Dream Academy Award Nominations 2013! Part 2 – The Big Categories

hero460 oscars Dream Academy Award Nominations 2013! Part 2   The Big Categories

The nominations for the 85th Academy Awards will be released on January 10th, just a few days from today, and will, as history has taught us, provide endless frustration for cinephiles everywhere.

But you have already read my thoughts on that. In Part 1 of this feature, published last week, I explained the purpose of this little imagination exercise. Here’s the short version: The Academy Awards annoy me, I still think it is valuable to recognize individual achievements in filmmaking, and so I have put together my Dream Academy Award Nominations – a set of artists and films I would personally nominate if I put on an awards show, or, putting it another way, the artists and films I would like to see nominated in an alternate universe where the Oscars know what they are doing.

These are not, as I explained last time, predictions for what the nominees will be. There is little value in making such prognostications, as the Oscars are habitually predictable, and habitually boring in their picks. I hope my choices are a little more eclectic, and if you find yourself dissatisfied, please feel free to offer your own Dream nominees in the comments. There are plenty of excellent choices to go around. I should note that these picks are, in part, based on my ballot for the 2012 Denver Film Critics Society awards, which I voted in last week.

Because there are a lot of categories to get through – I am doing everything except the Short Film categories, Documentary, and Foreign Language – I am presenting this feature in two parts. As noted earlier, Part 1 focused on the technical categories, while today’s second and final installment dives into the big awards, like acting, writing, directing, and best picture.

Enjoy!

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Best Animated Feature

Wreck it Ralph 5 Dream Academy Award Nominations 2013! Part 2   The Big Categories

Frankenweenie

ParaNorman

The Pirates: Band of Misfits!

Rise of the Guardians

Wreck-It Ralph

A fairly good year for animated movies. DreamWorks stepped up their game with Rise of the Guardians, Tim Burton returned to form with Frankenweenie, Laika proved themselves more than a one-hit wonder with ParaNorman, and Aardman’s Pirates! provided some of the best laughs of the year. But I am most enamored with Wreck-It Ralph, which is not only Disney’s best animated feature in decades, but one of the great recent exercises in creativity, characterization, and heart. I should note that The Secret World of Arrietty, one of my Top 10 films of 2012, is excluded here, as it does not fall under the Academy’s guidelines for any nominations in 2012 – its original Japanese release, in 2010, happened too long ago to qualify now.

Dream Winner: Wreck-It Ralph

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Best Original Screenplay

cabin in the woods1 Dream Academy Award Nominations 2013! Part 2   The Big Categories

Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty

David Chase, Not Fade Away

Rian Johnson, Looper

Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained

Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, The Cabin in the Woods

There are so many great scripts to choose from in this category that I feel the Academy could do a fine job even if they ignore some of these selections, which is good considering that Looper and The Cabin in the Woods – two phenomenal scripts that exemplify cinematic originality – are unlikely to see a nomination. The same probably goes for David Chase’s Not Fade Away, far too under-the-radar to get any major recognition but absolutely deserving as one of the best pieces of writing I have seen in years. Mark Boal’s work on Zero Dark Thirty, however, is a virtual lock, and rightly so; the film is not just a top-notch exercise in procedural writing, but a stirring piece of authentic, in-depth journalism. The standout, to me, is Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, a wickedly smart, funny, and subversive script filled with the best dialogue and characters of 2012. It may or may not get nominated – the Academy runs hot and cold on Tarantino – but if it does, it surely deserves to win.

Dream Winner: Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained

Tough Omissions: Martin McDonagh, Seven Psychopaths; Ben Lewin, The Sessions; Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee, Wreck-It Ralph; John Gatins, Flight; Vanessa Taylor, Hope Springs; Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master

Best Adapted Screenplay

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 Judd Apatow, This is 40

Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Tony Kushner, Lincoln

David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, and Andy Wachowski, Cloud Atlas

Another great category, and one where I find myself constantly changing my mind on who I think should win. The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer did an amazing job repurposing David Mitchell’s book for cinema, and while the film is beautifully written – and my second-favorite feature of the year – I feel that it is the trio’s direction that ultimately made the film great. As pieces of writing, these other dream nominees impress me more. This is 40 is divisive, but I believe it to be Judd Apatow’s best film, and surely his most sharply observed and written. Stephen Chbosky did what few authors are capable of in turning his extremely literary novel into a viable cinematic blueprint, and Tony Kushner’s smart and savvy Lincoln is just bursting at the seams with terrific dialogue.

