A lot of people don't care about the Academy Awards. I can't blame them. Long speeches, movies that never came to your theater, and loads of rich people decked out in designer duds.
Then there's the grumblings about how the judging is handled and who exactly is doing the voting. There's been a lot of buzz this year about the largely white and very male demographics of the Academy and how that skews which movies are highlighted.
And how about the awards themselves? What does getting a nomination/win actually mean, will the film or performance stand the test of time?
Good, now that we've cleared that out of the way, let me talk about why a cinephile like me still pays close attention every year.
I find the Oscars interesting because they capture a moment in history. I believe that they reveal something about where we are as a culture and what issues are on our minds. And regardless of the voting, it's still a peer-recognized award.
This year's theme is clearly inspiration. With the economy still in the pits, it makes sense that each Best Picture nomination tugs at the heart. The Artist is the inspirational story of the silent film era, Hugo - the inspiration story of a boy in Paris, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - the inspirational story of a boy and his father's memory, and so on.
I've seen over half of these films. I'm not a betting woman so I won't make any predictions, but if I could cast my vote, here's what would be on my ballot:
Despite some movie patrons who clearly didn't know silent film etiquette, I really enjoyed this film. Largely a tribute and homage, this Oscar darling highlights the best of the silent film era while making the story and the acting accessible to a modern audience.
Regardless that the story isn't that original, it still impresses me that the industry could dust off these ancient movie making techniques and bring to life such a lovely film. The cinematography was fantastic, with beautiful black and white contrasts and outstanding composition. The costumes also supported the overall look of the film.
Nominated: Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Music Score, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume, Directing, Film Editing
My Vote: Best Score, Cinematography, Editing, Costume, and Art Direction
Scorsese making a child's film? Of course it's going to be a front runner this year. No matter what this wins, there will be no surprises here (unless there's no wins at all).
I half enjoyed Hugo. I was much more interested in the parts about Méliès and early cinema than I was about the little boy, but that's just a personal preference. I didn't see it in 3D, but the cinematography was whimsical to fit the story.
Nominated: Best Picture, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume, Directing, Film Editing, Musical Sound, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects, Adapted Screenplay
My Vote: Directing, Sounding Editing & Mixing, Visual Effects, Adapted Screenplay
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
This film offers a great ensemble cast, with an even better story. Anyone who's studied literature or history will really enjoy the finer points of Allen's humor in the film.
Nominated: Best Picture, Art Direction, Directing, Original Screenplay
My Vote: hands down Original Screenplay, Directing
TREE OF LIFE
This was by far the most difficult movie I've watched recently. It's in the same ballpark as 2001: Space Odyssey, The Fountain, or Solaris - jammed packed with sweeping visuals, hard-to-pinpoint symbolism, and understated yet powerful acting.
I admit, I didn't enjoy the film on an entertainment level. But on an artist scale, I'm very glad this movie exists and that someone has the balls in Hollywood to make a picture with such a grand intent.
I don't think the Academy knew what to do with this film either. Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastin should have been nominated for their performances in this rather than in Moneyball and The Help. Their performances really drove the meaning of the film, as did the highly intimate cinematography.
Nominated: Best Picture, Cinematography, Directing
My Vote: Cinematography and Directing
It's hard for me to not be sarcastic about this film. I haven't read the book, but the movie, while fun to watch, doesn't really say anything noteworthy about race relations. It does make it clear that women can be cruel to each more than any Jim Crow law and that change can start in the bathroom.
While Viola Davis is the more powerful and serious actor, I feel like her and Octavia Spencer's nominations are reversed. Octavia has much more screen time and she brings depth to a character that could easily be played for laughs alone. Their scenes together are excellent, which is why I have trouble fingering who is truly the leading actress from the supporting.
Without going on a tirade, I'm also troubled by Jessica Chastin's nomination here. I love her character and performance, but it complicates my interpretation of the film's message. I identified more with her white trash character more than I had sympathy for the plight of the maids. Maybe this stems from the book and is supposed to be deliberate, but it leaves me wondering.
I also have to add that Bryce Dallas Howard gave a fantastically delicious performance as the story's villain. She should be recognized for helping the audience to not only hate her, but feel sorry for her misplaced purpose in life. Her comeuppance at the end is a fine example of character depth.
Nominated: Best Picture, Actress, and Supporting Actress (twice)
My Vote: I hope Spencer and Davis take the cake!