Local movie aficionados weigh in with Oscar picks

Posted Feb. 23, 2012, at 6:16 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 24, 2012, at 10:11 a.m.

Who will win an Oscar? Who should win? What was unfairly overlooked? The BDN asked three Maine film aficionados — and one BDN reporter — to tell us what movies and actors they thought would take home a little golden man on Sunday, and what movies and actors weren’t nominated but should have been. What do you think? Will you watch the Academy Awards this weekend?

Our critics:

• Ken Eisen, founder, Maine International Film Festival, Railroad Square Cinema and Shadow Distribution, Waterville

• Robin Jones, director, film program at The Grand, Ellsworth

• Joel Crabtree, BDN film critic

• Emily Burnham, BDN Living reporter

Best Picture

Crabtree: While “The Artist” has jumped out as the front-runner, we have to ask why? Yes, it is a lot of fun to watch, but it’s not the best picture of the year. But it’s hard to pinpoint what the opposition is. “The Descendants”? “Hugo”? “The Tree of Life”? None of the other eight films seem to have the ability to overtake “The Artist,” which makes it this year’s odds-on favorite as the Best Picture winner, perhaps by default.

Eisen: It’s tough to pick against “The Descendants,” as honest, original, beautifully written a movie as current popular cinema is ever likely to produce, but it’s still impossible to not choose the miraculous “The Tree of Life,” which is everything the red carpet cannot imagine trying to be: profound, original, distinctive, truly beautiful, moving, completely unselfconscious and therefore as un-2012 as anything could be.

Jones: “The Artist.” The Weinsteins are behind the Oscar campaign for this film and they are notorious for pulling out Best Picture winners in years when the smart money was on something else.

Burnham: I think the spellbinding, gorgeous “The Tree of Life” should win, but I think “The Artist” will win, because it’s European and it’s cute and inoffensive. Though “The Descendants” probably also deserves it.

Best Director

Crabtree: Michael Hazanavicius’ “The Artist” is certainly entertaining, but the direction lacks the passion that Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese put into their films this year, “Midnight in Paris” and “Hugo,” respectively. These films are labors of love from auteurs who have been producing some of the best cinema has to offer for decades now.

Eisen: An auteurist, as I am, believes that a director is responsible for her or his movie’s artistry, so this is easy: “The Tree of Life” for Terrence Malick, over “The Descendants” for Alexander Payne, with no No. 3.

Jones: Alexander Payne — Including this year, this is the 6th nomination for Payne and, therefore, the voters will reward him for not just this film but “Sideways” and “Election.”

Burnham: It’s Payne’s year to win, though certainly Malick could pull away with it.

Best Actor

Crabtree: As good as Jean Dujardin is in “The Artist,” and as good as George Clooney is in “The Descendants,” there were few lead performances last year as good as Brad Pitt as Billy Beane in “Moneyball.”

Eisen: George Cooney’s acting in “The Descendants” may not be the best you’ll ever see, but it’s Hollywood great in the best old-fashioned sense, gleaning something real and profoundly sympathetic from the seamless congruence of a genuine star and a tailor-made script about a universal experience.

Jones: Jean Dujardin. I think this is the toughest call, as both Dujardin and Clooney are so well regarded. However, Clooney has won previously for acting, he has stated publicly he will be gradually dropping acting for directing and I bet the voters will really only give him an Oscar again for directing. Plus, the Weinstein factor.

Burnham: I firmly believe Brad Pitt deserves this one. Clooney was great, but Pitt was excellent.

Best Actress

Crabtree: Elizabeth Olsen, of course, wasn’t nominated for her role in “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” However, her performance definitely deserved a nomination, and in my eyes, a win. My vote goes to Viola Davis.

Eisen: Michelle Williams, who deserved the award last year for “Blue Valentine,” a truly magnificent film, also deserves it this year over her entirely predictable competition, for making an impersonation live and breathing as a real human who happens to be Marilyn Monroe.

Jones: Viola Davis. There is enough bad press for the film itself that I think only the actresses who transcend the limitations of the material will win. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are the two actresses who emerge unscathed.

Burnham: Full disclosure: I didn’t see any of the films that had lead actresses nominated, except for “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” Based purely on who I personally like, I’d like to see either Viola Davis or Glenn Close win. I love Meryl, but please — you don’t have to keep nominating her. We get it.

Best Supporting Actor

Crabtree: Christopher Plummer is a shoo-in for his performance in “Beginners.”

Eisen: Christopher Plummer with a charming turn in a genuinely underappreciated movie, “Beginners.”

Jones: Christopher Plummer. He’s this year’s Jack Palance or Alan Arkin.

Burnham: I’m also going with Christopher Plummer — “Beginners” was such a lovely film — though I’d really love to see Jonah Hill win. I think he’s developing into a truly gifted young actor.

Best Suppporting Actress

Crabtree: Jessica Chastain had about as good a year as anyone else in film last year. She had strong performances in “The Help,” “The Tree of Life,” “Take Shelter” and “The Debt,” and for the volume of work and its consistency, she deserves to be honored.

Eisen: Jessica Chastain, for the body of her work — did she ever sleep in the last two years? — more than for this particular role in “The Help.”

Jones: Octavia Spencer. See: Viola Davis.

Burnham: Everyone will be shocked when Melissa McCarthy wins for “Bridesmaids.” And I want the Academy to recognize comedy as equally as worthy of acclaim as drama.

Biggest Snub

Crabtree: The biggest injustice this year comes in the Best Supporting Actor category. Corey Stoll was brilliant as Ernest Hemingway in “Midnight in Paris,” as was Kevin Spacey in “Margin Call.” But Albert Brooks in “Drive” was the toughest competition Christopher Plummer would have had this year. Of course, none of those three were nominated. On a side note, I would have been pleased to see Brit Marling and Mike Cahill’s “Another Earth” nominated for Best Original Screenplay.

Eisen: The biggest snub this year for me was for a film that I knew would never be nominated. In the proud interest of full disclosure, it’s a film that I helped distribute in this country, a heartbreaking, transcendent, sublime Russian masterpiece named “Silent Souls.” Besides being the incredible experience it is, it’s a film that uses its widescreen, 35mm film stock in reverence and beauty, which makes its snubbing emblematic of the way Hollywood is now bent on replacing the gorgeous medium of film itself with digital, not because it’s superior — aesthetically, it’s simply not except for special effects and 3D — but because it’s cheaper for them. The snub is to the medium itself, finally.

Jones: “Young Adult” and “Drive,” both for Best Picture and Best Director (Jason Reitman and Nicolas Refn) and acting nominations for Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt for “Young Adult” and Albert Brooks for “Drive.” The Academy hates films with unlikable people doing bad things and learning nothing from their actions. The voters also apparently hate action films that pay tribute to seventies and eighties action films and comic geniuses who stretch (see Bill Murray).

Burnham: “Drive” was cruelly overlooked, for both Albert Brooks and Ryan Gosling’s performances, and Nicolas Refn’s direction. It was a strange, brilliant combination of almost Scandinavian-style lyricism and slow-burning, Clint Eastwood-like character development, punctuated by graphic, enthralling blasts of Scorsese-like action and violence. I also think Lars Von Trier’s “Melancholia” was totally snubbed — it was magnificently filmed, and Kirsten Dunst gave a gutsy, unforgettable performance.

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