Who Should Win the 85th Oscar

There are a lot of web sites that predict which film will win at the 85th Academy Awards in all categories but particularly for Best Picture. In all the precursors so far this year, in all the award shows leading up to the Oscars, Argo has been the winner for Best Picture. Argo won the Golden Globe, the SAG Award, the PGA Award, the DGA Award and the BAFTA Award. This leads most people to think that Argo will win the Oscar for Best Picture.

There's just one problem. Ben Affleck who is the director of Argo was not nominated in the Oscar category of Best Director. In the history of the Oscars, it is extremely rare for a film to be nominated for Best Picture and let alone win if its director is not nominated in that separate category. Often, the movie that wins Best Picture at the Oscars also has its director win in that separate category.

If Argo doesn't win, the likelihood goes to one of the five nominees that has its director also nominated for Best Director. Those directors are Michael Haneke for Amour, Ang Lee for Life of Pi, David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook, Steven Spielberg for Lincoln and Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild. Except for one, I could see and have seen compelling arguments why each of these nominees and their movies should win the 85th Oscar.

The best argument is for Spielberg and Lincoln. First off, the film got the most nominations than any other film this year. This doesn't hold much water because there have been numerous examples of films in the past that have received the most nominations or at least a dozen, which Lincoln got, and not win Best Picture or win anything. Spielberg's The Color Purple is one such example. Prior to the January 10 announcement of nominations, Lincoln was the frontrunner. It's also an epic, historical story, which is something that the Academy generally prefers. Yet, this might be a repeat of five years ago when Daniel Day-Lewis was the big winner and the movie wasn't.

Russell's Silver Linings Playbook has two big things going for it. First, it made history because it's the first film in about thirty years to be nominated in all four acting categories. Bradley Cooper was nominated for Best Actor. Jennifer Lawrence was nominated for Best Actress. Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver were nominated in the Supporting Actor and Actress categories.

Lawrence has won all the precursors leading up to the Oscars, so she'll probably win on Oscar night. The film also has Harvey Weinstein as its producer. Weinstein is an accomplished film producer and Oscar campaign maker. Movies that Weinstein produced have won time and time again, including in the past two years. The Artist (2011) and The King's Speech (2010) were both Weinstein films.

Ang Lee's Life of Pi didn't have a great Oscar campaign behind it. It did receive a lot of technical nominations, which proves that people recognize the craftsmanship with Life of Pi. It is a visually amazing movie, based on a highly-regarded book. Like with The Lord of the Rings, which had similar pedigree, the craftsmanship might be enough to carry Lee's Life of Pi to the finish line.

Michael Haneke's Amour is a kind of an anomaly. It's also nominated in the category of Best Foreign Language Film. It's rare that a movie appears in both those categories. Recent foreign films like A Separation (2011) have gotten broader support, thanks in part to the backing of Sony Pictures Classics, but for Amour, which won the Palme d'Or, to get Best Picture represents a level of respect that also could carry Haneke's Amour to the finish line.

The one that has the least chances is Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild. It's incredible that the film, which premiered over a year ago at the Sundance Film Festival, had such buzz and critical love that people are still talking about it and debating the performance of Quvenzhané Wallis who is currently the youngest nominee ever, as opposed to fellow nominee this year Emmanuelle Riva who is the oldest acting nominee. Aside from Amour, Zeitlin's film is the lowest grossing of all the nominees in the box office. This movie also has all newcomers in the business, so, for me, all the movie has is what Zeitlin put on screen.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is based on the play 'Juicy and Delicious' by Lucy Alibar. Benh Zeitlin adapted the story of a six-year-old, black girl named Hushpuppy who is growing up in the outskirts of New Orleans in a neighborhood known as "The Bathtub." Her mother abandoned her. Her father is around, but he's becoming increasingly detached. Nevertheless, the colorful residents of The Bathtub look out for her.

Hushpuppy narrates the film and the entire film is from her point-of-view. As such, the film takes on a child-like wonder, and child-like sensibility. This might seem obvious if the protagonist is a child, but not always. More artistic fare like the Dardenne brothers' The Kid With a Bike or more mainstream fare like Diary of a Wimpy Kid also have children as protagonists and have point-of-views from children. Yet, those movies remain straight-forward and in the case of the Dardennes almost gritty in its realism.

Beasts of the Southern Wild embraces the magic and imagination that a child brings to her own perceptions, as well as her limited knowledge. In other films, the child character is precocious and often is imbued with cleverness that clearly comes from the screenwriter. Here, Hushpuppy is truly a child. Just as I loved how Terrence Malick let his children in The Tree of Life be children, so does Zeitlin. As a result, we see the world as Hushpuppy does, or certainly The Bathtub in that way.

It's ironic because Hushpuppy is quite self-sufficient, probably more so than many adults, but only because she has to be. The Bathtub and its residents are poor but they have a happiness and a strength about them. Given the New Orleans, Mardi Gras environment that permeates and lives regularly, Hushpuppy absorbs this as daily holidays but the adults are quick to point out that despite the Elysium-like, crawfish and crab-eating, shantytown-living utopia, there is a danger to the world.

Zeitlin reminds us of that natural danger with special effects that are as compelling as The Perfect Storm (2000) or just as realistic and whimsical as that in Where the Wild Things Are (2009). Zeitlin infuses harsh Darwinism here with the fact that man in the modern era is the creator of his own danger. Despite being set in the present, possibly post-Hurricane Katrina, Zeitlin removes all technology and makes The Bathtub an almost, post-apocalyptic paradise with a boundary of peril as flimsy as the failed levees.

Zeitlin invokes great images that are primal. Hushpuppy does have a sense of herself, in her narration that's borderline precocious, but her observations and their relative intelligence are no more so than a caveman drawing on cave walls. Instead of a rocky surface, hers is cardboard. Zeitlin writes vivid imagery as well like comparing a hospital shelter to a fish tank with no water, which might have come from Alibar, but Zeitlin realizes it well.

Quvenzhané Wallis (left) and Dwight Henry
in "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
The performances he gets from Quvenzhané Wallis who plays Hushpuppy and Dwight Henry who plays her father are fantastic in that they're also primal. Zeitlin gets at primal emotions, raw emotions, more real than in any other film in 2012. As her on-screen father attempts, Zeitlin pumps Wallis full of masculinity, toughness and aggression because there is this conceit that masculinity, toughness and aggression are needed to survive.

Hushpuppy's father is too proud to believe otherwise. The lesson that Hushpuppy learns, especially when she encounters her mother and especially when she encounters the titular animals, that maybe that masculinity, toughness and aggression aren't needed all that much. Hushpuppy and her father repeat the mantra of "no crying" but the swell of emotions that pierce the heart here accomplishes nothing but the opposite.

All that being said, I believe that Beasts of the Southern Wild should win the Oscar for Best Picture. I would vote Benh Zeitlin for Best Director and for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay. I would give Michael Haneke and Amour the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. For me, the Best Documentary Feature should go to The Invisible War and the Best Animated Feature should go to ParaNorman.

Best Writing, Original Screenplay, should go to Moonrise Kingdom. Best Production Design should go to Lincoln. Best Film Editing should go to Argo. Best Makeup and Hairstyling should go to Les Misérables. Best Costume Design should to Mirror Mirror and Best Music, Original Song, should go to Skyfall.

In terms of the other categories, aside from the acting ones, I made it simple. I gave all the rest of the technical awards to Life of Pi. This includes Best Music, Original Score, as well as Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.

Here's a link to my favorite movies of 2012, what I consider the best.


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