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Awards Predictions Part Three: Oscar Nominations Reactions

Oscars

On 10th January 2013, Seth McFarlane and Emma Stone announced the nominees for the 86th Annual Academy Awards.  There were quite a few surprising entries and omissions among the nominees, and already responses are cropping up, both praising and criticising the decisions of the Academy members.  I wonder what prompts the vitriol of negative responses – what anyone these commentators to be wiser than the Academy members?  If everyone is allowed their own opinion, what makes one opinion better than another?  The answer is nothing, and similarly there is nothing to be gained by slamming the Academy for nominating X over Y.  For me, it is interesting to examine the nominees, consider why these are the case, and predict who will win.  Now that the Critics Choice Awards and the Golden Globes have been awarded, some possible winners emerge.  This may change, as the Directors’, Producers’, Screenwriters’ and Actors’ guilds of America present their awards, as well as BAFTAs.  It shall be very interesting to look for an emerging pattern.

Best Motion Picture of the Year

Amour, nominees to be determined

Argo, Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck, George Clooney

Beasts of the Southern Wild, Dan Janvey, Josh Penn, Michael Gottwald

Django Unchained, Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin, Pilar Savone

Les Misérables, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Cameron Mackintosh

Life of Pi, Gil Netter, Ang Lee, David Womark

Lincoln, Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy

Silver Linings Playbook, Donna Gigliotti, Bruce Cohen, Jonathan Gordon

Zero Dark Thirty, Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow, Megan Ellison

There are some surprising entries here.  The last time a foreign language film was nominated for Best Picture was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000, so it is perhaps surprising that such a film has not been nominated since the number of nominees was expanded beyond five.  Amour is a hot contender, nominated in several major categories, and perhaps demonstrates a more open approach than the Academy has shown historically.  Beasts of the Southern Wild is another surprising but very welcome entry.  A low budget film with a limited release, it clearly captured the attention of enough voters to earn this accolade.

Silver Linings Playbook is in the extraordinary position of being nominated for every major award, including all four acting categories.  No film has been nominated in every acting category, not to mention also being up for Writing (Adapted), Directing and Picture since Reds in 1981.  It seems statistically likely that Silver Linings Playbook will pick up something come Oscar night, but films with multiple nominations have walked away empty-handed before.

The other nominees are not surprising, as the various critical organisations as well as the Golden Globes have nominated Argo, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty.  They are fairly typical Oscar fare, with two literary adaptations, two concerned with American history (both with slavery) and two true stories (both concerned with American involvement in the Middle East).  Now Argo has picked up the Golden Globe for Best Picture (Drama), and Ben Affleck was awarded the Golden Globe as well as the Critics Choice Award for Best Director.  However, Affleck is not nominated for the Directing Oscar, and it is very rare for a Best Picture winner to not at least be nominated in that category – the last time was Driving Miss Daisy in 1989.  As a biopic (sort of) concerned with American history, Lincoln is the most traditional nominee and does have the most nominations.  But that is no guarantee of success, and awards could be spread among various films come February 24th.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook

Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln

Hugh Jackman for Les Misérables

Joaquin Phoenix for The Master

Denzel Washington for Flight

Not many surprises here.  Daniel Day-Lewis has been a dead cert for some time, and after the Golden Globes, Hugh Jackman and Joaquin Phoenix are also not surprising.  Now that Day-Lewis has won the Golden Globe, the likelihood of him picking up the Oscar is even greater.  Denzel Washington is nominated with surprising regularity, and he is here playing the right sort of role (guilty conscience, struggling with alcoholism).  Bradley Cooper up for an Oscar is surprising, mainly because he is Bradley Cooper, best known for comedic roles.  Like Robin Williams (though not Jim Carrey), Cooper’s move into respectability is facilitated by portraying mental illness.  This seems to be part of the appeal of Silver Linings Playbook: it deals with mental illness in a way that is amusing, serious and moving.  And it has made the star of The Hangover and The A-Team an Oscar nominee, remarkable!

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty

Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook

Emmanuelle Riva for Amour

Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild

Naomi Watts for The Impossible

This category is surprising for including both the oldest ever nominee for this award, Emmanuelle Riva, and the youngest, Quvenzhané Wallis.  Jessica Chastain has been a rising star over the last two years, with turns in The Tree of Life, The Debt, Lawless and The Help (for which she was nominated in 2012); Zero Dark Thirty continues her rise.  With a Golden Globe win, she is now a strong contender to pick up the award, especially as this could be the only win for Zero Dark Thirty.  Naomi Watts and Jennifer Lawrence have been here before and attracted great acclaim for their roles, so to see them nominated is not unexpected.  Although Lawrence picked up a Golden Globe as well, her film is a comedy, and these tend to be overlooked.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Alan Arkin for Argo

Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook

Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master

Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln

Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained

It’s the old guard!  Between them, these five titans have six Oscars, four of them in the category of Best Supporting Actor.  Furthermore, three of them won within the last decade – Alan Arkin picked up Best Supporting Actor for Little Miss Sunshine in 2006; Christoph Waltz received Best Supporting Actor for Inglorious Basterds in 2009, which, like Django Unchained, was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, and now that Waltz has won the Golden Globe, he may be on track to pick up another award.  Philip Seymour Hoffman was awarded Best Actor for Capote in 2005.  Tommy Lee Jones has long been a reliable supporting player, receiving this same award for The Fugitive in 1993.  And it’s the return of Robert De Niro, slumming it for over a decade, except for his fine comedic turns in the Fockers franchise.  De Niro won Best Supporting Actor in 1974 for The Godfather Part II, and then Best Actor in a Leading Role for Raging Bull in 1980, but his last nomination was for Best Actor in a Leading Role for Cape Fear in 1991.  Good to see you back, Bob.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams for The Master

Sally Field for Lincoln

Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables

Helen Hunt for The Sessions

Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook

And here is Silver Linings Playbook again, with Jacki Weaver’s 2nd nomination (her first was for Animal Kingdom in 2010).  Another familiar face is Amy Adams, up for Best Supporting Actress for the 4th time (previous nominations include Junebug [2005], Doubt [2008] and The Fighter [2010]).  Sally Field and Helen Hunt are previous winners, but neither have been seen for some time, as Field’s last nomination was for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Places in the Heart in 1984, while Hunt picked up Best Actress in a Leading Role for As Good As It Gets.  Like them, Anne Hathaway is a major actress in a supporting role.  Her nomination is not a surprise, and Fantine in Les Misérables is a classic role that warrants a powerful performer (not to mention singer).  With a Golden Globe to her credit, Hathaway can likely look forward to more success.

