This is embarrassing.
Not for me, of course. I’m not the one who hit delete on whatever folder led to the desperate phone call I got at 4:30 in the afternoon on Saturday. I’m actually pretty flattered, considering all the time and energy I’ve spent writing about how much I don’t like awards season. See, there’s been a catastrophe at Price Waterhouse (1) and the Academy has been scrambling for the last few days to figure out how to handle it (2). Someone must have decided that it is my healthy disdain for the process that made me perfect to help them fix things, and as a result, I have been asked to step in this year and pick every single Academy Award on my own (3).
The weirder part is that they not only lost the winners, but the nominees and the categories, and so I’ve got to put it all back together. I’m pretty sure I got most of this right, and perhaps in a few cases, I’ve made slightly different choices than the Academy would have. Perhaps.
You tell me… as today wraps up this year’s edition of what increasingly feels like a Bataan Death March… what movies would you like to celebrate today, whether they were nominated or not? Because if that’s what today is genuinely supposed to be about, and if the Oscars are just a conversation starter, then what movies from 2012 would you like to celebrate one last time before we all move on to 2013?
BEST DOCUMENTARY, FEATURE
By far the best documentary I saw last year was “The Act Of Killing,” but that’s going to have to wait to win the Oscar next year because Drafthouse Films is set to release that to theaters in July of this year. I’m sure that the Oscars once again nominated documentaries based entirely on merit and they included absolutely everything that should be included because they never ever get it wrong or overlook anything.
There were two documentaries I saw last year that felt genuinely important, impeccably crafted and urgent in terms of how they approached their subject matter. Kirby Dick has a long history of great work, and “The Invisible War” is yet another impressive and important piece of work. “How To Survive A Plague” is a truly great piece on activism in the face of apathy, and while we aren’t yet at enough of a remove to speak of AIDS in any sort of past tense, this felt like a milestone on the way to that, and it is bracing to realize just how far we’ve come. Ron Fricke’s “Samsara” may not be a traditional documentary, but it is another ravishing exercise from a guy who’s been turning footage of our world into otherworldly imagery for almost 40 years now. I like documentaries about regular people, too, and “The American Scream” is a doc that does a remarkable job at capturing the way passion defines the lives of three main characters, just as “Indie Game: The Movie” was excellent at showing how much of oneself you must put into any piece of art if you want it to work.
For me, though, I have to vote with my heart, and there was one documentary last year that pulled it all together, that worked as pure film craft, a beautiful, simple, hypnotic piece that made my body hungry just as much as it fed my soul. It is my distinct honor to award this particular Oscar to…
“Jiro Dreams Of Sushi”
BEST DOCUMENTARY, SHORT SUBJECT
BEST SHORT FILM, ANIMATED
BEST SHORT FILM, LIVE ACTION
I don’t know. I really don’t. I don’t see enough of any of these three forms to even begin to give this one. “Paperman” sure was pretty, though.
BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN MUSIC WRITTEN FOR MOTION PICTURES, ORIGINAL SCORE
I’m always intrigued by a new Bond score. I like to take my time with it, listen to it repeatedly, see how each new composer plays with the traditional theme while also finding their own way to sign the series. I think Thomas Newman’s “Skyfall” score is a pretty grand one for the series and for the year. Mychael Danna’s “Life Of Pi” score is pretty much exactly what it had to be if that film was going to work. So much of what audiences feel in that film is because Danna knows exactly what button to press.
But this isn’t even fair. It’s pretty obvious what the best piece of original music written for a film was this year, and what the best score was, and in part, it’s because the film is about the creation of that piece of music. When that’s the case, you’ve got to deliver something genuinely great or the film doesn’t work, and the first time I heard the theme from “Cloud Atlas,” I got chills. I admired Tom Tykwer before this, but this year, his abilities as a composer are what made me re-evaluate him. He is one of three names on the film, and they all deserve to be saluted for producing something that stands on its own as one of the best recordings of the year, regardless of origin…
Original Score composed by Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek, Tom Tykwer
BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN MUSIC WRITTEN FOR MOTION PICTURES, ORIGINAL SONG
I mean, come on. Duh.
