In part one of our extensive conversations on the 2013 Academy Award nominations, we get all medieval on Les Miserables, talk about what our own personal Best Picture nominations may have looked like, and dip our toes into some of the Zero Dark Thirty controversy.
Doug: Alright. We should have been recording before. See, when the lights come on, I can’t…
Sarah: You get all tensed up?
Doug: When the heat is on, it’s harder to come through with the good material.
Sarah: Well, how do we feel about the nominees?
Doug: How do you feel about the nominees?
Sarah: I feel pretty good about this year’s nominees, definitely better than last year’s.
Doug: One thing that will be fun about talking about the nominees this year is discussing what is best out of a pile of good stuff instead of discussing what is just the least worst, if that’s even a legal phrase.
Sarah: And last year I seem to remember us complaining that there weren’t really any fun, outside the box picks in the Best Picture category. In past years, we were happy that movies like Inglourious Basterds and District 9 got nominations, and last year not so much. This year Django Unchained, certainly not a movie the Academy would normally go for. Even Argo is a little outside the box for a Best Picture nominee…
Doug: Yeah, although you might argue it’s outside the box quality wise, too. Kind of mediocre for a Best Picture. In terms of being more of a pure entertainment, Life of Pi would qualify.
Sarah: That one is very pretty to look at. Zero Dark Thirty isn’t 100% standard Oscar fare, but you kind of get Kathryn Bigelow and Tarantino as repeat nominees in the Best Picture category, like the Academy has accepted them somehow.
Doug: Interestingly, each of the nominees in their own way (maybe except Amour) has some version of a happy ending.
Sarah: I’m not sure how happy I felt at the end of Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Doug: But it wasn’t a completely unhappy ending.
Sarah: It was inspiring, at least. And Les Miserables is certainly a bit of a downer.
Doug: I try to not even count that, because I can’t believe it’s even on the Best Picture list.
Sarah: I don’t want to get into it right now, but I could certainly add my two cents on The Miserable Ones, as well.
Doug: Well, go ahead, what are you waiting for?
Sarah: OK, my quip is that it’s named The Miserable Ones not for its content, but for how it makes the audience feel.
Doug: Wow, zinger!!! I’ll take it even further, though, because I didn’t even feel that. I was bored. And I have to tell you that I was in the perfect mood to see it. I really, really, really wanted to like it. And it connected not a wit. I just wasn’t feeling the characters. They weren’t developed at all. And the singing wasn’t even really that good.
Sarah: For the first hour and a half, or even more, I was thinking, “Make this go faster.” But the last 45 minutes or so, I could get behind that. I may even go so far as to say that if the last 45 minutes of the movie had been the whole thing, I might have actually liked it.
Doug: I thought the last 45 minutes was Les Interminables, but I probably had my feelings tinged by the preceding two hours.
Sarah: The best three scenes in the movie happened in the last 45 minutes.
Doug: I don’t remember any of them being very good, so the floor is yours.
Sarah: I liked the scene where Javert pinned the medal to the dead boy’s chest.
Doug: I guess.
Sarah: I know you didn’t like Russell Crowe in this…
Doug: I must have given the wrong impression, I thought he was fine.
Sarah: I thought he had the crappiest role…
Doug: Man, we are on two different planets on this one, because I thought he had the best role.
Sarah: He had a character that wasn’t developed at all, but he at least made something out of it. I thought he did a pretty good job. You didn’t like his singing, and I’ll admit that was not outstanding. But as far as making a character that wasn’t very well developed…
Doug: Which characters in Les Mis were well developed? That’s the problem with the whole movie.
Sarah: That is the problem. They turned a 1,000 page book into a two and a half hour movie. Javert had a whole section in the book, so you could understand him. But in the movie, he’s all of a sudden, like, “Now I’m going to jump off a wall.”
Doug: Right, I’m thinking, “He’s jumping into the abyss now? Because of what just happened?” Nothing that preceded that scene in the movie led to that scene making any sense, or having any context.
Sarah: Yeah, it’s just, whatever. But the scene where Eponine dies was effective. Samantha Barks was really good.
Doug: For sure, she and Anne Hathaway were the best parts of the movie.
Sarah: Didn’t Samantha Barks get nominated? Oh, wait, she didn’t? That is a bummer, but it probably wouldn’t have worked out very well going against Anne Hathaway. When Hugh Jackman is dying, that scene was pretty effective, too.
