The State of the Race: Fumbling Towards Enlightenment

The Oscars can be a kaleidoscope view of our world — spectacular and surreal. Or they can be a microscope, honing in with sharp perspective on matters we’re obliged to observe with crystal clarity. The themes that course through this year’s Oscar race for Best Picture will likely be far more consequential than stories of a king from the 1930s who stuttered or a silent movie star who lost his mojo. For voters in recent years, those films offered a path of least resistance; they delivered a lot but asked so little of us in return.

Between then and now, we’ve witnessed a divided America, a hard fought election, a second-term victory by the first black president, and the subsequent fallout which cannot yet be measured. These events have altered our perceptions of ourselves as Americans. How could they not? 2012 wasn’t a bloody civil war but it often felt that a physical clash was just a few hurled insults away. Racist tweets from young students in the deep South using hateful epithets you just don’t hear anymore were quickly investigated and rightly outed. At this very moment, signatures are being gathered from at least 15 states on petitions to secede from the union. All because a black man is in power and he won’t step aside until he finishes the job he started. Nothing has ever made America lose its head the way it has over this.

At the same time, another kind of revolution is afoot. The floodgates of campaign cash have been opened and the ruling class has never tried harder to define the very essence of what it means to be American. Now is not the moment to retreat into cuddly, rose-colored nostalgia; too much is at stake.

While many of the year’s best and most promising films spring from the past trials and triumphs, they serve as cautionary tales, pivotal moments that defined who we were then, who we are now and what we hope to be moving forward. Crucial lessons the country seems to forget that must retaught. The best films so far this year will ask much from their audiences. It is not time to lean back and forget, but a time to lean forward and pay attention.

Slavery and our complex discussion of race in America

Arguably, the best film of the year so far is Steven Spielberg’s historical masterpiece, Lincoln. Films this thoughtfully created don’t come around very often. The caretakers of the story are Doris Kearns Goodwin, who took ten years to write Team of Rivals; Tony Kushner who took six years to write his unequivocal, magnificent screenplay; Daniel Day-Lewis who spent a full year “just talking” to Steven Spielberg about the role before they ever got on set; and Spielberg himself in his decade-long quest, who obtained the rights to Goodwin’s book long before she even finished writing it. All of this meticulous attention has paid off in an exceptional tribute to an exceptional man. That it arrives hot on the heels of a contentious election is entirely by coincidence; yet, magically, the hand of fate seems to have once again shined on Lincoln’s legacy.

Brooding, slow, meditative Lincoln is about the temperament of 1865, the light that was the end of slavery, and the darkness of the closing months of the Civil War. It’s also about the assassination of a president who, though altogether not a radical, changed America and the South forever. Lincoln is about then, but it is also about now. It is about atoning for our past so that we may attempt to change the future. “Slavery, sir, it’s done.”

The question Lincoln asks but can’t yet answer is how does a country heal after the wounds of slavery are no longer inflicted? What does a society owe a population it enslaved for centuries? What does it owe the citizens it continued to oppress long after the 13th amendment was passed? Whether or not this election indeed marks the beginning of the end for the white majority in America, nothing can subjugate the powerful minority voices that stepped up to vote in 2012, delivering to President Obama both the popular vote by 51% and the electoral college by 332. It was a decisive victory for the Left, for the long-oppressed, for the up-and-coming generation. The future has arrived at our doorsteps. Those who refuse to adapt should prepare to recede.

Spielberg reminds of this in typical Lincoln fashion: not by harsh confrontation but by quiet persuasion that takes courage, compromise — and acceptance of the wretched clumsiness of progress. Though sometimes criticized for leading the audience by the hand, here Spielberg’s careful and deliberate nudge to his audience to heed Lincoln’s still prescient legacy leaves us with an important part of Lincoln’s second inaugural address:

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish, a just and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

The choice to end the film with a coda is not dissimilar to the way Spielberg ended Schindler’s List, reminding us that no matter what was done during the Holocaust, it was somehow never enough. How could it have been? Once again, Spielberg calls on his audience to do more, now echoing Lincoln, to “finish the work” Lincoln started. The mission is nowhere near accomplished in America, though everyone seems to want to believe it is.

Two other films deal specifically with our relationship towards slavery, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, and Cloud Atlas. Django Unchained will be a revenge fantasy played out. Like Lincoln, it will face a hostile 50% of America, some like those from the deep South outed recently on Twitter for using racist epithets against President Obama, one who referred to him as, among other things, a “monkey.” Tarantino comes to our rescue in another strange twist of fate; none of us will be happier than to see shit-kicker racists given the Tarantino treatment.

Cloud Atlas frames slavery and racism in the context of recurring history — portraying in stark terms how so many have been oppressed by powerful groups who justify their actions by “divine right”; if they can claim God is on their side, nothing is off limits.

Ben Affleck’s Argo, like Lincoln, honors and recreates a moment of heroism in American history. But unlike President Lincoln’s accomplishments, the contribution of CIA op Tony Mendez has gone unnoticed for decades. Like President Obama giving the green light for the raid on the Bin Laden compound, the freeing of the hostages in Iran by the joint op of the Americans and Canadians would never have happened if President Carter had not okayed it. It was a moment that Carter might have used for political caché, completely erasing the false notion that he was a “wimp” towards our enemies.