Adele, Paul Epworth
BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND MIXING
Yeah, I’m pretty sure this is one of those places where my pick is exactly what the Academy had here the first time around, and that’s because when you’re talking about sound mixing, especially the on-set variety, there are several schools of thought. Take a look at that trailer for “The Great Gatsby” right now. I’m betting there are maybe four words in that whole trailer that were actually recorded on the set. That’s fine. Baz Luhrmann loves that sort of control over the wholly artificial worlds he creates on film. But when making “Les Miserables,” Tom Hooper’s goal was to be able to use live tracks for the whole film, and when you’re talking about recording something live that you will use in the final mix, they hired the best in the business. It does not remotely surprise me that they were nominated, and if you can ever truly be said to “deserve” an award, this is one of those times.
Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, Simon Hayes
BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN VISUAL EFFECTS
At this point, the best achievement in visual effects is going to start going to “the character I believed in the most,” because that seems to be where the real cutting edge exists at the moment. This year, I can think of three performances that exist only in the digital realm that really blew me away, and any of the three films would be worthy of recognition in this category.
I may not have loved “Life Of Pi,” but my issues are textual, not visual. I think it is impeccably crafted, and there are things about the film that I find amazing, and Richard Parker is one of those things. Getting an animal right is not easy because of all those little behaviors that make an organic living breathing thing so… well, alive. But the Rhythm & Hues team did it, and they did it so well that their work is literally the co-start of the movie. It’s one thing to make a movie that has the Hulk in it, but it’s quite a different thing to make a Hulk that people love, that is so interesting that when he’s not onscreen, people are rooting for him to change. “The Avengers” is a game changer for The Hulk on film, and audiences around the world believed in him so much in the film that it should’t be a surprise that he’s going to be a major player in the “Avengers” franchise moving forward. Then, of course, there is the performance that I think best proves again just how remarkable the rewards are when you have the right FX team, the right technical tools, and the right performer. The only reason people aren’t throwing more awards at this team is because they have made the miraculous seem everyday simply by being so good at what they do. Regardless of what you think of the film overall, there is no doubt in my mind that this team won their award fair and square, because Gollum is still the most amazing digital character I’ve ever seen…
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”
Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, R. Christopher White
They have this, right? Because of course they do. One of the things that Hollywood uses to sell their films are the images of the insane things stunt people do in front of cameras, so why wouldn’t they award the men and women who not only put themselves in harm’s way, but the ones who coordinate that mayhem and make sure it can be done with as little real danger as possible.
“Haywire” works because Soderbergh knows how to make it feel like things are about to actually spin out of control. The high-wire work in “The Amazing Spider-Man” is one of the reasons the character felt like he was really swinging through the city… this time, he was. The bike messengers in “Premium Rush” got a whole lot of digital help, but there are still some moments in the film where the whole charge comes from knowing some lunatic actually did what we’re seeing. “The Bourne Legacy,” “The Expendables 2,” and even “Dredd” all did their best to keep the importance of real stunts front and center.
But at the end of the day, there’s one film that seems to me to exemplify what it is action fans look for when they see a film that is driven in some way by the quality of its stunt work. “Skyfall” isn’t “Skyfall” without the driving, the fighting on the train, the quick frantic fight in that dark office, or any of a dozen other stunt-driven moments. Overall, it is one elegant dive from a bridge that I find myself returning to when considering this list, and so this Oscar goes to…
Gary Powell, Diz Sharpe, Roger Yuan, Amy Verge
BEST OPENING TITLE SEQUENCE
BEST SINGLE IMAGE
For me, it’s hard sometimes to take an image out of context, but we’ve all seen those moments in a movie where suddenly everything comes together in an image that sums up not only that film, but a bigger idea as well. In “Take This Waltz,” there is a moment with Luke Kirby and Michelle Williams on a sort of a tilt-a-whirl that manages to turn “Video Killed The Radio Star” into the most jubilant and beautiful love song ever written, and there are about 30 different looks that Michelle Williams flashes him in the scene that communicate volumes about desire and attraction and lust. It is an exceptional moment from an exceptional film, and it totally deserves this award…
“Take This Waltz”
Sarah E. Polley, director
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM OF THE YEAR
There are so many animated films every year now, and I still think there’s a frustrating myopia in our business that makes no sense. Why did we decide early on, en masse, that animation is strictly for children? Anything you can imagine, you can draw, and with animation, you can make subtext into image, you can tackle any subject and be as abstract or concrete as you choose, and you can render typical budgetary concerns moot in many ways. And yet, for the most part, every single animated film seems to be aimed directly at children, with occasional nods made to the adults in the audience almost out of obligation.
I liked many of the animated films that came out this year, but there’s one in particular that seemed like it was trying to push the medium forward, even if just in steps. It was not an adult movie, but it definitely plays older than many films released for that audience, and it played with some fairly sophisticated emotional ideas. It also stands as an example of an old form that has been revitalized and refined through technology without ever losing the significance of the human touch to the final product.
