Saturday, February 25, 2012

Extremely Blah and Incredibly Silent: Oscar Predictions

Well, I finally did it -- I managed to see all the major category-nominated films. I make it my mission every year, and this is the year I finally did it. If it's nominated for Picture, Director, Screenplay, or any Acting awards, I've seen it. Unfortunately, it felt more like homework this year than any other I can remember -- 2011 was really a bummer of a year for Films. Note the capitalization. While there were a number of excellent genre efforts -- Drive, Contagion, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Fast Five (seriously), etc. -- there just wasn't much in the "prestige picture" category. The best of the bunch, by my estimation -- Hugo and Midnight in Paris -- were clearly second-tier efforts by their (first class) directors. Enjoyable, yes, but essential? No. The Academy had a number of chances to nominate some genuinely interesting films -- Take Shelter or Melancholia, for example -- but passed in favor of nostalgia (some call it narcissism -- and no, I don't count The Tree of Life as "interesting"). Sigh. Surely this will prove to be a year to forget -- as seemingly all the major contenders have done, as most are set in -- or look back on -- previous years or eras (or, you know, prominently feature fucking DINOSAURS). Anyway, I have a feeling that this rant isn't anywhere near over, so let's just get on with the predictions. Read on if you dare. My picks are in bold (as if there would be any other reason for bolding one but not the others).

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role:
Bérénice Bejo - The Arist
Jessica Chastain - The Help
Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer - Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer - The Help

I'll eschew the usual paragraph ramble for a much easier 'Fun Facts' format:
Fun Fact about Bérénice Bejo: She was Shannyn Sossamon's handmaid in A Knight's Tale, which is one of my favorite movies. Bonus: To type the 'é' character, hit Ctrl + Alt + 0233 on your keyboard.
Fun Fact about Jessica Chastain: She was better in both Take Shelter and The Tree of Life last year.
Fun Fact about Melissa McCarthy: She could very well win this thing. (Neither fun nor factual, I know.)
Fun Fact about Janet McTeer: She has really big boobs, which she displays in Nobbs.
Fun Fact about Octavia Spencer: She will probably win this thing. Feces figures prominently in both hers and McCarthy's performaces. Interesting.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role:
Kenneth Branagh - My Week with Marilyn
Jonah Hill - Moneyball
Nick Nolte - Warrior
Christopher Plummer - Beginners
Max von Sydow - Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

This one figures to be a lock. You can tell by the fact that I italicized "figures" that it's not quite a lock (and there I go with the italicizing again). Branagh can be dismissed as a "tip of the cap to the veteran" nomination, Hill can be dismissed because he was -- sorry, but not really -- not that great, and Nolte, while certainly deserving (just saw Warrior a couple nights ago and DAMN was it great) and old, he can't quite touch the dueling octogenarians, von Sydow and Plummer. Von Sydow, a contender, make no mistake, was clearly the best part of a flawed, flawed film, and gets extra points for being in The Seventh Seal, but Plummer has simply won too many precursors for him not to take home the statue (plus von Sydow stole Albert Brooks' nomination for Drive... grr). Plummer was revelatory in one of the year's best -- and most underrated -- films, and will give Billy Crystal reason to make a Viagra joke. Veterans getting their due and boner jokes are two of my favorite things, so let's hear it for Plummer (who was, by the way, awesome in, and not nominated for, The Insider back in 1999).

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role:
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

This is a touchy category. Everyone seems to be in a tizzy (which actually sounds kind of fun) about the fact that Davis played A MAID. People (and by that I mean less than reputable journalists and bloggers) are crying "Racism!" and "Typecasting!" Whatever. She was the emotional pillar of an otherwise forgettable (and surely exploitative) "message" drama. She treated The Help like it was the heavyweight drama it could've been, not the lightweight Oprah episode it turned out to be (which is a good thing, if that wasn't clear). I think her closest competition is Close, what with all the makeup and genderbending and whatnot (and who could be a tempting choice for some voters). Streep misses out because a) Her film was an absolute snoozefest and, b) She so clearly undershot her own talent, doing an impression rather than acting for most of the film. Mara was great but has to wait her turn (in the parlance of awards season). Finally, Williams was wasted in an absolute trifle of a film. One of my least favorite movies of the year. I wanted to punch the lead in his smug face the entire time. Anyway, it would be a sizable upset if Davis didn't win.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role:
Demáin Bichir - A Better Life
George Clooney - The Descendants
Jean Dujardin - The Artist
Gary Oldman - Tinker Tailor Solider Spy
Brad Pitt - Moneyball

I'll start with this:  The two best performances of the lot were Bichir's and Oldman's. But, because of their subtly, they have no shot. I'm a bit surprised to see two such finely-tuned performances nominated, actually. Normally, a more "showy" performance, like Michael Fassbender's (literally) would have made the cut (not that I'd have had any problem with that, as he was *very* good -- also, circumcision joke). But good on the Academy for nominating the world-weary Bichir and the restrained (for a change) Oldman. Moving on, there is some general competition here for the first time since 2008 (when Sean Penn wrongfully beat out Mickey Rourke). It's tough to choose between the distinguished triumvirate of Clooney, Dujardin, and Pitt. All have their pros and cons. Clooney has been raking in precursors, but his performance relies on the twin crutches of voiceover and wife-in-a-coma; Dujardin is the lead in the presumed Best Picture winner, but may have been upstaged by a Jack Russell Terrier; and Pitt was charming as always, but can a baseball movie win such a big award? I say no (although he'd get my vote). Between Clooney and Dujardin, I think the Academy will go with the Cloon-dogg because of his celebrity and the fact that the film might not win much else but voters will want to reward it where they can. The Artist will get its trophies. A Dujardin win is *very much* a possibility though...

