For Your Consideration, by DB [Guest Post]
March 5, 2010 1 Comment
Some years, you can go into the Oscar race feeling pretty confident that your predictions are largely safe bets, save for a few toss-of-the-coin categories like last year’s Penn vs. Rourke Best Actor race.
This is not one of those years.
And don’t listen to anyone who claims otherwise (sorry Ebert).
Instead, we’re facing a year with a small batch of heavy favorites and a whole lot of races, down through the below-the-line categories, that could go a few different ways. So I’m not feeling as confident in my predictions this year as I often have in the past, but I am really looking forward to Sunday night and seeing how this topsy-turvy Oscar season comes to an end. I’m happy to sacrifice bragging rights for some genuine suspense…and I’m not really inclined to brag anyway. So here’s where my head is at as the big day rapidly approaches.
WARNING: My fondness for talking (and writing) about movies can lead to a lot of rambling, sometimes more than the category in question really justifies. My Best Picture commentary really goes off on some tangents, but I couldn’t keep it all in! Anyway, I tried to keep it shorter as I worked my way down the list, but proceed at your own risk.
ANOTHER WARNING: This is just some advice. If you’re planning to Tivo the show, be sure to set whatever is on after the Oscars to record as well, because you can bet that the show will run over the three-hour time that your DVR has allotted for it.
To those who’ve been paying attention since last November-ish (i.e. mega movie awards nerds like me), this year’s Best Picture race has been the most schizophrenic in recent history. Heading into December, I would have said that Up in the Air was going to be the movie to beat. A serious film that still has lots of laughs, plus effervescent performances and a sharp script that nailed the zeitgeist. But as the critics awards actually started to roll out, The Hurt Locker turned out to be the dominant film. Then came mid-December and the release of Avatar, which left everyone slack-jawed, Academy members far and wide included (or so it was reported). When the Golden Globes anointed Avatar, it officially became the movie to beat. Until the guilds came around, that is, and suddenly The Hurt Locker was back on top with wins from the producers, directors, writers, and editors.
And still there are many who think that with the new voting system, this isn’t just an Avatar-Hurt Locker race. To go along with the switch from five to ten Best Picture nominees, the Academy is also switching to the preferential ballot system for its top category. This is the system by which they’ve always determined the nominees, but the actual winners were voted by straight up popularity: the movie with the most votes wins. Not anymore. If you want to understand this game-changing element, read this article wherein the preferential system is clearly and thoroughly explained through a fantasy scenario that has Inglourious Basterds winning Best Picture.
Let’s start with Director though, because that race seems to have become more certain. At this point, I’d be surprised if Kathryn Bigelow doesn’t take it. Even her fellow nominees James Cameron and Quentin Tarantino have said they’re voting for her. She would be the first woman to ever win Best Director. She’s only the fourth to be nominated, and the only one who has come this close, thanks to wins from nearly every major critics group, plus the Director’s Guild and the British Academy. I would be really happy if she wins – The Hurt Locker is a superbly directed movie.
But will it win Best Picture? This could definitely be one of those years when the two top prizes are split. The irony there, if we stick with the Hurt Locker vs. Avatar scenario, is that it would probably make more sense for the split to go the other way. I think more people look at The Hurt Locker as a better film overall than Avatar, but even those who take shots at Avatar’s story have to admit that Cameron is a true visionary and a brilliant craftsman. Whether you’re bothered by his dialogue or not, there’s no arguing that the man can direct the shit out of a movie. Nonetheless, the opportunity to help Bigelow make history seems to be the overriding feeling, and it’s not like The Hurt Locker is undeserving of a directing Oscar.
So what about Avatar? Despite the staggering box office, I know many people were underwhelmed and disappointed in the story and can’t believe that the Academy would give the film its top honor. But think about this: most movie fans of my age group, if not beyond it as well, look at 1977 and still can’t believe that Annie Hall beat Star Wars for Best Picture. Star Wars, after all, defined a generation. Its box office success was unprecedented, its affect on culture was unparalleled, and its impact on visual effects was revolutionary. Star Wars changed movies forever. Yet it was a simple story, one whose detractors – and yes, it had plenty of them – dismissed as childish as they sneered at the dialogue and wrote it off as silly, faux-spiritual hokum. Those “serious” filmgoers and Academy Award watchers probably didn’t think Star Wars deserved it either. But I’ll bet that a lot of the people who decry Avatar as a Best Picture winner do think that Star Wars should have won. Now I’m definitely not saying that Avatar is as good as Star Wars or that it will spawn the same degree of undying fervor, but its impact is similar…maybe not as much on the culture, but for better or worse it is seen as changing movies forever. Like it or not, Avatar is the movie of the year. Not necessarily the best movie of the year, but the one that more than any other defines 2009. Is it crazy to argue that the Best Picture Oscar should recognize exactly that?
