Oscar Dark Horses

If you’re like many movie buffs, you’ll be watching the Oscars tomorrow night. But though you’ll probably be rooting for your favorites to win, most winners will likely come as little surprise. Now that there are a gazillion other awards shows that lead up to the Oscars and set a hard-to-change precedent by the time the Oscar winners are announced, surprise winners are difficult to come by. However, it’s still fun hoping to see an upset (like when Adrian Brody won best actor for The Pianist over Daniel Day-Lewis and Jack Nicholson in 2003).

The following are three films nominated for Oscars this year that have zero chance of winning. But I’d love to be proven wrong! They are amazing films and far better than many others they’re nominated alongside.

Animal Kingdom (nominated for best supporting actress): No, this is not a film about a Disney World theme park. It’s an astonishing, subtle Australian film about a Corleone-esque crime family in the midst of Melbourne suburbia. Some have called it Australia’s Godfather, and I think the comparison is apt. The debut of writer/director David Michôd is an epic, tragic, beautifully told examination of power, fear, family, & survival.

Another Year (nominated for best original screenplay): Mike Leigh’s film is more than just an actor’s showcase for British thespians. It is that, but it’s also one of the most jarring, make-you-think studies of relationships that I’ve seen on film in some time. It’s about solid relationships, fragile ones, and the lessons we learn from both. But the “one year in the life of” film is also just about time, and the things (births, deaths, jobs, friends, food) that mark our lives. It may sound boring, but Another Year is anything but.

I Am Love (nominated for best costume design): There are many words I could use to describe Luca Guadagnino’s Italian film: grandiose, regal, sumptuous, sprawling, colorful, ambitious. But I’d rather just say, “essential.” For true fans of the cinematic art form, I Am Love is a must-see. The film’s attention to detail, and the pulsating intensity of Tilda Swinton’s performance (how did she not get nominated for best actress? Oh yeah, she scares people on the red carpet) make it one of my very favorites of last year. For a stellar critical engagement with the film, check out this video essay by Kartina Richardson.

And for the record, here are my predictions for who will win in the major categories at tomorrow night’s Oscars:

Best Picture: King’s Speech
Best Director: David Fincher, The Social Network
Best Actor: Colin Firth
Best Actress: Natalie Portman
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale
Best Supporting Actress: Helena Bonham Carter
Best Animated: Toy Story 3
Best Foreign Film: In a Better World
Best Documentary: Inside Job
Best Original Screenplay: The King’s Speech
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network

7 responses to “Oscar Dark Horses

  1. I would love for an “I Am Love” win!
    And my bet is that Hailee Steinfeld is gonna take the Supporting Actress slot over Bonham Carter. Other than a “King’s Speech” sweep, I think the Academy will lean towards the younger actress’s performance.

  2. Yeah I think your list has a very good shot, but with the exception that I like the poster above agree that Hailee Steinfield might pull it out.

  3. Christopher Benson

    Brett: Please do me a favor, and explain why “I Am Love” is “essential” viewing for “true fans of the cinematic art form.” I consider myself such a fan, but I didn’t perceive the film was “overflowing with life, depth, beauty, elegance, and originality.” I daresay that you’ve been suckered into confusing fake display food for the real thing. This cannoli is all plastic.

    Presumably the director wants his audience to feel sympathy for Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton), who has left her native Russia in order to marry a wealthy Milanese patriarch but suffers from national dislocation and marital neglect. Because I was never convinced of her suffering, I felt little sympathy for a protagonist whose lifestyle permits the idleness to fantasize and sin. She is not awakened to her passion so much as the pleasure of transgressing boundaries: vicariously in her daughter’s lesbian relationship and then later in her adulterous affair with her son’s friend – the young chef.

    Your original instincts about the film were right: “The film’s plot and themes — breaking free from repression, discovering the beauty of life via unbridled passion and transgressive behavior — are at first quite familiar, and disappointingly amoral.” I would go one step further and say “immoral.” Regrettably, you forget these virtuously trained instincts and conclude: “. . . it becomes clear that this is not just another ‘yeah! Infidelity is so freeing!’ sort of film. It’s about much more than that.” To bolster your judgment, you argue: “Most of the ‘more’ this film has to offer is in its generous attention to detail, beauty, and sensual existence” — whether in a gorgeous closeup of a bee pollinating a flower or a macaron from Laduree, or a sprawling shot of cathedral, or the elegantly intense music from composer John Adams.”

    I’m afraid that the form of the film has overwhelmed your better judgment about its content. And let’s not make the mistake of separating content from form; they’re integral. No amount of cinematic beauty can take away from the fact that this story indulges what philosopher Nathan Schlueter calls the heresy of Romanticism: “the impulse to escape, through passionate idealization and fancy, from the real world . . . of suffering and change,” and biological limits. (See his online Touchstone article “The Romance of Domesticity”). “I Am Love” is an inferior reworking of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. That novel contains, according to Schlueter, the “essential pattern” of Romantic escapism, featuring these hallmarks: a disordered imagination, itinerant ambition, consumerist re-invention, and promiscuous desire. Christianity teaches us to see reality as it is – not as we wish it to be. Emma Recchi, much like Emma Bovary, is not finding freedom in her escape but bondage to fantasy and sin.

    • Christopher,
      My love of this film is almost entirely on an aesthetic/formal level. Like you, I didn’t feel much sympathy for Emma or her moral choices. But I also don’t necessarily feel like the film is endorsing her moral behavior either. I didn’t get the sense that Emma came out exalted as a heroine. Her actions led to the death of her son, the abandonment of her family, etc.
      But even if the film was in some sense endorsing her romantic impulse to escape, etc., I think it’s still a beautiful accomplishment on a formal level.
      The attention to detail, color, shadow, the variance of shot distance, the grandiose music, the set design and costumes, sound and ambient language… It was all so elegant and timeless in a highly sensory, melodramatic, Old Hollywood sort of way. Nothing like it has come out in recent years, and as a lover of film history, I couldn’t resist the intense aura of cinema (Visconti, Sirk, Antonioni, Huston, Hitchcock) it exuded from every pore. Just like I can hardly endorse the moral behavior of characters in Hitchcock’s films, even while I can appreciate the intricacies of how form imbues or reflects their neuroses, I can embrace a film like “I Am Love” for the excellence of its craft as it serves the story (whether or not that story is morally agreeable).
      There are scores of novels of exquisite literary merit featuring protagonists who engage in morally reckless behavior, just as there are countless films of exquisite cinematic merit (The Godfather, Badlands, anything by Tarantino) whose protagonists are corrupt. Are we to dismiss these films outright because they position tales of vice in an aesthetically gripping, potentially romantic way?

      • Christopher Benson

        Brett: This reply helps me to better understand your evaluation of “I Am Love.” While we may disagree about the merits and morals of the story, I acknowledge that the craft deserves praise. For me, however, the form is not enough to carry the film if the content is deficient.

  4. Yep. Jacki Weaver was amazing and also had no chance.

    Another Australian crime-family film, ‘The Boys’, from 1998, is even better.

  5. Brett,

    What about In A Better World made you think it would win the Oscar? I was only able to see Biutiful and Incendies before the Oscars so I’m curious about your reasoning behind your choice… that being said, I’m very eager to see In a Better World because I really like Susanne Bier’s films and Anders Thomas Jensen’s writing…

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