This year’s Oscars, broadcast live on TVs everywhere on Sunday February 24th, is the Academy’s 85th ceremony. That’s almost a hundred years of rich beautiful people getting dressed up and patting each other on the back. The ceremony is prestigious and still the industry’s gold standard for achievement even while it usually ends up being just a puffed-up, political popularity contest that rarely awards those craftsmen who are MOST deserving. For example, if you go looking for Stanley Kubrick’s Oscars, or Alfred Hitchcock’s, or even Gary Oldman’s you won’t find them.
But who cares about all that, I’ve been watching them since I was a kid and I love them! Plus, I love movies, and in the world of movies the Oscars still mean something. They don’t mean everything, but they mean something. The Oscars can transform your career for both good and bad but no matter what they are going to going to make a difference. Just ask Peter Jackson, Weta Digital, and New Zealand how much that little gold man can put you on the movie world map.
Another thing I love about The Academy Awards is the history – the stats – the underdog stories – the surprising unpredictable moments! And for those, this year could be a doozy. There is a lot of potential history-in-the-making moments this year and so below I’ve listed the top five reasons to tune in this year even if you don’t usually watch the awards. Like turning on the TV to a sport you don’t usually watch and seeing a tie game in a sudden death situation – sometimes you just sit down and watch it for the drama of it, for the story.
That’s why this year is extra special – because while most Oscars are blandly predictable and the frontrunner is known and dominant from the outset this year’s Oscars are anyone’s game:
5)Daniel Day Lewis Might Make History
There is a lot of “Oscar buzz” right now for Daniel Day Lewis and if you’ve seen “Lincoln” it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Lewis’ performance is everything the Oscar’s love, an actor transformed, moments of emotional quiet and camera-close-up nuance, and great speeches rising and falling in power and gravitas. The moment in the film where Lewis, channeling the president’s righteous anger at the resistance of Congress shouts “I am the president of the United States! Clothed in immense power!” is enough on its own to win the man an Oscar, and the film is full of those moments. The crazy part is if Daniel Day Lewis wins on February 24th it will make the first time in history an Actor has won THREE Best Actor Oscars. A few great actors (including Brando, Nicholson, Hoffman, Hanks etc) have won TWO Best Actor Oscars (and Nicholson has three counting his Supporting Actor win for Terms of Endearment) but no man has ever won three. That could all change on Oscar Sunday. On top of all that, Lewis could also become the first Actor to ever win an Oscar for playing an American President. So queue the band.
4)A Category Full Of Winners
For the first time in Oscar history an acting category (Best Supporting Actor) is entirely made up of former Oscar winners. Christoph Waltz, of course, won for Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds”. Tommy Lee Jones, in what I personally consider to be the ultimate Oscar travesty beat DiCaprio (Gilbert Grape), Fiennes (Schindler’s List), Posthelthwate (In the Name of The Father), and Malkovich (In the Line Of Fire) to win for the uber mediocre role of U.S. Marshall Gerard in “The Fugitive”. Philip Seymour Hoffman won for “Capote” in 2006. That same year Alan Arkin scooped up the Best Supporting Oscar for his role as grumpy grandpa in “Little Miss Sunshine”. Robert De Niro has won a few Oscars, but the last time was more than 30 years ago when he won for “Raging Bull” and everyone seems to agree that he’s due for another one. In my opinion the best work was done by Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master but the movie is pretty dark and can’t seem to get any awards love. My favorite performance on the list was Christoph Waltz in “Django Unchained” but I feel like it was too similar to his work in “Basterds” to get him a second Oscar. Jones and Arkin were okay, but it was nothing special and not even close to the best performance in each their respective movies. For me it’s all about De Niro, because he’s spent so many years making crap and now he’s finally turned in a really great performance as a really complicated dad. He deserves it and he has the best “story” in the bunch, and for Oscar voters sometimes that’s all it takes.
