The Gold Standard: Hoping lineup can be shaken, if not stirred
Sitting here in Best Picture Limbo, thumbing through the year-old magazines (Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively? No way that works!) and waiting for the bell to ring on the remaining Oscar candidates — “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Django Unchained,” “Les Miserables,” the “Hobbit” movie — we can at least report on one sure-fire contender that’s arriving in theaters ... not next month but tomorrow.
Consider the movie’s pedigree: Its acting ensemble features two Oscar winners and two other actors who have been nominated seven times through the years. Its director has won an Oscar, for his first film no less. Its below-the-line talent vacuums up awards, making it a potential best picture powerhouse. The critics have been getting behind it too, calling the film the best of its kind — maybe ever, but certainly over the last 40 or so years.
So ... the Oscar for best picture clearly goes to ... “Skyfall.”
No ... wait ... whaaat?
No James Bond movie has ever been nominated for a best picture Oscar. And no matter how much, in the words of Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw, the film is “a supremely enjoyable and even sentimental spectacle,” the latest entry probably won’t break that streak, even with Sam Mendes directing and actors Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney on board.
“Skyfall” is just not an Oscar movie.
And that’s the problem, right? Hear us out. We’re not just getting goofy because 007 is celebrating his golden anniversary this year. In 1963, our favorite Bond movie, the gritty, template-setting “From Russia With Love,” arrived in theaters. Nearly 50 years on, it remains a classic that is loved, analyzed and, most important, watched. The academy ignored “Russia,” nominating instead “Lilies of the Field,” “How the West Was Won,” “America, America,” “Cleopatra” and eventual winner “Tom Jones.” Each nominee has its merits, but we’d argue none equals watching Lotte Lenya trying to kill Sean Connery with a poisoned-tipped toe spike.
“Goldfinger” arrived the next year, and academy members gave it the cold shoulder too, nominating two musicals — “Mary Poppins” and “My Fair Lady” — over it. (Good news for “Les Miserables,” right?)
The point here isn’t to denigrate any particular genre or movie (there’s plenty of time for that later) but to point out what should be obvious: Best picture should go to the best movie, regardless of its absence or inclusion of fancy costumes, Life Lessons or historical import. If Tom Hooper’s movie version of “Les Miz” turns out to be great, then nominate it. But if it just feels like the kind of film that should be nominated because of its big themes, literary pedigree and cute little street urchins, then voters need to expand their definition of Oscar greatness to include comedies, say, or movies like “Skyfall,” “The Dark Knight Rises” and, yes, even a smart, (relatively) low-budget sci-fi thriller like “Looper.”
Failing that, how does this year’s race stand at the moment?
The Sure Things
“Argo”: Ben Affleck’s crowd-pleasing political thriller currently stands as the default front-runner. A movie many quite love and most, at the very least, respect in terms of its craft.
“Lincoln”: Daniel Day-Lewis takes Honest Abe out of the realm of mythology, making the talky movie palatable even to those averse to rambling ruminations on presidential war powers.
The (Close to) Sure Thing
“Silver Linings Playbook”: Enjoyed a heady premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the audience award. But it is, for the most part, a screwball comedy, filtered through David O. Russell’s unique sensibility, and we’ve already noted how the academy’s funny bone went missing around the time of “Tootsie.”
“The Master”: Academy members seem to go out of their way to tell us how this movie disappointed them. Fine. We heard the same about “Tree of Life” last year. We’re still betting Paul Thomas Anderson’s cult is big enough to land a nomination.
“Amour”: Michael Haneke’s most accessible movie ... is about coming to grips with aging, decline and death. It’s a lock in the foreign-language category but might not find the votes here.
“Beasts of the Southern Wild”: Feels more like a Spirit Awards juggernaut waiting to happen than an academy movie. But it does have its loyalists.
“Life of Pi”: Third-act revelation didn’t leave a lump in our throats. Your mileage may vary. Two notes of universal agreement: The photography wows and the framing device just doesn’t work.
“Flight”: The academy loves Denzel Washington. Robert Zemeckis? Not so much.
“Hitchcock”: Wouldn’t it be funny if the academy went for a movie about a director it never deigned to honor? No? Well ... you just don’t get Oscar’s sense of humor then, do you?
“Moonrise Kingdom”: With a measly two noms, voters don’t have a long history with Wes Anderson. This would be the place to start.
“Anna Karenina”: Time magazine describes it as an “intelligently ecstatic new adaptation.” The New York Times lables it a “travesty with a miscast Keira Knightley that is tragic only in its conception and execution.” However you feel about Joe Wright’s stylized take on Tolstoy, below-the-line love is assured.
“Skyfall”: Just go see it this weekend, and then we’ll talk.
The (as of This Moment) Unseen
“Les Miserables”: History! Tragedy! Triumph! Show tunes!
“Zero Dark Thirty”: History! Tragedy! Triumph! Navy SEALs!
“Django Unchained”: History! Tragedy! Triumph! Tarantino!
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”: The first entry in Peter Jackson’s three-part adaptation of the Tolkien classic. Voters might decide to bide their time in bestowing honors.
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