Best Picture

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This year, one of nine nominated films will be inducted into an exclusive society of movies that have received the Academy’s greatest honor, the Oscar for Best Picture.  Some of the films that this year’s winner will be joining include Gone With the Wind, The Sound of Music, The Godfather, Rain Man, Gladiator, The Artist, and many more; needless to say, this year’s Best Picture winner will be joining an elite collection of the world’s greatest films of all time.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Picture:

WINNER: Silver Linings Playbook

2. Zero Dark Thirty

3. Django Unchained

4. Life of Pi

5. Amour

6. Les Misérables

7. Beasts of the Southern Wild

8. Argo

9. Lincoln

Films snubbed in this category: Moonrise Kingdom

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Best Director

David O Russell

This year’s group of Best Director nominees includes an interesting dynamic of filmmakers.  The category features three directors with no previous Best Director nominations at the Academy Awards (Michael Haneke, Benh Zeitlin, and David O. Russell), and two experienced veterans in this category (Ang Lee and Steven Spielberg).  Between Lee and Spielberg, they have been nominated eight times for Best Director, winning three of those awards.  This will be one of the most anticipated awards throughout the entire ceremony, and I am personally thrilled to see who emerges as the winner in a category characterized by variety.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Director:

WINNER: David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

David O. Russell’s most popular films of his career are I Heart Huckabees (2004) and The Fighter (2010), but he has truly created a masterpiece in Silver Linings Playbook—this will surely go down as his best film to date.  I was greatly impressed by the acting performances in the movie, but I was also equally fascinated by the amazing script, also written by Russell—the ways in which he recreates this story on the screen are absolutely dazzling.  To say the least, I was strongly moved by almost every scene in the film, and this is due to Russell’s outstanding directorial effort.  Russell’s motion picture also becomes the first film since 1993 to be nominated in each of the Big 5 categories at the Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay).  Russell has never previously been nominated for Best Director at the Oscars.

2. Michael Haneke (Amour)

Even though Michael Haneke is up for his very first Best Director award at the Oscars, he is no stranger to accolades in the film industry.  The Austrian filmmaker has written and directed some of the world’s most admired foreign-language films, and he is one of only seven filmmakers to twice win the coveted Palme d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival (The White Ribbon, 2009, and Amour, 2012).  Haneke’s Amour was one of the most invigorating tales of the year, and his film has received a significant amount of acclaim all around the world, including five nominations at the Academy Awards.  Haneke has never previously been nominated for Best Director at the Oscars.

3. Ang Lee (Life of Pi)

As I stated in a previous post, I was not overly thrilled to see Life of Pi because it looked like a cheesy movie for kids—that was until I finally saw it.  Ang Lee is considered one of the greatest modern filmmakers, and he has only added to his legacy with Life of Pi.  Lee employed a wonderful writer and an amazingly fresh, young cast, and the ways in which he uses his veteran filmmaking skills to tell this elaborate story is nothing short of stunning.  Lee was previously nominated for two Best Director Oscars, winning the Academy Award in this category for Brokeback Mountain (2005).

4. Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

Benh Zeitlin has directed a momentous movie in his very first attempt at feature films.  I was quite surprised that this was his first feature film because after viewing the movie, it looked as if a world-renowned filmmaker created it.  If Zeitlin decides to make more films in the future, he is sure to become a staple at the Oscars after giving us one of 2012’s best motion pictures, Beasts of the Southern Wild.  Zeitlin has never previously been nominated for Best Director at the Oscars.

5. Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)

Steven Spielberg has garnered a substantial amount of critical acclaim for his newest film, Lincoln.  Even though it is touted as one of the year’s best and is predicted to win a slew of Oscars, I found the movie quite boring and bland, other than some great acting performances.  Personally, the movie did not seem much different, in entertainment level or filmmaking style, than Spielberg’s War Horse (2011), and I was bored to no avail by that movie.  Spielberg was previously nominated for six Best Director Oscars, winning the Academy Award in this category for two films: Schindler’s List (1993) and Saving Private Ryan (1998).

