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The Oscars: The Agony and The Ecstasy

By Yehudit Mam

Get ready for the "gay Super Bowl" this Sunday! This year's Oscar nominations are a mix of the righteous and the appalling, the sublime and the ridiculous. By now you've had a chance to see most of the choices for Best Picture and know they are safe, predictable Academy fare. Lincoln is a classic Oscar pick: high-minded, smart (thanks to Tony Kushner’s screenplay), but slightly beatific. Lincoln makes America feel good about itself. Hence, it may win everything.

Life of Pi, a surprisingly lovely film, may not deserve best movie, but Ang Lee deserves a directing nomination for his elegant balancing act of special effects and smart storytelling.

Amour, a foreign film, and the best movie of the year, is a righteous nomination, and far superior to any film in its category. It is so good that its director, Michael Haneke is also nominated for direction and screenwriting. And, it is also nominated as Best Foreign Film, which it's sure to win.

Argo, a well-directed caper from Ben Affleck, is based on the Iran hostage crisis and it is smart and entertaining. It's been picking up plenty of steam at all the other awards lately, so it's becoming a strong contender. Not so the overrated Zero Dark Thirty, which is rather confused, not only about its own stance on torture, but also about whether it wants to be a Hollywood movie or it wants to be authentic. It’s a trite Hollywood take on a very-complicated subject.

The true risky choice is Django Unchained by Quentin Tarantino. In terms of scope and ambition, it goes head to head with Lincoln, dealing with the subject of slavery with far less piety and more irreverent panache. It should be the winner, but it ain’t gonna happen.

As for David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, it’s a shaggy, lively movie. A decent choice. Not only is Les Miserables not deserving of the nomination, it is one of the worst movies ever made. If Zero Dark Thirty is about torture, Les miserables IS torture. Beasts Of The Southern Wild is execrable poverty porn masquerading as poetry. Both are utterly dreary. Several neglected movies are far better choices. Yet, absurdly, the Academy couldn’t find a 10th movie to nominate, ignoring the excellent Bernie by Richard Linklater, Hitchcock by Sacha Gervasi, The Master, by P.T. Anderson, and Moonrise Kingdom by Wes Anderson (Read the Best Movies You Never Saw in 2012). These films were remarkable for their originality, but this is what always infuriates about the Oscars: It’s mostly a crass popularity contest, in which, miraculously, some good movies squeeze in—sometimes.

Acting-wise, Daniel Day-Lewis, as the hottest Abe Lincoln in memory, will probably swipe again, although it’s good to see Denzel Washington commended for his ornery turn in the otherwise mediocre Flight.

Bradley Cooper works very hard but isn’t such great shakes in Silver Linings Playbook, yet the Academy decided to go with bipolar disorder instead of John Hawkes’s iron lung (The Sessions) in its undying love for the Sappy Human Disabilities category.

Joaquin Phoenix hams it up quite exemplarily in The Master. Any movie that can make one hate Hugh Jackman (Les Miz) deserves a Special Achievement in Incompetence Award. He has no reason to be included here. Anthony Hopkins in Hitchcock, Jack Black in Bernie, the magnificent Jean Louis Trintignant in Amour: all deserve to have his spot.

Righteous, however, is the best acting nod to Amour’s Emanuelle Riva. Except for her, the best female performance of the year was Marion Cotillard’s in Rust and Bone, and she was robbed. Cotillard and Riva blow everyone in this category out of the water. Quvenzhané Ellis, the little dynamo of Beasts of The Southern Wild was the best thing in that movie, but the schmaltz of having Riva, who is in her eighties, and the little girl compete against each other is rather tasteless. The only two actresses who truly deserve to be in the list are Riva and Jennifer Lawrence, who is totally magnetic in Silver Linings Playbook. Naomi Watts is very good in The Impossible, but it’s not such a stretch for her; she’s always been a good crier. Both she and Jessica Chastain (miscast and not so great in Zero Dark Thirty) play vastly underwritten female characters. They fill out the void as best they can, but there have to be more challenging female roles to celebrate.

The male supporting actor category is the strongest in the lineup. Totally righteous: Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained, Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln, Philip Seymour Hoffman, the best thing in The Master. Robert De Niro is surprisingly affecting in Silver Linings Playbook. Alan Arkin (Argo) is always fantastic, but all he has to do is show up. There’s no reason for his nomination this time. Utterly cowardly is the omission of the great Samuel L. Jackson for a quasi-historic performance in Django Unchained, one so bold and controversial, nobody else has the guts to go there. Leonardo DiCaprio also deserved a nod for the relish with which he plays the despicable Calvin Candie in the same movie. And the snub to Matthew McConaughey, who had a series of great supporting roles, especially for his spectacular turn in Magic Mike, is another outrage.

As for the supporting actresses, Sally Field is outstanding in Lincoln, so are Amy Adams in The Master and Helen Hunt in The Sessions. Jacki Weaver is wonderful, but did not have that much to do in Silver Linings. Anne Hathaway’s nomination for Les Miz is a travesty. Either you sing, or you cry rivers of snot and tears, but you can’t do both at the same time. Helen Mirren is great in Hitchcock, and so is Judi Dench in Skyfall, but these two acting godesses can't be nominated every year.

So get plenty of booze and snacks, and prepare to scream at your TV screen, because it’s going to be a long—predictable—infuriating ride.

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