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A Houston video producer takes on film, television, culture, the church, and his own hubris without even the help of a fact-checker.

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Thursday
Feb232012

Your Guide To the 2012 Academy Awards

Every year I write this column, and lately, I've been wondering why I do.

There are hundreds, thousands of these columns written every year, some of them by people who’ve seen all of the films nominated, including the short films and the documentaries. And then there’s me.

I’ve seen only five of the nine films nominated for Best Picture, none of the animated films, none of the documentaries, none of the shorts, and none of the foreign choices. And that’s after seeing thirty-six theatrical releases this year (some of those were on DVD, but still). If I were writing this column as "the outsider's perspective", I would have a legitimate case: some of the best predictions are made by people with no knowledge - and no bias - of any kind.

Unfortunately, I'm not. I'm just gathering my vague sources of information together and making half-blind guesses. There's no reason you should listen to me.

Except for my eerie accuracy, of course. I've had an untouchable three-year run at the Oscars, and I have no intention of stopping now. Of the 24 categories, I’ve posted correct guesses of 19, 19, and 17, which exceeds the results of most prediction experts, including people who do this full time, like Dave Karger and Mark Harris (note: I did not actually research this to find out if it was true. But it stands to reason). And frankly, I don’t see any reason why that accuracy should stop now.

I’ll post my predictions below, with one major caveat: this is the year of The Artist. It will win Best Picture, and as a result it’ll also land a number of other categories. But it’s still unclear just how many more categories that is. Sometimes a movie goes on a tear and just collects everything in its path, and if that happens with The Artist, you’ll see “surprise” wins in categories like Costumes, Cinematography, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, or Art Direction. It'll be easy to spot early on – it’ll land something it shouldn’t have, and you'll see the costume designer or director of photography climb the stage in shock and talk about the thrill of working on such an unusual projects as this.  At this point, you would be wise to see if your pool allows you to change your picks midway through the show, and if so, to change everything up to and including Sound Editing* to The Artist. Be warned.

* Please note on your ballots that The Artist, being a silent film and all, is not actually nominated for Sound Editing.

Best Picture


Nominees:

The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Help
Hugo
Midnight In Paris
Moneyball
The Tree of Life
War Horse

It’s The Artist. And it’s not close. I mentioned after the Golden Globes that I thought it unbeatable, and since then it’s won at the Producer’s Guild, it’s won at the Director’s Guild, and now no one even knows what movie would be the dark horse that could beat it.

I had movies I liked more than The Artist this year, but it’s a sweet, interesting film and making a silent movie is a gutsy thing to do, and so I have no problem with this. In five years, we’ll have forgotten about it, and while everyone will have vaguely fond memories, no one will think to themselves “y’know, I should go watch that again.” It’s a one-off. But as one-offs go, it’s pretty good.

 

Directing


Nominees:
The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)
The Descendants (Alexander Payne)
Hugo (Martin Scorcese)
Midnight In Paris (Woody Allen)
The Tree of Life (Terence Malick)

Another year, another chance to honor Martin Scorcese for Raging Bull and Mean Streets by giving him an Oscar for a different movie.

I know there’s much to be said for the work Scorcese did in Hugo, but if it’s The Artist’s year, then it wins Best Director, too. If Scorcese hadn’t already won for The Departed, he’d be a lock here, but he did win, so we don’t have worry about that. Plus, since The Departed was good, but not great, there’s a general sense among Academy voters that they don’t want to honor him twice for movies significantly worse than the ones made in his heyday. So count on a win for Michel Hazanavicius and a charming, French-accented speech, probably about courage and overcoming naysayers.

By the way, I’m offering 6-to-1 odds whether anyone will name-check Uggie, the dog, during their speech. 10-to-1 if it’s someone not actually in The Artist. Easy money, you guys. Any takers?

 

Actor In a Leading Role


Nominees:

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

Ah, the first big decision of the night, and the only big category still in any sort of real doubt.

Until a few weeks ago, George Clooney was the runaway favorite for this award. But The Artist kept snagging awards, and The Descendants kept being pushed further and further to the sidelines, and then Jean Dujardin landed the top spot over him at the SAG awards. Oscar enthusiasts everywhere gasped and said “if Clooney can’t even win at the SAG awards, what chance does he have at the Oscars?” After all, other actors love Clooney. And now some Frenchman is going to come and steal his thunder? Not in my America! Let’s take back our awards and rename our fries! U-S-A! U-S-A!

