Sunday, February 10, 2013

2012 Oscar Class: When I Loved Them Best

February 23: Rundown completed, with the late, truly great Eiko Ishioka. By all means, keep adding your own past favorites in the Comments.

Winter quarter at Northwestern is too clogged to offer much to this blog: —think hiring, admissions, course planning, and speaker recruitment for next year, on top of the usual day-do-day and week-by-week work... and in my tenure year, no less! —Failing the opportunity to get any real blog series going, even during Oscar season, I have compensated with a Twitter series in which I reflect back on my favorite career achievements by many of this year's nominees, the famous ones and the less so.  I thought I'd archive the posts here, grouped by category, with regular updates.

Margaret Ménégoz (nominated for Amour): Rohmer's The Green Ray, cinema's loveliest valentine to exasperating women and fleeting sublimity

Ben Affleck (nominated for Argo): Politically, his work in and advocacy for the Congo; personally, when he earned the Garner Endorsement... Artistically, as he shatters his mask of civility in Changing Lanes and as head piranha in Boiler Room

George Clooney, as producer (nominated for Argo): Far from Heaven, the pinnacle of Section Eight's short, happy life of spreading wealth 

Stacey Sher (nominated for Django Unchained): Erin Brockovich, where she produced a vanity star vehicle and an "issue film" minus pitfalls of either... Though if we're talking pure affection, bless Sher for taking the chances she did on Living Out Loud, Caveman's Valentine, and Out of Sight.

Gil Netter (nominated for Life of Pi): The creamy, campy, nasty, and wonderfully cast My Best Friend's Wedding reigns supreme from a spotty CV

Kathleen Kennedy (nominated for Lincoln): E.T., because talk about nailing your debut, and Bridges of Madison County, for heroic distillation

Tim Bevan (nominated for Les Misérables): Laundrette, for charmingly challenging the market; Pride & Prejudice, for new tones; United 93, for guts

Donna Gigliotti (nominated for Silver Linings Playbook): Effervescent Oscar champ Shakespeare in Love and deft remake Let Me In. Why so many non-believers?

Kathryn Bigelow (nominated for Zero Dark Thirty): Hurt Locker for tension, economy, contrapuntal vision; Strange Days for absorbing scuzz and sprawl

Michael Haneke, as director (nominated for Amour): Time of the Wolf, for being haunting, austere, emotionally direct without seeming smug. Amour next.

Ang Lee (nominated for Life of Pi): Crouching Tiger, for rich palette, woozy movements, and fierce women; and Lust, Caution, for getting nasty

David O. Russell (nominated for Silver Linings Playbook): I ♥ Huckabees, equally earnest and ironic, metaphysical, tricksy, hysterical, but fluent in Folks

Steven Spielberg (nominated for Lincoln): ET, a peak of mainstream product and a sad, gutsy, eccentric artwork; Schindler, for votive power

Jessica Chastain (nominated for Zero Dark Thirty): Performing quiet risk assessments on Shannon in Take Shelter; shaking up that chicken in The Help

Jennifer Lawrence (nominated for Silver Linings Playbook): Winter's Bone, especially for sibling bonds and boat scene; she's also a fine foil in Like Crazy

Naomi Watts (nominated for The Impossible): "Dream Place," unpacking sweaters, touring Adam's set, everything after "Llorando" in Mulholland Drive

Bradley Cooper (nominated for Silver Linings Playbook): As he keeps insisting on picking Amy Poehler's clipboard off the ground in Wet Hot American Summer

Daniel Day-Lewis (nominated for Lincoln): For all his "bigger" turns, I can't shake straight-backed but broken John Proctor in The Crucible

Hugh Jackman (nominated for Les Misérables): The Fountain, stoking real feelings, his slight blandness ideal as a vessel for souls passing through

Joaquin Phoenix (nominated for The Master): Master, for ace Pennmanship; We Own the Night and To Die For, for poignant takes on two lost guys

Denzel Washington (nominated for Flight): Cagy, smart, fiery in Malcolm X; discomfited in Philadelphia; hypnotic and venal in Training Day

Amy Adams (nominated for The Master): Junebug, for awe, sunniness, and rue; The Fighter, for pugnacity; Sunshine Cleaning, for hints of anger

Sally Field (nominated for Lincoln): Steel Magnolias, which took best, blended advantage of her humor and almost surly toughness

Anne Hathaway (nominated for Les Misérables): Prada, finding a detailed girl in drabbest role; Rachel, using neediness, exhibitionism brilliantly

Helen Hunt (nominated for The Sessions): Mad About You, for intimacy; Dr T, for carnal ease; "G***amn Motherfu**ing HMO Bastard Pieces of Sh*t."

