Monthly Archives: February 2012

Feeling underwhelmed: My Academy Awards predictions

I felt a lot like George Valentin does here while watching this year's Best Picture nominees.

(While I haven’t updated this blog in nine months, I found the need to get my opinions out about the upcoming Academy Awards for the approximately zero of you who care, and this is the only place I have to document them.  So here there are).

I love the Academy Awards and I don’t really know why.

I understand it’s mostly nonsense. I hate the Grammy’s. The Emmy’s always make me furious. And while the Academy Awards is largely no different than those two, I love it. Never mind that virtually every category is decided by rich, old white guys, the Oscar’s are no less exciting to me.

I don’t really remember when I started being such an Oscar’s nut. The first one I remember watching with a real knowledge of the nominated films was in 2005 when Million Dollar Baby beat out rightful winner Sideways in the final year of the Academy’s seemingly everlasting blowjob to Clint Eastwood (it has since ceased with the felating).

The following year was what really hooked me, however, as underdog Crash, which was my favorite film of the year and is still one of my favorite moves, upset Brokeback Mountain, while my favorite actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, beat the pants off of Joaquin Phoenix and his Johnny Cash impersonation to win best actor for his work in Capote. 

Yes, in 2006 all was right in the world of Oscar lunacy, at least in my eyes. And ever since I’ve taken it upon myself to see every major category nomination ahead of time regardless of the (maybe sometimes illegal?) measures I must take to do so.

What follows is my breakdown of what are considered the eight major Academy Awards categories. (Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Director, Adapted Screenplay and Original Screenplay). I’ll do a small (sometimes big) summary of each category followed by my predictions for who will win and who I think should win. Enjoy.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominees:

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

Best Adapted Screenplay has always been a strange category for me because I kind of feel like you need to have read the original work to rightfully be an expert on the subject, something I’m quite certain almost none of the Academy’s voters have done. (The only one I’ve read is Moneyball, and that was several years ago).

The Descendants comes in as a strong favorite (all betting odds courtesy of the Bovada sports book), and it makes sense considering the Academy has loved everything George Clooney has done over the past five years. Clooney was previously nominated for an original screenplay in 2006 for Good Night, and Good Luck, but this is the first time he’s nominated for adapting a screenplay (which he shares credit with Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon).

The only of the remaining four films that could contend is Moneyball, which has the names Steven Zaillian (won for Schindler’s List) and Aaron Sorkin (won for The Social Network) attached to it. Having read Moneyball, I remember being flabbergasted when I found out they were making a movie out of the book. It just didn’t seem to make any sense. Well, Zaillian and Sorkin somehow made sense of it.

Will win: The Descendants

Should win: Moneyball

Best Original Screenplay

Nominees:

The Artist
Margin Call

Bridesmaids
A Separation
Midnight in Paris

As a writer, this is always my favorite category because of the immense amount of creativity it takes to write a screenplay and because so few seem to have the talent to do so. Unfortunately, Charlie Kaufman is once again absent from this list as he has been every year since 2004 (although he should have been nominated in 2008 for Synecdoche, New York. Still bitter about this. But at least he has two projects currently in the works, according to his IMDb profile. OK, enough ranting).

I was thrilled to see my favorite move of the year, A Separation (more on this later), among the nominees, as well as the extremely funny Bridesmaids, extremely clever Midnight in Paris and extremely underrated Margin Call. (Yes, that’s THREE extremely’s).

Unfortunately, none of those movies stand a chance as I have a feeling Sunday night is going to be an all-out The Artist love-fest. (“It’s just so unique and original and new and different!”)

Sigh.

It’s highly unlikely a slapstick comedy or foreign film wins this award, and nobody besides me saw Margin Call, so the only chance of an upset in this category is with Midnight in Paris only because the Academy loves Woody Allen. Could it happen? Possibly. Will it? Not likely.

