The 85th Annual Academy Award Nominations, or John Hawkes & Stephen Chbosky, I Weep!

posted Jan 10, 2013, 5:00 PM by Terrence Moss   [ updated Jan 17, 2013, 1:33 PM ]

I don’t pay much attention to film critics – most of them aren’t necessarily fans of film and/or filmmaking as much as just knowledgeable about either or both. And in many cases, most of them aren’t as knowledgeable about filmmaking as they are about film itself – namely history and trivia.

Plus they tend to come across very dry and stuffy.

This is why I love The Postman. He is a critic who doesn’t just enjoy film. He knows film. He understands film. Most importantly, he watches a LOT of films -- and just not just the blockbusters, elitist fare or those which carry the most buzz throughout awards season. So while most critics and bloggers and such are offering their own largely hollow reactions to this morning’s announcement of the Oscar nominations, his is a full-on analysis as both a fan and an estudiante of film.

In previous years, my Oscar reactions have admittedly been based largely on buzz, what I’ve heard and what I think based on that buzz and what I’ve heard. This year, and hopefully forevermore, I shall cede such film commentary to The Postman – which he offers below in ALL categories, not just the top 7 or 8 as I would do.

I wish I could pay him.

Dear Members of the Route:

In a year rife with surprises, I need to dispense with my usual Christmas morning metaphor and just dive under the tree and rip open the gifts Chanukkah Oscar has left me.

And the nominees are:

Best Picture: Amour, Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty

It remains to be seen how many of these films will end up on my Top 10 list of the year (if I had to guess, it'll be two or three), but there's no denying the strength of this Best Picture slate. There isn't a movie I hate on here: even Beasts of the Southern Wild won me over the second time I saw it, and I certainly see what others have seen in the film. Certainly I don't love Silver Linings Playbook, and my feelings towards Les Miserables are passionately mixed, but I have to acknowledge the impact both films have had on people. I am most delighted to see Amour here and most regret the omission of Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson's exceptional film from earlier this year. I'm fine not seeing both The Master and Skyfall, if for different reasons. The Master registers as a noble failure for me and Skyfall - while very good as a Bond movie - didn't rank for me as Best Picture material, especially when Casino Royale didn't get nominated in its year. But really - a very good slate.

Best Director: Michael Haneke, Amour; Ang Lee, Life of Pi; David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook, Steven Spielberg, Lincoln; Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild 

This list is staggering. While I am utterly thrilled Michael Haneke made this list for Amour (especially for a film with such little directorial panache, just achingly detailed control), I am stunned by some painful omissions: say what you will about much of Zero Dark Thirty (and I have said a lot about the movie's first hour), the last half hour is possibly the most riveting directorial sequence I've seen since Steven Spielberg's D-Day sequence at the beginning of Saving Private Ryan. That sequence (and, let's be honest - that sequence alone) won Spielberg an Oscar, so to see Bigelow missing here is, frankly, offensive. Similarly, Argo is a tight, well-acted, beautifully moded film, and a large part of the credit for that is due its director Ben Affleck. Though I quite like the movie Lincoln, I think the directing is its least interesting aspect. Sure, Daniel Day Lewis was amazing, but who out there doesn't think that he came prepared to give that performance? Spielberg himself acknowledges simply turning on the cameras and watching him. And Mr. Lee, whose Life of Pi is a very fine achievement, also makes a directorial decision at the movie's end that, in my opinion, sinks the ship of the entire enterprise. I'd much rather see Quentin Tarantino up here for Django Unchained, an almost impossibly entertaining and profound film that may rank as my favorite of his very fine films. I shed no tears, however, for Tom Hooper's omission from this list: as much as I have found to love in Les Miserables, his direction is a profound sticking-point for me. There were other more deserving men and women this year.

Best Actor: Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook; Daniel Day Lewis, Lincoln; Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables; Joaquin Phoenix, The Master; Denzel Washington, Flight 

Virtually every year there is one performance that misses out on an Oscar nomination that just truly makes me sad. This year the dubious winner of that honor is John Hawkes, whose lilting performance in The Sessions is one of the year's distinct highlights. I am, quite simply, devastated that he is not nominated. Having now seen The Master twice, because I'm just that masochistic, my hatred for Phoenix's performance knows no bounds, especially now that he's basically stolen Hawkes' place on this list. Otherwise, I do think this is a fine category. In my dreams, Tom Holland from The Impossible and Logan Lerman from The Perks of Being a Wallflower would be up here, but there was little chance of that, to be sure. And I'd probably switch out Bradley Cooper for Jean-Paul Trintignant of Amour, but that's not to say I didn't like Cooper, because I did. But, Hawkes? I need a moment.

