By Joan Ellis
Oscar night is great fun without a dominating blockbuster. Given a wide spread of good movies and strong performances in 2012, I’ll have some fun writing about my favorites among the nominees.
Best Supporting Actress: Helen Hunt is supremely graceful in The Sessions, a film that would have failed completely with a lesser actress. Will win: Helen Hunt.
Best Supporting Actor: In a movie packed with unwatchable brutality (Django Unchained), Christoph Waltz creates an original, principled con man who makes us smile broadly in appreciation. Robert De Niro plays the patriarch of a dysfunctional family with a lovely mix of bombast and heart. Will win: Robert De Niro.
Best Actress: Naomi Watts is superb as the brave and terrified mother in The Impossible, based on the tsunami that killed 3,000 people. The slightest bit of melodramatic acting in the face of that wave would have sunk the movie. Instead, Watts sets a gentle tone for a fine cast and the movie sings. Quvenzhane Wallis lied about her age for the audition for Beasts of the Southern Wild. (She was 5 when you had to be 6.) Her extraordinary performance is Oscar worthy without any question or qualification whatsoever. Jennifer Lawrence creates a marvelous character who demands authenticity from others and draws from that same quality in herself for the role in Silver Linings Playbook. Will win: Jennifer Lawrence.
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis simply becomes the actual Abraham Lincoln we have had to imagine until now. He gives us the heroic whole of Lincoln in a beautiful portrait that will endure. Will win: Daniel Day-Lewis.
Best Director: Steven Spielberg (Lincoln), David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook), Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild). Will win: David O. Russell.
Best Picture: Silver Linings Playbook is a chaotic portrait of people who love each other through the fog of their own afflictions. Four Oscar-nominated performers create a family whose dysfunction is spread evenly throughout the family, and we end up loving every one of them.
Lincoln is a tumultuous slice of American history delivered with panache. The president cajoled, persuaded, threatened and bribed contemporary politicians to ensure passage of the 13th Amendment. This is Steven Spielberg’s gift to a Lincoln-loving America.
Beasts of the Southern Wild drops us into the poverty of a forgotten island culture south of New Orleans. We watch a stern father, who is approaching death, try to teach his daughter survival skills for life. Quvenzhane Wallis is astonishing as she generates strength from the despair that surrounds her.
Argo is white-knuckled anxiety from first frame to last. Based on the Iranian hostage crisis, this is a history lesson wrapped in terror. Because the academy ignored Affleck in the Best Director category, the voters who delighted in his terrific movie, may well get even by naming it Best Picture. Will win: Argo.
I will tamp my regret at the omission of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen along with my resentment at the nearly invisible distribution of The Impossible.
Joan Ellis’ address on the Internet, which contains her review library, is JoanEllis.com.