Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Best Picture Winners: 2008-2012

Winner: Slumdog Millionaire
Director: Danny Boyle
Distributed by: Warner Bros.

Slumdog Millionaire tells the story of Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), a poor young man from the slums of Mumbai. The story starts with him being a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and after getting almost every question right, the police yank him from the show and want to know how a boy from the slums can know all the answers. To convince the men that he wasn't cheating, he tells his life story and how it supplied him with the answers to each of the questions. There's a lost love story in there somewhere. All you need to know is that this was the feelgood movie of the year. It wasn't a light movie, however, as some feelgood movies are. It's directed by Danny Boyle, who directed Trainspotting and 28 Days Later, so you really shouldn't walk into this thinking it's going to be sunshine and roses. No, there's death, gangsters, mutilation, and kidnapping. The love story and unconventional plot make it rewarding, however. The film became a sleeper hit, and just like that- the front-runner for the Best Picture Oscar. The other nominees included: Milk, Frost/Nixon, The Reader, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. There was an uproar this year, as everyone was extremely curious as to why neither The Dark Knight, nor WALL-E was nominated for Best Picture. This outrage and low viewership in the last couple years led the Academy to change the number of nominees to ten the next year. I can see why people were a bit upset, The Dark Knight probably was the best film released that year, but I don't think the Academy could have given the Oscar to a "super-hero" movie. Case in point: They didn't even nominate The Dark Knight Rises with the extra nominee spaces. To be fair, though, it wasn't nearly as good. The Academy was clearly in the mood for something different, and for something inspired, as they decided on Slumdog Millionaire than the other nominees, which may have seemed a little too old hat. I did enjoy Benjamin Button, though. It's still an unusual choice, given the Academy's hesitation to reward foreign films. They usually just let the Best Foreign Film category give them an honor and call it a day. This, I'm afraid, is what is going to happen to Amour in this year's (2012) Oscars. It goes to show that if you have a great story, it doesn't matter where your movie was made. It also helps if you have a renowned, visionary British director. Slumdog Millionaire isn't without its controversies, however. There were rumblings about the movie's producers were allegedly exploiting the young child actors,  paying them under one thousand pounds. The actors playing young Salim and young Latika were plucked from illegal slums in Mumbai, and went right back to them after they were done. This was in comparison to the child actors for The Kite Runner, who were paid upwards of nine thousand pounds. It was reported later that Boyle himself provided homes for the actors after their slums were destroyed. The reports couldn't stop the film from winning, however. Along with Best Picture, the film won Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Score, Best Song, and Best Cinematography among others.

Winner: The Hurt Locker
Director: Katheryn Bigelow
Distributed by: Universal Studios

The Hurt Locker is about three soldiers (Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty serving in the Iraq War, all working in Explosive Ordinance Disposal. There's not a real overarching plot to the movie, just glimpses into the three men's lives as they go through the war. I guess it's sort of like The Deer Hunter in the way that each man chooses different lives for himself-whether it be going home to start a family or staying in the service to do what they love. In the same vein, the movie also lacks a real antagonist. The tension revolves around the character's internal conflicts and brief battles against snipers. It's a fine war movie, though of course you always have to question whether what you are seeing is an accurate representation of war. The film drew ire from current and past service members who complained that there was just too many things wrong with the film-so many that it couldn't really be enjoyed by servicemen/women. The uniforms were wrong, the men lacked discipline. they lacked communication gear, and the whole "let's split up" scenario near the end was something nobody would do in a real-world war scenario. I understand their gripes with the movie, but the thing is: it's a movie. While it is trying to tell a story about real-life, the freeing thing about movies is that they aren't real life. Creative license has to be taken into consideration. Film-makers have to make a movie, and to do so, they have to inject the movie with a few falsehoods. There are tons of TV and movie cliches that are completely false, but are used to create drama or suspense. OK, I'll stop talking about creative licenses in movies. While some may not have appreciated the movie for it's inaccuracies  the movie still proved to be a critical darling. What it wasn't, was a hit. The film was actually released in 2008, though it was in Italy, so when it came out in 2009 in the U.S., it was eligible to be nominated. When it was finally released in the U.S., it only brought in a little over $17 million domestically. While it brought in an additional $32 million coming from overseas, that still makes it the lowest grossing Best Picture winner of all time. The funny thing is that it still did better than all the other movies about the Middle-East conflict. I just think it's hard for people to swallow war movies when said war is still going on. This didn't stop the Academy from awarding The Hurt Locker with the top prize. It won out over films like Avatar, Inglorious Basterds, Up, and Up in the Air. There's a few more, seeing as they changed it to ten films, but they don't matter in this race. The front runners were The Hurt Locker, Avatar, and Inglorious Basterds, though I think the Academy was hesitant to let James Cameron become "King of the World" again. Also, a revisionist tale about a group of Jewish soldiers killing Hitler? Totally awesome, but not really a Oscar winner. What The Hurt Locker showed us, more than anything, is that a movie that does very modestly can overtake a box-office mega-hit. It's comforting, really. It's not always the popular kids that win,  but sometimes it's their ex-wives.

