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Sunday, February 19, 2012

In one week's time, the most famous of the world's many arbitrary film awards will be given out: I refer of course to the Oscars, and I will not be getting into a whole thing about the Oscars being or failing to be meaningful on any level, other than to say that I'm having an uncharacteristically on-consensus year. I am only going to toss out my predictions, because that is a thing that cinephiles do. It's like crack: no matter how much you don't care about the Oscars all year, for the second half of February, there's no way around it.

In case you're interested in using these predictions as a source for your Oscar pool, or what have you, I would urge caution: last year I went 15/24 overall (which is exactly my 10-year average) and 7/8 in the big categories of Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Acting (a good year). Which, to be honest, is not any better than anyone who's been paying even a bit of attention for the last couple of months.

Best Picture
The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Will Win: The Artist
Spoiler: Hugo
My Pick: The Tree of Life

It's easiest just to say that The Artist is going to win, because it is. If you want me to show my work, I can, but The Artist is going to win. No film has ever done so well in the precursors, both critically and among the guilds, and lost - Brokeback Mountain comes close, but only the BP-winning Slumdog Millionaire has ever run the boards to this extent.

Like I said, I'm happy to show my work, which begins with knocking off the low-hanging fruit: the films that didn't do place in Directing, Writing, or Acting. Only 17 of 83 films have ever won Best Picture without landing nominations in all three of those categories. Surprisingly, more films (2) have won with none of those nominations, than with only one of those nominations (which has never, ever happened), so weirdly enough, War Horse is theoretically stronger than Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, or The Tree of Life, but none of these will make it in, regardless.

Of those films which only receive two of those three nominations, it is better to receive Directing and Writing without Acting (9 wins in 83 years), than Writing and Acting without Directing (1 win), so Moneyball is the next one out. Naturally, since all three are better than just two, The Artist and The Descendants place above Hugo and Midnight in Paris, except that The Descendants is cooling off, and as the nomination leader, Hugo surely manages a second-place finish.

Best Director
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo

Will Win: Michel Hazanavicius
Spoiler: Martin Scorsese
My Pick: Terrence Malick

Pragmatically, Hazanavicius and Scorsese are the only two with a prayer of winning - Malick's film is much, much too small, and Allen's and Payne's aren't as conspicuously "directed". Basic sense says that when a Best Picture frontrunner has that much heat, it makes sense to stick with it in Director, as well.

Best Actor
Demián Bichir, A Better Life
George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Will Win: Jean Dujardin
Spoiler: Brad Pitt
My Pick: Gary Oldman

The most open of the acting races. There are damn good arguments for Clooney, Dujardin, and Pitt, of which the Clooney arguments convince me the least, given how much more losing SAG hurt him than it hurt Pitt (and he's certainly going to be back up here, though Pitt probably has the better chance of being back here first). None of them would surprise me, but the heat seems to be with Dujardin; and unlike some places where I have The Artist winning in my predictions, it doesn't require the film sweeping to pull him along.

Best Actress
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

Will Win: Viola Davis
Spoiler: Meryl Streep
My Pick: Viola Davis

What a difference a year makes: the 2010 crop of Best Actress nominees was one of the best acting competitions since I've started watching the Oscars, and now, it's four women who frankly don't deserve to be here at all, with Davis hanging on as the woman who maybe still doesn't deserve to be here if you agree with me that hers is manifestly a supporting role (which appears to be a considerable minority opinion, but honestly, I wouldn't really care if they'd decided to nominate her in Best Sound Mixing, as long there was SOME official recognition of how miraculous she was in that part, given what she had to work with).

Anyway, we're not here to debate categorisation, but to predict a winner, and it's rather obviously Davis vs. Streep, with Williams standing by in case of something truly unimaginable happening. I give Davis the edge on account of how much everybody seems to adore her as a person; and really, the fact that almost everybody hates The Iron Lady can't possibly help Streep's chances.

Best Supporting Actor
Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Will Win: Christopher Plummer
Spoiler: Kenneth Branagh
My Pick: Christopher Plummer

Four every bit of four months, Plummer has been the prohibitive favorite in this category, and I cannot think of a single good reason to assume that he isn't still - beloved old actor without an Oscar getting all sorts of terrific career-capping notices. All of which also applies to von Sydow, except - crucially - the bit where people are calling it one of the peaks of his career. Incidentally, either one of them would set the new record as the oldest winner of a competitive Oscar (and von Sydow is presently the second-oldest male nominee).

