Oscar Round-up, 2012

Argo (Ben Affleck, 2012)

The last third or so, when shit gets real and they have to get out, is proof enough what a joke it is that he wasn’t nominated for Best Director.  Suspenseful to no end despite knowing how it’ll end up if you know the true story (clichéd to point that out, I know, but it still applies).  I usually can’t stand when people in a movie theater applaud when the heroes prevail at the end, but I found myself waiting and wondering what everyone was waiting for when the plane got into the air, and was relieved when it happened.  Pretty good sign of quality filmmaking from my point of view.  There was just the right amount of screentime devoted to the Americans holed up in the Canadian ambassador’s home – not too much so that they’d develop, and be defined by, genre stereotypes, not too little so that they’d be nothing but macguffins.  I just wish the movie as a whole didn’t rely quite as much on humor as it did…this is an amazingly improbable, ridiculous true story; that improbability and ridiculousness should speak for itself (plus, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a running gag get as old and irritating as quickly as “Argo fuck yourself” did).

Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

Its perceived glorification of independence and the will to survive sometimes strays distastefully towards, instead, pigheaded obstinacy and an irresponsible shunning of outside assistance, especially when you’re dying, you know you’re dying, and your little kid’s gonna be alone in a fucking swamp when you’re gone.  Despite that, though, you have a feeling that little Hushpuppy will be alright.  Her father Wink can be a prick, can be hard and stern, but when living in said fucking swamp, that’s the father he needs to be.  Putting aside qualms about the reasons Wink and the other Bathtub inhabitants so virulently shun the outside world, their methods of survival are fascinating and exciting to watch.  Those titular beasts were stupid, though.  Let this captivating setting, and the ability of this little girl to both tune out and adapt to/survive the outlandish challenges of that setting, speak for themselves, without the empty symbolism of imaginary, prehistoric animals.

Brave (Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman, 2012)

Moderately disappointing by Pixar standards, which still makes it better than almost everything, ever.  My disappointment probably comes from the fact that the end didn’t make me outright cry like the last three fucking Pixar movies did, but the bear vs. bear fight was great, an exciting and fitting climax to the evolution of the relationship between Merida and her mother.  Pixar’s technical and visual prowess just keeps getting more astounding (look no further than Merida’s hair), and putting a strong, self-reliant woman in the forefront was refreshing, and yet, things like the narrative being interrupted by a song and the 11th hour spell reversal happy ending (I regarded the end of this similarly to Marlene Dietrich’s famous “where is my beautiful beast?!” reaction to the end of Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast) made it seem like this was relying on Disney tropes of old.  One step forward, one step back for the genre.

Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, 2012)

There’s Tarantino’s signature genre-mimicking, embellished here by the last third or so essentially being nothing but blood and gunfire, and then you throw in perhaps the most intriguing and motivationally complex character of Tarantino’s career in the form of Samuel L. Jackson’s Stephen, and you have a downright brutal satire of slavery (not so current) and racism (much more current).  I didn’t even mind that the scene with the Klan’s misadventures in hood-wearing might’ve gone on too long and stretched the joke out too much, was still a well-timed instance of straight-up humor in a film of brutal imagery (i.e. the Mandingo fight…I’m still not sure what made me wince more, the fight itself, or Calvin’s hooting and hollering as he watched his property fight to the death.  Was a challenge to not look away, and an absorbing challenge at that) and even more brutal subject matter…a laugh-so-you-don’t-have-to-cry kind of subject.  To have comedy and atrocity mesh so easily and feel so natural together, you have to be one hell of a filmmaker, which Quentin Tarantino has again proven to be.

Lincoln (Steven Spielberg, 2012)

Second-best film of 2012 featuring a character named Mr. Bilbo.

Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow, 2012)

The raid was fantastic – perfectly filmed and edited, a textbook on how to hold the audience’s attention; the 80 hours preceding it were somewhat of a bore.  Usually don’t consider it a very good sign when it’s so easy to spot an actor’s Oscar clip (when Chastain about chews Kyle Chandler’s head off, her neck vein about to explode).

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