Sam Fell, Chris Butler
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM OF THE YEAR
I know “Amour” has been a freight train this year, but that’s not even the best French-language film of the year, so it certainly can’t win the overall category. I saw some great movies from around the world this year, but anyone who has been reading this column all year long knows full well what I’m going to pick here, and I’m just happy I got to help correct what would have been looked back on later as a horrifying injustice. Michael Haneke will have plenty of other invites to the dance, but Leos Carax is one of those Cinema Bigfoots, elusive, only rarely glimpsed, and quite possibly magical. He certainly delivered one of the year’s most exciting and profound films, and so I am pleased to give the Oscar to…
BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN CINEMATOGRAPHY
Cinematography is not about making pretty pictures. It can be if that’s the kind of film you’re making, but ultimately, this is a discipline that is all about delivering an emotional landscape that is appropriate to the story being told, and the best cinematographers are the ones who deliver the exact world that the director is hoping to bring to life. Robert Richardson and Roger Deakins are both world-class and deeply respected for the right reasons, and “Django Unchained” and “Skyfall” both glow because those guys did everything right. Anthony Dod Mantle’s grimy work on “Dredd” is very impressive, especially when people are using Slo-Mo, the drug that helps drive the film. One film, though, featured work so jaw-dropping that every conversation I had about this film began with how it looked, and for once, it’s not because of bells and whistles. It’s just because of the muscular visual plan that spun such a persuasive world around the actors in it. I feel good about this one, and I think looking back, people are going to see this not only as a strong film thematically, but as one of the loveliest moments in the death throes of shooting on film.
Mihai Malaimare, Jr.
BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN EDITING
How can anyone who was not in the room, looking at the choices available and the footage shot and the various takes from each actor, have any idea how to hand out this award? Editing, especially when it’s flawlessly accomplished, is an invisible art, based on hundreds of things that the audience never sees.
In short, I’m not giving this award out because I maintain most people have no idea why they’re voting for whatever they’re voting for.
BEST WRITING, SCREENPLAY WRITTEN DIRECTLY FOR THE SCREEN
Anyone can have a good idea for a movie. But turning that good idea into something compelling and honest and well-built is incredibly difficult, especially in an industry where writers are subject to the whims of almost everyone in the film production food chain. Everyone wants to feel like they played some part in making the script work, and it is a miracle that writers do not melt down and burn down executive office buildings more often. This year, I thought there were plenty of nominees whose work really shone.
I thought “Ruby Sparks” was a movie that shouldn’t have worked as well as it did, but the small human details kept that high concept grounded and made some tremendous points about how it never works to try to control or re-shape the people we love. “The Cabin In The Woods” is a fiendishly clever piece that not only pays homage to many of the conventions of the genre, but it also turns them inside out and sets them in a context that offers up some big ideas about the merits of the genre as a whole. “Looper” is so much more than the time travel high-concept that the film is built around, and I think it offers up some pretty haunting ideas about parenthood and responsibility. “Moonrise Kingdom,” “Django Unchained,” “Seven Psychopaths”… all stand as examples where there is a self-referential playfulness that still leaves plenty of room for a genuine emotional experience. For my winner, though, I have to pick the script that I think said the most, that digs deepest, and that gave me something to think about that felt new. After all the awards already heaped on this film (I mean, I get that it’s great, but wow, a clean sweep of every precursor? Amazing to behold.), it almost feels redundant, but can you imagine a world where everyone had somehow forgotten this one while discussing the best films of the year? Madness. Let’s be sane and give the Oscar to…
“Take This Waltz”
Sarah E. Polley
BEST WRITING, SCREENPLAY BASED ON MATERIAL PREVIOUSLY PRODUCED OR PUBLISHED
I think Joe Carnahan did a great job working with Ian Mackenzie Jeffers to turn his short story “Ghost Walker” into a haunting and beautiful movie about manhood, and “The Grey” deserves a script nomination at the very least. Tracy Letts has turned into William Friedkin’s muse at this surprisingly late date, and “Killer Joe” once again seemed like a perfect match of filmmaker and material. I think David O. Russell’s adaptation of “Silver Linings Playbook” is pretty canny, finding a film that has resonated loudly with many audiences. The same is true of the “Life Of Pi” adaptation that David Magee did from Yann Martel’s novel. If you’ve read David Wong’s novel, you know that Don Coscarelli did not have it easy turning “John Dies At The End” into a film, but boy did he work overtime to preserve the book’s loopy sensibilities. “Cloud Atlas” looked impossible on the page, but somehow, Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer found the book’s beating heart and wrestled it up onto the screen. One adaptation in particular, though, struck me as especially sensitive, and Stephen Chbosky deserves credit for maintaining a novelist’s voice while absolutely turning his novel into something that lives and breathes as a film, and for that reason, the Oscar goes to…
