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February 23, 2013

Our experts' Oscar picks

By Emily F. Popek
The Daily Star

---- — It’s been said that those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it. If that’s the case, there are four local film buffs who stand no danger of such a fate. 

The Daily Star asked Hartwick College theater director Ken Golden, Daily Star columnist Maggie McVey, local filmmaker Joseph C. Stillman and local radio host and author Chuck “Big Chuck” D’Imperio to weigh in with their picks for this year’s awards. And while the four were not in unison on everything, the historical dramas “Argo” and “Lincoln” stood out as favorites. 

BEST PICTURE

D’Imperio picked Steven Spielberg’s biopic of the 16th president as the most likely candidate to take home the “Best Picture” award from among a crowded field that also includes heavy hitters, such as “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” crowd-pleasers, such as “Les Miserables” and “Silver Linings Playbook,” and creative works, such as “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “Life of Pi.”

“‘Lincoln’ brings to life a president who has mostly existed in books, sculpture and lore, while masterfully navigating the complexities of 1800s politics. Even at nearly three hours, this film moves quickly,” D’Imperio wrote. 

But bringing history to life can come at a cost. For Golden, Spielberg’s film was “a bit too much of a history lesson,” adding that “Congress is held in such low esteem by so many that it is hard to love a movie that demonstrates how hard it’s been for them to do the right thing for so long.”

Golden joined Stillman in picking another tale taken from the pages of history, the Ben Affleck-directed “Argo,” which tells the story of the rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis. 

Stillman called the film “a gripping, ensemble drama of a real-life event that captured an era most of us have forgotten. It is a skillfully crafted movie that puts the viewer smack-dab in the midst of a difficult period of U.S. history.” 

For McVey, the everyday was more alluring than the distant or exotic, as she wrote in her pick for “Silver Linings Playbook.” 

“I think that evidence of a great film is when you are able to take the story and apply it to real life,” McVey wrote. “The characters’ battles with mental illness were ones much more relatable to me than being president of a nation or hunting down the world’s most wanted terrorist.”

BEST ACTOR

Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of Abraham Lincoln reigned supreme for D’Imperio, Stillman and Golden, with Stillman noting that the 55-year-old British-Irish actor is “one of the best actors of our time” and D’Imperio calling it a “career-defining” role. Golden noted that it was one of the few acting performances that stood out from the crowd, but for McVey, Hugh Jackman’s turn in the musical “Les Miserables” was both moving and impressive. 

“Despite his appearances on Broadway, many people were unaware of Jackman’s singing abilities, and I think he thoroughly impressed in ‘Les Mis,’” McVey wrote. “And I know I was not the only one in the theater crying when his character finally died at the end of the film.”

BEST ACTRESS

The three men on The Daily Star’s panel were once again unanimous, selecting Jennifer Lawrence for her portrayal of what D’Imperio described as the “troubled yet lovable” Tiffany in “Silver Linings Playbook.” 

“Jennifer Lawrence has that rare ability to touch a viewer in ways that resonate with any person who has ever wanted something badly and through fate, never got it,” Stillman wrote. 

But for McVey, “Jessica Chastain’s role as Maya in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ screamed ‘Oscar winner.’

“When asked where she would like to be taken, Maya pauses; she has nowhere to go — no friends, no family. Her work was her life. That’s when I knew Chastain deserved the award,” McVey wrote.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

The Daily Star’s panel couldn’t agree on the supporting actor and actress categories, proving Golden’s point that 2013 is “a mixed-up year for the awards season.”

For Golden, the winner should be Philip Seymour Hoffman in “The Master,” which Golden described as “a movie nobody saw.” Despite being up against such heavyweights as Robert De Niro and Tommy Lee Jones, Hoffman stood out to Golden, he said, because “I just felt that (Lee and De Niro) were playing characters they have played many times before.”

But for D’Imperio, De Niro’s role in “Silver Linings Playbook” was instrumental to the movie’s success.

“Without his presence, the film would have lost its emotional depth,” he wrote.

And for Stillman, Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal of Rep.  Thaddeus Stevens “was by far the best performance by a supporting actor. ... In “Lincoln”, he gives us a pivotal glimpse into a historical character whose actions helped to change the course of history.”

McVey’s choice of Christoph Waltz was tinged with regret at what she described as a dying breed of actor.

“I think actors as genuinely eloquent and likable as Waltz are dwindling greatly, and that is why it is so refreshing to see someone like him doing so well in such parts,” she wrote.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Anne Hathaway (in “Les Mis”) and Sally Field (in “Lincoln”) split The Daily Star’s panel into two camps.

Rooting for Hathaway are McVey and Golden, with the latter pegging the young actress’ performance as one of the few standouts of the lot.

“I’m not typically a big Hathaway fan, but I was blown away,” McVey wrote. “No one could outdo that performance this year.”

While Stillman and D’Imperio agreed that Field was their choice for this award, the two saw the performance differently. For Stillman, the role of Mary Todd Lincoln was another example of Field playing a character “at odds with her persona,” demonstrating her superior talents as an actress. But for D’Imperio, it was Field’s own warmth that humanized the character “that today is seen as more of a cartoon than a real person,” he wrote.