Mark Metcalf
Moving Pictures

The 2013 Oscars

Mark Metcalf breaks down this year's not-so-surprising Best Director snubs and pitches for his favorite Best Picture nominees.

By - Feb 22nd, 2013 04:00 am

In the early days of the Academy Awards anywhere from 8 to twelve films were nominated for what we now call Best Picture. At the first ceremony there were  two awards that would stand for what we now know as Best Picture. The first was Outstanding Picture; the second an award for Unique and Artistic Production. At some point they decided that five nominations and a single Best Picture award would be enough. Then in 2009 they changed the voting formula and decided to nominate ten motion pictures. Two years later they changed it again and decided to nominate anywhere from 5 to ten films based on what pictures get at least 5% of the first place votes. If you’re not confused you haven’t been listening. So … this year we have nine Best Picture nominees. Everyone says it so often that it begins to sound like window dressing, but it really is an honor just to be nominated. However, the truth is everybody wants to win. Like how going to the Super Bowl is a big deal, but everyone really wants to hold the trophy over their head while standing on the weeping corpses of the losers. With nine Best Picture nominees and  only five Best Director nominees, it appears that four directors apparently did good enough work to have their films nominated for Best Picture but not to be nominated for the individual honor. On the surface.

Quentin Tarantino in Django Unchained

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.

Categories: Movies

0 thoughts on “Moving Pictures: The 2013 Oscars”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I always enjoy the comparison of the ‘Awards” to sports contests. The American fixation on arguing about what or who is the best, loses a lot of authority when it comes to judging artistic production. After all The Super Bowl involves two teams playing the same game with the same rules. If I showed you a replay of a randomly selected Super Bowl, you probably wouldn’t notice much difference in the performance, just the score
    I believe it was George C Scott who suggested that they give the actors the same role and than judge who did it best.
    Of course, everyone wants to win, but that dosen’t make it important to me. No matter who wins I will be disappointed because a film I liked, in no particular order, didn’t.
    For me there is no best film, just some films I liked better than others, for reasons that are only applicable to me

  2. Anonymous says:

    We compare everything to sporting contests, even elections. The notion of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in anything, especially in life, is antiquated and will eventually drift away. The Academy Awards are a marketing device that we must endure as, it appears, is the Super Bowl. Witness the orgy of commercials.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us