Whoops, got off track there. In all seriousness, I don’t think the SAG award is a real precursor. The Screen Actors Guild doesn’t have a way to honor a Best Picture – the closest they come is “Outstanding Performance By a Cast,” an award that went to the dozen-or-so actresses that carried The Help rather than the two people (plus one dog) who carried The Artist. I view Dujardin’s win as an anomaly rather than a sign, and I’m picking Clooney. But keep in mind what I said at the beginning of this post. If this is The Artist’s year as much as I think it could be, this will be the extra award it’s most likely to snag.

 

Actress In A Leading Role


Nominees:

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

It’s a two-woman race between Viola Davis and Meryl Streep, who are apparently good friends (they were in Doubt together, and I recall Streep name-dropping Davis from the stage after landing an award that year, saying “give this woman a movie!”) and both exceedingly gracious about this sort of thing. They’re both quite good in their respective movies, and despite a string of nominations as long as both arms, Streep hasn’t won an Oscar since 1983 (for Sophie’s Choice).

I wrote about this earlier, but think the streak continues. Viola Davis is incredible in The Help, she’s won most of the awards up to this point, and people want to vote for her. It makes them feel good.

African-American actresses don’t get a lot of good movie roles, and while everyone’s very excited about her now, Davis may not get another chance like this. Meryl Streep certainly will.

 

Actor In a Supporting Role


Nominees:
Kenneth Branagh - My Week With Marilyn
Jonah Hill - Moneyball
Nick Nolte - Warrior
Christopher Plummer - Beginners
Max von Sydow - Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Christopher Plummer plays a dying father coming out of the closet. The other actors are nominated for roles that are not that. Next.

If you're looking for more effective discussion of the issue, it's also fair to note that Plummer has won pretty much all the awards up to this point. The only guy who's won awards other than him, Albert Brooks, did not manage to snag a nomination here.

Actress In a Supporting Role


Nominees:

Bérénice Bejo - The Artist
Jessica Chastain - The Help
Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer - Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer - The Help

Octavia Spencer should win this, for all the reasons mentioned about Viola Davis. The other nominees include another actress from The Help (Jessica Chastain, who is most notable for probably being nominated for the wrong movie - she should’ve been nominated for Tree of Life), and a just-happy-to-be-here Melissa McCarthy. Her only real competition is Bérénice Bejo from The Artist (for obvious reasons), and Janet McTeer (for playing a woman disguised as a man, which the Academy loves).

Spencer’s won too many awards in a row to pick against her. It’s gotta be her.

Animated Feature


Nominees:

A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots
Rango

The movie that won the Golden Globe for this, The Adventures of Tin-Tin, which has that shiny Peter Jackson-Steven Spielberg résumé, missed a nomination here, apparently as a result of being “motion-capture” instead of “traditional” animation. I won’t pretend to understand the logic behind that, but it leaves a pretty clear path for Rango to win this category going away, as it faces two uninteresting sequels (Puss In Boots and Kung Fu Panda 2) and two buzzless independent films (A Cat In Paris and Chico & Rita, neither of which have been released stateside).

Cinematography


Nominees:

The Artist
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Hugo
The Tree of Life
War Horse

There’s a lot going on in this category. Logic would dictate that The Artist should snag this award – the likely Best Picture winner is a film wholly dependent on its cinematography.

(Forgive me if I get a bit verbose here, but I love cinematography and this is one of my favorite awards to consider)

The line the cinematography in The Artist walks is a tougher one than critics have acknowledged: it has to effectively tell the story in a way that a modern audience would be engaged by while also remaining wholly faithful to the style that it’s imitating.  Even though the film’s DP, Guillame Schiffman, nails both categories, I imagine most of the credit will instead go to the film’s director, Michel Hazanvicius.

More to the point is that technical prowess only takes you so far, and there are other films nominated here more impressive in their filmmaking acumen: Hugo for its inventive 3-D work, and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo for its remarkable digital creation. And Janusz Kaminski’s (a five-time nominee and two-time winner) work on War Horse is no less impressive than his usual efforts, only less praised. So I’ll instead pick Emmanuel Lubezki’s luminescent work in Tree of Life.

Regardless of DP, every Terence Malick movie is artfully shot in a way that it soon becomes apparent that the cinematography is the movie. I’ll post the trailer here so you know what I mean.

