Pick of the week: “Silver Linings Playbook“: My full review is here. Writer-director David O. Russell messes with the traditional rom-com formula in this ragged and funny film about two not just eccentric but possibly damaged souls (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence) who somehow figure out they’re good for each other. Where it’s going is easy to predict — how it gets there isn’t.
I want to preface this by saying that I don’t know what I’m talking about.
There are movie blogs out there that have been tracking awards season since late last summer, talking to insiders, tallying up all the myriad critics’ awards and third-string nominations, updating the odds daily on who will win on Oscar night. They are the Nate Silvers of Oscar blogging, or at least they try to be.
This ain’t that place. I love the Oscars, and look forward to my friend Lyn’s Oscar party every year. I’ll be live-tweeting my tail off this Sunday at @robt77 if you’d care to join us. I do pretty well in her Oscar pool, but I’ve never won, and I don’t pretend to be some kind of wunderkind at this sort of thing.
And yet. This Oscar season has been so chaotic, with the perceived frontrunner changing several times in the run-up to Feb. 24, that I have to wonder if Oscar doesn’t have one more big surprise up that place where his sleeve would be if he wasn’t naked.
Just to recap, last fall everybody thought “Lincoln” was going to walk away with it. And while Daniel Day-Lewis surely has it in the bag for Best Actor, that heat cooled a little in December, as the conventional wisdom shifted. Now “Zero Dark Thirty” was going to come out and blow everyone away, seize control of the race.
Then some quibbles about accuracy (unfair ones in my book) came along and hobbled the “Zero” momentum a little. Director Kathryn Bigelow was shut out of a nomination for Best Director when the Oscars were announced Jan. 12, and the “Zero” moment seemed to have past.
Then the Golden Globes came around and awarded “Argo” with Best Drama and Ben Affleck (also overlooked by the Oscars) as Best Director. The Golden Globes are usually a terrible predictor of the Oscars, but all of a sudden “Argo” started picking up awards, from the all-important writing, directing and editing guilds. Whose members, of course, also vote for the Oscars. Seemed like “Argo” had finally achieved frontrunner status and was here to stay.
So, on your Oscar ballot, “Argo” is definitely the safe choice. No question. If anybody would seem likely to pull an upset, it would be “Lincoln” surging back.
Except that this year has been so chaotic (as opposed to other years when a frontrunner is anointed and never looks back) that I have to think “Argo” isn’t as secure as it looks. And the movie that looks in the best position to pull a last-minute upset is David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook.” Here’s my reasoning:
1. “Silver Linings” is much stronger than it looks. It has eight nominations, third behind “Life of Pi’ (11) and “Lincoln” (12). More importantly, it has all nominations for all four acting categories, the first time that’s happened since “Reds” in 1981. It’s also the first movie since 2004’s “Million Dollar Baby” to have nominations in what’s known as the “Big Five” — Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Actor and Actress. I think Jennifer Lawrence is a lock for Best Actress, and Robert DeNiro is the frontrunner for Best Supporting Actor.
2. “Silver Linings” is peaking at just the right time. Last fall, I groused for weeks about how “Silver Linings” had opened in 440 theaters on Thanksgiving, but didn’t make it until Madison until Christmas Day. But the slow rollout seems to have worked. That’s the film that everybody I know has seen, that everybody comes into the office Monday morning talking about, week after week.
3. “Silver Linings” is connecting with people. There’s something about “Silver Linings” that just works for an audience, be they mainstream or arthouse, in a way that sticks out in a relatively grim year of “Argo,” “Lincoln,” “Zero” and “Django Unchained.” It’s the mix of comedy, romance and drama, almost the perfect amounts of each, really, and the way the film plays with romantic comedy genre conventions, subverts them in places, but ultimately takes the audience exactly where it wants the movie to go, with a double-backflip happy ending that kind of teases us for wanting happy endings before it gives us one. I think there’s also something powerful about the way the film handles mental illness that really resonates with people. Almost everybody I talk to, it seems, has a brother like Bradley Cooper’s character, or a friend, or a neighbor’s kid. There’s somebody we know who needs some help. There’s something so ultimately hopeful about the message of “Silver Linings,” that if people do the work (and take their meds) and have a strong support system, they can get better. They can be okay. That’s strong stuff.
4. “Silver Linings” was made by the Weinstein Company, and the Weinstein Company knows how to do Oscar campaigns. Sorry to veer abruptly from the most emotional reason to the most cynical, but there it is. The Oscar race is a campaign, and Harvey Weinstein has proven exceptionally good at waging that campaign. I’m seeing ads everywhere for “Silver Linings,” using extended quotes that aren’t from critics, but from writers and commentators and others, often striking those same points that I mentioned in No. 3. And that’s only what I see, and I’m not even a member of the academy.
The smart money is still on “Argo” or “Lincoln,” both movies I love and would be delighted to see win. But at the end of a crazy awards season, a “Silver Linings” upset would be a triple-backflip of a happy ending, wouldn’t it?