Film and Television Features

The No Ripcord 2013 Oscars Preview

The Academy Awards might seem like the height of vulgar celebrity backslapping, but they do provide several valuable services – whether it’s in providing a global stage for often poorly expressed and uncomfortably received ‘right-on’ political messages, or in keeping fashion correspondents in employment. Perhaps their biggest contribution though, is in their providing film fans and commentators with plenty of material to argue about.

In the week following the nominations announcement, No Ripcord writers Forrest Cardamenis, Mark Davison & Juan Rodriguez conducted a transatlantic conversation via e-mail on the subject. And they even managed to find some positive things to say about it too.


FC: If you had asked me a couple years ago, the Oscars would have meant a lot more to me. For me, like so many other cinephiles, they were an entrance to the movies, and while now I realize that Oscars are far from a be-all/end-all for what movies are the best and they're generally predictable, it's still interesting to see what vibes with the voters in the Academy, so I again find myself fill with a sort of gamesmanship when it comes to predictions, hoping that the movie I like gets the most nominations, etc. Blame my competitive spirit.

With that said, I think there were a good deal of surprises, both good and bad. Life of Pi came out stronger than I expected, with 11 nominations, behind only Lincoln's less-surprising 12. I guess that makes Life of Pi a bigger contender than I expected, but then, I also thought Argo and Zero Dark Thirty had a good shot, but the snubs in director indicates otherwise.

The flip side to Affleck and Bigelow getting snubbed is that Michael Haneke and Benh Zeitlin both were nominated. I'm no fan of Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook and Beasts of the Southern Wild, for that matter, was sort of an in-between for me. But Beasts is beaming with creativity and audacity. It's exactly the kind of film that I love to see nominated, regardless of whether I like it. It's bold and beautiful, and the only other one of the other American nominees I would say that about is Life of Pi, which also has its share of problems in the screenwriting department, I think. Haneke's nomination is just incredible, though. In addition to making what is almost unarguably one of the best of the year, that it comes from someone whose previous films are so anti-Oscar is wonderful. That goes for its other nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress, and Screenplay, too. It's a stunner of a movie, and this means that people will actually see it. So yeah, there were some director snubs for the best Hollywood thrillers of the year, but look what got in instead? Bold, beautiful movies. I'd almost rather have it this way, though I'd have no problem with kicking David O. Russell out.

Speaking of Silver Linings Playbook, nominations in all four acting categories? Please. Jenifer Lawrence deserves it, yeah. Even De Niro, fine. But Cooper and Weaver? Wow. I've heard John Hawkes in the The Sessions really deserved it, though I haven't seen it, and I definitely consider Christoph Waltz lead in Django (he was nominated for Supporting Actor), give it to one of them. As for Weaver, I think that caught everyone by surprise. That aside, I'm really happy with the acting nominations, and although I haven't seen The Impossible, how could anyone not be happy with a win by Chastain, Riva, Wallis, or Lawrence? What a great, diverse group!

A couple things that made me happy were the inclusion John Gatin’s Flight screenplay, which I thought was a good, overlooked movie, smarter and more adult-oriented than a lot of other Hollywood films this season. That it took a spot that might have gone to Looper is even more reason for me to celebrate. Hooper, whose over-direction, poor framing, and emphasis on them singing live in Les Mis was absolutely maddening, missed a nod for direction, thankfully. On the flip-side, Silver Linings Playbook, which is cute and funny is such a train-wreck in terms of a story that makes sense and isn't completely cliche, I don't see how it was nominated. Likewise, the category for score does not make sense to me. Beasts of the Southern Wild got a handful of unexpected nominations, but its score, which was, to me, the best and most memorable thing about it, was without a nod. The same goes for The Master, which had a great and original score by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood. How did these finish behind Argo? Did Argo even HAVE a score? A lot of people will say The Master deserved nods for writing, direction, and picture, too; I'll restrain my praise for it but mention it certainly deserved recognition for its cinematography and maybe production design.

My big takeaway is that Harvey Weinstein really pushed Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln is a pretty sure thing to win, and there's a handful of animated films that I definitely need to check out, starting with It's Such A Beautiful Day and then the five nominees.


MD: I think I agree with pretty much every word of what you say, Forrest. (Although I haven’t seen anywhere near as many of the nominated films as you have, yet).

Once again, the Oscar nominations have managed to be largely predictable and yet with just enough surprises to infuriate and intrigue. I’m straight-out baffled by all the love Silver Linings Playbook has been getting – despite being a fan of much of David O. Russell and his cast’s (yes, even Bradley Cooper) previous work, I found it completely unexceptional and fairly tedious. I’d actually go further than you, Forrest, and argue that Jennifer Lawrence is the only one who deserved a nomination, but clearly the film’s done something right, and not just for the academy – everybody I know who saw it loved it. Same goes for Life of Pi actually, although I would say that one deserves every technical award it has coming its way, and perhaps Suraj Shama should have got a Best Actor nod as expecting an untested actor to carry such a big movie was a big ask, and I think he acquitted himself well; the majority of problems I have with that film really were in its script (and in the novel it was based on).