I’ll put it this way instead: all of these movies made me admire their photography. Tree of Life makes me want to be a photographer.

Art Direction


Nominees:

The Artist
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Hugo
Midnight In Paris
War Horse

Usually this one’s a little more obvious than it is this year. Either the likely Best Picture winner is a big costume drama or historical epic that its art department takes home the trophy as well, or there’s one big standout work in that clearly deserves the award, even if it takes no awards other than this one. Last year was a good example of the latter, as Alice In Wonderland walked home with the award despite mediocre reviews.

This year? Stuart Craig should really take it for Harry Potter, but at this point it’s the eighth movie, it’s the fourth time he’s been nominated, and it would really be a “lifetime achievement” award if he won. Don’t count on it. The likely Best Picture winner is nominated here too, but some old cars and shiny floors and Mary Pickford’s old bed (that’s a real thing) seem like not a lot of art is being directed. That leaves a quaint time-travel movie with minimal interiors (Midnight In Paris), a war movie no one is all that passionate about (War Horse), and a movie about French train stations from the turn of the century directed by a legend (Hugo). Since Hugo snagged eleven nominations but won’t run off with any of the major awards other than maybe – maybe – Best Director, I’ll pick it here. I’ll assume this’ll set off a mini-run of Hugo wins.

Costuming


Nominees:

Anonymous
The Artist
Hugo
Jane Eyre
W.E.

This one’s a bit of a toss-up. The old rule of thumb about any Academy Award is that it doesn’t go to the person who did the best (fill-in-the-black here), it goes to the person who did the most of whatever their category is. The most acting, the most editing, the most whatever. But none of these nominees fit that category.

Anonymous nailed its Shakespearean costumes quite well, but no one is going to award anything to a movie about Shakespeare from by the guy who directed 2012, Godzilla, Stargate, and The Day After Tomorrow. On that note, W.E. is directed by Madonna, so that’s out too. Jane Eyre was perhaps too accurate (read: bland). No one likes handing out trophies for frumpy frocks.

That leaves our two most-nominated films, Hugo and The Artist. I’m reluctant to lean away from the clear favorite, but I have to think that hundreds of turn-of-the-century Parisian waistcoats beat a half-a-dozen flapper dresses. I’m picking Hugo.

Documentary Feature

Oh, I am not jumping into the documentaries yet. These categories don’t count. Let’s leave these until later.

Music (Original Score)


Nominees:

The Adventures of Tintin
The Artist
Hugo
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
War Horse

Ah, back on solid ground. There are five lovely scores here, including two from John Williams, who is securing his 46th and 47th nominations here (for The Adventures of Tin-Tin and War Horse – both Spielberg projects, naturally). Even when you consider that every Hollywood score seems to be composed by either Williams, Howard Shore (also nominated here), or Hans Zimmer (with a touch of James Horner and Danny Elfman around the edges), that’s a pretty impressive feat. Both of his scores are very good, and Shore’s is more than serviceable, but they won’t win this. Neither will Alberto Iglesias for his contained, subtle work on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Ludovic Bource did the score for The Artist – yeah, you see where I’m going with this – and even if it’s maybe not necessarily the best score of the choices, he layered that film with wall-to-wall music, and it’s the most important score to its film of the choices named.

Music (Original Song)


Nominees:

"Man or Muppet" - Bret McKenzie
"Real in Rio" - Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown, Siedah Garrett

I’ve complained about this already. There are only two songs nominated, and one of them is named “Real In Rio.” No one wants to vote for a song that sounds like a tourism ad. The winner’ll be “Man Or Muppet,” from The Artist.

I kid, I kid. It’s from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, of course.

Makeup


Nominees:

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

Another short category. There are only three films nominated: The Iron Lady, Albert Nobbs, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Potter deserves it, but at this point in the game there’s no question of what should win, only what will.  Mark Harris had a great point about this one:

“Two types of movies win this award: Those with immense prosthetic transformations (The Wolfman, Star Trek, How the Grinch Stole Christmas) and those in which an actress is persuasively transformed into a famous person (La Vie en Rose, Elizabeth, Frida). The Iron Lady… is both.”

That’s all the argument I need.