“The Perks Of Being A Wallflower”
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
People argue about what really qualifies for “supporting” all the time, but I don’t think it’s how much screen time you have, but rather how important your time onscreen is to the lead in the film, and how well you give that person something to play off of. The supporting categories are all about the assist, and there were plenty of examples to point at this year of people doing it right. For example, Logan Lerman may be the lead in “The Perks Of Being A Wallflower,” but that film is impossible to imagine without Ezra Miller as Patrick. Sam Rockwell may have some tics and tricks he brings to every role, but they rarely coalesce in the way they did in his hilarious performance in “Seven Psychopaths.” I think Robert De Niro’s work in “Silver Linings Playbook” is amazing because it seems like the first time in forever that he’s been fully engaged, making subtle choices, and it reminds me of the De Niro I worshipped as a teenager. Bruce Willis doesn’t have a huge role in “Moonrise Kingdom,” but his broken heart casts a potent mood over the film, and in the end, he’s the one who brings Anderson’s stylistic doodle to a powerful emotional conclusion. Matthew McConaughey should win this award this year simply for being so good at supporting in so many films, with “Killer Joe” and “Magic Mike” serving as his high points for the year, but in the end, I have to give this to an actor who was equally omnipresent this year. In one role, this performer managed to give our national shame human form, including all the horrifying social contradictions inherent to slavery in his remarkable performance as Steven. Yes, it’s true… the Oscar goes to…
Samuel L. Jackson
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Can’t argue with Amy Adams as a choice here for her work in “The Master.” With a character arc that was subtle to the point of invisible, she still manages to suggest the real power dynamic in that house with laser accuracy. Anne Hathaway sure does sing her ass off for that one scene, and it’s a doozy, but she exists in her own film. She’s not supporting the movie… the movie feels more like an excuse for her big moment. Rosemarie Dewitt’s work in “Your Sister’s Sister”… that’s more like what I’m talking about. Kylie Minogue only has a few moments onscreen in “Holy Motors,” but she manages to suggest a whole lifetime of shared experiences in those few brief moments. Rebel Wilson pretty much steals “Pitch Perfect” out from under everyone, and she deserves praise for doing so. But for me, the supporting performance of the year, male or female, is a withering portrait of what happens when you manage to take someone’s character flaws and weaponize them, and i am so haunted by her work that I have no choice but to give the Oscar to…
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
I will never understand how people can go see something like “Skyfall” and then not immediately want to heap rewards on Daniel Craig for the way he’s managed to find his own voice for James Bond. Turning an icon into something recognizably human is no small trick, and Craig has given us a Bond that feels vibrant and alive even 50 years into the franchise. Liam Neeson’s a one-man Irish wake in “The Grey,” and the very real heartbreak that he was wrestling with during production helped create a potent and powerful portrait of grief. And in any other year, I would have given Joaquin Phoenix the award instantly for his work as Freddie Quell. It is a bold and almost unhinged performance, and Phoenix vanishes into it in a way that is persuasive and terrifying. I would feel equally driven to reward Daniel Day Lewis for playing the title role in “Lincoln,” but his is an understated greatness this time out. No, for me, there’s only one male performance this year that I feel redefines what acting is in the 21st century, and I have to give the gold to someone this next level. He doesn’t just play one role here, but rather plays acting itself, the ability to step in and out of different lives and different skins, and I have a feeling we’re going to be studying this performance for decades to come.