I’m not particularly upset about any films being overlooked this year, largely because my favourite films of 2012 were hardly traditional Oscar bait (but also because the BAFTA nominations from earlier on in the week invoked the majority of my ire – what exactly is the point of an awarding body for British films that manages to completely bypass the best of the country’s cinematic output?). I suppose I would have liked to have seen Skyfall get a Best Picture nomination, as I thought the reasoning behind upping the amount of selections to 10 was to enable more big-budget crowd-pleasers to get a look-in, rather than more middle-of-the-road awards-friendly fare (still, at least there’s nothing as egregious in there this year as Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close). Still, I’ll be cheering it on in the categories that it is up for, particularly Best Original Song. Not that I think Adele needs any more silverware, but just because I like it, and as, somewhat bewilderingly, it’s actually the first Bond Theme to ever be nominated.

With that in mind, I’m also delighted about the nods in the big categories for Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild, even if I haven’t seen either (I am a Haneke fan-boy, but felt that seeing Amour in the cinema would be just a bit too much, I look forward to, or rather nervously anticipate, its DVD release though). The Academy has almost as bad a track record with low budget, indie and foreign language films as it does with blockbusters, so it’s nice to see that they’re slowly overcoming this – in fact, after the wild success of The Artist last year, we might be seeing the proudly patriotic Oscars starting to take the lead from that most European of taste-makers; Cannes.

As far as who’s going to win? I have no idea (other than Anne Hathaway, obviously); I seriously doubt Beasts or Amour will be able to convert their many nominations into wins, unfortunately (I’d say there’s even a chance that Amour won’t get the seemingly inevitable Foreign Film win – Amelie was the last film to break out of that ghetto and still lost out to No Man’s Land, something which I’ve still not forgiven the Academy for, actually). I would’ve said that Ben Affleck would’ve been my one sure bet before the nominations came out (and I would have been fine with that – Argo may have had its problems, but was incredibly entertaining all the same) but that’s clearly not going to happen now. If I was going to take a punt, I’d say Lincoln will get Best Picture and Actor, and Russell will get Best Director, as Silver Linings clearly has the backing of the Academy’s sizeable acting community. Whether I think that they deserve to win is neither here nor there really.

(And yes, The Master missing out in the Score and Cinematography categories is frankly insane).


JR: So it’s that time of the year, isn’t it? The Oscars have really become my favorite competitive sport, and though I’ve never gambled in any of the categories before I do get genuinely excited about all the unnecessary bickering that arises out of Hollywood’s yearly gala. It’s as much about the dresses as it is about the, er, nominees, right? Normally, the general populace only remembers the night that Titanic swept most categories, or perhaps the year that Avatar won. Right? Um, The Hurt Locker actually won. Um, what? You must be joking.

Speaking of The Hurt Locker, I thought it’d be best to start with the runaway success of Zero Dark Thirty, simply because it’s the only film I’ve yet to see of all the major nominees. Forrest thinks is amazing, and though I’ve never been a fan of films that relate to current event themes (perhaps why I think The Newsroom is such a wretched bore), I may have a problem entirely digesting it. I hear it’s more action based as opposed to the character driven Locker, but we’ll see.

So the Academy threw a few curveballs at me, making me believe that the anonymous judging panel is now made up of artsy hipsters instead of former cool cats that couldn’t get their bifocal prescription before this year’s screenings. And though some of this year’s surprises are more than welcome, there’s still a prevailing aroma of big studio influencers manipulating the system like manic, dollar waving carnivores inside a dogfight arena. So yes, it’s kinda dirty. How else could you explain a major spectacle like Les Miserables scoring eight nominations? Well, of course, because it’s a big, Masterpiece Theater on steroids production. It has all the major players, including a borderline laughable, bound to win performance by Anne Hathaway (this year’s Kim Basinger?). She cut her hair and got as skinny for a far-too-tame 15 minutes (considering the circumstances) that should’ve been ruthless and unforgiving, but that definitely justifies her heavenly appearance at the end of the film, right? I can see why Hugh Jackman got the nod, though, as he was born to play that role.

