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Oscar Prospects: Lincoln

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Oscar Prospects: Lincoln
Oscar Prospects: Lincoln

Though it boasts the strongest pedigree of all 2012 awards contenders, Lincoln doesn’t play like obvious Oscar bait while you’re watching it. Masterfully realized, the tame and talky saga spends most of its duration bucking the epic-biopic formula, unfolding with minimal spectacle and with characterization that’s as communal as it is subject-focused. From look to language, it’s no trophy-seeking construct, but a first-rate political drama made with consummate skill. So, how nice that it’s been so ardently embraced by critics, racking up—at this writing—more perfect-score reviews than any other Oscar candidate this year. That critical push is going to help voters take notice of all the un-showy aspects of Lincoln’s production, including Rick Carter’s Art Direction, Joanna Johnston’s Costume Design, and, yes, Steven Spielberg’s Direction. Say all you want about Argo and Life of Pi, but this is your Best Picture frontrunner, poised to be the film with the most nods come January 10. It looks to be a downright lock in at least nine categories, and a handful of other races seem well within its reach. Had it featured some CG cannons or, say, a fresh diddy to be sung by Sally Field, you’d likely be seeing it in damn-near every lineup.

Understanding Screenwriting #98: To Rome with Love, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Newsroom, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #98: <em>To Rome with Love</em>, <em>Beasts of the Southern Wild</em>, <em>The Newsroom</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #98: <em>To Rome with Love</em>, <em>Beasts of the Southern Wild</em>, <em>The Newsroom</em>, & More

Coming Up In This Column: To Rome with Love, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Frank Pierson: An Appreciation, Stoneface: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Buster Keaton (play), War Horse (play), The Exorcist (play), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Anger Management, The Newsroom, Political Animals, Twenty Twelve (and the Skydiving Queen), but first…

Fan Mail: I trust you all marked it down in your diaries that David Ehrenstein and I actually agreed on a film, in this case that Bernie is a terrific movie.

To Rome with Love (2012. Written by Woody Allen. 112 minutes.)

Four—count ’em, four—shaggy dog stories: Unlike last year’s Midnight in Paris, this year’s Woody Allen movie is what used to be called a portmanteau film. Instead of following one character’s adventures, we get several stories in one film. While such earlier films of the type as We’re Not Married and O.Henry’s Full House, both from 1952, and which I wrote about in US#34 and US#40, respectively, tells each story successively, Allen intercuts between all four. Like D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916), only better and funnier. The closest modern equivalent is Richard Curtis’s Love Actually (2003).

Understanding Screenwriting #91: The Artist, War Horse, Red Tails, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #91: <em>The Artist</em>, <em>War Horse</em>, <em>Red Tails</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #91: <em>The Artist</em>, <em>War Horse</em>, <em>Red Tails</em>, & More

Coming Up in This Column: The Artist, War Horse, Red Tails, Crazy Horse, Miss Bala, Safe House, Some Print Items, The Power and the Glory, Hail the Conquering Hero, but first…

Fan Mail: “mindbodylightsound” took me to task for some errors about Tinker Tailor. He has obviously seen the miniseries more recently than I have and/or he has a better memory than I do. I have been meaning to look at it again for several years and now I have to. I also love “mindbodylightsound’s” subtle reading of LeCarré’s themes of “malleable identity,” and the idea that “the service was full of people who lie for a living because their own lives were lies.” That’s the best one-line take on that aspect of LeCarré I’ve read.

Now for some comments on David Ehrenstein’s comments. Tinker Tailor is about MI6 rather than MI5. For those of you who don’t follow British Intelligence, MI6 is sort of the equivalent of the C.I.A., and MI5 is sort of the equivalent of the F.B.I.. MI5 and MI6 collaborate a least a little bit better than the C.I.A. and F.B.I..

