Paul Thomas Anderson’s On Cinema

20 01 2015

On October 4, 2014, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a talk where Paul Thomas Anderson elaborated on his inspirations and influences.  His knowledge and love of cinema shone brightly, leaving me quite rejuvenated in the power of the medium.  Basically, he would be the best film professor EVER.  Here are some highlights from that session.

Part 1

The program unfolded largely based on discussions following clips selected by Paul Thomas Anderson and, presumptively, moderator Kent Jones.  He began with an opening from “Police Squad,” a television show from the 1980s.  Not the first thing I associated with the director of “The Master,” I’ll be honest.

I knew the team behind “Police Squad” mostly for their inane “Scary Movie” installments, but I actually explored the older Abrahams-Zucker comedy on Netflix via “The Naked Gun” films.  Now I see where Anderson comes from when he descirbed the serious “hilarious, brilliant” and that it “doesn’t get any better.”

He rediscovered the joy of the show while watching videos on YouTube during smoke breaks, reminded how much the humor was ahead of its time.  Moreover, it made him remember that anything is possible.  That kind of energy plays out clearly in “Inherent Vice,” whether its Josh Brolin’s Bigfoot Bjornsen fellating a chocolate banana or Martin Short’s Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd doing lines of cocaine.  The gags are silly, but they are always clever.

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AUTEUR HOUR: Paul Thomas Anderson

9 01 2015

PTA prof pic

Welcome to a new feature here at Marshall and the Movies that I am calling “Auteur Hour!”  I have hinted at this since 2012 (yikes) and can think of no better way to kick off this series than with a look at the filmography of writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson.

For those who do not know, auteur is a French term meaning “author” that academic writers often apply to directors of films.  The term and all that comes along with it provides constant debate within the cinematic community.  Some think it provides a great way to honor filmmakers who use consistent patterns or motifs throughout their work, while others argue that the term serves as a catchall to redeem anyone who can carry something over from picture to picture.

Paul Thomas Anderson certainly qualifies as an auteur like few others in America with his fluency in the language and history of cinema as well as his virtuosic output.  I had the chance to grab a quick photo with him before the world premiere of “Inherent Vice” – as you can see, both of us were pretty awkward.  I stood speechless in the face of the man responsible for some absolute gems in the crown of cinema.  If you want to stand in awe as well, check out some of these videos…

And now, to the point of the post, here is how I would rank the films of Paul Thomas Anderson.  So without further ado…

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What To Look Forward To: January 2015

4 01 2015

Inherent ViceI haven’t used this category of post in almost three years, so I figure it’s due for a good dusting off.  Here, I’ll give you a sense of what I’ll be up to this month at “Marshall and the Movies” and what might be cooking at a theater near you.

F.I.L.M. of the Week

You might have already noticed (that’s doubtful), but I have chosen to move my long-running “F.I.L.M. of the Week” column from Friday to Thursday.  The decision was manifold.  First, I wanted to take advantage of #tbt opportunities on Facebook.  Second, I needed the space on Friday to run reviews of new releases, which are often embargoed until opening day.  I look forward to bringing the same underseen or underrated titles to your attention on a new day!

Paul Thomas Anderson

I hinted last month that I would post a recap of the “On Cinema” that I heard PTA give, but I wound up focusing all my efforts on finishing all my 2014 reviews.  That and a ranked filmography will be coming next week to celebrate the release of “Inherent Vice.”

Tina and AmyGolden Globes Live Blog

One last hurrah for Tina and Amy!  I’ll be typing my thoughts the whole time.

Sundance Spotlight

The year always gets an injection of fresh energy from the outset thanks to Sundance, the American festival committed to highlighting new voices in the world of independent film.  To run parallel with the 2015 festival, I will be publishing a daily review of a film that came out of Sundance – both the good and the bad.

A Most Violent Year

Finally, I can share my thoughts – January 30, unless A24 changes their minds.

In theaters

I am SO stoked for “American Sniper” on January 16.  Holy cow.

In terms of actual January releases, though, the film that most intrigues me is “Girlhood.”

It’s going to be a good month (I hope!) – what are YOU looking forward to?





