The Oscars come but once a year, and now that the farce that was 2013 (Argo? Really?) is over, the Internet is already full of lists of predictions for 2014. That’s right, a year in advance, before almost any of the potential nominees have been released. A look at some of last year’s predictions for this year’s nominations shows that these lists aren’t nearly as far off the mark as you might think. Indiewire writer Peter Knegt’s 6 March 2012 prediction, for instance, correctly identified five of the nine nominees, while including two other nominees in his alternatives, identical to his record in 2011. It also included the eventual winners for Best Director, Best Actor and Best Screenplay, both Original and Adapted, among its predicted nominees for these categories. These, and the fact that he missed Best Supporting Actor/Actress, which are essentially lotteries before one has seen all the films, suggest that his predictions were not simply inspired guesswork or clairvoyance. There exists an Oscar type, a film that you can tell simply by reading a synopsis and cast and crew details will conform to what the Academy will declare among the greatest films of the year. As if any more proof were needed that the Oscars are a bore. A reliable, predictable bore.
The two films Knegt completely missed are instructive too. Amour followed Terence Malick’s Tree of Life as the Palme d’Or winner picked by the Academy to give it street cred with the cineastes. No one gave Amour a ghost of a chance of actually winning; if Life is Beautiful could lose to Shakespeare in Love in 1997, foreign films might as well not be nominated. The other, Silver Linings Playbook, which released in India this week, has been the year’s big surprise with eight nominations — the Bradford City, if you will, of the Oscars. The little film that could. Granted, it’s a Weinstein film, which means it’s not that little, but it is the antithesis of the Oscar type. And unlike Bradford at the League Cup final, it scored a goal on the big stage, a significant blow, with Jennifer Lawrence winning a much-deserved Best Actress award.
“There’s a pleasure sure in being mad, one which none but madmen know,” goes the epigram by Dryden. Playbook, however, goes the opposite way, talking about the pain of mental illness, which is also understood only by those who have fought pitched battles with their minds. Pat Solizio Jr (Cooper) is trying to get his shit together after being paroled out of the loony bin, and get back with his wife, who has had a restraining order against him ever since he battered her lover to the verge of death. Meanwhile, Tiffany Maxwell (Lawrence) is a recently-widowed sex addict who is trying to get her shit together after being fired. They strike a co-dependent relationship, however turbulent, that helps bring a semblance of normalcy in their lives.
But the film’s triumph is in the fact that it embraces Dryden’s maxim in its sensibility. This is no Virginia Woolf biopic; David O Russel infuses a refreshing eccentricity in even the ‘sane’ supporting cast, with the football-loving bookie Pat Sr (De Niro) and the nutty psychiatrist Dr Patel (Kher) my personal favourites. The simple story and the quirky, slightly off-balanced pacing and dialogue, which is Russel’s element, make this film a silver lining in an otherwise bleak Academy Awards year.