The Academy Awards bring out the critic in everyone. It starts when the nominations are announced — "Whaddya mean, Ben Affleck wasn't nominated?" — and lasts long after Oscar night. That annual ritual takes place Sunday night and will be televised starting at 8:30 p.m. on ABC. (That's the actual ceremony; the red carpet fashion show starts at 7 p.m.) To give a little inside perspective to the glitzy festivities, we thought we'd ask a few Connecticut residents — people whose lives revolve around the entertainment industry — producers, directors, cinema managers, actors, costumers — about the Oscars and the 2012 movie year in general. What impressed them? What trends did they notice? Who should win? Who will win? Let's let the experts riff ...
Howard Baldwin and his wife, Karen, of Hartford are the former owners of the Hartford Whalers and they co-produced the 2004 movie "Ray," for which Jamie Foxx won best actor. They are both voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
"We both thought Ben [Affleck] should have been nominated for best director. It's pretty hard to nominate a movie for best picture and then say, well, the director shouldn't be nominated," he said. "I'm thrilled for him that he got the Golden Globe." Baldwin said he wished the Oscars, like the Globes, would divide the best picture nominees between drama and comedy/musical.
Baldwin added that the 10-picture, five-director nomination limit is a flawed setup. "It's pretty hard to make a good movie without a good director," he said.
He thinks best actor is cut-and-dried in favor of Daniel Day Lewis in "Lincoln" and best supporting actress probably will go to Anne Hathaway for "Les Miserables." He's less sure about best actress, although he admires Jessica Chastain's performance in "Zero Dark Thirty."
He is looking forward most to seeing who wins best supporting actor: the nominees are Robert de Niro, Christoph Waltz, Alan Arkin, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Tommy Lee Jones, who all have won before. "That will be fun. There are some real icons there. That'll be a mighty interesting vote," he said.
Baldwin says that the biggest obstacle any film faces when seeking a nomination, and an award, is awareness, and that is becoming more difficult. "Right now, television is so great. To see a movie, somebody has to get off their you know what and get into the car and go to the theater and park the car and buy the ticket, when no matter what you do in six months you can watch it on your 72-inch TV. It's a supreme effort, and when somebody scores on it, that's a great compliment on a film."
Jeanine Basinger, founder and director of the Film Studies Department at Wesleyan University in Middletown, votes with the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute when they come up with their annual lists of the best movies of the year.
"There are two locks, Daniel Day Lewis for best actor and Anne Hathaway for best supporting actress," said Basinger. For best actress, she is rooting for Jennifer Lawrence, whom she chose on her National Board of Review ballot. Jessica Chastain eventually won that award.
As for best picture, Basinger admits she's biased toward "Beasts of the Southern Wild," because almost every member of the production team went to Wesleyan. But she still defends it as "the freshest, the most haunting, totally original film" of all the nine nominees.
"This is the true hope of the future of filmmaking. We have all this new technology that enables people to make films away from the big technical centers in Los Angeles and New York, to put tools into the hands of everybody," she said. She was delighted to see its director, Benh Zeitlin, nominated. "It's a great tribute to the Academy that they are willing to recognize such a young man, working outside their own system, for the genius that he has shown, creatively and directorially."
While "Beasts" represents new school, she said, "Lincoln" celebrates what's best about classical filmmaking. "It was a very great example of the highest level of craftsmanship filmmaking out of Hollywood," she said. "It's made by old pros who can put together an old-fashioned kind of genre, a biopic, at a very high level. ... This is the establishment, and the creme de la creme."
James Hanley co-founded Cinestudio, Trinity College's prime venue for classic films, and co-runs it to this day.
Throughout the year, James Hanley noticed a running theme in a lot of movies: the ones based on real events, such as "Argo" and "Zero Dark Thirty," seemed less real than the ones that weren't, such as "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Amour."
"When you give an award for best picture, are you awarding the skills of the filmmaker in a vacuum, or are you saying this is a really good film on the subject?" he asked. "It's a sticky territory."
He pointed to the controversy surrounding the screenplay of "Lincoln"; Tony Kushner changed Connecticut's vote on the 13th amendment to heighten the suspense. He said "Argo" also embellished the truth, adding a chase on an airport runway. Hanley's problem with "Zero Dark Thirty" is its opening, which has harrowing voices coming from the burning Twin Towers.
"From the very beginning, you're throwing down something that is emotionally so powerful that anything that follows, you can do what you like as long as you catch the guy," he said.