Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Case for “Life of Pi” Winning Best Picture

I’m writing this editorial a few hours before the Producer’s Guild of America hand out their award for best picture and at least 24 hours before the Screen Actors Guild does the same thing.  For many people this is a lousy time to weigh in thoughts on what can win the Best Picture at the Oscars when we have two predecessors just waiting to be discovered to give us some clarity.  This is a strange year for Oscars though (as anyone who watches these races will tell you), so I’m going to buck the trend and make my case for why I think Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” is our next Best Picture winner.  And I’m going to be making my case suspecting that “Lincoln” will win the PGA tonight and “Silver Linings Playbook” tomorrow at the SAG.

One of the reasons I feel “Life of Pi” will win Best Picture is because it has consistently been undervalued as a strong contender throughout this entire race.  Early on the movie was considered a lock for a Best Picture nomination, but no one was committing it to win.  As the year went on and more great movies were released it was still looked upon as a sure thing for some Oscar nominations, but not many.  At one point Sasha Stone of Awards Daily wrote a piece worrying that the film wouldget overlooked in the main awards.  Well, come nominations morning “Life of Pi” made the cut.  Not only that, but the eleven nominations it received were discussed almost as much as Ben Affleck’s snub for Best Director.

How was a film that seemed to have largely lost its traction manage to be just one nomination shy of “Lincoln’s” twelve nominations?  If “Lincoln” was the undisputed favorite, you’d think it would have trailed behind with eight or nine nominations like…well, all the other Best Picture contenders.  But this quite, subtle film had garnered a lot of love in the background while the discussions were of “Lincoln vs. Argo vs. Zero Dark Thirty.”  What sort of amazed me even more though is that once these nominations were announced everyone jumped on the “Lincoln” winning everything bandwagon.  Then “Argo” won a few more awards and that got brought back into the conversation.

Now there’s a lot of discussion about “Silver Linings Playbook” taking the prize because of the surprise Best Director nomination and the (almost baffling) nomination for Best Supporting Actress.  And I ask again; where is “Life of Pi” in all this discussion.  It DOES have the second most nominations behind it, and it’s a movie that virtually no one hates!  The other nominated films (with maybe the exception of “Argo”) all seem to have baggage with them, ranging from too boring, too controversial, to too obscure.  Taking this all into account, “Life of Pi” seems to be in a pretty good spot to get lots of votes and win among movies that are polarizing the voters.

But what about the lack of acting nominations from the Oscars or the all-important SAG nomination?  First of all,  “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,” “The Last Emperor,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Braveheart,” and many more films prior to the nineties have all won Best Picture without acting nominations, so it’s not like that’s the kiss of death.  What’s more, “Life of Pi” is a very emotional and complicated film.  But like “The Tree of Life” and “Beauty and the Beast,” the acting doesn’t stand out because it’s not really supposed to.  It’s the other aspects of the film that makes it great.  This is a movie that largely features a boy, a tiger, and not a whole lot of dialog.

It never really had much of a chance of getting any acting nominations.  Does that mean the actors hate it though?  Not at all!  In fact, look at some of the responses the movie received from actors on Twitter:

By the way, Life of Pi is amazing. Such a beautiful film.

Anne Hathaway (via WSJ interview)
I’m so grateful to him for “Life of Pi.” It’s easily one of my favorite films of all time. He’s astonishing.

Mark Wahlberg (mentioned via a satellite interview)
Mentioned that the film was one of his favorite films of the year.

Jason Alexander @ljasonalexander
I was blown away by Life of Pi tonite. Gorgeous, moving film. Ang Lee paints on film and he is a master. Cast was sublime. This is a winner!
Can't get over Life of Pi. Maybe most beautiful film I've seen in a decade. I'm going again. Take someone you love and go.

I saw 'The Life of Pi' last night. It's absolutely wonderful. I want to see it again and again.

Susan Sarandon @SusanSarandon
I loved #Life of Pi. Magical. Lyrical technology jason alexander ?

