2012 Oscar Class: When I Loved Them Best
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
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
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."
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
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
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
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!
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
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.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
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
BEST FILM EDITING
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
BEST SOUND MIXING
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
BEST SOUND EDITING
Wylie Stateman (nominated for Django Unchained): Nixon, for Stoned hyperbole and eerie quiets; and Kill Bills, for sharp sounds gleaming like swords
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
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
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
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?
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
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
BEST VISUAL EFECTS
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.
BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
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
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Tim Burton (nominated for Frankenweenie): Edward Scissorhands for heart, Mars Attacks! for ack-ack and ruthless momentum, Ed Wood for everything