Monday, December 24, 2012

Which Christmas Release Stands the Best Chances at Best Picture?

Les Miserables
Update: I have written a review for Les Miserables posted here.

Before I begin, I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Why is this relevant? Because as per usual, almost every December 25 sees the release of the tent pole movies of the year. This year's class joins the ranks of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (though that did open on the 20th) in terms of films that somehow deserve to be the last of the awards-worthy. This year, we have three very interesting, if entirely different nominees: director Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, director Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty (released December 21), and director Tom Hooper's Les Miserables. Will any of them stand a chance when it comes to winning Best Picture, or is Argo pretty much locked in?
For movie goers, this triad of releases is sure to keep you busy. If you haven't seen The Hobbit and plan to see This Is 40 (which is probably dead in the Oscar race by now), then you will probably need way too much free time. Almost all of these films are ranging from two and a half hours to three. It is an interesting prospective that the big tent pole movies are excessively long. However, that doesn't mean that they are bad. It just means that they are longer than the average holiday release schedule.

Still, when it comes to the Oscars, which one of these three will come out on top? A lot has happened in the past month to establish each's position with critics. Not all of it is nearly as expected as you'd think. True, one is the clear favorite, but all of them did receive Golden Globe nominations. While this is an inconclusive and shoddy way to measure the nominees, it is possible that all of them are good enough to fight against each other in the big race. 

While it isn't common, movies released on Christmas have been known to get Best Picture nominations. After all, this is the prestige season and sometimes they release the best on Christmas. At very least, it almost seems common, especially since they expanded the nominees into a 5-10 slots, that there is a spot for these movies in the race. Last year saw War Horse somehow make the cut. However, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was not entirely shut out. It got nominations for technical (in which it won for Best Editing), acting (Rooney Mara), and even score (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross). This will make a strong case for every film that at very least, we'll see them compete healthily. 

The following is a brief look at the three films in terms of marketing and Oscar Buzz and hopefully will determine what needs to be done for each of them to lock in that Best Picture win. As of now, I assume that each are expected to make the Best Picture nomination.

Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty
So far, Zero Dark Thirty leads the pack of Oscar Buzz with not only controversy, but quality. Coming out of the gate, it immediately won critics awards and put Jessica Chastain as the front runner for Best Actress. The Golden Globe nominations helped cement its chances at a Best Picture slot and with an unanimous 93% on Rotten Tomatoes (subject to change), it is the highest rated of the three. 
The one major benefit is that it manages to play the relevance card almost too easily. The hunt for Osama bin Laden is a tale that almost every American over 18 years old can remember as haunting the last decade of our lives. In a way, it is a timely look into the government while establishing the real events as a cat and mouse game. It is a subject that is sure to tug on the heartstrings in ways familiar to last year's nominee Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Unlike that film, it probably will not play strictly for emotional payoff, but be as informative as it is entertaining.
The film is probably one of my definitive front runners also because Kathryn Bigelow has proven herself to be a very competent and interesting filmmaker, especially with her Best Picture win for The Hurt Locker. If she can bring that tension to a full scale, decade spanning story, there is a chance that we'll get probably the most relevant movie an award. Not to badmouth the competition, but the others are period pieces. This is something closer to our consciousness. It will either be too much and lose traction, or hit the right level of patriotism and become the most relevant movie of the year.
Chastain will probably get that nomination for Best Actress with little effort. Chances are that she will even win, as the competition is very slim so far. Alexandre Desplat's (who also composed Argo) score is also getting large consideration for its ability to take the familiar, if hoaky Hans Zimmer-style aggressive score and apply it to an espionage film in a clever way. Of Desplat's two big scores of the year, I would like to see Zero Dark Thirty get nominated simply because there is a lot more interesting things going on with it. 
It may get technical awards, but I doubt any of the other actors will receive an acting nomination. The categories are pretty much booked up for the time being. However, as long as the film manages to keep up the buzz, it may very well get the Best Picture win. It already has the critics and other awards under its belt, which should easily raise its clout. Now that the "female director" card has been lifted, Bigelow has nothing to really make her stand out as a person besides her films, and that is a great thing.

Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained

Next up is Django Unchained, which also has the distinction of being the longest of the three as well as being what Quentin Tarantino calls "the shortest long western since Rio Bravo." For a long time, I have considered it to be the most controversial just because of its depiction of slavery and probably excessive use of racist expletives. While Tarantino has rarely been one to follow the confines of history, there is a sense of respect to the past. His love of cinema and culture has given him the edge in terms of original entertainment. Of the three, it is the only entirely original story that may take its influence from Sergio Corbucci classics, but is entirely the work of an artist, something that has been missing this Oscar season.
The film will probably get that Best Picture slot really easily, as it is following up the equally time-challenging Inglourious Basterds. The Academy's love of old culture should make this film an easy competitor. Tarantino will most likely get another Best Original Screenplay nomination, though depending on the success and popularity of Zero Dark Thirty, it may lose once again to writer Mark Boal. The director's previous writing win for Pulp Fiction gives him the edge, but I feel like the film's edgy, racist dialogue will detract it from winning, as the Academy can assume that they already rewarded Tarantino, therefore he doesn't need another statue.
In terms of acting, their biggest shot at a nominee is Leonardo DiCaprio as Best Supporting Actor. Ever since the film premiered, DiCaprio's performance has been the most talked about aspect of the film and even earned him a Golden Globe nomination. Other Golden Globe nominee Christoph Waltz will probably not make the cut because it is a challenging year for the Best Supporting Actor category. The front runners are Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln and Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master and that already cramps up the category. DiCaprio may make the cut, but it almost seems too excessive to expect Waltz to get nominated. Of course, the push has been to make him a Best Actor nominee, but even that is problematic, as there are more cemented performances in that category.
I still want John Legend's "Who Did That to You" to win Best Original Song. Please listen to it and convince everyone to stop pushing Rick Ross' "100 Black Coffins." Another problem with Django Unchained and nominations is the anachronistic style of the music. It may work out very well, but for the time being, but it may also come off as distracting, especially with the 2Pac and James Brown mash-up song. Even then, that should only attribute to what makes Tarantino an original voice.

Hugh Jackman in Les Miserables

While it is still my front runner (review coming this week), bad times have fallen on Les Miserables. It hasn't quite won all of the awards that it could have and Tom Hooper's direction has been considered a detriment to the grand scale of the internationally popular musical. Still, until I see it for myself, I am going to continue to believe that it is a great reinvention of the musical and will influence the way that movies are filmed from now on. Also, a musical hasn't won since Chicago, so it would be nice to see a great musical like this take the top honors.
The one thing going for it is Anne Hathaway for Best Supporting Actress. The one high note of almost every critic's review is Hathaway's rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream." At very least, this got her a Golden Globe nomination and has kept the film in conversation since the original trailer premiered. Even Hugh Jackman has gotten traction for Best Actor, which is impressive, speaking the category almost feels cemented in its ways. Of the two, Hathaway stands the best chance of winning.
There is even a Best Original Song nomination for a song called "Suddenly." It has also long been considered a contender for the category, though as my comments on Django Unchained will prove, I do take a little bit of hope that a few things will be moved around. Also, I haven't heard the song yet, so I cannot comment on it. However, if it is as powerful as I hope that it is, I will more than happily endorse a nomination. 
I'll expect some technical nominations to cinematography and editing, but I don't know necessarily about Best Adapted Screenplay or Best Director. Tom Hooper, who had his win with The King's Speech, may be a competent director, but his work on the movie hasn't been all that praised. While it looks gorgeous, maybe a few of his shots are spoiled by his direction. However, if Hooper can get nominated over Steven Spielberg for Lincoln, then I will be happy.
Still, it hasn't been picking up as much traction as it should have at this point. It still has some love, but not enough to separate itself from the others. At very least, it is considered a well done musical. Very few of those are made these days that I will support that endorsement. However, unless it begins picking up steam, it may be the least possible winner among the three, which is a depressing thought, especially as I would like to think it is a definitive musical for the times.

As it stands, I still support Les Miserables as the winner until I see it and think otherwise. However, I think that Zero Dark Thirty is going to be the real competitor here. Argo has long been considered a front runner, and I worry that both feature too much similarity (based on historical events with Alexandre Desplat scores meant to make you feel patriotic). However, it is quite an enjoyable batch of movies to check out during this Christmas season. Hopefully one of them will give the gift of a Best Picture win, but who?

Which do you feel will take the top honors? Is Les Miserables' days of Best Picture buzz over? Can Django Unchained's racism be overlooked in favor of a brilliant, original script? Is Zero Dark Thirty going to be the most relevant Oscar nominee this year?

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