Bob Wire’s Surprising Oscar Picks

By BOB WIRE

There’s a lot to talk about with the 85th Academy Awards. For one thing, it’s not the 85th Academy Awards. It’s simply “The Oscars.” The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has decided to ditch the musty official title in favor of the street vernacular, much the same way Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC, Kmart switched to Big K, and Victoria’s Secret is now Ho Drawers.

But enough small talk. The best film of 2012, Moonrise Kingdom, wasn’t even nominated. That’s how weird things are with the Oscars this year. Let’s just move on.

No Oscar season is complete without controversy, and this year is no exception. Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal have been taking a ton of heat over the torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty.  Politicos and pundits have expressed their outrage over what they claim is an endorsement of “enhanced interrogation” techniques employed by the CIA to gain information from detainees. But instead of directing their criticism at the intelligence community and the military units who employ these methods, they let loose on Hollywood. With this ass-backward focus on the country’s troubles, is it any wonder the Do-Nothing Congress is about as effective as a popcorn fart in a hurricane?

“Wow, this P90X really works. I’m not even hungry at all! Plus I’mgold!”

So Zero Dark Thirty has gone from lock to long shot for Best Picture. The crusty Academy voters don’t like controversy, boat-rocking, or Leonardo DiCaprio. The Sessions snubbed for Best Picture? No room for The Master among the ten nominees? Seriously? These knuckleheads in the Academy make their clueless Grammy counterparts look like a Stanford think tank.

Let’s get down to the nominated movies. I probably watch ten movies at home for every trip to the theater for a new release, so I’ve only seen a couple of this year’s nominees. But I have watched all the trailers. Here are my impressions of each movie, and why it doesn’t deserve to win Best Picture:

1. Lincoln. When I watch a movie I like having my buttons pushed, and there is no one better at that than Steven Spielberg. And Daniel Day-Lewis? He’s up for Best Actor, deservedly so. The man stayed in character during the entire shoot. He reportedly quelled a craft services dispute with his stirring Condiment Address, and persuaded a sulking James Spader to leave his trailer by issuing his Emasculation Proclamation. Good movie, but it appears to have been shot without the benefit of electric lights. Everybody looks grubby, even Sally Field. Too dark. Couldn’t see a damn thing.

2. Zero Dark Thirty. As with Lincoln, we know how this one ends. The Hurt Locker was Best Picture three years ago, and this film will withstand the torture brouhaha to burnish Bigelow’s reputation as a gutsy director with a sharp eye for human drama within the insane context of modern warfare. But the controversy will keep the statuette out of her hands this year.

3. Amour. From the acclaimed director of two other foreign films I’ll never see, Amour won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. It was awarded the Best Foreign Language Film prize by the Society of People Who Watch Foreign Films. The plot is simple. Lots of human interaction and emotional entanglements. Zero explosions or flying cars. Looks like a lot of acting. Good date movie if you’re sixty and know something about wine.

4. Beasts of the Southern Wild. I assumed this was a feature film about a pawn shop in Louisiana run by illiterate alligator hunters. Or maybe spring break on South Padre Island. But no, it’s about the journey through Hurricane Katrina, as seen through the eyes of a precocious young black girl. It will probably become a staple in high school social studies classes on those days when the teacher sets up a motel tryst with the hot new vice principal.

5. Life of Pi. Another kid set adrift after a catastrophe. I read the book, which was so well written that the debate continues over whether it’s a parable or to be taken literally. The movie is a visual knockout, thanks to the masterful direction of Ang Lee. A kid, a zebra, a whale, some lemurs. It’s not exactly going to be a David Mamet dialog fest. Holy shit! It’s fucking tiger! In the boat! Row faster!

6. Les Miserables. In addition to the trailer, I saw the scene where Russell Crowe gives Jean Valjean his walking papers. Is that Hugh Jackman? Really? Damn, who cut his hair, Muhammad Ali? And all the actors sang live. I love that. Actors can sing, and they should be forced to more often. Crowe is the weakest singer in the cast, and he fronts a rock and roll band, for crying out loud. Great movie. Will I ever rent it? No. I’m straight.

7. Django Unchained. Quentin Tarantino, shut out of the Best Director category, brings his Pulp History to bear on a slavery era tale. This looks like the bloodiest fun since Machete. One of my favorite Tarantino traits is the way he slams pop and rock music up against the most incongruous scenes. James Brown’s best song, “The Big Payback,” features heavily in this one. Genius. The Academy was too busy scratching their heads to enjoy it.

8. Silver Linings Playbook. What initially appeared to be a ho-hum rom-com turned out to be a showcase for some career performances from Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. The trailer shows some of Robert De Niro’s part, but not enough to warrant his Best Supporting Actor nod. I might have to rent this one to see what all the fuss is about. I’m sure it’s great. But Best Pic? Nah. The competition is too tough.

9. Argo is flawless. And here we have it, this year’s winner. The perfect movie. I was a 19-year-old college student when the whole Iran hostage crisis went down. An oblivious insufferable loudmouth, I didn’t care if the President was Ronald Reagan or Ronald McDonald, so long as they kept allowing the import of Canadian Club.

It wasn’t until I saw this movie that I understand the gravity of that crisis. Argo is a perfectly executed film. The Academy inexplicably left Ben Affleck off the Best Director ballot, the most heinous snub of the year. Like Bigelow, Affleck swoops into the maelstrom of violence and political intrigue to expose the fragile humanity at the heart of it all. It’s the details that pack the biggest emotional punch, not the archival footage of violent demonstrations or the frenetic bombast of a military offensive.

Argo has it all. The casting is brilliant. John Goodman and Alan Arkin deliver a hilariously prickly Hollywood-insider story line. The captive embassy workers are a believable, complex ensemble of unknowns. Bryan Cranston brings his “Breaking Bad” A-game as a tightly-strung CIA honcho. Affleck shrewdly underplays his part as the captors’ CIA-operative savior, and even the bad-guy Iranians deliver terror and menace without uttering a word of English. Argo has it all. The editing, the score, the cinematography, everything contributes to an airtight instant classic.

Rusty and I saw this on the big screen and the unrelenting climax was so intense that we did not breathe for eight minutes. Had to take in oxygen through our skin like the kid in Life of Pi.

The only dark shadow of Argo’s triumph is that Ben Affleck won’t have the Best Director Oscar sitting on the shelf next to his Best Picture award. Message to the Academy: Argo fuck yourself.

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   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blogarchive.

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Bob Wire is medicated and ready to rock.

Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an open mind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.