Race for the Oscars 2012: Reevaluation of My Screenplay Nominations



<!–[if !mso]>st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } <![endif]–>

For my final reevaluation of my Oscar noms (until my next set of reevaluations), I will end with Best Screenplay, Original and Adapted
I will begin with the Best Original Screenplay category.  My original choices were:  
Mark Boal for Zero Dark Thirty to win
Michael  Hanake for Amour
Romain Coppola and Wes Anderson for Moonrise Kingdom
Quintin Tarantino for Django Unchained
Martin McDonagh for Seven Psychopaths
Other possiblities:  Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master; Woody Allen for To Rome With Love;  John Gatins for Flight; Rian Johnson for Looper;  Jacques Audiar, Thomas Bidegain and Craig Davidson for Rust and Bone
No pundit seems to be thinking that Seven Psychopaths will make it, which is a shame.  But I will be removing it for now.  I’m also not sure about The Master (I can’t get a real read on how the various voters are feeling toward it) or Moonrise Kingdom, which many voters may just have forgotten. 
Of course, To Rome with Love is out, as is Flight and Rust and Bone.  Looper is the big fly in the ointment.  It’s getting quite a lot of attention.  So I am going to predict:
Mark Boal for Zero Dark Thirty to win
Michael  Hanake for Amour
Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master
Quintin Tarantino for Django Unchained
Rian Johnson for Looper
Adapted screenplay:
David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook to win
Tony Kushner for Lincoln
Chris Terrio for Argo
Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar for Beasts of the Southern Wild
William Nicholson for Les Miserables
Other possibilities:  Stephen Chobosky for The Perks of Being a Wallflower; David Magee for Life of Pi; Ben Lewin for The Sessions; Tim Burton and Leonard Ripps for Frankenweenie; John J. McLaughlin for Hitchcock
I think that the only one right now that could be pushed out is Les Miserables.  But I’m going to stick with my choices here and not change anything.
That is that until I reevaluate it again.

