cinecist vs. oscar 2011

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The cinecist confesses to a good deal of disappointment this year at the profound lack of imagination displayed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.  And before getting snarky with me about my perceived naïveté, remember that two years ago the Academy not only awarded Best Picture to The Hurt Locker over Avatar, The Blind Side and Up in the Air, but had also nominated District 9 and A Serious Man.  And just last year, it nominated Winter’s Bone and Black Swan.  That’s imagination.  So the Oscar nominations don’t have to be a humdrum parade of predictability. 

 

But boy, this year….Is there a single Best Picture nominee I wasn’t absolutely certain would get nominated?  I guess maybe I would have put The Tree of Life at only about a 65-70% chance, due to the divided response it received, critics mostly loving it, and audiences mostly, umm….not.  But that hardly qualifies it as a surprise nominee.  And I might have held out some quaint hope that the general disdain for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, with both critical and audience response ranging from mild and conflicted approval at the top end down to outright revulsion at the bottom, would keep it off the list.  But to anyone who calls this a surprise, I pose this question:  Are you kidding?  Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock in a sentimental 9/11 fable?  That’s a trifecta.  Nothing was going to stop the Academy from nominating it.  That would be like them not nominating Daniel Day-Lewis for playing Abe Lincoln in a Steven Spielberg movie (mark my words on that one).  And all the other Best Picture nominees, down to a one, I would have put money on and slept soundly.

 

This predictability holds true in the other categories as well.  For the most part, the only “surprises” are absences:  no Best Actress nomination for Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin), no Supporting Actor nod for Albert Brooks (Drive), no Best Director nod for Tate Taylor (The Help).  But a lot of these just come down to the numbers:  if there were a sixth slot available in any of those categories, you would most likely see it filled by the person I just named.  Another way of saying this is that it would have been equally “surprising” to see any of the actual nominees for, say, Best Actress get the boot to make room for Tilda Swinton.  There were six front-runners in a five-person race, so someone had to sit out.  Although…still not quite sure how Nick Nolte managed to nab Albert Brooks’s spot.  That one’s weird—but moot, as neither one of them was going to win anyway.

 

The only major category in which there seems to be something kind of interesting going on is Best Actor, where the dark horse Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and the much darker horse Damian Bichir (A Better Life) landed positions that most people figured were reserved for Leo DiCaprio (J. Edgar) and Ryan Gosling (The Ides of March or Drive), or maybe Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris).  Again, these aren’t surprises, as such.  Oldman’s meticulous work in Tinker Tailor has been universally lauded as among his best, and there was audible Oscar buzz around it from the start.  And Bichir did, after all, pick up a Screen Actors Guild nomination for his strong and emotional performance, so it’s not exactly like they pulled him out of a hat.  While I’m happy to see a bit of creative thinking by the Academy, I would have been much happier if they had shown some real imagination and given a couple of slots to, say, Michael Shannon (Take Shelter) and Michael Fassbender (Shame) for their brilliant, difficult work this year.  But what were the chances?

 

Anyhow, enough of that.  The nominations are what they are, and my task now is to try to figure out who will end up on top come February 26th. I’ll do my best, and I’ll try to keep the discussion lively.  And keep quietly hoping that next year brings at least a few interesting detours to the parade….

 

© 2012 dondi demarco

 

 

Before we start, the usual notes, definitions, and disclaimers:

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

·   Pick:  The nominee that should win, according to yours truly.  [I skipped making a personal pick in a number of categories this year, generally for one of two reasons:  1) I didn’t see enough of the nominees to have an informed opinion, or 2) I just didn’t…care.  I don’t mean this in a bad way.  I really love movies, and I love thinking and writing about them.  But does that mean I always have a strong personal opinion about who deserves the Oscar for Costume Design?  No, it does not.]

·   Percentages:  My arbitrary, inexact, self-designed means of assigning probability to certain outcomes.  Please, no wagering.  Unless the house gets a ‘rake.’ (Wiki it)

·   Nominees in short-form categories:  No one has seen them, including you and me, so I pretend they don’t exist.  Pretty cavalier of me, yeah?

·   *SHUT IT*:  If you want the skinny without all the fat-chewing, check out my Picks & Predictions At A Glance™.

