2012 Oscar & Year-end Review

February, 2013, Commentary


2012: An Oscar & Year-End Wrap-up

What a difference a month makes; following the surprisingly creative repackaging of James Bond in Skyfall over Thanksgiving weekend, Hollywood disgorged a host of interesting films in time for the annual awards hunt which will culminate later this month when the Oscars are awarded.  I’ve been busy seeing movies during this period but sadly not able to write about them individually, so what follows is an attempt to sum up the year and its awards races as succulently as possible. 

In the last two months, I’ve seen 8 & ½ movies; (had to walk out on Anna Karenina out of sheer boredom) and with a pair of exceptions, they were among the best the year had to offer. From A Royal Affair, Denmark’s Oscar-nominee as Best Foreign Language Film to the delicately nuanced A Last Quartet, with it’s crisp ensemble acting and ravenous musical score, the year’s final crop of selections rescued audiences expectations once again. Here are some

 Short Takes

Lincoln-turned out to be everything its colossal promotional campaign promised; literate, exciting, handsomely mounted and superbly acted. Tony Kushner’s screenplay & Daniel Day Lewis deserve the Oscars they’ll probably win. Although the very nature of the storyline often made the production fairly static, Spielberg demonstrates once again that he possesses a unique blend of directorial skill & flair for the commercially successful. 

Zero Dark Thirty- deserves the controversy it’s generated; this unblinking examination of the CIA’s pursuit and elimination of Osama Bin Laden has the grim authenticity of a tour through a processed food-making plant, making director Kathryn Bigelow’s follow-up to The Hurt Locker one of the best (and most disturbing) movies of the year. 

 Silver Linings Playbook-Don’t believe all the hype; this one’s just another (and more egregious) example of Hollywood’s capacity to turn vapid treacle into supposedly insightful cinema. Bolstered by fine performances and decimated by its howlingly awful script, the only awards this one should win are for the perseverance of its cast in the face of such awful lines.

 The Last Quartet-Almost no one seems to have seen this quiet, beautifully composed examination of personnel changes in a string quartet. Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman & Catherine Keener enchant as 3/4ths of a string quartet facing the physical decline of their leader.  Uneven in spots, but first-time director Yaron Zilberman has earned his next half dozen films with this one. An overlooked gem.

 Django Unchained-Well, it’s finally happened; director Quentin Tarantino, the cinematic equivalent of Andy Warhol, has finally made a boring movie. Despite patches of the director’s usual frenetic brilliance, this one’s over-long, over-acted and over-praised.  Mixing 1960’s black exploitation techniques with his patented verve for tackling serious themes, Tarantino’s turned out a film which purports to be a serious “in your face” examination of American slavery…but a turgid performance by Jamie Foxx and a ridiculously overacted one by Leonardo Di Caprio drain this florid effort of any honest impact it might have had. The director should focus on current pop culture and leave historical examinations to someone else.

 Rust & Bone-This French examination of human flesh – brutal, erotic and self-absorbed – comes imbued with a Gallic existentialist viewpoint as it examines a thuggish street fighter and his handicapped business manager. Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead) and Marion Cotillard (La vie en rose) bring more than a fair measure of plausibility and affection to a pair of lovers as unlikely as they are initially unattractive. Actors often have to rise above their material; this pair does, in contrast with the cast of Silver Linings Playbook.

 The Impossible-Fact-based dramatic stories do not always make for outstanding films. This examination of a family’s survival in the wake of Thailand’s tsunami of a few years ago provides gripping initial disaster scenes, then settles for a rather smarmy reunion. Naomi Watts garnered a Best Actress Nomination, but it’s not enough to justify paying for this one.

 Anna Karenina-I can count on the finger of one hand the number of movies I’ve walked out on in my life-and this should have been abandoned even earlier. Stunning cinematography and dazzling costuming doesn’t make up for turning his epic Russian novel into a jumbled costume drama apparently conceived and executed by someone seeking to replace Anna Wintour as the world’s fashion queen.

 Unfortunate Gaps:

The Life of Pi, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Amour, Les Misérables, Moonrise Kingdom  - - just a few of the well-reviewed films that haven’t (as yet) played a nearby theater…I hope to catch up with them on disc if not before…</p>

 Parting shots:

 It isn’t often that Oscar manages to recognize the year’s best films with at least 1 or more nominations: The Master, The Intouchables, Bernie, ARGO & The Sessions are getting a brief –and much deserved – return to the spotlight because of their contributions during 2012. In fact, I’ll close with the observation that ARGO deserves the best picture statuette, despite the overwhelming support for Lincoln. Ben Affleck’s third outing behind the camera represents the best of what commercial movie-making is all about; quality content, seamless production values, appropriately underplayed performances … and a gripping script.  See ARGO if you haven’t, or see it again if you already have, but don’t miss it!



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