Though it takes place a generation ago, Argo feels as current as any movie about our modern era. One of the reasons for this is that the jokes still resonate. The insider Hollywood jokes carry the same sting now as they did then. “You’re an associate producer at best.” This is reminiscent of Shakespeare in Love where many of the jokes throughout poked fun at modern day Hollywood set in Shakespeare’s time, like, “I’m the money,” and “As it happens, I’m a bit of a writer myself.”

Argo, like Lincoln, is about stealthy negotiations behind closed doors. It will inevitably be partnered up this year with Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, which again, digs up our more recent history to define and put in context the Bin Laden raid.

But the other films that have already been seen to touch on similar themes by taking events from our past and using them to define who we are now and what we hope to be. Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild dives into the disaster of Hurricane Katrina, what it uncovered and how it robbed a region of its own past. Whether or not the filmmakers want to admit it’s about Katrina and New Orleans, the themes in Beasts of the Southern Wild are plain as day: heritage, honor, identity is defined from where you are planted. But once the news media saw people on their roofs holding signs that said “Need Help” during Katrina, and all of America got a glimpse of poverty, nearly Third World poverty, right here in America our notions of what New Orleans represents was forever changed. Beasts of the Southern Wild tries to take a little of that back with the visual equivalent of poetic verse and two of the year’s best performances from Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry.

The Endless Further

At the same time as we trudge knee deep in our wartime past, there is a noticeable leaning toward our own transitory spiritual journey. A new generation is coming behind every passing one. Instead of more films in the Oscar race that attempt to cater to the youth, there are many that seem directed at those nearing the end of a long path who might be asking that big, unanswerable question: what next?

Life of Pi, Cloud Atlas, Silver Linings Playbook, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel are all films that explore the deeper meanings of our lives — aging, fading hopes and dreams. Life of Pi reminds us that religion is one option, an alternative ending. But it does so with vivid 3-D imagery and Ang Lee’s willingness to take a leap of faith that audiences, and maybe Academy voters, will get it.

Of these, the least consequential but most crowd-pleasing is David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook which is a romantic comedy along the lines of As Good as it Gets but more about a family sticking together, come what may. It is about a sex addict mourning the death of her husband and a bi-polar man trying to get his life together who happen to run into each other. The best thing the film has going for it is that it isn’t like any of the others. It is as simple and satisfying as a slice of warm apple pie. Does that make it a great film? Does that even matter? If voters are looking to avoid films that make them think — because some movies you feel — Silver Linings could offer that alternative: no politics, no racial conflicts, no American history, no Iran, no revolution, no live singing, just a nice movie with a happy ending, or as they say in Shakespeare in Love, “love and a bit with a dog,” except without the dog.”All boundaries are conventions,” is one of the themes offered up in the bold, beautiful and misunderstood Cloud Atlas, a film that may speak to younger generations more clearly than it does to older ones. In ten years time, this is the film that many teenage film fans of today will look back upon knowing that the critics got wrong. So much to give in one movie, Cloud Atlas might just be that one surprising title that earns enough number 1 votes on nomination ballots to make it into the Best Picture lineup. It doesn’t make any sense that it would — mixed to bad reviews by many critics, disappointing box office — but those who love this film love it with passion. Surprisingly few critics seem able to fully grasp what Cloud Atlas is really all about; a pronouncement of change, of what’s coming next — wretched, messy and clumsy though it may be.

In the end we are once again holding a handful of extraordinary films that will define our Oscar year. We are faced with an Oscar race that will decide “The Best.” Some of us go to the movies to be entertained. Some of us go to be challenged. Some of us, sadly, go expecting nothing much at all anymore. Most of us keep going because we love the restless storytellers, those brave artists who long to scrub away the gauzy smear that fogs our sense of reality, who keep making movies because they can’t not do it. They’re the ones with real courage, not us. All we have to do is show up.

Weekly Cheat Sheet

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A reminder of this year’s rules for Best Picture:

“The pictures receiving the highest number of votes shall become the nominations for final voting for the Best Picture award. There may not be more than ten nor fewer than five nominations; however, no picture shall be nominated that receives less than five percent of the total votes cast.”

No film with fewer than 5% of the total votes cast (as in, people who put down five nominees, not ten as in 2009 and 2010). So now you need to try to figure out what would be the Best Picture five if they cut it off the way they used to, for the many decades they only had five nominees. When a voter is putting down ten Best Picture nominees they probably feel freer about their choices. They might put, say, The Dark Knight Rises in there, giving it a chance to get in. But if they have to pick only five they are going to be much more selective and usually, they will go with emotion over reason. Keeping that in mind:

Up

Lincoln.
Lincoln continues to feel more timely than the other nominees, with the exception of Argo. Lincoln is currently the best reviewed film of the Oscar contenders, with 88% on Metacritic. By contrast, The Master, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Argo each follow with 86%. In limited release, Lincoln killed at the box office.

Les Mis
Even though no one has yet seen it, an impressive second trailer is renewing hope that this will be one of the strongest contenders heading into the season.

