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Popcornucopia: Oscar preview, Part 1

Chet Greason, Popcornucopia

Oscar season is fast approaching. Popcornucopia’s next column in two weeks’ time will make the predictions for Best Picture, the acting awards, and a few others.

This week, we look at three films that have received numerous nominations and will likely take home some important awards: Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, and Les Misérables .

Lincoln: Nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Daniel Day Lewis), Best Supporting Actress (Sally Field), Best Supporting Actor (Tommy Lee Jones) and Best Director (Steven Spielberg) plus seven more.

Lincoln is one of three Best Picture nominees that deal with historical accounts of political maneuvering, along with Argo and Zero Dark Thirty. Interestingly enough, it is also one of two nominees that deal with slavery, along with Django Unchained (although in vastly different ways.)

You might expect Lincoln to be a typical bio-pic that tells the story of the life of the United States’ sixteenth president. In fact, it covers a very short, but important, period- the last four months of his life that saw the end of the civil war and the passing of the thirteenth amendment abolishing slavery.

Lincoln is a film for politicos and history buffs, full of speeches, posturing, lobbying, and equal parts wheeling and dealing. Those unfamiliar with the big players of this time might have a hard time keeping straight which side the many characters who look like John Wilkes Booth are on (here’s a hint: none of them are John Wilkes Booth.)

I saw Lincoln as Spielberg’s Band-Aid solution to fixing the cesspool that is American politics right now. A film that canonizes Republicans, demonizes Democrats, lightly touches on the elephant in the room that is America’s obsession of race, and ultimately shows good things come from compromise. In short, it’s Spielberg’s olive branch to the Republican Party that says, “See? You guys weren’t always awful. Can’t we all just get along?”

Zero Dark Thirty: Nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress (Jessica Chastain), and three others.

Zero Dark Thirty, along with Lincoln, is one of two Best Picture nominees that end with the body of a grey-bearded, hyper-politicized old man that’s been shot in the head. All joking aside, though, it’s a film that has people talking, which is a status most filmmakers crave.

Recounting the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the film stars Jessica Chastain as Maya, a driven CIA operative out to catch the terrorist. According to who you talk to, Maya is either based on a real CIA operative, based on several different CIA operatives, or entirely fictional. Given the recent nature of the story, it seems scummy to include a fictional lead, and the character mirrors this: she has no other purpose than catching bin Laden, both as a plot-driving device and as a person. She has no past, no hobbies, and, when asked, appears to have no friends. When she completes her task, she has nowhere to go. Is she a symbol? Or just a weak character?

As mentioned, Zero Dark Thirty has people talking, with everyone having an equally valid viewpoint on its success and its validity. Personally, I think it’s an ugly little film that attempts to come to terms with the new face of American heroism: one of cruelty, callousness, and torture.

Les Misérables: Nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Hugh Jackman), Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway), and five others.

Les Mis is a welcome breath of fresh air from the focus on backroom politics found in many of this year’s nominees. It’s a grasp at old Hollywood, one that remembers the hypnotic nature of live theatre and tries to emulate it on a flat screen. It is big, brash, loud, and celebratory, but also funny, dark, sad, and sweet; one of those productions that attempts to be everything at once.

Unfortunately, Les Mis is not one of my favourite musicals. I’m not partial to the operatic musicals that have their characters sing every word, even the trivial ones, (“Where are you going?” “We’re out of milk!” “Bring me back some CHEESIES!!” Cannon fire!) Give me a musical like Fiddler on the Roof, that allows its characters to have conversations when needed, then smacks us with intermittent and hooky songs.

However, one shouldn’t write off the political implications of this version of Les Mis, either. A story that deals with a spent working class pushing back against an uncaring and oppressive
aristocracy made so soon after the rise of both the Occupy and Tea Party movements? These things don’t happen by accident.

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