Cinecist vs. Oscar 2003

 

 

Click here for post-awards wrap-up.

 

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences quite literally pulled a fast one this year, pushing up the awards by a month and thereby dramatically reducing the time Oscar pundits like me have to mull over the nominations and arrive at informed predictions.  As you read this, I’ve just barely had time to see who won the Screen Actors Guild Awards.  It’s not right, I tell you.  But what’s a cinecist to do?

 

Now if this all sounds like a big hedge to you, a way of deflecting responsibility in the event that I badly botch my predictions this year, then you’re catching on.  I’ll take what I can get.  This doesn’t look like a particularly difficult year to predict the winners in the major categories, but one never knows what the Academy voters have up their French-cuffed sleeves.

 

Before we start, the usual notes, definitions, and helpful bits:

·        Prediction:  The nominee that will win.  In red, for your convenience.

·        Pick:  The nominee that should win.  Rarely the same as Prediction.

·        Percentages:  An arbitrary, self-designed means of assigning probability to certain outcomes.  No wagering, please.

·        Shorts:  Let’s face facts.  No one has seen the nominees in the short-form categories, including me.  I won’t pretend otherwise.

·        Sweet Silence:  If you haven’t got time for all my yapping, check out my Picks & Predictions At A Glance™.

 

So there it is.  Thanks for coming, and enjoy the show.

 

 

____________________________

 

Best Picture · Director · Actor · Actress · Supporting Actor · Supporting Actress

Original Screenplay · Adapted Screenplay · Animated Feature · Art Direction · Cinematography

Costume · Makeup · Editing · Visual Effects · Sound · Sound Editing · Score · Song

Documentary Feature · Foreign Film

________________________________

 

 

Best Picture

Nominees:

Prediction:

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

 

Pick:

Lost in Translation

Lord of the Rings:  Return of the King

55%

Lost in Translation

10%

Master and Commander:  Far Side of the World

5%

Mystic River

25%

Seabiscuit

5%

 

Well, it’s finally Frodo’s turn.  I am generally extremely reluctant to estimate any nominee’s chance of winning at greater than 50%, but I have to do it here. 

 

Finishing up an epic trilogy in anything other than dreadful form is an accomplishment to be applauded, and Peter Jackson and crew certainly pass muster on that count.  In fact, if the truth be told, they did a pretty fine job of it.  Oh, we can complain in our curmudgeonly fashion about a lot of things:  the lack of narrative clarity, the muddled development of important secondary characters, the endless sword-clashing battles, the constant vertiginous swooping over CGI landscapes, the apparently bottomless well of earnest tears that is Sean Astin, even the fey and rather unconvincing performance of Elijah Wood in the central role.  But unless we’re just being contrary, we cannot possibly deny the glaring success of the project overall.  No one ever thought we would see Tolkien’s vision brought to the screen with anything approaching the scope and grandeur it deserves.  We were wrong.  LOTR is far from perfect, but it is much closer to being perfect than it is to being disastrous, and that’s high praise in this particular game.

 

So after two failed attempts at Best Picture, LOTR will likely make good on number three.  The other real contender is Mystic River, the latest directorial effort from Clint Eastwood.  It may falter a bit as a film, giving in to some clumsy melodrama and an uncertainty of tone that’s unusual for Eastwood, but the spectacularly moving performances by Sean Penn and Tim Robbins seem to have blinded most audiences to those flaws.  It has a solid shot at winning if enough of the Academy voters find hobbits and wizards all a bit too frivolous. 

 

The other comers share in their sad little way in whatever small chance exists that neither LOTR nor Mystic River will win.  My pick, of course, would be the actual best movie of the year, Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation.  After watching her stink up the joint as an actress in her dad’s Godfather III (what were we just saying about epic trilogies ending on a sour note...?), one could have been forgiven some healthy skepticism about her cinematic future.  But as writer and director of 2000’s The Virgin Suicides and now this year’s magnificent Lost in Translation, she has demonstrated such a masterful touch with mood and character that some of us are already considering her to be the most interesting Coppola out there these days. 