ZERO DARK THIRTY



There are some movies, we all have been there/done that, that are praised to high heaven by the critics and rapturously spoken about by fellow movie goers, but somehow leave you cold.  I’m afraid to say that this is how I felt about Zero Dark Thirty, writer Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow’s new film about the search for Osama Ben Laden.  I really don’t get it.  I really don’t understand why everyone likes this movie as much as they do.
The movie centers around the character of Maya, a government operative who is obsessive in her hunt for the man responsible for 9/11.  And this is probably where the movie either works for you or doesn’t.  But for me, Maya is one of the least interesting characters I have come across in a major movie in some time.  She has no personality that I could tell, unless you consider bland and boring to be a personality; well, I guess it is, but I don’t think it’s a particularly dramatic one that can carry a movie.  And Jessica Chastain, who is one of the flavors of the month (ten points for anyone who can remember when that phrase was the phrase de jeur—or flavor of the month), doesn’t seem to have that necessary quality, that imperceptible something, to give the character what the writer didn’t in the way that actors like Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis and even Joan Crawford could.
Maya is part cliché, part superhero, part saint.  She’s that character you’ve seen in dozens of films, the only one with the truth, the voice crying in the wilderness, who has to fight tooth and nail against the non-believers in order to make everyone else see the light.   She has some of the most ludicrous exchanges with her higher ups, especially one where she blackmails her boss, Joseph Bradley (Kyle Chandler repeating his bureaucrat Babbit role from Argo—at least he has an excuse for having no personality, it’s in his job description), into giving her support to follow one of her hunches (she does this by telling him that if he doesn’t, she’ll tell the government how he stopped her from going after Ben Laden—how I wanted him to tell her to go ahead, that if it didn’t hurt Bush’s chances for reelection, there’s no way it will cause him any problems).  The only scene that was even more uncomfortable to watch is the dressing down Mark Strong, as May’s boss in D.C., gives his minions—when he slapped his hand on the table, I had a very difficult time not giggling.  Perhaps the oddest moments here are when a character describes Maya and Chastain’s performance is totally at odds with the description (at one point she’s called at killer—yeah, right; and at other times, she’s described as worn and needing time off—all I could think is that I wish I looked so good for being so worn.)
Her character arc is structured like a Spiderman/Superman/Batman movie.  The first third is the origin story in which Maya gets bitten by a radioactive spider (here the Ben Laden bug) and vows revenge against the bad guys when her Uncle is killed by the bad guys in which she feels some sort of guilt (here, it’s the death of her co-worker).  The next section is the various evil deeds the super villain commits that no one can seem to stop.  And the final section is the super hero taking out the super villain.  Of course, this also shows part of the problem with the film.  First, there is no proof that the super villain is responsible for any of the evil done in the central section (people try to tell her that Ben Laden is no longer in charge of Al Qaeda, but she won’t listen).  And in the final section, she can’t actually participate in the final climactic fight.  So, in retrospect, I’m not convinced that this was the best structure to go for.
But finally Maya is also portrayed as Joan of Arc.  She is on a mission from God (at one point, she says she believes she was spared dying in a terrorist attack to bring Ben Laden to justice); she is the only one God is talking to; she has to convince the Dauphin (played here by James Gandolfini) to let her head the troops into battle; and when she does, the troops (led by Joel Edgerton’s Patrick) only have faith in the mission because she has faith in the mission.  All that’s missing is a burning stake at the end. 
However, in its favor, the movie does surround Maya with a strong supporting cast that does bring that something more to their roles.  The best performance is probably given by Jason Clarke as Dan, the torturer who is starting to realize he may be going down a dark hole he may not be able to find his way back from (he also gave the best performance in the moonshine drama Lawless).   Other actors also make their mark in even smaller roles:  Safe House’s Fares Fares; Edgar Ramirez (who played Carlos in the amazing Olivier Assayas series); mumblecore’s Mark Duplass; and Contagion’s Jennifer Ehle (she of the impossible high check bones)…in fact, almost anybody other than Chastain.
The most impressive moments in the script are not the interactions between the characters (which always feel a bit flat), but the moments that Bigelow excels in, scenes of high tension that often result in devastating violence (and even though you know that the scene is going to end in an explosion, that only makes the scene more nerve wracking).  And, of course, there’s the final tour de force of the assault on Ben Laden’s compound.  It’s in these scenes that one can see what the movie could have been.  But when there’s a vacuum at the core of the movie, as if feels like there is here with the role of Maya, it’s a little hard to make the movie work as a whole.
I can’t conclude a review of this movie without talking about the most controversial aspect of the film and that is the use of torture.  From my perspective, this is how torture is portrayed by Boal and Bigelow.  The first third of the movie is a series of scenes in which people are tortured or people are shown who have been tortured.  The torture is not posited here as something that had to happen, but as something that did happen.  In fact, at the end of this section, everyone realizes that all this torture has done nothing to stop Al Qaeda because the explosions and attacks just keep on coming.  The only thing the operatives get from the torture is a name that eventually leads them to Ben Laden’s compound.  But by that time, Ben Laden is a paper tiger, someone who needs desperately to be killed for symbolic reasons, but not for practical ones.  So, the movie basically says (though I’m not sure it realizes fully that this is its message), that all this money, time and effort spent on dehumanizing not just their fellow man, but the torturers themselves, did nothing to stop Al Qaeda, but did help the U.S. stop someone before he…well, did nothing, because Ben Laden was no longer doing anything.  And the question one has to ask oneself is whether all that torture was worth it if that was its only result.  I’ll leave that to you.
 

2012 OSCAR NOMINATIONS: Reevaluation of Picture and Director categories



<!–[if !mso]>st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } <![endif]–>

