For most of us, the Oscars are like the last Radiohead album. We try to love it, but we just end up feeling disconnected.
Of the top ten grossing movies of 2012, only two received more than one nomination (Skyfall and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey). Seth MacFarlane called this out up front with his comment: “The Avengers was the most popular movie of the year, which was why it was only nominated once.” The Academy seems to send this message every year: most Americans don’t like good movies. You can understand why this might cause some tension.
There are probably a variety of reasons why we take this so personally. It could be because we don’t separate enjoyment from quality (Can movies we love be bad? Can movies we hate still be good?), or because we only appreciate films we agree with thematically, or because all of us got Little League awards for losing, or something. And, despite the fact that this was one of the best years for film in recent memory, there were still a few decisions that could have gone smoother. None of the movies that won were “bad,” per se, but you can consider these more like recommendations. Here are five losers that should have been winners.
##Best Supporting Actor
The first award handed out was a jaw-dropper. Christoph Waltz is incredible and singlehandedly held the crazy narrative of Django Unchained together. At the same time, this entry was remarkably similar to his last academy-winning character, Hans Landa. While Waltz deserves attention for his incredible gift, this award felt redundant. I would have loved to see Philip Seymour Hoffman walk away with the award for his work in The Master.
The last few years, we’ve seen a move away from CGI and back towards reality. In this regard, Life of Pi’s cinematography is a step backward; brilliant, but too much like an animated film. The braver choice would have been Roger Deakins (No Country For Old Men, The Shawshank Redemption) for his more organic Skyfall. He masterfully moves between grand, scene-setting shots and intimate close-ups while being confident enough to cleanly present the action sequences. With Deakins, the stuff in front of the camera is actually in front of the camera.
If you have to use blatant CGI, Life of Pi is the way to do it. The animals were stunningly believable and the movie itself was a clinic in how CGI can open the door for different types of narratives. I still wonder, though, if this victory was a lock due to the surrealist nature of Life of Pi and the straight genre-entries of its competition (The Hobbit, The Avengers, and Prometheus). Lord of the Rings proved that the Academy is willing to embrace goblins and wizards, but deep down, they still seem to feel that Sci-Fi/Fantasy is a child’s game.
By far, this was the strongest category overall. Saying one script here was less compelling than the others is like choosing your least favorite child. Honestly, Django Unchained deserved the award as much as any other entry. And yet*, while this was my personal favorite of the bunch, I still think the weaker third act leaves it slightly inferior to some of the competition. Zero Dark Thirty and Moonrise Kingdom felt more tightly wound and precise.
I once showed my wife Gangs of New York and that night I literally woke up to the sound of her whimpering in fear, locked in a Daniel-Day Lewis nightmare. He owns the screen when he is on it, and if you didn’t see this win coming, don’t plan any trips to Vegas. The only gripe here was predictability. Just giving Day-Lewis an Oscar every time he even looks at a script makes for poor drama. If the Oscars want to boost those ratings, they’re going to have to mix it up a little.
If this list proves anything, it’s that none of the Oscars were bad decisions. This is such a strong batch of movies, that any decision would have been the right one. The films competently dealt with race, justice, religion, death, mental illness, politics, torture, and forgiveness while covering every genre from western to musical, and even romantic comedy.
So, here’s good news: Hollywood is bravely and intelligently talking about the issues that matter. We may not agree with their stances, but we should be listening.
And come to think of it, Radiohead’s last album wasn’t so bad either.