Best Achievement in Directing

Michael Haneke for Amour

Ang Lee for Life of Pi

David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook

Steven Spielberg for Lincoln

Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild

This category features the biggest surprises and possibly injustices (depending on who you talk to/which comments you read, including mine at a later date).  I confidently predicted that Ben Affleck, Kathryn Bigelow and either Quentin Tarantino or Tom Hooper would be nominated, along with Steven Spielberg and Ang Lee, but instead we get Michael Haneke, David O. Russell and Benh Zeitlin.  This could indicate an upcoming sweep for Life of Pi or Lincoln, or indeed Silver Linings Playbook, or suggest a spread of awards among several films.  It also restricts the likely Best Picture winner, as it would be very surprising for a film to win Best Picture that has not been nominated for Achievement in Directing.  Many are likely disappointed by this, especially fans of Argo and Zero Dark Thirty.  To make matters more confusing, though, Ben Affleck has won the Golden Globe for Best Director and the Critics Choice Award.  If he wins the DGA, then it will be very hard to pick a winner.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Amour, Michael Haneke

Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino

Flight, John Gatins

Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola

Zero Dark Thirty, Mark Boal

For a while, it looked like Moonrise Kingdom might attract some major Oscar attention, but it has been largely overlooked other than this nomination, which feels somewhat like a bone thrown its way.  Similarly, while Flight has certain prestigious qualities in its subject matter and pedigree, this and Best Actor are its only nominations.  For the other three, it will be interesting to see if Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen becomes the only award for Amour, Django Unchained or Zero Dark Thirty, or part of a sweep.  Django Unchained has won the Golden Globe, so that makes Tarantino a little more likely.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

Argo, Chris Terrio

Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin

Life of Pi, David Magee

Lincoln, Tony Kushner

Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell

As in the Directing category, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a surprise over the others.  David O. Russell seemed a more likely contender here than in Directing, and the other three were always likely.  At this stage there is no clear frontrunner, although I can see Argo picking this up if nothing else.

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Anna Karenina, Seamus McGarvey

Django Unchained, Robert Richardson

Life of Pi, Claudio Miranda

Lincoln, Janusz Kaminski

Skyfall, Roger Deakins

This category pleases me greatly, as I had/have high hopes for Roger Deakins.  Nice to see Janusz Kaminski again, and Claudio Miranda is not a surprise due to the remarkable 3D cinematography in Life of Pi.  I have little comment on Anna Karenina and Django Unchained as I am yet to see them, but historically cinematographers are a very professional, technical assembly of voters, so we can expect the actual work on display to rewarded (after all, the display is the work).

Best Achievement in Editing

Argo, William Goldenberg

Life of Pi, Tim Squyres

Lincoln, Michael Kahn

Silver Linings Playbook, Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers

Zero Dark Thirty, William Goldenberg, Dylan Tichenor

Editing is something of a silver bullet, as that which wins Editing often also wins Picture – examples include Crash, Chicago, Unforgiven, The Hurt Locker, as well as huge sweeping winners like Titanic, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Slumdog Millionaire.  Therefore, to see five of the Best Picture nominees, as well as three Directing nominees, in this category is unsurprising.  Furthermore, the editors who have won this award for the last two consecutive years, Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter, are not up this year, so no surprise win like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo last year.  I can see Argo picking this up, if only for its remarkable crosscutting.

Best Achievement in Production Design

Anna Karenina, Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Dan Hennah, Ra Vincent, Simon Bright

Les Misérables, Eve Stewart, Anna Lynch-Robinson

Life of Pi, David Gropman, Anna Pinnock

Lincoln, Rick Carter, Jim Erickson

The somewhat archaic term “Art Direction” has now been replaced with Production Design, which is a better description for this category.  All of these nominees require extensive production design so they all appear sensible nominations.  Three are period pieces, and both Les Misérables and Anna Karenina are highly staged, the latter taking place largely on a theatrical set, so considerable effort will have made on the design.  The design of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is exquisite, so no surprise to see this here.  Life of Pi is perhaps the surprise here, as a great deal of the design is digital rather than physical.  Is that not more a visual effect that a production design?  Hard to say, and the nomination in this category may be indicative of the increasingly blurred line between the two.

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Anna Karenina, Jacqueline Durran

Les Misérables, Paco Delgado

Lincoln, Joanna Johnston

Mirror Mirror: The Untold Adventures of Snow White, Eiko Ishioka

Snow White and the Huntsman, Colleen Atwood

No surprise to see the period films Anna Karenina, Les Misérables and Lincoln here, the costume designers having been nominated before.  It is rather amusing that 2012’s two Snow White films are in competition here.  Different release dates meant the two films barely competed with each other for audiences, but here they clash for costume.

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling

Hitchcock, Howard Berger, Peter Montagna, Martin Samuel

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Peter King, Rick Findlater, Tami Lane

Les Misérables, Lisa Westcott, Julie Dartnell

More love for period films in this category, and the costumes of Hobbits, Elves and Dwarves are just as detailed as those of 18th century France, as well as 1960s America.  Quite a spread really.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

Anna Karenina, Dario Marianelli

Argo, Alexandre Desplat

Life of Pi, Mychael Danna

Lincoln, John Williams

Skyfall, Thomas Newman

Some previous winners such as John Williams and Dario Marianelli, and it is very pleasing to see Thomas Newman as well, nominated in this category for the 9th time (he’s never won), as well as Alexandre Desplat in his fifth nomination.  Life of Pi I recall having a very evocative score, so not much of a surprise either.  It is interesting to see Anna Karenina cropping up a lot in these categories – while its acting, directing and overall quality have been ignored, it seems to have been admirably put together.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

Chasing Ice, J. Ralph (“Before My Time”)

Les Misérables, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer (“Suddenly”)

Life of Pi, Mychael Danna, Bombay Jayshree (“Pi’s Lullaby”)