 

 

Thank you for coming, please silence your cell phones, 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 Mixing · Sound Editing · Score · Song

Documentary Feature · Foreign Film

________________________________

 

 

Best Picture

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

The Artist

 

Pick:

The Descendants

The Artist

50%

The Descendants

20%

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

--

The Help

20%

Hugo

10%

Midnight in Paris

--

Moneyball

--

The Tree of Life

--

War Horse

--

 

There aren’t many knowledgeable critics who don’t consider The Artist the clear front-runner here, and I’m not about to challenge them.  It has picked up a boatload of awards, including the Golden Globe (Musical/Comedy) and NY Film Critics Circle, and was nominated in 10 Oscar categories.  And the narcissistic Academy does love a movie about the transcendent power of cinema (see also Hugo).  But also, let’s look at the merits of The Artist.  It is visually brilliant, certainly holding its own, in terms of cinematography and art direction, against the best of the silent films that inspired it.  It is bold and clever—if at times a touch heavy-handed—in how it uses its silence (and occasional sound) to comment on the medium of film and the culture that surrounds it.  It is acted with immeasurable charm by the leads, including Uggie the dog.  And it tells a touching old-fashioned tale of pride, loss, love and (yes) redemption in a world of change and chance, while throwing off little postmodern sparks that keep the schmaltz at bay.  Is it the masterpiece many are calling it?  Mmm…I don’t think so.  It lacks the narrative economy of the films it emulates, meandering around its story too much and hitting certain marks repetitively without adding any value.  And some of the moments that are meant to be rousing fall a little flat, at least for me.  Still, it is a very good movie, and I think it’s one for the ages; people will watch it and enjoy it for many years to come.  Add it all up, and throw in a big helping of studio head Harvey Weinstein’s demonstrated Oscar-snagging expertise, and I think you have your winner.

 

It’s not a runaway, though.  Some people (including Roger Ebert) think Scorsese’s Hugo, with its extremely strong showing in the nominations—eleven, more than any other film this year—and the fact that it, too, is a movie that pays tribute to the magic of movies, is the most likely contender to take the prize away from The Artist.  I admit the logic is sound…but somehow I’m just not convinced.   Whatever the numbers may say, my cine-sense (although a weak and dubious sort of super-power even on the best days) tells me Hugo is a long shot.  If I’m wrong, so be it.

 

In my mind, the more probable challengers are The Descendants and The Help.  The Descendants is my personal pick for reasons outlined in my full review.  True, it has lost a lot of momentum from a few months ago when it seemed like a real front-runner.  But a significant segment of Academy voters (though certainly not all of them) really seem to respond to writer/director Alexander Payne’s mature, complicated serio-comic sensibility—it acts as a needed foil to the easy sentimentalism that pervades so much mainstream Hollywood fare, but it still feels like entertainment rather than work.  It doesn’t hurt that this time Payne also has one of our biggest and most respected movie stars (Clooney) giving one of his best performances.  It also doesn’t hurt that the studio has mounted an all-out, full frontal assault of an Oscar campaign on behalf of both the film and Clooney’s performance.  It’s almost unseemly—but that doesn’t mean voters won’t respond to it.

 

The Help (my review here) is not, strictly speaking, as good a film as The Artist or The Descendants.  But what it has going for it that those films don’t is the powerful emotional response it has engendered in audiences.  There are so many people who just LOVE this movie, who are moved and affected by it in ways those other films can’t hope to touch.  This strong affection, coupled with its proper anti-racist message and some very fine performances, are enough to make it the winner, if all the stars line up correctly.

 

I think that’s it, as far as the real contenders go.  Moneyball is an easy movie to like, but a hard one to really love, I suspect, unless you have a certain spiritual connection to baseball that most of us don’t.  Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris was undoubtedly enjoyable, a welcome breath of fresh air from a master whose work can feel pretty musty these days, but still far from being Best Picture material.  War Horse (review here) is a solid B, but only because it scores an A+ in technique to help offset its C- in narrative ambition.  The Tree of Life, being a Terrence Malick film, got nominated—but, being very much a Terrence Malick film, will not win.  And finally Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, the not-at-all-surprising surprise nominee that no one actually thinks is any good, hovering around a humbling 45% on the Tomatometer (compare that to 97% for The Artist), will sit in grateful silence as everyone pretends it has a chance at the win and generously refrains from wrinkling their noses at it in distaste.

 

 

 

Best Directing

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

Michel Hazanavicius

 

Pick:

Alexander Payne

The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius

65%

The Descendants, Alexander Payne

15%

Hugo, Martin Scorsese

20%

Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen

--

The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick

--

 

It is always foolish to go against the conventional wisdom that says if the director of the Oscar Best Picture winner also wins the Directors’ Guild of America award, he/she is effectively a certainty to take the Oscar for Best Director.  I went against that conventional wisdom last year and predicted that David Fincher (The Social Network) would beat out DGA winner and conspicuous lightweight Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech).  A bold move that was (guess what?) foolish.  I won’t make that mistake this year.  If The Artist wins Best Picture, I don’t realistically see any way Michel Hazanavicius doesn’t win Best Director.

