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Oscar Watch – Silver Linings Playbook

JENNIFER LAWRENCE and BRADLEY COOPER star in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOKTV fanatics, take a break. The further into January we get, the fewer premieres there are to enjoy, as evidenced by the fact that we’ve already gotten to six of the seven highlights, and have ten days left in the month. I don’t have a premiere recommendation for you to enjoy tomorrow night, although The Following makes it debut then. It’s a thing with Kevin Bacon, and that’s about all I know. Instead, today I invite you to look ahead to next month’s Oscars, with a review of Silver Linings Playbook, one of nine nominees for Best Picture. I’ll get to as many of these as I can before the ceremony on February 24, but I’m warning you, it’s going to take a powerful force of nature to get me to see Life of Pi. There are some spoilers about the movie in the rest of the post, so tread carefully.

The short version of my take on Silver Linings Playbook is that I really enjoyed it. The performances are unimpeachable: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence have winning chemistry together, and the supporting actors like Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, and Chris Tucker are rock-solid. Cooper has been lauded all over the place for a surprisingly skilled performance, considering he’s better known for his work in The Hangover and Wedding Crashers. And he really is good in this film, portraying a character who suffers from mental illness, a very, very tricky tightrope to balance without alienating the audience. Lawrence is similarly skilled at playing an unbalanced character, and the repartee between the two of them succeeds in playful exchanges (like the casual banter over how they’ve reacted to various medications) as well as more intimate and deeply felt moments.

If I have a quibble with this movie, it’s that it has a certain predictability to it. The trajectory of Cooper and Lawrence’s relationship is all but inevitable, and we’ve certainly seen the initial-animosity-that-blossoms-into-loooooooove angle in romantic comedies before. What saves this one, though, is a great script that makes the main characters sympathetic, both despite and because of their mental  health issues. It’s really tough to make a movie about “crazy” folks, and I felt that Silver Linings Playbook was ultimately very plainspoken and honest about the subject. It also does a nice job conveying the mental state of the characters, with quick cuts and loud music giving the film a frantic pace as Cooper and Lawrence become overwhelmed by their demons.

In addition to Best Picture, it’s up for seven other Oscars, including all four acting categories, which puts it in rarefied company alongside movies like Sunset BoulevardBonnie and Clyde, and Network. How do its chances look? Let’s look category by category.

Best Picture: No way. If my prediction of Lincoln doesn’t pan out, Best Picture will go to something like Zero Dark Thirty or Les Miserables, or possibly even Argo. Silver Linings Playbook is much more likely to pick up a consolation prize in a different category.
Best Director (David O. Russell): I don’t think it gets this one, either. Without Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow to contend with, Spielberg has a clear path to the directing prize.
Best Actor (Bradley Cooper): This is another category that I think Lincoln has sewn up, in the form of Daniel Day-Lewis. Up against previous winners and nominees, Cooper winning would be a tremendous upset. This is a year for him to get a nomination under his belt so that when he comes back with another serious performance, his odds will be better.
Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence): There’s an outside chance that Lawrence could take this. I don’t think the controversy surrounding Zero Dark Thirty has affected Jessica Chastain’s chances of claiming this one, but if it has, Lawrence would be the logical second choice, especially after getting the Golden Globe (where she didn’t have to compete with Chastain, due to the Golden Globes splitting up dramas and comedy/musicals).
Best Supporting Actor (Robert De Niro): I don’t think it could ever technically be surprising for De Niro to win an Oscar; he’s an old pro, and I don’t see an obvious choice among the other nominees. I give him better odds than the lead actors, but I think this one ultimately comes down to Christoph Waltz (coming off a Golden Globe win), Tommy Lee Jones, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. De Niro is good in this movie, but not as showy as the others.
Best Supporting Actress (Jacki Weaver): Weaver is great, but not as awesome in this movie as she was in Animal Kingdom (by the way, find a way to see Animal Kingdom, it’s fucking great, and Weaver is a force to be reckoned with in it). Also, this category is one of the biggest foregone conclusions of the year, so all the non-Anne Hathaway nominees should be practicing their polite smiles rather than acceptance speeches.
Best Adapted Screenplay: If this movies going to get an Oscar, this is where I think it happens. But it’s still up against really tough competition, like Tony Kushner’s script for Lincoln. It’s a possibility, and hard to predict, since the Golden Globe winner in this category, Django Unchained, isn’t nominated, so any predictive quality the Globes have is nullified.
Best Film Editing: Yeah, as if I have any idea who will win the film editing Oscar. As I said above, I noticed how the quick cuts during intense moments evoked the mental stability of the main characters, but this is such a specific category I never know what to expect.

I think all of these categories are an uphill battle for Silver Linings Playbook, and while I really enjoyed it, I could easily see it ending up like The Color Purple: nominated all over the place with no wins to show for it.

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