 

 

 

Best Director

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

Peter Jackson, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

 

Pick:

Fernando Meirelles, City of God

Fernando Meirelles, City of God

10%

Peter Jackson, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

45%

Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

15%

Peter Weir, Master and Commander: Far Side of the World

10%

Clint Eastwood, Mystic River

20%

 

First of all, how great is it that Fernando Meirelles got the nomination for City of God?  If you remember, this excellent Brazilian film was on my ten-best list LAST year, but the Foreign Language Film nominating committee of the Academy chose not to honor it with even a nomination, which is ridiculous.  Now somehow, through the vicissitudes of Academy process, it ended up back on the slate for general nominations this year, and it cleaned up, relatively speaking:  nods for direction, cinematography, screenplay and editing.  Quite a showing for subtitled film that, even two years after its release, most of the American public has never even heard of.  But yes, it really is that good, and Meirelles deserves to win.  Going on directorial gusto and sheer guts, he takes a bleak and potentially dispiriting story and flings it in our laps like a hot potato smothered in habanero sauce.  It might burn, but it’s damned tasty.  And most importantly, it reminds us of how exciting it is to be given an opportunity to witness life, real life, happening in front of us on the screen.

 

Meirelles is unlikely to win, of course.  Stranger things have happened, but I’m not hopeful.  I’m thinking he’s about on par with Peter Weir for Master and Commander, which is to say chances are slim.  Lost in Translation’s Coppola has a slightly better shot, but really I think Peter Jackson is nearly a lock for Lord of the Rings. There is no one who doesn’t admire his enormous accomplishment in pulling this trilogy together so well.  Eastwood, with his best-received film ever as a director, would be a front-runner in any other year.  But Jackson’s presence turns even stalwart Clint into an underdog here. 

 

 

 

Best Actor

Nominees:

 

 

Prediction:

Sean Penn, Mystic River

 

Pick:

Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

20%

Ben Kingsley, House of Sand and Fog

5%

Jude Law, Cold Mountain

5%

Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

30%

Sean Penn, Mystic River

40%

 

This is Sean Penn’s fourth Oscar nomination.  Penn is an actor whose performances have become difficult to critique, because it’s all been said, it’s always the same, and it’s all true:  he’s head and shoulders above his peers, and he can do virtually no wrong onscreen.  Penn is certainly the best working actor under 50, and quite possibly the best living American film actor, period.  Look back at the roles of Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Matthew Poncelet in Dead Man Walking, Emmet Ray in Sweet and Lowdown, and Jimmy Markum in Mystic River, and try to imagine any other actor who could tackle this range of characters and nail each one so perfectly, with such complete conviction and invisibility of technique.  Good luck.  There’s no question Penn deserves an Oscar.  Heck, he deserves one just about every time he steps in front of a camera.  I think this time he’ll finally win it.  Except...Penn has angered more than a few people this year with an anti-war stance (complete with trips to Iraq) that some would say borders on un-American.  Anyone remember Jane Fonda?  Notwithstanding the standard rants about Hollywood liberals, there is no shortage of conservatives in the Academy, and ‘Baghdad Sean’ might lose those votes. 

 

So who steps up to the plate in that case?  Some are saying Johnny Depp, who just pulled off a shocking upset by winning the Screen Actors Guild award for his mesmerizingly silly turn in Pirates of the Caribbean.  I have to take that into account, but I just don’t see it translating to a win for Depp on Oscar night.  The far more likely contender is Bill Murray, who is also my personal pick.  He won the Golden Globe, and he’s been an Oscar front-runner from the git-go; no male performance has been talked about more this year. He’s my choice because in Lost in Translation, he finally gives the performance we’ve been waiting for from him for so long.  Even more than with most comic actors, there has always been a melancholy beneath Murray’s devil-may-care exterior, an unshakeable sadness lurking in every joke.  It informs his every role, and a large part of his appeal is how he plays off that sadness as an ironic intensifier of his comedy.  Some of us have been waiting, very patiently, for the role in which he could bring this lingering melancholy to bear not only as a comic tool, but also as a dramatic one.  This is that role, and the effect is that it feels, for the first time, like Murray has finally given a complete, fully human performance.  It’s excellent work, and strong competition for Penn.