Skyfall, Adele, Paul Epworth (“Skyfall”)

Ted, Walter Murphy, Seth MacFarlane (“Everybody Needs a Best Friend”)

It was very amusing to see the host of the Oscars, at the announcement of the nominations, himself nominated in this category; Emma Stone capitalised on the comedic opportunity.  Hopefully Seth McFarlane will be more entertaining than the last host to be nominated (James Franco).  It’s nice that an Original Song was written for the film version of Les Misérables, amongst all those pre-existing songs, and it is a common occurrence for a famous stage musical, that is adapted for the screen, to have an original number written for it, which is then nominated for an Oscar.  Previous nominees include Evita (“You Must Love Me”) and Chicago (“I Just Move On”).  I am very pleased to see “Skyfall” in here – the film was never likely to receive much Oscar love, and hopefully Adele will perform it live at the ceremony.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

Argo, John T. Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, José Antonio García

Les Misérables, Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, Simon Hayes

Life of Pi, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill, Drew Kunin

Lincoln, Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, Ron Judkins

Skyfall, Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell, Stuart Wilson

Les Misérables is not a surprise at all, considering the unusual live recording of the performers’ singing which then had to be mixed with other sounds.  Argo’s soundscape is a remarkable cacophony of voices and bustle, so it is fitting to see it here.  It is somewhat surprising that Skyfall is the only major action movie, as this is traditionally a category for such offerings as The Dark Knight Rises – indeed The Dark Knight collected this award as well as Sound Editing, but Christopher Nolan’s trilogy closer has been completely ignored.  Clearly there is a lot of impressive Sound Mixing in Lincoln and Life of Pi.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

Argo, Erik Aadahl, Ethan Van der Ryn

Django Unchained, Wylie Stateman

Life of Pi, Eugene Gearty, Philip Stockton

Skyfall, Per Hallberg, Karen M. Baker

Zero Dark Thirty, Paul N.J. Ottosson

Much the same as the previous category, although Les Misérables is apparently less impressively edited than it is mixed.  Not that I know what that means.  This might be a pair of bones thrown to Skyfall.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Marvel’s The Avengers, Janek Sirrs, Jeff White, Guy Williams, Daniel Sudick

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, R. Christopher White

Life of Pi, Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik De Boer, Donald Elliott

Prometheus, Richard Stammers, Trevor Wood, Charley Henley, Martin Hill

Snow White and the Huntsman, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, Phil Brennan, Neil Corbould, Michael Dawson

The surprise here is five nominees, as in previous years there have been fewer.  Those represented here are not surprising, however, as this award is often another bone thrown to blockbusters like The Avengers, Prometheus and Snow White and the HunstmanLife of Pi demonstrates its spread across the range of awards, but there seems to be far less love for The Hobbit than there was for The Lord of the Rings.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

Brave, Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman

Frankenweenie, Tim Burton

ParaNorman, Sam Fell, Chris Butler

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!, Peter Lord

Wreck-It Ralph, Rich Moore

Some leftfield choices here, such as Wreck-It Ralph and The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists!, but I did predict that Paranorman could crop up here.  Now that Brave has picked up the Golden Globe, it is a much stronger contender, but I can still see Frankenweenie pulling an upset.

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

Amour (Austria)

War Witch (Canada)

No (Chile)

A Royal Affair (Denmark)

Kon-Tiki (Norway)

With Amour appearing so prominently in other categories, it is no surprise to see it here, and A Royal Affair is unsurprising as well.  The nominees in this category are often quite random, but with a Golden Globe under its belt I anticipate more awards are coming the way of Amour.

Best Documentary, Features

5 Broken Cameras, Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi

The Gatekeepers, To Be Determined

How to Survive a Plague, To Be Determined

The Invisible War, To Be Determined

Searching for Sugar Man, To Be Determined

I know very little of these, so have no comment.

Best Documentary, Short Subjects

Inocente, Sean Fine, Andrea Nix

Kings Point, Sari Gilman, Jedd Wider

Mondays at Racine, Cynthia Wade, Robin Honan

Open Heart, Kief Davidson, Cori Shepherd Stern

Redemption, Jon Alpert, Matthew O’Neill

I know nothing of these, so no comment.

Best Short Film, Animated

Adam and Dog, Minkyu Lee

Fresh Guacamole, PES

Head Over Heels, Timothy Reckart, Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly

Paperman, John Kahrs

The Simpsons: The Longest Daycare, David Silverman

Nice to see The Simpsons nominated.

Best Short Film, Live Action

Asad, Bryan Buckley, Mino Jarjoura

Buzkashi Boys, Sam French, Ariel Nasr

Curfew, Shawn Christensen

Dood van een Schaduw, Tom Van Avermaet, Ellen De Waele

Henry, Yan England

These sound very nice.

With different nominees between the different organisations, this year will be difficult to predict.  I think it likely there will be a spread of awards, rather than one dominating sweep.  But I’ve been wrong before.  As further awards trickle through, including the BAFTAs, the DGA, PGA, SGA, I’ll post my predictions as we approach February 24th.

Golden Globe Winners

Affleck

It is said that in Hollywood, no one knows anything.  As I am not in Hollywood, how much do I know, especially about what will win at the Golden Globes?

 

Best Motion Picture – Drama

Argo

Django Unchained

Life of Pi

Lincoln

Zero Dark Thirty

I said: Zero Dark Thirty.  The Globes said: Argo.  I have no problem with this as I loved Argo, and am yet to see Zero Dark Thirty.  I also said that if Zero Dark Thirty did not win, the field would go wide open.  It’s open.

 

Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Les Misérables

Moonrise Kingdom

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Silver Linings Playbook

My hunch was Les Misérables, and I was right!  This barnstorming musical was the big winner at the Globes, and perhaps it will continue in this vein.

 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama

Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln

Richard Gere for Arbitrage

John Hawkes for The Sessions

Joaquin Phoenix for The Master

Denzel Washington for Flight

No surprise that Daniel Day-Lewis picked up this gong, but what is surprising is that no other awards came the way of Lincoln.  Expect Mr Day-Lewis to continue his winning ways.