Life of Pi
Still holding in early screenings but has yet to be reviewed by the majority of critics to face the box office challenge. It is being propped up by Indiewire’s Anne Thompson who still has it in the number one spot on Movie City News’ Gurus of Gold.

Holding steady:
Argo continues to triumph at the box office and is so far the only film in the race that is officially quotable. It is currently in the number one spot on Movie City News and Gold Derby.

Silver Linings Playbook keeps crowdpleasing in early screenings and stands out amid more heavy-hitting fare. Jeff Wells has become a one-man cheering squad for Silver Linings, holding a private screening sponsored by The Weinstein Co. just for a handful of his readers. He is currently predicting it to win big. Also continuing to keep it in the number one spot, Fandango’s Dave Karger, The Wrap’s Steve Pond and MCN’s David Poland.

Flight – box office and the ensemble performance, not to mention Robert Zemeckis’ great work keeps the film in the conversation.

Still holding:
Beasts of the Southern Wild
The Master
Moonrise Kingdom
Amour

Long shots:
Anna Karenina
Cloud Atlas
The Promised Land

Still Waiting:
The Hobbit
Django Unchained
Les Mis
Zero Dark Thirty

The Big Push — Genre Films That Need Passionate Support:
The Dark Knight Rises
This is Forty
Cloud Atlas
The Avengers
Looper

Original Screenplay

Up

Flight – a box office lift helps the Robert Zemeckis film float to the top of the pile. Since Original Screenplay is always a bit light, there is more wiggle room. Adapted is always packed.

Zero Dark Thirty – this original screenplay could pick up a second win for Mark Boal, who won previously for The Hurt Locker. While it was always a contender on smarter sites, I myself am remembering that it is, in fact, an original screenplay.

Holding steady:
Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom
Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master
Michael Haneke, Amour

Deserving hopefuls that need passionate support:
Ava DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere
Nicholas Jarecki, Arbitrage
Rian Johnson, Looper

Adapted Screenplay

Up

Tony Kushner, Lincoln
Chris Terrio, Argo
David Magee, Life of Pi
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Benh Zeitlin, Lucy Alibar, Beasts of the Southern Wild

All of these films feel like very strong contenders in what is always a crowded category. But to step away for a moment and think about the WGA and the Scripter, two earlier awards that often predict Best Adapted Screenplay (though not 100% reliably).

For the Scripter, both the book and the screenplay is considered. It’s impossible to imagine anyone beating Doris Kearns Goodwin and Tony Kushner for the Scripter. It seems equally implausible to me that anyone is going to beat Kushner for the WGA either. He’s an icon in writing, much like Aaron Sorkin. But right behind him is the tight-as-a-drum script for Argo by Chris Terrio, but that is more of a WGA favorite than a Scripter favorite. I’ll still bet the house on Lincoln taking both and the Adapted Screenplay Oscar. But we’ll see how the season continues to play out.

Dark horse possibilities:
Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, The Dark Knight Rises

Still to come:
Fran Walsh, Philipa Boyens, Peter Jackson, The Hobbit
William Nicholson, Les MIserables

Oscar flashback:

Ten years ago in November around this time: Love Actually and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World were released. Love Actually received zero nominations but has become a Christmas staple. It will be watched every year for years to come. Master and Commander received ten Oscar nominations, won Cinematography and Sound Editing; though still very respected, not exactly the most talked about movie ten years later. Twenty years ago Malcolm X was released. It was nominated for Best Actor and Best Costume Design.

Upcoming Calendar Dates to watch out for

November release dates:

November 16
Anna Karenina
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God
Silver Linings Playbook

November 21
Life of Pi
Rise of the Guardians

November 23
The Central Park Five
Hitchcock

Rust & Bone

November 30
Killing Them Softly

Award Dates

November 21, 2012
Nomination ballots mailed for SAG Awards, due December 10, by noon.

December 3, 2012
New York Film Critics Announce
Producers Guild starts voting

December 4, 2012
Directors Guild starts voting

December 5, 2012
National Board of Review announces

December 7, 2012
Los Angeles Film Critics announce

December 12, 2012
SAG nominations announced

63 Comments on this Post

  1. weerasethakul

    Nice write up, Sasha. I’m very curious to see Lincoln after reading criticisms of how it treats its POC characters. I caught up with Holy Motors and Rust and Bone last weekend so maybe this weekend I’ll check it out.

    Also I wouldn’t have expected to be this excited for Life of Pi even a month ago.

  2. I’m very curious to see Lincoln after reading criticisms of how it treats its POC characters.

    Can you tell me where you read those criticisms so I can go evaluate how easy they are to shoot down?

  3. Great piece Sasha. However, I would say that The Dark Knight Rises hasn’t a hope in hell of a screenplay nomination.

  4. Strange bit comparing Love Actually and Master and Commander too. Love Actually was a third-rate Notting Hill, Master and Commander another Weir classic.

