Oscar Re-Do: 2012

You know the drill: Winners in bold, then we break it down.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Should have won: Zero Dark Thirty
Not even nominated: Cloud Atlas

One of the best line-ups the Oscars have put forth since expanding from five, there are any number of great picks here. At the time, Argo‘s win felt a bit self-congratulatory. (Look at how important the movies are!) But in the last decade, as dramas – historical or otherwise – have been shunted to streaming services, it holds up as top-notch Hollywood filmmaking. Personal favorite Silver Linings Playbook would have been the rare comedy to win, and a radically empathetic one at that. Even Lincoln, which I dismissed at the time as something for history teachers to pop in after finals, is much more daring and complicated than it seems. But for me, it comes down to the two most controversial films: Michael Haneke’s Amour, which manages to be both bleak without wallowing and romantic without sentimentality. That’s a rare feat. And then there’s Zero Dark Thirty, which stirred things up before it was ever seen by anyone. Kathryn Bigelow’s docudrama about the hunt for Osama bin Laden was accused of factual inaccuracies, promoting torture, and even violating national security laws. But none of that really matters when you watch it. This is an utterly captivating revenge thriller that, whether it realizes it or not, questions whether everything the mission cost was worth it. (Short answer: No.) This is a gorgeous film about one of the ugliest periods in American history. That’s why it will stand the test of time.

But you know what’s even better, despite having more flaws? Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis’ Cloud Atlas, which adapts David Mitchell’s sci-fi novel as big as possible. Does it all work? Goodness, no. But when it’s at its best (which is often), it’s nothing short of breathtaking. It got zero attention from most awards groups, but it also deserved nominations for directing, writing, make-up, costume design, production design, visual effects and original score.

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

Should have won: Michael Haneke
Not even nominated: Leos Carax, Holy Motors

An extremely weird category. Ben Affleck won the DGA Award, despite not being nominated here. That was only the second time that happened, after Ron Howard’s Apollo 13. Ang Lee picked up his second directing Oscar, but Life of Pi feels more like the technology-driven films he’d pursue after and less like the human dramas he made his name on. That’s why I’m choosing to give it to Haneke, who spent decades as one of Europe’s most daring filmmakers before crossing over with this relationship drama.

But I’d happily swap out Zeitlin for Leos Carax, whose inexplicable, unclassifiable Holy Motors is the work of a mad genius.

Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight

Should have won: Joaquin Phoenix
Not even nominated: Jack Black, Bernie

With a third Best Actor Oscar, Daniel Day-Lewis solidified his place as one of the greatest actors of all time. His portrayal of the 16th President as deeply conflicted, grieving, conniving and quick-witted blows all other takes on Abe out of the water. Yet this is one of the strongest line-ups this category has ever had. I honestly would have been happy with any of these gentlemen winning. But I have to go with Joaquin Phoenix, who’s just astonishing here as the lost, out-of-control Freddie. It’s his best performance.

But oh how I wish there had been at least one more spot. Jack Black, who will probably never be nominated for an Oscar, deserved consideration for his turn as Bernie Tiede, the put-upon murderer. He’s always been a joyous performer, but in this turn, he pushed himself further than he ever had.

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

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: Michelle Williams, Take This Waltz

Went back and forth on this, but ultimately I’m still very satisfied with Lawrence’s win here. She’s the soul and fire of a complicated movie with an extremely tricky part.

I’d flip Naomi Watts for Michelle Williams. Granted, Williams has been nominated quite a bit, and specializes in playing miserable wives. She’s at it again in Sarah Polley’s romantic dramedy, but it’s more layered and understated than some of her other, more heralded performances.

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

Should have won: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Not even nominated: John Goodman, Argo

Finally, we get to a category I have a real issue with. For the first time ever, this field was made up entirely of previous winners. And somehow voters landed on Waltz. He’s certainly not bad in Django as the would-be white savior, but there are two problems: 1. He’s not a supporting actor in this. He’s a co-lead with Jamie Foxx. 2. Even if we do buy that categorization, he’s at best the third most interesting supporting actor in this film! Leonardo DiCaprio and especially Samuel L. Jackson are giving much better, deeper, more impressive performances. So instead, let’s give this to Hoffman, who’s a true supporting player in the film, and would never get another chance to be nominated or win, since he tragically died less than a year after the telecast.

While Arkin is fine in Argo, playing a director with a lot of regrets, there are plenty of other strong performers in the same film, starting with Goodman, who somehow has NEVER been nominated for an Oscar. His wild turn in Flight and solid work in Trouble with the Curve also help his worthiness.

Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect

While I do not love Tom Hooper’s adaptation of the long-running Broadway musical, I was always on board with Hathaway’s magnificent, heartbreaking performance as Fantine. A dream, indeed.

There’s no one here that deserves to lose out on a nomination, but I do want to shout out Rebel Wilson, who really was that hilarious in Pitch Perfect, even if the sequels offered diminishing returns.

Django Unchained
Moonrise Kingdom
Zero Dark Thirty

Should have won: No complaints here
Not even nominated: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

A tough category for sure. Django, Moonrise and ZDT are solid but hardly their writers’ finest hours. Flight‘s script is well, not great. (It works because Denzel is phenomenal.) And then there’s Amour, which is strong, but most of its strength comes from the unspoken moments between husband and wife. So I’ll stick with the Academy’s winner here, which has all of Tarantino’s hallmarks and like his previous film (which should have won here), gleefully rewrites history in red.

But what else belongs? Rian Johnson’s Looper was a brainy piece of sci-fi and The Master explored post-WWII identity and the lure of religious cults. But I’m going with the most hopeful of the bunch: Lorene Scafaria’s Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. A lovely, underrated gem, it’s an apocalyptic movie that actually sees the good in humanity, or at least some of it.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook

Should have won: Lincoln
Not even nominated: Killing Them Softly

Argo‘s script is sharp, turning geopolitical history into a Hollywood thriller. But it’s got nothing on Tony Kushner’s script, which makes oratorical fireworks out of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s hefty tome Team of Rivals. (And while this doesn’t necessarily factor into my decision, Chris Terrio followed up his win here with two of the worst scripts of all time: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.)

And while I just sang the praises of a hopeful movie, my cynical side must now champion one of the bleakest films of 2012. Killing Them Softly doesn’t have an ounce of subtlety, but Andrew Dominik’s crime epic is appropriately misanthropic about the modern world.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Wreck-It Ralph

Should have won: Wreck-It Ralph
Not even nominated: Rise of the Guardians

Brave is still pretty good, but became emblematic of the Academy defaulting to Pixar in this category. Any of the other films would have been better choices, but my personal favorite is a different Disney movie: the endlessly inventive Wreck-It Ralph.

And while this category is stacked, Rise of the Guardians is one of the era’s forgotten animated gems, with stellar world-building and character work.

What else did they get wrong?

Anna Karenina
Django Unchained
Life of Pi

Should have won: Skyfall
Not even nominated: The Master

I won’t repeat my gripe about Avatar‘s win here, especially since Claudio Miranda shot several gorgeous scenes on something other than a green screen. I just prefer Deakins’ stunning work on Skyfall, which has jaw-dropping shot after jaw-dropping shot.

And here’s where I’ll bitch about The Master getting snubbed in everything besides acting. PTA’s intense battle of wills is a technical marvel, with outstanding production design, music and sound. But the real stunner is Mihai Mălaimare’s cinematography, which captures the gorgeous landscapes, the captivating dialogue scenes and the intense fights.

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