War Horse started out as the sight unseen frontrunner this year. That meant it had nowhere to go but down. Then The Artist took over the frontrunner’s spot and many still believe it will win. In a tiny way this paradigm is not unlike when it was LA Confidential vs. Titanic. War Horse is very likely in the Titanic realm as it’s maybe the worst movie and the best movie at the same time. It is also making people cry whole soggy tears, grown men even. What makes men cry? Poor war horses in peril. Like The King’s Speech last year, there is no fighting it when it’s that kind of movie. There are scant few critics of War Horse now, even with its mixed score it’s gotten raves from David Edelstein, AO Scott, Roger Ebert and more. They’re loving the ol’ fashioned faux John Ford patina and swelling music, a celebration of the goodness of all peoples regardless of race or creed. How do you definite Best Picture of the year? Well that’s how.
So move over The Artist because War Horse has just taken the lead. The Oscar race is a Baby Race that takes place right now, two weeks from today they turn in their nomination ballots. And if they all emerged from the Academy theater soggy, sobbing wrecks well, we can expect War Horse to take a huge chunk of nominations. It’s the Year of the Sappy Period Flick, and if you thought The King’s Speech was sappy, well honey, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
I have no problem with War Horse winning. After all, writing about the Oscar race doesn’t necessarily mean the Oscar race is going to make all people happy all of the time. It’s not about Ms. Right, but about Ms. Right Now and by the looks of it, Ms. Right Now is a four-legged friend named Joey. I’ve mostly abandoned the notion that the year’s best films really do win because they usually don’t. “Best” is really a matter of personal opinion. And with the Oscar race, majority rules. Emotion, therefore, rules the day. As we learned from last year’s dirt sandwich, Oscar voters aren’t critics. But even if they were, they’d still vote for War Horse because the major critics (except for the women ones – women this time are the ones who don’t let their emotions rule their judgment) have praised it almost more than any other film this year, even The Artist. So how’s that black and white silent film looking to you about now? Still feeling the “anything but the Artist” backlash?
The Artist is a brilliant film and we know/knew it was too good to ever win. Ditto Moneyball, The Descendants, especially Hugo (the best film of 2011 to my mind), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Midnight in Paris. Why? The waterworks. It’s all about the waterworks. War Horse has the added element of beautiful vistas, wartime and men – not to mention Hollywood’s Golden Boy, Steven Spielberg. Not only does he practically rule Hollywood, not only can homeboy phone it in and still get the fawning of his fans and critics but he knows exactly how to move a crowd. Gone are the rough edges seen in his previous films like E.T. even and Jaws. It’s all sap all the time in War Horse – and for many that’s not a bad thing. Even the most cynical among us have to surrender — it’s like drowning. Sooner or later you have to let go and let the water take you under.
War Horse has everything your Best Picture winner needs: waterworks, prestigious director (that he mimics John Ford here is a win/win), war (bad Germans even) and men. Lots and lots and lots of men. There is a young girl who tends to Joey for a time, and because he’s a religious figure he works his magic on her inability to do much of anything, what with a disease ravaging her body and all — but the miracle horse! Oh, the miracle horse! And a mother who tends to the boy who tends to Joey — “Someday we’ll be together,” the boy says at the beginning. Looks like there aren’t too many women folk around for the poor kid to fall in love with — but he has the miracle horse, by god. But for the most part War Horse tells the story of young men going into battle and the horses who sacrificed themselves for war. It’s about the inherent goodness of people and thus the Oscar race will underline that and bold it.
But I won’t complain much more than this, I promise. The reason being, I’m happier to see the Oscar go to a film made here, in the American studio system. If sappy is what Oscar voters want, if inspiration is what they seek, if comfort and shelter from the storm cures what ails us — we don’t have to reach over across the pond to find it this time, boy-o. We gots what you need right here.
Gallop away, fine steed!
The Oscar voters are expected to embrace the following films:
The Artist (should tie with most noms)- Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Art Direction, Editing, Cinematography, Score, Sound?
War Horse (to tie with The Artist – 9 each) – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Acting? Acting? Not sure. Editing, Cinematography, Sound, Sound Editing, Score
Hugo (predicting 8) – Best Picture (should be), Best Director (really should be), Best Screenplay, Best Editing (for the win), Best Actor for Asa Butterfield (won’t be but should be), Supporting Actor maybe, Cinematography, Art Direction, Score, Sound
The Help (predicting 7) – Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Screenplay, Best Song, Costumes, Art Direction perhaps?
The Descendants (also 5) – Best Picture (a formidable winner it would be), Best Director (way overdue), Best Screenplay (possibly for the win), Best Actor (possibly for the win), Supporting Actress
Midnight in Paris (also 5) – Picture, Director, Screenplay, Art Direction, cinematography, Costume
Moneyball (predicting 4) – Best Picture (would never happen but one of the year’s best), Best Actor (for the win), Best Screenplay (maybe for the win), Supporting Actor
Tree of Life – Picture, Director, cinematography
The Girl with the Dagon Tattoo — Picture, Actress, Editing, Score
The category to watch is going to be editing. I’m curious to see how that will go down. Moneyball and The Descendants don’t seem like traditional editing movies. The other category to watch is acting. War Horse and Hugo are weak in the acting department. So if Academy voters go with the actors in either film it will make a huge difference for either movie. Hard to pick any stand out performance in War Horse but Asa Butterfield is magnificent in Hugo. Ben Kingsley too in supporting.
If it comes down to Hugo and War Horse leading, that is Martin Scorsese vs. Steven Spielberg, it might cause either Hazanavicius or Alexander Payne to win instead. It might go Marty for Best Director and Spielberg for Best Picture — both movies are retro, both about young boys becoming men (of sorts). And then you throw in The Artist – another period piece which has much in common with Hugo too — it’s about the love of cinema.
Of these three, Hugo is by far the masterpiece. Then I’d vote for The Artist. War Horse would be way down the list only because, those it’s truly brilliant in the wartime scenes, the ending is unforgivably botched. Hey, that’s okay, I wasn’t Titanic’s biggest fan either but I’ve come to appreciate that movie for what it is.
What to watch for now: whether War Horse can edge close to Titanic MONEY. Hugo is doing really well at the box office now, at $45 mil. War Horse is stealing The Artist’s buzz and thunder. How will the Weinstein Co. fix that? We’ll have to wait and see. It’s a race by god, it’s a real race.