Best Actress: Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty; Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook; Emmanuelle Riva, Amour; Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild; Naomi Watts, The Impossible 

Well, honestly, this category was all about Emmanuelle Riva getting a nomination for me, so my morning is fairly satisfying just right there. And apparently the Academy was as cold to Rust and Bone as I was, though I think Marion Cotillard could easily have deserved a place here. But, as much as I'm now somewhat on the Beasts of the Southern Wild bandwagon, I can't say I'm thrilled that Ms. Wallis has been nominated. She's fine in the movie, but especially since much of her performance leans on the narration that she recorded two years after filming, she strikes me as a child who, other than a few moments where her face becomes somewhat expressive, just hits her marks well. This is especially troubling to me in a year where there were so many excellent young performances, not just Tom Holland and Logan Lerman that I already mentioned, but also Ezra Miller from The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the teenagers from Moonrise Kingdom, and even young Pierce Gagnon from Looper. Still, it's not as if I wanted Helen Mirren to be nominated for Hitchcock. Sure, I'd rather see Maggie Smith up there for Quartet, but that wasn't ever going to happen.

Best Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin, Argo; Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook; Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master; Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln; Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained 

Why, oh why, is Supporting Actor perpetually the acting category I care the least about? Of these admittedly fine performances, I'd only include two in my fantasy ballot: Hoffman in The Master, and Waltz in Django Unchained (even if one could make the argument that Waltz is a lead of his movie). Otherwise, it's Alan Arkin doing his Alan Arkin thing, it's Tommy Lee Jones doing his Tommy Lee Jones thing (albeit in a wig, and, sure, rather well), and De Niro doing his this thing as well. I enjoy all three of them in these films, but where is Eddie Redmayne, who pulls off the impossible and makes Marius the emotional center of Les Miserables? Speaking of The Impossible, where is Ewan McGregor? Where is the exquisite Ezra Miller, whose portrayal of a gay teenager is one of the most nuanced portrayals of teenage sexuality I've ever seen? Where are Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson from Django Unchained? Where is Matthew McConaughey, who stole Magic Mike and much of the year along with it? I know where Christopher Walken from Seven Psychopaths is: still on the shelf, because his distributor decided to spend no money to promote their film. This category is rich with missed opportunities.

Best Supporting Actress: Amy Adams, The Master; Sally Field, Lincoln; Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables; Helen Hunt, The Sessions; Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook 

Fine. It's not as if I felt Maggie Smith needed a nomination for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel anyway; she was just fine, but it would have been a "Maggie Smith was in a movie so let's nominate her" nomination, and I never like those. Nor am I shedding crocodile tears over Nicole Kidman's not-a-snub. Sure, I'd like to have seen Pauline Collins on here from Quartet, but my favorites in the category are, in general, well represented. The category's surprise is Jacki Weaver, but I'm fine with it: I found her almost the most intriguing person in the film, the enabling washcloth of a mother who has no idea how to deal with the intense crazy of both her husband and son. And sure, crack open those Oscar books to find that no movie has nominated actors in all four categories since Reds, and that other films that have this honor include Network and A Streetcar Named Desire. It's a fun piece of trivia, sure, but Silver Linings are NO Reds, Network, or A Streetcar Named Desire.

Best Original Screenplay: Amour, Django Unchained, Flight, Moonrise Kingdom, Zero Dark Thirty 

If I had to pick the one thing that makes me happiest about this year at the Oscars, it's the overall embrace of Amour. I said to someone within the last couple of days, "I want Amour to be nominated for Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Actress." No, I'm not saying that the Academy was determined to make my wishes come true (because they clearly didn't hear me about anything else), but I hope that people who have resisted this tough but beautiful film will now catch up with it. This is a very strong category, though I wouldn't have made room for Flight personally. I'd much rather see Looper or Seven Psychopaths nominated, but I get how genre films seldom rank. Still, the four non-Flight nominees all boast some seriously good writing, even if I'd have given Mark Boal back his draft and asked him to flesh out Jessica Chastain's character. But that's just me...