REVIEW: Inherent Vice

25 11 2014

Inherent ViceNew York Film Festival

Thomas Pynchon’s novel “Inherent Vice” ends with his chief character, Doc Sportello,  attempting to discern shapes within a haze that has formed outside his car window.  Not to worry, this is not a spoiler since screenwriter and director Paul Thomas Anderson chooses to end his cinematic adaptation on an entirely different note altogether.  But the passage is such an apropos summation of “Inherent Vice,” both in terms of its content and the ensuing experience, that it certainly deserves a place in the discussion.

While this is a not entirely unusual noir-tinged mystery surrounding corruption and vice, the story is hardly straightforward or easily discernible.  Characters drop in and out of the narrative at will, making it rather difficult to decipher who the key players really are.  Take no motivation and no appearance at face value, because it is likely to change in the blink of an eye.

Anderson cycles through events at such a dizzying speed that trying to connect the dots of “Inherent Vice” in real-time will only result in missing the next key piece of information.  (I found myself drawn to read Pynchon’s novel after seeing the movie to get a firmer grip on the plot.)  Might I suggest just to kick back, allow the film to wash over you, and let Joaquin Phoenix’s Doc Sportello be your spirit guide through the fog of Los Angeles in 1970.

In a fictional beach community outside the city proper, steadily stoned private eye Doc tries to make sense of a strange case in a transitional time period.  The city is still reeling from Manson mayhem, and hippies are no longer cute animals at the zoo but entities whose every move is subject to suspicion.  People are beginning to anticipate Nixonite and Reaganite malaise, though it remains unformed and intangible.  Ultimately, his understanding is about as good as ours – which is to say, it scarcely exists.  What begins as a routine investigation of Doc’s ex-flame and her rich new lover quickly spirals into something far more sprawling.

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Oscar Moment: Final 2012 Predictions, Part 4 (Directing)

8 01 2013

TWO MORE DAYS!  I’m slowly starting to lose my mind … or at least become so consumed with thinking about the Oscar nominations that I can think of little else.

See my predictions for Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

See my predictions for Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

See my predictions for Best Actor and Best Actress.

Best Director

  1. Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln
  2. Kathryn Bigelow, “Zero Dark Thirty
  3. Ben Affleck, “Argo
  4. Tom Hooper, “Les Misérables
  5. David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook

Kathryn Bigelow ZDTIn case you caught on, yes, I did intentionally structure my prediction breakdown so that I would get to publish post-Directors Guild nominations.  If you didn’t catch those this morning, they were Ben Affleck for “Argo,” Kathryn Bigelow for “Zero Dark Thirty,” Tom Hooper for “Les Misérables,” Ang Lee for “Life of Pi,” and Steven Spielberg for “Lincoln.”

It’s worth noting, though, that the DGA has perfectly matched the Academy’s nominees only twice since 2000.

Having said that, Spielberg, Affleck, and Bigelow are in.  I don’t think anyone will debate that.  Even as “Zero Dark Thirty” seems to have knocked aback with the fatuous claims of torture endorsement, Bigelow remains firmly in place.  Heck, I think any of these three could win.  Who knows, maybe we could even have … a split year!

Spielberg won Best Director in 1998 for “Saving Private Ryan” even though “Shakespeare in Love” won Best Picture.  Could a similar surprise be in store this year?

Bigelow’s direction has earned her tremendous accolades again.  She’s been the critical choice pick of the year, often times winning even when “Zero Dark Thirty” doesn’t take Best Picture.  Will she take the prize again for her follow-up to “The Hurt Locker” just three years after winning her first Oscar?

Argo Best Director

And if “Argo” surges and looks poised to win Best Picture, Ben Affleck will likely win Best Director.  I don’t think he would benefit from a split.

Beyond the three of them, it gets dicier.  If you assume there are seven “safe” Best Picture nominees, you have four men competing for two spots: Ang Lee for “Life of Pi,” David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook,” Tom Hooper for “Les Misérables,” and Quentin Tarantino for “Django Unchained.”  That’s an impressive group that contains two winners and two nominees.

Some people seem to think “Les Misérables” is weak because the critics have defined people’s perceptions of the movie’s standing in the race.  This is “The King’s Speech” on steroids.  That movie beat the critical favorite, “The Social Network,” with no trouble at all.  And it didn’t need the critics groups at all; it only took one Best Picture prize.  Colin Firth was keeping the movie in discussion and taking most of the accolades, just as Anne Hathaway is doing now.

Hooper beat out David Fincher, who almost undeniably did more impressive work in “The Social Network,” in a year that perhaps more than ever screamed for a Picture-Director split.  If he can win for “The King’s Speech,” I don’t see how he doesn’t get nominated for “Les Misérables.”