 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama

Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty

Marion Cotillard for Rust and Bone

Helen Mirren for Hitchcock

Naomi Watts for The Impossible

Rachel Weisz for The Deep Blue Sea

I bet on Marion Cotillard, and lost (fortunately I did not bet money).  Zero Dark Thirty may not be the film to beat, but Jessica Chastain could be the woman to watch, and I have no problem with that.

 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

Jack Black for Bernie

Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook

Hugh Jackman for Les Misérables

Ewan McGregor for Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Bill Murray for Hyde Park on Hudson

My leanings were toward Hugh Jackman, and whose wouldn’t be?  No surprise as he picked up this award.  Enjoy it Hugh, you are unlikely to get another.

 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

Emily Blunt for Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Judi Dench for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook

Maggie Smith for Quartet

Meryl Streep for Hope Springs

I rated Jennifer Lawrence a strong contender and she walked away with globular gold.  This makes her a prime contender for further awards, so keep your eye on this one (I also have no problem with this).

 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Alan Arkin for Argo

Leonardo DiCaprio for Django Unchained

Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master

Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln

Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained

I thought Philip Seymour Hoffman had a good chance here, but instead Christoph Waltz adds another award to his cabinet.  Perhaps his fortune will continue.

 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Amy Adams for The Master

Sally Field for Lincoln

Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables

Helen Hunt for The Sessions

Nicole Kidman for The Paperboy

I said overall awards for Les Miserables would be scant, but it was actually the biggest winner at the Globes, Supporting Actress bringing its tally to three.  This spread of awards may be seen again at future ceremonies, with no one film sweeping the board.

 

Best Director – Motion Picture

Ben Affleck for Argo

Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty

Ang Lee for Life of Pi

Steven Spielberg for Lincoln

Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained

I thought this would be either Lee VS Bigelow, but instead it went to Affleck.  Interesting that the HFPA rewarded (probably) the most political film of the bunch here, but from a technical, directorial standard, Argo is masterful.  It is interesting that Affleck has a few awards now, collecting both this and the Critics Choice Award.  He could well get the DGA and the BAFTA as well, but is not up for the Oscar.  Again, the field is pretty open.

 

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture

Argo: Chris Terrio

Django Unchained: Quentin Tarantino

Lincoln: Tony Kushner

Silver Linings Playbook: David O. Russell

Zero Dark Thirty: Mark Boal

I anticipated a sweep for Zero Dark Thirty and was so wrong, not expecting much for Django Unchained.  But Tarantino pulls it off, and perhaps he will continue to do so.

 

Best Animated Film

Brave

Frankenweenie

Hotel Transylvania

Rise of the Guardians

Wreck-It Ralph

Having won this, Brave demonstrates the continued dominance of Pixar.  I thought Frankenweenie had a shot, but this is less likely now.

 

Best Foreign Language Film

Amour

Untouchable

Kon-Tiki

A Royal Affair

Rust and Bone

Tentatively, I went with Love, and won with Amour.  Considering the multiple awards Michael Haneke’s film is up for, this was not a surprise.

 

Overall, I got 6 correct predictions out of 12, which isn’t that good.  The Golden Globes tend to be a good indicator for future awards, but when the nominations vary, as they certainly have in the Directing category, predictions become harder.  But then, that makes things more interesting.

Awards Predictions Part Two: Oscar Predictions

Oscar Nom

Historically, the Golden Globes serve as a prediction for the Oscars.  Based upon the Golden Globe nominations, I have particular predictions for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s nominees, especially in the category of Achievement in Directing.  I predict that the AMPAS will nominate five out of the following for this particular honour.

Ben Affleck for Argo

Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty

Tom Hooper for Les Misérables

Ang Lee for Life of Pi

Steven Spielberg for Lincoln

Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained

Tarantino and Hooper are the maybes, the remaining four I think are solid bets; I doubt anyone else will appear (except possibly Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master).  I also anticipate that Daniel Day-Lewis and Hugh Jackman will be up for Best Actor, for Lincoln and Les Misérables respectively, and Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix in The Master will juggle Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor between them at the BAFTAs and Oscars.  The latter category will probably also feature Alan Arkin for Argo, Leonardo DiCaprio for Django Unchained and Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln.  I expect Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone) will remain prominent among Best Actress nominees, as well as Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) and Naomi Watts (The Impossible), and is any Best Actress contenders list complete without Meryl Streep (Hope Springs)?  Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables), Amy Adams (The Master) and Sally Field (Lincoln) will most likely be up for Best Supporting Actress.

I expect Brave and Frankenweenie to be up for Animated Feature, and perhaps the other three Golden Globe nominees (Hotel TransylvaniaRise of the GuardiansWreck-It Ralph) but perhaps not, as Paranorman stands a chance as well.  Amour and A Royal Affair, as well as Rust and Bone, are likely to be nominated for Foreign Language Film.

My personal favourite of 2012, Skyfall, is not likely to get much awards attention, but I can see Roger Deakins being nominated for Cinematography.  Deakins did tremendous work with the digital photography of Skyfall, and I would very much like to see him nominated (for the 10th time).  Similarly, I can also imagine Wally Pfister, who won Best Cinematography for Inception in 2010, being nominated for The Dark Knight Rises.  As Pfister is now directing a film in his own right, Transcendence, this could be his last nomination in this category, and I can see it happening.

The Best Picture category is the most open of all, as the number of nominees can be anything between five and ten.  I think it unlikely that the ten films nominated at the Golden Globes will be up for Best Picture at the Oscars, because the AMPAS does not have the separate categories and is notoriously sniffy about comedies.  Moonrise Kingdom and Silver Linings Playbook have a chance of being nominated, as do The Master and Beasts of the Southern Wild, but the very strong contenders are ArgoDjango UnchainedLife of PiLincolnZero Dark Thirty and Les Misérables.  I anticipate these will all be up for Best Picture.  Amour could well be in there as well, although I think an animated film among the Best Picture nominees is unlikely.  As a (very) wildcard, the AFI did name The Dark Knight Rises as one of its films of the year…

Please check back once the Oscar nominees are announced on 10th January for consideration of likely winners!

