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The Oscar Quest: Reconsidered (Best Picture, 2011-2012)

The Oscar Quest began in May of 2010. I finished about fifteen months later, and wrote it up for this site. That was essentially the first thing I did on here. Five years have passed since then. I’ve grown as a person. My tastes have changed, matured (or gotten more immature, in some cases). So it feels fitting, on the five year anniversary of the site and of the Oscar Quest, to revisit it.

I want to see just how my opinions about things have changed over the past five years. I didn’t do any particular work or catch-up for this. I didn’t go back and watch all the movies again. Some I went back to see naturally, others I haven’t watched in five years. I really just want to go back and rewrite the whole thing as a more mature person, less concerned with making points about certain categories and films than with just analyzing the whole thing as objectively as I can to give people who are interested as much information as possible.

This is the more mature version of the Oscar Quest. Updated, more in-depth, as objective as possible, less hostile. You can still read the old articles, but know that those are of a certain time, and these represent the present.

2011

The Artist

The Descendants

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The Help

Hugo

Midnight in Paris

Moneyball

The Tree of Life

War Horse

Analysis:

The Artist is a silent movie. And man, does that make me happy.

I was happy that they made a silent movie. I was destined to love this. I was not expecting it to get as far as Best Picture. Which is exactly what happened with La La Land this year. Once it oversteps its bounds, people start to hate on it. Not that it’s undeserving, but people are gonna shit on movies like this because they consider them gimmicks. It sucks.

George Valentin is a silent film star. But now, sound is coming, and he doesn’t fit anymore. He finds his star fading, due to his inability to change.

It’s incredible. I love this movie. It’s everything I want out of cinema, and was my favorite film of the year. I’ll see if I end up taking it still. I suspect I will. But it’s not as much of a guarantee as it was five years ago.

The Descendants is Alexander Payne again. The man just makes good movies that the Academy responds to.

George Clooney is a man living in Hawaii whose wife gets into a jetski accident and is left in a coma. He struggles to take care of his two daughters while dealing with his wife’s impending death, some land owned by his family that they’re deciding whether to keep or sell, and some details that come to light that show that things regarding his marriage were not as they seemed.

It’s typical Alexander Payne. Very funny, with great dramatic moments. He seems to just get people.

This movie is a clear nominee and a film I like a lot. But it’s not hitting top three at all in this one. I like it, but I wouldn’t take it. Fourth choice all around.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the film that no one thought would get here. And then when it did, it got ridiculed. Which is unfair.

A kid with Asperger’s loses his dad in 9/11. He searches for meaning, and discovers a key his father left him, which he thinks is part of a mystery that will reveal something his father meant to tell him. He goes around the city, meeting various people and getting into adventures. I’m not gonna spoil it, but it’s one of those movies that ends on an emotional note.

Some might see it as manipulative, which can be true. I think it works. It’s a solid movie. Did it deserve to be nominated? That’s not really something I need to decide. Sure, I wouldn’t have nominated it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthy. It’s a solid movie. It’s the bottom of the category all around, but it’s still a solid movie.

The Help is one of those movies that came out quietly at the end of the summer and slowly grew until it became one of the most acclaimed films of the year.

It’s about an aspiring novelist who decides to write a book from the perspective of (insert title here). She interviews all the black housekeepers in the city (at least the ones who will talk to her), and they dish all the dirt on all the white people. And the film is about the two main housekeepers, as well as racism (naturally).

It’s not the most complex movie in the world, and it doesn’t dig particularly deep. But it’s likable. It works, and there are good moments in it. It made so much money and was such a hit that they almost had to nominate it. There was no way this was gonna win at all. The nomination is the reward here. I don’t much care for this movie once you put it in that Best Picture conversation. It would be the bottom of the category for me if it weren’t for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

Hugo is Martin Scorsese’s love letter to silent cinema. Couched in a 3D children’s movie. It’s a very canny move on his part. I like how he chose this one.

Hugo Cabret is an orphan who lives in the walls of a Paris train station. He fixes the clocks. He’s constantly sneaking around and being chased by the station manager. He ends up meeting a toymaker and getting into a mystery regarding his dead father and an automaton he needs to fix.

The film is wonderful. This was the first 3D movie that truly used 3D to its full advantage. It was absolutely gorgeous to look at, and it’s a wonderful film. Not the film you’d associate with Martin Scorsese, but a true wonder nevertheless. It might have won this category if not for The Artist.

For me, this and The Artist were the two best movies of that year, so my choice will always be between those two. And it’s not always cut and dry. There’s a legitimate conversation to be had between the two. So we’ll see which way I go.

Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen’s best movie in a while. Since Match Point, anyway. Which, for him, is a while.