Life of PiWhile many would say Ang Lee was just below the “big three,” I would say Hooper is far more secure.  I think the movie will play well with Academy voters, and I still think it could win Best Picture.  It will likely win three, if not four Golden Globes.  It could also win the ensemble award at SAG.  And if “Les Misérables” made them feel anywhere near as much as “The King’s Speech,” they know who pulled the strings of their tear ducts.  A nomination feels pretty secure to me.

“Life of Pi” support is fading.  Though I still think it will power through and get a Best Picture nomination, Fox seems to have dropped the ball on keeping the momentum going.  Lee did get nominations from HFPA and BFCA, albeit in a field of six for the latter.  And the DGA nod certainly helps.

But for all this talk of Lee getting a nomination for “Life of Pi” simply because it is incredibly ambitious or challenging do little to persuade me.  I know this is a totally different case, but that didn’t help Christopher Nolan for “Inception” in a tight year (the directing branch of the Academy loathes Nolan but likes Lee for some bizarre reason).  While he’s now in my good graces because of “Les Misérables,” artistic merit often takes a backseat to feel-good stories as shown by Hooper’s triumph in 2010 over Fincher and Aronofsky.

I can’t help but wonder if Lee will get the cold shoulder like David Fincher did last year for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  That film was getting love from the guilds left and right but was largely shunned by the Academy, including high-profile snubs in Best Picture, Director, and Adapted Screenplay.  Is “Life of Pi” that technical marvel that guilds will admire but Academy members won’t quite appreciate as much?

LincolnHowever, the Academy directing branch, comprised of only about 300-400 members, is notoriously snooty, arty, high-minded, or whatever adjective you want to use.  So maybe that will benefit Ang Lee.  But often times, it’s a boon to someone they respect but has received little recognition leading up to the nominations   With their out of the blue selections, they often provide some of the biggest surprises on nomination morning.

The ultimate case was in 2001 when they nominated David Lynch for “Mulholland Drive,” a movie that received no other nominations.  But more recent and reasonable examples are Terrence Malick for “The Tree of Life,” Paul Greengrass for “United 93,” and Mike Leigh for “Vera Drake.”  I think the most likely person to snab this kind of nomination would be Paul Thomas Anderson for “The Master.”  As much as I’d love to see that happen, I doubt it will.

They also like to nominate directors with vision working in foreign languages.  In the past decade, we’ve seen Best Director nominees Julian Schnabel for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” Fernando Meirelles for “City of God,” and Pedro Almodóvar for “Talk to Her.”  For that reason, we can’t count out Michael Haneke popping up for “Amour.”  It’s certainly had the critical plaudits to be a non-shocking surprise.

David O

Maybe they really respect and admire the vision of Tarantino in “Django Unchained.”  They’ve been fans twice before, providing him nominations for 1994’s “Pulp Fiction” and 2009’s “Inglourious Basterds.”  Both of those, however, were preceded by DGA nominations.  The Weinstein Company has been floating the excuse that his passing over is due to DVD screeners not going out to DGA members.

But I think it’s telling that the Academy will stay away.  His only major nomination so far has been from the Golden Globes, and it’s clear they were high on “Django Unchained.”  I think it has proven to be much more of an audience success than a critical or guild one, though it has supporters amongst those groups.  The “Inglourious Basterds” nod was looking good from the beginning; this time around has not been so fortuitous for Tarantino.

I don’t feel that PTA or Haneke are nearly as revered as Malick and thus have the power to displace a sure-fire Best Picture nominee.  With all my reservations about Tarantino and Lee, I’m left to predict David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook.”  Though overlooked by the DGA and the HFPA, he was a Critics Choice nominee and (perhaps more importantly) a nominee for Best Director for “The Fighter” in 2010.

Academy voters are creatures of habit.  If something works for them once, it often works again.  Why do you think so-called “Oscar bait” was born?  Once the studios figured out their tastes, they play right into their wheelhouse time after time.  “Silver Linings Playbook” is very similar to “The Fighter” in terms of tone and emotional payoff.  The only real difference this year is that he has directed a comedy as opposed to a drama.  (Although there is little funnier than Charlene beating up Micky’s white-trash sisters.)

