I was able to get mostly caught up on the rest of the Best Picture nominees I wasn’t able to mention last time. So here are my thoughts on three more, plus another nomination-free movie that I saw that is up there with Moonrise Kingdom as my favorite of 2012.
Lincoln was a compelling film, telling a small slice of American history with fetishistic detail. As a history buff, there was little in the movie that I wasn’t already at least passingly familiar with, although the degree of corrupt horsetrading portrayed in the film was enlightening. My biggest complaint with the movie wasn’t its length, but it was with the relative weakness of the peripheral performances. Outside of Day-Lewis, Jones, Field, and a scene-stealing James Spader, many of the other actors delivered Tony Kushner’s florid dialogue as if unsure of the exact meaning of the words being said, ending up as mere vehicles for elaborate facial hair. Lincoln also was a bit of history porn in the vein of HBO’s John Adams miniseries: obsessed with period detail and authentic minutia at the expense of humanity, story, and character development. And ending the movie with Lincoln’s assassination was a bit of Spielberg emotional-manipulation that was unnecessary and a bit craven.
While Beasts of the Southern Wild was an enjoyable little global warming tale about a group of child abusing survivalists living on a flood plain outside of New Orleans, it is also little more than that. Beautifully shot with compelling and fiery performances from Q. Wallis and Dwight Henry, the story begins to break down once reality intrudes upon these swamp-dwellers and the movie becomes awkward 21st Century parable instead of ageless expressionistic fable. And this is a minor note, but seeing aurochs portrayed as gigantic horned boars extinct since prehistory instead of the large ur-cattle which survived into modern times that they are, was distracting.
Silver Linings Playbook was a charming, heartfelt, and at times unrelenting examination of mental illness and its effects on a family ill-equipped to handle it and, like Beasts, is also little more than that. I’m more bewildered by the myriad accolades for Silver Linings than any of the other Best Picture nominees as the story and character development is cold, superficial, and predictable. The movie is saved by the strength of its performances.
Rather serendipitously I stumbled upon The Perks of Being a Wallflower, based on the book of the same name that, I’m told, was a seminal coming-of-age novel for my generation that I never read. This was a fantastic, if at times overly-earnest, film about a group of charismatic misfits helping each other overcome trauma and find a place to express themselves in a generic early 90s American suburb. The uniformly great ensemble cast of young actors is led by strong duelling performances from Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller and the script treats the hedonistic behavior of teenagers as a matter of course without sensationalism and addresses the psychological impact of early childhood abuse with a sensitivity that isn’t patronizing. Of course the kids are overly articulate and idealized, but the movie is framed, like the book, as an epistolary novel, and we’re relying upon the eyes of the narrator to tell the story of his friends. With that in mind, Perks captures the hypersensitive, obsessive, emotional roller coaster of late adolescence–that desire to make every moment meaningful and magical, every friend amazing, every love the greatest ever, the transcendent joy of a car ride with friends with a great song playing on the tape deck–with searing accuracy and nostalgia.
I think Lincoln will be the big winner at the Oscars, although I still have hopes that Argo might squeeze out a Best Picture win. Acting Oscars will be split between Lincoln and Silver Linings (although Hathaway’s Fantine is still a strong contender) with, I think, Django and Argo winning the screenplay awards. Still, a decidedly mediocre year for great movies. Other than Lincoln becoming a staple of high school American History classes for years to come, I doubt any of these movies will become enduring classics that I’ll desire to revisit down the line.