Another year, another crop of uninspired Academy Award Nominees.
To say that the Academy draws almost strictly from what Hollywood has crafted for it is hardly a revelation, but this remains a source of potent frustration for audiences that recognize that not all mainstream films play by these rules.
An award-worthy film need not always contain trendy American politics or a cloying starlet’s shorn locks.
My favourite films and performances of the year celebrate fantastical tradition and cultural preservation — two qualities that the Academy should hold in extremely high regard.
Best Male Performance: Michael Fassbender, Prometheus
Possibly the most polarizing mainstream film of 2012 until Zero Dark Thirty came along, Prometheus left fanboys cold and the masses scratching their heads in a vain attempt to comprehend a plot that had obviously suffered from numerous re-writes.
But transparency has never been a hallmark of great science fiction. Beneath the obtuse (and grotesque) evolutionary details meant to deepen one of the best film franchises of all time, lays a crystalline and supremely sensitive performance from the ineffable Michael Fassbender. His feline-like Olivier clone, David, was the magnetic center that the film desperately needed.
Shocking then, that the Academy continues to ignore this chiselled powerhouse. Especially after he managed to make a robot the most human aspect of a story that was meant to divulge the darkest details of our murky lineage. He will come to be regarded as the next Daniel Day-Lewis.
Best Female Performance: Charlize Theron, Snow White and the Hunstman
Once one sifts through the tabloid blitzkrieg of rumoured on-set affairs, one will find a completely entertaining fantasy film, the likes of which rarely make it to the big screen anymore.
Forget the Disney-fied polygamous paradise of the expressionist thirties and sink your teeth into a basement black world of carrion sorceresses and poisonous forests. The dark heart that beats the blood of this nightmarishly designed nether kingdom is Charlize Theron’s glorious, scenery-chewing Queen Ravenna: a seraphim-faced dictator who manages to be frightening yet sympathetic — as any good baddie should.
Yet another perceptive turn from an actor who wields her beauty and fierce intelligence like weapons, and whose body of work continues to deconstruct the common concepts of what feminine behavior really looks like in the 21st century. And who would really believe that Kristen Stewart was more beautiful than Charlize Theron?
Best Director: Leos Carax, Holy Motors
L’enfant terrible Leos Carax’s spectacular return to the world of film with the transcendent Holy Motors was justly greeted with near-unanimous critical euphoria. Carax’s surreal phantasmagoric odyssey is paradoxically a paean to the awesome innovative power of cinema and a denunciation of the medium’s current state of staid mediocrity.
Michael Henake’s hand-wringing, liberal guilt-fest Amour may have been the more palatable international offering for voters this festival season, but Holy Motors was the film that reminded us what commercial art can and should be capable of: provocative, jaw-dropping and ultimately, hugely enjoyable.
I had the great pleasure of catching an advance screening of Holy Motors while at the Melbourne Film Festival last summer, and as I staggered out of the cinema shell-shocked at the inspired lunacy I had just witnessed, a strange feeling came over me: film felt surprising and fresh and exciting again. A rare sensation.
Best Picture: Skyfall
While there were certainly better films in 2012, there were none bigger or more timely than the 50th anniversary entry into the beloved spy canon. Casino Royale rescued the most iconic franchise of all time from the grotesque self-parody in which it had become mired. Once Daniel Craig’s tougher and leaner Bond arrived on screen, memories of Roger Moore’s dinner-jacketed, quiche-eating rube vanished in a nanosecond.
Skyfall continued the upward trajectory in serious style, fashioning a supremely entertaining action film. From a jaw-dropping rooftop showdown silhouetted against a glittering high tech Shanghai, to a Straw Dogs inspired finale dredged in the monochromatic stoic-ness of the Scottish highlands, the film is acutely self-aware in a refreshingly unfussy manner.
Adele’s industrial strength anthem sets the tone admirably; Judi Dench imposes herself as the ultimate Bond Girl; Javier Bardem makes a lip-smacking cacophony of Freudian villainy; Daniel Craig remains the brooding, hyper-sexualized super spy of the 21st century; and director Sam Mendes wipes the floor with Tarantino by fashioning a film that honours its roots while anticipating its future, instead of a genre riff that thinks it’s art.
A massive missed opportunity to finally shine some deserved critical praise on a series of films that has quietly and consistently been at the forefront of popular culture for over half a century.