 

As for Ben Kingsley and Jude Law, Depp’s SAG win puts them even further back in the race than they were before, meaning they can safely leave their acceptance speeches home on Sunday.

 

 

 

Best Actress

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

Charlize Theron, Monster

 

Pick:

Charlize Theron, Monster

Keisha Castle-Hughes, Whale Rider

10%

Diane Keaton, Something’s Gotta Give

20%

Samantha Morton, In America

5%

Charlize Theron, Monster

60%

Naomi Watts, 21 Grams

5%

 

Again, I’m going over 50% on this one, but this appears to be the easiest of the major categories to predict this year, and for good reason.  Charlize Theron is a red-carpet star, a statuesque beauty with a long resume of not-particularly-challenging roles in not-particularly-great films.  Then, out of nowhere, she shows up in this low-profile docudrama as an ugly, overweight serial killer, and guess what?  She TEARS UP THE SCREEN.  What she does in this role is so far beyond what has ever been asked of her--and so far beyond what we usually expect of any actress--that it hits us like a brick in the head.

 

The character of Aileen Wuornos, popularly called the “first female serial killer,” is physically, emotionally, and morally repellent.  Theron gets inside that character and fully inhabits every horrible inch of her, and in so doing she is able to make Wuornos into a true human being for us--an awful human being perhaps, but not an entirely unsympathetic one.  It’s fearless acting, the work of someone who could not be bothered to worry about how she might look or how the world might react, because she had a more important job to do.  Roger Ebert has taken a little flack for calling this “one of the greatest performances in the history of the cinema.”  But I suspect the few who are objecting to that description haven’t seen the movie yet.

 

On the off chance that Theron doesn’t win, the next most likely winner is surely the venerable Diane Keaton.  It’s nice to picture little Keisha Castle-Hughes holding the statuette for her wonderful work in the excellent Whale Rider, but no, the nomination itself is her award.  21 Grams was too obscure and difficult a film to get Naomi Watts the prize, and Samantha Morton, while a tremendous and deserving actress, still seems too removed from the Hollywood scene to get the kind of support she would need to pull off a win here.

 

 

 

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees:

Prediction:

Tim Robbins, Mystic River

 

Pick:

Benicio Del Toro, 21 Grams

Alec Baldwin, The Cooler

15%

Benicio Del Toro, 21 Grams

15%

Djimon Hounsou, In America

25%

Tim Robbins, Mystic River

45%

Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai

5%

 

If Bill Murray wins Best Actor instead of Sean Penn, then I would call a Tim Robbins win in this category a certainty--the Academy will not let Mystic River go without an acting Oscar.  But even if Sean Penn does win, I think this one probably still belongs to Robbins.  He provides a painful portrayal of a man emotionally and psychologically stunted by something that happened to him as a child, who feels decades-old wounds as if they were still brand new.  But his thick working-class accent and hangdog passivity conceal reserves of intelligence and self-awareness we don't expect, a fact revealed in a great scene in a police interrogation room.  I suspect the more sentimental aspects of Robbins's performance are what got him this nomination, and will probably get him the win as well.  But there's more going on than that.

 

My pick is Benicio Del Toro, the most charismatic actor in film this year or nearly any other.  What is it about this guy?  I can't really say, but his strange energy fills up and saturates every scene he's in.  When he’s onscreen, I dare you to care about anything else.  In 21 Grams, he plays a troubled ex-con who has found religion and clings to it like a life preserver, only to find himself still dragged down into misfortune and misery.  The movie is good, but has some problems.  Del Toro's performance, though, is riveting.  As always.