Directors snubbed in this category: Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty)

Best Actor

Jackman

This year’s field of Best Actor nominees includes two newcomers to the ceremony and three other actors with a rich history at the show.  Hugh Jackman and Bradley Cooper have each been acting for quite a while, but with their performances this year, they have each properly earned their first Oscar nomination.  Joaquin Phoenix, Daniel-Day Lewis, and Denzel Washington are no strangers to the Academy Awards, having previously won a combined four Oscars on eleven nominations.  With the way this year’s group has rounded out, it is sure to be a dogfight to the end, and honestly, any of these actors would be worthy of the Academy’s highest acting honor.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables)

In Les Misérables, Hugh Jackman plays Jean Valjean, an ex-con on the run from Javert, the determined and relentless French policeman.  Valjean eventually meets a factory worker and agrees to raise her daughter Cosette.  In Tom Hooper’s interpretation of the infamous musical, Jackman leads a group of talented singers and actors, and even though the others provide us with some emotionally charged portrayals, Jackman stands alone as the film’s most valuable performer.  Not only is his singing on point, the dramatic and affecting dynamism he brings to the screen is nothing short of spectacular.  With strong performances from all of this year’s nominees, Jackman demonstrates why he alone gave moviegoers the best acting performance.  Jackman has never previously been nominated for any Academy Awards.

2. Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)

In The Master, Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a World War II veteran with an alcohol dependency who struggles to make it in the post-war society.  He eventually comes across Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a religious movement called “The Cause.”  He joins the faction, but his complicated presence among the members of The Cause begins to create issues for everyone, and he becomes dismantled by his own doing.  In Phoenix’s return to dramatic feature films, he prevails tremendously.  After his horribly peculiar fake retirement and subsequent pseudo-documentary I’m Still Here, Joaquin Phoenix gives a tantalizing performance, which reminds us that he is very much still one of the heavy hitters in the realm of acting.  I wish I could give him the Oscar for this performance, but Jackman’s portrayal was far too strong.  Phoenix was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Gladiator (2000) and for Best Actor for his role in Walk the Line (2005).

3. Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

In Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis takes on the role of the 16th president of the United States.  I was never blown away whatsoever by Spielberg’s latest endeavor, but I did respect the amazing acting performances it includes, specifically Day-Lewis’ portrayal of the title character.  Even though he is one of my favorite actors and did a superb job in this film, I truly feel like all of the hype surrounding his performance was due to the makeup department making him look identical to Abraham Lincoln.  If he wins, they should share this award with him.  Also, being that video cameras or audio-recording devices were not around back then, we do not even know what Abraham Lincoln sounded like, so I find it amusing that critics praised his portrayal for his likeness to Lincoln’s voice.  Day-Lewis was previously nominated for four Academy Awards, winning for Best Actor for his roles in My Left Foot (1989) and There Will Be Blood (2007).

4. Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)

In Silver Linings Playbook, Bradley Cooper plays Pat Solitano, a man suffering with a severe case of bipolar disease.  After leaving a mental health institution, he moves back in with his parents and becomes romantically involved with an eccentric woman with some serious mental issues of her own.  In the breakout performance of Cooper’s dramatic acting career, he succeeds in every way possible.  Most known for his roles in comedic films, Cooper provides an exhilarating portrayal of a man trying to survive mentally after a life-changing incident with his wife.  This was one of the top movies of the year, and the performance Cooper gives only adds to its triumph.  Cooper has never previously been nominated for any Academy Awards.

5. Denzel Washington (Flight)

In Flight, Denzel Washington plays Whip Whitaker, an alcoholic airline captain.  Whitaker becomes an overnight celebrity after miraculously landing his plane after it malfunctions in the air and comes to a crashing halt.  Little does anyone know, the day he flew that plane, he was drunk and high.  Washington has a way of taking on the role of complicated characters that you as a viewer want to hate but can’t help but love, such as Alonzo Harris in Training Day and Frank Lucas in American Gangster; in Flight, he has once again provided us with this complex.  Washington is most definitely one of the most incredible actors in the film industry today, and he adds to his illustrious career with this performance.  Washington was previously nominated for five Academy Awards, winning for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Glory (1989) and for Best Actor for his role in Training Day (2001).

Actors snubbed in this category: John Hawkes (The Sessions)

Best Original Score

Skyfall Score

The Oscar for Best Original Score is awarded to a musical composer for the best body of musical work in the form of underscoring for a particular film.  This is perennially one of my favorite Academy Award categories because in my opinion, music is essentially what makes or breaks a film.  A movie is just a bunch of images and words, but with the addition of a musical score, the film develops feeling and emotion in a way that better connects with the viewers.  This year’s nominees include four composers with deep roots at the Oscars and one well-known composer earning his first nomination (Mychael Danna).  Between the four previously nominated composers in this year’s group, they have received 61 nominations in the Best Original Score category, winning six of those.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Original Score:

WINNER: Thomas Newman (Skyfall)