Still, I really don’t know which way this is gonna go. For every article I find that says the preferential ballot system will favor Avatar, there’s another claiming it will favor The Hurt Locker while yet another claims that Inglourious Bastards will actually be the beneficiary. And the stream of idiotic arguments for or against a given movie’s chances are laughable, as everyone spins whatever numbers or stats they want in order to bolster their film’s chances. Some say The Hurt Locker won’t win because it grossed so little money theatrically. Seriously? It’s not going to win because it only made $12 million? Who cares? Okay, fine – maybe producers and studio executives think that way. But does anybody really think that a composer, makeup artist or cinematographer is going to not vote for a movie because of how little money it made? That’s what they’ll ask themselves when they fill out their ballot? It’s absurd. The Hurt Locker will apparently be the lowest grossing Best Picture winner if it wins. So? No fantasy film had ever won Best Picture until The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. And come to think of it, I don’t think any science-fiction film has ever won it either, so there’s Avatar’s chance to make history. There’s a first time for everything. (Hear that, gay cowboys? Your day will come!)
Or then there’s Harvey Weinstein, who is convinced that Inglourious Basterds has Best Picture in the bag, citing the film’s win of Best Ensemble at the Screen Actors Guild awards as one of his chief reasons (actors being the largest branch of the Academy). Harvey, there are 1,205 actors in the Academy. There are nearly 120,000 in SAG, and they all get to vote. Do the math. Not to mention that every year, people try to draw a connection between the SAG Ensemble prize and Best Picture despite the fact that they have only matched up six times out of 14.
There are also the run of recent stories about various acts of dirty campaigning (The Hurt Locker incident being the most prominent), or accusations against the nominees ranging from anti-Semitism (shots ludicrously thrown at Basterds, An Education and A Serious Man) to story inaccuracies (real soldiers suddenly attacking The Hurt Locker months after its release). I hear that helium balloon vendors are incensed over Up’s reckless suggestion that their product could allow a house to be safely navigated through the air. Unfortunately, this kind of behavior mars every Oscar season, even if the sordid depth of the shenanigans are not highly publicized. Really, when you hear how much manipulation and politicking goes on behind the scenes by studios and producers to win Oscars, it paints the whole thing in such a tawdry, disheartening light. There are so many reasons that the Oscars often have little to do with recognizing and celebrating the best in film, and yet despite being fully aware of that, I eat it up like candy. I can’t help it. Years later, fans like me – and some of you – are still muttering about the snubbed performer or the movie that should have won this or that award. But I suppose it’s all part of the fun.
God, have I stalled long enough? Okay, here goes. I’m practically throwing a dart here, but I’m going with The Hurt Locker. It seems like a less polarizing film than Avatar, and so I’m thinking that with the preferential ballot system, people who choose another film as their favorite still might have Hurt Locker high on their list, which could help it in subsequent rounds of voting. I can honestly say that I’ve never had such a hard time trying to predict a winner in any category about which I’m reasonably well informed, ever. I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen.
Personal Choices: Picture – Precious; Director – James Cameron.
“Burnce is on my side and that’s all that matters”
Morgan Freeman should have been a force to be reckoned with as Nelson Mandela, but unfortunately the film didn’t meet expectations and the role gave him little to work with. George Clooney, though he dominated the field of critics awards, doesn’t really have a chance either. Colin Firth picked up the BAFTA award, but he had a home field advantage and while he and his work in A Single Man are widely admired, this just isn’t his year. I’d say Jeremy Renner has a shot for an Adrien Brody-style upset, but Brody wasn’t going up against a heavy favorite who had never won before. Renner is.
This is a category where sentiment will rule the day. The industry hath deemed it time for Jeff Bridges to win an Oscar, and win an Oscar he shall. Does he deserve it? Sure. Bridges has longed topped my list of actors long overdue for an Oscar (a spot he shares with Ed Harris and Sigourney Weaver, so get crackin’ Academy…), and he does great work in Crazy Heart. Is it the best of his career? I wouldn’t say so. Is it even the best of the year? Debatable. But it’s good, and he’s universally respected and appreciated in the business. His time has come.
Interestingly, Bridges is about to re-team with the Coen Brothers, who directed him in The Big Lebowski (a film that, in hindsight, should totally have earned him a nod), for a remake of True Grit. John Wayne won a Best Actor Oscar for the original in 1969, and with the Coens at the helm, Bridges may well be back in the race next year.