 

But Del Toro doesn't have much chance of winning.  If it's not Robbins, the next most likely bet is Djimon Hounsou, whose towering benevolence provided a much-needed emotional anchor for the Irish immigrant family in In America.  (Personally, I'm not sure how to rate a performance that has so much to do with the actor's physical traits--his size, his looks, his voice--rather than his demonstrated skill in the craft of acting.  But that's a philosophical question, one for which I don't think the Academy voters as a whole can work up much enthusiasm.  The performance was enjoyable to watch and emotionally affecting, which is quite enough for a win here.)  Baldwin was mentioned early in this race as a contender, but never gained much momentum.  Ken Watanabe was not a great surprise as a nominee, but would be a huge surprise as a winner.

 

 

 

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

Renée Zellweger, Cold Mountain

 

Pick:

Patricia Clarkson, Pieces of April

Shohreh Aghdashloo, House of Sand and Fog

25%

Patricia Clarkson, Pieces of April

15%

Marcia Gay Harden, Mystic River

10%

Holly Hunter, Thirteen

10%

Renée Zellweger, Cold Mountain

40%

 

Does anyone else find it odd that Renée Zellweger keeps getting Oscar nominations?  Not to disparage her talents, she's a fine actress, etc.  But in a world where Gary Oldman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Vincent D'Onofrio, Alfred Molina and Tony Shalhoub collectively haven't managed to draw even one nomination between them, doesn't it boggle the mind just a bit to realize that Zellweger has gotten three in the last three years?  I’m sure this somehow all boils down to gender, but that’s a discussion for another time.

 

That being said, I do think #3 is the charm for Zellweger.  And it's a strong performance: as no-nonsense spitfire Ruby Thewes, she single-handedly rescues the heroine of Cold Mountain (and the audience) from despair.  It would have been a pretty long haul without Zellweger's feisty energy.  She faces some competition from Shohreh Aghdashloo for House of Sand and Fog, whose stock is quickly rising and who could benefit from the Academy’s demonstrated willingness to go with left-field choices in this category (Marisa Tomei? Mira Sorvino? Linda Hunt?).  But in the end I think they'll hand the statuette to Zellweger.  Holly Hunter has won before and might win again, but not this year.  And Marcia Gay Harden won her Oscar in 2000 for Pollack; I don’t think she’ll win another so soon.

 

I would mischievously pick Patricia Clarkson myself--the mischief being that I haven't seen the movie for which she's nominated.  Nor have I seen her performance in The Station Agent, which is certainly also partially responsible for her nomination.  But I did see her in All the Real Girls much earlier in the year, and that's enough for me.  The fact is she is always SO GOOD that I'm willing to give her this one on general principle.

 

 

 

Best Original Screenplay

Nominees:

 

 

Prediction:

Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola

 

Pick:

Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola

The Barbarian Invasions, Denys Arcand

10%

Dirty Pretty Things, Steven Knight

10%

Finding Nemo, Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson, David Reynolds

20%

In America, Jim Sheridan, Naomi Sheridan, Kirsten Sheridan

20%

Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola

40%

 

I like Lost in Translation's chances here.  There is a great deal of popular and critical affection for this movie, and it doesn't hurt to have the Coppola name attached to it.  The Academy will feel the need to honor it. If Lord of the Rings wins Best Picture and Director, and Sean Penn takes Best Actor instead of Bill Murray, this is Translation's only category left to win.  And as we've seen countless times in the past, the Academy loves using this category as the consolation prize to the offbeat film that should have won best picture but didn't.  Add to that the fact that it really does deserve to win (which is why it's my pick), and I think that adds up to a victory.

