Monday, February 25, 2013

The 2012 Markademy Awards

Since greatness is an ongoing process,* the Markademy Awards have undergone a bit of a format change.  This year, the MAs are coming after the actual Oscars.  My logic is that the Academy Awards were basically just a guideline since, y'know, I can give my opinion on the year in movies at virtually any time.  No reason to be a tool of the system, MAN.  Plus, my 'should wins' and 'will wins' always fell a little flat since everyone usually knows what'll win each Oscar category anyway and the 'should wins' ended up being the bulk of it, since it's an opinion-based piece.  So, all opinion, all the time.  If you weren't tired enough of my BS, this may be a long read.

* = maybe the most pretentious sentence I've ever written.  Greatness may be ongoing but snobbery just sits there like a lump.

There is at least one instance where I openly discuss a film's plot here, by the way, so be warned in advance about spoilers.  For instance, at the end of Zero Dark Thirty….they get Bin Laden!  U-S-A!  U-S-A!

Oscar nominees: Jessica Chastain/Zero Dark Thirty, Jennifer Lawrence/Silver Linings Playbook, Emmanuelle Riva/Amour, Quvenzhane Wallis/Beasts Of The Southern Wild, Naomi Watts/The Impossible
Oscar winner: Lawrence
Should've won: Lawrence

Alterna-ballot: Amy Acker/Much Ado About Nothing, Emayatzy Corinealdi/Middle Of Nowhere, Marion Cotillard/Rust & Bone, Maggie Smith/Quartet, Mary Elizabeth Winstead/Smashed
My ballot: Acker, Corinealdi, Cotillard, Lawrence, Winstead
My winner: Marion Cotillard

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I am totally in the tank for Marion Cotillard.  She is my favourite actress and her presence alone will get me into a movie theatre.  Even if I hear her next role is as Adam Sandler's wife, I will hold my nose and buy a ticket.*  It's therefore no surprise that she's getting the Markademy Award this year but she more than deserves it and it's stunning that Cotillard got snubbed by the Oscars.  What the hell beat her out?  A nine-year-old?  Chastain's warmed-over Carrie Mathison?  Watts doing this for two hours?  Come on! 

* = I shouldn't even joke about that horrifying scenario.  It would be too painful.  

Cotillard will take Watts' physical trauma and raise it by the order of two prosthetic legs.  It's a wonderful performance that doesn't pander either way --- Stephanie doesn't wallow in her disability nor does she fully embrace it, it's just her reality now and that's that.  It's possibly Cotillard's best performance yet and yes, I still somehow haven't seen La Vie En Rose yet which seems impossible but still, surely it has to be in the ballpark, right?

As for Jennifer Lawrence, she was possibly on the fringe of a nomination anyway as Katniss Everdeen and she certainly deserved her Oscar, even with the underwhelming field of nominees.  She is also apparently a one-woman meme generator given how all of her most memorable moments of Oscar Night happened after the show.  I presume this is her way of trying to make people forget her trip up the stairs, and I'm sorry, but it's her own fault for not wearing the flaming dress from Hunger Games.

Oscar nominees: Bradley Cooper/Silver Linings Playbook, Daniel Day-Lewis/Lincoln, Hugh Jackman/Les Miserables, Joaquin Phoenix/The Master, Denzel Washington/Flight
Oscar winner: Day-Lewis
Should've won: Day-Lewis, I guess

Alterna-ballot: Jack Black/Bernie, John Hawkes/The Sessions, Philip Seymour Hoffman/The Master, Denis Levant/Holy Motors, Adam Scott/Friends With Kids
My ballot: Black, Cooper, Day-Lewis, Hawkes, Washington
My winner: Jack Black

Let's be honest, "DDL playing Abraham Lincoln" is the biggest Oscar nomination slam dunk of all time.  I don't think he was unstoppable since while he was good, Day-Lewis' performance was (like the movie itself) a bit rote.  He didn't exactly go out on a limb in playing Lincoln as a thoroughly decent sage of a man, accurate as it may have been.  That said, DDL only would've lost had he been up against something truly extraordinary or (when he lost to Adrien Brody in 2002) something with unbeatable momentum.  Denzel was excellent but gave "a Denzel Washington performance."  Jackman was excellent but given his theatre chops, Valjean wasn't a big reach.  I don't think half the people knew what to make of what Phoenix was doing, myself included.  Cooper hit a new career high and I was tempted to make him my pick just because I didn't think he had it in him, but I dunno, at the end of the day, I can't really say that 100% Cooper tops 75-80% Day-Lewis.