So it looks like I’ll be predicting a more conservative, sure-fire Best Picture nominees slate here.  I know it’s at odds with the whole notion that the season is one of the most unpredictable ever.  But I’ve watched for the signs (to quote “Silver Linings Playbook”) and don’t get the sense that anything radically wacky is going to happen in Best Director.





Oscar Moment: Final 2012 Predictions, Part 1 (Screenplay)

5 01 2013

Well, folks, it’s over.  Kind of.

Time is up for movies to impress the Academy voters before the nominees are announced.  The race is frozen now before nominations are announced early Thursday morning, January 10.  So with nothing left to influence the nominations, I’ll be offering my final take on the race before we find out who gets to compete for the golden man, the Oscar.

Today, I’ll be discussing the writing categories, Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Zero Dark Thirty
  2. Django Unchained
  3. The Master
  4. Moonrise Kingdom
  5. Amour

ZDTI think this is probably the biggest no-brainer race of them all for 2012.  It’s an extremely thin field, filled with several past nominees and winners.  “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Django Unchained” will vie for the win; I think it’s Mark Boal’s to lose, but Tarantino could take it if they feel Boal’s win for “The Hurt Locker” in 2009 was too short a gap.  Going through the two categories is tough to find gaps between wins, but I think Boal’s back-to-back wins would be unprecedented.

Even if “The Master” doesn’t score a Best Picture nomination, it is a sure bet to get a writing nod.  The writers’ branch has always loved Paul Thomas Anderson, nominating him for “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” and “There Will Be Blood.”  I think the Academy respects him more as a writer than a director, and I’d hedge my bet that his first Oscar comes from the screenplay categories.

Though “The Master” is not unilaterally acclaimed, I think the fact that they nominated the challenging and polarizing “Magnolia” means they’ll nominate just about anything he writes.  (Except “Punch-Drunk Love,” but that was just a terrible movie.)

Wes Anderson was recognized here for his work on “The Royal Tenenbaums” back in 2001, and his “Moonrise Kingdom” is playing a lot better on the precursor circuit than that one.  Though it may miss out on a Best Picture nomination, it will at least have this prize to compete for.  I doubt it has a shot to win, but it’s another feather in Anderson’s cap for an eventual win down the road.

AmourAs for that final slot, people (including myself) seem to have finally caught onto the fact that the writers’ branch sees foreign films and isn’t afraid to nominate them.  Despite everyone declaring “A Separation” the winner for Best Foreign Film all year, very few seemed to see the Best Original Screenplay nomination coming.

“Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Barbarian Invasions” had turned their goodwill from Best Foreign Film into writing nods.  Not to mention “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and “City of God,” directorial triumphs recognized by the directors’ branch, were also recognized for their screenplays.  Oh, I almost forgot to mention “Amelie,” “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” and “Dirty Pretty Things.”

Looper

And I nearly omitted Pedro Almodóvar’s “Talk to Her,” which WON in 2002.  (Perhaps it’s the subtitles that remind them that they are reading a movie?)

The writers think global.  Thus, no one wants to get caught off guard, and the smart money is on Michael Haneke’s “Amour.”  While I think it’s much more of a director’s movie, I think it glides in simply on the weakness of the pool of eligible nominees.

Perhaps they will pull a “Margin Call” surprise and go with Nicholas Jarecki’s “Arbitrage,” a kindred spirit in its vilification of Wall Street big wigs.  Or maybe they take original to heart and nominate Rian Johnson’s superb “Looper,” a critical favorite that has popped up sporadically throughout the precursor circuit.  Heck, maybe John Gatins’ script for “Flight” shows up like it did on the WGA list.

But I’ll stick with “Amour,” in spite of my reservations.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. Lincoln
  2. Argo
  3. Silver Linings Playbook
  4. Les Misérables
  5. Beasts of the Southern Wild

Argo Screenplay“Lincoln,” “Argo,” and “Silver Linings Playbook” are locks.  Inarguable.  If they don’t get nominated … well, I won’t finish that sentence since it’s a waste of time.  IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.

The last two slots are a mystery to me.  I think it’s ultimately a decision of whether the writers go along with groupthink or go out on a limb for a script that they love.  Will they make sure the heavy-hitter Best Picture contenders have a writing nomination to add to their tally?  Or will they provide a lone nomination (or a high-profile one) for a movie not nearly as beloved?

Just as a reminder of how hard it is to predict, let’s look back at the past three years of the category since those reflect Best Picture moving to beyond 5 nominees.