 

But there is some competition that can't be ignored.  The Barbarian Invasions and Dirty Pretty Things pose little threat, but either Finding Nemo or In America could take the prize away from Lost In Translation.  Nemo was, as anyone who has seen it already knows, endlessly clever and massively entertaining--a great piece of writing.  And the DVD went on to break every sort of sales record on the books, which can only help.  In America, on the other hand, has a great back-story:  writer/director Jim Sheridan and his two daughters co-wrote this semi-autobiographical story of an Irish immigrant family struggling against financial and emotional difficulties to establish a new life in America.  Never underestimate sentimental appeal.

 

 

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

Mystic River, Brian Helgeland

 

Pick:

American Splendor, Robert Pulcini &

Shari Springer Berman

American Splendor, Robert Pulcini & Shari Springer Berman

25%

City of God, Braulio Mantovani

10%

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson

25%

Mystic River, Brian Helgeland

30%

Seabiscuit, Gary Ross

10%

 

This isn't an easy category to predict this year.  My inclination is to favor Mystic River.  I found the writing ham-fisted at times, but many, many people were obviously quite moved by it, and this is a good place for them to show their appreciation.  On the other hand, even though writing isn't generally considered one of the great strengths of Lord of the Rings, honoring the screenplay might be a way to honor Tolkien's source material, which is probably an attractive idea to many.  And then there's American Splendor, the critically lauded oddball that just might have enough quiet support to pull off a win if the other more respectable nominees split up the votes enough.

 

Splendor is my choice because of its fearless effort to translate the bleak vision of comic-book author and noted misanthrope Harvey Pekar into a film that could tell his own story without resorting to the kind of easy answers and pat cinematic conventions that make Pekar want to puke.  The resulting film is part fiction, part screwy documentary, part animation, and all Pekar.

 

 

 

Best Animated Feature

Nominees:

Prediction:

Finding Nemo

Pick:

Finding Nemo

Brother Bear

10%

Finding Nemo
80%

The Triplets of Belleville

10%

 

I must once again break my 50% taboo on this category, but I do so with a clear conscious.  Finding Nemo is so heavily the favorite that I'm not even sure why the Academy bothered to nominate the other two films.  And of course it deserves it.  In terms of pure cinematic entertainment, nothing in 2003 could touch Nemo:  a charming story, well-written dialogue, great acting (if only in voice), a laugh a minute, and, my gosh, that eye-poppingly beautiful animation.  You would be hard-pressed to find more than a few better movies of any type released in 2003; you certainly won't find a better animated one.

 

 

 

 

Best Art Direction

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, William Sandell & Robert Gould

 

Pick:

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, William Sandell & Robert Gould

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Ben Van Os & Cecile Heideman

The Last Samurai, Lilly Kilvert & Gretchen Rau

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Grant Major, Dan Hennah, Alan Lee

Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World, William Sandell & Robert Gould

Seabiscuit, Jeannine Oppewall & Leslie Pope

 

This category is rarely an easy one to predict.  Sometimes it goes to the year's big winner as a reflex, which would mean Lord of the Rings gets it this year.  Other times it goes to a strong film that just can't quite muscle its way into any of the major awards, which would indicate a win for Master and Commander this time.  Or it can even go to a small but deserving art film, usually a period piece, which would point to Girl with a Pearl Earring.

 

It’s a close call, but I think this year it will be Door Number Two, Master and Commander.  This is a fine and much-praised film that I think the Academy wants to honor, but they aren't giving themselves many options.  Since LOTR will win Best Picture and Director, and since the Academy chose not to nominate Russell Crowe for Best Actor or Paul Bettany for Supporting Actor, it's down to the second-tier awards, where I think Master and Commander could make a fair showing.  And it's my pick as well, for its robust recreation of the physical details of seafaring life:  the cramped and swaying quarters, the tangle of lines and sails hovering over the deck, the brutal force of a cannonball ripping through the hull.  All quite real enough to make me very certain I wasn't born for such a life.