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Juno Temple is a bruised little bird in “Killer Joe,” and if we don’t feel something towards her, then the film doesn’t work. She is electrifying playing this walking scar, and she floored me both times I saw the film. Mary Elizabeth Winstead does an exceptional job of externalizing the turmoil of recovery in “Smashed,” and she gets bonus points for the way she breaks Nick Offerman’s heart in the movie. If you judge “best” by how well someone does what they were hired to do, I have about 75 broken bones that would like to make a case for Gina Carano’s work in “Haywire.” Emily Blunt is so quietly great that people seem not to notice how amazing she is in things like “Your Sister’s Sister,” and at this point, people seem to take the tremendous work done by Marion Cotillard in “Rust and Bone” as a given. Something to be expected. Emmanuelle Riva’s slow slide into helplessness in “Amour” was brutally difficult to sit through, while Jennifer Lawrence’s effervescent attitude in “Silver Linings Playbook” was almost impossible to look away from. Halle Berry made me like her again by being so game for the elaborate shell game of “Cloud Atlas,” and Anne Hathaway wore her black leathers like a boss in “The Dark Knight Rises,” bringing a carnal heat to Gotham for the first time in Nolan’s series. Jessica Chastain will probably rack up another 4000 nominations in her career, and she’ll deserve every single one of them, just like she deserved the one for “Zero Dark Thirty.” But since I’m the one giving the awards this year, I’m giving this one to the performance that affected me most deeply, the one where it felt like an actress just opened up her chest and somehow spilled her heart out onto the screen. She takes an indefensible decision and makes it feel urgent and necessary and she manages to stay sympathetic even as she burns down her own perfectly good marriage. I honestly think she’s one of the very best we have working today, and it pleases me to no end to give the Oscar to…
“Take This Waltz”
BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTING
I’m going to give this out for the director who has the clearest voice this year, the one who managed to wrangle all the unlikely elements of their film into something that felt coherent and organic and whole. I’m just as impressed by the relatively inexperienced Stephen Chbosky and his attempts to bring his own high school experience to life as I am by the restraint demonstrated by Steven Spielberg on “Lincoln.” I think William Friedkin’s overheated lunacy is like a fine wine in “Killer Joe” in much the same way that I felt like Joe Wright’s audacious visual approach to “Anna Karenina” pays off in something beautiful and thrilling. “Django Unchained” feels a little shaggier than most of Tarantino’s films, but there’s still such a muscular sense of creation that I have to give it up. Sarah Polley’s beautiful “Take This Waltz” depends on her eye for detail and the particularly feminine sensibility that she brings to the way she tells the story, while Kathryn Biegelow’s clinical eye in “Zero Dark Thirty” is crucial to the way that film works. One film jumps out at me, though, as a master class in how to do things your own way, without hesitation or fear or compromise, and I hope winning this award will convince this guy to be more prolific. One film a decade… that’s all I ask.
BEST MOTION PICTURE OF THE YEAR
And finally, we get down to the big one. It’s hard enough for me to pick my own personal favorite film of any given year, but when you’re talking about this Oscar, you want to pick something that encapsulates where we were as an industry this year, that somehow packs all of the experiences we’ve had at cinemas this year into one digestible shape, something that stands as summation as much as cinema. I loved many films this year, and certainly I’d be happy to see “Take This Waltz” or “Django Unchained” or “Cloud Atlas” or “The Perks Of Being A Wallflower” take the statue.
But when we talk of 2012 in the future, I want to plant a flag that says that we were well aware of what a masterpiece the year produced, and that we were proud to see our entire industry somehow captured perfectly by a Frenchman who has never worked inside the system. He took his own broken heart, fresh from a family tragedy, and turned it into a film that says everything about cinema and pretend and storytelling and our modern life, all without spelling things out explicitly. There is room for you to have your own experience with the film, and it goes out of its way to never make explicit that which it can accomplish in pure, surreal expressionism. I have seen the film five times already, and I know I’ve just barely scratched the surface, so I feel very strongly about this one. Come on up and take that bow, Leos Carax, because you absolutely made 2012’s greatest movie, and we are thrilled to present the Oscar to…
And on that note, we’re done. Please tune in tonight to watch Seth Macfarlane try to build some dance numbers around “Cloud Atlas” and “Holy Motors,” and I can’t wait to hear what Leos Carax has to say about his amazing film when he finally takes the stage to pick up his statue. I feel like I pretty much just reproduced the awards as they were originally given, and I’m sure the Academy will use my picks instead of desperately trying to find the original voting totals. I hope you don’t mind me helping them out this way, and that you are equally pleased by my choices.
If you’re not, though, then tell me… if the Academy came to you and said you had to pick all the awards again yourself, without restriction, what would you have rewarded? What movies summed up this year best for you? And if you could be the one-person Oscar voting committee, what values would you consider most important when picking your winners?
We now return you to your regular movie year, already in progress.
“The 85th Annual Academy Awards” begins broadcasting live from Hollywood today at 8:30 PM EST, 5:30 PM PST.
(1) No, there hasn’t.
(2) No, they haven’t.
(3) No, I haven’t.