The only real fun to be had is in picking the runner-up; my money goes on the actor playing a famous movie star in a light comic turn, but it ultimately just doesn't matter a damn.

Best Supporting Actress
Bérénice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help

Will Win: Octavia Spencer
Spoiler: Bérénice Bejo
My Pick: Octavia Spencer

I suspect I want this to be harder than it really is. From where I see it, there are three likely places this could go: continuing the coronation of Spencer that has been happening since the Globes; rewarding Chastain for having the most god-damn spectacular year since just about ever; or recognise that Bejo was sparkling and fun in a film that is rather well-poised for something of a sweep. My gut says it could go any way, and my head says that I shouldn't be such a damn idiot, and stick with the extremely smart money on Spencer. All that being said, I can't stop thinking we deserve a surprise in one of the acting categories, and this seems a likely spot.

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Descendants, by Nat Faxon, Alexander Payne & Jim Rash
Hugo, by John Logan
The Ides of March, by George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willmon
Moneyball, by Stan Chervin and Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, by Bridget O'Connor & Peter Straughan

Will Win: Moneyball
Spoiler: The Descendants
My Pick: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

This is always my less-favorite writing category; still, it's rare for them to only come up with one nominee I particularly agree with. But that is not important for our present needs

Two of these films aren't Best Picture nominees; which means that two of them have no chance. The last time Adapted Screenplay went to a non-BP film was 1998 (it was as relatively recent as 2004 for Original). And even Hugo's biggest fans aren't very vocal about loving its screenplay. I'm not, anyway, and I am the biggest Hugo fan I know.

And so it comes down to a Clooney vehicle versus a Pitt vehicle, and while I enjoy the comparisons to Up in the Air (very laid-back Clooney movie for grown ups with a bit of a social studies backbone that started running out of buzz in a major way during the voting period), I actually take a simpler route to predicting Moneyball: it is peppier and talkier. Remember the crap line? "There are rich teams, and there are poor teams, then there's fifty feet of crap, and then there's us." Now quote a line from The Descendants. Even if you can do it, you have to admit that it wasn't as much fun.

Best Original Screenplay
The Artist, by Michel Hazanavicius
Bridesmaids, by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
Margin Call, by J.C. Chandoor
Midnight in Paris, by Woody Allen
A Separation, by Asghar Farhadi

Will Win: Midnight in Paris
Spoiler: The Artist
My Pick: A Separation

A rough one, for me: The Artist and Midnight in Paris both seem like the obvious winner, but lacking the fortitude to predict a tie, I have to go one way or the other. The logic for the first: It's going to win Best Picture. The last Best Picture winner that didn't win a writing award was in 2004, and it's only happened a total of three times in the last ten ceremonies. The logic for the second: everybody loves Woody Allen again, and he's such a writer's writer, and I mean, Woody Allen is BACK, y'all! So let's give him an Oscar here, since he sure as hell isn't getting it for directing.

An intractable conflict that I have resolved only by resorting to cheap logic that I hate: The Artist has no dialogue, and this category doesn't favor good screenwriting, it favors good dialogue. Although I don't think that would be sufficient reason, if the Woody Allen comeback narrative weren't right behind it.

Best Cinematography
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)

Will Win: The Artist
Spoiler: Hugo
My Pick: The Tree of Life

Here's what I absolutely do know: Lubezki isn't going to win. If a fella can lose for Children of Men, he can lose for anything And even if he is going to win, I'm not going to predict it, because I'd rather be wrong and delighted than wrong and even more disappointed than will already be the case.

As for what will win, any of them seem possible: War Horse is the conventionally prettiest of the five, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo the most overtly stylish; but I think that it's probably down to the two nomination leaders and Best Picture frontrunners. I think that broad support for The Artist gets it in one by the narrowest of margins, but it's probably as shaky here as anywhere else I'm predicting it. Especially since it's only the fourth black-and-white nominee since Schindler's List won here (the first B&W winner after the elimination of dual categories in 1967), all of which have lost, though it's the only presumptive Best Picture winner of those four.

