So Daniel Day-Lewis achieves his moment of Academy Award history — the gold-standard of his mystique and reputation intensified with the reports that he will now take a further five years off before accepting another movie role. Three best actor Oscars puts him in a one-man premier league of his own. His Lincoln was and is a mighty achievement, inhabited with superb technique.
It is just impossible to imagine anyone else taking the role on, and giving the blazingly powerful and eerily exact impersonation that had the effect of making the purely procedural aspects of this film so gripping.
Lincoln was so good that I am scratching my head a little at the Academy’s decision to give the best picture and best director prizes to other films. Ben Affleck’s Argo — the best film winner — is an interesting, well-made film with an entertaining, but little-noticed debt to the Mel Brooks comedy The Producers.
Argo is an intriguing, off-the-wall piece of work whose bizarreness is finally cancelled with a very solemn patriotic sequence at the very end. It clearly captured the Academy’s imagination, perhaps because it shows the movie business saving the day, but the reverence in which it is held is a bit baffling to me. But everyone loves a comeback story, and Ben Affleck’s comeback is sensational — this too, might have fed into Argo’s success.
Ang Lee’s best director prize for Life of Pi is a measure of the respect in which this formidable filmmaker is held. This vivid story of a boy shipwrecked with a tiger was certainly crafted with confidence and flair, though for me its other Oscars for cinematography and visual design are more to the point. Recently, the American essayist Daniel Mendelsohn commented that Life of Pi had a brilliant aesthetic and the soul of a Hallmark card, which I think is spot-on.
Giving the best actress Oscar to Jennifer Lawrence from Silver Linings Playbook — as opposed to Emmanuel Riva, the 85-year-old star of Michael Haneke’s Amour, perhaps marks the limit of that film’s international success. It has seemed, recently, as if there was nothing that Amour could not win. But evidently it is a case of: thus far, and no further.
An Oscar for Riva would have been a wonderful news story. But it was not to be. At any rate, Amour won the best foreign film prize, which is the least it deserves.
Lawrence herself is a stunningly mature performer, who in this film held her own in a roomful of scene-stealingly good actors, and in her early 20s she seems to have the experience and camera-awareness of someone 10 years older. Lawrence gave the Academy what it yearns for: a big romantic performance with the killer combination of strength and vulnerability.
I personally wanted Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained to win best picture — a bit of a lost cause, but this brilliant film did get the best supporting actor prize for Christoph Waltz and best original screenplay for Tarantino himself, who in accepting the Oscar clearly saw no necessity for false modesty.
This was a great performance from Waltz, better than his SS colonel in Inglourious Basterds, and his bromantic rapport with Jamie Foxx was a complete joy. Discovering Waltz, and giving him this juicy role, is one of Tarantino’s great achievements as a director.
So: an interesting Oscar haul, no landslide for any one film, but highly justified and gratifying recognition for Spielberg’s Lincoln and Tarantino’s Django Unchained.