Do the Oscars need a new category?

Trivia question: What was the most recent category added to the Academy Awards lineup?

a) Visual Effects

b) Animated Feature

c) Sound Mixing

d) Music (Original Song)

e) Hairstyling and Makeup Design

f) Documentary Short

g) None of the above

If you guessed “a” — or anything else — I’ll tell you at the end of the post whether you’re right.

Meanwhile, having seen 41 Oscar contenders across 23 categories in just the past month, I bet you’re probably thinking that I’m thinking: SO relieved there are not more categories!

Au contraire. How fun it would be to add one more. Call it the Best Bookends award.

Bookends?! Fool, we’re talking movies, not books. With “bookends,” I’m referring to the titles, the credits and those rewarding parting shots after credits roll. Signature signoffs, which most moviegoers miss, are like bows in live theater. Characters often break character or rub some joke into the ground or, in the case of Hitchcock, which I just saw, satiate a viewer’s expectations with a shot of a corpulent Anthony Hopkins doing a classic Hitchcock silhouette against stage footlights.

Movie-editing programs are so widespread that anyone can now create “professional-looking” titles at home, so the pressure is on for studios to go further in defining “professional.” Titling companies — and not the kind you use to buy property — stand on their own these days, so why not reward their creativity with a tiny Oscar? OK, a mini-Oscar, like mini-Reese’s Cups.

Among the more interesting titling I’ve seen this year month:

Skyfall — This movie’s opening sequence should win, hands down. It’s groovy, psychedelic and feels like an animated short. When it was over, I already felt I had my money’s worth. But of course this was my first Bond movie. Friends tell me they ALL begin like this, that it wasn’t truly over-the-top. So, hmmm.

Amour — Hard to ignore the titles and credits for this intense Austrian film: stark white lettering on black background and completely silent. My fellow patrons dared not crunch their popcorn, let alone breathe. The titles proved engaging from the start, telling the audience: You are participating in this experience, supply your own soundtrack.

Life of Pi — During extended titles, we tour the zoo of Pi’s childhood — gorgeous, exotic creatures overlaid with graceful letter strokes until the last name gets chased away in a puff by a group of animals. Wish I could remember now which animals … some kind of fowl, I think, though not water fowl.

Django Unchained — I burst out laughing when the Quentin Tarantino movie changed locale and rather than fade in-out with a standard “Mississippi, 1858,” along came a slow, side-scrolling, screen-high, bright-yellow MISSISSIPPI in a goofy, frontiersy font.

Moonrise Kingdom — Credits were done in swirly, utterly unreadable fonts, tacky colors of pink and yellow, which moved too fast to decipher. I thought, “These poor folks aren’t getting their due!” then realized how well the titles fit the spirit of the film: When a 12-year-old girl runs away with her khaki scout, her suitcase is crammed with YA chick lit that she reads aloud to him at bedtime. It seems she designed these titles in her diary using gel pens.

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These two sure looked a lot like Hermione and Harry Potter to me.

Zero Dark Thirty — I can’t remember what it said, but there was a comma missing and this copy editor SAW RED. They call this a journalism drama?! Get a better editor! I was in a foul mood and could hardly enjoy the first torture scene.

Among memorable parting shots:

Argo. Jimmy Carter’s comments about the declassified Argo operation are heard while a side-by-side, then-and-now, fact-vs.-fiction slide show plays. IDs of the actual rescued Americans appear beside screen grabs of the actors who played them, historical shots alongside counterfeit scenes.

Marvel’s The Avengers. After almost saving the world, my favorite character, Robert Downy Jr.’s Iron Man, expresses a craving for shawarma, an Arab meat dish. He tells his A-team, “There’s a shawarma joint two blocks from here, don’t know what it is, but I’ve always wanted to try it.” When the soundtrack play out and credits fade, find our heroes binging. And … scene!

I know there were more … blanking now. Gosh, does this mean I have to sit through them all again?

To make more room for my new category, we could try ending sexism and lump all the men, women, boys and girls into unisex “Lead Acting” and “Supporting Roles” categories. What drama to have Meryl Streep up against Daniel Day-Lewis. Ahem. Even NASCAR’s sexist barriers have been busted through by Sunday’s other main event: Danica Patrick’s inclusive triumph. Because, yeah, just for her to qualify makes her a winner.

OK, pure cheekiness about the new category, but here’s your reward for staying ’til the end: trivia answer is b) The Animated Feature category was added in 2001. Visual Effects has been around since 1939; Sound Mixing since 1930; Original Song, 1934; Hairstyling and Makeup, 1981 (it’s the most recent addition before Animated Feature –before that, it was Sound Editing, added in 1963); and the Documentary Short has been awarded since 1941.

