2012 Memo to the Academy

(Re-posted from LimitéMagazine.com)

Dear Academy,

Here we go again. The Super Bowl is over, and now it’s time for the real games to begin. You have a hefty task in front of you—choosing who’s most deserving of that little golden guy. With all the hype and buzz around, it’s easy to get confused. Here’s a little help.

Your friends,

Limité’s film staff

BEST PICTURE

Nominees: The ArtistThe DescendantsExtremely Loud & Incredibly CloseThe HelpHugoMidnight in ParisMoneyballThe Tree of LifeWar Horse

Dan QuitérioHugo. For my money, Hugo is the best-composed film of the year—the imaginative performances, the vivid art direction, the crisp cinematography, the rich story—they all come together to provide the audience with a complex and colorful experience, all the while providing it with a lesson in film history without it feeling like sitting in a stodgy classroom. On top of that, the film provides some of the best use of 3D than any other film in recent memory—a format that surely isn’t going anywhere and was lovingly embraced by a true master of filmmaking in Martin Scorsese. No other film last year—except for maybe Midnight in Paris—has the capability of igniting the imagination quite like Hugo. This film reminds us why the film medium is so special.

Predicted Winner: The Artist

Stephanie DawsonThe Artist. I don’t think any of these films are as amazing or as groundbreaking as nominees in previous years. The Tree of Life is polarizing because of it’s “what?!” factor. Extremely Loud & Incredibly CloseThe Help, and War Horse revel in their emotional manipulation of the audience. Moneyball and Midnight in Paris are better writing achievements than complete films. The story momentum in both Hugo and The Descendants keeps sputtering and the central stories change at least twice in each. The Artist is simple, enjoyable from the first frame, and just the right amount of “sweet,” and so it has my vote, unfortunately by default.

Predicted Winner: The Artist

Janice PerezMidnight in Paris. I haven’t seen anything in a very long time that resonated with me on a very intimate and highly personal level the way Woody Allen’s darling of a film did. Maybe it stems from my being a dedicated Francophile, or probably because that film was a beautiful homage to art. Well, whatever the cause, I loved Midnight in Paris to the hilt for being a film that really brought my own fondest imagination to life.

Predicted Winner: The Artist

BEST DIRECTOR

Nominees: Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), Alexander Payne (The Descendants), Martin Scorsese (Hugo), Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life)

Dan QuitérioMartin Scorsese. For years, I’ve struggled with this category. How do you see direction on screen? You can see the performances, the production design, the cinematography. You can hear the music and the sound design. But how do you see direction? It wasn’t until I saw Hugo that it hit me. As I stated above, this film is the best-composed film, and Scorsese firmly stood before the orchestra with baton in hand. The best director is the person who can take so many complex elements and make them flow together in a way that makes sense, is seamless, and maintains the same level of quality and entertainment value from fade in to cut to black. Scorsese is a master.

Predicted Winner: Michel Hazanavicius

Stephanie DawsonMartin Scorsese. Many of my friends wonder why there is a directing category separate from Best Picture because they find it difficult to distinguish how directing individually and specifically contributes to the film, as opposed to, say, screenwriting or costume design. In defense of this category, I would offer that Hugo has Martin Scorsese’s stamp all over it. It’s a love letter to the birth of filmmaking from a walking film encyclopedia with some cute, orphaned kids and their toy automaton as window dressing. I believe The Artist is a juggernaut that will sweep the awards this year, but no film nominated for Achievement in Directing is more of a reflection of its director than Hugo (except for, perhaps, Midnight in Paris).

Predicted Winner: Michel Hazanavicius

Janice PerezMartin Scorsese. I really want to say Woody Allen on this one (because of my Best Picture preference), but I think I’ll have to go with Martin Scorsese, considering that Hugo is a magnificent picture that was so unlike anything he’s ever done in the past. I think by breaking through to another genre and making such a splash makes Scorsese truly deserving of the statue.

Predicted Winner: Michel Hazanavicius (I’m really rooting for him, too!)

