When critics write columns detailing who should win at the Oscars, they can be very self-serving.
Mostly, the articles act as a way for bloggers to draw a line in the sand and pick a side, rallying readers who will stand behind them. And in the process we weave an increasingly complex narrative for what a win at the Oscars will mean for our favorite.
It wasn’t enough to have a favorite; we had to be on Team Sandra or Team Meryl. It wasn’t enough to call “The Hurt Locker” the best movie of the year; it had to be a benchmark for 21st Century war films and a victory for female directors.
But none of that matters because the Oscars will act the way they always do and disappoint someone in the way they always have and always will.
My better column on the Oscars focused on the films and actors that were completely forgotten and lost in the shuffle of the Oscar madness. Those Anti-Oscars served as a reminder that there were other good movies this year.
The Oscars themselves are a reminder too, and even if I default to some of the clichés I’ve already mentioned, I plant my flag to recognize quality where it’s due. Most of the nominees are quite good (although some aren’t) and to pick just one is harder than you know.
Best Picture – The Tree of Life
It took seeing “The Tree of Life” only once to recognize it was an important film but twice to see it as a masterpiece. And rarely is a film, least of all an American film this significant, cemented in cinematic history, hotly debated and with this magnificent of a theme, this close to being recognized as such. “The Tree of Life” is not just a work of art that innovates on what cinema can be and make you feel, but it challenged those norms to a wide audience that both embraced and rejected it. Such controversy is always a sign of greatness.
Best Actor – George Clooney
George Clooney’s performance in “The Descendants” is his most human, his most fragile and his best. Alexander Payne evokes in him the everyman with the complexity he first found in “Up in the Air,” and now his talent has matched his level of fame.
Best Actress – Michelle Williams
Michelle Williams is near the top of my list for most underappreciated actresses today. “My Week With Marilyn” is a flimsy film, but her performance is less of an impersonation and more of an embodiment. She precisely captures the effervescent presence of Marilyn Monroe in every scene she’s in.
Best Supporting Actor – Christopher Plummer
Christopher Plummer is a veteran actor that’s been great in everything from “A Beautiful Mind,” “12 Monkeys” and of course as far back as “The Sound of Music,” and yet has never won an Oscar. Without even knowing his character before the death of his wife, Plummer telegraphs a miraculous growth and transformation in “Beginners” deserving of the award he’s bound to win.
Best Supporting Actress – Berenice Bejo
Jean Dujardin is a natural star. He seems to flaunt his charisma in “The Artist” without even trying. Berenice Bejo on the other hand has to keep up, and she does so brilliantly.
Best Director – Terrence Malick
The entire Best Director field is stacked with cinematic masters who have all made highly personal statements in their movies, but somehow Terrence Malick’s vision in “The Tree of Life” trumps them all. It would have to for his film to even begin to work. Part autobiographical in his hometown in Texas and part spiritual, Malick’s visual opus succeeds because he had the bravery to see it through.
Cinematography – The Tree of Life
I’m heaping a lot of praise on “The Tree of Life” here, and this is quite literally the best category of all 24. The cinematography is magnificent in all five films, but Emmanuel Lubezki made “The Tree of Life” into a constantly beautiful and painterly film. His handheld camera work reinvents what can be accomplished in 21st Century filmmaking.
Original Screenplay – Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen’s return to form in “Midnight in Paris” is at once reminiscent and looking forward, and he skillfully appropriates trivia about Rodin, Hemingway and Bunuel into something funny, touching and meaningful.
Adapted Screenplay – Moneyball
Much has been said about how Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zallian took a fact-based, nonfiction bestseller and turned it into a fun and poignant sports drama. Not having read the book however, I admire how the film is so cynical and negative toward baseball and is still the most winning sports movie in years.
Art Direction – Hugo
The color emanating from every inch of the train station in Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” revealed to me 3-D’s full potential. And the reimagining of Melies’s films is magnificent. “Hugo” deserves every technical award it can get.
Animated Feature Film – Rango
Ok, to be fair I haven’t seen any of the other nominees, and I can without reservation say which two I have no desire to see. “Rango” however is the diamond in the rough, an irreverent, experimental and jaw-droppingly good looking animated film that combines the best parts of Sergio Leone and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
Animated Short – La Luna
Pixar hasn’t won this award in 11 years, and “La Luna” may just be their best short film in so long. The film’s beauty proves why Pixar and their CGI animation is the best, and it does so in a movie that is original, clever and funny, not without a touching moral about family and individuality.
Live Action Short – Raju
I didn’t even like three of the five nominees in this category. I missed “Tuba Atlantic,” but at the very least this German film is well made and has an interesting twist.
Original Song – Man or Muppet
It’s not even the best song in “The Muppets,” but my choices were a bit limited here.
Sound Editing – Drive
Because “Drive’s” gotta win something, right?