  5. Sasha Stone

    Well the first thing to know is that this is a movie about an amendment passing. The second thing is, black slaves HAD TO BE PASSIVE back then or they would be whipped, tortured and possibly murdered. Only a whitey guilt retelling would have black characters fake scenes – as it was, there are three such characters in this movie. Besides, I’m old enough to remember when Spielberg made The Color Purple and he was smacked down for trying to tell a story, as a white director, about black people. He can’t win. Since all of the fuss from the black community about white directors staying away from black stories – guess what? We don’t have any black stories. Oh one or two pops up now and again, like Middle of Nowhere, but for the most part all we get are white movies by white people for white people. Why? So that they then don’t get criticized as this writer is doing here. I will have to write an op-ed refuted that article, which I will do.

  6. weerasethakul

    I can’t wait to read it. Now I really need to get my ass to the theater.

  7. Don’t forget Anna Karenina for Adapted. Think it’s a strong possibility with Tom Stoppard.

  8. Thanks, Sasha, for your post and the comment about the NYTimes article. Looking forward to read your response to it.

  9. “his purpose is more to entertain and inspire than to educate”

    Unfortunately she is doing the same mistake that many of my fellow Academics do (I am aware of this so I try my best not to repeat it in my own life!). She sees a teaching/learning opportunity in everything. She is confusing a movie, a medium for entertainment, with a lecture or a documentary.

    Both Kushner and Spielberg made an artistic decision to make this movie in their own way. And this movie is called Lincoln. So it is about his struggle and triumph during the process as explained in the movie. It is all about his “governing” his party and opposition party. It is about “getting something done” in Washington DC politics.
    This is why I am glad that there was no reference to his alleged affair with a black maid. I was afraid that such a side story might have distracted the attention from the main (and very important) story. Thats the reason why I also didnt like the ending that much, even though I can see their point: He died for his struggle. He paid the biggest price for his triumph.
    The movie opens nationwide this weekend. Lets see what kind of BS will start just to damage the credibility of the movie

  10. Until those who vote for the Academy Awards match the demographic make-up of the country it’s all pretty irrevelevant. It’s too much of a one-sided process. The same with critics’ group. The lack of diversity is astounding. Lack of women, lack of blacks, lack of Hispanics, lack of Asians and lack of young people. Sound familiar? And by the way “Lincoln” is NO masterpiece. It’s actually severely flawed. An entire 2 and a half hours of talking about slavery and no “true” reference to ills of slavery and it’s actual impact on the country is lazy and shameful filmmaking. It’s like Speilberg making “Schindler’s List” and never showing the Jews’ horrible plight in the concentration camps. Would that movie be great if it only showed Mr. Schindler planning how he would rescues the Jews? Don’t think so. Oh well…

  11. rufussondheim

    It really shouldn’t be forgotten that Les Miz, while not about slavery, certainly is in the same family of themes as the films highlighted here.

    The main character got sentenced to innumerable years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family. He escapes and is pursued relentlessly by one single determined law officer.

    He then becomes successful and never forgets his roots, he meets a young single mother in desperate economic straits who he promises to help, but he ultimately fails and then feels duty bound to help her daughter who he rescues from virtual slavery.

    When the duaghter grows up, she meets a leader in a revolutionary movement whom the main character deeply empathizes with. The revolutionary movement is fueled by students who despise the constant oppression they see from the upper classes on the lower classes.

    Les Miz is as political a film as any in the mix. And it’s just as relevant today (sadly) as when it was first conceived in 19th century France. If any movie can capture the current zeitgeist around the recent election results, it’s this one.

  12. Good article, Sasha.

    I don’t get to see it until later this week, but all the political brouhaha coming at Lincoln from all sides is depressing and makes me all the more anxious about next year: 12 Years a Slave – black author (original book), black director (and one of the best in the business) and stellar cast. Knowing McQueen’s past work and style, I imagine he’ll give everybody something to talk about.

    I also agree about Cloud Atlas being better appreciated further down the road. For those of us that connected with, it’s a magnificent mess and I love it for that. Hearing that a much younger crowd has also connected with it, like your daughter, means it will be around for a long time to come. Maybe they’ll even decide to replace Vertigo with another #1 on the Sight and Sound list (never know).

  13. rufussondheim

    Nothing new going on in the race, I don’t think. Unless you think the lack of box office for The Sessions will affect Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress categories. Lincoln seems even more secure for a nomination now, although I don’t think any film is truly secure just yet. There are still too many films to come and you have to consider the possibility there may only be five nominees. But here goes.

    It’s important to note that last year at this time that the Best Pic nomination slate was most easy to predict.

    Best Pic (will go to 10, but I think there will only be five or six)

    1) Les Miseables
    2) Lincoln
    3) Argo
    4) Zero Dark Thirty
    5) Life of Pi
    6) Silver Linings Playbook
    7) The Impossible
    8) Django Unchained
    9) Skyfall
    10) Cloud Atlas

    Yeah, I think Skyfal has an outside shot. I think it’s so well made and so technically superb that it just might get in there.

    Best Actory

    1) Hugh Jackman
    2) Daniel Day Lewis
    3) Denzel Washington
    4) Joanquin Phoenix
    5) John Hawkes

    Other – Ben Affleck (if they really go for Argo)

    Best Actress

    1) Jessical Chastain
    2) Jennifer Lawrence
    3) Naomi Watts
    4) Marion Cotillard
    5) Quvenzhane Wallis

    Best Supporting Actor (What a crapshoot!)

