Friday, February 21, 2014

Alfonso Cuarón is going to win Christopher Nolan's Oscar


















I haven't published my Oscar predictions yet, but let this not come as a surprise—Alfonso Cuarón will most likely win Best Director. He's been sweeping up the awards that include, but aren't limited to the Golden Globe, the Director's Guild Award, and most recently the BAFTA. If he doesn't win the Oscar, it will probably fall into the hands of the person to whom I think it belongs: Steve McQueen.

McQueen has already proven himself an uncompromising artist with only three films to his name. In "12 Years a Slave" he presents what could be seen as a guilt laden evocative piece of sentimental nonsense as an inspiring true story and a piece of history that should not be overlooked. He pulls powerful performances from his actors—the film itself is just about flawless...just about. There's a more than hefty chance that the film will win Best Picture.

It's not common for Best Picture and Best Director to be split...though it has happened in recent years. If you look back at all the movies that won the Best Picture Oscar but didn't win Best Director, a lot of hatred is aimed towards them. "Crash" is probably the best example of this; that year Ang Lee won Best Director for "Brokeback Mountain" but Paul Haggis' film edged the romance out for the statue. As a result, everyone hates "Crash". If you need another example, look at everybody's least favorite Best Picture winner "Shakespeare in Love". Why do they all hate it? Because Spielberg won Best Director that year for "Saving Private Ryan"; but the war movie was shunned for the bard.

The director/picture split isn't unheard of—last year "Argo" won but Ang Lee won for "Life of Pi". Lee has a knack for splitting voters.

The Academy has a history of picking the wrong people. What do I mean by that? Sometimes they give the award to a person based on star power or politics—they usually regret these decisions. This can best be seen with all of Billy Wilder's Oscars (though yes, he did deserve them) or the Meryl Streep saga (yes, she deserved them too). They like certain people. There are some people with an enormous amount of talent that the Academy always gives recognition to at the least. Then again, there are wins that are just perplexing like George Clooney's Best Supporting Actor grab for "Syriana"....really?

But the Academy also takes chances, evidenced by all the nominations that "Beasts of the Southern Wild" swept up last year. You could even go back to "Citizen Kane" as a reference.

The Academy also pays for its own mistakes. Scorsese got his dues for "The Departed", they gave Peter O'Toole an honorary Oscar, Mike Nichols won for "The Graduate" instead of "Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", Kate Winslet won for "The Reader", nominations were given, awards were handed out.

This isn't to say that some of the awards aren't given out of deservedness, because Daniel Day-Lewis' win last year proved that performances win Oscars as did Timothy Hutton's in the 80s. Cate Blanchett's win this year will reaffirm this.

Yet there are head-scratcher moments, and one of the biggest ones was just a few years ago when "Inception" was dominating the box-office. If you remember, everyone loved "Inception"...well, almost everyone. It was a smash hit, a blockbuster, adored by most critics, and placed in a special spot of  awe that few movies occupied. Though most critics picked "The Social Network" as the top of their year's best list (The King's Speech" ended up winning Best Picture and Best Director) "Inception" wasn't forgotten and raked in 4 statues...but not Best Director. In fact, it couldn't have won Best Director because Christopher Nolan wasn't even nominated for it. This, to me, is one of the biggest travesties in the Academy history. Tom Hooper won the award but the general outcry of the critics and public alike gave enough reason for the Academy to pause.

Along comes "Gravity".

In many respects, this is nothing new. It is not new for the reasons that space movies almost always walk hand-in-hand with peril and it is not new for the reason that this is just another step in the art of movie making. "Gravity" isn't even close to flawless because its story is far from flawless...that, and it's dialogue. It comes as no surprise that this film isn't landing any screenplay awards. "Gravity" has character weaknesses and indulges in more sentimentality than even Spielberg could manage.

But still, it looks fantastic and it is an achievement. Visually forward films have always received an honorary Best Director nod. Look at George Lucas' nomination for "Star Wars", Ang Lee's for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", Steven Spielberg's for "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", "E. T. the Extra Terrestrial", and "Jaws", James Cameron's for "Avatar"; or the quintessential—Kubrick's nomination for "2001: A Space Odyssey". These directors all have something in common, they all lost.

So in 2014 when we've come to respect the blockbuster as a tour de force it's time to start honoring those pictures that made a lot of money...right?

Wrong!

Look at last year's Best Director win. "Life of Pi" was an independent success, but in the mass theaters it petered out and died, barely making what it was made on. You could argue that Ang Lee bridged the gap for movies with great special effects to win the director's honors, but "Life of Pi" is much more about looking for God than it was about the special effects. The translation of the book to the movie is what sealed the deal for Lee.

"Gravity" is given the same revere that "Inception" was...and that might be why it will win Best Director. Alfonso Cuarón will win the Oscar because the Academy feels bad for not giving it to all the others, Kubrick and Nolan included.

Does he deserve it? Perhaps.
Does McQueen deserve it more? I think so, but we'll see what the Academy has to say.


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