Awards Predictions Part One

Globes

Awards season is upon us, and speculation is already running wild about what will pick up nods, nominations and naysaying.  I believe there is little to be gained in stating what should win and how awful it is that X was nominated and Y was not – far more interesting is predicting what will be nominated, what will win and, crucially, why.  Out of the plethora of films released in any year, some stand out and some are forgotten.  While there are certain genres, subjects and people who seem to attract attention, films that feature these elements can easily be overlooked.  It is useful, therefore, that critical organisations help us out in this respect.

The American Film Institute, the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle, the National Society of Film Critics, the Critics Choice Awards, and the Film Critics Associations and Societies of various cities, create a nice unofficial short list with the films that they honour.  Already Zero Dark Thirty has received Best Film from the AFI, the Boston Society of Film Critics, the Las Vegas Film Critics Society, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association.  This is notable as Zero Dark Thirty is Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s first film since their award magnet The Hurt Locker in 2009, and the plaudits heaped upon their film about the decade-long hunt for Osama Bin Laden shows no sign of letting up.

Among these plaudits are the Golden Globes, as the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has capitalised on the critics’ choices with their 2013 nominations.  Already the following are up for awards and some likely winners are clear among them.

 

Best Motion Picture – Drama

Argo

Django Unchained

Life of Pi

Lincoln

Zero Dark Thirty

 

There is little reason at this stage to suspect that Zero Dark Thirty will not continue its winning ways.  If it does not, the field for future winners goes wide open.

 

Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Les Misérables

Moonrise Kingdom

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Silver Linings Playbook

 

This comes down to between a musical and a comedy, as Silver Linings Playbook has been garnering a lot of love.  But Les Misérables is the kind of earnest, heart-on-sleeve melodrama that award-givers lap up.  Of the others, only Moonrise Kingdom looks to be a strong contender, and if the HFPA feel like honouring Wes Anderson for an impressive career (thus far), the film might pip the others to the post.  On a hunch, I would pick Les Misérables.

 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama

Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln

Richard Gere for Arbitrage

John Hawkes for The Sessions

Joaquin Phoenix for The Master

Denzel Washington for Flight

All the buzz is about Day-Lewis and he fits the bill to win, playing a famous and much-respected historical figure who balances personal and social demands.  It is interesting that Joaquin Phoenix, rather than Philip Seymour Hoffman, is up for Best Actor, but he is unlikely to pose a serious challenge to Day-Lewis, although I think Hoffman could have.

 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama

Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty

Marion Cotillard for Rust and Bone

Helen Mirren for Hitchcock

Naomi Watts for The Impossible

Rachel Weisz for The Deep Blue Sea

Marion Cottillard has attracted a great deal of admiration for Rust and Bone, as has Naomi Watts for The Impossible.  That said, slightly more obscure films often win in the Best Actress category, so Rachel Weisz is in with a chance.  Helen Mirren is the oldest of the nominees and older performers often do well, but there seems to have been little attention paid to her, while Chastain seems a little young.  At this stage, I would bet on Cotillard.

 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

Jack Black for Bernie

Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook

Hugh Jackman for Les Misérables

Ewan McGregor for Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Bill Murray for Hyde Park on Hudson

This could be Hugh Jackman’s year.  He has been a dependable, likeable leading man for over a decade, but this is his first film to have garnered awards attention.  The same could be said of Ewan McGregor, but the film he is nominated for seems too lightweight to receive serious consideration (and is itself a surprising nomination when he also stars in The Impossible).  Bill Murray may be due some attention for long service, but the nomination may serve as sufficient recognition.  I lean towards Jackman.

 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

Emily Blunt for Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Judi Dench for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook

Maggie Smith for Quartet

Meryl Streep for Hope Springs

Normally I would expect the older nominee, but the rise of Jennifer Lawrence’s career is such that I think she could eclipse Dench, Smith and Streep.  Furthermore, Silver Linings Playbook is the most awards friendly film of this bunch, as the others are all rather light.  I know this is the category of Musical or Comedy, but Silver Linings Playbook is a comedic film with a serious subject, so I think Lawrence is a strong contender.

 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Alan Arkin for Argo

Leonardo DiCaprio for Django Unchained

Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master

Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln

Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained

Fairly open.  DiCaprio and Waltz may cancel each other out, being in the same film, and Jones and Arkin could be dark horses.  I lean slightly towards Hoffman as reviews indicate that he and Joaquin Phoenix are equal stars in The Master, and as Joaquin Phoenix is unlikely to beat Day-Lewis in the Best Actor category, perhaps Philip Seymour Hoffman has a better chance here.  I also wonder if the BAFTAs and the Oscars will nominate them the same way – a few years ago Kate Winslet won two Golden Globes: Best Actress in a Leading Role for Revolutionary Road and Best Supporting Actress for The Reader; then was nominated for the Best Actress BAFTA in a Leading Role for both Revolutionary Road and The Reader (she won for The Reader), and then won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role for The Reader while Revolutionary Road was largely overlooked at the Oscars.  The Master may follow a similar pattern, especially if Hoffman wins this award.

 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Amy Adams for The Master

Sally Field for Lincoln

Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables

Helen Hunt for The Sessions

Nicole Kidman for The Paperboy

Anne Hathaway has an even better chance than Hugh Jackman of picking up an acting award for Les Misérables.  I think actual awards for this film will be scant, but Hathaway is likely to walk away with a Golden Globe and possibly more.

 

Best Director – Motion Picture

Ben Affleck for Argo

Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty

Ang Lee for Life of Pi

Steven Spielberg for Lincoln

Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained

I expect this to come down to Lee VS Bigelow.  Thus far Zero Dark Thirty has done very well indeed, but if anything can unseat it I would anticipate Life of Pi.  At this stage though, I expect Bigelow, and perhaps her success will continue.

 

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture

Argo: Chris Terrio

Django Unchained: Quentin Tarantino

Lincoln: Tony Kushner

Silver Linings Playbook: David O. Russell

Zero Dark Thirty: Mark Boal

Mark Boal is probably likely to continue the winning ways of Zero Dark Thirty, especially as it is a “true” story that tends to impress award-givers.  Lincoln and Argo are also “true” stories, and the wit of Argo might serve it well, especially among journalists who write about Hollywood.  Although Argo plenty of attention, I think it is unlikely to actually win.  Screenplay might just be the category where it pulls an upset, but Zero Dark Thirty is a safer bet.

