Amour, the movie from Austrian filmmaker Michael Hanake who also gave us Funny Games and Cache, has more tension in a short scene of an elderly couple having dinner than Zero Dark Thirty has in the vast majority of its playing time.  That might be because the central characters in Amour are facing death every moment of their existence while the central character in ZDT is only facing the annoying reaction of her superiors who just won’t recognize her innate genius.  And Amour climaxes with two scenes of violence that are more emotionally gut wrenching than any of the torture scenes in Boal and Bigelow’s film.
George and Anne, husband and wife, are in their eighties.   They are introduced first in the audience of a piano recital as just another set of spectators.  In fact, if you didn’t know who they were from the posters and previews, you might not even realize the movie is about them.  You don’t hear anything they say, yet you can tell from their faces, the way they act toward each other, the way they say something to the other and occasionally smile, that they still have great affection for one another.  They are still in love and with little of the bitterness that a long life together can result in.  And then it happens.  Anne has a stroke and slowly but surely finds she can do less and less for herself. 
Amour is a beautiful and powerful story, but it is also a devastating one.  It is not easy to sit through or experience.  It is not a nice movie.    Haneke, as writer and director, gives neither George nor Anne much dignity as he details the mounting, daily degradations that Anne must suffer on her not so gentle going into that good night.
But that’s not exactly right, because in a way Hanake gives the both of them a great deal of dignity.  He does it by not lying about what the situation is, by not pretending that something is happening that isn’t.  Death is a fact.  It’s not always pleasant. It’s sometimes scary and horrifying and in the end, it happens to us all and there is little you can do about it.  It has no inherent meaning.  It just is.  And by refusing to lie about that, but to give the audience the reality of Georges and Anne’s life, Hanake honors them both and perhaps in a way, honors us all.
Georges and Anne are played by legends of the French film industry.  Georges is played by Jean-Louis Trintignant who has been making movies since 1955, including Z, Three Colors: Red, …And God Created Woman, The Conformist, My Night at Maud’s.  Anne is played by Emmanuelle Riva who began in 1957 and has been in Leon Morin, Priest, Three Colors: Blue, Therese.   But perhaps most appropriately given the title of this film, both starred in two of the most important love stories in French film history; Trintignant in A Man and a Woman (cue that Michelle Legrand score) and Riva in Hiroshima, Mon Amour.  And now, in this drama that is essentially a love story no matter the subject matter, both give emotionally rich performances that will not easily be forgotten. 
Isabelle Huppert, a constant participant in Hanake’s films when she wasn’t busy doing films by Claude Chabrol (The Piano Teacher to name one), plays the couple’s daughter, Eva.  This leads to one of the more powerful scenes when, as an emotional wreck, she confronts her father about his not talking to her about what is going on, refusing to return her calls and basically ignoring her.  His response: I don’t have time to take care of both my wife and your emotional needs.  It’s heartbreaking.  You feel for Eva, but you know he’s right. 
The film ends on what many might consider a slight note of sentimentality.  But it is an act that demonstrates just how much these two people loved each other.  And when the movie ends, all we are left with is that death has come and now it has gone and life goes on.


For my next Oscar entry, I will now turn to the Best Actor race.   There is an irony here.  This is stacking up to be a weak year for movies and for nominations in all categories.  At the same time, the Best Actor race is quickly becoming not just crowded, but overcrowded. 
Of course, this always happens.  No matter what else, Hollywood and movies are so male oriented that no matter how weak a year it is in movies, the men always come out ahead.  As Spencer Tracy said when he was asked whether he should get top billing over his female co-star, This isn’t the Titanic (though there are some in the industry who are suggesting we might be reaching suck a critical stage—but that’s a different story).  At the same time, this weakness will probably have some effect even on this category and that is on who will win.
DANIEL DAY LEWIS (Lincoln):  At this point, there seems to be only one sure thing (the bet your grandmother’s farm on it, etc.) and that is Daniel Day Lewis will be doing a threepeat by winning the Oscar for Lincoln.   Normally, getting a third Oscar period, especially in this short a period of time, is almost impossible.  But as was mentioned, this is a weak year for nominations.  This means there is a lot of competition to be nominated, but not to win.  In addition, it’s what’s called a gimmick nomination—Lewis is playing a real person (ole honest Abe) and it’s a big budget film directed by Steven Spielberg.   Nuff said.
JOAQUIN PHOENIX (The Master):  Lewis’s only real competition and as the days near the voting deadline, we’ll see if the forward momentum leaves Lewis (or Lewis peaks too soon) and it goes to Phoenix.  When it comes to The Master, the critics love it, but the regular people (who vote for the Oscars) don’t seem to so much.  But Phoenix’s performance is about the only thing anyone agrees on, so he should easily receive a nom. 
RICHARD GERE (Arbitrage): Almost a sure thing.  The industry has been wanting to give Gere a nomination for some time (especially starting with Chicago).  He’s not a great actor, but he’s now been around a long time, paid his dues, and gives solid performances in solid movies.  He also has never rested on his looks, but has continually picked roles that stretch him (or try to stretch him—when it comes down to it, he’s not Gumby, damn it).  Gere  is the sort of actor that Hollywood respects, but can almost never give an Oscar to, but they do look to try to give him a nomination at some point so they get it over with so they never have to worry about it again.  For references, this is like John Wayne—who did go on to win one, so you never know; Gene Kelly; Dennis Hopper, etc.   It’s what is called a career award or nomination in industry parlance.
Special note: there generally aren’t any women that come to mind that fit this sort of nomination—women rarely get career Oscars or career noms.  Their nominations almost invariably come from an appreciation of their performance (make whatever social comment you want here). 
That’s as far as I can go right now.  The rest are still unknown quantities.  Jean Louis Trintignant was considered a shoe in for Michael Hanake’s Amour, but he now may get lost in the last minute shuffle.   The others being considered are getting good buzz, but are to some degree still unknown quantities or it’s still unclear how people are responding to the performance.  This includes:  John Hawkes (The Sessions—very good buzz); Denzel Washington (Flight—getting really good buzz and Washington doesn’t do badly come Oscar time); Hugh Jackman (after years of whining at not being cast in a musical, he finally has been, but I never predict when it comes to movie musicals until they open—movie musicals are too likely to crash and burn); Bradley Cooper (The Silver Linings Playbook—unknown quantity, though the previews look a little too formulaic and sentimental for my tastes); Anthony Hopkins (unknown quantity and he doesn’t particularly look like Hitchcock); Bill Murray (Hyde Park on the Hudson—it didn’t work when he went tres serious in The Razor’s Edge, but maybe second time’s the charm). 
That’s it right now, but like in the presidential elections, polls change daily, so keep checking back in.