 

Seabiscuit and The Last Samurai are the also-rans here, unlikely to win but not entirely out of the running.  I couldn't make myself see The Last Samurai, but I suspect it was very nice to look at.  Seabiscuit had Oscar buzz around it the moment it was released and racked up a fair number of nominations, but I have yet to meet anyone who is really passionate about it.

 

 

 

Best Cinematography

Nominees:

Prediction:

Cold Mountain, John Seale

Pick:

City of God, Cesar Charlone

City of God, Cesar Charlone

Cold Mountain, John Seale

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Eduardo Serra

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Russell Boyd

Seabiscuit, John Schwartzman

 

A very tough category to predict this year.  They all would seem to have a shot at it, including my personal pick (by a mile), which is City of God. Cesar Charlone's penetrating handheld camera puts us right in the middle of the cultural quagmire, providing the intimacy and immediacy that make the movie such a bracing, visceral experience.  The conventional favorites would be Cold Mountain and Master and Commander, but Girl with a Pearl Earring is drawing raves for its painterly visuals, and if it doesn't take Art Direction it could well take this one instead.  Seabiscuit seems the least likely winner, but I'm not counting it out.  So this one sounds like a good old-fashioned crapshoot.  I'm going to give Cold Mountain a slight advantage for its epic sweep, but with both Master and Girl tied in a close second place, followed by City of God and Seabiscuit.

 

 

 

Best Costume Design

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Dien van Straalen

 

Pick:

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Dien van Straalen

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Dien van Straalen

The Last Samurai, Ngila Dickson

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Ngila Dickson & Richard Taylor

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Wendy Stites

Seabiscuit, Judianna Makovsky

 

Lord of the Rings might be the obvious favorite here, but I’m not so sure.  I'm thinking Girl with a Pearl Earring might step up and take this one.  With a fantasy film winning Best Picture and Director, Academy voters will probably feel some pressure to balance things out by honoring more 'serious' films in other categories. This works to the benefit of the small, impeccable period piece like Girl, or even the rollicking-but-still-intellectually-engaged Master and Commander. Perhaps I’m being unduly optimistic, but I think Girl will take this one away from Lord, if only by a hair.

 

 

 

Best Makeup

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Richard Taylor & Peter King

 

Pick:

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Richard Taylor & Peter King

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Richard Taylor & Peter King

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Edouard Henriques III & Yolanda Toussieng

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Peter Boyle

 

One of this year's all-colon categories--all the nominees have colons in their titles.  Not terribly important, but it does demonstrate the growing trend of creating sequel-ready titles, with the franchise name before the colon and the episode name after it.  Am I just being peevish, or do you find that a little arrogant, too?

 

Anyway, the contest here is between Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean, and I'm predicting Lord.  It's won before (for the first installment of the trilogy), which bodes well for it, plus nothing in Pirates is as impressively foul in appearance as Lord's Orcs.

 

 

 

Best Film Editing

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

City of God, Fernando Meirelles

 

Pick:

City of God, Fernando Meirelles

City of God, Fernando Meirelles

Cold Mountain, Walter Murch

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Jamie Selkirk

Master and Commander:  The Far Side of the World, Lee Smith

Seabiscuit, William Goldenberg

 

This one is hard to call because the Academy will be divided between awarding it to the Best Picture (Lord of the Rings) and honoring the film that most deserves it (City of God).  It’s an easy choice for me.  City of God is like Pulp Fiction or JFK in that the editing is so effective, and so self-evidently critical to the narrative intent of the film, that we come to see it as in inevitable, inseparable part of the director’s vision.  But the Academy always has a hard time resisting the impulse to use this as a ‘pile-on’ category in which they can show their enthusiasm for whatever film they’re choosing for Best Picture.  Given the Hobbit & Wizard Effect (HWE), which is the slight embarrassment the Academy will certainly feel at honoring a fantasy story with their biggest prize, and their obvious respect for City of God as demonstrated by its several nominations, I think they’ll do the right thing this time.  I predict City of God, by a hair.  On the other hand, if the votes on Lord and City are divided equally enough, we might actually see Master and Commander sneak in for the win.