An Englishman Abroad, a 1983 made-for-television movie, stars actress Coral Browne as herself, meeting Guy Burgess, one of the Cambridge Five, in Moscow where Burgess was not so happily living after his defection. As David says, it is enormously entertaining.
David says, “On the Sturges front it seems obvious to me that separating the great man’s writing from his directing is well-nigh impossible.” Difficult yes, but not impossible. Yes, when the writer is directing it is particularly difficult, unless you have access to the writer-director’s mind 24/7. It is a little easier when the writer and director are two different people, as we have been demonstrating in this column for nearly four years now. One of the reasons I took on the Sturges Project was to deal with that combination of writer-director in one person. If you look over the Sturges items, you will see I am trying, perhaps unsuccessfully, to nail down his contributions in both crafts. But in any film, especially good ones like the ones we have talked about, the writing and direction flow together, as David says in his discussion of Sturges’s use of Bracken and Hutton.
As for David’s friend Ignatz Ratskiwatscki, I lost track of him after he and his longtime companion George Kaplan moved to the country of Slavatania and set up their gynecology clinic.

The Artist (2011. Scenario and dialogue by Michel Hazanavicius. 100 minutes.)

I enjoyed it, but less and less as it went along: This is one of those films, like Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010), that was on my radar for a long time before I saw it. It first got my attention when it played at Cannes last spring, and it has been collecting awards and nominations and great reviews ever since. It has even produced a backlash, as most highly acclaimed films do sooner or later. Fortunately, unlike Uncle Boonmee (see US#72 for my comments on that one), The Artist is a much better script and picture. It starts out great but, alas, eventually slows down.

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions Picture

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Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Picture
Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Picture

That the Best Picture category’s “Will it be six or will it be seven?” question was settled as close to 10 as possible without actually being 10 isn’t merely a mark of how much of a mess this year’s Oscars are. It’s also proof positive that, despite paying lip service to the hundreds of films “eligible” to be nominated for Best Picture, by the time publicists and studios have had their say, there are never more than maybe two dozen movies in the mix. If nine movies in this hardly vintage year could reach the minimum requirement of being listed first on five percent of all ballots, then frankly the bar isn’t high enough. Even if the board of directors fixes what they’ve broken and revert next year to the five-deep slate, no matter how heartening it is for fans of The Tree of Life (which exists in an entirely different league from the rest of the other nominees) or Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (ditto), it can’t seem like much of an honor to be nominated now that the category’s perverse sliding scale has revealed just how limited Oscar voters obviously see their pool of choices.

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions Editing

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Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Editing
Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Editing

When it comes to film editing, dubbed by so many as “the invisible art,” marveling at how rhythmically one shot feeds another is hardly sufficient in predicting an Oscar winner. If it were that simple, Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall, who linked motorbike zooms to serial-killer string-ups and helped The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo feel like half of its 158 minutes, would take this trophy in a walk. That’s just what the Fincher-backing duo did last year, for their equally riveting chop job on The Social Network. But Fincher’s latest is hardly a contender like his zeitgeist-y Zuckerberg epic, leaving it a tased and tatted victim of the politics of this race. If you’re not a Bourne Ultimatum or a Black Hawk Down or a Matrix, firing more dizzying, whiz-bang splices at the audience than obstacles in a first-person shooter, you’d best be a Best Picture frontrunner.

Ranking Oscar’s 2012 Nominees

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Ranking Oscar’s 2012 Nominees
Ranking Oscar’s 2012 Nominees

The 84th Academy Awards will be held this upcoming Sunday at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, California. A total of 61 films received nominations in 24 categories, and with the exception of Footnote, The Muppets, and W.E., I’ve seen them all. Most of them I wish I hadn’t, but such are the perils of this job. Below, a ranked list, from best to worst, of the 58 films I’ve seen.