In previous entries I have gone over my predictions for the 2012 Academy Award nominations for Picture, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Screenplay (both original and adaptation) and Director.  A lot has happened since then, and it’s time to start reevaluating my predictions.  Most of them I believe still hold.  But there are some instances where I have to eat crow a bit.  There are still some issues due to a few movies having not opened or having only recently opened, so it’s still a bit difficult to gauge a general feeling toward those few. 
There are also a couple of issues to discuss before proceeding.  One of the problems now is that once you have previously made a list as to what the top five are going to be (or more when it comes to Picture), you now are not just deciding what will be nominated; you have to take the list you made and decide what name to remove.  This is a sometimes much more difficult (if not downright painful) action to take.
Also, even though a number of films haven’t opened or have just recently opened, there have been screenings for the films, as well as screeners, and appearances at film festivals, awards and other nominations, etc.  This can, but not always, mean that you can gauge a general feeling toward a film.
At any rate, here I go:
Best Picture
My previous predictions were:
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
The Master
Les Miserables
Lincoln
Django Unchained
Silver Linings Playbook
Arbitrage
Moonrise Kingdom
Amour
As runner ups Life of Pi, Flight, Zero Dark Thirty, The Hobbit
I think it’s obvious right now, I made a couple of boo-boos.  Arbitrage is out, as if Flight, Zero Dark Thirty is in, and not just in, but will probably win (my only defense is that ZDT at the time I made my list, was an incredibly unknown quantity). 
In addition, Amour is still a possibility, but will probably be passed over since all voters are going to assume it is going to win in the Best Foreign Language category. 
I still have a few qualms about Les Miserables, only because it hasn’t opened yet and it is getting some terrible reviews and a mixed reaction by the people who have seen it.  It’s probably a sure thing, but if any movie is going to crash and burn before the voting closes, it’s going to be this one.  It’s somewhat the same on Django Unchained, but the reactions so far have been much stronger and better than for Les Miserables.
The two main questionable films are The Master and Moonrise Kingdom.  The Academy voting is set up now such that movies that have a strong following (i.e., movies that will get more votes for first place rather than movies that get more overall votes, but only in the middle range) will have a chance.  The Master is loved by the critics and by those who really loved it; it is also hated or left feelings of indifference in even more of the audience.  The intensity of the love, though, if only by a small number, fits perfectly with the Oscar voting system; so it could sneak in.
Moonrise Kingdom is different.  People liked it, but I don’t think with the passion of The Master.  And with Beasts of the Southern Wild having a bigger impact on the voters, it may be left out.
I will now put a movie on the list that I think most people are not even thinking about.  I strongly suspect that The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel will make the list.  It is one of those movies that people seem to really love, and by the attention it is now getting from various awards groups, I think it may be the real sleeper of the noms.
 Finally, there is Life of Pi.  As we get closer to the nominations, I may change my mind and include this.  The feeling I’m getting right now is that critics and Oscar pundits would like to see it nominated so much, that they keep pushing it on their lists.  But I’m not convinced that the audience and voters are agreeing.  But that may change.  But then, which one would I remove?
So in reevaluating, I will list them in the order I think their chances are.
Zero Dark Thirty to win
Lincoln
Argo
Silver Linings Playbook
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Miserables
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The Master
That’s nine.  If there is a tenth spot, I’ll go for Moonrise Kingdom or Amour with also a chance for Life of Pi.
Best Director
Since Best Picture and Best Director usually go hand in hand (with often only one, more rarely two, differences), I’ll quickly firm this category up.  
My previous predictions:
Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty to win. 
Steven Spielberg for Lincoln. 
Ben Affleck for Argo. 
Tom Hooper for Les Miserables. 
David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook. 
Runners up: Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master; Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild; Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained; Peter Jackson for The Hobbit; Michael Haneke for Amour; Wes Anderson for Moonrise Kingdom; Ang Lee for Life of Pi.
You will see one oddity.  I made this list so long after my predictions for Best Picture, I had seen the light and now had Bigelow to win.  I still think she will.  In addition, I can’t imagine Spielberg and Affleck not being nominated. 
But after Bigelow, Spielberg and Affleck, that leaves two spots.  My issue with Hooper is as I’ve said before: if any movie is going to crash and burn before the nominations come out, it will be Les Miserables.  But it seems like it has a firm enough foothold so far.
If Russell doesn’t make it, it will probably be because you can only have five nominations, so someone has to go.  But who will it be?  And I have to be honest, I don’t know.  I suspect that Zeitlin will be overlooked because the movie is too small and there’s too much competition.  The director will have to go the “it’s an honor just to be nominated” route, even if that nomination is not for him, but for picture, actress and screenplay.
Jackson is out for The Hobbit.  It was well received, but not that well and a lot of people are having issues with the 3D process.  Wes Anderson I think is out because if Zeitlin isn’t going to make it, Anderson has even less of a chance.  At this time, I’m also putting Lee out for the same reason as before; I can’t tell if the enthusiasm for him is being driven by certain people wanting it, or because there is an actual desire by voters to nominate him.
That leaves three possible upsets for Russell: Anderson, Tarantino and Haneke.  Anderson has a better chance with directors than general voters.  Tarantino is getting great buzz.  Haneke’s main issue is that his film won’t get a nomination since most people will assume Amour will get the Best Foreign Film award. 
But I am going to go out on a limb and go for Haneke.  It has great buzz and has more recently opened, whereas The Master has been gone from the screens for some time.  I can’t give a logical reason for Haneke over Tarantino, but I’m just going to be contrary and go for something unorthodox here.
So my predictions are, in order of their likelihood:
Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty to win. 
Steven Spielberg for Lincoln. 
Ben Affleck for Argo. 
Tom Hooper for Les Miserables. 
Michael Haneke for Amour
Runners up: David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook; Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained; and Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master.
Next up: Actors.