 

 

 

Best Visual Effects

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Jim Rygiel, Joe Letteri, Randall William Cook & Alex Funke

 

Pick:

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Jim Rygiel, Joe Letteri, Randall William

Cook & Alex Funke

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Jim Rygiel, Joe Letteri, Randall William Cook & Alex Funke

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Daniel Sudick, Stefen Fangmeier, Nathan McGuinness & Robert Stromberg

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, John Knoll, Hal Hickel, Charles Gibson & Terry Frazee

 

Another all-colon category.  One could make an argument for any of the nominees, but why bother?  We know who’s going to win.

                                                      

 

 

Best Sound Mixing

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Christopher Boyes, David Parker, David Campbell & Lee Orloff

 

Pick:

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Christopher Boyes, David Parker, David Campbell & Lee Orloff

The Last Samurai, Andy Nelson, Anna Behlmer & Jeff Wexler

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Michael Hedges & Hammond Peek

Master and Commander:  The Far Side of the World, Paul Massey, D.M. Hemphill & Arthur Rochester

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Christopher Boyes, David Parker, David Campbell & Lee Orloff

Seabiscuit, Andy Nelson, Anna Behlmer & Tod A. Maitland

 

Lord of the Rings has been nominated in this category for the past two years and hasn’t won yet, which must mean something.  Either the third time will be the charm, or the Academy just doesn’t want to give them this one.  I’m guessing (and I don’t know if I can justify this very well) that it’s the latter.  So if not Lord, then who?  All the nominees are crack sound teams with long records of previous nominations.  But the Pirates team has the most wins among them, and the Academy has to give this film something, right?  So I’ll give them the edge. 

 

 

 

Best Sound Editing

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Richard Hymns & Gary Rydstrom

 

Pick:

???

Finding Nemo, Gary Rydstrom & Michael Silvers

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Richard King

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, Christopher Boyes & George Watters II

 

My prediction method for this category is born of ignorance, but in my estimation that’s no reason to abandon it.  It goes like this:  Whoever has the most explosions wins.  As far as I can tell, it gets me the right answer about half the time, which is acceptable for a category I don’t understand.   This year, it’s pointing me toward Master and Commander, and who am I to argue?

                                                      

 

 

Best Music (Score)

Nominees:

Prediction:

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Howard Shore

 

Pick:

Big Fish, Danny Elfman

Big Fish, Danny Elfman

Cold Mountain, Gabriel Yared

Finding Nemo, Thomas Newman

House of Sand and Fog, James Horner

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Howard Shore

 

I have to go with Big Fish for my pick.  Consider it the first small step in a crusade to get Danny Elfman an Oscar.  After leading one of the most inventive New Wave bands of the 80s (Oingo Boingo), Elfman went on to become one of the most consistently entertaining film scorers of the last two decades.  His credits include all of Tim Burton’s films plus Good Will Hunting, Men in Black, Spy Kids, Hulk, and about a million others.  His choice of films to work on tends toward sci-fi and quirky fantasy, which probably hurts his chances of getting the recognition he deserves, but it’s time for that to stop.  Academy, take heed!

 

Sadly, I think Elfman is the one nominee who definitely won’t win this year.  He’s up against three previous winners, and the only other nominee who hasn’t won before has been nominated five times, and is nominated here for the most popular animated film of the year.  It’s stiff competition, and I think anyone but Elfman might take it.  I’ll give the edge to Lord of the Rings for the obvious reason, but also because Howard Shore won this one for the first installment of the trilogy, too.  That said, this one’s a horse race.