 

But what if The Artist doesn’t take the top prize?  What if, say, The Help manages to sneak into first place?  Since director Tate Taylor wasn’t nominated, the race would open right up.  Hazanavicius would still be a contender, but clearly the loss for The Artist would indicate some voter fatigue with the film, so his chances would be reduced.  The biggest beneficiary would be Hugo’s Martin Scorsese, who might pick up his second Oscar for a film that couldn’t be much more different from the first one he won for (The Departed) or, indeed, from most of the rest of his body of work.  The other possibility is that Alexander Payne could get some love for The Descendants—which of course would make me happy, as he is my personal pick.  I think Allen and Malick are still out of the running, though, even in this unlikely scenario.

 

 

 

Best Actor

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

Jean Dujardin

 

Pick:

George Clooney

Damian BichirA Better Life

--

George Clooney, The Descendants

35%

Jean Dujardin, The Artist

40%

Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

10%

Brad Pitt, Moneyball

15%

 

Check out the waves handsomeness radiating from the faces of the three top contenders—Clooney, Dujardin and Pitt.  I’m putting on my sunglasses for this one.

 

Pitt isn’t the favorite here, but he’s not out of the game (so to speak) for his performance in Moneyball, one of two lead performances he turned in this year that could have gotten him a nomination, the other being in The Tree of Life.  Truthfully, I don’t quite see this one happening.  Pitt was fine in Moneyball, but I don’t think it was a demanding role, and he didn’t turn it into anything I’ll remember for very long.  That being said, it was a good year for him and there’s a modest chance that could extend to awards night.

 

The two clear front-runners, though, are Dujardin and Clooney, and it’s close.  They split the Golden Globes between them (Clooney taking Best Actor for Drama, Dujardin for Comedy/Musical) and then Dujardin took the SAG.  So we have to consider Dujardin the favorite.  But as I mentioned above, at the time I’m writing this there is a no-holds-barred advertising campaign in full swing to secure some wins for The Descendants, and Clooney is the best shot the movie has for a big score.  It could work, especially since….well, y’know, I hate to even bring it up, but Jean Dujardin is very French, and that doesn’t always play so well at the Academy in an election year.  This is not the Golden Globes.  I’m just saying.

 

Clooney is my personal pick.  Yes, I agree that Dujardin gave a wonderful, charming performance, especially impressive in that it required him to navigate multiple levels of self-awareness (and hamminess), the actor having to play an actor in a silent film about the end of silent films.  He was really very good.  But I guess I’m a sucker for Clooney’s brand of understatement, the way he so effortlessly expresses conflicting emotions and uncertainties in the subtlest gestures and expressions.  People are rightly praising Dujardin’s mastery of the physical aspects of acting, his command of the body language and eloquent gestures that made silent films work.  I would posit that Clooney has achieved an equal physical mastery of his particular instrument, which is that face of his, handsome and confident, but not at all simple or vacant.  Clooney’s range is narrow, but he does a lot within that space.  I’m not sure he’s a great actor, but his performance in The Descendants is exactly right.

 

Rounding out the field, while Damian Bichir has pretty much no chance (the nomination was his prize), a Gary Oldman win is not an impossibility.  The shameful truth is that not only has Oldman never won an Oscar, he’s never even been nominated.  Just think about that.  Think for a moment about his performances over the years in Sid & Nancy, Prick Up Your Ears, State of Grace, Immortal Beloved, Dracula, The Professional, and dozens of others.  And never a single nomination.  If you were an Academy voter, wouldn’t you feel some obligation to try to right this embarrassing wrong?

 

 

 

Best Actress

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

Viola Davis

 

 

Pick:

Viola Davis

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs

--

Viola Davis, The Help

45%

Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

--

Meryl Streep, Iron Lady

40%

Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

15%

 

Poor Michelle Williams keeps giving great performances, but it’s never quite enough to put her over the top.  She deserved to win (by a mile) last year for Blue Valentine, but it wasn’t going to happen against Natalie Portman in Black Swan.  This time around, she gave what everyone agrees should be a career-changing performance as one of our greatest screen icons, Marilyn Monroe.  But…the movie itself just isn’t that great.  Plus she has to go up against incomparable acting juggernaut and 17-time nominee (!!!) Meryl Streep, as well as emotional favorite Viola Davis.  Sorry, Michelle, I think it’s another year without a statuette.  But hang in there, it will come eventually.

 

So let’s look at the favorites, Streep and Davis.  I admit I didn’t see Iron Lady, but I have no reason to doubt what I hear about Streep’s performance, which is that it is perfection.  Even the British were on board with it, honoring her with the BAFTA.  The downside is that, as with Williams, the movie itself is apparently nothing to get very excited about.  While not a prerequisite for a win, it never hurts when the movie in which the performance is given is also considered award-worthy.  Iron Lady isn’t.  Far from a deal-killer, considering the psychological pressure to give Streep the win after taunting her with fruitless nominations for the last 29 years; but it does leave the door wide open for my pick, Viola Davis, to step in and take the prize.  