But my heart tells me I like Silver Linings Playbook the most. I love this film exponentially more with each successive viewing, and the more I watch, the more I realize how much I love to simply listen to these characters talk, or to see how effortlessly every facet of the story develops. This is a film where a lot happens, to the characters and their relationships, between Points A and B, and the fact that everything seems to fall into place so naturally and organically is surely reason to celebrate the expertly constructed script. It would be my pick to win.   

Dream Winner: David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Tough Omissions: Joe Carnahan and Ian McKenzie Jeffers, The Grey; Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, The Dark Knight Rises; Gideon Dafoe, The Pirates! Band of Misfits; Chris Terrio, Argo; Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild 

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Best Supporting Actor

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Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook

Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Sam Rockwell, Seven Psychopaths

Ben Whishaw, Cloud Atlas

So many great performances to choose from. I think Robert De Niro’s warm, multidimensional work in Silver Linings Playbook – his best in well over a decade – hit me the hardest, but I could just as easily give Ezra Miller the top spot for his charismatic and complex performance in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Tommy Lee Jones is an obvious but deserving nominee for Lincoln, in which his powerful, thoughtful acting occasionally steals the entire show, and Ben Whishaw earns his spot as my favorite performer from the wildly talented Cloud Atlas ensemble. Finally, Sam Rockwell, one of cinema’s most undervalued talents for years now, possibly gave his best performance yet in Seven Psychopaths with a part perfectly tailored to his dark, zany, and above all else, profoundly human tendencies.

Dream Winner: Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook

Tough Omissions: Jim Broadbent, Cloud Atlas; Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained; Christopher Walken, Seven Psychopaths; Edward Norton, Moonrise Kingdom; Bruce Willis, Moonrise Kingdom; Bruce Willis, Looper; Ian McKellan, Andy Serkis, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Best Supporting Actress

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 Amy Adams, The Master

Emily Blunt, Looper

Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables

Bella Heathcote, Not Fade Away

Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower 

This has, unfortunately, been a rather thin year for great female roles, but that in no way lessens the impact of these and other remarkable performances from supporting actresses. The clear inclusions, to me, are Anne Hathaway – who stole the show, if not all of 2012, in just a few minutes of Les Miserables – and Amy Adams, whose career best work in The Master overshadowed the rest of the film. Both are locks for actual nominations, and both deserve to win.

For the other three slots, I have picked some under-the-radar performances I feel deserve attention. Emily Blunt’s work in Looper is absolutely integral to that film’s creative success, and she more than rose to the occasion with one of her most three-dimensional, deeply felt performances to date. As with all the Perks main cast members, I think Emma Watson is 100% deserving of a nod; she is miraculous, and I find it incredible how quickly she is branching out and away from Hermione Granger. Finally, there were quite a few good picks for that fifth slot, but I ultimately chose Bella Heathcote’s surprisingly resonant work in Not Fade Away. David Chase wrote her an extremely intelligent and thoughtful part – a young woman gradually realizing she is part of the first female generation to have actual opportunities – but there is an intense, gripping naturalism to Heathcote’s work that elevates both the writing and the film.

Dream Winner: Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables

Tough Omissions: Judi Dench, Skyfall; Anne Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises; Emma Stone, The Amazing Spider-Man

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Best Actor

TheGrey02 Dream Academy Award Nominations 2013! Part 2   The Big Categories

 Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln

Logan Lerman, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Liam Neeson, The Grey

Denzel Washington, Flight

The toughest and most crowded category by far – I could put five completely different people here and still be satisfied – I have ultimately chosen the five performances that simply hit me the hardest, each character defined by deep-seated damage that these incredible actors illustrated with grace and bravery. Logan Lerman’s work in Perks, for instance, absolutely devastated me from start to finish; I think we forget, in looking at so many big, ‘oscar-bait’ performances, that emulating real life, real emotions, and above all else, real pain is one of the toughest things an actor can do, and Lerman achieved all that and so much more in this breakout performance. Bradley Cooper also ‘broke out,’ in a different way, as Pat Solitano, a bipolar optimist trying to forge a better, brighter life path. His work is immediate and lived-in, authentic and engrossing in ways the actor has never achieved.