Will win: The Artist

Should win: A Separation

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees:

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

On paper, this appears to be Octavia Spencer’s award to lose as she is a heavy favorite over the other four. However, Jessica Chastain’s inclusion makes things a lot more interesting. While both performances in The Help were great and deserving of nominations, it’s not farfetched to think two nominees from the same film could result in a split vote, leaving the door open for Bérénice Bejo or, in a huge upset (think: Marisa Tomei for My Cousin Vinny), Melissa McCarthy, whose nomination is a victory in its own right for comedic performances.

But while that seems all fine and dandy in make-believe world, the truth is Spencer’s performance outshines the other four and it’s hard to imagine Chastain takes enough votes away from her to steal the title. Parade, meet rain.

Will win: Octavia Spencer

Should win: Spencer

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees:

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

Like Spencer, this award is Christopher Plummer’s to lose. Unlike Spencer, there’s no way in hell anyone pulls an upset. Grantland’s Mark Harris wrote in January that the character Plummer plays in Beginners — a dying gay dad — “For the Oscar’s, that like hitting BAR BAR BAR on the slots.”

He’s right, but aside from the sentimentality of his expected win, it’s also a far better performance than any of the other four nominees. While it’s awesome that the man who once played chess with death is nominated for an Oscar 55 years after that performance, Extremely Loud Bland & Incredibly Close Sappy wasn’t very good and von Sydow is barely on screen and doesn’t speak.

Will win: Christopher Plummer

Should win: Plummer

Best Actress

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

Best Actress is usually my least-favorite category to ponder because it usually has the least amount of drama. I always feel like either A) They struggle to find five performances good enough to fill out the ballot, B) There’s already a clear-cut favorite, C) Meryl Streep is going to win, or D) Both B and C.

This year couldn’t be more different.

While Streep is on the ballot (and deservingly so), there is no clear-cut favorite and all five performances were extraordinary. The complete opposite of the Best Actor category (more on that later).

From what the oddsmakers say, this race is between Streep and Viola Davis. The crazy thing is that you could make a legitimate argument  for any of the five nominees and I will attempt to do so now.

When breaking down acting performances there are two factors I weigh more heavily than anything else. One is how blown away by the performance I was when I first saw it. The other is the level of difficulty it took to play that character.

I will list the order in which I was blown away in descending order from least blown away by her performance to most blown away. (Get your mind out of the gutter).

5) Rooney Mara, 4) Glenn Close, 3) Viola Davis, 2) Meryl Streep, 1) Michelle Williams.

Here is the level of difficulty it took to play these characters, listed in the same way:

5) Close, 4) Davis, 3) Mara, 2) Williams, 1) Streep.

Now, if you add up the number in which I ranked them you get:

Close – 9
Mara – 8
Davis – 7
Williams – 3
Streep – 3

The difference between Streep and Williams and the other other three, of course, is that Streep and Williams played historical figures. That can affect their standings in the race both positively and negatively. Positively in that the level of difficulty goes up, but negatively in that it’s really hard to be believable to people who are incredibly familiar with either Margaret Thatcher or Marilyn Monroe.

In both Streep’s and Williams’ case, they succeeded in my eyes because they had me completely forgetting it was them on the screen and instead was immersed in the worlds of both Thatcher and Monroe, respectively.

But while the level of difficulty between these two is virtually identical, the tiebreaker for me is that I was completely blown away by Williams as Monroe, and while Streep was magnificent, it didn’t capture me in quite the same way.

I know this award is going to either Streep or Davis, but dammit if Williams doesn’t deserve it.

Will win: Viola Davis

Should win: Michelle Williams

Best Actor

Nominees:

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

Remember a few paragraphs ago when I said that every single Best Actress performance blew me away? Well, the exact opposite happened from the Best Actor nominees. Gary Oldman was virtually invisible, Jean Dujardin didn’t talk and Brad Pitt was, well, Brad Pitt, only he happened to operate a baseball team.