OSCARS 2012: SCREENPLAY CATEGORY



<!–[if !mso]>st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } <![endif]–>

For my next essay on the upcoming Oscar race, I shall deal with the Best Screenplay categories.  This is often the most difficult category to predict because, first, one has to go to all the trouble of figuring out whether a screenplay is adapted or original, which is really kind of annoying, believe it or not.
The second difficulty is that, of all the categories, the Best Screenplay is the one that will have the most monkey wrenches thrown into it.  Screenwriters, who vote for the nominations, can be a non-conformist  sort of lot and it is not unusual for them to recognize unusual, edgy, foreign, indie screenplays that will often not get a nomination in any other category.   The directors are second to the writers when it comes to this, but the screenwriters’ branch edges them out a bit.  And since there are ten slots to fill, that only allows for a few more idiosyncratic choices to sneak their gremlin way in.
But there is also one overriding issue that has to also be considered here.   This category is often called the consolation prize.  Since there are two awards every year, one of the categories usually goes to the best picture win.   The other is often used to give an award to a smaller or more (altogether now) idiosyncratic picture or a favorite that just got overshadowed by another film and often doesn’t do well in any other major category (Good Will Hunting, Sling Blade, The Social Network, Precious, etc.).
I will begin with the Best Original Screenplay category:
Mark Boal for Zero Dark Thirty to win.  Zero Dark Thirty has really broken out after doing well at a couple of critical award competitions.  Boal won for The Hurt Locker.  Everything seems to now be going ZDT’s (as it’s being called) way.   At the same time, it hasn’t opened, but that may not matter.
Michael  Hanake for Amour.  He also directed.  Amour has also been breaking out in the critics’ competitions.  The movie hasn’t opened yet, like ZDT, but the buzz is strong.  It’s supposed to win best foreign language film.  It’ll be the A Separation of this year, one of those idiosyncratic (oops, I said it again) screenplays that screenwriters like.
Beyond this?  I really am not sure yet.   But this is what is being talked about:
Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master.  The critics loved it, but the public (which includes Oscar voters) stayed away.  But Paul Thomas Anderson is well respected.  With ten categories to fill and a lot of uncertainty, this could get in.  But I’m still having a little problem accepting this because I just didn’t like it (perhaps I’m just being a bit too Republican here, though, and refusing to accept reality).
Romain Coppola and Wes Anderson for Moonrise Kingdom.  I really feel that this movie has almost been forgotten.  It was not the break out independent movie that Beasts of the Southern Wild was which played in the theaters far longer.  If the producers, et al., can make the screenwriting branch remember that the movie came out this year, it could have a chance.
Quintin Tarantino for Django Unchained.   A bit too unknown a quantity.  In addition, unlike ZDT and Amour, the buzz hasn’t really started yet, so it’s hard to say.  But it has a very good chance.
Martin McDonagh for Seven Psychopaths.  It deserves to be up there.  I haven’t seen all the above movies yet, but it’s my favorite original screenplay of the year so far.  But no one seems to think it has much of a chance and it may not have made enough of an impression on the public when it opened (maybe even less than Moonrise Kingdom).
The remainder:  Woody Allen for To Rome With Love (some people loved it, but so many people hated it, I mean hated, it I don’t think it will make it; but it is Woody);  John Gatins for Flight (probably only a best actor nom, but it’s possible, even though the it’s not that strong a screenplay); Rian Johnson for Looper (very popular and people thought it was a clever screenplay—it wasn’t; but it has a chance);  Jacques Audiar, Thomas Bidegain and Craig Davidson for Rust and Bone (mainly included because it opened to excellent reviews and Marion Cotillard is expected to get a nomination, and it could be another of those damn idiosyncratic choices the screenplay branch likes, but I’m not convinced, yet).
If I had to make a prediction now, I would go with Zero Dark Thirty, Armour, Django Unchained, Moonrise Kingdom and Seven Psychopaths. 
Adapted screenplay:
This is actually a much easier category only because the most likely candidates have sort of risen to the top, like cream, I suppose, I mean, if you have to use a simile, it’ll do, I guess.
But what may make this a bit more difficult is that if ZDT is going to win best picture and then wins screenplay, this is the consolation prize category. 
David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook to win.  People love the film. It’s going to get a number of other nominations.  It has some good writing (though the second half is a little weak).   It’s the sort of thing that could just win the consolation prize.
Tony Kushner for Lincoln.  SLP’s biggest competitor and it could win.  But I’m getting the feeling that Lincoln may be a movie that everybody loves, but somehow is going to get shut out more than one might expect (except for best actor which still seems a shoo-in for Daniel Day-Lewis).   But since it’s such a big movie and isn’t going to win Best Picture (which right now, is going to ZDT), it may lose out to a consolation prize award (which could go to SLP).
Chris Terrio for Argo.  The definite winner until Silver Linings Playbook and Lincoln opened.  It’s great Hollywood studio writing (which is also its drawback).  But the movie may have peaked too soon and it may have trouble doing as well as originally thought.
Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar for Beasts of the Southern Wild.  In another year, this would have automatically won the consolation prize award.  But it doesn’t look good this year with fierce competition and a more solid set of nominations.  It feels more like this film is going to be one of those, it’s just an honor to be nominated movie. 
William Nicholson for Les Miserables.  This seems a certainty, though strangely enough, the fact that it’s more an opera than a musical I suppose could hurt it (isn’t the real writing the lyrics and the music and just how much of an adaptation could Nicholson have done when it came to that; at the same time, Kenneth Branagh got a nomination for adapting Hamlet, so this is probably a silly objection, at least when it comes to a nom).  
Other possibilities:  Stephen Chobosky for The Perks of Being a Wallflower (should be included, but Beasts… may be the only really non-big, more independent film to get a nom; screenwriters are idiosyncratic, but only up to a point—they ultimately know who signs their paychecks); David Magee for Life of Pi (perhaps the screenplay with the best chance to unseat one of the above, but people may feel it’s more a director’s movie than a writer’s); Ben Lewin for The Sessions (a well liked movie, but may have to settle for a couple of acting awards); Tim Burton and Leonard Ripps for Frankenweenie (it’s doing well in winning animation awards with the critics, but hard to see what it could upset above); John J. McLaughlin for Hitchcock (a clever script, but that may be it’s problem—viewers thought that was all it was and have been disappointed it wasn’t a more serious look at the great filmmaker).
After this, basically what I will be doing is updating each category.  At this point, the basic nominees have been set.  When deciding if someone new is going to be included (Bradley Cooper, Hugh Jackman, etc.), you will have to make the choice of who will he replaced, i.e. who will not be nominated who was thought a shoo in before.  This is where the guessing becomes really difficult.

