A sports writer and film critic, Danny Peary is best known as the author of the 1993 book, Alternate Oscars.
In it, Peary offers his personal selections for Academy awards in three major categories (Best Picture, Actor and Actress) from 1927 through 1992.
Sometimes he agrees with the Academy’s choices (“The Godfather” as the 1972 Best Picture, acting awards for Robert De Niro in “Raging Bull,” Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and Jodie Foster for “The Accused”). More often than not, he doesn’t.
While some of Peary’s selections seem off the wall (does he really believe that Jerry Lewis deserved an Oscar for the 1963 version of “The Nutty Professor?”), often his awards seem more valid than the Academy’s.
Many fans of classic movies would endorse his view that acting Oscars were merited by Ingrid Bergman in “Notorious,” Robert Walker in “Strangers on a Train” and Anthony Perkins in “Psycho,” for example.
The irony is that none of those three performances were even nominated for Oscars.
With the Academy Award presentations set for Sunday, I’m following a similar line of thinking in assessing the 2013 crop of movies.
For a variety of reasons, I didn’t see many of the year’s nominated films and didn’t enjoy some of those that I did. Thus, I’m not offering any Oscar predictions this year.
I’d rank “American Hustle,” for example, as a slightly better movie than director David O. Russell’s previous effort, “Silver Linings Playbook” — a romantic comedy that wasn’t particularly funny or romantic. Neither film exactly screamed Best Picture Oscar to me.
“Gravity,” my personal pick for Best Picture, did receive a nomination but is unlikely to win. None of my choices in the four acting categories even made it to the nomination level.
If I possessed absolute power, these non-nominees would be polishing their acceptance speeches.
Hugh Jackman for “Prisoners.”
As a survivalist father who physically and emotionally abuses a developmentally disabled suspect in the kidnapping of his daughter, Jackman is so creepily convincing that he makes the film hard to watch.
If nothing else, it’s a better performance than Jackman’s nominated work is “Les Miserables.” In fact, his character in “Prisoners” might have gotten better results had he tortured the suspect with recordings of Russell Crowe’s singing in the 2012 musical.
Emma Thompson for “Saving Mr. Banks.”
Granted, the actress category is loaded with worthy nominees (four previous Oscar winners in the field). Nevertheless, it’s hard to believe that Thompson’s serio-comic portrayal of P.L. Travers, the prickly but emotionally vulnerable creator of Mary Poppins, didn’t make the cut.
I enjoyed the film as well, except for the minor detail that the ending was entirely bogus. In real life, Travers hated the film version of “Mary Poppins” and attempted to get all of Dick Van Dyke’s scenes reshot with a different actor. The makers of “Saving Mr. Banks” believed, no doubt accurately, that the public wouldn’t be particularly excited about a climax in which Travers and Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) haggle with attorneys over contractual rights.
Best Supporting Actor:
Harrison Ford for “42.”
A younger Robert Duvall or Gene Hackman might have done a better job portraying legendary baseball executive Branch Rickey had this long-delayed film biography of Jackie Robinson been made several years ago.
Ford, however, does justice to an exceptionally complex character and his performance represented his best work in years. His Oscar chances were undoubtedly sunk by the underrated film’s relatively early release date and its lack of epic quality.
Best Supporting Actress:
Oprah Winfrey for “The Butler.”
As she has demonstrated in her sporadic big-screen appearances since her film debut in “The Color Purple,” the queen of talk can really act. Her edgy portrayal of Forest Whitaker’s loyal but embittered wife was very effective in another movie that was undervalued by the Academy.
Perhaps the Oscar voters had difficulty accepting Oprah pretending to be poor.