Friday, August 26, 2016

Oscar Got It Wrong! Best Picture 2012

The Contenders:

Argo (winner)
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

What’s Missing

Let’s be honest here: The Cabin in the Woods was never going to be nominated for Best Picture, but it’s clearly one of the best horror movies of the current century. Along the same lines, the Academy isn’t going to nominate a James Bond film for Best Picture even though Skyfall is a great one. The Avengers falls into that same category even though it turned out better than most people would have suspected. Cloud Atlas probably confused too many people. I think it’s a great film, and I’m still shocked it wasn’t nominated for a plenty of awards, even if I’m not convinced it belongs on this list. Moonrise Kingdom should definitely be here, though. Flight is an odd miss as well.

Weeding through the Nominees

9. With nine movies to choose from, picking a last place finisher is tough. I’m going to make an unpopular choice and stick Beasts of the Southern Wild here. The truth is that the only thing I remember liking about what I thought was an unfocused mess of a film was the performance of Quvenzhane Wallis. Sure, it’s pretty in places but it felt undecipherable to me, like there was something that was supposed to be big and meaningful happening without anything big and meaningful happening. It’s not a film I plan on watching again.

8. Continuing on a similar theme, I’m putting Life of Pi near the bottom as well. I give the filmmakers all credit for making something that is staggeringly beautiful to look at, but again, I feel like there’s no substance here. A film has to do more than just look pretty for me to care much about it. Life of Pi is certainly that, but the allegorical story isn’t really that interesting and the religious overtones left me cold. Again, this is a film that I probably won’t watch again because I can’t think of a reason beyond the scenery to revisit it.

7. From what I know of other people’s opinions, I’m putting Les Miserables probably higher than others would, but it’s still in my bottom third. Ultimately, this is a very good production of a story that I really don’t like very much. I don’t care much about the charactesr involved or the quickly-squashed rebellion. I especially don’t like Russell Crowe’s singing. Les Mis has some great moments in it and it’s beautifully staged, but this is the third film out of three so far where I genuinely don’t care at all about the story that is happening.

6. Anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows that my vote for most overrated director currently working is Quentin Tarantino. I do like about half of his films that I’ve seen, and I had a lot of hope for Django Unchained. Those hopes were fulfilled for the first two thirds of the movie, and then it completely shits the bed in the final third. It stops being a story and becomes just a big, dumb shoot-out, and that’s really the wrong choice here. I have said this before—I’d like Tarantino’s movies more if he’d stop trying to be awesome and start trying to just be good.

5. I have huge problems with where Zero Dark Thirty decides to write its own history. I think it’s a good movie, but my issues are more with how it plays to anyone who doesn’t really know the history of what happened. It gives all the credit to a single person for keeping up the search for bin Laden and, much more disturbingly, seems to justify the use of torture. Since movies have a way of becoming our history rather than simply commenting on that history, I have a real problem with this. This shouldn’t be the sort of thing that we learn to accept.

4. I really liked Lincoln a lot, but this is another case where the ending doesn’t live up to the movie that precedes it. Had this movie ended ten minutes earlier, with Lincoln walking down the hallway, it would move up a slot or two here. Instead, we get the ending we’ve got, which is needless for anyone out of third grade and who knows about one of the most significant events in American history. There are times when directors don’t give us enough story. This is a case where we were given just a little more story than any of us needed.

3. I went in to Silver Linings Playbook expecting to hate it completely. It took me a long time to actually start it, and then once I did I wondered why it had taken me so long. There’s a lot that this movie does right. One of the primary things it does right is that it handles the concept of mental illness incredibly well. These aren’t “funny” crazy people or dangerous people looking for an outlet. These are just people with problems who are looking for a way to live the life they’ve been thrust into living. The ending is a little too Hollywood-y for me, but it’s still a movie that’s worth seeing.

2. Just as I’ve got a lot here lower than most people would, I’m almost certain I’ve placed Argo higher than almost everyone would. I think it does just about everything right, and I also think that Ben Affleck’s snub for Best Director is one of Oscar’s saddest moments of the current decade. This is a smart and engaging story, and sure it plays a little with the history just like Zero Dark Thirty did. However, it doesn’t play with the meaning of what happened. It’s a story worth seeing. While I’m certain he doesn’t read this site, Argo is a reminder that Affleck belongs behind the camera more than he does in front of it.

My Choice

1. My choice, though, is Amour. There is a real poignancy to this film that surprised me from Michael Haneke. Haneke’s work is always difficult and takes the audience to very dark places. In Amour, though, he does this with a tenderness that seems almost out of character for him. There are shocking moments here and awful decisions to make, but this is also a story of great love and devotion. For everything that happens here, nothing comes through more strongly than that. It’s the best film of its year; it should have won.