Best Editing
The Artist (Anne-Sophie Bion & Michel Hazanavicius)
The Descendants (Kevin Tent)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall)
Hugo (Thelma Schoonmaker)
Moneyball (Christopher Tellefsen)

Will Win: The Artist
Spoiler: Hugo
My Pick: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

At some points in its history, this category has existed to further validate the Best Picture winner; at other points, it has existed to throw a bone to the first BP runner-up. (Heck, once or twice in the 77 years it's been given out, it was even used to recognise the year's best editing). In the last ten years, it's gone along with BP six times, to another BP nominee twice, and to a non-BP film with really snazzy-ass editing twice; so the smart money is on newly-minted ACE winner The Artist, carrying it, particularly since Thelma Schoonmaker really does not need a fourth trophy, and the only one of the four that could win it by the "most editing is best editing" logic, GwtDT, would mean that Baxter and Wall have the first back-to-back wins in this category in history. Moneyball and The Descendants are simply too low-key for the win.

Incidentally, though I have selected GwtDT as my "favorite", I truly do wish that I had better candidates to choose from. My pick for the weakest non-short category of the year (narrowly edging out Best Actress).

Best Art Direction
The Artist (Laurence Bennett; Robert Gould)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (Stuart Craig; Stephenie McMillan)
Hugo (Dante Ferretti; Francesca Lo Schiavo)
Midnight in Paris (Anne Seibel; Hélène Dubreuil)
War Horse (Rick Carter; Lee Sandales)

Will Win: Hugo
Spoiler: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
My Pick: Hugo

There are categories where The Artist is strong enough that in a sweep, it might do better than most of us probably suspect. This is not one of them. Hugo is too much of what the Academy has been favoring in this category recently: big and intensely unsubtle. It also has the fig leaf of a whole damn mess of swoony critics, if that even matters. I rather do feel sorry for Stuart Craig, who deserves something for creating a fantasy world so durable, it lasted for eight whole movies and never stopped being convincing and imaginative; but while I can sort of see the logic behind rewarding his patience with an Oscar, it would absolute qualify as one of the biggest surprises of the night.

Best Costume Design
Anonymous (Lisy Christl)
The Artist (Mark Bridges)
Hugo (Sandy Powell)
Jane Eyre (Michael O'Connor)
W.E. (Arianne Phillips)

Will Win: Hugo
Spoiler: Jane Eyre
My Pick: Jane Eyre

God bless the Costume branch - no rubber-stamping Best Picture nominees here! Their tastes might be suspect, sometimes, but they always judge the costumes and not the film containing them. Is that so true of any other category?

That being said, I have absolutely no insight this year - this gets my pick for hardest category to predict of the night - beyond assuming that the Academy at large (and it's the whole Academy that votes for the ultimate winner) won't want to create a world where Anonymous or W.E. get to put "Oscar Winner" on their DVD covers. I suppose the better part of valor is to go with one of the Best Picture nominees, even though Jane Eyre feels so much more like the kind of movie that wins here; Hugo certainly is more in line with Academy tastes than the period-specific but not very flashy threads in The Artist, but I can also see this being a ready victim of a sweep, given that it's something of a "disposable" category much of the time.

Best Makeup
Albert Nobbs
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
The Iron Lady

Will Win: The Iron Lady
Spoiler: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
My Pick: The Iron Lady

A low-key year for the category. But then, it has been a low-key year for rip-roaring make-up effects. I am torn between assuming that this is Harry Potter's best chance at finally taking home an Oscar after 10 years, because this is something of a "throwaway" category ,and assuming this is its worst chance, because it really does stand out more in the other two categories where it's been nominated. I'm erring on the side of assuming that the voter's well-established love of old-age makeup will carry The Iron Lady through; it is, anyway, a spectacular example of that trick.

If, by the way, the film wins here, but Streep loses, who else will be weirdly amused by the implicit suggestion that the makeup was doing more acting than she was?