Alan Arkin (nominated for Argo): From my narrow survey, his delicacy in Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and quietly memorable turn in Glengarry

Robert De Niro (nominated for Silver Linings Playbook): Taxi Driver, for poignant but dangerous inarticulacy; New York, New York, for charisma and cruelty

Philip Seymour Hoffman (nominated for The Master): Magnolia, for panicked tenderness; Ripley, for 16-carat smarm; Synecdoche, for prismatic sadness

Tommy Lee Jones (nominated for Lincoln): Indelible husbands in Coal Miner's Daughter, Blue Sky, Hope Springs; two triumphs in Three Burials

Kirby Dick (nominated for The Invisible War): Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist, so touching and confrontational in equal parts

Howard Gertler (nominated for How to Survive a Plague): Shortbus, a movie on which my feelings remain mixed but a clear feat of producing. Rooting for you!

Michael Haneke, as writer (nominated for Amour): As scripts, the unflinching Piano Teacher, queasy Code Unknown, and elliptical Caché take the cake

Quentin Tarantino (nominated for Django Unchained): My answer since '97, you Jackie-Come-Latelys. Heightened form and idiom minus the heartlessness.

Tony Kushner (nominated for Lincoln): Angels, for Harper, Roy, ideas, convictions, cubistic compassion, more life; Homebody/Kabul, for brio

Seamus McGarvey (nominated for Anna Karenina): Winter Guest, for deep, delicate chill; War Zone, for unnerving tactility; Soloist, for surprises.

Robert Richardson (nominated for Django Unchained): JFK and NBK, two bold, disparate phantasmagorias; and groggy but hopped-up Bringing Out the Dead

Janusz Kaminski (nominated for Lincoln): Dull answers, but Schindler is stunningly lensed, first acts of Diving Bell and Pvt Ryan do amaze

Roger Deakins (nominated for Skyfall): Dead Man Walking, for faces and subtle atmospherics; Fargo, for memorable framings, evocative whites

William Goldenberg (nominated for Argo and Zero Dark Thirty): Ali, whose unexpected rhythms and episodic structure accumulate so much force, up to potent end

Tim Squyres (nominated for Life of Pi): The same pair (see: Ang Lee) plus Sense and Sensibility for cadence and balance, Rachel for carefully managed entropy

Michael Kahn (nominated for Lincoln): Indelible images in energetic succession for Raiders; oscillating fever and quiet in Fatal Attraction

Jay Cassidy (nominated for Silver Linings Playbook): Into the Wild for rhythm, panorama; Assassination of Richard Nixon for enabling odd, great performance

Dylan Tichenor (nominated for Zero Dark Thirty): Ambition, originality of Boogie, Magnolia, most of Blood; classicism of The Town; energy of Whip It

Andy Nelson (nominated for Lincoln and Les Misérables): The Thin Red Line, Moulin Rouge, and A.I., three very different jewels in one hell of a crowned résumé

Greg P. Russell (nominated for Skyfall): Point Break and Salt, two instances when detailed sonic hyperbole ideally suited a dialed-up story

Wylie Stateman (nominated for Django Unchained): Nixon, for Stoned hyperbole and eerie quiets; and Kill Bills, for sharp sounds gleaming like swords

Jacqueline Durran (nominated for Anna Karenina): Anna Karenina's architectural couture; Tinker Tailor's subtle detail; Happy-Go-Lucky accessories

Joanna Johnston (nominated for Lincoln): About a Boy, for contemporary cool in all senses; War Horse, for textures; Unbreakable, for color.

Paco Delgado (nominated for Les Misérables): Bad Education, where the color, cut, and print of the men's clothes make them look like Gila monsters

Eiko Ishioka (nominated for Mirror Mirror): Muscle suit, basilisk gown in Dracula. Taloned mask, four-storey cape, unraveled heroine in The Cell.

Colleen Atwood (nominated for Snow White and the Huntsman): Beloved, for unusual colors and details in new contexts; Edward Scissorhands, for instant iconicity

David Gropman (nominated for Life of Pi): I never forgot the lived-in homes and neighborhoods of Nobody's Fool, Bobby Fischer, Mr & Mrs Bridge

Jim Erickson (set decorator, nominated for Lincoln): Boy, can he decorate US period sets, as also seen in New World, Little Women, and There Will Be Blood

Eve Stewart (nominated for Les Misérables): Topsy-Turvy is an unqualified triumph, but where was her nod for woolly, chilly, indelible Vera Drake?