Last year, it looked like “The Help” would ride the coattails of its Best Picture nomination to a screenplay nod.  And “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” which most thought would be a Best Picture nominee, looked good too.  The writers snubbed both of these, opting for the well-wrought “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and a lone nod for George Clooney’s “The Ides of March.”  (“War Horse” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” were two other Best Picture nominees that were not recognized.)

LincolnIn 2010, the category was 5-for-5 with Best Picture nominees “Winter’s Bone,” “True Grit,” “Toy Story 3,” and “127 Hours” all scoring here.  The eventual winner was – obviously – Aaron Sorkin’s visionary script for “The Social Network.”

2009 saw a surprising triumph for Best Picture nominee “Precious” over fellow nominees “Up in the Air,” “District 9,” and “An Education.”  Only one other adaptation was in the Best Picture field, but it was “The Blind Side” – a nominee few saw coming.  So unsurprisingly, an outside nominee charged the field – “In the Loop,” a British political comedy that came in from out of the blue.

So since there’s no clear precedent, what to do?  Predict that the writers just go with the flow and nominated “Life of Pi” and “Les Misérables?”  Or attempt to forecast a big passion play?

I think William Nicholson’s script for “Les Misérables” is a more likely nominee, despite many naysayers who think it won’t be appreciated because it was a musical.  “Chicago,” the last stage-to-screen musical, was nominated here; you have to go so far back to see a movie musical in the Best Picture field that it isn’t worth looking for a pattern.  We really have no idea whether it’s a contender, though, since it was ineligible at the WGA Awards.  But it did miss out on a Golden Globe nomination, and that was a nod “Chicago” did pick up in 2002.

Les Mis FYC 2-page

Basically, in my prediction of “Les Misérables” for Best Adapted Screenplay, I’m counting on the movie playing really well with the Academy (which it apparently has, in spite of the critics’ attempts to destroy it).  There’s nothing but a gut feeling telling me to predict it, and a slight inkling that they love the movie enough to nominate it a lot.

There’s much more of a reason for me to predict “Life of Pi,” which has the WGA nomination to its credit.  But a lot of people have criticized David Magee’s script for being the major flaw of the movie, and that gives me hesitancy.  Could it be that it only scored a nomination because of all the ineligible movies?

Life of Pi

I had similar hang-ups about “Hugo” last year, a movie that was visually impressive but took a lot of flak for its weak writing.  Yet John Logan’s script for that was nominated for a WGA Award … and then received an Oscar nomination.  Does “Life of Pi” have the strength of “Hugo,” though, which went on to win 5 Oscars in 2011?  I don’t think it does, and Fox seems to have little confidence in it.

But if it’s not “Life of Pi,” what will it be?  Does any film have the passion necessary to score an outside nod?

There’s an outside chance “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” gets a Best Picture nomination, but I doubt it would get nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for the same reasons “The Blind Side” missed out here.  Its success is in its feel-good nature, not because of good writing.

Though I’d say it’s written like a sitcom, there are fans of Ben Lewin’s script for “The Sessions.”  But the only heat that movie has lies with the performances of John Hawkes and Helen Hunt; love of the movie doesn’t go much beyond that.  And if it was a serious contender, why wasn’t it nominated for a WGA Award in spite of all the ineligible movies?

Perks

Heck, maybe even John Logan’s script for “Skyfall” will show up.  Some have suggested it will show up in the Best Picture field after a slightly surprising nomination for the Producers Guild’s prize.  I’d say the script, though flawed, is the smartest part of that movie – but I just don’t see it happening.  Other than “Toy Story 3,” I can’t find any franchise entry nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.

A more likely nominee is “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” which has been nominated for the WGA Award and the Critics’ Choice Award.  It’s adapted by the writer of the novel, Stephen Chbosky, who also directed the film.  I could definitely see it being 2012’s “The Ides of March” since it’s unlikely to be recognized anywhere else, and the writing is a major strong suit of the film.