 

 

 

Best Music (Song)

Nominees:

 

 

Prediction:

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, “Into the West” by Fran Walsh, Howard Shore & Annie Lennox

 

 

Pick:

Cold Mountain, “Scarlet Tide” by T Bone Burnett & Elvis Costello

The Triplets of Belleville, “Belleville Rendez-vous” by Benoit Charest & Sylvain Chomet

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, “Into the West” by Fran Walsh, Howard Shore & Annie Lennox

A Mighty Wind, “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow” by Michael McKean & Annette O’Toole

Cold Mountain, “Scarlet Tide” by T Bone Burnett & Elvis Costello

Cold Mountain, “You Will Be My Ain True Love” by Sting

 

There are three genuine pop superstars among the nominees here.  Sting is getting to be an old hand at this, sort of a cooler Elton John.  But how about Elvis Costello and Annie Lennox showing up?  Throw in Eminem’s surprise win last year, and this party is clearly getting a lot hipper.  What’s it mean?  Don’t know.  It won’t be the song from The Triplets of Belleville, and I’m guessing the one from A Mighty Wind is out, too.  It’s nice to imagine Elvis Costello (world’s greatest pop lyricist, for what it’s worth) picking up an Oscar, but I’m not holding my breath.  This is Sting’s third nomination, so it might finally be his turn.  Or, it could be the fallback choice, Lord of the Rings.  I’m going to go with...Lord of the Rings.  Combine the Academy’s lack of imagination with Annie Lennox’s gorgeous voice, and I think you end up with a winner.

 

 

 

Best Documentary Feature

Nominees:

Prediction:

The Fog of War

 

Pick:

Capturing the Friedmans

Balseros

Capturing the Friedmans

The Fog of War
My Architect

The Weather Underground

 

There’s a great recent development with the Documentary Feature category.  It used to be that any documentary that enjoyed even the slightest commercial success was willfully shunned by the documentary branch of the Academy.  Any regular reader of my Oscar analysis can probably recite by now my list of travesties:  Hoop Dreams, Crumb, Roger & Me, Hearts of Darkness, The Thin Blue Line, Paradise Lost, etc.  Well, that changed last year with the surprise nomination and subsequent win of Bowling for Columbine, the most commercially successful and critically popular documentary of the year.  It also happened to be the best.  This year, we see the trend continuing with the nomination of two documentaries with box office receipts in excess of $100: Andrew Jarecki’s Capturing the Friedmans and Errol Morris’s The Fog of War. 

 

What’s best about this is that it gives the Academy a chance to right one of its most grievous wrongs by finally recognizing innovative documentarian Errol Morris.  They’ve ignored him for decades as he’s quietly gone about the business of creating some of the best documentaries ever made (Gates of Heaven, The Thin Blue Line and Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, to name a few).  An Oscar at this point would be seen not only as a recognition of his most recent film, but as long-overdue apology.  And I think they’ll do it.

 

That being said, my personal pick (forgive me, Errol) would have to be the enigmatic, frustrating, beguiling bundle of contradictions called Capturing the Friedmans.  The Friedman family is torn apart by accusations of child sexual abuse, and we are given access to an endless archive of home movies documenting the family’s disintegration.  But that’s not even the most fascinating part of the film.  What grabs and won’t let go is the growing realization that the more we listen to the many sides of this story, the less we know what actually happened.  Everyone is so locked into their own interpretation of the ‘facts’, including the individual family members, the police detectives, the alleged victims, even the family’s lawyers, that we end up with no solid ground left for determining the truth.  It’s a lesson in the subjectivity of experience, and it’s the most haunting thing I saw last year.

 

 

 

Best Foreign Language Film

Nominees:

Prediction:

The Barbarian Invasions, Canada

 

Pick:

???

The Barbarian Invasions, Canada

Evil, Sweden

The Twilight Samurai, Japan

Twin Sisters, The Netherlands

Želary, Czech Republic

 

Sorry, I haven’t seen any of these this year, so no pick from me.  I do predict, however, that the Canadian The Barbarian Invasions will take the Oscar.  It was a big winner at Cannes and has been very well received in the US.