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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

On the 2013 Academy Awards: Great Expectations

The academy awards will air next Sunday with Seth MacFarlane as host, a stratagem in my opinion, what with the sad return of Billy Crystal last year; lesson learned: never return to an old love for they will almost always not live up to their cherished memory.  MacFarlane will bring his paradoxical combination of baby-faced elegance and potty mouthed cynicism; a mini surprise at each joke. I have great expectations for him.

This is the first year I have personally seen every movie nominated, thanks to the wonders of the internet (no questions please). I'd have to say my pick for best movie would be Amour, the French offering directed by Michael Haneke (also nominated) and starring Emmanuelle Riva (nominated for best actress as well), Jean-Louis Trintignant, and Isabelle Huppert. Of all the nominees this film was the most affecting. It was a poignant, not sentimental, study of human dignity, the inevitability of growing old, and true love of course. Haneke is not afraid to take his time revealing the story of an elderly upscale couple, who must finally face the deterioration time visits on our fragile protoplasm.

Their daughter, played expertly by Huppert, provides the surface tension to her parent's sequestered and private existence. Riva, going from elderly piano teacher to double stroke victim, Anne,  auspiciously transforms herself in this role. Trintignant, as the devastated husband, Georges, shuffles unsteadily around the apartment and through his fractured life searching hopelessly for a fine balance between rehabilitation for his wife and for their acceptance of her condition. There are powerful scenes, like the one where Georges tells an addled and suffering Anne a story from his past that he has never revealed to her before, that will become etched in one's film memory.

Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva in Amour

Most of the other best picture nominees are very worthy runners-up. I enjoyed many of them. Silver Linings Playbook comes in a close second for me. It is smart and funny romance with great performances from the entire cast. Life of Pi is a beautifully rendered tale of a young boy forced to face some traumatic turns in his life. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a sort of coming of age tale, though the protagonist is kind of young and forced to grow up before her time. It heralds a great new talent, Quvenzhané Wallis, who becomes the youngest actor (eight years) nominated for a leading role.  

Lincoln is a very realistic portrayal of the volatile couple of months in which our country was rescued from its nadir. It features some masterful performances, but it plods a bit where it should step a little more lively. Django Unchained is a hilariously satirical effort from Quentin Tarrantino, who once again uses hyperbole to condemn a number of issues, not the least of which is violence. Les Miserables, another re-telling, this time completely in song, of the classic French novel is basically a film of the stage play. Great performances exist here, if some dubious singing, but it would have done better as a conventional musical, a la Fiddler on the Roof, rather than as an opera. The remaining nominees, Ben Affleck's Argo, and Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty both manage to inject intense action and suspense into what are basically docudramas. Although both films stand at the top of their genre they do not merit top film honors.

So I look forward, possibly more so than in earlier years, to seeing how my opinions stack up against those of the Motion Picture Academy's voters. Something tells me they will differ, but at least now I can yell at the TV with foreknowledge of artistic and thespian quality. And with MacFarlane at the helm I may actually enjoy the show this year, but that may be setting my expectations a little too high.

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