 

Best Animated Film

Brave

Frankenweenie

Hotel Transylvania

Rise of the Guardians

Wreck-It Ralph

If Brave wins, at this and subsequent events, it will demonstrate the continued dominance of Pixar.  But Frankenweenie might be in with a shot as something of a lifetime achievement award for Tim Burton.  Burton is unlikely to ever be nominated for a live action film (his best chance was Big Fish), and reviews have described Frankenweenie has been that it is his best film in years.  It will be between Pixar and Burton in this category, and I might lean towards Frankenweenie.

 

Best Foreign Language Film

Love

Untouchable

Kon-Tiki

A Royal Affair

Rust and Bone

Tough call.  Love (or Amour) was voted Best Film by the National Society of Film Critics, so it might well scoop up a further award here.  A Royal Affair and Rust and Bone have also attracted a lot of attention, although the latter’s best chance for glory is Best Actress.  Tentatively, I’ll go with Love.

 

The Golden Globes are announced on 13th January 2013, at which point we shall see how right I was (or wasn’t).

Top Twelve of 2012

2012

On the twelfth day of Christmas

The movies gave to me

Twelve engineers

PROMETHEUS

Eleven Grey wolves

The Grey

Ten Joes a-killing

Killer Joe

Nine Lives of Pi

life_of_pi_5

Eight Raiders Raiding

The Raid

Seven District tributes

The-Hunger-Games

Six Unexpected Journeys

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

Five Looping Loopers

Looper

Four Argo film crews

Argo

Three Assembled Avengers

Avengers

Two Dark Knights Rising

Rises

And a Skyfall from 00-Heaven.

Skyfall Image

That’s my musical version of presenting my top twelve films of 2012, and the reason I decided on a top twelve rather than a top ten.  Not that 2012 featured so many astounding cinema experiences that I could not pick less than twelve – originally there were ten.  But then I decided to put them into musical form, which necessitated an extra two.  Ranking them was surprisingly difficult, and the factor I used to ascertain their positions was surprise.  What surprised me, what met expectations, and what exceeded expectations were the deciding factors in deciding my favourites.

As I’ve written previously, expectation plays a large part in my engagement with a film, largely because I get involved in the hype and let it influence me – the cinematic experience is not only the time spent in the auditorium, but the anticipation that builds up through news, trailers, reviews and reactions of other viewers.  My most anticipated film of 2012 was The Dark Knight Rises, and when I saw it I was far from disappointed.  But Christopher Nolan’s EPIC CONCLUSION TO THE DARK KNIGHT LEGEND (sic) only met my expectations, it did not exceed them.  It has divided opinion, although there seem to be fewer who thought it “sucks” than those who found it “awesome”.  Similarly, while it was great to be back in Middle Earth with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, there was an unshakeable sense of déjà vu which meant the film lacked freshness, unlike Avengers Assemble which united familiar figures in a new situation.  Skyfall also divided opinion, as many thought it was superb but there were (apparently) instances of people walking out, which is baffling to me.  I probably had a prejudice about Skyfall because it is a Bond film, and there is only so much I expect from the series.  Happily, Skyfall gave me so much more than its franchise led me to expect, working as a great film in its own right.

When it comes to ascertaining what makes a film good, different people have different standards.  For many, a crucial factor is character consistency and/or sympathy.  For others, flashy action and special effects are important.  Ultimately, there will never be universal agreement on what constitutes high cinematic quality, there will always be differences of opinion, and thank goodness for that because it would be very dull if we all liked and disliked the same things.

Fundamentally, I want high technical quality, such as detailed production design (Prometheus), expressive cinematography (Life of Pi), effective editing (Avengers Assemble, Argo) and direction that pulls all these elements together (The Dark Knight Rises).  I also want conviction to subject, as few things frustrate me more than a film that raises a topic and then abandons it (The Iron Lady), so a film that sticks to its guns (The Grey) and has the conviction to deliver on what it sets out to do (Killer Joe) is a good one to me.  Exploration of themes such as responsibility (Looper) and loyalty (Skyfall) also work, again so long as there is conviction throughout the filmic text.  Detailed fictional worlds, especially science fiction (The Hunger Games) and fantasy (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) work very well on me, and I like something visceral that draws me into the diegetic world and to make me feel what’s going on (The Raid).  The films on this list gave me what I wanted, and the best gave me more than I expected.

I often ask people to explain their opinions and their explanations indicate the standards which they use for assessment.  My standards probably seem strange and idiosyncratic, but they enable me to organise the list below.

 

Top Films of 2012

1. Skyfall

Classic features meet contemporary panache in the year’s most surprising and satisfying film.  Nobody did it better.

2. The Dark Knight Rises

An operatic conclusion to an epic saga.  Sublime technical features express weighty themes in a compelling story.

3. Avengers Assemble

A marvellous assembly of sparkling characters, high stakes, wit, brio and inventive action.

4. Argo

A superb combination of satire, history, political commentary and nerve-shredding suspense.

5. Looper

An atmospheric crime thriller that uses its time travel premise to effectively explore issues of responsibility and culpability.

6. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

A warm yet thrilling return to Middle Earth.

7. The Hunger Games

A grim vision of the future with powerful comments on voyeuristic pleasure.

8. The Raid

The most intense action movie in years.

9. Life of Pi

Beautiful, spiritual and metafictional glory.

10. Killer Joe

A jet black comedy which displays fearless conviction to its macabre tale.

11. The Grey

An enthralling, existential tale of survival.

12. Prometheus

Questions of faith and science collide with suspense and shocks.

 

Honourable mentions

The Muppets

A delightfully affectionate reboot of reinvigorated old favourites.

The Woman in Black

A genuinely chilling ghost story.

War Horse

Slightly undercut by its episodic structure but still an emotional journey with moments of real power.

The Descendants

A humorous and touching tale of a family struggling to cope with loss and betrayal, with great use of its Hawaiian backdrop.

The Cabin in the Woods

Smart, funny and scary meta-snuff film about why horror movies happen.

 

Turkeys of the Year

1. The Iron Lady

A mess of under-developed ideas that squanders every opportunity for compelling drama.

2. Safe House

A potentially gripping thriller undone by distracting cinematography.

