As ever, a majority of 2012’s most groundbreaking, vital films have seemingly passed the Academy by (that or the distributors couldn’t afford the promotional costs). Perhaps most controversially of all – where the heck was The Master? We can all probably identify our own personal grievous absences and misjudgements, especially as Les Miserables stinks up a ‘valuable’ nomination slot seemingly solely because it’s an extravagant period musical directed by a previous Oscar-winner.
Not that the current batch of Best Picture nominations are worthless or anything. There’s actually a lot of pretty to really good films on there, even if they fail to achieve genuine greatness. Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, Life of Pi, Django, Silver Linings… these are all smart and engaging if ultimately suffering from various degrees of imperfection. Also unexpectedly refreshing to see the promising and bold debut feature Beasts of the Southern Wild so prominently featured, even if it’s unlikely such an underdog stands a chance against the Hollywood giants and industry veterans (Beasts… is also disgracefully absent from the ‘best original score’ nomination list, but now I’m just being petty).
So we’re left with just one genuinely ‘great’ film on the list – Michael Haneke’s devastating relationship study Amour. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is the most deserving of both the Best Picture and Best Director awards. It is the work of a true master: a one-of-a-kind auteur who has once again offered cinema fans something truly special. Every single frame of Amour is perfectly considered – Haneke is in absolute control of the images, whether that’s a moment of quiet reflection, a heated argument, a heartbreaking daydream or an unexpected pigeon invasion. It’s a work that’s both highly accessible and worthy of years of critical, academic and audience analysis. It’s also home to two remarkable performances, from Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva (who must win best actress). Amour grabs your attention through its shocking prologue, and doesn’t let go until its conclusion. It is as close to perfection as cinema has to offer. With Amour every single directorial decision is impeccable and singular – there are no missteps, no weak-links, no inconsistencies. It is masterly.
Funnily enough, it might not even be the best or most provocative film that its creator has ever made (that honour, in this writer’s opinion, still belongs to Caché) but when you’re dealing with Michael Haneke masterpieces ranking is an exercise of purest futility. Every film the man makes enriches cinema as a medium. He’s pretty much peerless; a proud candidate for ‘greatest living director’. Amour is another flawless work, and one that is perhaps his most emotionally engaging film yet. In terms of quality, Amour is in a league of its own compared to other nominees. Not only that, but a European film walking away with the highest Academy honour would set a wonderful precedent. The Oscars consistently ignore or actively ghettoise the best international cinema in favour of mainstream American or British cinema, regardless of quality. A victory for Amour would not just see the most deserving film win, but also signify a welcome shift in Academy voting habits. It is not completely outside the realms of possibility – recent years have seen a shake-up in the make-up of the director’s branch of the Academy particularly, with a variety of offbeat and international talents occupying seats once held by more conservative studio types.
Going by the pre-awards hype and buzz, however, it seems incredibly unlikely Amour will walk away with the grand prizes. Indeed, the bizarre and unwarranted controversy that has sprung up around Zero Dark Thirty illustrates just how afraid of rocking the boat the voting establishment seem to be. It’s much more likely the safe and predictable likes of Argo (much more worthy of ideological criticism than ZDK, incidentally, but that’s another argument) or Lincoln will emerge triumphant – solid films in their own right, but par for the course when it comes to award hyperbole. It is likely Amour will instead be an afterthought, almost undoubtedly earning the token Best Foreign Language Film statuette, with perhaps a deserved Best Actress award to boot. Still, even if Haneke’s film doesn’t emerge as the big winner on 24th February, there’s no doubt whatsoever that it is the best film nominated for best film.