Doug: The performances were fine, some of them better than fine. But I had nothing invested in the characters. So, I wasn’t feeling very much at any point.
Sarah: I’m not saying this was a good movie. If the best I can say is there were three good scenes in a…
Doug: Two and a half hour movie.
Sarah: Yes. I don’t think we’re really all that far off in our assessments.
Doug: Neither one of us really liked it, so let’s talk about some other stuff. I go back to saying there was a lot of good in the movies this year, some very good, but maybe after I really look at it not a lot of classic. My two favorite movies on the Best Picture list are Django and Life of Pi. And neither one of those are going to win, so…
Sarah: I don’t think we were particularly surprised by many of the nominations. They may not have been exactly our favorites, or what we would have picked. We can pretty much tell some of my favorite movies of the year by the fact that, as of right now, the only category where I’ve seen all the movies is the one for Animation.
Doug: OK, come on. This is our blog, and we can do what we want. Let’s look at Best Picture. Theoretically, you can have 10 nominations, and they made 9. So, tell me what your pics would have been. You can just add one, if you want. Or throw some out and add some in.
Sarah: If it were my Academy Awards, things like The Avengers, things like The Hobbit, they would make it onto the list.
Doug: OK, but what would they knock out?
Sarah: We’re both setting aside Amour for now, because neither of us has seen it.
Doug: And I am assuming that anything would knock out Les Mis.
Sarah: Yeah, so that gives me two slots right there. Actually, I’d probably add The Hobbit and Paranorman. I’m not sure I’d move anything else off the list. Maybe Argo. I think I enjoyed watching The Avengers more than I enjoyed watching Argo.
Doug: And if you enjoyed it more, go for it. These are your Academy Awards.
Sarah: You know I like the comic book movie stuff, shit blowing up. I can’t argue with that.
Doug: I agree with you that they mostly got it right on Best Picture.
Sarah: You liked Looper.
Doug: You just want me to give props to JGL, but you’re right. I would add in Looper and The Dark Knight Rises. I think the more I think about it, Moonrise Kingdom deserved some Best Picture love, too. So, I’ve got to knock out two movies in order to be left with the limit of 10. Easily Les Mis gets dumped. And then, as much as I’ve knocked Argo as not being Academy Award material, I think my next movie to be bumped would be between Silver Linings Playbook and Beasts of the Southern Wild. And, I’d have to bump Silver Linings. Beasts had just a little more going for it.
Sarah: I liked the temperament of Silver Linings Playbook a lot. It was just such a positive feeling movie, and I liked that a lot.
Doug: And normally, I’d be the one talking about how that’s right up my alley, and it was right up my alley. I liked the performances a lot, and it did have a good feel. But it was just a little more average, in the category of movie that it falls into, than the others on the list.
Sarah: The more I thought about Silver Linings, the more I appreciated the directing. The performances were good, but after you watch it, you realize that in order to get that story to hang together, the director had a lot do and had to have a vision.
Doug: It could have easily gotten out of control and overly sappy. I’m sure that’s why David O. Russell got the Best Directing nomination. He definitely deserves credit for that. I’m not a David O. Russell completest, but I have read that a lot of his fans, while they were happy that he got nominated, were a little off that this is the movie of his that would get nominated. He was nominated for The Fighter, but in his list of quirky movies, maybe this wasn’t the best. Things like Flirting With Disaster, I Heart Huckabees, Three Kings, etc may have been stronger.
Sarah: Speaking of the quirky style, we spoke a bit about Moonrise Kingdom. It got the screenplay nomination, which makes a ton of sense because it’s the writing that largely makes that one.
Doug: Any Wes Anderson movie has a particular feel and look. And they are always exquisitely written, and Moonrise certainly was.
Sarah: He’s got that certain tableau, and he’s almost capturing a picture of the world he creates. His movies have that stilted quality, too, though. It’s not a criticism, but I can see where not everyone would get with that. But I loved Moonrise. The story telling is what ultimately made it work, but…
Doug: There were some darn good performances in that movie.
Sarah: Some very good performances. And maybe not a ton of laugh out loud moments, but a lot to smile at, dark comedy…
Doug: He’s got an uncanny ability to play in dark comedy but still have it come out feeling very sweet and innocent.