    1) Tommy Lee Jones
    2) Alan Arkin
    3) Robert DeNiro
    4) Phillip Seymour Hoffman
    5) Leonardo DiCaprio

    Best Sopporting Actress

    1) Anne Hathaway
    2) Samantha Barks
    3) Sally Field
    4) Helen Hunt
    5) Judi Dench (for Skyfall!)

    Best Director
    1) Tom Hooper
    2) Ben Affleck
    3) Steven Spielberg
    4) Ang Lee
    5) Kathryn Bigelow

  14. Sasha, LOVE your passion and sincerity in this article as well as many others. Your jabs at King’s Speech and Artist (Two decent film and in NO WAY deserved to win BP) along with your (arguable) declaration for best film of the year as well as calling it a masterpiece.

    Loved the whole read too. Thanks for that as well as the info and links about those tweets. And holy hell, I didn’t know about them but more importantly, did you really mean that 50 percent of America is racist? I’m not joking or playing here. As an outsider, all that I’ve seen about racism in US has been through cinema and films like Mississippi Burning (And sugar coated crap like The Help). Am I to understand that at least a big chunk of US is still racist?

  15. I wonder if “The Hobbit” not premiering until the 12th is cause for concern. They’re apparently passing up on a lot of the award nominations. Is there any earlier screening I don’t know about?

  16. Derek 8-Track

    “He is currently predicting it to win big.”
    does this mean Wells thinks it will win BP? because I think he expects Les Mis to win. but maybe I’m remembering an old Gold Derby list.

  17. Tero Heikkinen

    Hmm, I guess I should’ve seen Life of Pi last week when I had the first chance. But there will be another screening later this week, I think.

  18. @ Shawn Edwards

    Thanks for your post, Shawn. Being European, I haven´t seen Lincoln yet. The omission you are describing – it´s sounds horrible. I must see the film, now, with that point in mind.
    You are right about the AMPAS and critics groups, of course. And the “Oscarologists” as well: seems to be 95 per cent white old guys everywhere you look. When I first noticed it, I was chocked. I had no idea the US was that backward.

  19. Or rather, “shocked”

  20. Tero Heikkinen

    Rufus, we know that you are very optimistic about Les Mis, and that’s fine, but you have it as a frontrunner in picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress (twice if Hathaway happened to lose). I’d like to know how many nominees you will expect for it? I tell mine:

    Picture (possible win), Director, Actor, Supporting Actress (likely win), Cinematography (possible win), Film Editing (possible win), Costume Design (possible win), Original Song (possible win), Art Direction (possible win), Sound Mixing.

    I can see 10 nominations. Well, 11 if Barks gets in or even 12 if writers choose it for Adapted Screenplay which seems unlikely giving the competition there, but some have predicted 15 and I sure don’t see how that can be possible. Have Academy added new categories without announcing it?

    If Les Mis wins BP, it will also take most of those that I labeled as “possible win”, but if something else wins BP, Les Mis won’t win more than 3 total. So, up to 7 it can win. Same can be said about Lincoln, 7 seems like the highest number for any movie on a year like this and seriously only two films can get to that number. Argo could never win 7 Oscars – even with BP and BD.

  21. unlikely hood

    Master and Commander, a film I love, actually was released in 2003, nine years ago, not ten. Same with that other film you mention. If imdb is right they were released on the same day – tomorrow, Nov 14 (of 2003). Was that part of the confusion?

    I have a lot to say about Shawn’s point but I’ll wait til Sasha’s promised longer rebuttal.

  22. Sasha Stone

    Shawn, that’s half the story. Lincoln was a film about the politics of the time, not a film about slavery. Amistad was a film about slavery and he was criticized then for trying to tell that story. The Color Purple was also a movie he got criticized for – so he officially can’t win. But he CAN make a film about Abraham Lincoln and the complicated history of this country and how hard it was to pass the Thirteenth Amendment — you are missing, by the way, that what Spielberg did choose to show was something rarely seen: black soldiers who fought in the war. Period. Moreover, he depicts the disgusting nature of racism back them in congress. He isn’t trying to whitewash it. Hell, everyone knows what slavery was about – you’re talking about a story YOU would tell. But you know, you can’t make everyone happy and political correctness is choking the life out of Hollywood and make it doubly hard for black actors and storytellers. Tell the RIGHT story or don’t tell it all? Please. Give me a break. It’s been almost 20 years since Spielberg made The Color Purple and you can count on one hand the number of films with all black cast like that even nominated for Best Picture. You can’t lay this shit at Spielberg’s feet, maybe some other director but not him. I will write a long piece about this because, as my readers know, I have a lot to say.

    Will everyone think it’s a masterpiece? No. But that’s what we think here at AwardsDaily so if you’re already tired of hearing about it you best find another Oscars site. :-)

    Can you imagine the criticism Spielberg would have gotten if he tried to put in slaves on a plantation getting whipped? He would have been accused of black stereotyping, etc. Surely we can regard the legislation of the time as a worthy story onto itself.

  23. I must correct myself. The Hobbit article I was reading was about the UK Premiere I believe. The worldwide premiere is the end of November, so nothing to worry about there.