 

Davis knocked me out a few years ago with her brief but remarkable turn in Doubt—in which she played opposite, of all people, Meryl Streep.  She had a down-to-earth realness and quiet strength that even Streep’s overbearing Sister Dragon-Lady couldn’t shake, and she received an Oscar nomination despite the fact that she only had one ten-minute scene in the movie.  It’s that same strength she brings to The Help, and this time around we get more screen time to see just what it is and where it comes from.  There is nothing false or forced about what Davis does, she just reaches down and finds the bedrock of her character and lets that guide her performance.  I really hope she wins, and I think she will—by a hair.  But this is not the race to put money on, because it could go either way.

 

Glenn Close got the nod for playing a woman who pretends to be a man—always a good strategy if you’re looking for Oscar consideration.  But everyone seems a little uncomfortable with both the movie and her performance, so I don’t see much opportunity there.  Rooney Mara actually does a very nice job with the iconic but prickly role of avenging angel Lisbeth in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but she clearly needs to accept the nomination as her reward this year.  There will be more opportunities for her; this is only the first book in the trilogy, after all.

 

 

 

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

Christopher Plummer

 

Pick:

Christopher Plummer

Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn

--

Jonah Hill, Moneyball

15%

Nick Nolte, Warrior

--

Christopher Plummer, Beginners

70%

Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

15%

 

If there is a lock this year, it is Christopher Plummer for Beginners.  Basically ignored by the Academy for most of his 55+ year career—which admittedly has been full of ups and downs, but has still included such iconic roles as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music and Rudyard Kipling in The Man Who Would Be King—Plummer this year will finally get his day on the red carpet and, in all likelihood, up on the podium.  Okay, he was nominated a couple of years ago for The Last Station, but no one saw that movie and there was no chance he would win.  This time everything has come together for him. 

 

Plummer gives a complex, emotionally loaded but somehow still lighthearted, even joyful, performance as a 70-year-old recent widower who, after a life of compromise and deferred desires, finally comes out to his son as a gay man, even as he is diagnosed with terminal cancer.  He brings to the role an effortless humanity that only a lifetime of acting—and living—can provide.  It’s great to watch.

 

If, somehow, Plummer doesn’t win, then we are looking at either the venerable Max von Sydow or the newcomer-to-drama Jonah Hill.  Von Sydow is the same age as Plummer, is just as iconic and prolific a figure in world cinema (The Seventh Seal, The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Exorcist), and has the same record with the Academy:  one previous nomination and no win.  If Plummer weren’t in the game, von Sydow might have an easy win this year.  Unfortunately, Plummer is here, and the movie that frames von Sydow’s excellent performance is itself kind of a stinker.  So it’s probably not going to happen for him this time.

 

As for Jonah Hill, he is a gifted comic talent with an everygeek appeal that anyone can get behind.  We’ve watched him for several years now in one engagingly awkward comic performance after another, recognizing that he has the innate intelligence and depth of character to take on a real dramatic role.  But his Peter Brand in Moneyball isn’t really that role.  It’s a nice performance that Hill does as much with as anyone could have, but it’s underwritten.  He was more impressive in last year’s Cyrus, but even that was too quirky and uncommitted to give him a real shot at a full dramatic performance.  I’ll wait patiently, because I think there’s something there.

 

 

 

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

Octavia Spencer

 

Pick:

Jessica Chastain

Berenice Bejo, The Artist

25%

Jessica Chastain, The Help

--

Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids

15%

Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs

--

Octavia Spencer, The Help

60%

 

With her Golden Globe and SAG sweep, Octavia Spencer has definitely emerged as the recognized favorite in this race.  She is maybe not quite as much of a lock as Christopher Plummer is for Supporting Actor, but she’s not one to bet against, either.  Her Minnie brought a much-needed lively energy to The Help without ever losing touch with the deep current of sadness running through the lives of all the women.  It is a very strong, worthy performance in a beloved film, and that makes it hard to beat. 

 

If anyone can beat it, I give the best chance to Berenice Bejo for her exceedingly charming turn in The Artist.  I don’t know how difficult a role it was, in terms of actual acting technique.  But I do know that we have to believe her character has real talent, star power, and a good heart—and watching Bejo’s performance, I believe it.  She makes us fall in love with her a little bit (it’s a plus that she is absurdly beautiful) and that’s key to the emotional effect of the story.  And think how nice it would be to have photo ops of Bejo and Dujardin (and the dog) posing with their respective Oscars.