Best Adapted Screenplay: Argo, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook 

Stephen Chbosky took the book he had written and spent years adapting it into a film that is less precious, more subtle, and just downright better than his celebrated novel: The Perks of Being a Wallflower is certainly one of the finest adaptations of the year and should have been mentioned here. I'm bereft. And as much as I have found to criticize about Les Miserables, and as much as I thought I'd resist any changes to the show I love so much, I think the script is a marvel, restructuring songs, adding choice material from the book back in: I'd have happily applauded that nomination, had it happened. Lincoln is beautifully written, even if I wish the ending had been trimmed and been less cruel and self-indulgent. Life of Pi wrestles with an almost impossible book and comes out a winner, even if I think the filmmakers failed on some key points (oh, like the ending). Beasts is one of those nominations, like Lost in Translation, that reminds us that screenplays are not all about dialogue, since there is so little in the film. And were it not for the abrupt ending, I'd quite like the Silver Linings script. I guess I don't love this category: only Argo emerges as a fairly flawless script. Oh well...

Best Cinematography: Anna Karenina, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Skyfall 

These are some five good looking movies. Usually I hate Janusz Kaminski's lighting, but I thought his work in Lincoln was stellar. Bob Richardson is probably the most talented cinematographer working today (or maybe Roger Deakins, represented here by Skyfall), so I'm always eager to see him nominated, and Django is no exception. And Anna Karenina and Skyfall are both gorgeous. Life of Pi, like Avatar before it, is such a visual effects film, that it's almost hard to glean who did what, but since that's the wave of the future, I suppose I have to sit back and accept that inevitability. Personally, I think the night-time filming of the attack on Abbottabad in Zero Dark Thirty merited consideration here (this is the first time that I can think of where a backlash hurt a movie's nominations, not simply its chance to win), and though I have found a lot to criticize The Master for, it's a beautiful looking movie. Not disappointed by Les Miserables' omission here: perhaps it's Danny Cohen's fault for shoving the cameras up the actors' noses throughout the film. Nor am I disappointed by the snub against The Hobbit for forcing us to watch the movie at 48 frames per second, the least welcome advance in film technology in many a year.

Best Production Design: Anna Karenina, The Hobbit, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln 

While I would happily have included Django Unchained, Cloud Atlas (poor Cloud Atlas, sitting home alone on Oscar morning with no nominations to play with: I still love you), or The Master here, I think the production design of these included movies is very, very fine. Nice to see Joe Wright's artistic gamble pay off, and I'm glad the Academy on the production design team of The Hobbit for all the detail they had to bring to their work getting scrutinized by that ridiculous film rate. My favorite set overall might be the zoo in the opening credits for Life of Pi, though I wonder how much of that is location work rather than set design; thankfully I have some time before I have to cast my actual vote.

Best Costume Design: Anna Karenina, Les Miserables, Lincoln, Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman 

I suppose, if you're going to nominate one of the Snow White movies, you have to nominate them both. If I had to pick between them, I'd go with Mirror Mirror, because it's more fun and doesn't have Charlize Theron over-acting all over everything, but the costumes are sensational in both films. Honestly, Les Miz is the only film that might not deserve its place here: I'd rather have seen Django Unchained, Cloud Atlas, or especially the Danish film A Royal Affair on this list. But now I really have to go back and watch Anna Karenina again to see if I can figure out which of the dresses was made of denim.

Best Film Editing: Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty 

If one is to believe Oscar punditry and history, these are the five movies that have any chance of winning Best Picture, though history would also suggest that since Argo and Zero Dark Thirty lost out on Director nominations (even typing that a mere 90 minutes after the announcement just stuns me, once again), the field is reduced once again to Life of Pi, Lincoln, and Silver Linings Playbook, three movies I respect more than I love. Still, these are finely crafted movies all, even if I give an editing edge to the two "military" thrillers. It's interesting that none of the year's summer blockbusters got mentioned here. Actually, in the early morning fog, I just noticed that The Dark Knight Rises got exactly no nominations. I can't say this disappoints me, but that's got to sting.

Best Sound Mixing: Argo, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Skyfall 

Again, where's Zero Dark Thirty? I mean, really - where is Zero Dark Thirty? It's always refreshing when this category does not simply go to the loudest movies of the year, so for that reason, I'm not disappointed to see The Avengers not on here (a movie I quite like). In terms of degree of difficulty, the water work in Life of Pi and the live singing of Les Miserables have to be the stand-outs here, but I'd have dumped Lincoln for either Zero or Django Unchained in a heartbeat.

Best Sound Editing: Argo, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Skyfall, Zero Dark Thirty 

Ah, so there's Zero Dark Thirty. No complaints here.


