A Preview for February 26th’s Academy Awards

By Daniel Janaro
SC Staff Writer

For some someone who doesn’t have that special someone this Valentine’s Day, February could represent the coldest month of the year.  In the minds of many Americans, it represents a time of the year when people express their undying love for that special person in their lives.

I love February because February is awards season.   Whatever your feelings are about February, it is when America admits its love affair with the movies.

The 84th annual Academy Awards, on February 26th, will honor the best films of 2011,and look to provide a satisfying end to any cinephile’s year.

Starting this year, the Academy announced it would increase the number of films nominated for Best Picture from five to ten films. The change in selection process will benefit this year’s ceremony, as 2011 was a year filled with many examples of fresh, exciting and well-made productions. The films up for Best Picture this year are The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, and War Horse.

As is customary with every year’s Best Picture nominees, debate is not far around the corner as critics, producers and fans alike are up in arms about the movies that shouldn’t have been and were not nominated. For instance, I thoroughly enjoyed Moneyball because of its ties to baseball and dramatizing the strategy behind creating a competitive baseball team, but it doesn’t mean I thought it was the best picture of the year. The list I compiled will look at five of the films nominated and where I think they rank among the year’s best:

War Horse
Dir. Steven Spielberg
War Horse has all the components of a Best Picture nominee: it’s inspirational, heartfelt, and boasts a big name director. Released Christmas day, it seems as if the studio was planning on making a holiday movie, while pursuing a late run for Oscar contention with a film that is both bold in production and style, while also touching the audience’s heart. The Academy is a sucker for up-lifting films (look back at the 1976 ceremony where Rocky won the award over Taxi Driver.) War Horse, based off the children’s book of the same name, easily contains some of the best footage Spielberg has shot during his career, yet falls short of his better films, such as Jaws, E.T., and Schindler’s List.

The Descendants
Dir. Alexander Payne
George Clooney stars as a descendant of the first white land-owning family in Hawaii, but while deciding to sell his property to a tourist and condo development, he faces a personal crisis within a family that he’s not so comfortable with.
This movie features great acting from the cast, and the script cares spends time and detail showing us how the decisions characters make can affect their lives. The Descendants won Best Motion Picture for a Drama at this year’s Golden Globe Awards, and the winning films at that ceremony tend to mirror the results of the Academy Awards. If that’s any indication, The Descendants could take home the Best Picture award.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Dir. Stephen Daldry
This film represents the problem I have with how and why the Academy selects films for consideration of the Best Picture award. The 84th Academy Awards honors the best films of 2011, but Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was released in January of this year. The first promotional ads for the film declared the film as the best of the year, but I’m confused: is it the best of 2011, the year it’s up for nomination, or 2012?

Whatever the case, the film is about a young boy whose father, played by Tom Hanks, is lost to the tragic events of September 11th. The boy had a close relationship with his father, and after the tragedy, he finds a key that he believes will reveal more about a father he was just beginning to know.

I felt the film exploits the events of September 11th as a ploy to garner an Oscar nomination. I found the story of a young boy rummaging through New York City on his own to be implausible. This film is a text book example of critics giving significance to a movie that doesn’t live up to the reputation.

As a side note, Tom Hanks is one of the Academy voters – talk about self-promotion.

The Artist
Dir. Michel Hazanavicius
What an incredibly fresh breath of air The Artist is for viewers. Probably the most acclaimed film of the year so far, The Artist is also one of the most satisfying. Did I mention the movie’s silent? Did I forget to mention the movie’s in black and white? If this sounds uninteresting to you, don’t be deterred, for The Artist exudes charm and style and is exceptionally well-crafted.

Thank God for independent studios and European cinema. While Hollywood is busy churning out horror remakes, French film production company, La Petite Reine, or The Little Queen, has a reimagining all their own.

Bringing the silent film back, Hazanavicius and company have presented a truly remarkable film that pays homage to the films of the 1920’s, yet is a novelty today as much as sound films were eighty years ago.

On a technical note, The Artist is a French film since it’s produced by a French company, but because the film is silent, it is eligible for a Best Picture nomination and not the Best Foreign Film Academy Award. It’s like taking a Citroen, stamping Ford emblems on it, and passing it off as an American car. I believe that the inclusion of a foreign film based on a loophole could potentially exclude another movie worthy of Best Picture inclusion. But, The Artist is a delightful film and completely worthy of a nomination.

Another side note: The Artist won Best Motion Picture for a Comedy at the Golden Globe awards. The Academy doesn’t make a distinction between genres in their Best Picture category. Like The Descendants, The Artist could be poised to take home the hardware.

The Tree of Life
Dir. Terrence Malick
Here it is: my choice for film of the year.

While The Artist is getting critical praise of late, The Tree of Life steamrolled through the first round of critic circles, gaining mixed reviews, but winning Best Film honors from the Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and Toronto Film Critics Circle Awards. The Tree of Life won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, while getting showered with both cheers and boos. Film aficionados and critics alike will tell you that the Cannes Film Festival is the only revered film festival recognizing a film for its importance, and not getting caught in the hyperbole that other festivals, including the Academy Awards, seem to exhibit every year.

The Tree of Life is a visceral experience, a comment and observation about all things that make up life. The film pinpoints life during two stages, one on a microcosm scale and the other on a macrocosm scale.

A story about a Texas family living during the 1950’s, teaching their children about nature and nurture,  is juxtaposed with the creation of the universe and all living things.  Though the film was booed and left audience’s baffled, the content and intriguing nature of the film give it the pedigree to win Best Picture.

If not for the subject matter, the cinematography and score alone are worth the accolades. The Tree of Life presents some of the most beautiful images committed to celluloid. Like flipping through the pages of a National Geographic, The Tree of Life bombards the viewer with images of this world with all its natural and mysterious beauty, underscored with a symphony that could have been delivered from angels.

The career of Terrence Malick alone could get The Tree of Life the Best Picture nod, as Malick has crafted a career of making films that are both visually stunning and force the audience to reflect on their society and lives, all while straying far from the studio system.

The films have been released, the ballots are out and the Oscar is polished and ready for delivery. So whether you’re cuddling up with the person you care about, or if you’re home alone eating that tempting box of chocolates, tune into the 84th Academy Awards on February 26th to see which movie takes home the Best Picture honor.