I also believe Denzel Washington delivered his best work to date in Flight, playing a self-destructive alcoholic who never seems capable of taking a firm step forward. It is truly special to see an actor of Washington’s caliber step so clearly out of his comfort zone, and his efforts more than paid off.

Daniel Day-Lewis’ Abraham Lincoln fits this same damaged mold, surprisingly enough, as he interprets America’s greatest president as a weary, worn-down man intent on making one final, moral stand. It is a terrific character creation, one of Day-Lewis’ typically immersive pieces of performance art, a riveting portrayal that commands the viewer’s absolute attention at every turn.

But the darkest character on this list is Ottway, a suicidal widower played by Liam Neeson in The Grey, and though the film has been criminally overlooked this awards season, there is no doubt in my mind that Neeson gave the year’s absolute best performance, male or female, lead or supporting. If you want a prime example of what it means to portray pain on film – deep, emotional, undying pain – look at what Neeson does here. As a man desperately searching for some semblance of meaning or logic to the harshness of life – and who ultimately discovers that the only answer may lie in fighting against the void, whatever the outcome – Neeson delivers a performance of brutal, unflinching honesty, one that struck a chord with me way back in January and refuses to dissipate.

Dream Winner: Liam Neeson, The Grey

Tough Omissions: Denis Lavant, Holy Motors; Jamie Foxx, Django Unchained; Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained; Joaquin Phoenix, The Master; Tom Hanks, Cloud Atlas; John Hawkes, The Sessions; John Magaro, Not Fade Away; Richard Gere, Arbitrage; Steve Carell, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World; Clint Eastwood, Trouble With The Curve; Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Looper; Tommy Lee Jones, Hope Springs

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Best Actress

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Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty

Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Brit Marling, Sound of My Voice

Meryl Streep, Hope Springs

Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

As I said when looking at the best supporting actresses, 2012 has been a thin year for female performers, but that does not mean it wasn’t a good one. Just looking at what Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence did in their films, we have two of the great recent female performances, two of modern cinema’s most promising talents realizing their full potential and then some. I give Lawrence the edge because I personally find her character just a tad more compelling, but both would be deserving of the win, and since the real Oscar race will likely come down to one or the other, I think the results of this category will be very pleasing indeed.

For the other three slots, I started with a performance that absolutely floored me earlier this year, albeit one the Oscars are probably not even aware of. Brit Marling’s work in Sound of My Voice is the best exploration into the allure of cults film has provided in recent years – and that includes Martha Marcy May Marlene and The Master – because after five minutes of watching her act, I could easily imagine myself falling under her character’s spell in real life. Meryl Streep, meanwhile, delivered her best and most grounded work in years in the surprisingly powerful Hope Springs; ironically, this is the rare Streep performance the Academy is all but guaranteed to ignore.

There is a chance the Oscars will give a nod to my fifth choice, young Quvenzhané Wallis, and it would be wonderful if they did. What Wallis did in Beasts of the Southern Wild transcends our usual descriptors for child acting. Whether the performance was shaped by the director or merely reflects Wallis’ real-life personality (and having seen her at a Q&A, I can confirm she really is an incredible force of energy), Hushpuppy is unquestionably one of 2012’s great screen characters, and the young lady who brought her to life deserves the Academy’s credit.

