6 Reasons Why It Would Be OK If Life Of Pi Won Best Picture

Life of Pi2 6 Reasons Why It Would Be OK If Life Of Pi Won Best Picture

On one level, I think the Academy Awards are the dumbest waste of money and attention in the world. Rarely do they actually select the movies that most agree are the best of the year, and even more rarely do they identify movies and artists that history determines as the most important of their time (the most famous examples of which include the Academy’s lack of acknowledgement for the likes of Citizen Kane and Alfred Hitchcock). They’re notoriously the product of the most shameless PR campaigns you’ll come across, complete with schmoozy politicking by producers and whisper campaigns designed to discredit Oscar contenders. Very little of the attention seems to be paid to the integrity of the films themselves, the quality of the movies that were made throughout the year and the performances that were actually memorable for audiences and critics alike.

And still, we can’t help but pay attention to them. Part of this is that we’re so inundated with coverage and speculation for months on end that it’s impossible to ignore. It’s a conversation that is occurring, and demonstrating a resistance to participating in such an event is too great a task for any movie lover to undertake. It’s a time of year when more people are talking about movies than any other moment, so we’ve got to take advantage of it. It also gives many of us an opportunity to distinguish ourselves by our contrarian opinions and self-righteously voice our opposition to the selections made by the silly mainstream, or the elitist critics, whichever more comfortably suits us. We know better than those jerks and morons!

Nevertheless, awards make a difference. They provide the recipients a certain cache within the industry as well as at the box office. Oscar winners often get re-released in theaters, resulting in more people getting to see them. For those of us who feel like the best movies deserve a wider audience, this makes silly things like awards potentially important on a real, tangible level. So we take special interest in who they’re awarded to, in addition to the usual sick fascination with horse race excitement.

For these reasons and more, I’m optimistic at the prospects of Lincoln or Les Miserables taking home the top Oscar prize for Best Picture. They’re excellent movies that, in the case of Lincoln, critics all seem to agree warrants award recognition, and in the case of Les Mis, audiences hope it is number one with the Academy, as it is in their hearts. Silver Linings Playbook is another favorite that I think is terrific in every way, and would be happy if it won. But there’s one film that seems like it has a more-than-outside chance of being named Best Picture, and I feel it’s been largely underrated by North American audiences: Life of Pi. Here’s a few reasons why I would be quite happy if it were to (sort of) upset the more celebrated films in the category.

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1: It’s Crazy Popular Around the World

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I’ve heard very little about this, but Life of Pi is the most popular movie overseas right now. At this point it has made close to $100,000 domestically, but outside of North American it has amassed close to $400,000. That’s pretty remarkable. While it finished in fifth place domestically the weekend it opened back in November, which would have made it seem like a box office failure, internationally it is still number one, ranking ahead of The Hobbit in the most recent statistics. You wouldn’t realize it from the press it’s gotten here, but this movie is an absolute hit in the international market.

There’s a good reason for this. Life of Pi enjoys an international appeal for one thing because of its universally relatable story: a boy whose family is moving from India gets caught in a storm at sea and he’s stranded on the ocean with only animals to keep him company. It’s a meditation on religion in general, drawing from Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity most immediately, but functions a bit as a parable for religion as a whole, as a way of understanding the world no matter what the specific tenets one may ascribe to.

Director Ang Lee was very deliberate also in selecting a distinctly international cast—there are no American actors in any of the main roles in the film, but actors from across the globe. This movie had the opportunity to be an international hit, and it capitalized on this from a business perspective as well as artistically. It would be nice for the Academy to continue the trend from last year’s win by The Artist to truly represent film’s global reach.

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2: It Hasn’t Received Enough Acclaim Yet

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Despite its popular appeal on the international stage, Life of Pi remains a bit of an “also ran” among critics in their year-end lists as well as on the awards circuit. A couple folks with publications behind their names ranked the film as their favorite, and many have mentioned it among their top ten. But if you ask me, there’s very little separating Life of Pi from the perceived front runners. It’s as engaging as Lincoln, as heartfelt as Silver Linings Playbook, and as cerebral as Zero Dark Thirty. It’s emotions may not run as deep as Les Miserables, but they ring true and fierce.

