The Mild and the Maligned

I for one am totally past the traumatic 2012 Oscar battles and into the present, but to hear it from TheWrap‘s Steve Pond, the year-long “season” was interesting and certainly change-ridden at times, but altogether civil and mild-mannered. The Best Picture race was described six days ago by Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone in much more dramatic terms. She and Pond experienced the same basic saga on a story-by-story basis, and yet their impressions diverged.

I feel a greater kinship with Sasha’s version, no offense.

Consider Pond’s recap of the journey of Silver Linings Playbook, a film that will be getting to Average Joes and turning their spigots on long after Argo and Life of Pi have been relegated to “uh-huh…yeah, I saw those films…pretty good, well made.” Here’s Pond’s summary:

David O. Russell‘s film did not come into Toronto with anywhere near the buzz of Argo or Paul Thomas Anderson‘s The Master or [even] Terrence Malick‘s To the Wonder; it came in quietly and under the radar, after months of tweaking by the director who was coming off the 2010 Best Picture nominee The Fighter.

“But its premiere at Roy Thomson Hall, which came one day after the Argo premiere in the same building, came as a delicious shock. “Silver Linings is a perfectly calibrated comedy that is also deeply moving,” I wrote after the screening. “[I]t’s another major step in Russell’s comeback from movie limbo, and a mainstream film with enough heart and clout to immediately figure into a number of Oscar races, definitely including Best Picture.”

“That night, Russell wasn’t so sure he wanted the acclaim. ‘I like being the underdog,’ he told TheWrap at the party that followed his premiere. ‘Now we just have to see if we can stay the underdog for the next two months.’ He didn’t exactly do that, with the film landing eight Oscar nominations and becoming the first movie since 1981’s Reds to score noms in all four acting categories.”

Pond doesn’t mention the vicious anti-SLP campaign that kicked in a few weeks after Toronto, but speaking as an infantryman in the Turkish Army as General Allenby’s shells exploded all around for weeks on end (“Pound them Charlie…pound them!”), I can tell you it was relentless. It was awful.

I’m past it and have moved on, as noted, but Pond’s piece brought it up again. A movie that so many loved and which has now crossed $100 million and which held to a 92% average on Rotten Tomatoes and 81% on Metacritic, and won four Spirit Awards and corralled eight Academy Award nominations (including noms in all four acting categories) along with JLaw’s Best Actress Oscar)…but God, the hate! A movie as perfect in its own way as a film of this type (a schizzy psycho-dramedy about meds, sports, superstition, love and denial) could be, and yet countered by currents of acidic blood and blocked from greater Oscar glory.

I got my first taste of the coming rancor on the evening of 9.28.12, which I described in “Incredulous Parking Garage Rage.” From that moment on the Toronto Silver Linings high was over. By the time SLP opened on 11.16 the Hate Brigade had been formed as surely as the Irish Republican Army had assembled in 1922.

I was so appalled and upset by this current that, meager as my pulpit might be, I wanted to fire back with my own British artillery, and I think on some gut emotional level I decided that the General Allenby counter-strike had to be aimed at Lincoln. In my mind and to its immense and lasting credit, SLP was in several ways everything that Lincoln was not. There was also my ongoing theory that Steven Spielberg has had his ass kissed too much over the last 35 years and that…well, that the somber reverence and historical portentousness of Lincoln represented a kind of polar-opposite aesthetic — “an Oscar-worthy film has to maintain a tone of importance and gasbaggery!” — and that this idea needed to be punctured or defeated or at least temporarily stopped in its tracks.

So basically the Lincoln “takedown campaign,” if you want to call it that (and I maintain to this date that I did nothing more than simply try to counter-balance the excessive Lincoln gush), was a kind of revenge hit on the SLP haters. I know that it didn’t actually work out that way in reality, but that’s how I was feeling it on some strategic or emotional level. I’m just being honest. It’s over now and on to 2013, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a certain satisfaction in the fact that Lincoln never really caught on during awards season except for Daniel Day Lewis‘s stellar performance and the many trophies that came his way.

  • coxcable

    Here’s what’s most amusing about what I saw this year: If any group or demographic had a chance to see all 10 best picture nominees and then vote for their favorite, Argo would almost always rate at the bottom.

    Which is to say that the addition of best picture slots, introduced to save the award from irrelevance, now undermines its relevance even more.

  • bobbyperu

    “A movie that so many loved…”

    Which movie? Because the majority of paying public people I’ve asked about it have said they really liked it but that they forgot about it soon after they saw it, and didn’t think Lawrence deserved the Oscar for it. They liked it very much, but it didn’t have staying power. The general reaction from people I know (in both rural and metro areas) was “Yes, it was good. I really liked it. But I’m not sure why it has all of these nominations. It wasn’t THAT good. Just good entertainment.”

    That was from countless viewers.

  • Raising_Kaned

    Honest question: why are you still posting stories on this?

  • bobbyperu

    In other words, it’s not going to be a permanent fixture in many Blu-ray collections and no one is ever going to mistake it for a classic, even in retrsopect. But it will sure land in a lot of Netflix queues, which I believe you said about Argo.

  • Raising_Kaned

    coxcable: what on Earth are you talking about? You can’t win BP by ranking at the “bottom” (let alone the “bottom half”) of every single demographic.

  • coxcable

    Raising: Mitt Romney was the Republican nominee last year despite no Republican wanting him to be the nominee.

    That’s the difference between a real race (or a contest) and a campaign.

    Most Best Picture winners aren’t loved. They are merely deemed “appropriate.” Crowned if you will.

  • Mr. F.

    Okay, I’m with Kaned here.