Film Editing


Nominees:

The Artist
The Descendants
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Hugo
Moneyball

I am already angry about this category, even before its been awarded. Because I know already that it’s going to go to the wrong movie. It’s gonna go to The Artist, or maybe Hugo, where the degree of difficulty for editing is fairly low, as opposed to a movie with a high degree of difficulty: Moneyball, and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

I don’t mean this to sound denigrating, and I don’t mean this to sound cocky, but there’s probably no way around either, so I’ll just press on: I could’ve edited The Artist. It just isn’t that tough a film to assemble. At the very least, I could’ve pieced together a solid rough cut that a better editor could’ve touched up later, but for the most part, there’s not that much mastery required to put this movie together. The film is mostly shot in long, master takes, or with a pair of medium shots that you’d crosscut between, or with a sequence of shots you’d clearly assemble in a certain order. Once you’d gotten a handle on the trickiest bit – editing in a way the replicates the style of silent film editors who didn’t have a century of film language bred into them – it’s all smooth sailing.

Compare that to the work the editors of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo had to do. The New York Times did a great slideshow of the editors breaking down what they had to just for one four-minute sequence early in the film, its well worth your time, if just to understand the amount of detail that goes in to every scene you see on screen. Its director, David Fincher, shoots an unbelievable amount of takes of every shot, and then, incredibly, divides up the frame so that he can pick his favorite take of everyone in the scene.  Then the editors have to stitch the frame back together with all of Fincher’s favorite performances. The pacing and tone of the editing changes depending on where the scene is, who the character we’re following is, and what time period it is. It’s an unbelievably complex process.

But for some reason most Oscar predictors seem to feel the opposite of me. Everything I’ve read indicates that The Artist is a lock for this award, and how difficult it is to tell a story with no dialogue, and yadda yadda yadda. None of them know what they’re talking about when it comes to editing, but they do know what they’re talking about when it comes to Oscar predictions. And they’re right – most of the time, the editing award matches up to the Best Picture winner, unless there’s a particularly showy war movie or cerebral action piece. That said, the Academy does love Fincher – he won last year for The Social Network. But they also love Thelma Schoonmaker, the editor of all of Martin Scorcese’s movies (I’m not a huge fan of her work, but she’s won seven Oscars at this point, so who am I to judge?). I think Hugo and Dragon Tattoo split the non-Artist vote, and The Artist takes the prize. But just know my heart’s not into it.

 

Documentary Feature


Not yet, not yet. I’m not ready.

 

Short Film (Live Action


No.

Sound Editing/Sound Mixing


Nominees:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Hugo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse
Drive/Moneyball

Okay, I can handle this. Usually, these two categories are paired: the film that wins one will win the other. So we can win this by process of elimination: the films that are nominated in one category but not the other (Drive, Moneyball) are out. There’s a Transformers movie nominated, so we can toss that out too. That leaves Hugo, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and War Horse. Not a lot of interesting soundscape things in Dragon Tattoo, really – and no Fincher movie has ever won this award – so that leaves Hugo and War Horse. It’s a choice between critical adoration and war movie, and that’s a tough call. I’m gonna go with War Horse, but keep an eye on Hugo during this award show. It has the potential to go on a run and sweep all the non-Artist Oscars. Plus, no one really liked War Horse that much.  Then again, no one like King Kong that much, either, yet it’s got three Oscars on its presumably giant mantle.

Visual Effects


Nominees:

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


Alright, process of elimination again: the Transformers movie is eliminated by virtue of being a Transformers movie, and Real Steel is eliminated for being even stupider. That leaves Harry Potter (which has never won this award) Hugo, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Now, ready for a crazy fact? If you kept reading on that Mark Harris article I linked to, you would’ve seen that since this award was created in the late 70’s, when given a choice between a Best Picture nominee and one that didn’t snag a nomination, the voters have voted for the Best Picture nominee. Every. Single. Time. So logic says Hugo.

I still say Apes takes it, though. Hugo is magical and the 3-D work is very good, but if we awarded films for being 3-D, we’d probably have to hand Piranha 3-D an honorary Oscar.

Writing (Original Screenplay)


Nominees:

The Artist
Bridesmaids
Margin Call
Midnight in Paris
A Separation

Is Woody Allen nominated here? Yes? Well, that was easy.


Writing (Adapted Screenplay)


Nominees:

The Descendants
Hugo
The Ides of March
Moneyball
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The Academy loves Alexander Payne – they’ve nominated him in this category as far back as Election – and The Descendants has the privilege of being in the writing category that doesn’t include a Woody Allen script. I know it’s unwise to pick against Hugo, but I can’t recall ever hearing anyone gushing about its sharp writing at any point (it’s based on a children’s picture book, after all). I’m sure that Moneyball will get some love here – both Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin worked on the Moneyball script, that’s a stunner of an Oscar pedigree. But The Descendants is the more emotional movie (Brad Pitt weeping in his truck aside), so you have to figure this category belongs to them.

