The 2013 Oscars
Mark Metcalf breaks down this year's not-so-surprising Best Director snubs and pitches for his favorite Best Picture nominees.
But if you really look at the directors who were “snubbed,” they all directed very good, very entertaining, very predictable films. Even the controversial Zero Dark Thirty, whose director, Kathryn Bigelow, won in 2008 for The Hurt Locker, is a relatively ordinary movie-movie, a nice albeit confusing detective flick. Being based on real events just gives it an edge. Argo is just a thriller and Ben Affleck is just an actor. Django is just a Tarantino movie – and we could talk for hours about what that means and the merits of a “Tarantino” movie, but we won’t right now. And Tom Hooper, the director of Les Miserables, does a good enough job, but there are times you just can’t figure out why he put the camera where he does. It is a “great and famous Broadway musical” and has one very good performance and one terrible one; it is a phenomenal story all the way back to the Victor Hugo novel, so … it got a Best Picture nomination.
The films that are left in the Best Picture category, the ones whose directors were nominated as Best Directon, really harken back to the Unique and Artistic Production nomenclature of 1927: Beasts of the Southern Wild tells a completely original story using a cinematic language that is surprisingly inventive and creative. It has a marrow-deep performance right in the middle by a young girl who was six years old at the time. And it did it all at very little cost, which ought to matter if the economy is as bad as we keep saying it is. We don’t know yet how good the director (Behn Zeitlin) might be, but we’ll be sure to get a chance to see his work again.
Amour is a beautiful, straight-ahead, unsentimental observation on death and dying. No one working in film today reports the truth the way Michael Haneke does. It may be difficult to watch for some, but the impact of Amour is forever.
Life of Pi takes place on a raft in the ocean and the actors are a young man and a tiger. It is that simplicity that makes it extraordinary. Director Ang Lee shows grace and elegance in every perfect frame. Yes, it’s a fantasy, but the most unusual of fantasies – and it gets at the very nature of storytelling.
It is impossible to look at Lincoln as just a biopic. Tony Kushner and Steven Spielberg, the writer and director, respectively, chose to make a thriller about the 13th Amendment to our Constitution; it just happens that Abraham Lincoln was the instigator and the force behind that monumental piece of legislation. It is a story that in any other hands than theirs – and the supremely capable mind, voice and body of Daniel Day Lewis – would have been dry, textbook, and not worth a mention. Instead, the the courage of their conception and the powerful beauty in every frame of film they shot lifts the movie head and shoulders above any other historical document. In so many ways it is more than just a movie.
Silver Linings Playbook is in many ways the “anti-romantic comedy.” Written and directed by David O. Russell, it’s like Christmas dinner with any superbly dysfunctional family; and all of our families are dysfunctional to a degree when you live in them. They are also superb because we live in them. It turns out to have a Hallmark greeting card kind of ending but it is elevated by its dialogue, its rhythms, its energy and across-the-board great acting. It is also nice to see a movie that doesn’t have a gun, or a car, or an explosion, or a disaster of any kind other than the disaster of the everyday human condition.
If I had to choose which one will win – which it seems as though I do – I would chose Beasts of the Southern Wild. Why? Because of its creativity, the ingenuity and invention it took to get it made for very little money (probably catering money for a week on Lincoln) and because of the promise of more to come from its director and young star. Amour and Lincoln exist of a different plane. They are each so good in their own unique ways and I feel that is reward enough. And, as Charles Ives reportedly said when he was told he had won the Pulitzer Prize for his Symphony No. 3, “Prizes are for kids.” Well, Behn Zeitlin is still a kid, relatively speaking, so he deserves the prize.
That said, I do think Steven Spielberg will win the Best Director honor. His work is exquisite and he is now the grand old man of Hollywood.
The Academy Awards will air on Sunday, Feb. 24 at 7:30 p.m. Central Time.