 

It’s also possible that underdog Melissa McCarthy could score an upset for her raunchy, shame-free work in the funniest comedy of the year, Bridesmaids.  But I’ll be terribly politically incorrect and point out that it is probably McCarthy’s misfortune that this year the front-runner in the race is a large African-American woman, because that likely nullifies many of the ‘guilt’ votes McCarthy might pick up as a large woman herself.  Sorry if that offends my more sensitive readers, but anyone who thinks those kinds of calculations don’t figure into the Oscar voting needs a bit of a reality check anyway.

 

While I’m sure my pick Jessica Chastain won’t take the win from her co-star Spencer, I found her performance, as a young housewife who is both too sweet and too ditzy to bother with the racist nonsense around her, completely irresistible.  It wasn’t a big role, and I’m not sure I can say I consider it the best performance among these nominees, but it was my favorite to watch.  And I also name Chastain my pick as a sort of MVP award, given all her other great un-nominated work during the year, in Take Shelter, The Tree of Life, Coriolanus, and about half a dozen other films.

 

 

 

Best Original Screenplay

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

The Artist

 

Pick:

A Separation

The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius

65%

Bridesmaids, Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig

10%

Margin Call, J. C. Chandor

--

Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen

15%

A Separation, Asghar Farhadi

10%

 

I was glad to see the excellent Iranian drama A Separation among the nominees.  It’s rare that a foreign language film, especially one that’s not in French or Spanish, picks up any major nominations outside of the Foreign Film category.  But this one made so many critics’ Top Ten lists—even taking the #1 spot on some of them—that it couldn’t really be ignored.  I actually thought it had a fair shot at a Best Picture nomination, since the Academy now nominates up to ten, but that didn’t pan out.  Its odds of a Screenplay win are slim, but even being recognized with the nomination will bring it a broader audience, which it richly deserves.

 

Meanwhile, it’s probably a foregone conclusion that the winner here will be The Artist.  If it wins Best Picture as expected, then it will take this one as a gimme.  If it doesn’t win Best Picture, it will take this one as a consolation prize.  Its strongest competition is probably from Midnight in Paris, but that doesn’t seem like a huge threat; it’s a clever and thought-provoking film, but not one of Woody Allen’s more dazzling scripts.  Maybe Bridesmaids has a shot at it just for being so outrageously funny, but the voters would have to be in just the right frame of mind for that to happen, and they don’t really seem to be in an experimental mood this year.

 

 

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominees:

 

 

Prediction:

The Descendants

 

 

Pick:

The Descendants

The Descendants, Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash

38%

Hugo, John Logan

28%

Ides of March, George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon

--

Moneyball, Steve Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin

34%

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan

--

 

The calculus starts to get tricky in this category.  My gut instinct is to predict a win for my personal pick The Descendants and call it a day.  It’s a ‘serious’ film that was at one point a favorite to win best picture, and my feeling is that the Academy will want to honor it with a major award; assuming Clooney doesn’t beat out Dujardin for Best Actor, this is the only chance it has to do that.  At first glance, it seems like enough.

 

But then I start thinking…. Hugo was nominated for 11 Oscars.  Eleven.  That’s a big number, and it means that a lot of voters really like this movie.  Since I don’t think it’s going to take Best Picture/Best Director away from The Artist/Michel Hazanavicius, that makes this category the voters’ only chance to hand Hugo a major award.  Hmm.

 

Then again…. I think of Moneyball, which, in terms of screenplays, faced what was probably the most daunting challenge of any of the nominees, which was to turn a book that was really about statistical analysis and the strategies that grow out of it into an engaging human story with protagonists, conflicts, etc.  It largely succeeded, with the help of heavy-hitter Aaron Sorkin, and merits some recognition for that.

 

Where do I finally come down?  I guess I’ll follow my gut and call it for The Descendants, but with full recognition that my judgment might be clouded by personal bias.  Moneyball is a close second, with Hugo not far behind. 

 

 

 

Best Animated Feature

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

Rango

A Cat in Paris

 

Chico & Rita
 

Kung Fu Panda 2

 

Puss in Boots

 

Rango

 

 

Most people seem to be predicting a win here for Rango, which surprises me a little, as it looked pretty flat in the previews I saw.  But that just goes to show you how important it is to actually watch movies before predicting how they will fare on Oscar night.  Not a groundbreaking idea, I know, but I keep finding myself on the wrong side of it in this category.  Which is to say….no, I didn’t see any of the Best Animated Feature nominees this year.  Again.

 

But I’ll press on anyway.  If Rango is the favorite, that’s my prediction.  I do find it interesting, though, that two of the nominees, A Cat in Paris and Chico & Rita (probably the two best-reviewed nominees, in fact), are not really movies for kids.  As we continue to see more animated films aimed at adult audiences—not just kids’ films with things thrown in to keep their parents entertained, but genuinely sophisticated films, employing mature themes and artistic visual styles—I can only assume we’ll start seeing fewer Shreks and Kung Fu Pandas in this category.  Should Cat or Chico win this year, which is not out of the question, it could be a step in that direction.