Dream Winner: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

Tough Omissions: Aubrey Plaza, Safety Not Guaranteed; Leslie Mann, This is 40; Amy Adams, Trouble With The Curve; Rashida Jones, Celeste and Jesse Forever; Kara Hayward, Moonrise Kingdom; Keira Knightley, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

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Best Director

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Joe Carnahan, The Grey

Steven Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained

Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, and Andy Wachowski, Cloud Atlas 

I am often annoyed by the academy’s insistence to simply repeat their Best Picture nominations in the Best Director category – a great movie and great feat of directing are sometimes two different things – but for me, this year is a case where that mindset actually applies. I really do believe that my five favorite films of the year are the five most impressive directorial feats I saw in 2012. Cloud Atlas, for instance, is primarily an achievement in directing, as the vision and ambition on display in every frame of the film stems from Tykwer and the Wachowskis’ incredible capacity for cinematic craftsmanship. One could say the same about Joe Carnahan and The Grey, as the film’s stark and haunting evocation of death and danger in the Alaskan tundra – as well as a razor-sharp sense of dread and tension – demonstrates remarkable directorial aptitude.

I absolutely adore the way David O. Russell directed Silver Linings Playbook, relying on immersive, instinctual aesthetics and creating a very palpable, immediate sense of community and setting. Steven Chbosky’s work on The Perks of Being a Wallflower is less obvious – the film is not, by its very nature, a visual powerhouse – but considering that one of a director’s most important (and overlooked) tasks is managing actors, Perks certainly deserves a nod. Comprised mostly of young adults performers, the film is one of the best-acted of the year, and when one combines Chbosky’s guiding hand for performance with his wonderful ear for music and remarkable eye for recognizable and relatable world building, I believe he is a clear inclusion.

But just as I feel Django Unchained towers over all other films this year, Quentin Tarantino’s typically expert direction is easily the best work in the field. Tarantino’s films have always featured top-notch technical credits across the board, and Django is perhaps the best example yet of the man’s ability to coax tremendous work out of his cinematographer, editor, production designer, actors, etc. The movie looks and sounds great across the board. But the main reason Tarantino is, to my mind, America’s best modern director is that nobody else working today has such a clear and profound handle on mise-en-scene. When Tarantino wants to take us to another place, or evoke a particular genre, or suggest character and thematic points through a film’s setting, he simply does it better than anyone, and while Django Unchained is, like all the director’s films, clearly in love with the history and potential of the cinematic medium, no other film this year swept me up so entirely in its own production.

Dream Winner: Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained

Tough Omissions: Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty; Rian Johnson, Looper; Sam Mendes, Skyfall; David Chase; Not Fade Away; Steven Spielberg, Lincoln

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Best Picture:

%name Dream Academy Award Nominations 2013! Part 2   The Big Categories

Cloud Atlas

Django Unchained

The Grey

Lincoln

Looper

Not Fade Away

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Silver Linings Playbook

Skyfall

Zero Dark Thirty

Not much to say here. This is just my Top 10 List, published several weeks ago, with one change. The Secret World of Arrietty, which placed #5 on my list, is ineligible under Academy rules (it came out too long ago in Japan, its place of origin), so I have removed it and instead included Zero Dark Thirty, my #1 runner-up for the year. Of these titles, I would say three or four have a legitimate shot at a nomination. The rest will just have to make do with this imaginary accolade.

Dream Winner: Django Unchained

Who would be YOUR dream Oscar nominees? What do you think of these picks? Do you care about the Academy Awards at all? Sound off in the comments!

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  • Faiz

    Loved your list, Jonathan!!!!! There were some choices that i didn’t countenance with (i thought Jessica Chastain was marvelous in Zero Dark Thirty, Jennifer Lawrence was ok and all, but Chastain managed to convey so much with little dialogue in the picture, it was a very demanding role with tough traits and she pulled it off splendidly), and i thought Jim Broadbent’s performance in the 2012 story in Cloud Atlas was one of the best supporting performances of the year, i’d pick him over Ben Whishaw anytime if one of them gets a chance at a nod in the academy)

    But yeah, we all agree Django Unchained is the movie of the year. Tarantino crafted an epic movie that managed to edge out all his movies in the last 18 years by a long shot (don’t u think the movie is somehow a refined version of IB?, i mean the dinner scene clearly was a semi-redo of the bar scene in IB {u know what i mean, given how the scene went }), all in all, it’s ranked within my top 3 in Tarantino’s repertoire, just below Pulp Fiction and Reservoir dogs, and Tarantino’s best director trophy is 18 years overdue.

    And by the way, no love for Argo. I thought it was a damn solid pic filled with superb performances and precise direction which made everything come together nicely.