Of course, I'm a hypocrite since my Markademy Award winner is in fact an actor I'm awarding in large part because he really branched out.  Jack Black, as the title character in "Bernie," is technically a ball of charisma akin to Black himself but in a completely different way, and really ends up being trapped by his charisma in the end.  This isn't one of the movies I'll spoil since a) it's a great little treat of a movie and b) I'm not sure how I'd be able to accurately describe it anyway.  I think all I can say about the film is that it intrigued me so much that I'm giving Jack Black an acting award over Daniel Day-Lewis and not even thinking twice about it.  Also, in my fantasy version of the Oscars, Victor Garber wins a Best Actor Oscar for playing Ken Taylor in a factually-accurate version of Argo.

Oscar nominees: Amy Adams/The Master, Sally Field/Lincoln, Anne Hathaway/Les Miserables, Helen Hunt/The Sessions, Jacki Weaver/Silver Linings Playbook
Oscar winner: Hathaway
Should've won: Hathaway

Alterna-ballot: Samantha Barks/Les Miserables, Pauline Collins/Quartet, Olivia Colman/Hyde Park On Hudson, Anne Hathaway/The Dark Knight Rises, Lorraine Toussaint/Middle Of Nowhere
My ballot: Adams, Collins, Field, Hathaway, Toussaint
My winner: Anne Hathaway

I'm about to use the word "admittedly" a lot in this paragraph.  I'm giving Hathaway the win, but admittedly I'm factoring her role as Selina Kyle into the equation, so it's kind of a combo deal.  (She deservingly won the Oscar, especially since Weaver had no business being nominated and Hunt was really a lead and shouldn't have been there anyway.)  Also, one of the interesting subplots of the Oscar season was the Hathaway backlash.  She was seen as a major front-runner for the award basically since the moment Les Miserables' first trailer was released and with each subsequent leadup win, Hathaway basically became more insufferable with each passing speech.  Admittedly, she comes off as a giant phony, but maybe it's not her fault.  Maybe she is genuinely gracious but since she was formed in a lab to be the ultimate theatre kid, she can't turn it off.  By the way, this is now two members of the Princess Diaries cast who own Oscars, so your move, Heather Matarazzo.

Oscar nominees: Alan Arkin/Argo, Robert De Niro/Silver Linings Playbook, Philip Seymour Hoffman/The Master, Tommy Lee Jones/Lincoln, Christoph Waltz/Django Unchained
Oscar winner: Waltz
Should've won: Hoffman

Alterna-ballot: Samuel L. Jackson/Django Unchained, Ezra Miller/The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Eddie Redmayne/Les Miserables, Sam Rockwell/Seven Psychopaths, Christopher Walken/A Late Quartet or Seven Psychopaths
My ballot: De Niro, Jackson, Redmayne, Rockwell, Walken
My winner: Samuel L. Jackson

I explored this deep, hard-to-read category in depth the other day, so my focus here is on what I felt was the best supporting performance of the year in any movie, namely Sam Jackson's stunning work in Django Unchained.

I often go into 'radio silence' about movies I want to watch since I like to be as unspoiled as possible going into them, but that's just related to plot.  Obviously one can't avoid casting notes and indeed, knowing a certain actor is in a film often just makes me eager to see it.  So I'm already on board 100 percent with any new Tarantino movie but knowing that Foxx, Waltz, DiCaprio, etc. were all involved just was icing on the cake.  The one exception was Samuel L. Jackson, since I actually even know that Jackson was in Django until maybe a week before I saw the film.  I'd heard for months about how DiCaprio's role might claim him an Oscar (a la Waltz in Inglourious Basterds) and while I noted in my earlier post that he might've missed a nomination due to not quite meeting sky-high expectations, the other possibility is that DiCaprio's highly-touted Calvin Candie wasn't even the major villain of the piece.