EXTRA ENTRY: The Grey

The Grey

Originally I was going to have a top ten of the year, but then decided a top twelve was more fun because that way I could devise my own version of The Twelve Days of Christmas (and let’s not forget, the only reason for lists like this is pure enjoyment).  Early in 2012 I saw a film that I expected would be in my top ten of the year, and it nearly was.  Being strict, it was squeezed out, but when I expanded the list to twelve, it slipped back in.

This re-entry, as it were, is The Grey, Joe Carnahan’s surprisingly grim follow-up to The A-Team.  Carnahan’s debut, Narc, was an extremely gritty, nasty, visceral cop thriller, with stellar performances from Jason Patric and Ray Liotta.  Afterwards, Carnahan somewhat drifted with Smokin’ Aces and The A-Team, a fairly light action comedy.  In The Grey, Carnahan does much the same with the actual wilderness as he did with the urban jungle in Narc.  Both environments are presented as cold, bleak and uncaring, with small acts of compassion, loyalty and humanity the only bulwark against unmitigated savagery.  Savagery in The Grey takes many forms, from the misery that haunts the protagonist Ottway (Liam Neeson), to the bleak white wilderness in which the oil rig workers operate, and the world beyond which seems to have sentenced them to this life.  A plane crash into the tundra demonstrates nature’s indifference towards the lives of the men killed or marooned, which then manifests physically as the relentless wolves that pursue them.

Animals in films rarely represent animals themselves.  The shark in Jaws represents the consuming maw of the sea; bats in Batman Begins represent the central character’s fear; the lions in The Ghost and the Darkness represent the untamed wilderness of Africa; even the horses in Seabiscuit and War Horse represent hope and courage in the face of adversity, the Great Depression in the former and World War I in the latter.  Films which present savage beasts preying on humans do provoke criticism, accusations of misrepresentation and even presenting negative views of animals which leads to their persecution.  This criticism gives films more credit than they are due – wolves, lions, sharks and bats were being exterminated long before they appeared in movies.  I actually avoided watching Jaws for a long time because I thought it had a damaging effect upon people’s attitudes towards sharks, then realised that me seeing a film or not was completely irrelevant to shark conservation.  Besides, the demand for shark fin soup is a far greater danger to these creatures.

There are very few accounts of wolves attacking human beings, but the wolves in The Grey are not there to serve as accurate portrayals of wolves.  If you want that, there are plenty of nature documentaries.  Anybody who believes cinematic representation to be accurate should reconsider that position.  Rather, these wolves serve as the main manifestation of nature’s savagery.  The men struggle to escape but the wolves are relentless, active pursuers by day and shadowy forms beyond the firelight at night.  Their constant presence, either visibly or audibly, maintains a malevolence that constantly threatens the men.  Nor are they the only threat, as sheer drops, jagged tree branches and raging torrents also endanger the men, as well as exhaustion, starvation and the elements themselves.  In possibly the film’s most intense scene, the men have almost reached the tree line and comparative safety, as the wolves pursue them through a blizzard.  One of the party is caught and Ottway turns back to help him.  Ottway’s progress is hampered by deep snow, presented in a long take shot over Ottway’s shoulder, which tilts down as he sinks into the snow, then up as he rises to see his friend being savaged, tilts down again as he sinks on his next step.  The duration of the shot expresses Ottway’s agonisingly slow progress, communicating his helplessness to the viewer and allowing us to share in the horror of simply being too far away and too slow moving to help.

This scene, in which the cinematography’s close association with the protagonist expresses his physical and emotional distress, encapsulates the film as a whole.  It is a bleak, relentless tale of one’s insignificance within nature, and the attitude taken towards one’s confrontation with death.  I have published on existentialism in film, and The Grey is an excellent dramatization of this philosophy.  Friedrich Nietzsche famously wrote “When you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you”.  The Grey portrays both directions of the abyssall gaze, as Ottway begins the film, in his own words, “at the end of the world”.  Although the peril he encounters gives him reason to live, he must work hard to maintain his resolve in the face of extraordinary adversity.  One of the other men in his party chooses to accept death, regarding the majestic beauty of the northern wilderness as a fitting place to die, when the best case alternative is returning to an oil rig.  The film performs a fine job of portraying contrasting existential attitudes: both the will to live, and the will to die.  It is this philosophical dimension that raises The Grey above being a simple survival tale, as it explores in intriguing depth the existential questions of survival.

3D or Not 3D, That is the Question – Part III

life_of_pi_5

 

My last posts discussed 3D in general and the lack of need for it in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  My falling out of love with 3D has become more firmly established with another auteur’s experiment with the format.  Since James Cameron started using the new technology, other auteurs have been getting in on the act.  Martin Scorsese used 3D to dramatise early cinema in Hugo; Steven Spielberg brought Tintin to the big screen with performance capture in 3D; Werner Herzog used 3D in his documentary about proto-cinema, Cave of Forgotten Dreams; Ridley Scott went back into deep space with Prometheus while Jackson returned to Middle Earth.  2013 will see Baz Luhrmann’s 3D adaptation of The Great Gatsby, and Ang Lee used 3D for his adaptation of Yann Martel’s “unfilmable” novel, Life of Pi.

Life of Pi is a surreal fable about faith, survival, one’s place in the universe and the nature of storytelling.  I was impressed with its dramatic story and compelling central character, superbly played by first-time actor Suraj Sharma.  Pi’s relationships with his family, his girlfriend Anandi (Shravanthi Sainath) and, most importantly, Richard Parker the Bengal tiger are engaging and moving, and the film delivers an interesting discussion of faith.  The young Pi’s (Ayush Tandon and Gautam Belur) embrace of the Hindu, Christian and Muslim religions, set against his father’s (Adil Hussain) insistence on science and rationality, is presented sympathetically but not didactically.  As a theoretical agnostic and practical atheist, I had no problem with Pi’s faith nor his belief that his story would make the listener believe in God.  It didn’t, but I could sympathise with his beliefs.  Perhaps that is itself a form of faith.