But I just have a hard time predicting the movie since it flew under the radar all season.  It didn’t do particularly well at the box office, and it doesn’t have much big name talent beyond Emma Watson.  “The Ides of March” had 4 Golden Globe nods and a PGA mention.  Likewise, “In the Loop” had popped up in a number of critics’ groups awards.  I’d be surprised if the Academy stood up for “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”

Beasts 2

If any movie unseats “Les Misérables” or “Life of Pi,” I think it would be “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”  It has been uniquely hard to gauge love for the film because it was ineligible not only for the WGA Awards but also for the SAG Awards.  I considered it dead when it blanked at the Golden Globes, but I’m beginning to rethink my assessment after it shockingly popped up as a nominee for Best Picture for the PGA.

Had it been eligible for the guild awards, would we have seen a groundswell of support for the movie?  And lest we forget, the HFPA blanked “True Grit” in 2010 – and that went on to received 10 Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.  Some say the HFPA doesn’t like quintessential American stories, and you could make an argument that “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is just that.

I think the movie’s biggest strength is its direction, not its writing.  However, I have similar things to say about “Amour,” and it appears to be cruising towards a nomination.  The writers may really admire this unconventional movie, adapted from a play and transmuted into something wholeheartedly cinematic.

Thus, the degree of difficulty gives me the confidence to say Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar’s script for “Beasts of the Southern Wild” will knock “Life of Pi” (although it could just as easily be “Les Misérables”) out of the category.  So, to answer my own questions from the beginning of the discussion, I believe the Academy will be part groupthink, part cavalier.

Check back tomorrow, January 6, for my take on the Supporting Actor/Actress categories!





Oscar Moment: Final 2012 Pre-Season Predictions, Part 1

27 11 2012

Best Picture

  1. Les Miserables
  2. Lincoln
  3. Argo
  4. Silver Linings Playbook
  5. Zero Dark Thirty
  6. The Master
  7. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  8. Life of Pi
  9. Moonrise Kingdom
  10. Amour

To quote “Les Miserables” itself, the time is now, the day is here.  Tom Hooper’s film has finally been revealed to critics and awards voters – and all reports indicate they are eating it up.  Shrewdly opening on Christmas Day, it will be an audience favorite undoubtedly as it opens wallets and tear ducts across the nation (and world).

It has its own merits, but this is the kind of movie that the Oscars eat up and nominate for EVERYTHING.  If we must call it so, let’s call it what it is: Oscar bait.  The nomination count should easily extend into double digits; the question before us now appears just how many nods it will rack up.

Tying the record of 14 is feasible, and even scoring 15 or 16 doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable at the moment.  With the exception of Best Original Score, pretty much every technical category is in play for “Les Miserables.”  And with weak years in the Supporting fields, it could easily score multiple nods in one or both.

But take a look at the record.  Both movies with 14 nominations won Best Picture.  5 out of the 9 films nominated for 13 Oscars won Best Picture, and 9 of the 15 films nominated for 12 Oscars won Best Picture.  I don’t think there’s any denying it though – “Les Miserables” will be the most nominated film of 2012.  And that will make it very tough to beat.

Of the other likely nominees, only “Lincoln” really stands a chance of getting 10 or more (perhaps “The Master” if it comes back roaring).  Everything seems to be going right for it at the moment.  The box office is great, the reviews are great, the press is great, and the timing could not be more perfect.  Spielberg struck a gold mine here.

This isn’t “Munich” and it isn’t “War Horse” where the Academy just defaulted to rewarding a Spielberg film with a Best Picture nomination out of an almost Pavlovian habit.  It’s got the support and the public conversation going for it in way not unlike “Schindler’s List” or “Saving Private Ryan.”  We can talk all we want about how timely “Argo” was, but it did not nearly enter the drinking water in a way that this film is.

More importantly, it is currently setting up an important dialectic should it be the main opponent for “Les Miserables:” the head and the heart.  “Les Miserables” is a movie of passion, one that makes you feel and weep.  Though I’d argue that it’s also quite brainy, “Lincoln” is the smarter movie in the more traditional, Oscar sense.  It boasts a thoughtful, well-wrought script by Tony Kushner and a rather controlled direction by Spielberg.

When this battle waged in 2010, Tom Hooper and “The King’s Speech” emerged victorious over David Fincher and “The Social Network.”  Since that was only two years ago, voters surely remember.  Will they fall face-first into another weepy, sentimental film from the same guy – or think twice and reward a living master.  These are the questions that keep me tossing and turning at night!

The past weekend also brought us “Zero Dark Thirty,” whose ambition and scope seem to make it a likely nominee at this point given the weak year and its impressive pedigree.  Reteaming director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, both winners for “The Hurt Locker,” seems to be a recipe for success and recognition.  But its length and apparently rigid procedural aspects should hold the passionate voters at bay and make a Best Picture nomination the win for the film.