Sarah: Yeah. Bill Murray in that, as always, he was great. And he should be forced to wear those pants, just constantly.
Doug: I think he would be happy to do that.
Sarah: Definitely would be happy to. And from now on, other movies, real life, he should have to wear those pants.
Doug: Moonrise kind of fell through the cracks, it feels like, Best Picture wise. Part of it was when it came out. A lot of these Best Picture nominees came out in the last third of the year. Plus, a lot of the movies nominated this year were “bigger” movies. And Moonrise wasn’t. Since we’re talking writing, I’m just going to get this rant out of the way. I know you haven’t seen it yet, but…
Sarah: Oh, here comes the Flight rant.
Doug: Flight being nominated for its writing is offensive.
Sarah: It’s interesting that it’s on a list with the writing that was done in movies like Moonrise and Django. It’s nowhere near the same quality, it seems.
Doug: It’s way worse than that. It’s unreal to me that before the nominations came out, it was expected that Flight was going to get nominated for screen writing mainly because other writers loved the screenplay so much. When you see it, maybe you’ll explain what I missed. But my wife and I both hated it. It was terrible on two levels. The writing that dealt with Denzel’s character’s addictions was trite, cliché and lazy. And, especially in the second half of the movie, the directions the story took were so preposterous (Sarah laughs) and unbelievable. I mean, you were supposed to believe the potential realness of this stuff on some level. And there was not one part of the writing that rung true. When you watch it, you will throw something against a wall when you get to a scene where Denzel’s character comes across an open door that leads to a connecting hotel room with a mini bar. It’s that bad and insulting to the audience. Denzel should win the Academy Award for making this stuff watchable. And, we’ll talk about him another time, because he was electric in this. Anyway, this is the only nomination that I’m…
Sarah: Downright mad about?
Doug: Ridiculous. In a heartbeat, Looper should have been up for screenplay. And we’d be left with an awesome screenplay category. Although Zero Dark Thirty, which is getting a lot of credit for being almost journalistic, is…
Sarah: Completely fabricated? I mean, I still have to see it. But you can say Zero Dark Thirty is inspired by true events in the same way Law And Order is inspired by true events.
Doug: I am a little more uncomfortable with that part of it. It, I imagine captured the general feel for how the Bin Laden hunt went down and all, maybe, kind of, sort of…
Sarah: But maybe not. There are plenty of unanswered questions about all of it for a movie to be holding itself up as being definitive in any way.
Doug: And I’m all for artistic license and all, but…
Sarah: I wonder how much thought people gave to all this when they made the nominations. Especially when it came to screenplay. Because you could watch the movie and be drawn in, and think the performances are great, but maybe not think to critically, “Hmmm, I wonder how they constructed this story, how much research did they do, where did they get their information?” And if you’re not thinking about any of that, you could argue that even if it was mostly fabricated, it could still be well written. They’re kind of saying, we snagged some infor from the New York Times, made some stuff up, and put it together. Enjoy.
Doug: And, I may be reading this wrong. But they seem to want full credit for this being a strongly “journalistic” movie, and then they don’t want to own that. They want the credit for the grittiness and realness of it. Then when somebody calls them on what isn’t…
Sarah: Isn’t real?
Doug: Right, then they just say, hey, dramatic license. Lots of movies do that, and maybe I’m being too harsh on Zero Dark Thirty in this regard.
Sarah: Compare it to Argo, for instance. Ben Affleck talked about the great freedom you have when you take a real story and then do a movie on it with the disclaimer “Based On A True Story”. You can really mess with it.
Doug: Yeah, that’s the natural comparison. I like the fact that Ben Affleck is so open about it. I know that one of the big reasons I’m probably being overly analytical about Zero Dark Thirty in this regard is that 9/11 and Bin Laden is still such a fresh wound. Because, let’s face it, the Iranian hostage crisis was a huge blow to the country, too.
Sarah: It was huge. And it’s been 30 years since it happened, but that’s still a sore spot.
Doug: But Argo takes a much, much more playful angle on its story than Zero Dark Thirty does. So, it’s easier to take that for what it is. Again, Zero Dark Thirty is still a movie, so maybe I’m being too harsh. The thing is, I liked it quite a bit.