated. It was beautiful and smart, breathtaking at times. Yeah, it was choppy compared to Disney animation, but the images were so creative and gorgeous, I didn’t care. I still don’t. A year later, I realized that the same director had made another film, called “Spirited Away,” that had just won an Oscar. I watched it and fell madly in love. Here was the movie that I had long dreamed about and never thought would actually exist. It was a celebration of the imagination, an endlessly creative ode to daydreams and things that made you scared at night.
I became a Miyazaki fanatic, and “Princess Mononoke” became the film of his I revisited more than any other. I still can’t say for certain why. There’s something about the movie’s patience that appeals to me. My mind moves too quickly for its own good (I eat fast, talk fast, do everything too fast) and I appreciate films that slow me down. “Spirited Away” is more headlong in its approach (although it has moments of meditation that are truly sweet). “Princess Mononoke” is, at its core, not about anything. It’s as in its own moment as a “This American Life” tale. It just happens to be about forest gods, wolf-girls, and decapitations by arrow. It’s about these characters and their story, and it’s a beautiful, simple story, told with elegance and beauty. More than that, it, along with “Spirited Away” and “My Neighbor Totoro,” shows one of the most creative directors of our time at his imaginative apex.
Technically, January 1st is just another day. Time is a human concept. Our society happens to base time based on earth’s rotations and its revolutions around the sun. Based on that, the new year is a arbitrary meaning attached to a physical fact, emotion hitched to a planet rotating around the sun.
Humans greet the new year with festive feelings of cheer and hope. The idea that a new year actually brings rebirth is arbitrary, yes, but so is any celebration. We celebrate because we can, and really, we must. And a new year is as good a reason to celebrate as any. At the beginning of a new year, it’s tempting to look back at the previous one and see only how it could have been improved upon. We reach the end of December feeling weary and eager to begin anew.
And yet, we don’t regard all memories of the past this way. If fresh memories tend to lean towards the negative, then positive nostalgia inevitably sets in just a little later down the chronological road.
One of the beauties of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is its treatment of the idea of fresh starts and how we deal with sad memories.
The whole premise of the film, of course, is built around the concept of eliminating bad memories entirely. The protagonist, Joel Barish, is understandably devastated both by his breakup with his girlfriend Clementine Kruczynski and the fact that she had him wiped from her memory. Retaliating by destroying all memories of her seems, at the time, like a good idea.
Every time I watch “Eternal Sunshine,” I feel a bit more familiar with Joel’s mindset. At the beginning of his memories, as we watch them get wiped from his mind in real time, Clementine is almost unbearably volatile. This, of course, is Joel’s perspective. I imagine these same scenes played out differently in Clementine’s head when she had Joel wiped from her memories. But as he traverses back, he begins to remember the good things. The happy moments, when everything felt right. Naturally, he doesn’t feel so good about having these memories erased.
Kaufmann and Gondry, of course, view this as the perfect setup for a chase movie. That’s just how they are, and it’s why we love them.
Additionally, this narrative alone isn’t enough for a Kaufmann script. His parallel storyline, of Joel and Clementine meeting again, post memory-wipe, seems at first like a stretch and contrivance. Instead, he gently reveals just how this whole story is plausible and, more importantly, he makes it significant. He makes it beautiful. Some might see the ending of this movie as romantic folly. I see it as a testament to true new beginnings, when people discard the concept of negative pasts altogether and embrace possibility and their own ability to change. Like any new year, they don’t know how things are going to work. They embrace the possibility of something happy and new, looking forward, not backward.