Saw Life of Pi - it's stunning! Also, as someone who wrestles with faith and doubt, it was so meaningful to me

LIFE OF PI is absolutely beautiful. By turns wild, colourful, fun, poetic, inspiring, expansive, mysterious and deep. Like the sea.

Ellen Page @EllenPage
Life of cry, I mean Pi just destroyed me. Amazing.

Rob Lowe @RobLowe
Best Supporting actor of 2012: Richard Parker, Life Of Pi.

LeVar Burton @levarburton
Oh… I forgot to tell you, Life of Pi is a visual feast!!! #2thumbsup

Just watched "Life of Pi". Bravo to Ang Lee and company. A beautiful and inspired piece of filmmaking.

Kevin Smith @ThatKevinSmith
Holy shit... I loved LIFE OF PI so much! Ang Lee is a cinematic Jedi! If you haven't seen PI yet, get eyes on it. It's simply beautiful.

Jenna Dewan-Tatum @jennaldewan
Life of Pi. Omg go see it. Run. Now. Amazing

Ricky Martin @ricky_martin
A movie that you will never forget "Life of Pi" Outstanding! I see many Oscars #MagicalRealism

Clifton Collins Jr. @ccollinsjr
Hard to not get Indian food after watching Life of Pi such an amazing film, leaves one thinking, food aside

Harry Shum Jr @iharryshum
Life of Pi was amazing! Worthwhile 3D movie. Which story do you prefer?

Betty Buckley @BettyBuckley
Last weekend I saw "Life of Pi" in 3D. Absolutely loved it! Now I have to read the book. #LifeofPi Brooke Burke Just saw Life Of Pi. Amazing! Beautiful!!

Tony Parker @tp9network
Life of PI was a good movie....

Chris Mintz-Plasse @MintzPlasse
Life of Pi was such a beautiful piece of film.

Janel Parrish @JMeilanixo
Life of Pi stole my heart.
Yessss Life of Pi was stunning.

Keke Palmer @KekePalmer

Now it should be noted that not all those actors are Academy voters (if any of them are), but it does suggest there is a strong stealth support for the movie from the actors branch.

“Life of Pi” is also the movie that makes people feel great after it’s finished.  Yeah other movies make you feel that too, but this is a movie that just impacts people who see it and it stays with them long after it’s over.  Could that be another reason the movie got so many nominations despite being released a couple months ago and wasn’t a huge box office success?  Maybe.  If that’s the case I can certainly see some of that staying power resulting in votes.  I also believe that “Life of Pi” is the one movie above all the other nominees that has people going out saying to random strangers “Hey!  Have you seen this movie?  No?  See it!  NOW!” 

But what if “Lincoln” wins the PGA tonight?  Wouldn’t that kill its chances to win Best Picture?  Not really.  Not in my mind.  In fact, I sort of assume this is how the predecessors will go:

PGA: “Lincoln”
SAG: “Silver Linings Playbook”
DGA: “Life of Pi”

As my final argument (for the time being) is “The King’s Speech” a couple of years ago.  And, no, it was NEVER the frontrunner early on!  For most of that race it was looking like “The Social Network” was going to win.  Then “The King’s Speech” started picking up awards late in the race and it was over.  But that was not a film that was considered to be a likely winner early on.  It was a small, quiet film.  The other nominees all stood out more.  But movies that make people feel good tend to be sleeping tigers waiting to be woken.  Right now “Life of Pi” is the least intimidating nominee of the bunch and not drawing much attention to itself, but we may find that is the films secret weapon in disguise.

Either way you look at it though, there are a lot of fine films that are up for Best Picture this year, and I think we’re going to be pretty happy regardless what wins.  Just don’t rule out “Life of Pi” so soon.
P.S. As a side note I want to point out that the last time we had a year this competitive was 2004, where “The Departed” won Best Picture.  Outside of Marty (finally) winning Best Director though, the guilds were largely giving the top award to “Little Miss Sunshine,” which shows once more that sometimes guilds mean something and sometimes they don’t.