Alexandre Desplat (nominated for Argo): Birth and The Painted Veil are the two scores from the last decade I'd gladly attend in concert

Mychael Danna (nominated for Life of Pi): Exotica score evokes grotty desperation without standard tricks. Sweet Hereafter sad, odd, soulsick.

John Williams (nominated for Lincoln): Star Wars' glorious fusion of magic and chintz; AI and Nixon, taking nervy risks; iconic ET and Jaws

Thomas Newman (nominated for Skyfall): American Beauty, for fusing discord and sublimity as well as Hall or Ball did; Good German for yuks

Bill Westenhofer (nominated for Life of Pi): Stuart Little, where mouse's charm, simplicity, and deft execution defied a typically antic genre

Janek Sirrs (nominated for Marvel's The Avengers): The Matrix, because in the middle of the night, I can be big-hearted. Nice work on Pleasantville, too.

Howard Berger (nominated for Hitchcock): The outlandish archetypes inside a diseased mind in The Cell; phantom behind the diner in Mulholland Drive

Peter King (nominated for The Hobbit): Velvet Goldmine's UFO-ready makeup reveals and conceals character, nails glam-à-clef allusions. Fierce!

Lisa Westcott (nominated for Les Misérables): Notes on a Scandal, where makeup on Dench, Blanchett conveys all you need to know but isn't too much

Tim Burton (nominated for Frankenweenie): Edward Scissorhands for heart, Mars Attacks! for ack-ack and ruthless momentum, Ed Wood for everything

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Anonymous BVR said...

No mention of "Elah" for Jones? That's his peak.

1:34 PM, February 10, 2013  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

Elah was especially hard to leave off, as was The Hunted. I also have a lot of prime Jones still to see, including his landmark TV work on Executioner's Song and Lonesome Dove. Thus far, this was easiest the hardest tweet to limit.

1:38 PM, February 10, 2013  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

what a beautiful idea. generous in spirit even when the current Oscar nomination might not thrill you.

2:25 PM, February 10, 2013  
Anonymous Patrick said...

It's kind of unfortunate that Phoenix will not win for what I think is his best work. The rebelliousness, "I'm Still Here" the rapping, going on Letterman with nothing to say, all look like failed attempts at what he achieved with that performance.

Though from a statistical perspective I do want to see Daniel Day-Lewis win. It's not a bad performance with which to make Oscar history.

5:50 PM, February 10, 2013  
Anonymous SVG said...

And to think I had forgotten about Phoenix in To Die For. Thanks for reminding me!

10:46 PM, February 10, 2013  
Anonymous BVR said...

@Nick: COMPLETELY agree about "The Hunted" as well. I just discovered that film recently and thought he was terrific. But glad you mentioned "Hope Springs." The performances I think were grossly underrated. (Streep floors most of Oscar's Actress lineup––every bit Riva and Wallis' equal in my book).

Anyway, thanks for such amazing writeups every single time. You don't write often, but when you do it's always a treat. Can't wait for your book.

Happy Oscar season!

11:02 AM, February 11, 2013  
Anonymous Evanderholy said...

I really enjoyed reading these on twitter and I'm glad you posted them all together here.

I'm realizing now that I never mentioned that your endorsement of "We Own the Night" was a big part of getting me to see it in theaters (and several times since). I originally planned to see it and then the reviews were so mediocre (it's still a 57% on rotten tomatoes) I thought maybe at best I'd wait for it to come out on DVD. But when I read how much you liked it, I became very curious and saw it and loved it. And to be honest, I'm still a little shocked at it reception. The performances, especially Joaquin 's, are really something. It's definitely when I loved Eva Mendes best.

It really feels like so much is at stake for this family. And it also has great action scenes- Joaquin's undercover drug deal, the intense and heartbreaking car chase in the rain and the final showdown in the smoke and reeds.

Joaquin's Bobby Green goes through quite a transformation, and I found it completely believable and touching, perhaps especially those last lines:

Joseph Grusinsky: [whispers] I love you very much.
Bobby Green: [a beat] I love you too.

And I'm another James Gray fan who will urge you to someday give "Two Lovers" another look as I think it's a very worthy entry in his filmography.

Thanks Nick!