OSCAR RACE 2012–BEST DIRECTOR



<!–[if !mso]>st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } <![endif]–>

Continuing my Oscar predictions, the next category is Director.  In certain ways, picking the director nominees used to be fairly easy.  You selected which five films you thought would be nominated for best picture and then try and decide which one wouldn’t correspond with a director (there often was one difference).  But now that it is possible for there to be up to ten picture nominees, this sort of throws a monkey wrench into the system.
In many ways, you still make your guesses using the same principle.  You decide which five movies you suspect would have been the nominees if the rules of up to ten weren’t in existence and you take that as your cue for your basic list of for the director’s category.
Like all the other categories, the top five seem to be slowly rising to the top.  So to the list:
Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty to win.  It’s not just the double whammy so far of winning the New York Film Critics and the National Board of Review awards.  There’s no guarantee that that translates into an Oscar win, though at the same time, it don’t hurt.  Part of what is helping here is that Argo, which had the lead, peaked and was being overshadowed by Spielberg and Lincoln (which was more successful than was originally thought) and is now being overshadowed by Bigelow and Zero Dark Thirty as well.  Will she win?  Right now it’s all buzz, but the buzz is deaf impairing, so unless the movie opens and then crashes and burns, it seems she’s got it (the first female director to win twice; the first to be even nominated twice).
Steven Spielberg for Lincoln.  This seems like a done deal, not just because it’s Lincoln directed by Spielberg, but also because it did much better than anyone expected (which is important since people expected it to do well as it was).
Ben Affleck for Argo.  Once the front runner for winning, but has now been eclipsed.  But his nomination still seems like it’s in with the in crowd.
Tom Hooper for Les Miserables.  My only hesitation here is that the movie hasn’t opened and I’m a little loathe to make a prediction for a musical (I still remember Nine), but it looks like a sure thing.
David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook.  It’s a serious comedy and that doesn’t hurt and people just seem to love it to death. 
Now there are definitely other possibilities, but here is where things get tricky.  If you think that another director is going to get in there, you’re going to have to decide who won’t make it.   Right now, I think only Tom Hooper and David O. Russell have a chance of being unseated and replaced by: Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master (the issue here is that the critics loved it, but the public, which includes the voters, didn’t); Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild (deserving, and the strongest possibility for an upset as far as I’m concerned); Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained (the movie is too unknown a quantity and it may open too late to really excite people); Peter Jackson for The Hobbit (he’s already got it for The Lord of the Rings, I can’t see them doing it again and some people haven’t been happy with some of his directorial choices; it may also be opening too late for people to care); Michael Haneke for Amour (probably deserving, but he’s probably going to get shut out; and since it’s going to win Best Foreign Language Film, they’ll probably nominate it for screenplay and forget the direction); Wes Anderson for Moonrise Kingdom (forget about it, it will be Zeitlin before Anderson).