Winner: The King's Speech
Director: Tom Hooper
Distributed by: The Weinstein Company

The King's Speech deals with Prince Albert (Colin Firth), Duke of York, the second son of King George V of England. You'd think that it would be fun to be Prince, but he's in a little bit of a pickle. In the mid-thirties, his father had died and his brother (Guy Pierce) has ascended to the throne. While his father was still alive, he told him that he must prepare himself to become the King instead, as the older brother will ruin them. Prince Albert has a stutter that keeps him from talking too much in public venues, but his father tells him he must get over this, as radio contact with the English subjects is absolutely necessary. Prince Albert's wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), convinces him to see an Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). The relationship between the Prince and Logue doesn't go so well at first, but they eventually become friends. It is when Prince Albert's brother abdicates the throne to marry a divorced woman, and the world teeters on the verge of another World War that Prince Albert needs Logue the most, as he will now be King George VI. It's a great film, and surprisingly funny. Rush and Firth are great together and it's great to see Helena Bonham Carter is something else than one of her husband's movies. The King's Speech main competition that year was True Grit, The Fighter, Inception, and probably the biggest of all: The Social Network. This was an interesting year because the two front-runners represented two sides of our culture. On one, you had the historical movie, the kind that usually win, and the safe bet, though a great film. On the other, you have an equally great film, but more relevant to the times, more edgy and less safe. Many blamed the old-fashioned Academy voters for letting another "Oscar-friendly" movie win. People lamented that a picture that was representative of our current lives didn't win; a film that spoke to current times, not the past. So, it's hard to say if this is truly an upset year or not. It's really hard for me personally to say which film is better, or more deserving of the Best Picture Oscar. Let's just say, that I was surprised when I heard it won, but not that surprised. The King's Speech is actually a movie we probably should have seen way earlier, but the writer, David Seidler, had to wait until Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mother died, which happened in 2002. Critics praised the film, especially the acting, and the movie did well at the box office. Actually, now that I think of it, it was probably the superb acting in the film that gave it the edge over The Social Network. The Academy voters, being made up of actors, among other movie making jobs, tend to side with productions with big performances. Not that Jesse Eisenburg wasn't good in The Social Network, it's just he's not as good as Firth or Rush. The King's Speech also won Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actor (Firth).