Best Score
The Adventures of Tintin (John Williams)
The Artist (Ludovic Bource)
Hugo (Howard Shore)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Alberto Iglesias)
War Horse (John Williams)

Will Win: The Artist
Spoiler: War Horse
My Pick: The Adventures of Tintin

Probably the next easiest get for The Artist after Picture and Director; there's just so much music, and hardly any of it was originally composed by Bernard Herrmann (which as controversies go, strikes me as an unusually pointless one - we might as well complain that the Herrmann passage in question was itself partially referencing Wagner's Tristan und Isolde). That it is possibly the most indistinct of the five nominees does not seem to be very worthy of comment. I suppose Williams always has a shot, though neither of the scores here seem to be exactly the right fit for a win; and it's just within the realm of possibility that voters who don't think they've plumped enough for Hugo could cite it here, but all of this is ultimately so much muddied water. The Artist. Mark it as a lock.

Best Song
From The Muppets: "Man or Muppet"
From Rio: “Real in Rio"

Will Win: "Man or Muppet"
My Pick: "Man or Muppet"

There's always the argument that goes, "Well, heck, if they nominated it, the sky's the limit", but I have to be perfectly honest and say that I just don't see even the tiniest possibility that The Muppets doesn't take this in a walk, almost certainly the most sewn-up category of the whole evening.

Seriously, they nominated the song from motherfucking Rio.

Best Sound Mixing
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

Will Win: War Horse
Spoiler: Hugo
My Pick: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Two huge points in War Horse's favor: war films do well here, and it's all alone; with six nominations including Best Picture, it obviously has a fair base of love in the Academy, and this is absolutely its best chance to win a consolation prize. Second point: this prize always goes to a "big" sounding movie, of which the only other one here is Transformers, and if they were going to reward that franchise, they'd have done it with the first movie, which had considerably less noisy competition.

On the other hand, this is also a great place to chip some love at Hugo for any voters who feel like it isn't on their ballot in enough places, and I feel like if I'm right on that film missing both Editing and Cinematography, it has to pick up some slack somewhere...

Best Sound Editing
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

Will Win: War Horse
Spoiler: Hugo
My Pick: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

The same logic as Sound Mixing, basically, though I'd imagine Transformers has at least a slight leg up here (this is the "sound effects" category, so to speak), with the same caveat as before. If there are Drive fans in the Academy, I would imagine they will throw their weight behind it here, to try and squeak out a win on its only nomination; but if there are Drive fans in the Academy, surely we wouldn't be talking about its only nomination?

Best Visual Effects
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Real Steel
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Will Win: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Spoiler: Hugo
My Pick: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

My gut tells me that if the Harry Potter franchise finally ends up an Oscar winner, it has to happen here, even if I am personally inclined to suggest that it has the worst effects of the nominees (though Real Steel is a hell of a lot more boring). That said, I don't think that sentiment for a series that already has its prize in the form of an ungodly pile of money is enough to win over the film that everybody and his grandma has proclaimed to be the Great Leap Forward for mo-cap.

It has, however, been four decades since a Best Picture nominee that showed up in this category lost out, so bear that in mind.

Best Animated Feature
A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots

Will Win: Rango
Spoiler: Kung Fu Panda 2
My Pick: Rango

Ever since it opened to dumbfounding good reviews way the hell back in March, Rango has always felt like it was destined to win; only Cars 2 not being as bad as it looked (it was) or The Adventures of Tintin beating down the animation branch's hatred of motion capture (it didn't) have ever really stood in its way. Certainly, two foreign pictures whose victory was getting nominated, and two moderate blockbusters about which the nicest praise has thus far been, "Goodness gracious, DreamWorks can do good sequels now!" don't seem to represent all that much of a threat.

NB: The two European films that basically nobody had ever heard of are, in fairness, not my favorites, but that's no reason go hatin'. In particular, A Cat in Paris is, in its way, just as warped and idiosyncratic as Rango, in a far gentler, more graphic style.

Best Foreign Language Film
Bullhead (Belgium)
Footnote (Israel)
In Darkness (Poland)
Monsieur Lazhar (Canada)
A Separation (Iran)

Will Win: In Darkness
Spoiler: A Separation
My Pick: I have not seen all of the nominees

It would seem, thus far, that the smart money is on the immensely well-loved Iranian film, this very blog's #3 film of 2011, winner of more prizes and berths on critic's lists than any other non-English film of the year. But I can't do it. We have been here, and we have been here recently, with a widely-praised, widely-loved film that is even marginally challenging going down before the might of something simpler and more in line with the decidedly middlebrow tastes of this category. And In Darkness is a freaking Holocaust movie.