Dujardin is the favorite hear with George Clooney coming in a close second and, all joking aside, Dujardin does a very serviceable job seeing as how he doesn’t speak. Clooney’s character had more depth and what The Descendants lacked was more on director Alexander Payne’s shoulders than Clooney’s.

Will win: Jean Dujardin

Should win: George Clooney

Best Director

Nominees:

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

Four directors whose work I have enjoyed tremendously over the past quarter of century are on this list and three of them fell way short of expectations. Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, while visually stunning, tried to be smarter than it was. Alexander Payne’s The Descendants was dull, predictable and lacked any true depth, and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo was nothing more than a history lesson and nostalgia trip.

Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris provides what we’ve come to expect out of Allen and I enjoyed it more than most, but Michel Hazanavicius is a huge favorite for The Artist and I’d be shocked if anyone else won.

Will win: Michel Hazanavicius

Should win: Woody Allen

Best Picture

Nominees:

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

Remember at the beginning of this post when I talked about how much I love the Academy Awards? Well, I lied when I said I didn’t know the reason. The real reason I love the Academy Awards so much is because I’m an incredibly competitive person and, when I have a horse in a specific race, I root extremely hard. That’s how I was with Crash and Philip Seymour Hoffman and that’s how I am most years. I pick out my favorites and I root ridiculously hard for them to win. I guess that’s the sports fan mentality coming out in me. Is it stupid and pointless to do so? Absolutely. But I don’t care.

The reason I bring this up is because this year, I don’t really have a horse (whether it’s a war horse or otherwise is irrelevant). I’ve combed through these nine nominees countless times and just can’t root for one. There are some that I enjoyed quite a bit (The Help, Moneyball), and others that I downright despised (War Horse, The Tree of Life). And I’ve been sitting here trying to think of which film to put in “Should win” and I just can’t figure one out.

Sure, there have been plenty of years where my favorite film doesn’t get a Best Picture nomination (Children of Men in 2007 comes to mind, most notably), but most years I can at least find a good reason to root for one of the nominees to win, and understand why the Academy has chosen the films they have. But not this year.

The favorite to win is The Artist. I enjoyed it quite a bit and it was fun to see a film made in such a way in the theaters. My problem with The Artist is the hyperbole being flung it’s way, more specifically the admiration people have for its originality.

To be clear, making a movie in black and white with no sound is NOT ORIGINAL. It’s something they did all the time in the early 20th century. Ya know, the era The Artist is set in? Making one 80 years later creates a good amount of nostalgia and it’s fun to look at it and think about how things were in the good ol’ days and all that nonsense, but is it really original? Hardly. Is it Best Picture worthy? Unlikely.

So what should win Best Picture, you ask? If it were up to me, that distinction would go to A Separation, an Iranian film that will likely take home the Best Foreign Language Film prize. A Separation is about a couple that is, you guessed it, getting separated. At least that’s what it’s about on the surface. In reality, it’s a thriller that brings about a number of moral dilemmas that simultaneously have you disagreeing with the characters while still understanding their actions. It’s about the difficulties of raising a child to stand on moral ground while having a hard time doing so yourself. It’s about the struggle some people have between serving their family while being able to abide by the rules your religion has set in place.

A Separation was fantastic. Other films were very enjoyable. Before I force myself to pick a winner from the list of nine Best Picture nominees, here are my top films of the year:

1. A Separation
2. Melancholia
3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
4. My Week with Marilyn
5. Beginners
6. Bridesmaids
7. The Help
8. Margin Call
9. Midnight in Paris

What will win Best Picture: The Artist

What should win Best Picture: The Help

Other predictions:

Best Animated Feature: Rango
Best Cinematography: Hugo
Best Art Direction: Hugo
Best Costume Design: The Artist
Best Documentary Feature: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Best Film Editing: The Artist
Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation
Best Makeup: The Iron Lady
Best Original Score: The Artist
Best Original Song: “Man or Muppets” from The Muppets
Best Sound Editing: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Best Sound Mixing: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Best Visual Effects: Hugo

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