Olivia Petitt | Lindenlink Contributor
Here are my personal picks for Best Picture. These are films I want to win. However, I’m not delusional. I understand the odds are stacked against them.
Beasts of the Southern Wild wasn’t a blip on my movie radar until my terribly hip actor-friend suggested it as a Redbox pick. Chauncy, you reaffirmed my unwavering faith in your impeccable artistic taste. Beasts of the Southern Wild is the brilliant feature film debut of New York native and now indie filmmaker darling, Benh Zeitlin. “Beasts” hit the film festival circuit in early 2012, electrifying audiences and bowling over critics. Zeitlin was crowned with the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, the coveted Caméra d’Or at Cannes and now Benh is nominated alongside legends (and his personal cinematic heroes) Steven Spielberg and Kathryn Bigelow for Best Picture. That’s a stellar rookie effort, huh?
Zeitlin teamed up with playwright-friend Lucy Alibar to adapt her theatrical piece, Juicy and Delicious, for the screen. Together, Zeitlin and Alibar crafted a playful, gritty and mythical world set in the Louisiana low-lands. Quvenzhané Wallis plays Hushpuppy, a precocious and wildly charming little girl living an unbridled life in “the Bathtub” with her rough-and-tumble daddy, Wink. Though Wink puts forth a considerable (at times inept) effort to care for Hushpuppy, she aches for the presence of her absent mother. When Wink falls ill, a brutal storm hits the Bathtub. Flood waters threaten the life of Hushpuppy’s family and the greater Bathtub community. Ferociously, Hushpuppy fights against the tide.
Miss Quvenzhané Wallis deserves all the hype surrounding her. Not unlike Gabourey Sidibe’s landslide performance in Precious (2009), Wallis serves up an Oscar-caliber character portrayal without a shred of professional acting experience. As Hushpuppy, Wallis frolics with sparklers, knocks around the swamp in her galoshes and even wields a blowtorch fearlessly. Quvenzhané stole my heart and the show. Bravo! I don’t know how this film will fare against Abe (Lincoln) or an epic terrorist takedown (Zero Dark Thirty), but I wouldn’t mind if Benh and his crew went home with a little gold trophy for their valiant efforts.
The Sweetest Unchained Melody
It’s crucial I preface this by saying I have never enjoyed Quentin Tarantino films. Jackie Brown bored me, even with Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson and Robert De Niro in the acting credits. Kill Bill disgusted and bored me—O-Ren Ishii’s badass storyline was the only thing that held my attention. Pulp Fiction was equally disturbing and chock full of Quentin’s trademark character rants and seemingly careless dropping of the N-word bomb. Reservoir Dogs thoroughly puzzled me while giving me an ear ache.
I highly respect Quentin’s ability to pen original off-the-wall stories with a distinct artistic voice and aesthetic. However, Mr. Tarantino’s hard-core imagery and machine-gun style dialogue isn’t my cup of tea. However, when I saw the Django Unchained trailer this past fall, I found myself (for the first time) eagerly anticipating the newest Tarantino flick. Django has been labeled a Spaghetti Western, Blaxploitation, Buddy Action Film, and everything in between. I believe it to be a bold retelling of a German legend in the Antebellum South.
Django (Jaime Foxx) is suddenly bought out of slavery by supposed dentist, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Schultz reveals to Django he isn’t a doctor but a bounty hunter. Shultz needs Django’s aid to identify and capture (but most likely kill) his latest bounty, the Biddle Brothers. Shultz discovers Django has a greater prize in his sights, his still enslaved wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Moved by Django’s plight, Schultz vows to assist his new associate in his noble quest.
I still had to close my eyes three times during the movie, twice during two scenes of horrifyingly savage violence and once to overt my eyes from a certain person’s boldly displayed private parts. Whoa. All visual exploits aside, I finally saw a rich depth in Tarantino’s storyline. There’s gun-slinging vengeance, a deep journey of self-actualization, touching camaraderie, surprising comedic relief, and relentless romance. All these narrative elements mix in the gruesome setting of slavery in mid-19th century America. The true depravity of “Slave Era America” is embodied in despicable plantation owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). DiCaprio’s gripping performance is one of many Oscar snubs surrounding this film. In a twisted dining room monologue, Leo incarnates Satan himself, making the viewer’s blood run cold. Christoph Waltz’s role as Schultz, though strong and nominated for Best Supporting Actor, failed to move me to the level Leo did.
The film is nearly three hours long but grips the viewer from beginning to end. I felt the spectrum of human emotion: elation, sorrow, empathy, rage, amusement, and of course fist-pumping excitement. Excellent cinematography even made some of the blood splatters and smears poetic instead of gratuitous. But I must say, Jaime Foxx has turned out another Ray (2006) level performance. As Django rides bareback, rifle in hand, in dogged pursuit of his lost love, I couldn’t believe a Tarantino film was making me feel the thrill of romance. So, bleep you Academy! Mr. Foxx gets my shameless award for “Hugest Snub of the Oscars.” How on earth does a Best Picture nominee film about slavery and titled after the slave protagonist only receive an acting nod for the person playing a non-slave role? Again, no disrespect to Waltz—but really? Django Unchained ended my Tarantino-loathing streak and is my personal pick for Best Picture. I doubt it will win, but I girl can dream.