 

 

 

Best Art Direction

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

Hugo

 

Pick:

War Horse

The Artist

 

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Hugo

 

Midnight in Paris

 

War Horse

 

 

Good-looking movies all, but I think we’re looking at a contest between the two films that led the nominees, The Artist and Hugo.  If all my predictions in the major categories above are correct (though what are the chances, really?), then Hugo is going to have to be content with second-tier awards.  Art Direction being arguably the ‘biggest’ of those, I think it’s likely Hugo will take it.  And it may well deserve it; it creates a spectacular cinematic world that doesn’t look or feel like anything else we saw during the year. 

 

Perhaps surprisingly, I’m going to go with War Horse for my personal pick.  If you read my review, you’ll see I’m not the biggest fan of the movie.  But when I consider the look and feel of it, how it created so many different spaces and environments, how impeccably (though not necessarily naturalistically) each one was conceived and realized, from the farm to the battlefield to the windmills to the trenches, and how clear and vibrant so many of them remain in my memory, I have no choice but to acknowledge the artistry that put them there.  That’s Art Direction in a nutshell, right?

 

 

 

Best Cinematography

Nominees:

Prediction:

Hugo

Pick:

The Tree of Life

The Artist, Guillaume Schiffman

 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Jeff Cronenweth

Hugo, Robert Richardson

 

The Tree of Life, Emmanuel Lubezki

War Horse, Janusz Kaminski

 

 

My personal pick is not difficult and not surprising to anyone who follows my tastes at all:  I’m going with current Malick-go-to-guy, cinematographic genius-at-large and five-time Oscar nominee Emmanuel Lubezki.  The Malick-Lubezki combination is a potent one, making meditative and poetic what might in other hands seem tedious and indulgent.  Malick has a vision for moviemaking that is just completely different from anyone else’s (thank goodness, because one of him is exactly the number you want), and in Lubezki he has found the perfect partner for capturing that vision on film. 

 

Lubezki even has a pretty good chance of winning, based on all the other awards he’s picked up for Tree of Life, which would help make up for his egregiously undeserved loss in 2006 for Children of Men, one of the most brilliantly shot films I’ve ever seen.  But the popularity of The Artist and Hugo demands that we consider them strong contenders, too.  On the one hand, you have the Best Picture favorite shot in lustrous black and white.  On the other, you have a visual feast filmed (in 3D, no less) under the expert eye of one of cinema’s undisputed masters.  Oh, and then on the other other hand you have the one that actually deserves to win.  Does anyone have a three-sided coin? 

 

I’ll predict the win for Hugo, since I think the voters are going to want to make good on some of those 11 nominations.  But I put Tree of Life nipping at its heels, and The Artist just a nose behind that.

 

 

 

Best Costume Design

Nominees:

 

 

Prediction:

Hugo

Anonymous, Lisy Christl

 

The Artist, Mark Bridges
 

Hugo, Sandy Powell

 

Jane Eyre, Michael O’Connor

 

W.E., Arianne Phillips

 

 

This is a very tough category for me; I really never know what’s going to happen.  My instinct is to assume it will be another race between The Artist and Hugo.  But the Academy also can’t resist period costumes, which would seem to insert Jane Eyre into the mix, although probably not the more obscure Anonymous.  Hugo’s Sandy Powell is a frequent nominee and three-time winner, while The Artist’s Bridges is a relative unknown.  Jane Eyre’s O’Connor has a single nomination under his belt, and he did win that one.  I’m getting a headache.

 

I’ll predict a win for Hugo and Powell, on general principle, but if you put any faith in this prediction, you need to reevaluate your criteria.

 

 

 

Best Makeup

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part 2

 

Albert Nobbs

 

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part 2

The Iron Lady

 

 

All nominees are newcomers in this category, which takes away one of the more useful predictive factors.  So let’s just look at what we have in front of us:  a period piece in which women are trying (with little success) to look like men; a tale of wizards, muggles, and assorted evil critters; and a biopic in which a WASPy middle-aged American woman is transformed through the magic of makeup into a WASPy middle-aged British woman.

 

Clearly, I have to put my money on the critters.

 

 

 

Best Film Editing

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

Hugo

 

Pick:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Artist

 

The Descendants
 
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Hugo

 

Moneyball

 

 

About half the time, the award for Editing goes to the Best Picture winner by default.  I admit that could very well happen this year, but I’m going to predict something else.  My sense is that Hugo depends more upon editing for its storytelling than The Artist, plus you’ve got Scorsese’s best-in-the-biz personal film editor Thelma Schoonmaker, a seven-time nominee and three-time winner.  So I think Hugo will edge out The Artist. 