3)The Silver Linings Four
Speaking of Robert De Niro, he happens to be part of a cast that is clearly well loved by the Academy. For the first time in more than thirty years (Warren Beatty’s 1981 movie “Red’s”) “Silver Linings Playbook” has scored an acting nomination for someone in each of the four Oscar categories. Jackie Weaver (Best Supporting Actress) and Bradley Cooper (Best Actor) are really just happy to be nominated, and will most likely watch the frontrunner in their category (Daniel Day Lewis and Anne Hathaway) take the statue. Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro, however, have a real shot at taking the gold and I feel like the acting nominations show a real love for the film by Academy members. We’ll have to wait until Oscar Sunday to see how it all pans out. Either way it’s very cool to dominate the acting categories like that and I’m glad the movie is getting lots of love.
2)Best Director Is Wide Open
When the Academy Award nominations were announced in January, one of the biggest surprises was the omission (snub) of Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow. Both of their movies were extraordinarily timely and dealt powerfully with ideas about America, its relationship with the Middle East and its (changing) role in the global community. Both films, “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty” are nominated for Best Picture, but not their directors. So who is going to win? Conventional wisdom would say Steven Spielberg who crafted a majestic (and yet quiet) film out of “Lincoln” that is both an epic historical testament and a personal, emotional biopic. Spielberg is an Oscar favorite and yet he hasn’t won nearly as much as he maybe should have and I think he may have enough goodwill currency in Hollywood to buy himself his third (Directing) Oscar. But you can’t count out the rest of the field, as you have powerful underdogs such as Michael Haneke (“Amour”) and Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) nipping at Spielberg’s heels. Both films were small but powerful and if enough people see them then either of their directors could have a fighting chance at an upset. David O. Russell is also a dark horse that is very much in contention this year as his movie “Silver Linings Playbook” is clearly popular with the Acting branch of the Academy and he’s has already been nominated for “The Fighter” (which can’t hurt). Add to that the fact that the film’s mental illness subject matter is a very personal story for Russell and his family and you have a story that voters can get behind. Standing in everybody’s way, however, is my personal favorite to win, Director Ang Lee, who’s marvelous “Life of Pi” was my favorite movie of the year. “Pi” is a visual masterpiece and the tiger is CGI and the whole thing is wonderful and magical and he should win. If you are filling out competitive Oscar ballots with friends consider it a two horse race between Spielberg and Lee.
1)Can Argo Win Without Ben Affleck?
So back to Ben Affleck’s “Argo” for a second. I didn’t LOVE this movie the first time I saw it. I thought it was ok. Pretty good. But somewhere between then and now something has happened and no one is really all that sure why. Argo started picking up crazy momentum. People just seem to really love this movie. Momentum is not that simple, however, and usually comes down to something more complicated. Maybe it’s that “Argo” isn’t the best movie of the year it’s just the move that everyone can seem to have consensus over – and because of the way the Academy tallies their ballots that’s usually all that matters. Maybe it’s because Ben Afflect got snubbed for a Best Director nod and the subsequent buzz is a result of the backlash. Whatever the reason Argo has now won the most critics awards of any movie nominated for Best Picture. Ben Affleck won the Directors Guild of America award (beating Spielberg) and the film won the Screen Actors Guild award for Best Ensemble (their version of the Best Picture award) in an upset win over expected winners “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Les Miserables”. It also won the Producers Guild Award for best picture which puts it, historically, in a nearly unbeatable position. There are historical precedents for a movie winning all of these awards and not the Oscar (“Apollo 13”) but they are few and far between. The whispers seem to be indicating an Oscar upset, that rare occurrence when a movie manages to win Best Picture without the director even being nominated. The last time that happened was in 1989 when “Driving Miss Daisy” beat out its competition to take the top prize. That year “Daisy” beat “Born on the Fourth of July” for which Stone won the Directing Oscar. I don’t know if this is a comparable situation but if “Argo” can win the big prize I’ll be happy for Affleck who’s had a hell of a time making a comeback in an unforgiving industry. He’s earned it.