Martin Scorsese once stated; “You don’t make pictures for Oscars”. While there’s no reason to doubt his sincerity, based on this year’s celebrity turnout there’s also no doubting the fact that the Oscars are still the most sought after of all the spoils on offer in Hollywood.
I will avoid commenting on frocks and the opening musical number by Seth MacFarlane, and confine myself to the nominees and winners. However, I do want to note that I agree with the majority of commentators who criticized the inclusion of Michelle Obama in this year’s ceremony. The Oscars are meant to be about achievement in the cinematic arts, and having FLOTUS there handing out an award politicized the event.
The 2013 Oscars were largely uncontroversial for me, apart from one category, but I’ll save that for the very end and start with what the Academy got right.
Argo was the deserved winner of the best picture Oscar. Lincoln was a worthy nominee, but Argo had flair. One thing I appreciated was its attention to the details of the 1970s — this included scenes which copied news footage from the hostage crisis and casting actors who looked almost the same as the people they were portraying.
I enjoyed the way in which the film gave a warts and all presentation of that moment in American/Middle Eastern relations, avoiding the temptation to serve up a candy-coated propaganda film with ‘based on a true story’ plastered all over it (one of the weaknesses of Lincoln).
The decision to award the best actor Oscar to Daniel Day-Lewis for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln was definitely the right call. I had to keep reminding myself that it was Daniel Day-Lewis. Such performances are rare, as most actors are now cast (and generally act) to type. Day-Lewis’ performance was reminiscent of Sir Anthony Hopkins portrayal of Richard Nixon in the 1995 Oliver Stone film Nixon, and Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of Johnny Cash in Walk the Line.
One actor and film which deserved more Oscar attention was Denzel Washington in the Robert Zemeckis film Flight. After a string of so-so action characters, Washington pulled one out of the bag with his amazing portrayal of an alcoholic airline pilot struggling to overcome his demons. It was pitch-perfect. Lesser actors would have alienated their audience within the first 20 minutes.
While Flight didn’t deserve a best picture Oscar (John Goodman’s character was totally inconsistent with the tone, as was a hotel room scene immediately prior to the aviation trial, and the scripting of the scene with the co-pilot and his wife in the hospital room was woefully cliched) I was surprised to see that these minor imperfections prevented it from gaining a nomination in that category.
There were a few other surprises.
Why didn’t Jessica Chastain score a best actress award for Zero Dark Thirty? Was this a rebuke for its depiction of torture?
Why was Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained nominated so many times? It was not an Oscar-worthy film.
Why was Hitchcock only nominated in the makeup and hairstyling category? I expected more from a film about a cinematic genius featuring Sir Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, and Scarlett Johansson?
The Dark Knight Rises wasn’t nominated in any category? The Avengers was nominated in the best visual effects category but DKR wasn’t? This is a movie that has been nominated for, and won, a lot of other film awards before this week’s Oscars. At the very least I expected Hans Zimmer’s name to appear as a nominee for best original score.
But the biggest failing of the 2013 Oscars was the best foreign language film category.
I cannot believe that the French entry, The Intouchables, was shortlisted and then excluded from the final nominations. It was a beautiful, captivating and well made ‘based on a true story’ film about human dignity and the profound value of every person regardless of disability or social standing.
And then they gave the Oscar to Michael Haneke’s Amour! This is a movie that has striking similarities to the famous Nazi pro-euthanasia propaganda film Ich Klage An. To be fair, Amour doesn’t paint a very complimentary picture. Despite the misleading title, the act of euthanasia in Amour happens unexpectedly, without consent, and it is portrayed as the brutal murder of a sick elderly woman by her desperate, socially isolated and depressed husband. Hardly the sort of PR that pro-euthanasia campaigners would be hoping for.
Amour has art-house flair and is solidly crafted, but it is inferior to The White Ribbon, the film that stamps Haneke as a great director. The first 30 minutes were like trying to swim through treacle.
And how did Amour pip War Witch, a film about a former African child soldier who is recounting her life story to her unborn child? This also tackles dark themes, but it is far more captivating and complete.
Let me finish on a positive note. My eldest daughter heartily agreed with the Academy’s decision to award the best animated film Oscar to Brave — although this may have had something to do with the fact that Brave was the first film that I ever took her to see in a cinema.
Brendan Malone writes from Christchurch, New Zealand. He blogs at The Leading Edge.