 

That being said, I can’t entirely count out my personal pick either, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Many criticisms can be justifiably leveled at the film, but they are not technical in nature.  It draws together narrative elements from across various locales, time periods and even media, creating a thrum of momentum that pulls us irresistibly through what is, truth be told, a rather preposterous story.  Editing is really the unsung hero of moviemaking, able to make the commonplace seem thrilling, but also to make the complicated seem perfectly clear—at the right time.  Dragon Tattoo does both, and very well.  There’s a chance, though not a great one, that it will be recognized for it.

 

 

 

Best Visual Effects

Nominees:

 

 

Prediction:

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Pt 2

Hugo

 
Real Steel

 

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

 

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

 

I can’t allow myself a personal pick in this category this year, having seen exactly none of the nominees.  Not the first time I haven’t seen any of the nominees for Best Visual Effects, by the way.  If you find this strange, you don’t know me.

 

I do have a prediction, of course, and I feel pretty good about it.  But you’ve gotta give me a minute to explain.

 

There’s this actor named Andy Serkis, whom you’ve never seen—but you’ve actually seen him a lot.  He played Gollum/Smeagol in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  He played Kong in Peter Jackson’s King Kong.  Just this year, he played Captain Haddock in The Adventures of Tintin.  And he plays Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. 

 

Serkis doesn’t just voice characters in animated films, he truly acts them, through a process called ‘motion capture.’  He wears a suit and mask with sensors that precisely record every movement and gesture and facial expression, and that ‘performance’ data is fed into a computer, which then uses CGI to craft a character on top of it.  The final look of the character, the visual details, are a product of computer animation.  But the performance underneath it is all Serkis. 

 

The question is, is this acting?  There are a lot of awards-giving bodies who say Yes:  The Online Film Critics Society, the Chicago Film Critics Association, the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the San Diego Film Critics Society, and numerous others who have nominated Serkis for one of his ‘virtual’ performances.  So far, the Academy seems unconvinced.  But there is growing support for the notion that, as technology advances, allowing greater integration of human input with electronic output and ever-subtler graphic manipulations of ‘real world’ data, we are closing in on a point where it ceases to make sense to draw artistic distinctions between the onscreen appearance of an organic being and a digitally rendered character animated (literally) by the human talents and consciousness behind it.

 

What this has to do with my prediction for Best Visual Effects is this:  There are those who enthusiastically wish to push forward into a new era in which we expand our definition of acting to include Andy Serkis’s brand of artistry.  And there are those who aren’t quite there yet.  A win for Planet of the Apes allows the latter group to indirectly honor Serkis for his excellent work without feeling like they’re throwing dirt on the graves of their idols.  It’s time for them to change their thinking, and they will…eventually.  But for now, this is the best they can do.  So the Apes will rise, slowly.

 

Or, y’know, I could be completely wrong, in which case it will be Hugo or Harry Potter, in that order. 

 

 

 

Best Sound Mixing

Nominees:

 

 

Prediction:

Hugo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Hugo

 

Moneyball

 

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

War Horse

 

 

OK, first the good news:  After years of scratching around in the dark trying to understand what Sound Mixing and its companion Sound Editing (see below) actually are, exactly how they are different and what each brings to my experience of a movie, I came across a short article written by an expert that explains it all with about 20 times greater clarity than anything else I’ve ever read on the subject.  If you care at all about this stuff, you really ought to read the article.  I admit I haven’t digested and internalized it all perfectly yet, but I feel like I can finally see a path toward really appreciating the heretofore befuddling crafts at work here.

 

So…the bad news:  Having read this illuminating article, I realize that I have absolutely no means of judging this stuff right now.  And perhaps I never will.  I can imagine that, if I attune myself carefully to these aspects of a film and think critically about what I’m hearing and the steps and processes that were employed at each stage of the process to create that experience for me, I could in time develop informed opinions about the quality of the Sound Mixing and Editing for a given film.  But:  1) That doesn’t help me to judge these qualities in a movie I saw yesterday, let alone six months ago, and 2) Knowing myself, I rather doubt I’ll ever be able to maintain the kind of single-minded focus during my viewing of a film that would make such judgments possible.  I go to movies in the hopes of experiencing something big and beyond myself, and I’m unlikely to sacrifice that $14 just to try to figure out what I think about a movie’s sound design.

 

A little disheartening, then, but all is not lost:  As the article points out, the Oscars in these categories, as in so many others, really have much more to do with popularity and the prevailing cultural winds than they have to do with actual technical excellence.  So as mysterious and esoteric as these aural arts may seem to the lay person, including a dilettante cinecist, the fact is the winners are generally going to be just about as predictable as the winners in other categories, and mostly for the same reasons.  Thank goodness for that.

 

Given all of the above, I obviously can’t allow myself a pick in this category, at least not this year.  But I predict a win for Hugo.  Because it got 11 nominations.