  24. Question Mark

    Does a Best Picture winner need to have weighty themes, however? Sasha, you seem to think it does, though at the end of the day, the award is just called ‘best picture,’ not ‘big picture.’ Films like Tom Jones, The Artist, The Apartment, etc. may not have carried great heft but they’re all arguably the best movies from their years and very deserving winners of the top Oscar.

  25. rufussondheim

    Yes, Tero, I am taking a gamble and kind of predicting a Les Miz sweep. Like you, I am a bit confused on certain categories and whether it will be eligible or rewarded. Mainly, I think about Score at this point. I have no clue if it will get a nomination for that. I do think the added dialogue, even if it is merely serviceable, will help it get an adapted screenplay nomination, especially if a lot of stuff is edited out or condensed. There’s a lot more to screenplay than just the dialogue.

    So here I go

    Best Pic,
    Best Director
    Best Actor
    Best Supporting Actress
    Best Supporting Actress
    Best Supporting Actor
    Best Adapted Screenplay
    Best Song
    Best Editing
    Best Costumes
    Best Cinematography
    Best Scenic Design
    Best Hair and Makeup (I’m pretty sure they include hair now)
    Best Sound Mixing

    So I guess that makes it 14. Which is crazy, I know. So I am guessing 13 (Best SUpporting Actor is the most likely to go by the wayside)

    Whether it will win Best Pic, I don’t know. While I have it listed #1, I’m not sure I will predict it for the win. I just think it has the best chance of being nominated of any of the contenders at this point. Most of the categories I have it listed #1 merely because it’s the first film to come to mind, although I do consider Jackman and Hathaway frontrunners at this point. I’m not so sure on Hooper, I think they might give it to Affleck simply because he’s an actor and they have a tendency to win this category, especially when the other top contenders already have won an Oscar.

    ———–

    On a side note, I watched Take This Waltz this afternoon, and it instantly launched its way to number one on my faves of the year list. Loved the montage to the song Take This Waltz.

  26. rufussondheim

    Question Mark, with the exception of The Artist, you’ve gone back 50 years to find pictures without weighty themes that won Best Pic. So, I think you unwittingly answered your own question.

  27. Tero Heikkinen

    13 is not as crazy as 15. 13 actually happens every now and then.

    I know that screenplay is not about dialogue. Never was. Just that Adapted Screenplay is too crowded for a musical, I think. We already have Lincoln, Argo, Silver Linings Playbook, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Life of Pi wanting to be in this group. I believe writers will reject Les Mis over these five aforementioned titles alone, and they often find a smaller film, say Perks of Being a Wallflower, too. I think, even The Hobbit has a better chance here (though it should not for being merely a 1/3 of a book with supplementary material).

    Good that Original Screenplay is not as competitive, so that they can finally award PTA there. The Master will also win another Oscar and I predict that it will be Cinematography.

  28. (Cherub – wtf? is that fumbling towards enlightenment)

    Rufus, your anticipation is impressive, but there is no way we’ll have multiples from the same film in the acting categories in a year like this. I’m guessing Adapted Screenplay is likely out, as well. Too bad they no longer have Adapted or Song Score because this would probably be worthy.

    I can see 10 nominations, tops, if the movie is a big enough hit to create a bandwagon effect, but while a bandwagon this year is not impossible, it would be unwarranted given the volume of achievement to choose from. I hope AMPAS is more careful in their choices for nominations this year.

  29. rufussondheim

    While I am anticipating Les Miz, it’s not the film I’m anticipating most (that would be Zero Dark Thirty) – Heck, I’m looking forward to Promised Land, Life of Pi, The Impossible, Silver Linings all more than Les Miz. While I expect it to be good, I know the material, so I know I will not love it as much as I prefer to love a Best Pic winner.

    I just think Les Miz is the entire package when it comes to what the Academy is looking for when they want to crown a champion and I think their response to it will be quite favorable indeed.

  30. rufussondheim

    And Skyfall for Cinematography!

  31. 1.) Carter: The events in “Argo” notwithstanding, the remaining hostages plus stagflation (high unemployment coupled with high inflation) sealed his fate.

    2.) It is repugnant that some people hurl racial insults at Obama, but where is the outrage when insults are hurled by libs at black Republicans and conservative women?

    3.) Some blacks in Africa were complicit in the slave trade. No slave or even a child of a slave is alive today. Many white Americans weren’t even here yet in the Civil War era.

    4.) 51% isn’t a mandate, and it’s a decrease from 2008. Most of the 49% oppose Obama’s policies, not his skin color. The House stayed Republican. The Dems netted two senate seats, because Akin and Mourdock were bad candidates who imploded.

    5.) My advice for Republicans: Gay issues aren’t life and death. Keep the religious objections, but dump the political objections. Science is helping turn people against abortion on demand. Stay on this real life and death issue. Ease up on immigration; Hispanics would otherwise be a good fit with the GOP.

    6.) Hurricane Sandy: Turning into a “cold Katrina.” Meanwhile, Benghazi is gonna heat up. Now that sex is involved, even the mainstream media will be into reporting it.

    I love movies. I especially love good movies. I don’t care about the gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin or politics of the characters, cast or crew. I’ll stack the diversity of my movie collection up against anybody’s.

  32. rufussondheim

    At the risk of getting political, I will make one point and one point only.

