Why Les Mis should not win any Oscars!

Les Mis has been nominated for a total of 8 eight Oscars.  I am not all that worried about Makeup, Sound Mixing, Production Design, and even Music.  That leaves four (real) categories and I do not think Les Mis deserves to win any of these.

Just to be clear: Les Mis is a good film.  I actually really enjoyed it, but here is where the problem lies.  It was not so much the film I enjoyed but the musical.  The performances were good but never exceptional.  Hathaway and Jackman were solid and emotive but it was the songs that made their performances deeply moving.  If either Hugh Jackman or Anne Hathaway win Oscars then Claude-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil, and Jean-Marc Natel (perhaps even Herbert Kretzmer) deserve to collect the award with them as well.

There were moments when the film attempted to do something with the story that was interesting, for example, both the opening and the closing scenes were well-conceived.  But aside from these small moments there was nothing substantive that either Hooper or the cast brought to this film.  It would have taken very bad performances for this not to work, as evidenced by Crowe’s tolerable Javert.  In any other setting this would have been worthy of a Razzie.

The costumes were good, particularly the  Thénardiers (who, perhaps, unsurprisingly seemed like something out of a Tim Burton film), but not noticeably better than some of the other films nominated.  I suppose I would not begrudge them this particular award but ‘Why Les Mis should only win one Oscar’ is not quite so provocative as a title.

Now, admittedly, I think if you are going hand out Oscars to films like Chicago then you should probably give them to Les Mis; the latter is certainly a far better production.

The critical questions for me while watching this film was whether it brought something new to an otherwise excellent production.  I am afraid it quite clearly does not and deserve the praise that it has received.

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12 thoughts on “Why Les Mis should not win any Oscars!

  1. “Hathaway and Jackman were solid and emotive but it was the songs that made their performances deeply moving.”

    I can’t agree. I have seen the musical a number of times and it has been sung better (especially with regard to the Jean Valjean role played by Jackman), but I have never seen it acted better. Jackman and Hathaway deserve credit for acting these roles in a way that, in my view, we have never seen before.

    The director deserves credit fot conceiving this film as substantively different from the musical. It has important differences, not the least of which were the choices he made with the scenes, locations and camera angles. The shots on the stars during their big numbers were almost always tight shots on their faces, giving the most opportunity for the actors to act their parts. It gave an intimacy to the feel of the production that is missing entirely from any stage production ever.

    In addition, the creative camera work was an inspiration and added a lot to this production. The view of the mountaintop monestery as we see Jean tear up his papers and throw them to the wind was amazing as was the opening sequence with the shipyard and the view from above the barricade in the scene where the soldiers are closing in.

    There is a lot to praise in this film. The fact that it was already an inspiring musical goes without saying, but the director and actors made creative decisions to make this first and foremost a great film, not just another version of a great musical.

  2. MCQ, it is true that producing the musical in this way gave added intimacy to the narrative but that is far from a creative move. The genre itself allows that type of engagement and so I do not think the film can be praised for doing something that is almost inherent to films as opposed to the theatre. There was only shot in the entire movie that made me feel anything close to surprise (the Eponine, Marius, Cosette number was well done). There were some nice scenes, like mountaintop, but throwing something off a cliff into the wind as a symbol of new life is hardly a piece of directing that deserves an Oscar. The single piece of genius (if I could dare call it that) was to realise that the best way to make lots of money from a film about this book was to reproduce the musical rather than try to tell the story.

  3. “The genre itself allows that type of engagement and so I do not think the film can be praised for doing something that is almost inherent to films as opposed to the theatre.”

    Of course it allows for it. But many films of musicals have done very little more than simply film the musical as it was acted and sung on a soundstage. Les Mis did much more than that, and also took the unprecedented step of having the songs sung live on film during each take rather than having the actors lipsynch to a studio recording as has virtually always been done in the past. Those are creative choices that set this film apart from other musicals filmed for the screen.

    And that’s to say nothing of the cinematography, setting, locations and camera angles that a director decides on for each shot and which were done quite brilliantly in this film. In my view you are simply ignoring the creative choices that were made in this film, some of which were very daring and risky and most of which paid off very well.

    “The single piece of genius (if I could dare call it that) was to realise that the best way to make lots of money from a film about this book was to reproduce the musical rather than try to tell the story.”

    That is the only thing that was not a choice. It was the producers of the musical that hired the director and the entire cast. This was never going to be anything other than the film version of the musical, not a film of the book, which has already been done.

  4. You give Les Mis’s core material too much credit. The players have to make themselves wretched in order to convey any sentiment. It’s really not much different than listening to pop singers turn themselves inside out to sell a meaningless ballad. Everything is so affected nowadays. I long for the days when there was a full range of human qualities conveyed from the stage — not just this incessant wretchedness; this constant gutting of one’s innards.

  5. Wretchedness? In a movie in which the title could very well be transliterated from the French to mean “The Wretched”?

    Who woulda thunk it?

  6. I think Les Miz was a wonderful film that totally deserves the awards it has been nominated for. I have seen the stage musical probably at least 100 times and have heard “Bring Him Home” sung by men with much better voices than Hugh Jackman. But for most of them it was a vocal showpiece. There was much more honesty in Jackman’s performance. I also had no problem at all with Crowe’s Javert. His portrayal was cold and totally lacking in compassion–which is how Javert was. He showed no humanity at all until he pinned the medal on Gavroche’s dead body, which was a great lead-up on the part of the director (since that scene does not appear in the sage musical) to his decision to let Valjean go. True, Crowe doesn’t have the greatest voice in the world, but that didn’t hurt his performance. It’s all subjective anyway. Different people like different things.

  7. Sharee, I agree with a lot of what you say, but I don’t think acting and singing are entirely subjective experiences, though it’s certainly true that we all appreciate different aspects of any performance.

    I can only compare performances with others I have seen. In the case of Jackman, as you say, his singing was not up to the standards of others who have played that role, but his acting was quite a bit more effective.

    Contrast that with Crowe, and it’s easy to find other performances that were better in singing as well as acting. Crowe’s performance was just flat in every way. You say it was lacking in compassion and that’s true, but it seemed to also be lacking in every other emotion as well.

  8. Well, Chigurh was a lot more creepy, and Bardem knows creepy better than anyone.

    My take on Javert is that what drives him is an overdeveloped sense of moral outrage. In his mind, there is no such thing as redemption, it’s all just prelude to the time when the criminal returns to his crimes, and Javert is determined to ensure that punishment is meted out when that happens.

    Javert can’t admit to even the possibility that someone can change, which makes him the exact opposite of the Bishop, who acts as a catalyst for Valjean’s redemption. Playing Javert with no inflection, as Crowe did, doesn’t show any of that. He just becomes an inexplicable a**hole.

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