Owen Wilson is an American in Paris with his fiancée. He’s trying to finish a novel, and finds himself stuck. He discovers a mysterious form of time travel, where every night at midnight, a car pulls up, and when he gets inside, it transports him to 1920s Paris, where he gets to hang out with Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald and all the authors he so greatly admires. And it’s your typical time travel kind of movie, where he struggles with wanting to stay in that time period or return to the present.

It’s a very lovely movie. Woody Allen’s good movies get nominated, especially when there’s more than five nominees. This was bound to be on the list, but there was no chance it was gonna get past the nomination stage. It’s solid, but at best this was a fifth choice this year. Seventh for me. But that’s just because I really like 1-6. This movie is solid, but I just like other movies more than it.

Moneyball is a film that almost didn’t deserve to be as good as it was. It had such a troubled production. Steven Soderbergh walked like a month before shooting. They had both Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin working on the script. Bennett Miller came on at the last minute and started shooting it. It should have not worked. But it does.

It’s about Billy Beane, the manager of the Oakland A’s, whose sabermetrics approach to baseball led to him putting together a winning team on a fraction of the budget of the bigger market clubs. It’s an approach that revolutionized baseball, but of course was met with skepticism and disdain while it was happening.

It’s a sports movie, but like all the great sports films, it’s about more than that. And that’s what makes it so good. This movie is utterly watchable. You can put it on at any point and you’ll just stay there until the end. It’s really great. This’ll hold up.

I like the film a lot, but it’s no more than a third choice for me. It somehow never crossed that threshold where I’d legitimately put it in conversation with Hugo and The Artist. But I love it, though. I love that this got as many nominations as it did.

The Tree of Life is Terrence Malick’s late career masterpiece. I don’t think he’s gonna top this one.

It’s a film told in two parts — half is about the creation of the Earth, and the other is about, essentially, his childhood. It’s shot in his usual style, and it creates this beautiful, impressionistic portrait that just works.

This movie was the critical darling of 2011, and a lot of people think it should have won Best Picture. I’m not one of those people, even though I do love it. It’s a sixth choice for me, even though the film is very good and deserves to be in the conversation for winning this award. I just — it’s not entirely for me. Nomination, yes, but past that, no.

War Horse is Steven Spielberg. And man, did people hate this one when it came out. The best is that a lot of the people who hated on it never even saw it.

It’s about a horse, who starts as a plow horse in the fields of England, who goes through various owners over the course of World War II. And we follow the horse, and by extension, the people whose lives he crosses, and it’s just a wonderful piece of cinema.

Yes, it’s sentimental, and yes it’s something that shouldn’t have won Best Picture. But come on, it’s Spielberg! It’s a good movie! I like it a lot. You might not, and that’s fine. But I like it. Sure as shit wouldn’t take it, but it’s a great movie.

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The Reconsideration: Yeah…this is one of those… I like what I like. And I love The Artist. I’m aware not everyone shares my opinion. But that’s why it’s my opinion. My favorite film of 2011 was The Artist, and that’s what I’d vote for. Hugo was #2. I’m not taking #2 when #1 is nominated just because I care about what other people think. The Artist is the choice. There are great other choices here. But I’m taking the one I like best.

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. The Artist
  2. Hugo
  3. The Descendants
  4. The Tree of Life
  5. Moneyball
  6. War Horse
  7. Midnight in Paris
  8. The Help
  9. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Rankings (films):

  1. The Artist
  2. Hugo
  3. Moneyball
  4. The Descendants
  5. War Horse
  6. The Tree of Life
  7. The Help
  8. Midnight in Paris
  9. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

My Vote: The Artist

Recommendations:

The Artist is a Best Picture winner, so for now, it’s essential. Time will tell further on this one, but for now, you need to see it.

Hugo is Scorsese, therefore essential.

The Descendants is Alexander Payne, and essential.

The Tree of Life is Terrence Malick and essential. And may end up as one of the more essential ones in this entire category over time.

Moneyball is currently essential. I consider Bennett Miller essential, so let’s just say it is. It’s incredible, so at worst it’s a very high recommend.

War Horse is Spielberg. It may end up being a lesser Spielberg, but I consider all his stuff essential.

Midnight in Paris is gonna go down as one of Woody Allen’s better films, which makes it essential.

The Help is essential for Oscar buffs because of the win. Otherwise it’s a solid film with good actors in it. Worth a watch.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is solid. enjoyable, moderate recommend. Otherwise, you’re fine without it.

The Last Word: I like it. I think it’s a good winner. Time’s gonna do what time does. We’re not that far removed to where can say anything definitively. I don’t really see anything here that’s already a better choice. They’d be fine. But nothing that’s better. Hugo? I feel like people have already forgotten Scorsese even made that. Tree of Life? That’s not a Best Picture winner. The Descendants? Maybe? The rest wouldn’t have made great winners. So for now, I think they did just fine. But time’s gonna be the decider on this one. That’s not a cop out as much as it’s a legitimate “I don’t know.” Because I honestly can’t tell with this one.

– – – – – – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – –

2012

Amour

Argo

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Django Unchained

Les Misérables

Life of Pi

Lincoln

Silver Linings Playbook

Zero Dark Thirty

Analysis:

Amour is Michael Haneke. The man makes those movies that Cannes loves. Admittedly, the stuff I’ve seen of his, I’ve also really liked. This is one of those films that actually did deserve a Best Picture spot. It’ll hold up.

An elderly couple who’s been together for years and years have some struggles when the wife has a stroke and the husband is forced to care for her.

It’s a beautiful film. Very hard to watch in some ways, but also very well done and an incredible story. This is a film that I think I will appreciate more with age. Now, I like it a lot, but don’t really see it as anything more than a bottom choice in the category. I just wouldn’t take it at this moment in time. That’s why I keep redoing the Quest. Maybe one of these years I will.

Argo is a story about how Hollywood saved hostages.

That’s the takeaway from this, isn’t it?

During the Iran hostage crisis, a CIA operative, while trying to figure out how to get some people out who are trapped in the Canadian Ambassador’s house, decides the best way to do so is to pretend to be a Hollywood film crew on a scout. They create an entire fake film, hire real producers and buy a real script, and they go into Iran and work to get these people out safely.

It’s a great story, and a really good film. Was it the best film of 2012? Probably not. But it was a film everyone agreed upon liking, and in a way, that’s what Best Picture is now. I like this a lot. Probably like fourth choice for me, and that seems to be what wins now. Fourth choices. Wouldn’t take it, but like it a lot.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is just a great film. So wonderfully made and really representative of what the artistry of filmmaking can be. (And I’m not just saying that because I went to school with some of the people who made it.)

It’s about a little girl growing up in a place called The Bathtub, which is a place in Louisiana on a levee, which, due to rising water levels, will eventually be flooded out. But she, and everyone else there, refuses to leave. And the film is about her growing up in this place, with her wild fantasies and learning a unique way to live.

It’s a wonderful film. I was anti this film at first, I don’t really know why. But it’s so wonderful. It’s an incredible piece of filmmaking and is one of the absolute best films of 2012. I love that this was nominated and it deserved every piece of acclaim it got. I would not take this, but I wish there was a way in which I could. That is to say, I wish I loved this rather than really, really liked it. And I just don’t love it enough to vote for it. It sucks.

Django Unchained is Quentin Tarantino’s revenge western.

A freed slave teams up with a bounty hunter to free his wife from Leonardo DiCaprio. (I’m not sure how best to describe the Candie character.)

It’s fucking awesome. And it’s something you’ve seen if you made it here. It’s unfathomable to me that someone gets to me without having seen this movie.

I’m not gonna pretend like I wouldn’t vote for this. I am. It’s a tough year, so I feel conflicted about automatically taking this. But it’s my favorite film of 2012, so that’s the choice.

Les Misérables is the film adaptation of one of the greatest stage musicals of all time, adapted from one of the greatest novels of all time.

The music in Les Mis is perfect, and it was only a matter of time before they turned it into a film. Not everyone may have loved the track they took with this one, but I did.

It’s about Jean Valjean, a man thrown in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family. He gets out on parole and realizes the stamp of an ex-con prevents him from ever reintegrating into society. So he skips out on parole, changes his identity and is hunted down for years by a relentless policeman, Javert.

It’s a perfect story and I loved this film. It was my second favorite film of 2012. Did it need to win? No. Would I take it? Almost. Just so happens my favorite film of the year is also in this category. So that prevents me from taking it. Probably wouldn’t have been that great had it won, so that’s good. Still, I love this movie and I would have taken it if the situation called for it.

Life of Pi is a story about a boy that gets stranded in a lifeboat with a tiger, a monkey and a zebra. Somehow that’s not a joke.

It’s about an Indian boy who gets shipwrecked and ends up on a lifeboat with (eventually just) a tiger. And it’s about their journey and this weird bond that forms between them.

The film is a visual feast, but I was never crazy about the story. Looks great, but I never thought it amounted to much more than that. It’s my least favorite film in the category, and I was surprised it got so many nominations. But hey, they liked what they liked. So good for them. But it’s the last thing I’d take in this category.

Lincoln is Steven Spielberg’s film about the passing of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. And how Abraham Lincoln did everything he could to make sure it had enough votes to pass.

I think this vote sums it up: “The greatest measure of the 19th century. Passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America.”

This movie is loaded with talent, and led by a remarkable Daniel Day-Lewis performance. The man outdid himself with this one. Holy shit.