Foreign Language Film


Nominees:

Belgium, Bullhead
Canada, Monsieur Lazhar
Iran, A Separation
Israel, Footnote
Poland, In Darkness

I’m tempted to call Iran’s A Separation a lock here, since it got some Best Picture hype as well as an Original Screenplay nomination. But the films that have been the big favorites in the past – I assumed The White Ribbon and Pan’s Labyrinth were unbeatable, and was shocked to see Israel’s Waltz With Bashir lose to the Japanese Departures - have all missed out on the prize. And Poland has a movie this year that’s about the Holocaust, which, in the realm of Important Movie Subjects, is tough to beat.

The voters in this category (and the following categories) are a smaller group – you have to have seen all five of these movies to vote, and there aren’t screeners sent out, so you have to have the free time to go to whatever small LA or New York theater is showing them. So who knows where this category’ll end up? It’s going to be decided by a few dozen voters.

That said, everyone’s gushing about what an incredibly moving film A Separation is, so I’ll go with the favorite, even though it violates one of my standard Oscar voting rules: never bet against AIDS or the Holocaust.

Documentary Feature


Nominees:

Hell and Back Again

If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Pina

Undefeated
 

Oh, man, are we back here again? Fine. Fine! I’ll do it.

Everyone will talk themselves out of voting for Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory – the final chapter in the 20-year fight by the Paradise Lost filmmakers to get the West Memphis Three released from prison – but I don’t know why. This is a story that a number of Hollywood celebrities latched onto (after seeing Paradise Lost, Peter Jackson made his own documentary about the subject), and awarding a film about their release is the exact sort of victory lap the Academy loves. Its only real competition is Hell and Back Again, an apparently quite disturbing doc about an injured soldier returning from Afganistan and trying to rehab his badly injured body and psyche.

Documentary Short


Nominees:

"The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement"
"God is the Bigger Elvis"
"Incident in New Baghdad"
"Saving Face"
"The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom"

Interesting thing I learned this year: almost all of the votes in this category are decided by Academy members who attend a screening of all these movies back-to-back-to-back, then vote immediately after. So the challenge isn’t “which movie of these is the strongest”, but “which movie of these will stand out the most?” I’m assuming it’s Saving Face, a film about a plastic surgeon returning to Pakistan to help women whose faces have been scarred by acid attacks – often by their husbands, who are almost never made to stand trial. Just watching a one-minute clip of the film was a rough experience.

Best Short Film (Animated)


Nominees:

"Dimanch/Sunday"
"The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore"
"La Luna"
"A Morning Stroll"
"Wild Life"

Critical consensus indicates that Pixar’s "La Luna" (an endearing twee short about a boy helping his father and grandfather keep the moon lit) will win this category, but I’m doubtful. In its last six years of entry in this category, Pixar is 0-for-6. Instead, I’ll pick "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore", which, in addition to being charming and fun, is also a pretty awesome iPad app.

Best Short Film (Live Action)


Nominees:

"Pentecost"
"Raju"
"The Shore"
"Time Freak"
"Tuba Atlantic"

The last category! We made it! We made it!

This category is always awful. I haven’t seen any of these five films – in fact, there’s never been a year where I’ve seen any of them – and so it’s always guesswork based on video clips, trailers, and online sentiment. Four of these films are indie-type comedies of the offbeat variety (“Tuba Atlantic” is about a dying Irish man trying to signal his brother in New Jersey via gigantic horn, for example). I’ll pick the one that isn’t – "Raju", about a couple who adopts a young Indian boy, then learns that perhaps his parents aren’t actually dead.

Well, that’s it. It’s done. Thank goodness.

There was a time I wrote this article with a chip on my shoulder – I’m weirdly competitive about award show predictions – but now that I’ve been so accurate for a couple years in a row, I’m more inclined to root for my favorites over my predictions (well, those favorites that got nominated, that is. But I’ve certainly griped about that enough).

Best of luck on your Oscar ballots! Keep in mind that those who have taken my picks as their own in years past have been known to have a little extra change in their pocket come Monday morn. Just sayin’.

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