Best Original Score: Anna Karenina, Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Skyfall 

I'm intrigued and happy that Skyfall got a nomination here: I would have thought the skillful way Thomas Newman hints at the old Bond theme throughout the film might have disqualified him here, but apparently not. I am, however, disappointed that The Master has gone missing. I really thought the music added so much to that film. And it would have been nice if a non-traditional score like Beasts of the Southern Wild had poked through, but these films all boast fine if not overwhelmingly memorable scores.


Best Original Song: "Before My Time," Chasing Ice; "Everybody Needs a Best Friend," Ted; "Pi's Lullaby," Life of Pi; "Skyfall," Skyfall; "Suddenly," Les Miserables

Well, every year at this time there are at least a few movies who get nominations that I have to rush out and see. Other than documentaries and foreign films (many of which are very hard to see), my list this year is exactly one. Ted. I suspect I'll find it at a video store and change that. I don't have much to say about this category yet; I can't say there are any songs I heard that definitely deserve to be here, though I liked the songs I heard in Django Unchained, and there was a really funny song in Casa de mi Padre - yes, I saw it: what I do for the Oscars and for you people.

Best Visual Effects: The Avengers, The Hobbit, Life of Pi, Prometheus, Snow White and the Huntsman 

My biggest disappointment with this category is that The Impossible didn't even make the short list. Obviously, there are fewer effects in it than in any of the films listed here, but the tsunami sequence was so achingly real that I think it should have been singled out. I would also have made room for Cloud Atlas (poor, poor Cloud Atlas), but this is a fine list, and I'm happy Prometheus got a mention.

Best Makeup & Hairstyling: Hitchcock, The Hobbit, Les Miserables 

A friend joked the other day that she thought Les Miz should be nominated for all the herpes she saw. Well, here's your gift! I can't say I support that nomination all that energetically: the white face for the hookers looked odd to me, and I don't think Hugh Jackman was aged enough throughout the film (he's got to be at least nearing 60 by the movie's end). Nor am I that thrilled with the makeup for Hitchcock either. Lincoln was more persuasive a character to me, though I guess it's just refreshing to see Lincoln not nominated somewhere this morning. Again, The Impossible should have been nominated here, for some of the most realistic looking wounds I've ever seen. Naomi Watts looks like hell throughout the film and just gets worse and worse with each scene. The makeup work is nothing short of stunning. Alas.

Best Animated Film: Brave, Frankenweenie, ParaNorman, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, Wreck-It Ralph 

While I am grateful to my public library for having a copy of The Pirates! movie so that I already can check it off my list, my favorite animated movie of the year, Rise of the Guardians, got left off the list this morning. I found it more emotionally involving than Wreck-It Ralph and Brave and just beautifully animated. I honestly don't know what my favorite is here, but since I've barely reviewed any animated movies this year, perhaps I'll take the time and go back and rewatch them all.

Best Documentary Feature: 5 Broken Cameras, The Gatekeepers, How to Survive a Plague, The Invisible War, Searching for Sugar Man 

Having only seen three of the nominated documentaries, I can't really say anything about the category as a whole except that I'm delighted How to Survive a Plague got in: it's a powerhouse of a movie, and I wish it very well.

Best Foreign Film: Amour, Kon-Tiki, No, A Royal Affair, War Witch 

And I've only seen two of the foreign films, but perhaps the greatest present of all this morning was seeing The Intouchables left off the list. I'm sure the movie meant well, but it just didn't work for me.

As to the year in general, a year I think that has been very good indeed for film, it is easy to look over this list and assume that the Academy only watched about 25 films. In non-short, non-documentary, non-foreign categories, a shocking 24 films are nominated. That's it. And of those 24, 9 of them only got one nomination. Is this a question of the earlier deadline? Confusion over online voting? Laziness on the part of Academy members? Or simply that certain studios and distributors just don't care about the Oscars and allocate their funds elsewhere. 

Still, this morning's announcement was filled with surprises - though most of them disappointing - and that at least justifies not just my obsession but my insistence to wake up at an ungodly hour to hear the news.

In true Postman fashion, I have seen all of the Best Picture nominees at least twice, so with only one movie yet to see, I should be able to fill my ballot out quite soon. Maybe I'll even have a chance to seek out the foreign films and documentaries I haven't seen: that would make a nice change. But for now, with tears in my eyes for Mr. Hawkes, Mr. Chbosky, and some non- or under-nominated treats... I think I'm going back to sleep.

The Postman

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