 

 

 

Best Sound Editing

Nominees:

 

Prediction:

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Drive

 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Hugo

 

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

 

 

See my explanation above for Sound Mixing.  If I were smart, I would just predict a win for Hugo and leave it at that.  But overthinking is my downfall, and I’m nothing if not consistent.  So, since I’m pretty sure the coolest man-made sound effects of the year would have been in the Transformers movie, that’s what I’m predicting.  I’m probably wrong.

 


 

Best Original Score

Nominees:

Prediction:

The Artist

 

Pick:

The Artist

The Adventures of Tintin, John Williams

The Artist, Ludovic Bource

 

Hugo, Howard Shore

 

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Alberto Iglesias

War Horse, John Williams

 

 

We tend to think of John Williams as an Academy Award juggernaut, an irresistible force against whom mere mortal composers cower in fright, etc.  And there is no denying he is a constant, unshakeable presence on Oscar night.  But the truth is his record of wins is not so impressive.  Five Oscars sounds like a hell of a lot, until you realize he’s been nominated 47 times over the last 45 years.  For the statistically inclined among you, that’s just a hair over 10%, in a contest in which even random chance would, over time, give any regular competitor a 20% (1 out of 5) average.  Plus, his last win was nearly 20 years ago.  Not so formidable now, eh?

 

Williams has at least maximized his chances for #6 this year with his double nomination, but I still don’t think that’s going to do the trick.  The Artist, despite the controversy surrounding its musical score (no, I’m not kidding, click here for details) still looks to me like the one to beat.  And I can get behind that.  The musical score in The Artist not only had to recreate the feel of the silent film era, but also, just like in its silent film progenitors, had to carry a fair amount of the narrative weight that couldn’t be provided by dialogue.  It seems a worthy winner. 

 

 

 

Best Original Song

Nominees:

Prediction:

“Man or Muppet”

“Man or Muppet” from The Muppets

“Real in Rio” from RIO

 

 

In 1945, there were 14 nominees for Best Original Song.  Someone must have decided things were getting out of hand, because the next year, and in nearly all of the intervening years, there have been just five.  Once in a blue moon six, and a couple of times as few as three.  But until this year, never only two.  Were Academy voters just in a crabby mood this time, or are we to believe there were truly only two good songs written for movies in all of 2011?  I’m sure there’s an interesting story here, if only I could be bothered to uncover it.  But it’s a category that in the best of years holds only nominal interest for me—although I admit I was pretty entertained when Eminem won it a few years back—so I’ll leave that investigation to others.

 

Prediction-wise, well…. The Muppets are obviously awesome.  They have to win. 

 

 

 

Best Documentary Feature

Nominees:

 

 

Prediction:

Hell and Back Again

 

Hell and Back Again

 

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

 

Pina

 

Undefeated

 

 

Beyond the fact that I have rarely seen more than perhaps one or two of the nominees, there are actually a lot of other reasons why this is perennially one of the hardest categories to predict.  This year my prediction is little more than a guess, really, based on subject matter.  This seems like a good year for a brilliantly shot documentary about the horrors of war and the psychologically comparable horrors of a soldier trying to assimilate once he returns home.  And Hell and Back Again scored the coveted 100 on the Tomatometer, which doesn’t happen every day. 

 

And yet….there is another nominee that achieved that honor, and it is Paradise Lost 3.  I haven’t seen it, but if it chronicles the final chapter of the infuriating West Memphis Three debacle as powerfully as its predecessors did the first chapters, I think it ought to have a pretty good shot at the win.

 

 

 

Best Foreign Language Film

Nominees:

Prediction:

A Separation

 

Pick:

A Separation

Bullhead (Belgium)

 

Monsieur Lazhar (Canada)

 

A Separation (Iran)

 

Footnote (Israel)

 

In Darkness (Poland)

 

 

The unanimous, overwhelming praise lavished upon A Separation from every corner of the globe would—in a sane world—make it the very obvious favorite to win this one.  Just try to find someone who saw this movie who doesn’t think it is manifestly one of the best of the year, in any language.

 

But we have learned, year after painful year, how foolhardy it is to think this way about this particular Oscar category.  If you want the full rundown on why, click here to see it explained far more cogently than I could ever manage.  I’ll wait for you.

 

Did you read the article?  It makes sense—a big, fat, disheartening pile of sense.  But even being a cinecist, there is still enough idealism within me (these things are not mutually exclusive, you know) to believe that critical intelligence can and in fact does sometimes prevail over prejudice and easy sentimentalism.  Perhaps one day, against all odds, this will even be borne out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.  And perhaps that day will be February 26th, 2012, in the category of Best Foreign Language Film.  Let us imagine it is so.

 

 

© 2012 dondi demarco