Winner: The Artist
Director: Michel Hazanvicius
Distributed by: The Weinstein Company

I feel it's more than fitting to end my coverage (for now) with a film that is like the first winner, Wings. The Artist was unusual because it was black and white and silent. This marks the first truly black and white film since The Apartment, the first silent film since Wings, and the first French movie to win Best Picture. Usually those three things wouldn't guarantee it an audience let alone an Oscar. I'm not making fun of France, I'm just saying that the Academy tends to be a little bit xenophobic when it comes to the top prize. While the premise may seem a little strange, or gimmicky, the film is anything but. The film stars Jean Dujardin as George Valentin, a popular silent film star who can't seem to accept that "talkies" are the future. He falls in love with the new "it" girl, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), a girl who goes from an extra in one of Valentin's silent films to a headliner in talkies a couple years later. Silence ensues. It's a great representation of the pains actors and actresses were going through during the transition from silent films to talkies. The film is so well made and charming, that you'll almost forget you're watching a contemporary film. The nominations changed yet again to having a limit of ten, but not necessarily getting to that number. Each film has to be nominated a certain amount of times to be considered for the list, thus why this year and the next have nine nominees. The Artist was up against the likes of: The Descendants, Moneyball, War Horse, Hugo, and The Help. I was honestly fine with either Hugo or The Artist winning. Both dealt with silent films and both were amazing. The biggest competition for The Artist, however, was probably The Descendants. Nothing could stop The Artist, though, not even George Clooney! The Artist was a gigantic hit with the critics and with audiences, raking in $133 million dollars. Not bad for a silent movie! If Hollywood loves anything, it's a homage. While it didn't win Best Director, it did win Best Actor for Dujardin, which was well deserved.

Winner: Argo
Director: Ben Affleck
Distributed by: Warner Bros.

No, you aren't reading this incorrectly, Ben Affleck did in fact get his second Oscar. Though I have not seen any of his three movies that he directed, I've heard they are actually really good. The proof appears here, as his latest outing, Argo, won Best Picture at this years Oscars. Argo tells the story of CIA operatives that attempt to rescue U.S. diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis. How do they do this? Well, they pretend to be a Canadian film crew filming a terrible B-movie named Argo. What could go wrong!? Like I said, I haven't seen the movie yet, so I can't give you a real spot on analysis of the movie, plus I'm assuming that most of you haven't seen it either. Argo had a tumultuous road to the winner's circle, as it wasn't really until late in the game that it became the front-runner. What changed? Ben Affleck being snubbed, that's what. Yes, Affleck was not nominated for Best Director, though his film was nominated for Best Picture. This is something that has only happened three other times in history, the last being 1989's Driving Miss Daisy. I think it was a bit easier when there were only five slots for Best Picture, in this respect, because it was almost a given that the director of each Best Picture nominee was going to be present in the Best Director category. Now, with up to ten nominees, you have a lot of pissed off directors. Affleck was visibly upset during the ceremony, and it was made all better by the Best Picture win. He even had a great acceptance speech, though it was a little bit rushed at the beginning. So, if you think about it, Argo probably wouldn't have won had Affleck been nominated. The Academy works that way sometimes. A lot of people felt bad that he was left out, so they decided to give him a better prize (he received an Oscar because he was a producer for the film). Argo's chances were further helped by the fact that it won top honors at all the other award ceremonies. Argo beat out: Silver Linings Playbook, Amour, Les Miserables, Django Unchained, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Life of Pi. The other films that had their time as front-runners were: Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Les Miserables. I could have seen the first two winning, because the Academy loves a movie about history, or one about mental illness. Lincoln had it's win with Daniel Day Lewis getting Best Actor, Django Unchained got Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor with Christoph Waltz, Amour won Best Foreign Film, Life of Pi won Best Cinematography and Best Director, Les Miserables won Best Supporting Actress with Anne Hathaway, and Silver Linings Playbook had Jennifer Lawrence win Best Actress. So, I feel almost all the films got a big consolation prize, except maybe Zero Dark Thirty, which tied for Best Sound Editing and Beasts of the Southern Wild which was the only Best Picture nominee this year not to win any awards. Argo won it out though, not only because of the Affleck snub, but because people genuinely liked it. Critics loved the film and it's up to over $206 million in world wide box office receipts. The film also took home an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing.

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