As I did last year, it’s time for me to prognosticate on what I felt were films and performances overlooked by this year’s Academy Awards.
But first and foremost, a disclosure: because of my work on Lilith, I haven’t gotten around to seeing all the films I’ve wanted to see this past year. I’m in the role of catch-up, but I’m at the point in my queue where I feel I can make some decisions on what I felt was overlooked. But I have to admit that this was an overall weak year for film, but at the end of the year saw some shining light in the form of some spirited indie films. And while I did immensely enjoy The King’s Speech, I did find it to be Oscar bait, a finely tuned and calculated piece of work that operates on the best that mainstream British cinema provides, which is a heart-wrenching feel good story of underdogs and overachievers (see Billy Elliot, Love Actually, The Full Monty, Bridget Jones Diary and just about every film made by Working Title).
And don’t get me started on The Kids Are All Right. Let’s just say I didn’t care for it. At all.
Let’s start with the locks: I wasn’t as completely overwhelmed by Natalie Portman as everyone else (see below) but I think she’s got it wrapped up because she’s right for Hollywood right now. Also I think Aaron Sorkin and Trent Reznor have the deserving locks on Adapted Screenplay and Original Score for The Social Network, and as aforementioned I think The King’s Speech has all but sealed the deal for Colin Firth and the Oscar for Best Picture. Those, I think, are the indisputable results.
And now the debatable and overlooked:
Black Swan was a spirited effort and while I think Natalie Portman certainly put the effort to win an Oscar, I found her performance one-note and lacking depth. She was convincing and committed, and the Academy loves physical transformations. The Oscar should however go to Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone. The overlooked performance, however, is that of Tilda Swinton in Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love. Simultaneously ferocious and understated, Swinton shines as a British actress playing a blue-blooded Russian who speaks Italian, and gives it her all for the film, body and soul. Swinton is one of those rare actresses who transcends physicality and aesthetic, and simply exists as pure energy and presence on screen. I Am Love is a towering achievement.
In one of the least talked about categories lays one of the fiercest competitions, and that is the Best Cinematography category. Prognosticators have made it a two-horse race between Wally Pfister’s mind-boggling work in Inception, and the continued legacy of excellence and perfection that Roger Deakins, the Susan Lucci of the Oscars, has demonstrated in True Grit. As I wrote long ago, I still feel Jeff Cronenweth deserves the Oscar for The Social Network, which is razor-sharp precise with a blanket of muted dread. It’s gorgeous work.
But if we’re looking for sheer innovation and audacity with the camera, the Overlooked Oscar should go to Benoît Debie for his work on Gaspar Noé’s remarkable Enter the Void. Debie is the true star of the film, wringing his camera into an absolute out-of-body experience, assaulting us with every feasible skill and tool at his disposal. The camera movement alone is deserving of the highest accolade, and add to that the infinitesimal scales of color and contrasts, of bokeh and digital manipulation of the image, and you have one of the greatest photographic achievements of the past decade.
Editing also presents one of the great robberies of the award season, as Lee Smith failed to garner a nomination for Inception. While the film certainly was not the complex mindfuck that everyone made it out to be, the nesting-doll structure of the story required a deft and skilled hand, and Smith delivered in spades, all the while never forsaking the white-knuckle tension that the film demanded. Also overlooked was the work of Jonathan Amos for Scott Pilgrim.
Best Foreign Film is a mixed bag, and likely Biutiful will win because it’s probably the only film of the bunch that people have actually seen, largely because of the towering presence of Javier Bardem. But the award should go to the incredibly audacious Dogtooth, a film that embraces the spirit of foreign independent cinema and runs with it. It is unapologetic, brave and relentlessly inventive. But the overlooked Oscar goes to Olivier Assayas’ terrorism epic Carlos, which will never get the recognition it deserves because of its oppressive length. Clocking in at 330 minutes, the film is perfectly executed on all fronts, and features an international star-in-the-making in lead actor Édgar Ramírez. In today’s lexicon where epic translates to technical bombast, Assayas’ telling of the life of Carlos the Jackal brings the word back to its original definition, that of sweeping scale, depth and scope. One of the best films of the year, hands down.
Best Visual Effects will likely go to Inception, because of the aforementioned love of all things visually epic. The overlooked work is that of Black Swan, which seamlessly integrated effects to the point where we never see them, which is the greatest compliment a visual effects artist can receive. The below video demonstrates the level of work in Black Swan, to the point where Natalie Portman didn’t even do much of the highly-publicized technical ballet work in the film (which is another reason why her campaign for Best Actress is flawed).
EDIT: I’ve embedded the ORIGINAL VFX reel that shows the infamous ‘head replacement’ shots, at 1:17 and thereafter…
I haven’t seen The Fighter so I can’t judge Christian Bale’s performance for Best Supporting Actor, but I also think that Geoffrey Rush gave an outstanding performance in The King’s Speech. But the most overlooked performance was that of Ryan Gosling, who was completely robbed of a Best Actor nomination for Blue Valentine (where I think he was even better than Michelle Williams). Gosling is both dangerous and identifiable - he consistently gives us characters that we know or have been in our real lives. His talent is undeniable.
Finally, my pick for Best Picture - amongst the ridiculously large pool of ten pictures - would in fact be The Social Network, for reasons I’ve written before many times. But if I had to choose an overlooked candidate for Best Picture, one which would likely never get any attention by the industry - and deservedly so because of its nature - it would be an odd little film that came out in early 2010 called Sweetgrass.
Sweetgrass takes the unlikely subject of a tough, arduous sheep drive (yes, sheep) across Montana, and treats it with a delicate and sublime eye, whose minimalism serves to reveal the maximum spirit of the relationship between man, animal and the Earth. It, like Carlos, is a perfectly executed film, a documentary done with a painter’s sensibility and the restrained drama of the finest narrative storytelling. It’s one of those films that, when you watch it, you know you are seeing something special, a window into the human condition that is so private and unspoken for.
And it says something for the role of abstraction in cinema. Sweetgrass is a film that allows the viewer to breathe, to explore and wander. It sets a thin parameter that is defined by our common experience and knowledge, but, like the beautiful Montana skies it so gorgeously captures, it has no ceiling. It is never abstract to the point of inducing boredom - there is a palpable tension and point to the journey. But most importantly it is a film that is honest and embraces the truth of the situation. Through its abstraction it never forces us to feel something (The King’s Speech forces us to feel emotional through carefully thought-out structure and filmmaking devices), rather we feel because we want to, not because we have to.
That’s a rarity in film, and one that must be praised. I know there isn’t a chance in hell as to the Academy ever recognizing a film like Sweetgrass, and I don’t think that was ever a worry for its filmmakers. It may be inconsequential to the Oscars, but it deserves to not be overlooked in a season dedicated to awarding excellence.
ADDENDUM: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention three things about Mark Romanek’s lovely film Never Let Me Go. Carey Mulligan’s performance is simply outstanding, and too worthy of Oscar consideration. Also worthy is Adam Kimmel’s sumptuous cinematography. You wouldn’t hear an argument from me if Romanek was in the list of directors snubbed by the Academy (hello, Christopher Nolan).
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- kevmichaluk said: This is a brilliant statement you’re making. I totally agree with about 90% of your opinions, especially about Enter the Void and the editing of Scott Pilgrim. And I share a similar standpoint on Inception being blown up. I’m gonna’ watch Sweetgrass.
- joegm said: Ah, dogtooth was brilliant!
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- lepoinconneurdeslilas said: I thought I was the only one who did not care for “The Kids are all right”. I actually hated it. And I will second Gosling being grossly overlooked !
- lilithfilm posted this