Academy of One: Best Picture 2012

These are my opinions and feelings. I do not represent the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and I have no power to revoke or award Academy Awards. Consider this an alternate universe, where everything is the same except which movies get recognition and which should fade out. Also, SPOILER ALERT! I may be spilling major details about several films.

Welcome back to Academy of One!

I apologize about the hiatus, but believe me when I tell you it was necessary. I got to really dive back into the films of 2012 and while I may have limited myself in some ways, in others I reopened my eyes to some performances and films I may have overlooked or dismissed for specious reasons because I couldn’t quite remember their impact or lack of it.

So, without much more from me here at the top, let’s get back into it. Here are the nominees for Best Picture as they stand.

  • Amour

  • Argo

  • Beasts of the Southern Wild

  • Django Unchained

  • Les Miserables

  • Life of Pi

  • Lincoln

  • Silver Linings Playbook

  • Zero Dark Thirty

This is a pretty good list. Like in years we’ve covered so far, it doesn’t include a full compliment of ten nominees, which it easily could have. I have a few in mind that could easily jump onto this list and help to eliminate a few.

These are my choices of possible usurpers.

  • Looper

  • The Master

  • Moonrise Kingdom

  • Skyfall

Looper is one of those rare and beautiful sci-fi films that relies less heavily on visual special effects than the most special effect of them all, great story telling. This is a world which defines its rules of time travel early and is able to wholly encompass it’s story in that single loop of the film.

The Master, whether it overtly references a certain “religious” movement or not, is no less engrossing in its portrait of two men at odds, but constantly attracted to each other. Paul Thomas Anderson’s keen eye and loose story work so well together to form something as unhinged as Freddie Quell and tempered, but on the edge of erupting as Lancaster Dodd.

Coming of age stories are a dime a dozen, but what when an auteur like Wes Anderson gets a hold of the genre, he creates something strange and beautiful. Moonrise Kingdom is able to bring to the audience kids who already feel as if they’re adults and who act like they think adults would, but are still kids who need guidance, care, and boundaries. It’s growing up as only Wes Anderson could show it.

The expansion of the Best Picture race was tailor made for a film like Skyfall to be able to play with the big contenders and it absolutely should. For a 50 year-old franchise to be able to finally reveal the secrets of its beloved spy’s past and to also make it so familiar is astounding. There’s no question in my mind that this is the best of the franchise and a great film to boot.

O.K. now that I’ve revealed my picks. It’s time to let you know that they’re all moving on. That’s right, these four films will take the empty slot on the roster as well as bump three others off the list.

Now, what will be leaving our list of nominees? Here’s that list again.

  • Amour

  • Argo

  • Beasts of the Southern Wild

  • Django Unchained

  • Les Miserables

  • Life of Pi

  • Lincoln

  • Silver Linings Playbook

  • Zero Dark Thirty

I’ve got my three choices. First up is Amour, a film that left others enamored, but left me quite a bit cold.

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t see why others revere Michael Haneke’s work as much as they do. The loose story structure he employs isn’t endearing or profound. It just leads me to a lot of rewinding and pondering without coming to the conclusions that everyone else has. Even as good as I think the actors are, I just can’t feel deeply enough for them in this situation. If that means I lose my cinephile cred with some of you, so be it. Amour is an O.K. movie, not a great one.

Next up. Django Unchained. Yep, Quentin Tarantino is quite hit or miss auteur for me as well. I think it boils down to the fact that this silly, goretastic, snuff film leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I think it plays too heavily into the white savior complex a lot of films like it have, even despite that shoot out at the end. It revels in the destruction of black bodies, while white bodies, actual villains all, die quickly. The less I write, the less I have to think about this film. Let’s move on.

Last on the list is Les Misarables. I praise the director’s efforts to have the songs sung live on set. I think it’s a brilliant move and am shocked it hasn’t been done more often to get the rich sound of voices out in the world.

That praise aside, I never needed to know what the inside of Hugh Jackman’s nostrils looked like. Seriously, this film lived in the extreme close up and the strange, chaotic tilting angles employed to give a sense of… I don’t know. I want to say I can see why they did it this way, but I honestly can’t. Musicals exist in the wide shot and the camera on a track, not the steadicam. It’s a pretty sloppy representation that was trying too desperately to be different from everything before it.

All right, now that those three are off the list, let’s see what the full list looks like with my additions in place.

  • Argo

  • Beasts of the Southern Wild

  • Life of Pi

  • Lincoln

  • Looper

  • The Master

  • Moonrise Kingdom

  • Silver Linings Playbook

  • Skyfall

  • Zero Dark Thirty

With the nominees in place, there’s one last question to ask and that is, can anything upset the original winner, Argo? Short answer, yes.

I think Argo falls into that fatal flaw of being a movie about Hollywood saving the day. Hollywood loves a Hollywood movie. They love to reward that type of movie and Argo is a good movie that’s pulling a story from history that’s parallel to the present.

Yet, Zero Dark Thirty is a far better film and is able to bring into context an event that is so sprawling in its making as to have been mostly a mystery to all of us not involved in it.

Spy films, or at least films about intelligence work, are rarely as well thought out as this one. For ten years, teams hunted down the mastermind of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history and for ten years, they hit red herrings, dead ends, curves, and set backs like would have been played down or maybe even cut from a lesser film.

It’s harrowing to see the torture enacted in order to gain information. Even as we know it was done in our names, it’s frustrating to know that the information gleaned isn’t going to help them. The men they found were not who the torturers thought they were. The information they had was weak. Through the film the audience has to come to terms with how many other lives were lost while this misinformation was being vetted. It’s an excruciating process to watch the intelligence gathering in the attempts to capture or kill the most wanted man in the world.

All of this frustration and impatience is poured into our dogged main character and her endless pursuit of the truth, so much so that when she finally does it, when her entire career leads up to those last moments, identifying the body of the man who’s alluded her for ten years, it’s not a sense of relief it’s an extreme sort of catharsis that seconds later we have to wonder what now? With our innocence lost and the world still existing in a state of constant upheaval and chaos, our catharsis is tainted, just as hers is.

Zero Dark Thirty is a superbly acted and well directed film, which is able to delve deeply into the feelings we have about the post 9/11 world and what safety, stability, and freedom really cost.

Here are a few other films from 2012 you should definitely check out.

  • Bachelorette

  • Cabin in the Woods

  • Celeste and Jesse Forever

  • The Central Park Five

  • Flight

  • Killing Them Softly

  • ParaNorman

  • Robot & Frank

  • Ruby Sparks

  • Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

  • Smashed

  • Wreck It Ralph

All right, it looks like they’ve started the music. That wraps us up for this week. So, between now and next week you can find me on Twitter @zyoungs108, you can like my Facebook page @zachyoungswrites, and visit my website, www.zachyoungs.com for links to where you can buy my self-published works. Here on my blog you may also be interested to read a few serialized blog stories that I post every Wednesday and Sunday.

A new post of Academy of One will be available every Friday on this very site.

Thanks for reading. I can’t wait to dive in with you next Friday with the nominees for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

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