Water under the Red Carpet

H2O is a major player in movies nominated for Oscars 2013. (UPDATE from the Red Carpet: DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, when asked why there was such an amazing field of movies and talent this year, replied: “There must be something in the water.”) If you need a drinking game for Sunday’s event, you might consider taking a swig each time you hear a plug for these water-saturated nominees.

Beasts of the Southern WildBeasts of the Southern Wild (up for Best Picture, Actress in a Leading Role, Directing, Adapted Screenplay): Squatters living in the bayou are preyed upon by melting ice caps, furious storms and cataclysmic flooding.

reg_1024.lifeofpi.tigerswim.mh.072612Life of Pi (up for Best Picture, Cinematography, Directing, Film Editing, Original Score, Original Song, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects, Adapted Screenplay): No biblical flooding here, but an ungodly storm capsizes a boat loaded with zoo animals, and it’s The Young Man and the Sea — only sub an adult Bengal tiger for the great marlin. Even the protagonist’s name, “Pi,” is short for “Piscine” — French for “pool” — and as a youth he’s dared to drink of holy water, which he does, before a priest helps quench his thirst for both water and every ounce of religion he can absorb.

the-impossible-movie-reviewThe Impossible (up for Actress in a Leading Role): In a word: tsunami.

runningwaterAmour (up for Best Picture, Best Actress, Directing, Foreign Language Film): Well, there was that running tap — Hitchcockian suspense!

The Master (up for Actor in a Leading Role, Actor in a Supporting Role, Actress in a Supporting Role): This post-World War II intrigue has its share of, ahem, seamen [sic] and boats, but it’s more about a sailor who has lost his moral compass and his pursuit of spiritual cleansing — plus a dizzying consumption of rot-gut spirits.

Skyfall (up for Cinematography, Original Score, Original Song, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing): 007 plunges into the water after being “killed” and before his resurrection.

Les Misérables (up for Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, Actress in a Supporting Role Original Song, Costume Design, Makeup and Hair Styling, Production Design, Sound Mixing): Possibly the best shot since Titanic of a tilted boat takes your breath away in the opening scene, and although there’s water, water everywhere, you are immediately thirsty. Plus, it seems to rain a lot (A Little Fall of Rain never hurt anyone) and everyone sweats a lot, the audience cries big crocodile tears and there’s that whole sewer sequence.

Emotionally drenching Les Miz.

Emotionally drenching Les Miz.

Django Unchained (up for Best Picture, Actor in a Supporting Role, Cinematography, Sound Editing, Original Screenplay): During one of Django’s visions, he sees his wife, Hilde, as something like the lady in the lake, misty-eyed and surrounded by mist.KonTiki

Kon Tiki (up for Foreign Language Film): Crossing  the South Pacific on a tippy raft in shark-infested waters — c’mon, dive in!

Moonrise Kingdom (up for Writing-Original Screenplay) Raging floods and raging hormones flow through this “camp” fairy tale of puppy love between two misfits. And aren’t we all misfits? Especially fun is the bit where the boy walks past one of those old sentry water fountains and plays with it, as we all did in school, just to marvel at how it worked.

Asad (up for Live-Action Short): South African/U.S. filmmakers track a young boy at the crossroads of becoming either a Somali pirate or legendary fisherman. An animal from the sea helps seal his fate.

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There’s certainly no shortage of gorgeous water shots for movie lovers to drink in this year.

For your drinking game, you might even toss in “Flight” (about a high-functioning alcoholic who happens to be a commercial pilot) and the documentary short “Redemption,” about canning in New York City — people down on their luck who live off of recycling bottles and cans. Haven’t yet gotten to the drippy animated feature “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” or the “Chasing Ice” flick about the actual melting ice caps. Give me time.

Eeek. Running out of time.

Oscar movie date night: Double-dip features

the-oscars_320Finally wrapped up my screening of all nine Best Picture nominees for this year’s Oscars − aptly, “Amour” was a Valentine’s Day morning delight.

Something I noticed about this field’s crop is that they can be paired off thematically. So if you, like me, had a bunch left to see before the Feb. 24 deadline, here is my proposed clumping.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

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Life of Pi

Animal love.