Final Analysis


  1. In the same universe as Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder, I don't see how Tarantino can even be a contender for most over-rated director.

    1. I like Nolan (but The Prestige is astonishingly overrated) and I don't know anyone who really likes Zack Snyder that much. For me, Tarantino wins because while he's not a bad director, he's not the second coming of Kurosawa that so many people seem to think he is.

    2. I have come across a lot of people who think Man of Steel is the best Superman movie ever who act like they are about ready to punch you if you note that it was actually pretty dumb and pretentious. (I guess my statement that "I wish Snyder had taken the script half as seriously as he takes himself" was a little provocative.) I know people who think Nolan was robbed because Interstellar didn't win Best Picture at the Oscars. They think Nolan improved on 2001 (but first they have to admit he was influenced by 2001, and they can't always make that leap). I know people who think The Dark Knight Rises was good.

      You apparently don't know any of these people. I am so jealous!

    3. I do think that Nolan gets more accolades than he deserves, but not to the level that Tarantino does. But, gun to my head, there are probably as many and as rabid "Nolan can do no wrong" fans in the world.

      As mentioned, I find The Prestige to be incredibly overrated. I've seen far too many people rank that not only high on the list of Nolan films but high on the list of films from its year/decade. I don't think it's the best roughly Victorian-era magic themed movie from the last half of 2006.

      I know intellectually that Zack Snyder fanboys exist, but I don't think I've ever met one and don't think I've even come across one online.

  2. Until you got to number 4 I was in complete agreement with you. I'd still have those films as my top four but I'd shuffle them around a bit.

    I'd move Amour to third and Lincoln to first, even though I agree that the last ten minutes are unnecessary and ill considered I love what goes before so much I'm willing to let it go. Actually I own the film and my solution is that I stop the movie when he walks down the hallway thereby doing my own edit!

    1. In a list of this size, anything above the midpoint is something that I wouldn't be terribly put out about had it won. I think Amour is always my pick for greatest movie of this year (even if The Cabin in the Woods is the most entertaining), but cut those 10 minutes and Lincoln might well contend for second.

  3. I can't comment in much detail because I've seen so few of the films and I haven't seen Amour.

    I loved Django Unchained! Yeah, it was feeling a bit long, but after a while it felt more like it had another great movie tacked on at the end!

    Silber Linings Playbook is not my kind of movie at all, but it was so well-made and so nearly perfect with such great acting, that I ended up loving it as well!

    And I very much enjoyed Argo and Zero Dark Thirty.

    At the end of the year, I pick a favorite movie and add it to my "Favorite Movies - Year By Year" list, and sometimes I have a tie and I just leave them both on the list until I see the movies more than once and I sometimes take one of the movies off eventually.

    2012 was a great year! I had a five-way tie for favorite movie! It was Django Unchained, Silver Lining Playbook, Wreck-It Ralph, Seven Psychopaths and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.

    I still haven't decided between them. And to make matters worse, I saw The Act of Killing a year or so later and turned it into a six-way tie.

    1. I think it's a good year, but I'm not willing to call it a great one. A lot of the movies that people will claim as great are ones that I might like, but wouldn't classify as being great.

      Amour, I won't kid you, is a gut punch. It's a beautifully made, emotionally-charged film, but it's still something that you'll want to go have a cry or a scream after watching.

  4. I can totally imagine the discussions that went on in the editing booth over the ending of Lincoln. I think it very likely that they recognized the proper ending of the film would be the walk down the hallway, but felt that as a historical reenactment, they needed to include the assassination to be complete. They made the wrong choice.

    1. I think so, too. We don't need the assassination. We know the assassination. The story ends with that walk down the hallway.

  5. I haven't seen Amour, but based on this I'll look out for it. I will remain in no hurry to see Beasts Of The Southern Wild, and it annoys me to no end when children are nominated to compete with adults in the main acting categories.

    So I've so far seen seven of the nominees from 2012, and here are my rankings:

    3 stars (out of 5):
    Life Of Pi (a bit of a yawn)

    4 stars:
    Argo (an unnecessary Hollywood ending)
    Django Unchained
    Silver Linings Playbook

    5 stars:
    Les Miserables (I'm a fan!)
    Zero Dark Thirty (I actually think the film cleverly condemned torture)

    My other 5 star films from 2012 are:
    End Of Watch
    The Hunger Games
    Moonrise Kingdom
    Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World

    My top 3 to date would likely be 1. Lincoln, 2. End Of Watch, and 3. Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World.

    1. It's possible that I missed Zero Dark Thirty condemning torture, since the film (at least in my opinion) seems to show that positive information and results were gained from it. Even if it is a subtle critique of the use of torture, there are plenty of unsubtle thinkers in this world who will see only results.

      I get ranking Les Mis that high. For me, it's the story that kills it, so even a perfect production isn't going to rank too high.

