The Oscars

What are they?

An awards ceremony this Sunday afternoon (Pacific Standard Time) conducted by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that recognises excellence in film making over the past 12 months. Separate awards are bestowed upon the best film, best director, best actor, best actress and a host of other individuals. The Oscars is recognised as the most prestigious awards ceremony of the year and rounds out a season of similar ceremonies that include the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Golden Globes and the British Academy of Film and Television Awards.

What do we think?

We love the Oscars season, when the world’s film studios put their best feet forward in a collective effort to win one of the coveted golden trophies. Irrespective of the controversy that often surrounds the Oscars nominations (entire sites are dedicated to the discussion of films that should have been included), the important and undeniable outcome is that film lovers are spoilt with a great choice of high-quality cinematic experiences. With The Artist, The Descendants and Hugo, Moneyball, The Help and Midnight in Paris, this year has been no exception.

Together with a small group of friends, we will be attending a winner-takes-all Oscars night wherein we bet upon fifteen of the most important categories. Some of our nominations, and the reasons for them, are as follows:

Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo in The Artist

There has been a lot of hype surrounding Michel Hazanavicius’ enigmatic film, The Artist, and for good reason. Set at the simultaneous death of silent cinema and birth of the “Speakies” era, and revolving around the emotional turmoil of one of the former’s most prolific and celebrated stars, this film is an example of a simple idea executed to perfection. It is a silent film about the death of silent cinema that exploits this long-forgotten cinematic technique to great effect. The performances of both Dujardin and Bejo are outstanding, imbuing vast life without the crutch of their voices. Part theatre, part historical recreation, this film deserves its hype, the overflowing bounty of awards it has already collected, and the swag of Oscars it is sure to claim Sunday afternoon.

We have nominated The Artist for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score and Best Costume Design: 4 stars.

Shailene Woodley, George Clooney, Amara Miller and Nick Krause in The Descendants

Nominated in almost as many categories as The Artist, Alexander Payne’s film, The Descendents, is an engaging tale of family, love lost and survival. George Clooney puts in a magnificently subtle performance as a man who learns that his recently comatose wife was having an affair. He must step up as the parent he never had to be with his wife awake, whilst also taking care of the family estate and holding himself together. The relationship he has with his eldest daughter, played by Shailene Woodley, is fascinatingly complex. Each character is rendered with utterly convincing personality and nuance, imbuing this film with great feeling. The Descendants does what films do best: it tells a story about ordinary people in interesting circumstances.

In any other year, we think The Descendants would claim far more Oscar nods, and indeed it is our preferred film, but up against The Artist, a film about the history of films, we think it will play second fiddle in most categories. We have nominated it for Best Adapted Screenplay: 4.5 stars.

Asa Butterfield and Chloë Grace Moretz in Hugo

We must admit to being both surprised and curious when we learned that Martin Scorsese was making a children’s film. However, despite being marketed this way, we suggest that Hugo is anything but. It has all the hallmarks of a Scorsese film – great attention to detail, period immersion, a real passion for the art of film making – and succeeds in layering an adventurous plot over a sophisticated exploration of  the life and works of a seminal early film maker, Georges Méliès (played by Ben Kingsley). Butterfield and Moretz are good and the comic interludes of Sacha Baron Cohen are fun, but all are overshadowed by the mesmerisingly intricate clockwork that fills both set and story. Here was a period in our history where mechanical ingenuity was expressed in all its notched and ratcheted glory.

Our big regret with this film was not taking the advice of the inestimable Margaret and David and seeing it in 3D. The naivety of the first cinema audiences may be forever lost, but with Hugo, Scorsese has attempted to recall that innocence, hoping to use old tricks in new ways to transfer his passion for cinema to young audiences.

We have nominated Hugo for Best Cinematography: 4 stars.

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