We’re arriving at a point where the race is becoming more or less set in terms of nominees.  We know “Argo” and “Silver Linings Playbook” are almost assuredly going to make the cut.  However, unless they regain some steam from the precursor season, they probably won’t pose much of a serious threat for the win.

A lot of pundits have clumped “Life of Pi” with the two aforementioned movies.  While I don’t doubt the preponderance of critical and industry support for Ang Lee’s ambitious 3D film, the film seems to lack true and vocal champions.  Maybe the box office will continue to improve and the audience will override the lack of passion I’m sensing from the people who really matter in the Oscar season.  I’m placing it at the bottom of my list of predicted nominees for now, holding out for some reinforcement from the establishment.

And while a lot of people give the Academy flak for being too commercial and predictable, there are still plenty among their ranks who want film to be artistic and innovative.  These people got “The Tree of Life” a Best Picture nomination in 2011, and I suspect they’ll turn out in force for “The Master” this year.

Unless it just gets absolutely shafted the entire season, I’ll continue to predict Paul Thomas Anderson’s ambitious film until the nominations are revealed.  (They could go for “Amour,” as many are predicting, but I don’t buy it.  Too austere and too foreign.)

That gritty, spunky Sundance/festivals quotient (“Winter’s Bone,” “Precious“) is due to be filled again after taking a one-year hiatus.  I think the critics will bring “Beasts of the Southern Wild” back into consciousness and contention in a big way, doing their bit of good in 2012.  It has to cope with ineligibility for guild awards, but Benh Zeitlin’s film has the power to get in – it just has to be remembered.  (“Moonrise Kingdom” could also score a nomination, perhaps at the expense of “Beasts,” if it regains some heat in the early days of the season.)

For all those wondering where “Django Unchained” falls on my list, I refer you to this tweet by Kris Tapley: “Two weeks ago Django was three hours and 12 minutes long. They’ve experimented with it since, re-ordering scenes, etc. Down to the wire.” Yeah, it’s bound to disappoint.

Best Director

  1. Tom Hooper, “Les Miserables”
  2. Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln”
  3. Ben Affleck, “Argo”
  4. David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”
  5. Paul Thomas Anderson, “The Master”

Picture and Director nearly always go together, so it seems illogical for me to predict anyone other than Tom Hooper out front.  If Spielberg, Affleck, or (fingers crossed) Anderson start generating serious heat, I’ll reconsider.  But I’ve learned better than to opt for a split.

But I’ve learned better than to opt for a split. The Academy also doesn’t seem bothered by picking novices over experienced directors well-regarded throughout the industry.  They like what they like, and whoever delivers them the best movie is going to win Best Director.  Truffaut would be smiling if he were still with us because his auteur theory is etched in stone in AMPAS mentality.

2012 is going to be a year where voters are asked to deliberate if someone deserves to go down in history with a third victory.  We know they love Spielberg since he already has two trophies, and 5% of the Academy thought “War Horse” was the best movie of 2011 since it was nominated for Best Picture.

But does he deserve to join the ranks of William Wyler and Frank Capra as the third director to win three Oscars? His films are totally in their wheelhouse, so it could happen.  His next movie is “Robopocalypse,” so Academy voters may feel they are running out of chances to crown him King of Hollywood once again.  The “Lincoln” PR has been absurd in feting Spielberg, from the cover of Time to an address at Gettysburg.  He’s definitely formidable to win again.

I still wouldn’t count out Ben Affleck to win, especially if “Argo” holds on and starts winning big.  But if it’s “Les Miserables” and not Hooper, I think the Academy votes Spielberg over Affleck.

I doubted David O. Russell’s ability to muscle into the Best Director category in 2010.  Won’t be making that mistake in 2012.  Clearly his abrasiveness has not phased Oscar voters, and if “Silver Linings Playbook” is a big hit with them, he’s a shoo-in nominee.  Think “Juno” scoring a nod for Jason Reitman.

And I hold that the contingent that got Terrence Malick a nomination last year will give Paul Thomas Anderson a second Best Director nomination.  Because believe it or not, there are some people in the Academy who care about supporting the advancement of film.  It’s not as sizable as the contingent that cried at “The King’s Speech,” but it’s big enough to make this happen.