    2. I agree about the subtle aspects, and the film generated a fair amount of controversy at the time between those thinking it condoned torture and others thinking it did not. Here was my take on it, taken from my review:

      "The tortured detainees do eventually give up the name of Abu Ahmed, Bin Laden's courier. Crucially, the information is muddled: in the interrogations the wrong photo is attached to the right name. More crucially, clearer, critical information about Abu Ahmed was always readily available from other non-detainee sources, but in the flood of incoming post September 11 data, that file languished unattended for years. And most important of all, the key Abu Ahmed information was only followed-up on years later, a clear counter to the argument that the essential information provided by torture victims may be necessary to thwart imminent attacks. Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal are saying that yes, torture may yield information, but look around: it may be unreliable, it may already be available through other methods, and it may not lead to any quicker resolutions."

    3. Like I said, you may well be right. In the world we live in, though, subtlety isn't the kind of thing that registers with people. A little bit of controversy is the kind of thing that sells a film, of course, but it also sells an ideology in some cases.

      Do you remember the critical divisiveness over Fight Club? It seemed like no one could agree on whether or not it was pro-fascist or anti-fascist. That's great for discussions. When it comes to something that people will point to as an affector of national policy, though, subtlety might be the wrong choice.

  6. It's nice to see somebody else giving Seeking a Friend for the End of the World such high marks! I thought I was the only one who liked it so much. I think a lot of people (many of whom liked it) dismissed it as a comedy/fantasy without really looking at just how good it really is.

  7. I forgot to mention earlier that I loved Moonrise Kingdom! I couldn't quite bring myself to add it to the ridiculous five- or six-way tie that developed for me for 2012. But it's great! The fact that it didn't make my Top Five is one of the reasons I love 2012 so much.

    I requested Lincoln from the library last week before I knew you would be talking about 2012 this week. So I have it now and I'll probably watch it tonight.

    And my library system has Amour so I can get to that reasonably soon. I read the summary and decided not to watch it right away. But soon. Within the next two weeks.

    1. I like Moonrise Kingdom a lot. I think it's one of Anderson's better films, and since I tend to like Wes Anderson's work (even if I can't watch it that often), that's saying something. Had it been nominated for this year, it almost certainly would have ended up in my top 3.

  8. I watched Lincoln last night; it's great! I have a master's degree in history and I wrote my thesis on newspapers in Mississippi from 1800 to 1865, so you might say the Civil War is one of the subjects I've studied very carefully. I'm sometimes a bit hesitant to watch films from a period of history that I know reasonably well. You can expect a little poetic license but sometimes you see some stuff that is just too stupid.

    (Mel Gibson did so many things right in The Patriot, but there are a couple of scenes that are just TOO STUPID! Bad Mel! Bad! So few good movies about the American Revolution and he had to portray some egregiously inaccurate history in some REALLY DUMB scenes! That's our Mel!)

    I'm happy to say that Lincoln avoided this little pitfall in a very entertaining and watchable manner. I especially liked Tommy Lee Jones, David Straitharn and Sally Field bringing these figures to life.

    And Daniel Day-Lewis nailed it! You look at who else has played Lincoln - Walter Huston and Henry Fonda - and you realize how amazing it is to be the definitive Abraham Lincoln in the movies.

    Of course, Day-Lewis had a bit of an advantage because he was in the best Lincoln movie ever.

  9. My comments about historical films (notably relating to Lincoln on this thread and to The Last King of Scotland elsewhere) have reminded that I did indeed have a problem with Argo, especially as the Oscar winner.

    On its own merits, it's an exciting and well-made film with some great performances, notably from John Goodman and Alan Arkin. But it hits a few snags historically, including one that drifts over into the REALLY STUPID territory that I've discussed before. Minimizing the role of the Canadians is annoying and a bit of a slap in the face to out neighbors to the north, but it wasn't handled in a way that was ridonkulous. A slap in the face to history and the Canadians, yes, but not something that hurt the narrative of the film within its own universe.

    No, the dumb part was the runway chase. That was completely made-up, and you don't have to be that smart or knowledgeable about the real events to smell something really fishy about that scene. It makes no sense. Even if the Iranian authorities were that determined to stop the Americans, even if they really would race across the tarmac to stop a commercial airliner with armed jeeps, I don't think the flight crew would ignore commands from the control tower to abort a take-off. That exiting conclusion is just too stupid for words.

    I still have trouble believing that the fascinating story of the escape of those American hostages - and the involvement of a fake movie aided and abetted by a Hollywood studio - really needed that runway chase, a segment that is just too dumb to even buy for a second.

    And it won the Best Picture Oscar!

    Like I said, I think Argo is a pretty good movie verging on great, but the ending is just too dumb, especially in a film that's supposedly a true story.