This movie is amazing and it’s only growing in stature with each passing year. I might be convinced that this was the proper choice for the win. But we’ll get to that. It’s probably a fourth or fifth choice for me in the category, even though I do think it might end up closer to the top, voting-wise. We’ll see.

Silver Linings Playbook is David O. Russell taking what he learned on The Fighter and repeating it. Somehow he takes a movie with an utterly ridiculous premise and makes it charming and turns it into something really good.

Bradley Cooper is a teacher who’s just out of a stint at a mental institution after a nervous breakdown following the dissolution of his marriage. He is back living with his parents, trying to get his life back in order. He strikes up a friendship with a local widow, whose husband died suddenly at a very young age. To cope, she’s started sleeping with just about anyone who moves. The two train to enter a local dance competition together.

I don’t know how that plot manages to work, but fuck if this movie isn’t entertaining as shit. I love it. Wouldn’t take it at all, since I could never get this past one of those third choice spots, where I like it a lot, but there’s always stuff I’d vote for over it.

Zero Dark Thirty is Kathryn Bigelow’s movie about the search for Osama bin Laden.

It focuses on Jessica Chastain, a CIA agent whose sole purpose is to find and kill bin Laden. She hunts him down over several years, eventually tracking him down and leading to that famous Seal Team 6 raid.

The movie itself is very good. I have issues with some elements of the first two-thirds (and not even the glorification of the torture that people had issues with. Mine’s mostly story related), but the raid itself is fantastic. It’s a really terrific movie and well worth a nomination. Especially in an expanded category. Though it’s a lower tier nominee for me. Wouldn’t take it, but love that it’s here.

– – – – – – – – – –

The Reconsideration: I haven’t done one of those things in a while where I reason my way through a Best Picture category, and it’s because most of these years I know what I’d vote for off the top. So the rest doesn’t really matter. I mean, here — no to Life of Pi, no to Amour. No to Zero Dark Thirty. Beasts of the Southern Wild I’d think about, but not over the other choices. Argo — ehh. It’s hanging around that “solid but no vote” range. Silver Linings, wouldn’t actually vote for it even though I’d delude myself into thinking I might some day. It’s really Django and Les Mis as my favorites, and Lincoln is in the conversation, but ultimately my love for Django would beat it out. Tarantino probably shouldn’t have won for this, but it’s my favorite film of 2012, so why wouldn’t I take it?

– – – – – – – – – –

Rankings (category):

  1. Lincoln
  2. Argo
  3. Django Unchained
  4. Zero Dark Thirty
  5. Silver Linings Playbook
  6. Les Misérables
  7. Amour
  8. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  9. Life of Pi

Rankings (films):

  1. Django Unchained
  2. Les Misérables
  3. Silver Linings Playbook
  4. Argo
  5. Lincoln
  6. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  7. Zero Dark Thirty
  8. Amour
  9. Life of Pi

My Vote: Django Unchained

Recommendations:

Lincoln. Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis. Absolute must see all around essential.

Argo is a Best Picture winner and an awesome movie that’ll rate high on the IMDB scale. Essential.

Django Unchained is Tarantino. I think you know what that means.

Zero Dark Thirty is gonna probably go down as an essential movie. At worst a very high recommend. Now, it’s essential.

Silver Linings Playbook is David O. Russell, and his stuff, especially from this era, is essential. Plus, with a Best Actress win, it’s essential for Oscar buffs.

Les Misérables is essential for Oscar buffs, essential as a story, and as far as musicals go, people should hear these songs because this is one of the greatest musicals ever written. Film-wise, maybe they’ll make a better version of this. For now, very high recommend out of me, and we’ll see what time does to this.

Amour is essential at the moment. Over time, maybe not. But I think it’s just so good and so underseen that you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a very high recommend and one of the gems of the Oscars. Not essential as of now, though I think it should be. This and Amour are the two that are just so good and deserve to be seen, so for now I’m calling them essential.

Life of Pi is essential for Oscar buffs, high recommend otherwise. It’s Ang Lee so most people will probably want to see it. Time’s gotta tell, but for now it’s essential

The Last Word: I think we all saw this as a bit of a compromise choice at the time. Not compromise so much as, “Yeah… I guess.” A ‘settle for,’ I guess is the proper term. There was a weird momentum shift toward this, but, over time, will this end up being the best choice. It’s a fun movie and a likable movie, but was it the best choice. I don’t know. Five years later, I’m starting to think Lincoln actually was the best choice. That’s where I’m at now. I don’t know if there’s much else that’s overtaken Argo, but I think Lincoln might have. It’s a decent choice. Not amazing historically, doubt it ever will be. But for now, it’s okay. Pretty much anything after 2010 is hard to gauge because it’s so recent.

– – – – – – – – – –

(Read more Oscar Quest articles.)

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