2012: The Year of Nostalgia

By Drew Hunt

A lot has been written and said about the Academy Awards over the years, and it’s safe to say that the breadth of the ongoing conversation makes plenty of room for people with diverging opinions. I find there are three distinct zones of Oscar appreciation: Oscar Devotees, who hold annual viewing parties, serve relatively inexpensive champagne and predict the nominees in hopes of winning some sort of office pool; Middle-Of-The-Roaders, who may or may not watch the awards, depending on what they’ve got going on or if there’s something better to watch; and finally, The Jaded Cine-istas, who would just as soon pop in a Jean-Marie Straub DVD and call it a night.

I suppose I fall somewhere between a Devotee and a Middle-of-the-Roader. The Academy Awards, like all major awards shows, are meant to showcase the industry in as positive a light as possible. For me, the writing’s on the wall. But the narrative of the Oscars offers intriguing insights into our culture as a whole. The nominees themselves tell a story. This year, nostalgia is the name of the game, making for a group of films that offer ages past as safety nets to help cope with our currently troubled times. Frontrunners “The Artist” and “Hugo” gaze romantically at the history of cinema, while “Midnight In Paris” treads similar ground with its idealistic take on 1920s Paris. On the more dubious end of the spectrum, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” “The Help” and “War Horse” each take a pair of rose-colored glasses to some particularly heinous moments in history and do so without batting an eyelash.

If Hollywood is offering us a sort of revisionist history, it’s one where Adrian Brody is Salvador Dali, the brief and illusory time of allegiance after 9/11 made the whole tragedy worth it, and all silent films had adorable dogs in them. The nominees that make us ponder our own existence—either metaphysically in “The Tree of Life” or pragmatically in “The Descendants”—likely won’t win a thing. I’m excited to tune in and see for myself.

My predictions:

Best Picture

Will win: “The Artist”

Should win: “The Tree of Life.” Terrence Malick’s supreme vision of life and death in West Texas is shoulders above the other nominees in terms of sheer expressiveness. With this deeply personal film, he’s captured the immeasurable process of self-reflection and committed it to celluloid. A true accomplishment.

Best Director

Will win: Martin Scorsese

Should win: Malick. His command of cinematic craftsmanship is as bold now as it ever was. Also, to see how nuanced his process is, look no further than the astounding performances from the film’s child actors.

Best Actor

Will win: Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”

Should win: Brad Pitt, “Moneyball” His status as a world-famous movie star makes room for a humble, articulated performance devoid of the CGI gimmickry in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” or over-expressive cartoonishness of “Inglourious Basterds.”

Best Actress

Will win: Viola Davis, “The Help”

Should win: Davis. The biggest reason “The Help” barely—just barely—works as a film is thanks to its strong cast, of which Davis is its powerful center.

Best Supporting Actor

Will win: Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”

Should win: Plummer. For a film that lacks any serious insights, Plummer’s rich and humane performance is ultimately quite moving.

Best Supporting Actress

Will win: Octavia Spencer, “The Help.”

Should win: Melissa McCarthy, “Bridesmaids” If only because the Oscars rarely recognize comedic performances, even ones as deft as McCarthy’s.

Best Writing – Original Screenplay

Will win: Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris.”

Should win: Asghar Farhadi, “A Separation” The intricacies of Farhadi’s script far surpass anything doled out by Hollywood this year.

Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay

Will win: John Logan, “Hugo.”

Should win: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, “The Descendants.” Comedy and drama expertly distilled.

Best Animated Film

Will win: “Rango”

Should win: “Rango” As one of the better films of the year—animated or otherwise—this genre-bending Western adequately fills the space Pixar usually occupies.

Best Foreign Language Film

Will win: “A Separation”

Should win: “A Separation” The Academy will think it’s making a grand statement by awarding Farhadi, but this masterful film speaks for itself.

Best Documentary

Will win: “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front.”

Should win: None of them. The year’s best docs, including Steve James’ “The Interrupters,” Clio Barnard’s “The Arbor” and Lucy Walker’s “Waste Land,” all went unrecognized.

Best Cinematography

Will win: Emmanuel Lubezki, “The Tree of Life.”

Should win: Lubezki. He’s been nominated before and the timing is perfect.

Best Film Editing:

Will win: Thelma Schoonmaker, “Hugo.”

Should win: Angus Wall and Kurt Baxter, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Anybody able to materialize David Fincher’s meticulous vision deserves the award.