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published:
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash - The Descendants
John Logan - Hugo
George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willmon - The Ides of March
Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin - Moneyball
Bridget O'Connor, Peter Straughan - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Another tricksy category. Let's toss out March -- hey, they had to have five nominees (this is hardly Best Original Song), right? Hugo can go as well -- the Academy will surely shower it with technical gold -- it won't win here (also, pretty sure I just made a golden shower joke). I think Tinker's script is a real nocturnal equine though -- what happens if the two top contenders split the vote? Assuming that doesn't happen, it's between Descendants and Moneyball. I'll use the same logic as above -- Moneyball got a lot of nominations (6 of 'em, good for third-most) and figures to get a win somewhere. Plus, there's a lot of star power among those nominees. I thought that while Payne et al.'s script was strong (and, as stated before, it would be awesome to see Dean Pelton give an acceptance speech), it relied too much on voiceover in the first 30 minutes (maybe I've taken too many screenwriting classes). It could go either way, but I'm putting my (hypothetical) money on Moneyball.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen:
Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist
Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumulo - Bridesmaids
J.C. Chandor - Margin Call
Woody Allen - Midnight in Paris
Asghar Farhadi - A Separation

This is always my favorite category -- AMPAS takes more chances here than anywhere else. We've got not one but *two* wild cards this year -- Margin Call and A Separation. Both were great -- multi-layered and uncompromising -- but all the old white dudes in the Academy probably won't be voting for scripts that make Wall Street look bad or are written by Middle Easterners. A Bridesmaids win would be a nice story, but the problem is that it's not entirely deserving (of a win, not the nomination). That leaves Hazanavicius and Allen facing off. I'll stick to the formula -- Paris has 4 nominations, and this is probably the best place to give it a win. Plus, you know, it had dialogue and whatnot. Maybe this is just me holding out against what very well could be an Artist sweep, but I don't think it will win as many trophies as most seem to think.

Best Achievement in Directing:
Woody Allen - Midnight in Paris
Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist
Terrence Malick - The Tree of Life
Alexander Payne - The Descendants
Martin Scorsese - Hugo

Here's where the Artist love starts (or, rather, where it will begin to crest toward the end of the broadcast). I think (well, hope) it misses out on some of the other awards it's projected to win, but winds up taking the top two prizes. I just don't see it for any of the other nominees. Payne's the "Hi, happy to (finally) be here" guy. Allen is the "Screenplay is enough" guy. Malick is the "My 'art' does not need your validation" guy. And Scorsese is the "I'd be an honor, but..." guy. As in, but... it's clearly The Artist's year. Hazanavicius certainly deserves some recognition for the gumption to make a contemporary silent movie (especially interesting is that it comes on the heels of a movie about talking -- The King's Speech -- and a movie with a *lot* of talking -- The Social Network). I'm actually fine with him winning -- I just can't get that excited about the other nominees. A Scorsese win for his foray into 3D and kid's movies would be a delightful surprise, but I won't be able to muster anything but mild disappointment if/when he loses. About the only nominee that'd get a reaction out of me (other than surprise for Allen or Payne) would be Malick. I didn't like the film, to be sure, but it would certainly be deserving for the scale and visual supremacy of his direction, and a welcome "change of pace" nod form the Academy. But... it's gonna be Hazanavicius.

Best Motion Picture of the Year:
The Artist 
The Descendants
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close 

Midnight in Paris 

The Help
War Horse
The Tree of Life

A few things:  The Artist is going to win. I didn't think the film was all that great. I can't even bring myself to get that mad about it (a stark contrast to last year). There's just not a lot to get excited about here. The Help and Extremely Loud are both melodramatic and exploitative; Moneyball and War Horse are less than the sum of their parts; Tree of Life is an artistic triumph and a narrative disaster; Descendants is long on both charm and contrivance (and really isn't all that memorable); Hugo and Midnight are fine films and my two favorites of the bunch, but... eh, I just can't champion them with any sort of fervor (now if Drive was nominated... but it was never going to be). This AV Club column put it best: "The Oscars—and to varying degrees, all awards—are not about greatness, but about consensus. And The Artist is a point of agreement." It might not be the objective Best film of the year (whatever that means anyway), but it's the one about which the most people could say, "Yeah, that was pretty good." In a year like this, if that's the best we can do, I'll take it. And The Artist is. Pretty good, that is. That's all it is, and all it'll ever be, trophy or not.

Okay, so that wasn't as bitter as I was expecting. And only three Drive references! I'm proud. Anyway, the rest of the categories are up next (minus the rant). Thanks for reading.

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