BEST ACTOR

Nominees: Demián Bichir (A Better Life), George Clooney (The Descendants), Jean Dujardin (The Artist), Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Brad Pitt (Moneyball)

Dan QuitérioJean Dujardin. Any great performance shows off a complete arc in a compelling way. Dujardin does this flawlessly—from a charismatic and confident movie star to a depressed and down-and-out has-been. With his performance, this French actor who’s little known in the United States was able to break past the recognition barrier in Hollywood, a place that puts such high value on big-name stars. To be able to do that without uttering a single word (okay, maybe he uttered a word or two) speaks to the emotional journey on which he so beautifully leads us.

Predicted Winner: Jean Dujardin

Stephanie DawsonGary Oldman. Oldman is one of the best actors of our time. He transforms himself into every role and is overdue for a golden boy. Tinker is not the best film in the field, but it’s good enough to award an Oscar to someone who has been deserving for awhile.

Predicted Winner: Jean Dujardin

Janice PerezGary Oldman. For being the coolest, smartest, and most anti-James Bond secret agent character the screen has ever seen! In my perfect world, espionage experts would exude the sophistication and subtleties the way Gary does in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It is a performance so striking and mesmerizing!

Predicted Winner: Jean Dujardin (And yes, I’m rooting for him, as well!)

BEST ACTRESS

Nominees: Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Viola Davis (The Help), Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn)

Dan QuitérioMeryl Streep. There’s really not much to be said about Streep’s performance. It speaks for itself. I will say this, though: Streep is the finest actor of all time, and her record 17 Oscar nominations is just a small indication of this. For her performance in The Iron Lady, she deserves the win here—not because of her distinguished career, but because her performance in this specific film is simply the most award-worthy in this category.

Predicted Winner: Viola Davis

Stephanie DawsonMeryl Streep. I had to keep reminding myself that the woman on screen was Meryl Streep, not the actual Margaret Thatcher. Whether Streep did a great impression may be up for debate, but she does carry the film. Viola Davis is an amazing actress, but her character is one of an ensemble that holds The Help together. Since Davis doesn’t have a long list of Oscar-worthy performances left un-awarded, I can only assume that Oscar will grant its highest honor to the ideal of the character in The Helprather than the merits of the performance.

Predicted Winner: Viola Davis

Janice PerezMeryl Streep. I was too young to be aware of Margaret Thatcher during the last few years of the height of her popularity to know what she was really like, but thanks to Meryl’s impeccable performance, I now know. Meryl had the most cumbersome role to play, especially bringing to mind she was portraying a real-life figure who is not only still alive, but who also happens to be among the most divisive personalities of world politics.

Predicted Winner: Meryl Streep

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Nominees: Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn), Jonah Hill (Moneyball),  Nick Nolte (Warrior), Christopher Plummer (Beginners), Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close)

Dan QuitérioNick Nolte. I predicted this nomination while watching Warrior several months ago. For years, people have been writing off Nolte, but personal issues aside, you can’t deny a quality actor with the recognition he deserves for a raw, emotional turn that really makes you feel something. This is acting at its absolute best.

Predicted Winner: Christopher Plummer

Stephanie DawsonNick Nolte. Nolte’s performance is raw and haunting. It is a stand-out performance without stealing the scenes—doing exactly what a supporting character is supposed to do within the anatomy of a film.

Predicted Winner: Christopher Plummer

Janice PerezChristopher Plummer. His portrayal of a widower finally coming out of the closet at 75-years-old is one of the most remarkable performances I’ve seen all year. Christopher’s Hal is so poignant that I felt he even outshone Ewan McGregor and everyone else in that film—well, probably everyone except for Arthur, the Jack Russell terrier (played by Cosmo).