Visual effects are frequently accused of being empty spectacle, but they can also be an integral part of the filmic experience.  Life of Pi uses its effects as part of its narrative and thematic meanings.  An early scene of Pi (Sharma) and Richard Parker the tiger on the lifeboat recalls the fantastical landscapes of the afterlife in The Lovely Bones, the boat adrift in a flat sea that reflects the sun and sky perfectly.  Other images include a raging typhoon, ship corridors filling with water, a sea exploding with flying fish, the ocean by night coming alive with bioluminescent lifeforms, an island rippling with meerkats.  The images are simultaneously beautiful and threatening, such as a humpback whale bursting out of the sea, mouth agape, in a dazzling cascade of glittering water; yet as the whale crashed back into the sea, the raft of our hero Pi is capsized.  Simultaneously, we are awed by what we see and never allowed to forget how dangerous this situation is.

Paramount among these effects is the character of Richard Parker.  Just as Gollum in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey demonstrated the advances in performance capture, so does Richard Parker demonstrate an incredible combination of CGI, animatronics and green-screened animal footage.  Digital animals still look digital, and the menagerie in Life of Pi is a combination of real creatures and CGI creations.  At times, they do look fake, including Richard Parker, but at other times it is genuinely difficult to tell whether you are seeing a flesh and blood animal or a beautifully animated set of pixels.  Not that it matters, as Richard Parker is extremely engaging whether physical or not.  At no point did I not believe Pi was in danger from the huge cat, and the film maintains this conceit.  It is always tempting to sentimentalise animals in fiction, make them more human and sympathetic, but Life of Pi keeps Richard Parker ferocious and Pi’s relationship with him cautious at best.  The one moment in which they share physical contact is contextualised so as to avoid unnecessary sentimentality (although a little is alright), and therefore succeeds as a touching engagement between human and animal.  Equally, Richard Parker’s exit from the film maintains the animal’s indifference, which adds to Pi’s distress even at the moment of his rescue.

The visual effects of Life of Pi serve as part of the film’s themes and narrative, rather than distracting from them, because they are part of Lee’s visual style.  Life of Pi combines a straightforward shot pattern during the wraparound story with a more fluid approach for Pi’s story.  This approach begins with the opening credits, words and names appearing like the animals in the zoo, with the final credit, “Directed by Ang Lee”, forming as if floating on a pool of water.  This level of visual invention permeates Pi’s narrated story.  Dissolves that ripple like reflections, superimpositions and multiple planes of action, as well as digital enhancements and backgrounds, create an almost ethereal visual palette.  This obviously makes Pi’s story more fantastic, but it also demonstrates the construction of storytelling.  Storytelling is not just a process of simple relation, but of imagination and construction, the film suggests, and beautiful shots of the lifeboat floating on a mirror-like ocean at night, as if it were floating in the void of space itself, indicate the way Pi’s narration is working.  When Pi and Richard Parker gaze over the side of the boat into the watery abyss, we see the imagined wreck of the freighter, the other animals that died in the sinking, and the myriad of creatures that inhabit the deep.  By presenting these as part of Pi’s imagination, the viewer is drawn further into his/the film’s imaginative/creative process.  The mind, and the stories told by it, work in free form, surreal processes, and the abstraction allowed by digital effects is utilised to great effect in Life of Pi.

Intriguingly, despite Pi being in constant danger, my overall impression of Life of Pi was one of serenity, which I argue to be a prevalent theme throughout Lee’s work.  Sense and Sensibility shows women trying to achieve balance between their emotional and practical well-being when their options are very limited.  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon uses its balletic fight sequences to express the warrior’s serene discipline, but this discipline is in tension with their personal relationships.  Brokeback Mountain portrays two characters that want nothing more than the peace they bring each other, but are thwarted by societal mores.  Taking Woodstock portrays serenity and beauty amidst what should be chaos (and a lot of mud).  I have long been an advocate of Hulk, which I consider a very interesting meditation on superheroics: despite its central character being fuelled by rage, Hulk includes moments of serenity, which is what Bruce Banner needs but only finds, ironically, in the form of Hulk (when left alone).  Pi, for all the ghastly danger he encounters, also possesses an inner serenity, facilitated by his faith.  That is why the religious element of the film is effective, because it demonstrates that Pi is grounded by faith, but guided by hope.

From a strictly narrative perspective, I initially thought the film would have benefitted from more ambiguity as to what happened to Pi.  The framing narrative, in which the adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) narrates his story to the writer (Rafe Spall), is presented as the truth, and the alternative version the young Pi presents to Japanese insurance investigators is simply something official.  By including this alternative at the very end, the narrative of Life of Pi does not explore the pliability of truth, just the need for non-fantastical stories.  At first, I found the exploration of storytelling in Life of Pi to be underwhelming, because of the alternative story’s inclusion at the very end (which I assume is how it appears in the novel), but on reflection, I realise that the film as a whole is exploring this point, but through visual, cinematic storytelling rather than straightforward narration.  This interest in the construction of visual narrative gives Life of Pi significant depth, even in two dimensions.

It is perhaps notable that the auteurs who have made 3D films have subsequently returned to 2D: Spielberg followed The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn with War Horse; Scorsese’s next film, The Wolf of Wall Street is in 2D as is Scott’s The Counselor.  Robert Zemeckis has made several 3D motion capture animations including The Polar Express, A Christmas Carol and Beowulf, but up next from him is the more typical Flight.  Other directors such as Christopher Nolan are opposed to the format, and others are committed to 3D, most obviously James Cameron, who spoke very highly of Life of PiLife of Pi has much in common with Avatar: while one is an action epic and the other a tale of (almost) lone survival, both use visual effects to create their environments, jungle in one case, ocean in the other (which is slightly ironic, as Cameron has a fascination with water as demonstrated in The Abyss and Titanic, while reports of Avatar 2 indicate it will feature Pandora’s oceans).  Through their use of visual effects as key to cinematic expression, both films explore issues of cinema and visual understanding.  3D does enhance this experience, but it is not integral to it.  The digital landscapes and characters, rendered through crisp, digital cinematography, are rich, vibrant and alive in two dimensions, without a 30% light loss.  Maybe in 3D I would have been swept up in Life of Pi more than I was, and realised the meta-storytelling immediately rather than afterwards, but I don’t mind the wait.  Rich aesthetic experiences need not come in a rush, time taken to reflect is time taken to savour.  And besides, Lee’s choice to place the camera at sea level and have it rocking with the swell might have induced greater nausea in 3D.