I’ll watch the Oscars with mild interest this year. The Academy has actually nominated several good films (I still can’t decide if I prefer Lincoln or Les Mis), but the triumph of 2012 lay not in its more dramatic films but in what was unquestionably the greatest superhero summer of all time.
Poets should even now be writing verses in praise of The Avengers. It’s tough to remember a more surprisingly enjoyable night at the movies. It could have been a train wreck — with so many stars and storied characters jockeying for screen time — but instead it was a triumph. Funny, action-packed, well-acted, and even occasionally poignant, The Avengers was everything a superhero movie should be.
Next came the reboot of Spider-Man, a movie I saw out of a sense of duty (I must see all superhero movies), convinced that it was “too soon” for the failing franchise.
I was wrong.
The new AmazingSpider-Man — so dark as to be almost Batman-lite — was miles ahead of all three Tobey Maguire versions. At least this Spider-Man acted as if he knew what to do with his powers.
But those films were just appetizers before the main course: Batman versus Occupy (excuse me, The Dark Knight Rises). This wasn’t a superhero movie; it was a superhero film. An epic conclusion to the trilogy, it had everything — a timely story, memorable performances, and genuine emotion — and it only gets better in the re-watching (twice so far).
Avengers, Spider-Man, and Batman: Will we ever see the like? All in one summer?
So on Sunday, toast the Oscar winner (Go, Lincoln! No, wait. Go, Les Mis!), but remember that the true movie heroes of 2012 all wore spandex.
— David French is senior counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice.
This year’s Best Picture race is the most overtly politicized in years, in a number of ways. With four films in real contention — Argo, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook,and Life of Pi — it’s also the most competitive.
Zero Dark Thirty, a better film than Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar winner The Hurt Locker, has been sidelined by overtly political criticism over the very thing that makes it the most provocative of the nominees: its appropriately messy, ambiguous contribution to the national discussion about torture.
Argo — my favorite of the nominated films, and for some time the front-runner after winning a string of earlier awards — has come under increasing fire over its fictionalized Hollywood conflict and heroics (a “patriotic fantasy,” Andrew O’Hehir sniffed in Salon, notwithstanding a “faint left-of-center gloss”).
Perhaps most strikingly, Lincoln, which has largely gotten a pass on its historical selectivity and hagiographical portrait of its title character, has incurred controversy after Democratic congressman Joe Courtney of Connecticut blasted the film’s inaccurate depiction of two Connecticut congressmen’s voting against the 13th Amendment.
Meanwhile, Silver Linings Playbook — the only film to garner nominations in all six major award categories — has been quietly cruising along under the expert campaigning of Harvey Weinstein, whose record of guiding well-made crowd-pleasers to Oscar glory is unparalleled in Hollywood.
Alas, the best film in U.S. theaters in 2012, which would have been eligible for various awards last year, was ignored by the Academy: The Kid with a Bike, the latest morally serious realist masterpiece from the Belgian Dardenne brothers. (It won the Grand Prix at Cannes.)
And while I’m gratified, as a fan of all types of animation, that the animated-feature nominees include three works of handcrafted stop-motion animation, the best animated film Americans saw in 2012, Studio Ghibli’s wondrous The Secret World of Arrietty, was ignored.
— Steven Greydanus is film critic for the National Catholic Register and creator of Decent Films.
It would be a fine and appropriate irony if the Academy denies the Oscar to Zero Dark Thirty because it tells the truth about the efficacy of torture, and rewards Argo because it covers up the incompetence of the Carter administration! But frankly, I liked two other pictures better than either. Silver Linings Playbook masterfully turns mental illness and family dysfunction into romantic comedy — no small feat. And Life of Pi takes an enjoyable but spiritually twee novel and transforms it into an epic of unbelievable cinematic beauty about the mythologizing of human experience. Myself, I’d give the statue to Pi. But I seem to be in a minority of one.
JOHN J. MILLER
Hollywood and the rest of America should rally behind Zero Dark Thirty, primarily because it is an excellent and deserving movie, but also to resist the obnoxious and bipartisan efforts of Senators Feinstein, Levin, and McCain to bully moviemakers over the politically incorrect content of their films.
— John J. Miller is national correspondent for National Review, director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College, and author of The First Assassin.