Predicted Winner: Christopher Plummer

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Nominees: Bérénice Bejo (The Artist), Jessica Chastain (The Help), Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids), Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs), Octavia Spencer (The Help)

Dan QuitérioMelissa McCarthy. How often do you see a supporting performance that steals the entire movie? That’s what McCarthy does as the raunchy Megan in last year’s unexpected blockbuster, Bridesmaids. No matter how many times I watch the movie, she has me falling out of my chair in laughter, and that’s thanks to a skilled actress capable of bringing great writing to life (not to mention some solid improv skills). Comedic actors don’t often get love at the Oscars, but there’s nothing worse than a joke that falls flat, and, to me, that means good comedic acting is often a greater accomplishment than acting in any other form. McCarthy nails it in this movie, and many months later, people are still talking about it. That has to count for something.

Predicted Winner: Octavia Spencer

Stephanie DawsonOctavia Spencer. Every time Octavia Spencer hits the screen in The Help, it’s a treat. And though the largest flaw of the film is its lack of depth, Spencer’s performance carries the weight of racism, spousal abuse, and stifled potential without being too victimized or too preachy, and that is one of the film’s greatest achievements.

Predicted Winner: Octavia Spencer

Janice PerezMelissa McCarthy. Although there are a couple other names in the category who I’m hoping would win this award, I think I’ll go with Melissa, mainly for the reason that comedy films hardly get any favor from the Academy. And not only that, female comedians—or rather, successful female comedians—are still a thing of rarity in this era, so I hope Melissa really bags this one.

Predicted Winner: Octavia Spencer

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Nominees: Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids), JC Chandor (Margin Call), Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), Asghar Farhadi (A Separation)

Dan QuitérioAnnie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids). There’s a lot that goes into a screenplay—more than just dialogue and action lines. The things that make Bridesmaids stand above all others in this category are the interesting, distinctive, and well-rounded characters. Creating good characters and giving them their own voices is certainly a challenge, and somehow these two novice screenwriters were able to do it in a way that appears effortless.

Predicted Winner: Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)

Stephanie DawsonAsghar Farhadi (A Separation)A Separation is a perfect film. It starts with a Shakespearean prologue that introduces the main characters and essential elements of the story while keeping the audience engaged and propelling the plot. Then the story takes off, bringing the audience along for the ride, with each scene raising the stakes and offering character perspectives on cringe-worthy moral questions. When the film ends, the audience is left in anguish for everyone, even the supporting characters, while understanding that each outcome is grounded in truth. This screenplay is the stuff of timeless classic films and deserves this award. The ever-escalating ensemble piece Margin Call is the next “best screenplay,” in my opinion.

Predicted Winner: Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)

Janice PerezWoody Allen (Midnight in Paris). I think if Luis Bunuel were still alive, he’d highly approve of Woody Allen’s clever take on his life in 1920s Paris in Midnight in Paris. The writing is brilliant, overall, and the way Woody meshes the modern time with the 1920s is well executed.

Predicted Winner: Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) or Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris)

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Nominees: Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash (The Descendants), John Logan (Hugo), George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon (The Ides of March), Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin (Moneyball), Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)

Dan QuitérioSteven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin (Moneyball). How do you make a movie about math interesting? You hire Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin to write it. Not only am I not into math, but I’m not a fan of baseball; that didn’t deter me from walking out of the theatre in awe of the razor-sharp dialogue (Sorkin’s specialty) and heartfelt characters.

Predicted Winner: Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash (The Descendants)

Stephanie DawsonGeorge Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon (The Ides of March). This is a difficult pick. The Ides of March is the only nominated screenplay not adapted from a book—and it shows. While Ides nimbly builds its plot, as I imagine the original play, Farragut North, doesthe other screenplays feel a bit labored by their abundance of character back stories and plot twists. Whether it’s easier to adapt a play or book is not at issue here—it’s the actual screenplay, and Ides is the best of the field. However, the Oscars’ love affair with Alexander Payne is still going strong and I think he’ll be rewarded here.

Predicted Winner: Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash (The Descendants)

Janice PerezGeorge Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon (The Ides of March). I thought the way the twists and turning points were plotted in the screenplay was sheer genius. I remember countless times throughout the movie when a reveal would be made and I went, “Oh! I didn’t see that coming!” It was really flawless!

Predicted Winner: Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin (Moneyball)

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