The movies go marching two by two, so bring on the animals — and the water and questionable boats. Both of these coming-of-age films are visual masterpieces, one from Bollywood, the other the bayou. “Beasts” follows a young girl’s survivalist spirit amid powerful forces of nature, namely floods and flawed humans, although there is no judgment here, only acceptance and shimmering love. The work is primal, pungent poetry, and if you don’t cry puddles — well, I won’t judge. In “Pi,” a lone teen survivor of a shipwreck discovers his manhood via primal fear on the high seas — but the focus is on spirituality and faith, storytelling and myth. In each of these Big Picture pictures, a colorful tale is wildly manipulated, heavily accented narration is riveting, pain gets painted over by emotion-drenched cinematography, and our intrepid protagonists go by funky nicknames: Hushpuppy and Pi. I’d suggest seeing “Beasts” first, as it catches you off guard and leaves you breathless, but is still a mere entree to the more lush (if you can imagine) “Pi,” with its cohesive and slightly more uplifting script — plus, its animals aren’t CGI-generated. The opening titles alone — touring an exotic zoo in 3-D David Attenborough mode — are worth the ticket, as is a goofy meerkat scene and sublime sea shots. For two movies featuring no Hollywood stars, these leave you starry-eyed.

Django Unchained

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Lincoln

For those not into bondage, an anti-slavery pair.

Attention, even Civil War re-enactors: You need to see “Django” first, to summon proper outrage over slavery, before “Lincoln” tackles the seed of a solution. As campy as Quentin Tarantino’s gory frolic is — no question he was influenced by Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles” — there is a moment in which he lays out stark horrors like a plantation owner’s best china. It’s not during any of those exploding-body-parts parts, but at Candieland when Laura Cayouette as Leo DiCaprio’s “beloved sister” Lara Lee Candie-Fitzwilly, delicate in her corseted finery and doting on petticoated youngsters, contrasts with a naked and tortured Kerry Washington, a serial runaway slave who is lifted from a living grave to be primped as a drop-in guest’s sex toy. It’s akin to seeing fresh-faced German children playing in the commandant’s yard on the other side of the wall at Auschwitz. Powerful stuff, even if some of Tarantino’s touches border on sophomoric, anachronistic and iMovie-ish. Contrast the near lawlessness of his Wild West and ridiculously high body count to the marbled “law”ful pillars of Washington and a lawyerly drama, all climaxing with one famous murder, only alluded to. The shadowy, internal, parched tones of “Lincoln” prove a departure for typically vivid filmmaker Steven Spielberg, and while he turns the mechanics of lobbying into a spy thriller, it gets a little mopey and droopy at the end. My two cents: “Lincoln” is either overhyped or overdone this year. Granted, the acting chops in both movies prove jaw-dropping. But freed slave Django is every bit as heroic as the Great Emancipator. And given neither Jamie Foxx nor DiCaprio was nominated, Christoph Waltz and Daniel Day-Lewis should win their races uncontested.

Argo

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Zero Dark Thirty

Undercover heroes.

Speaking of history, two suspense-packed docudramas for which we all know the endings go head to head, newsreel to reel. They each retrace special-ops daring-do’s under much-maligned Democratic administrations. But government is not what’s glorified — rather, two headstrong, non-political CIA agents, played biting-lip coolly by Ben Affleck and Jessica Chastain, get their due. Grainy footage helps legitimize “Argo,” and its excellent editing plus authentic costume and production design make it the better film. It also helps resurrect Jimmy Carter’s legacy, a bit. “Zero Dark Thirty,” while closer to the audience’s heart and memory (how can a dusty Iranian hostage crisis compete with 9/11 villains?) seemed timed as part of a campaign to cement Barack Obama’s legacy. It was billed as part journalism, but someone should have found a better editor. Some of the dramatization, of course, can neither be confirmed nor denied. Just odd how everything covert has become overt this year. I’d watch chronologically: 1970s then 20-aughts to tens.

Silver Linings Playbook

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Amour

Crazy in love.

For better or worse, in sickness or in health. “Amour,” an Austrian film in French with English subtitles set in the romantic cauldron of Paris, has got the ” ’til death do us part” part down. Old people and pigeons, right? Wrong. This opus, about a piano teacher in frail health whose patient husband rises to the challenge of diapering and spoon-feeding her, testifies to love’s greatest test. The irony is all we see of Paris is through veiled windows; their suspended-animation love never leaves the flat. Arresting in that there is no score, not during titles or credits — the only music are piano strains integral to the flow. The silence at times is deafening. Compare that to the boisterous “Silver Linings Playbook,” a twisted Cinderella story that evokes both “Garden State” and “Pulp Fiction” (for me) and follows love’s glorious gestation, in all of its noisy, messy madness. Again, I’d watch chronologically: new love, then vintage love.

Les Misérables

A love-hate relationship.

One might pair this Frenchie-themed flick with “Amour” or even one of the historical treatises … but “Les Miz” is its own monster, more of a revolutionary third wheel, and needs to be seen by itself so you can either retch or rave, unrestricted. I personally found the movie version more palatable than the stage version, even rapturous. But, as they say, all’s fair in love and war, and vive la différence, if you find any.