a theatre, film & pop culture review
Missing: Samuel L. Jackson (Django Unchained), Leonardo DiCaprio (Django Unchained)
This category — like almost every other category this year — is ridiculously unpredictable. And it’s also just plain ridiculous: why were all these previous Oscar winners nominated when there are the deserving and Oscar-less Sam Jackson and Leo DiCaprio hanging about? It’s certainly not because these five were the better performances, because we all know that’s not true.
Which is to say: what the heck is Alan Arkin doing here? As Lester Siegel, a Hollywood producer who sets up a fictional movie (i.e. Argo) to help the CIA, Arkin is perfectly fine, doing his typical gruff-guy thing, but his screen time is minimal (I know, I know: it doesn’t matter! But for some reason, it’s irksome in this case), and I truly do not understand how the Academy (or BAFTA, Golden Globes, SAG, or Critics’ Choice, for that matter) signaled out his performance. If him, why not John Goodman? (And if John Goodman, why not for Flight, where he was much more interesting? …sorry, tangent.) This is Arkin’s fourth nom, and he’s already won for Little Miss Sunshine, so let’s just leave it at that.
Then there’s Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a philosophical/religious cult, i.e. a not-so-thinly-veiled L. Ron Hubbard, aka The Master. Hoffman portrays a calculated showman, all flair and precision, and it’s a charismatic performance. He knows all the right notes to play — and he hits them all, hard — but as with most of his performances, we’re kept at arm’s length. There’s something inscrutable about him, and when he’s paired with the most nebulous of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, what we get is almost entirely impenetrable. He did win the Critics’ Choice award, but the film’s mixed reception — exemplified by the fact that his performances is the only one of the five not in a Best Picture contender — means this will not be the second win in his four nominations (back in 2006, he stole the Oscar from Heath Ledger for Capote).
Just as in Glorious Basterds for which he previously won (his only other nomination), Christoph Waltz is wunderbar in Tarantino’s Django Unchained. In the former, he was a charming, beastly SS officer, and in the latter, as ex-dentist Dr. King Schultz, he’s a charming, beastly bounty hunter with an honest disdain for slavery. Waltz keeps things moving –almost bouncing — with a seductive pseudo-lightness of humor; as soon as his character is dispensed with, however, the film laboriously digresses into revengeful superfluity. He won the BAFTA and Golden Globe, which are always excellent signs, but he simply doesn’t need another Oscar again so soon, though his turn here is a delightful one.
You’d think two wins (The Godfather Part II and Raging Bull) and five other nominations would be enough, but no, Robert De Niro‘s back in the game with Silver Linings Playbook. As Pat Sr., the father of a bipolar son, De Niro’s performance whips from volatile –in true hard-knock-Italian Bobby D fashion, he chases down a wannabe-paparazzo, threatening a pounding — to tender — gently crying, stroking his son’s cheek — and back again. It’s a warm and moving portrayal despite the inherent outsized emotions, and one that apparently hits close to home. I dare anyone to watch the notoriously shy and soft-spoken 69-year-old break down while trying to discuss how he relates to the script (his father was believed to be bipolar) — and not want to hand him his third Oscar.
But from the beginning this has been Tommy Lee Jones‘s award to lose. As the radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln, Jones is the silver-tongued abolitionist, lashing out perfectly pitched rejoindlners to the Democratic opposition. His depiction of a severe, career-long passion materializes in a puffed-up chest and booming bellows of poetic no-nonsense in the House of Representatives before melting into loving softness at home, where his work strikes a more personal chord. It’s an invigoratingly irascible and affecting performance for which he won the SAG, and continues to give him the slightest of leads over De Niro’s more sentimental turn.