2:23 PM, February 11, 2013  
Anonymous 3rtful said...

I'd replace 'We Own The Night' with 'Parenthood' and you have three Joaquin (Leaf) Phoenix performances that are a progression of the same inner temperament — plus Dianne Wiest.

9:50 PM, February 11, 2013  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

I love everybody. Like Maureen Stapleton, I want to thank everyone who has ever visited or commented on this blog.

@N: Yes! The idea! I miss when being nominated for an Oscar actually meant people said nice things about you. A rule I have certainly broken plenty of times. But! Happy happy joy joy is where I'm at.

@Patrick: I think that category is stockpiled with really great work, but I agree that Day-Lewis and Phoenix stand apart. I'd root for a tie--I'm always rooting for ties--except they'd never be the two. (And I still miss Trintignant.)

@SVG: I live to serve!

@BVR: Such a nice thing to say. I saw The Hunted fairly recently, too, for an essay I have to write on Friedkin in the next few months. Whole thing impressed me, for its sheer eccentricity, but Jones, as so often, was a big reason. And Streep remains one of my top two for Best Actress this year - I agree she's better than even the greatest of the nominated ladies.

@Evanderholy: Are you "Evan" on Nathaniel's site? Did he recently meet you? Am I confusing people? Anyway, I'm thrilled you saw and loved We Own the Night and even more thrilled I had anything to do with it. That is a hard film to get people to see if they've just decided it isn't their genre, but I've kept up the full-court press. I love every single thing about it you do. And in every technical dimension, it's just exquisite. I will give Two Lovers another shot, I promise! I'm so happy you keep returning.

@3rtful: Well, everything is better with Dianne Wiest. Imagine if she'd been the mother of Phoenix's lost girl in The Master... Great casting, and I'd have loved to see the two of them bounce.

11:20 PM, February 11, 2013  
Anonymous 3rtful said...

That lost girl's mother invites him in presumably for sex which he promptly rejects — I don't want their on screen unification to be incestuous in nature.

2:01 AM, February 12, 2013  
Anonymous Evanderholy said...

I am not the same Evan who recently met Nathaniel. I am, however, a big fan of his site too and should really start commenting there on a regular basis. He's a blogger I found through your links whose site I visit near daily.

9:21 AM, February 12, 2013  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@3rtful: I'll go anywhere with Dianne.

@Evan: Nathaniel said Evan was terrific, so I assumed he meant you! To each his own Evan, I guess. Anyway, glad to clear that up, and still glad you enjoyed We Own the Night.

11:36 PM, February 12, 2013  
Anonymous BVR said...

Naomi Watts is transfixing in "Mulholland Drive." A genius performance in every sense. Sadly, none of her subsequent work has rivaled it (although I am a huge fan of her work in "Painted Veil," and she has some great moments in "21 Grams").

Nick, do you think we'll ever get an equally impressive performance from her again?

P.S. Agree on Streep being better than all the Actress slate. She's my winner for 2012.

3:48 PM, February 15, 2013  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@BVR: I would love to believe she will. Mulholland can be a misleading data-point, because some of what I struggle with in some of her other performances (limited vocal work, excesses of emotion matched to a certain flatness, etc.) actually serve her beautifully in Mulholland (and serve it beautifully). My second favorite of her perfs is actually the one in The Ring, I think, though Painted Veil and Fair Game aren't far behind. Would love to see more great work, though I'm concerned about all the upcoming impersonated icons (Diana and Marilyn?).

12:17 AM, February 16, 2013  
Anonymous BVR said...

Those high-profile roles worry me too. I'm most interested in seeing her in "Sunlight Jr.," though I'm worried about that too since it's been delayed so long. But I thought she was adequately restrained in "Fair Game," which is something she'd never shown before, and I hope "Sunlight" pushes her in the right direction.

Anyway, it's been great reading these twitter-length capsules. Excited for more.

12:56 AM, February 16, 2013  
Blogger Laika said...

In the generous spirit of these reflections:

When I loved them best: Hugh Jackman (my least favourite of the nominated performances) - bringing necessary showmanship to 'The Prestige', braiding it with monomania and paranoia; partnering Hathaway so charmingly during his Oscars gig.

10:21 AM, February 22, 2013  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

I keep checking back here because it continues to lift my mood. This is my favorite idea of the month for Oscar coverage, handily, all across the internets.

Amen on Eve Stewart for Vera Drake. And love your take on John Williams too.

10:58 AM, February 23, 2013  

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