That would be Stephen, Candie's house slave, and man, everything about this character is ballsy.  Critics who write off Django Unchained as a simple revenge story may been right had it just been about Django cutting a swath through plantation owners but the addition of a character like Stephen really adds another layer to the proceedings.  Stephen is outright scary on every level --- from his behaviour in public, to how he behaves with Candie in private during that amazing scene in the library to how he treats the kitchen staff to his monologue when he had Django captured.  Candie is summarily dispatched but it's Stephen who remains as the real Big Bad. Jackson absolutely steals the entire movie and I'm amazed that even now that Django Unchained has been released for a couple of months, Jackson's part still seems underrated.  I daresay Waltz could've played King Schultz in his sleep and DiCaprio brings some scariness himself, but Jackson had a 10.0 degree of difficulty with his part and absolutely stuck the landing.  (Am I using this analogy due to Jackson's Olympics tweets?  Yes.)  I would've infinitely preferred seeing Jackson getting an award on Oscar night rather than just participating in a hella-lame skit with the comically short Avengers cast.  Seriously, is Mark Ruffalo even five feet tall?

Oscar nominees: Michael Haneke/Amour, Ang Lee/Life Of Pi, David O. Russell/Silver Linings Playbook, Steven Spielberg/Lincoln, Benh Zeitlin/Beasts Of The Southern Wild
Oscar winner: Lee
Should've won: Lee

Alterna-ballot: Ben Affleck/Argo, Wes Anderson/Moonrise Kingdom, Kathryn Bigelow/Zero Dark Thirty, Tom Hooper/Les Miserables, Quentin Tarantino/Django Unchained
My ballot: Affleck, Anderson, Hooper, Lee, Tarantino
My winner: Ang Lee

Well, this was cool.  Ang Lee is now a two-time Oscar winner, thoroughly deservedly so.  What's even more interesting is that he is also a one-man exception to the "Best Director also wins Best Picture" rule, since none of his films have yet to take home the big prize.  While I liked Life Of Pi more than Argo, at least Lee can take solace in the fact that this time he lost to a worthy movie, as opposed to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon losing to a mediocre period action movie (Gladiator) or Brokeback Mountain losing to a high school sociology paper (Crash).  I even liked Crash more than most but freely admit that Oscar result was bullcrap.

Lee's victory also caps off one of the most fascinating Best Director races in decades.  Usually this category is pretty predictable but the twin snubs of Affleck and Bigelow really threw things out of whack, leading to an Oscar night when you had four legit contenders to win (Zeitlin would've been the only real shocker of the nominees).  It's also fair to wonder if Affleck's snub was what led to Argo's victory, since the film's awards momentum seemed to have stalled before it suddenly became an underdog.  I don't mind since, in the grand scheme of things, Ang Lee deserves a directing Oscar more than Ben Affleck.

I'd also like to toss out honourable mentions to P.T. Anderson for directing The Master and Joe Wright for directing Anna Karenina despite the fact that I didn't really care for either movie.  While both movies were flawed, I couldn't help but admire the thoroughly unique direction of each.  I would've been weirdly okay with either getting nominated despite my problems with their films, though only Anderson had even a hope of getting an Oscar nod.

Oscar nominees: Amour, Argo, Beasts Of The Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life Of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty
Oscar winner: Argo
Should've won: Life Of Pi
My winner: Life Of Pi

I guess the "alterna-ballot" and "my ballot" can both be summarized in my top 30 list.  Since Academy members have the option of not filling out a full ten slots for Best Picture, I'll single out my best of the year (minimum of five) and then get to the rest as honourable mentions.  My five are the ones I felt were just a cut above the others:

1. Life Of Pi
2. Les Miserables

3. Moonrise Kingdom
4. Cloud Atlas
5. Django Unchained

Life Of Pi is a seemingly impossible-to-film movie that comes off as elegant and simple on the screen.  I haven't read the original novel and knew basically nothing of the story aside from the "guy and a tiger on a lifeboat" concept, so I presumed the ending would be them being saved by paddling to a Krusty Burger on an offshore oil rig.  If you can believe it, the actual ending was better.  It's a beautiful, moving film that I suspect will stand the test of time more than Argo or most other movies from 2012.  Life Of Pi is also another testament to how 3-D is a powerful filmmaking tool when it's in the right hands.  When 3-D is being added to shitty action movies, it's just a way to double your ticket price.  When it's used by masters like Lee or Martin Scorsese to enhance movies like Life Of Pi or Hugo, 3-D is enthralling.

