Saturday, February 23, 2013

It’s Oscar Weekend: Time to Announce the Benedicts

I’ve seen most of the Oscar-nominated films, and we all know which ones are considered Oscarabile. Mostly, they’re “Lincoln,” “Lincoln,” and “Lincoln.” The crop of films is more religious than ever this year, and we’re a day away from honoring one of the least religious of the bunch.

It’s time for the Catholic Oscars. But let’s call them the Benedicts, just because we love the guy from Bavaria, and we’re going to miss him.

Best Picture
The Oscar will go to “Lincoln,” and it is excellent. I called it “a great film about our greatest president.” Ethical it is, but religious, no. Plus, Spielberg’s already got a closetful of statuettes.

The Benedict goes to . . .

“Les Miserables.” In a landslide. As I wrote, “Les Miz” presents Catholic characters from beginning to end without irony. 

If there were a Lucifer, it would go to “Django Unchained.” Unanimously.

Best Actor in a Leading Role
The Oscar will probably go to Daniel Day-Lewis for “Lincoln.” Not Joaquin Phoenix, who is cracked and brilliant in “The Master” but has won recently for “The Fighter.” Not Denzel Washington either, though his portrayal of an alcoholic in denial is spot-on. Hugh Jackman won’t win. Except for Anne Hathaway (pictured), who is too great to deny as Fantine, I sense a looming “Les Miz” shutout. (See Best Director below)

The Benedict goes to Bradley Cooper for “Silver Linings Playbook.” It is a film, as I wrote, about “two damaged people whose hearts are still beating. They are awkward, they insult each other, each slips up a hundred times while trying desperately to connect with the other, but they never ever stop trying. The silver lining here is the unquenchable human desire to connect with something greater than ourselves—no matter how far down we have fallen, or how far up the sky.”

“Silver Linings Playbook” is about redemption, and the central character saved is Bradley Cooper’s. Jennifer Lawrence is wonderful; but it’s his movie.

Best Actress in a Leading Role
This is one category in which the Oscar and the Benedict will go to the same artist: Jessica Chastain. “Zero Dark Thirty” is arguably the most important film of 2012 from a public-affairs perspective, and Chastain is its heart, soul, body, and divinity.  

See what I wrote about her performance here. She had me thinking of Joan of Arc and Teresa of Jesus, and without irony: “a female hero for our times . . . one tough broad, . . . one perfect virgin.”

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
I suspect that the always great Tommy Lee Jones will win for “Lincoln,” although Alan Arkin may for his terrifically funny performance in “Argo.” Philip Seymour Hoffman is his dependably excellent A-list self in “The Master,” but in the end he’s underwhelming, and Christoph Walz has as much chance of winning for “Django” as Mickey Mouse. He plays “this weird German bounty hunter with a bogus accent posing as a dentist with a wagon and a giant tooth mounted on a spring on top,” as I wrote. Not even funny.

The Benedict goes to Robert DeNiro. For about thirty seconds in “Silver Linings Playbook” his schtick as a Philadelphia sports-book maniac falls away as he sits at Bradley Cooper’s bedside and all the meaning of fatherhood at its best pours out of him.

This performance took my breath away.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Here again the Benedict voters agree with the Academy: Anne Hathaway, “Les Miserables.” She has her director, Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”) to thank. It was Hooper’s insistence that his actors sing their parts live, not lip-sync them, that led to Hathaway’s “I Dreamed a Dream”—shot all in one take/

If anyone else wins the Oscar, I’m throwing my Benedict prototype at the screen.

Best Director 
The definition of travesty: Tom Hooper was not even nominated for “Les Miz.” C’est le show biz. He wins the Benedict. Spielberg probably gets the Oscar.

If any other director deserves consideration—and for a film I haven’t mentioned yet—it’s Ang Lee for “Life of Pi.” It’s Catholic. It’s also Buddhist and Muslim. And a work of art about the life of the spirit and the miracle that is memory.

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