Oscar 2012: Best Picture Race

Over the next few weeks (when I feel like it and get through the remainder of the Oscar nominees) I will examine each of the races in the top eight categories. I am in no way trying to keep this objective or subjective; like with everything else in this blog, I’m writing what I think and don’t really filter it.

The Nominees
The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Much has been made of the new Oscar format for Best Picture, the second revision since 2009. Lets first note that “The Dark Knight Problem”, which caused the switch in the first place, has not been solved.

For those who don’t follow the Oscars the way that I do (and let me be clear: I couldn’t care less about the awards show. I love movies. You could just put out a press release with the winners and that’d be good for me), let me explain. In 2008, The Dark Knight was widely considered to not only be a possible Best Picture candidate, but quite possibly the actual Best Picture. The ultimate winner was “Slumdog Millionaire” which was the right choice.

It didn’t happen. At the last minute, the ever-powerful Weinstein Company won a hard-fought campaign to get Kate Winslet’s “The Reader” nominated, finishing just ahead of TDK in voting. The Reader, Winslet’s powerhouse and Best Actress-garnering turn aside, was a fundamentally flawed movie that failed to deliver at the end. The Dark Knight remains one of the definitive crime dramas of our time; had Batman have not worn a cape, there would have been no question as to its inclusion.

In order to rectify this problem and bring in some potential more commercial fare, the Academy expanded to 10 Best Picture candidates for each of the last two years. In the 2009 season, this led to the creation of “The Blind Side Problem”, in which a non-deserving movie somehow made it into the ranks. The Blind Side was a fun movie with a great performance by Sandra Bullock; no more, no less. It certainly was no Dark Knight.

To find a compromise between the two, the Academy switched to a format which requires that a picture receive at least 5% of the first place vote for inclusion on the list, meaning that anywhere between 5 and 10 nominees could make it in any given year.

It remains to be seen whether this new format will work, and it will truly get its litmus test next year if “The Dark Knight Rises” lives up to its early billing. There are no Blind Sides in this year’s bunch; each and every film listed deserves to be there (yes, even Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close). However “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pt. 2” and “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” were two films that were as good or in some ways better than some of the films on the list, but got nary a whiff of recognition.

It seems we still have some way to go before we can actually choose a “Best Picture”, rather than “Best Picture That Makes Us Feel Cool For Nominating It”. Best Picture is meant to be the best overall film of the year, regardless of who is in it and the subject matter. The Academy would do well to recognize that even a $1 billion popcorn movie can be exceptionally well made and performed.

With that in mind, I step off my soapbox and offer my picks below.

Will Win: The Artist. This film is the truly original film of the year, which doesn’t necessarily automatically make it Best Picture in my book the way that it does some people. It just so happens that The Artist is a narrow screen, silent and black and white movie that somehow is incredibly taught, well performed and engages even us 21st century folks who have been weaned on Michael Bay and superhero films. The performer’s facial expressions told stories on their own, the story was timeless and even the dog deserved a nomination (Note to the Academy: we need a Best Animal category).

Should Win: This is a seriously tough one. I could make a case for The Artist (oh wait, I did that already), The Descendants and Hugo. I honestly thought that each of the nine nominees were deserving. However, if I am truly choosing the best overall movie of the year for writing, directing, performing and everything in between, I’d probably go with The Descendants. Alexander Payne’s dark comedy was pitch-perfect from beginning to end; no detail was missed and no performance was even off just a slight. There are those who would require Best Picture to be an epic masterpiece, but to me, Best Picture is simply that: the most well done and best experience at the cinema each year. Some years, it’s easy. This year, it’s razor thin margins.

Snubbed: As mentioned above, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pt. 2 and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol were deserving films. Though I wouldn’t have given either the top prize, both films were incredibly well done, especially considering how over-exposed the characters in each were. If you want a cool indie film for this spot, consider the widely overlooked “A Better Life”, a film that maybe three people had even heard of before the nominations came out. Finally, “Margin Call” was a wonderful and taut film which has been completely passed on by everyone in the business. Do yourself a favor and put it on your Netflix list.

Overhyped: The Artist. As I’ve previously noted in this section, people like to choose movies they think make them sound cool for having gone to see as winners in this category. The Artist is a great movie, but it’s equal with about 3-4 others in this category; it’s not miles better than everything else, no matter how cool you sound when you say it.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: This one deserved its own category, due to the polarizing nature of its reviews. It’s RT score is a mere 45%, meaning that more reviewers didn’t like the movie than liked it. All I have to say is that the Academy can pick better movies than critics sometimes, and ELIC’s inclusion redeems The Blind Side choice two years ago. The film is incredibly well done, very emotional and yes, about 9/11. Some people didn’t like the kid. He’s mentally ill, or did you not get that? You’re not supposed to like his temperament; take a look at the kid on Parenthood if you need a comparison. You say that director Stephen Daldry was manipulating a particular emotion? No doubt, but what director doesn’t? You, Mr. Reviewer, didn’t like this particular look at 9/11. Maybe you’re still in pain about it yourself. Maybe it was too soon. But this was a good movie, and it will hold up 10, 20 years from now. Write that down.