2. Mychael Danna (Life of Pi)

3. Alexandre Desplat (Argo)

4. Dario Marianelli (Anna Karenina)

5. John Williams (Lincoln)

Best Adapted Screenplay

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The Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay is awarded to the writer(s) of a particular screenplay adapted from another source, such as a book or play.  This year’s nominees are writers who, for the most part, have little history at the Academy Awards; in fact, between the nominees, they have only received two previous Oscar nominations in writing categories.  Some marvelous screenplays are nominated this year, but it is still pretty up in the air in regards to who will win—David O. Russell has won the BAFTA in this category and Tony Kushner has won the Critics’ Choice Award.  After seeing each of the nominated films, I have my produced my own assessment of the nominees; thus, the following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Adapted Screenplay:

WINNER: David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

David O. Russell, also the director of the film, adapted this screenplay from Silver Linings Playbook (2008), the debut novel of author Matthew Quick.  The film itself is among the best of the entire year, and much of the acclaim is directly due to Russell’s unblemished screenplay.  The screenplay is entertaining and captivating, and Russell’s words led to Academy Award nominations for each of his principal actors and actresses (Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, and Jacki Weaver).  David O. Russell faces stiff competition from a year of astounding adapted screenplays, but I believe his work stands alone among this group of heavy hitters.  Russell has not previously been nominated for any Academy Awards in either of the two writing categories.

2. David Magee (Life of Pi)

David Magee adapted this screenplay from Life of Pi (2001), a fantasy adventure novel by Yann Martel.  The original novel has received a great deal of critical acclaim, including the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, and Magee uses a spectacular screenplay to help director Ang Lee recreate this remarkable story.  Even though the film utilizes some extraordinary special effects, the movie would be nothing without the superb script from Magee.  David Magee was previously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Finding Neverland (2004).

3. Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

Lucy Alibar and director Benh Zeitlin adapted this screenplay from Juicy and Delicious, a one-act play originally written by Alibar herself.  The film has received a high level of critical praise, including a nomination for Best Picture, and that says a lot about the script considering the film features a group of amateur actors with little to no previous acting experience.  The biggest advantage for the writers is the fact that Alibar wrote the original play, giving her a much more in-depth perspective for the feature-film version.  Neither Alibar nor Zeitlin have been previously nominated for any Academy Awards in either of the two writing categories.

4. Chris Terrio (Argo)

Chris Terrio adapted this screenplay from a 2007 magazine article by Joshuah Bearman, detailing the true events of the covert mission “Canadian Caper” during the Iran Hostage Crisis.  Terrio is a little-known personality in the film industry—his only major involvement with a full-length feature film was as the director of the 2005 movie Heights.  In my opinion, Argo is not one of Ben Affleck’s strongest directorial efforts, but the film is carried throughout by a solid script.  The root of the drama and emotion in the film is Terrio’s writing, and his nomination is well deserved.  Terrio has not been previously nominated for any Academy Awards in either of the two writing categories.

5. Tony Kushner (Lincoln)

Tony Kushner adapted this screenplay from Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2005), a biographical book by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.  Even though the book covers Lincoln’s entire presidency, Kushner focused his script on the final four months of the president’s life, specifically his efforts to abolish slavery.  Kushner’s work is by far one of the most fluent and eloquent screenplays of the year, but in my opinion, it is rather bland and boring.  I feel that covering such a short, specific period of time in American history takes out all opportunities for creativity in a script, and it simply lacks a whole lot of action or entertainment.  Kushner was previously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Munich (2005).

Writers snubbed in this category: Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower)

Best Cinematography & Best Film Editing

Bond Cinematography

The Oscar for Best Cinematography is awarded to a particular film for the finest artistic and technical decisions in regards to the creation of the moving images on the screen.  The award is presented to the Director of Photography (Cinematographer) from the film.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Cinematography:

WINNER: Skyfall (Roger Deakins)

2. Life of Pi (Claudio Miranda)

3. Anna Karenina (Seamus McGarvey)

4. Django Unchained (Robert Richardson)

5. Lincoln (Janusz Kaminski)

Zero Film Edit

The Oscar for Best Film Editing is awarded to a particular film for the finest post-production digital editing.  The award is given to the film’s principal editor.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Film Editing:

WINNER: Zero Dark Thirty (Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg)

2. Life of Pi (Tim Squyres)

3. Silver Linings Playbook (Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers)

4. Argo (William Goldenberg)

5. Lincoln (Michael Kahn)