    Even though the House stayed Republican, it did so because the current gerrymandering into creating more Republican Districts, not becuase of actual votes.

    If you take the sum total of votes towards Dems and Reps in House races, the Democrats got more votes. In other words, the American Public would have like to see a Democratic House.

  33. Sasha Stone

    I’m not sure if my favorite comment is by Cherub or Steve’s Cherub wtf fumbling towards enlightenment…hahaha

  34. Terometer

    Mr. Wells / Silver Linings Playbook
    Miss Stone / Lincoln

    mutually reflective or mutually destructive?

  35. Sasha Stone

    Jeff mistakenly labels my affection similar to his for Silver Linings when in fact I have affection for Argo (my current number 1 on my predictions list), Life of Pi, Cloud Atlas, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Middle of Nowhere. Don’t buy into the hype.

  36. Your exactly right Sasha… Spielberg can’t win (with critics) no matter what he does. I’ve been saying it forever, people’s, critics and peers expectations of him are RIDICULOUS!!

    But you know who wins with his movies? US. The audience. And for that I am greatful. I enjoy the oscars very much but couldn’t care less if he wins another one. I just hope he keeps making this kinds of films.

  37. To the post above yes some people think all people who oppose Obama hate black people and should be in the kkk

  38. I’m a little surprised most pundits are underestimating “The Impossible”. Screeners have been sent, nothing but praise for it from the SAG screening and when it is released in the U.S. before Christmas, it is going to be huge.

    Current predictions for Best Picture:
    1. “Lincoln”
    2. “Argo”
    3. “Les Miserables”
    4. The Impossible”
    5. “Life of Pi”
    6. “Silver Linings Playbook”
    7. “Hitchcock”
    8. “Zero Dark Thirty”

    If there is 10:
    9. “Django Unchained”
    10. “The Master”

  39. Let’s not throw a pity party for Spielberg. He’s got a ton of money AND two Oscars for directing.

    I have one old beef with Spielberg. Back in ’98, shortly before he won his 2nd directing Oscar for “Saving Private Ryan” but lost BP to “Shakespeare in Love,” he had some very unkind things to say about “Life Is Beautiful.” Perhaps he was jealous that somebody else figured out a very difficult thing to do — successfully inject humor into a holocaust film.

  40. “Perhaps he was jealous that somebody else figured out a very difficult thing to do — successfully inject humor into a holocaust film”

    Why would he be jealous of someone doing something he never even attempted to do?

  41. alan of montreal

    I’ve had no time to see any films! Augggh!! Stories We Tell has been playing for 5 weeks, and my friend is trying to goad me into seeing Midnight’s Children because he worked on it, and then there’s Argo, and, yes, Wreck-It-Ralph (I gotta have something light and mindless on the list). Middle of Nowhere hasn’t played here, though–if it gets award attention, it may pass through, in which case I’m on it! If only I didn’t have to grade so many terribly-written essays!

  42. Tero Heikkinen

    Tony, your old beef is still a rumour. Frankly I doubt it’s even true. How many times have you heard Spielberg say anything bad about anybody? Spielberg looked very happy when Benigni won even.

  43. Tero Heikkinen

    That it’s not true.

  44. About Malcolm X, saw it 10 years ago, thought it was a masterpiece. 20 years ago when it was released, I was in 2nd grade and not into movies yet. Can anyone here remember why Malcolm X only got 2 noms? What was the deal back then?

  45. James – I recall a lot of controversy surrounding the film and, esp., Spike Lee, which I think frightened the Academy at nomination time.

    To the demographic of AMPAS, Malcolm X, while popular in some circles, was generally considered almost the equivalent of a terrorist calling for the downfall of the USA (not true). Lee replaced Norman Jewison as director due to an outcry, then alienated some of the press by insisting that he could only be interviewed by black journalists. Surrounded by controversy, start to finish.

    I agree – the film should have been nominated for BP and Lee for BD, along with its production team, and this should have been Denzel’s Best Actor Oscar.

  46. Tero, sure he looked happy — all of Benigni’s wins were in categories in which they weren’t going head-to-head.

    James, back then, as now, Denzel was loved and got nominated. OTOH, Spike Lee has never been loved. Box office wasn’t much above budget and P&A costs. As for Best Picture, 4 of the 5 nominees were spectacular — Unforgiven, The Crying Game, Howards End and A Few Good Men. The only movie Malcolm X could have, and should have, knocked off was slot #5 occupant Scent of a Woman.

  47. Sasha Stone

    Tony, Steve am writing up a quick history about Spielberg, Spike and black storytelling vis a vis the Oscars…will post in a bit.

  48. Sasha,
    Can you please do a full, blown-out review on Lincoln? You’ve been talking about how good it is in bits and pieces all over your posts and podcasts, and I am quite interested to hear your take on it as a whole.

  49. Sasha Stone

    I will, Max. I feel like I’ve been writing about it so much it doesn’t need a review but I will write one up.

  50. “The only movie Malcolm X could have, and should have, knocked off was slot #5 occupant Scent of a Woman.”

    Oh, I don’t think the stagey A Few Good Men stands the test of time very well, other than a few catchy lines.

