Oscar History: 2012

It’s been quite some time since I’ve done an Oscar History post (about two and a half years) and I’m at 2012. It was a year in which Seth MacFarlane hosted the show – fresh off his comedy smash Ted. Here’s what transpired in the major categories with some other pictures and performers I might have considered:

The year saw nine nominees for Best Picture in which Ben Affleck’s Argo took the top prize. Other nominees: Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook (my personal favorite of the year), and Zero Dark Thirty. 

Many Wes Anderson fans would contend that Moonrise Kingdom should have made the cut. And I could certainly argue that The Avengers (perhaps the greatest comic book flick and the year’s biggest grosser) was worth a nod.

The nominations in Best Director were a huge surprise at the time. While Argo won the top prize of all, Affleck was not nominated for his behind the camera efforts. It was the first time since Driving Miss Daisy‘s Bruce Beresford where an Oscar-winning Picture didn’t see its filmmaker nominated.

Instead it was Ang Lee who was victorious for Life of Pi over Michael Haneke (Amour), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild).

In addition to Affleck, it was surprising that Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) was not included. And I certainly would have put in Tarantino for Django.

The race for Best Actor seemed over when the casting of Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln was announced. And that’s exactly how it played out as he won his third Oscar over a strong slate of Bradley Cooper (Playbook), Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), and Denzel Washington (Flight).

The exclusion of John Hawkes in The Sessions could have been welcomed, but I’ll admit that’s a solid group.

Jennifer Lawrence won Best Actress for Silver Linings over Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark), Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts), and Naomi Watts (The Impossible).

Again, no major qualms here. I did enjoy the work of Helen Mirren in Hitchcock (for which she did get a Golden Globe nod).

Supporting Actor was competitive as Christoph Waltz won his second statue for Django (three years after Inglourious Basterds). He was a bit of a surprise winner over Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln. Other nominees: Alan Arkin (Argo), Robert De Niro (Playbook), and Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master).

Here’s a year where there’s a lot of others I thought of. Waltz won, but I think the work of Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson in Django was equally impressive. There’s Javier Bardem as one of the greatest Bond villains ever in Skyfall. Or John Goodman’s showy role in Flight. As for some other blockbusters that year, how about Tom Hiddleston in The Avengers or Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike? And my favorite comedic scene of that year was due to Giovanni Ribisi in Ted…

In Supporting Actress, Anne Hathaway was a front-runner for Les Miserables and there was no upset. Other nominees: Amy Adams (The Master), Sally Field (Lincoln), Helen Hunt (The Sessions), and Jacki Weaver (Playbook).

Judi Dench had more heft to her part as M in Skyfall that year and I’ll also give a shout-out to Salma Hayek’s performance in Oliver Stone’s Savages.

And there’s your Oscar history for 2012! I’ll have 2013 up… hopefully in less than two and a half years!

Savages Movie Review

In Savages, director Oliver Stone take a rare break from making films about politics and instead concentrates on a fairly straightforward drug crime flick. There’s no grand statements about the drug war (this isn’t Traffic), but there is one fascinating subtext. A corrupt DEA agent (John Travolta) explains at one point that eventually the U.S. is going to legalize pot and it got me thinking about how all the bloody mayhem involved in this picture probably wouldn’t happen if that occurred. However, that’s a discussion for another day and it’s not the primary focus here.

Savages centers on two independent marijuana dealers – one is short fused Afghanistan War vet Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and the other is Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a Buddhist and more of a pacifist. Together, they make a fortune out of developing a potent product with highly elevated THC levels. Other than a successful business, they also share something else: Ophelia (known as O), played by Blake Lively, a beach babe who loves them both.

Naturally, Chon and Ben’s thriving company attracts the fascination of the Mexican drug cartels, who look to buy out the boys. When things don’t go as planned, O is kidnapped and thy must figure out a way to get her back.

We meet the disreputable cast of characters who make up the cartel. It’s headed by Elena (Salma Hayek), who inherited the business through her dead husband. She’s lost some of her children in brutal fashion as well and her daughter (who lives in the States) wants nothing to do with her. This is actually a fact that makes Elena proud. If you’ve been lucky enough to watch the documentary Cocaine Cowboys (if not, watch it immediately), you’ll notice that Elena’s character is very similar to Griselda Blanco, a real-life drug kingpin who was just recently assassinated. Elena is the best character in Savages – so much so that I wish the entire movie had been about her.

Elena’s enforcer Lado is played in a typically solid and slightly bizarre performance by Benicio Del Toro. He has a memorable scene with Travolta’s DEA agent that comes towards the end. Once again, the fine acting of Hayek, Del Toro, and Travolta and their dynamic could have been one unique picture.

Alas, Savages is more about Chon, Ben, and O. And therein lies the central flaw of the film… it’s central characters aren’t very special. Especially O. I will not blame Lively wholly for this, even though her performance is lackluster. It’s more that her character is written as nothing more than a dull pothead beach babe. Frankly, with her being the character in the most danger, it’s hard to really care much about what happens.

Savages is no doubt a stylish feast for the eyes. Stone is, of course, a heckuva director. And the secondary performances mentioned above are noteworthy. It’s the main troika of characters and their relationship that makes Savages a bit of a letdown, albeit a good looking one.

**1/2 (out of four)