It deserves the attention these films have received. It is deceptively another one of those Cast Away type movies where the protagonist braves the elements and eventually is saved and gets his life back, blah blah blah. This one has a lot more going on though. The character of Pi is delightfully curious and relatable. The scenes where he protects himself against being bullied for his full name, which sounds like “pissing,” are beautifully handled. It’s his emotion, and the performance by newcomer Suraj Sharma, that helps make the CGI animals real for us. The premise of the story is that it will make you believe in God, and so the religious purpose of the movie is clear, and in the end, effective. Framing religion as a type of story people use to explain their relationship with the world, the immediate and the intangible, is a fresh way of approaching the issue that movies seldom address in an intelligent way.

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3: Ang Lee Deserves More Recognition

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When Ang Lee stormed the American stage with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it was easy to think you had him pegged, that you understood what he was all about and so didn’t need to pay that much attention to him anymore. What we found, instead, was that this was a director who is constantly surprising, both in his choices of projects to direct and in the style and perspective with which he chooses to direct them. After the bold decision to try his hand at the superhero movie with The Hulk, which was polarizing, he took what could have been some sort of “statement” film in Brokeback Mountain, and instead made a quiet, introspective, understated movie about an unrealizable romance. He handles delicacy as well as vivid fantasy and adventure, which is rare in a director.

His work on Life of Pi is equally remarkable. From the opening shots he establishes a tone to this movie that captures the wonder and innocence of a zoo alongside the potential for absolute terror of wild animals. Collaborating with one of the best cinematographers in the business right now, Claudio Miranda, he photographs this absolutely beautiful world at sea with the help of some incredibly immersive 3D (more on that later) to put us in Pi’s environment as well as his state of mind. It would be nice to see a film this poetic and stylistic to take the Oscar, and for its director to establish himself in the minds of the public as someone to seek out.

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4: It’s an Example of a Nearly Perfect Adaptation

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I read this book in high school. It wasn’t until later that it was announced a film adaptation was in the works (at the time it was M. Night Shyamalan who was tied to direct. Yikes, right?), and the consensus seemed to be that this was a huge mistake, that the novel was one of those “unfilmable” kind of stories. How would they even logistically film a lifeboat that housed a boy and a live tiger? How would they express the magic realism, or whatever you want to call the business on the boat and the mysterious island?

It turned out to be an example of someone taking source material and simultaneously making it their own as well as capturing everything people loved about the original story. Screenwriter David Magee, whose previous work on Finding Neverland I also found underrated, cannot get enough credit for this. Somehow he and Ang Lee were able to make the animals as beautiful and sympathetic as they were in the book, make the survival story just as vivid, and maintain the religious themes with the same poignancy as author Yann Martel.

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5: It Got 3D Right

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3D is a tricky innovation, and it’s still in the phase where the way it’s used in some movies looks horrendous. Of course it’s a way for studios to get people to the theaters instead of waiting for DVD/Blu-Ray/On Demand options, and has the added benefit of allowing ticket prices to be arbitrarily higher (a pair of plastic glasses does not actually cost $4). When people shell out this extra dough at the theater and see a movie that looks like a pop-up book, they have a right to be annoyed. But that’s not the case with this one.

In most 3D movies that are shot in 2D and three-dimensionally layered in post-production, it’s noticeable. It looks like there’s essentially three layers at best in the image, the foreground sticks out from the background, and that’s it. The way we normally view objects is that each one has its own depth, its own layer. I can’t get a conclusive answer as to whether Life of Pi was shot in 3D (I was under the impression that it was), but what matters most is that when I was watching it, I couldn’t tell. To me, it looked the way the animals in Born to Be Wild looked—each object having its own depth, resulting in multiple, even countless layers in the image. This is how you create authentic-looking depth rather than something akin to cardboard cutouts which actually accentuates flatness—and therefore, hopefully others take note and execute 3D photography in this way from now on.

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6: The Master Wasn’t Nominated

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Not only The Master, but lots of other great films from the year. As stated earlier, there are lots of movies this year that were forced out of contention for the top prize at the Academy Awards, and so hoping that whatever each of us consider to be the best movie of the year is likely not among the ones that could actually be the recipient next month. So, the best we can hope for is that the Academy votes for something that makes the night interesting, either in the shock effect or the satisfaction that the work of people we admire gets recognized on a stage that could actually have real world benefits for them, and selfishly, so they can continue to pump out movies that we get to enjoy for years to come.

Most people seem to agree that 2012 was a wonderful year for those of us who enjoy watching great movies. The list of movies even up for the top award at the Oscars is a testament to this fact, and will serve as a taste of the films people will be watching from the past year for decades to come. So honestly, just about any film that wins in February will make me, at least, feel good about the year that has been, whether it’s Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln, or something more surprising. Even Argo.

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