You can’t fool me twice, academy. I know you’re up to no good, even if you try to convince me to watch by giving Amour a heap of overwhelming praise. I’m still a little bit fed up at you for not giving The White Ribbon the win last year, but darnit you had to give it a Best Picture nominee! Now I have to watch! This is the equivalent of watching my inexistent self rooting for Cries and Whispers back in ’72; mind the incredibly creepy image of my younger self in ’72 (there’s something really scary about imagining yourself in a period you never existed), but I can’t contain my excitement. If they give Haneke a win alongside Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger again like in the Golden Globes, I’ll rejoice! It’s a far more daring production than the usual, big spectacle fare that usually gets the edge in the final 5 or 10, or 9. It has to either make you cry (Life is Beautiful, Il Postino) be subtitle friendly (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) or simply be Amelie, which I still think is one of the most overrated films in memory. Sorry, Mark! At least we all agree that Beasts of the Southern Wild was a pleasant surprise, maybe Forrest to a lesser extent. I’m always a sucker for vaguely surrealistic poetic pieces set in a very contemporary setting (did any of you see The Milk of Sorrow?), which is an incredibly niche category. But at least it makes sense to me.

I have to say that you guys are pretty much spot-on, though. But why oh why is there an underwhelming response from the two of you in regards to Silver Linings Playbook? Maybe it’s the fact that I related to it in a somewhat personal way, but its endearing story really had me and hello until its final minute. Yeah, I got a little soft for it. I’m sure that a nod for David O. Russell is superfluous, and I do agree that it overshadowed the acting palette, but it really doesn’t matter. I’d even say it’s a stretch to give Jennifer Lawrence an acting nod, as I’m sure part of the reason she got nominated was due to her memorable, um, assets. But her chemistry with Bradley Cooper can’t be questioned, and they both had me rooting until the very end in a very classic Hollywood romance sort of way, Which makes perfect sense why it got the nod. But really, I think this is the kind of film that deserves its screenplay and Best Picture nods.

Nevertheless, Lincoln will get to eat the big cake at the end of the night, and I’m sure the night’s ulterior motive is to celebrate the presence of big shot moneymaker Steve Spielberg, which hasn’t won an award in quite some time. It’ll bring us back to a much more humble time, when the Oscars were far more square and much less colorful. And can't we all agree that Emmanuelle Riva should stand at the podium that night? Oh, and mark my words: do not for a second overlook Life of Pi, which may sneak up an upset win come Oscar night.


FC: Looks like we all agree, more or less. We're all Haneke supporters, are a bit baffled by the love for Silver Linings Playbook in some category or another, and I agree with you guys that Life of Pi deserves the nominations it got. I liked the movie but didn't love it, but almost everything I didn't like was a part of the screenplay. I haven't read the book, but I've heard it's a very literal adaptation, so Ang Lee did a great job there.I certainly agree with you, Juan, on Riva. I love these actresses, but Riva deserves it. Lawrence will have a chance (and really, from what I've seen of her in recent interviews, could use some humbling), Chastain is a goddess but will also have more chances, Wallis will be in the upcoming Twelve Years A Slave, so hopefully her career isn't going anywhere. I like Watts too and I hope to see her get her Oscar one day (because she deserved it for Mulholland Drive), but not in a year this crowded with so many different, great performers.

Looks like we're in agreement. Mark, you hit the nail on the head with "predictable yet surprising enough to infuriate and intrigue."


MD: I'm not sure what my problem with Silver Linings Playbook is, Juan. I would've said that I found it throwaway and insincere, but as I'm still spiritedly defending Amelie, I'm not really in any position to judge a film as being lightweight. I suppose I did find it fairly shrill (if Chris Tucker is the most restrained member of your cast, then you know you're in trouble) and, as I said earlier, I do think that all involved have been better elsewhere - I do agree that Cooper and Lawrence had good chemistry though.

It's interesting that you think that Life of Pi could do very well for itself. I suppose it's a bit of a wild card in that it's proved to be a massive crowd pleaser over here in the UK, but was (as I understand it) a bit of a disappointment in the US. I suppose that's the best thing about this year's nominations in that they're mostly wide open - especially so after Argo and Les Mis winning big at the Globes, despite being overlooked in some of the major categories here.

And on that note, I'll be trying my best to focus on the more positive aspects of the nominations from now on (going off at a bit of a tangent, I would say that all the nominees in the Best Animated film category are spot-on - in particular it's inexplicable that The Pirates! was largely overlooked elsewhere) is what's important, after all, if Seth Macfarlane's hosting during the nominees announcement is anything to go by, it's going to be a looooooooooong evening.


A long evening it might be, but even if Macfarlane’s jokes fall entirely flat, there are bound to be some laughs to be had in the No Ripcord twitter feed during the ceremony, if last year is anything to go by (admittedly a fair amount of them might come from our UK-based contributors slowly going mad through lack of sleep). And if you can’t make it through the whole ceremony, we’ll be publishing our writers’ reactions to the evening’s events during the following week.