With the Oscar nominations scheduled to come out in less than a month, there’s only one thing a film fan can be sure of.
They’ll get things so, so wrong.
Look, it’s not that the Academy voters are overwhelmingly old, white and hopelessly out of touch. Oh wait, I forgot — they are. Each year, that august body invariably tosses nominations at the safest choices, biggest moneymakers and, maybe if we’re lucky, a token artsy thing they’d be too embarrassed not to nominate. Sure, it’s great fodder for pointy-headed movie geeks with weekly columns to fill (hey …), but I’d gladly give up my annual Oscar gripe-fest for a Best Picture roster of the most overlooked, challenging and just plain most entertaining films of the year.
You know, like these:
• “The Cabin in the Woods.” Unless they star Anthony Hopkins and are fraudulently labeled “thrillers,” horror movies don’t stand a sexually promiscuous teenager’s chance in a slasher flick of getting any Oscar love. But this bloody, hilarious horror film from co-writers Drew Goddard and the great geek god Joss Whedon (“The Avengers”) is simply the pinnacle of the form. If “complete enjoyment” and “flawless execution of what it sets out to do” are valid criteria for a “best picture,” then this fiendishly clever deconstruction of the horror genre (while still being a truly great horror flick in its own right) is one of the best pictures of 2012.
• “Safety Not Guaranteed” and “Jeff, Who Lives at Home.” Not that anyone’s noticed, but the Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark, have been leading a cinematic revolution. Sure, as befitting writer/directors credited with creating a genre called (somewhat derisively) “mumblecore,” it’s a quiet revolution, but still. In 2012, Mark (the thespian half of the pair) was involved in two of the year’s best films, first starring as an odd, possibly deranged loner whose personal ad seeking a companion to travel back in time is the impetus behind the quirkily affecting “Safety Not Guaranteed.” And, writing and directing alongside Jay, he (working with a stellar cast including Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Judy Greer and Susan Sarandon) turned what could have been a gimmicky slacker fable into the funny, heartbreaking, and deeply weird “Jeff, Who Lives at Home.” Turn up the hearing aids, Academy — these are worth a look.
• “Moonrise Kingdom.” Wes Anderson’s latest reveals that, unsatisfied with having his eccentric protagonists create their own weird little fiefdoms in the real world, it was necessary for him to create an entire island seemingly sprung from their misfit dreams. When they run away together, an equally ostracized boy and girl throw their tiny island home into a turmoil at once picturesque, magical and deeply sad and painful in this, Anderson’s best film since his peerless “The Royal Tenenbaums.”
• “God Bless America.” If the name Bobcat Goldthwait only conjures images of him screeching at Steve Guttenberg, then the idea that he is one of the best indie directors working right now might freak you out. That’s fine, because as a filmmaker, the Bobcat’s stock-in-trade are dark comedies whose outlandishly offensive premises carry a core of insight and humanity. In this one, a beleaguered everyman (an excellent Joel Murray) finally snaps and, alongside an enthusiastic teenage girl sidekick, goes on a nationwide killing spree. His targets: people who talk in movie theaters, mean-spirited media blowhards and vapid celebrities. Gee, wonder why the Oscars won’t choose this one?