It’s Oscar time tomorrow, and I’ve already laid in supplies for my Oscar party. Nate Silver has weighed in with his Oscar predictions, and since he’s scary good at prognosticating, I’m going to bow to the inevitable and concede that Argo is probably going to win. It’s a fine film, very exciting, and a deserving contender. Lincoln is a better film, I think, but if Argo does win, I won’t be as outraged as I have been in the past. Like, say, last year, when The Artist, a charming French remake of Singin’ in the Rain (sans music), a substance-less gimmicky fluff piece, somehow beat out The Tree of Life. Remember ’94 (Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction), remember ’06 (Crash, over Brokeback Mountain? Anyway, my predictions. Lincoln will somehow win Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, and Best Screenplay, and still won’t win Best Picture. Oscar is relevant how?
No, my son asked me instead to list my personal top ten–my ten favorite films from last year. So here goes:
1) Lincoln. I know, I know. But it’s such a remarkable film. So beautifully written, with that eloquent, smart, complex screenplay by Tony Kushner. America’s finest playwright, writing about our greatest President, and our most stupefying and astounding national tragedy: slavery, and the war we had to fight to end it. Daniel Day-Lewis embodies Lincoln, doesn’t just play him, and Sally Field was just as superb as Mary Todd Lincoln.
2) Seven Psychopaths. The great Irish playwright wrote and directed his second film, and it’s amazing; strange, smart, human and humanist, post-modern without losing its soul in self-conscious cleverness. It’s a such a layered film. And Sam Rockwell gives the finest performance I saw last year in any film not starring Daniel Day-Lewis. And a performance by Christopher Walken that felt like the coda on a brilliant career.
3) The Cabin in the Woods. Joss Whedon’s writing partner, Drew Goddard, also directed–I’m still calling it a Joss Whedon film, and putting it in here instead of The Avengers, fun superhero movie. Cabin is this amazing deconstruction of horror films, a meta-cinematic full-on assault on the preposterous moralism of horror as a genre.
4) Brave. It’s not just the animation. Of course Pixar can make a red-haired girl riding a horse look amazing. It’s the story, the relationships. When have we seen this before? A marvelous new Disney princess–a young woman of independence and intelligence, willful and determined, and utterly uninterested in any of the princes who offer themselves as suitors. Instead, we get a film about a mother and a daughter, exploring that fraught, difficult, but deeply loving relationship. And in a film that also manages to be really genuinely funny. Why was Kelly MacDonald not considered for Best Actress?
5) Life of Pi. Love the book, love what Ang Lee did with the movie. So gorgeous. “Which is the better story.” A great movie that honors a great book.
6) Hope Springs. Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, as a married couple re-connecting. Lovely writing, lovely acting. Beautiful film.
7) Django Unchained. Quentin Tarantino, historically revisionating away. Love the performances, loved the writing, love way it depicts the sheer horror of slavery as the ultimate moral evil.
8) Les Miserables. How to make a movie out of a musical. How to turn it into a powerful personal political statement. Anne Hathaway is magnificent.
9) Zero Dark Thirty. I really do think it’s ultimately just another good thriller. But it’s an awfully good one. Superbly made, if historically questionable.
10) Argo. I really did like it a lot, and wouldn’t at all mind if it won Best Picture.
I would also say that all ten of these films, and all the other films nominated for Best Picture, would have swept last year’s Oscars. This was a great movie year.