    Wells, you go from posting this: “[SLP is a movie that] corralled eight Academy Award nominations (including noms in all four acting categories)…” in defense of just how FANTASTIC a movie it is.

    You go on to say “In my mind and to its immense and lasting credit, SLP was in several ways everything that Lincoln was not.”

    And yet LINCOLN earned four more Oscar noms than your precious SLP. So why the disconnect? If you’re willing to use “Number of Academy Award Nominations” as one of your SLP quality metrics… can you at least admit that LINCOLN is — what, exactly? 50% better than SLP? Four Oscar noms better? Because those 12 nominations are way more impressive than SLP’s haul.

    Let’s have more fun with Oscar metrics — the number of awards actually won by each film. SLP got one Oscar out of 8 nominations for a 13% success rate. LINCOLN got 2 out of 12 for a 17% mark. So now is it 4% better than SLP?

    Hey, I have an idea to REALLY answer which movie is best: the average IMDB user score! Because it’s science!

  • Gaydos

    This is almost as wrong as that ill-fated Oscar telecast of a few nights ago.

    Vanity, greed, ego, bragging rights, childishness may be a part of Hollywood, but when you extract these frailities out of the equation you have a dialogue about art, craft, heart, relevancy, humanity, communication, poetry.

    Bloggers bleating is the price we pay for the joy the film artists bring. Too bad. I’m out of nickels.

  • moviewatcher

    SLP had an incredibly strong 1st hour then it completely fell apart by the end.

    Anyone with half a brain can realize that Emmanuelle Riva deserved the oscar more than dear JLaw

  • Zach

    “Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it.” – Joseph Campbell

    You could say the same thing about the Oscars.

  • cinefan

    I dare Jeffrey Wells to read the book of Silver Linings Playbook and still brag about what a great film SLP is and what a wonderful job Russell did in writing the screenplay.

    I have not met a single person who has experienced both the film and the book who thinks that the film is better than the book or that the changes Russell made in adapting the book to film improved the story’s plot or characters.

    In my opinion, everything that was fresh and original and compelling about the book was omitted by Russell from the film in favor of stupid rom-com cliches that would be at home in a Matthew Mcconaughey-Kate Hudson comedy.

  • paul_kolas

    I think Zack nails it squarely on the head. It’s laughable how most people are so consumed with over thinking what is – to state what Bogie says in “Casablanca”, a movie so ridiculously superior to anything we see nowadays – “a hill of beans”. Granted, I love this website, but what I love about it is Jeff’s often wonderful, fresh, breathlessly sculpted reviews of movies that knock him for a loop, not the endlessly obsessive take down of this movie or beat-you-over- the-head-until-you-agree-wit- me superiority of that movie. Honestly, I don’t remember the last time I loved a movie so much I actually felt impassioned about it winning the Oscar or else – oh wait – yes, “Brokeback Mountain”. The infamy of “Crash” winning still leaves a bitter taste. I LIKED “Silver Linings Playbook”, I ADMIRED “Zero Dark Thirty”, I was ENTERTAINED by “Argo”, I felt RESPECT for “Lincoln”. Would I put “Playbook” in the same category as “The Apartment”? Are you nuts? I don’t care whether it’s mostly nostalgia that blurs my opinion of that classic, that warms my heart and head every time I see it, but I know it’s superior to “Playbook” in every single way. I’ve already moved on to wondering what movie (s) this year can give me a charge. I think everyone else should too.

  • Gaydos

    As Hank Jr said to Waylon, “Let’s light up and move along.”

  • Raising_Kaned

    Playbook does play significantly better in the written form than it does filmed — this much I believe to be true.

    The big difference to me is the ending — in the novel, it’s appropriately scaled-down and the hope implied for those two main characters going forward is still present, but very modestly-presented.

    Having said that, though, I still think the movie’s quite good in spite of its perceived flaws.

  • Los Bostonian

    To be clear, Sasha’s week leading up to and immediate post Oscar stuff was ridiculous. Her context is completely spun through her own warped prism. I really wish Jeff would lay off the Lincoln stuff now that the race is over, but aligning oneself with a person who basically cries sexism,racism or says you are not intelligent enough everytime you disagree with them is abhorrent. I started checking her site out this season cause I missed her tet a tet with Jeff post breakup but couldn’t believe the looney tunes act I kept seeing over there.

    This whole season has been strange to me with all of the vitroil when it wasn’t even an amazing year for films, there were just a lot of good but not great ones. This isn’t 2010 when we were staring at 3-4 landmarks in the face of that year’s Argo, The King’s Speech. Part of me wanders if all the hub-bub and increased PR for Jeff and Sasha made it so they knew they needed to find a villain or foil every Oscar season to stand out amidst an ever increasing fray of Oscar prognosticators.

    You know would be interesting? If Spielberg finally won one last Oscar for directing a fun, adventure film, you know what he is actually famous for, as opposed to him “trying” so hard with some really obvious human atrocity.

  • moviewatcher

    paul_kolas AND Los Bostonian:

    Based on your comments, I’m interested to know what you guys thought were the best movies of the year?

  • paul_kolas


    Holy Motors
    The Master
    The Kid with a Bike

    All cerebral choices, I know, when strangely enough, I’m a shameless sentimentalist at heart. If I had a guilty pleasure in 2012, it would be – gasp – “The Intouchables”. Everyone who derided it as being tasteless and racist can go to hell. I loved it. Just so you know, I look at what’s coming this year on paper and my heart soars at the possibilities that 2013 just could be a banner year. The 2 movies that I will see, even if I’m shot on the way to the theater and have to stagger to the box office are “Before Midnight” and “Gravity”. I worship “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset”, and I want “Gravity” to take me to that place of wonder that “2001” did many years ago.