As for the others…..Wes Anderson is hit-or-miss with me but Moonrise Kingdom makes me think that he's slowly building to one absolute masterpiece that sums up his style, sort of like how Woody Allen usually makes the same movie but "Annie Hall" is the peak of his powers…..Already talked about Cloud Atlas at length……I had Les Mis pegged as the Oscar titan of the year after seeing the trailer but while it underwhelmed many, it also seemed like a lot of folks were turned off simply because it's a musical, which is stupid.  Anyway, I non-ironically loved it.  It was really creatively filmed, you can't go wrong with those songs, and the performances were tremendous except for Russell Crowe, who at least gave it a go…..While I really enjoyed Django, I admittedly put it in the lower half of the Tarantino canon.  Can't help but think it could've been easily 20 minutes shorter, which I attribute to it being QT's first movie that wasn't edited by the late Sally Menke.

6. The Dark Knight Rises
7. Much Ado About Nothing
8. The Avengers
9. Argo
10. Skyfall
11. Rust & Bone
12. The Cabin In The Woods
13. 21 Jump Street
14. The Silver Linings Playbook
15. Your Sister's Sister
16. Wreck-It Ralph
17. Zero Dark Thirty
18. Brave
19. Chronicle
20. The Raid: Redemption
21. Bernie
22. Looper
23. A Late Quartet
24. Middle Of Nowhere
25. Holy Motors
26. Wanderlust
27. End Of Watch
28. The Perks of Being A Wallflower
29. Quartet
30. Damsels in Distress

My buddy Kyle actually went out of his way to ask if I was bringing this feature back for the Markademy Awards.  Holy crap, a request!  And heck, a reader!  Since I can hardly let my vast audience down, here are my favourite single scenes or sequences from 2012.  What's great about these little drops of greatness is that they can come from any movie, be it good or crappy.

33. Oscar picks up his daughter from a party (Holy Motors)
32. Jon Hamm loses it at dinner (Friends With Kids)
31. Entering the temple (Prometheus)
30. Pi gets the supplies off the boat (Life Of Pi)
29. Pat Sr. apologizes to his son (Silver Linings Playbook)
28. The ending (Safety Not Guaranteed)
27. Bernie's testimony (Bernie)
26. The ending (Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World)
25. The kids unveil their plan to get away (Moonrise Kingdom)
24. Beatrice and Benedick overhear that each allegedly loves the other (Much Ado About Nothing)
23. Django gets his revenge (Django Unchained)
22. Bond fights an assassin in a Hong Kong skyscraper (Skyfall)
21. The office party (Cabin In The Woods)….
several scenes could've been mentioned here from this awesome, awesome movie but the less people know about it, the better for when they actually see it.
20. Ali takes Stephanie swimming (Rust & Bone)
19. The trash talk leading up to the bar fight, then the fight (Jack Reacher)
18. The final battle sequence (Chronicle)
17. The final escape (Argo)
16. The raid on the compound (Zero Dark Thirty)
15. Old Paul Dano is affected by the maiming of Young Paul Dano (Looper)
14. Silva's introductory monologue (Skyfall)
13. Lou's reactions after Margot tells him the truth (Take This Waltz)
12. "Elmo" vs. "Cookie Monster" (The Five-Year Engagement)
11. Sylvester Stallone runs (The Expendables Part 2)….
unintentional comedy highlight of the year, without question
10. Ralph and Penelope build their race car (Wreck-It-Ralph)

9. I Dreamed A Dream (Les Miserables)
8. Alfred reveals Rachel's secret and pleads with Bruce (The Dark Knight Rises)
7. The scene in the library between Calvin and Stephen (Django Unchained)
6. Loki vs. the Hulk (Avengers)
5. Christopher Walken talks to his music class about performing for his idol (A Late Quartet)
4. One Day More (Les Miserables)
3. Mad Dog vs. the brothers (The Raid: Redemption)….
there are at least two other epic fight sequences in this movie but this is the climax
2. Paul Rudd pumping himself up in the mirror (Wanderlust)
1. The first "processing" scene (The Master)

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