I'd be thrilled if I were wrong, and maybe the momentum for A Separation is enough to carry it over. But I think that to bet that way is to bet against historical precedent. Though, speaking of precedent, prior to this year, Poland has a 0/8 record in this category, so who really knows...

Best Documentary
Hell and Back Again
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Will Win: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Spoiler: Hell and Back Again
My Pick: Pina

I have tried, and tried, to convince myself that Pina has a shot, but this category sticks with socially important subject matter most of the time - not always, but most - and whatever its artistic achievement, and however impressive the advances it makes in 3-D, Pina is not, in any way, socially important. Of the remaining four, I want to toss out If a Tree Falls simply for being bad, although that isn't necessarily the smartest way to predict the Oscars.

On paper, the Afghanistan PTSD narrative of Hell and Back Again is the most timely thing here, and I am very nearly swayed by that logic. But the tangible, real-world impact of the Paradise Lost series is perhaps a bit more reputable, and it gives the Academy a chance to reward a highly-acclaimed trilogy that they have overlooked, rather notoriously, in the past.

There is also the possibility of Harvey Weinstein bullying the singularly nice and personality-free underdog saga Undefeated into a win, but I am not certain that such a strategy would even work in this particular category, where voters must see all five movies.

Best Documentary Short Subject
"The Barber of Birmingham"
"God is the Bigger Elvis"
"Incident in New Baghdad"
"Saving Face"
"The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom"

Will Win: "Saving Face"
Spoiler: "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom"
My Pick: I have not seen all of the nominees

If we agree that the single biggest criterion for winning this category is the film's awareness of its own social importance - which isn't always the case, though it gets us close to where we want to be - "Saving Face", the story of Pakistani women struggling for their rights and safety in a cruelly patriarchal world, is the clear frontrunner. "Elvis" has, relative to the others, a trivial subject, Iraq isn't hip anymore, now that it's 2012, and "Barber" simply doesn't do a good enough job keeping its political ideas afloat. "Tsunami", about the biggest international news story of 2011, probably can compete on the importance front, and it's easy to argue that it's a better piece of craftsmanship, but it doesn't hit its message with quite as much haranguing urgency, and I take that to be a demerit in this category.

Best Short Film, Live-Action
"The Shore"
"Time Freak"
"Tuba Atlantic"

Will Win: "The Shore"
Spoiler: "Raju"
My Pick: "Tuba Atlantic"

The only one I genuinely can't see making it all the way is "Pentecost", by far the most ephemeral of the five, and the most obvious. My gut tells me that "Time Freak" is similarly too thin, and the least-accomplished of the four as a work of craft; but after last year's winner, I should hesitate to write off slight, hipster-ish American indies off-hand.

A lot of wise people are predicting "Tuba Atlantic", though I can't help but feel that it's too archly Nordic and, frankly, too eager to be disliked. And thus, in turn, we come to "The Shore", an Irish picture with several famous people - and after so many Irish nominees lately, I think the category is due for an Irish winner. Plus, the unrushed story of friendship and the flow of history does the best job of any of these nominees of hitting the right level of sentiment without cutesiness.

Ah! But what is this hugely dark social document about the plight of orphans in India? And if this category were as beholden to Serious Stories of Real Life as it feels like it should be, Raju would have it in a walk; but after that strategy backfired so impressively last year, I am reluctant to trot it out again right away.

Fun fact! This is by far my worst category for predictions, with a princely 1/10 record since 2001.

Best Short Film, Animated
"The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore"
"La Luna"
"A Morning Stroll"
"Wild Life"

Will Win: "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore"
Spoiler: "La Luna"
My Pick: "Wild Life"

Last year called it into question a bit, but I have had a good deal of success predicting this category with one and only one criterion: my least favorite nominee wins. And even if it didn't, I think you could still get to "FFBoMML" through simple logic (post-Katrina New Orleans fantasy that makes you feel all warm inside). The fact that Pixar has no dog in the Best Animated Feature race probably gives "La Luna" a bit of an edge, but I don't think that anyone could win an argument that calls it one of the studio's better shorts, and they lose here more than they win.


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