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions Sound Mixing

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Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing
Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing

A lot of pundits think Hugo’s love train through the tech categories will stall out before reaching the sound duo toward the bottom of the ballot, and that War Horse will gallop past it to win by a nose. (God help us, by the time we reach this late stage in the Oscar game, we’re resorting to hacky “derby” puns just like the rest of the bored and fatigued bloggers.) They may have a point in the sense that the general perception surrounding Martin Scorsese’s movie is that it’s liked, but not beloved. It feels like the sort of movie that most voters will toss two, maybe three bones to before realizing, “Hey, I spent half that screener chewing out Conchata and trying to contact my Realtor on the phone.” They may also have a point in that the team behind Steven Spielberg’s (arguably even less beloved) movie has 10 Oscars to their credit already, whereas Hugo’s nominees haven’t won any yet. They may additionally even still have yet one further point in that Hugo’s visuals are far more attention-getting than the active but hardly bombastic aural environment. Sonically speaking, Hugo is a quick round of “La Marseillaise” next to War Horse’s “1812 Overture.” That still positions them both in the comfortable middle ground among this field. Moneyball is as subtle and pianissimo as “The Unanswered Question,” and beyond the creepy music video that opens the film, so is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Transformers: Dark of the Moon, on the other hand, is basically this. Since the Los Angeles Times statistically proved the majority of Oscar voters wear hearing aids, we’re almost tempted to call Optimus Prime the spoiler. But it’s almost as unwise to bet on a sound mixing/editing split as it is to predict picture and director to diverge, so we say the clattering tears of Hugo Cabret’s steampunk Pinocchio win over the equine snorts of a blubbering WWI-era twink’s best friend.

Oscar Winner Predictions 2012 Sound Editing

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Oscar Winner Predictions 2012: Sound Editing
Oscar Winner Predictions 2012: Sound Editing

I have a fetish for deafness. I’ve long tried to unpack this fetish for whatever psychological or sapiosexual clues it holds for my own psyche, but at about this time every year, I suspect the proclivity reveals nothing so complicated as my own jealousy over those who don’t have to spend any time whatsoever trying to parse the Academy Awards’ two—count ’em, two—sound categories. One alone would constitute the most boringest award of the evening. Two is just gilding the scentless lily. So here we are again, trying to remember just what, precisely, the difference is between sound editing and sound mixing, and wondering on top of that whether Oscar voters at large know the difference either. (Whatever the difference is can be found in the disparity between Drive, which is in this category, and Moneyball, which is in the other.) For the record, sound mixing is the sort of umbrella sound category, whereas sound editing represents the “special effects” angle of movie sonics.

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions Cinematography

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Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Cinematography
Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Cinematography

Cinephiles everywhere (well, at least the ones who waste time and wishes on the Academy Awards) have been conjuring up the spirits of Sven Nyqvist, John Alcott, Gregg Toland, and James Wong Howe in an attempt to see to an alarmingly overdue Emmanuel Lubezki finally win this category. One would think they wouldn’t need to resort to such desperate measures, since not only do The Tree of Life’s detractors have to admit the film at its worst still acts as the world’s greatest sizzle reel for Lubezki’s talents, but there’s scarcely a precursor award that hasn’t gone his way this year. But so what? Lubezki, now on his fifth Oscar nomination, had every reason in the world to collect in 2006 for Children of Men, but the disappointing, if not unpredictable, win for Guillermo Navarro’s work on Pan’s Labyrinth made a clear statement: Overall momentum is all that matters in the tech categories.

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions Original Score

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Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Original Score
Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Original Score

At the risk of milking a joke whose teets have been sore for weeks, The Artist’s musical score will do just fine without Kim Novak’s vote. In the hierarchy of Oscar scandals, which have a way of surfacing every season (just ask THR subscribers), the ire of an old Hitchcock muse is meager compared to blockbuster-bashing emails and history’s tackiest FYC ads. So, rest easy, Ludovic Bource, for your rape charges won’t take you the way of Herman Cain, and few Academy members will be able to resist the sprightly notes subbed in for Jean Dujardin’s dialogue. If anything, The Artist’s perfectly legal Vertigo sampling will strengthen that skim-off-the-cream nostalgia, which has yet to relent in its ability to charm the Depends off Novak’s peers.