    The Player, Damage, Husbands and Wives – even Romper Stomper – have better shelf life, imo.

    (Really looking forward to your essay about black storytelling, Sasha.)

  51. From the site Gustavo H. Razera posted above:

    “Steven Spielberg on Roberto Benigni and Life is Beautiful in 1999;

    “It’s a beautiful film, and I’ll tell you what’s even more beautiful is Roberto. I got to know him a little today and he’s… Roberto to me is like an Italian Furby, I want to take him home and live with him, I want to cook him supper, you know. He needs to be a part of my family. I’m not being facetious, I really, truly admire this man.”

  52. The German

    According to Miss Stone, accomplishing the current President’s agenda means moving further away from the Constitution. How “enlightening” indeed.

    “The future has arrived at our doorsteps.”
    What future? We have the majority of the voters wanting “cash and prizes” from the government. And the Left in power is more than happy to satiate their selfish desire. As I’ve now started saying, we are The Home of the Weak, Land of the Leech. And it is financially unsustainable. But back to the question; what future?

  53. The German,

    I strongly urge you to read this article by David Frum about that very topic:

    http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/12/opinion/frum-conservatives-despair/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

    People do not WANT to be on welfare. Don’t be silly.

  54. Antoinette

    Is it just me or is The German full of bologna?

    As I remember it the big complaint about Malcolm X was that it was too long.

  55. rufussondheim

    I agree with The German. People do want Cash and Prizes from the governemnt. They see other people getting them, they just want their fair share.

    They see someone who makes over 20 million a year pay less than 14% of their income in taxes, yet with their 20K a year job, they pay about the same percentage (when you throw in payroll, state and local taxes.) When they see a Presidential Candidate talk about their wife driving two cadillacs while he hides his income in Swiss Bank Accounts, they get a bit annoyed as they fumble for change as they climb onto the bus that they take to work on a daily basis.

    They hear about the Presidential Candidate who has set up a 100 Million Dollar Trust for each of his five sons. They don’t have to work a day of their lives and they will never understand what it means to sacrifice. Meanwhile, soldiers come home from the decades long wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, some without arms and legs and fully funtioning brains, and then suffer through depression as 18 of them per day commit suicide and over 50,000 of them are homeless and many more are addicted to drugs and alcohol. It is because of these soldier’s sacrifices and the generations before them who have done the same that have allowed the Romneys such enormous wealth, and they hear Mitt Romney say “I pay everythign I owe and not a dollar more.” Well how about a dollar more for the veterans?

    We see billions of dollars go to oil companies as we struggle to fill our gas tanks.

    We see millionaires collect their social security checks as we struggle to find the time to visit our parents in nursing homes becuase we are working two and three jobs to pay their medical bills.

    We see homeless families in soup kitchens hoping for some meat while rich people own multiple empty vacation homes that are profitable investments because they don’t have to pay taxes on the mortgage interest.

    I think people want Cash and Prizes because over the last 40 years it seems like all the Cash and Prizes have been going to the people who don’t need Cash and Prizes.

    After all, what you call Cash and Prizes, well most of us call them Food and Housing.

    Now I am fortunate to have a good paying job and a nice house but I am not rich, I know poverty is just a disease or a tornado away. I am not looking for Cash and Prizes, I just want to know that the richest country on Earth will care for me if I should somehow experience a series of unfortunate events. I want to live in a society that will support me in my time of need, not let me sit on the side of the road breathing in the exhaust fumes of the Two Cadillacs that go driving by.

  56. @Steve & Tony

    RE: Malcolm X, nasty politics rendering disservice to a great work of art.

    Scent of a Woman really did not deserve the BP nom. I still haven’t seen the Italian original. A Few Good Men is amateurish writing compared with the sophisticated The Social Network, as I’ve said before, Aaron Sorkin has gone a long long way between the 2 films.

  57. I campaigned for Obama when he ran for the Senate from Illinois in 2004. I never saw him as a black person then and I don’t see him as a black person now. I am still surprised that so many people, black and white, see him first through the race lens. (for the record, I supported Hillary in 2008–I thought Obama was too moderate and still think him too compromising). Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing Lincoln, although one would think from the media coverage that Doris Kearns Goodwin was the only person to ever write a book on the subject.

  58. Wait a minute! Someone supported hillary because Obama because he was to moderate and compromising? Supporting Hillary makes no sense in that scenario! Kucinich was available lol.

  59. Truth be told, my biggest disappointment with ’92 was that Unforgiven beat out Howards End (and The Crying Game). It’s too bad that Merchant/Ivory (and Neil Jordan) never reached those heights again.
    Btw, A Room with a View is on my “deserted island” list.

  60. Adamina Lambert

    You always seems to over-reach with your analysis of films – as if your metaphors and analogies were the intent of the filmamakers. I’m like, “what are you saying?” when i read your reviews and musings as they are so off-tangent. Why don’t you be like Tom O’Neil who recognizes that all this oscar race is really shallow and rather silly and yet juicy and exciting and should just be enjoyed and not taken seriously? You yourself have admitted that Oscar is a self-congratulatory marketing ploy of Hollywood and yet you are so serious than Hollywood and their self-aggrandizing ways when it comes to this.

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