As for my own pick, if I strip away all the external factors and just judge the performance alone (which is always how it should be and always how we want it to be but rarely how it is…even for purists like me), the nominee whose work left the strongest impression is Firth. But I’ll be thrilled to see Bridges finally win.
Personal Choice: Colin Firth
Way back in the fall, long before the race had fully taken shape, it already seemed like we were headed for a two-woman showdown: Meryl Streep and Carey Mulligan. At the time my feeling was that a Streep-Mulligan race was no race at all; the Academy was not going to overlook Meryl Streep again in favor of some fresh-faced ingénue with her whole career ahead of her. I actually thought that if anyone could beat Streep, it was Gabourey Sidibe. True, like Mulligan, she’s a fresh, new face at the start of her career, but she had a role and a movie that stirred people deep inside – much more so, I guessed, then Mulligan, whose performance was admired and engaging but not nearly as moving.
But then something happened. The film community collectively put their heads up their asses and somehow moved Sandra Bullock to the front of the queue for her entertaining-but-hardly-award-caliber work in The Blind Side. I talked about this when I commented on the nominees, so I won’t dwell again on how she even wound up in the race. But I will dwell on how she has turned into the frontrunner, because it continues to baffle me.
Bullock is extremely likable, and word on the street is that everyone who has worked with her, cast and crew, adores her. I like her too, but she has hardly given us a career full of great films and performances, so any argument that it’s “her time” is complete bullshit. It’s Jeff Bridges time. He’s someone who has been around for years, done consistently excellent work, been nominated multiple times but never won and this year found himself a role that perfectly suited his stage in life and his career. If this were the aforementioned Sigourney Weaver, or Julianne Moore or Laura Linney, then there might be some credence to the argument that “she’s due.” But we’re talking about Sandra Bullock, whose filmography has a smattering of good movies and a lot that are mediocre to bad. I could see likability factoring into things if the performance really dazzled, but I just can’t see how enough people could be more impressed by her performance than any of her fellow nominees.
I readily admit that numerous factors other than quality of performance enter into Oscar voting and that all kinds of political factors are taken into account, from how much a nominee works the campaign circuit to how good their speeches are throughout the season. Bullock has worked the circuit, and her speeches have been funny, humble and all around terrific. But despite all signs pointing her way for the win (including The Blind Side’s shocking Best Picture nomination, which suggests reasonably broad support), I just can’t go there. My mind can’t wrap around it and my fingers can’t type it. While it may cost me in the pool, I’m holding onto the idea that enough Academy members pulled their heads out of their asses in time to actually watch these performances side by side and recognize that while Bullock does a good job, she doesn’t hold a candle to her competition.
Meryl Streep, on the other hand, is still defying expectations and proving why she is widely regarded as the greatest actress alive. There’s nothing this woman can’t do. She is a force of nature. Julia Child is such a recognizable and distinct personality that any actress would be daunted trying to portray her. Streep not only does it, but deepens our understanding and appreciation of someone we knew only as a TV personality. It may not be the biggest stretch of her career, but this was hardly an easy or throwaway performance. The film marks her 16th nomination, and her 12th since the last time she won. She’s due…and there’s nobody else but Meryl Streep who could already have two Oscars and still be called overdue.
I also want to throw this out there: Streep and Bullock tied at the Critics Choice Awards; they both won Golden Globes (Bullock for Drama, Streep for Musical/Comedy); and although Bullock took the SAG, that group tends to spread the wealth around rather than awarding people multiple times, and Streep won last year for Doubt. I’m just saying. So despite the prevalent opinion – and probably the accurate one – I’m predicting Meryl for the win.
That said, if Gabourey Sidibe pulls an upset, I’ll be on my feet cheering.
Personal Choice: Streep or Sidibe
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Sorry guys. You did good work, but this category is owned by Inglourious Basterds’ Christoph Waltz, who will become the third performer in a row – after Heath Ledger and Javier Bardem – to win Supporting Actor by giving us an antagonist for the ages.
Personal Choice: Christoph Waltz
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Anybody who thought that Mo’Nique’s behavior during the awards season was controversial – oh my God, she didn’t run around kissing Academy members’ asses! – has been silenced by her moving, grateful acceptance speeches at the Critics Choice Awards, Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild awards (where her graciousness extended to acknowledging some of the actors from Precious who were not included in the film’s nominated ensemble cast). With all respect to her fellow nominees, especially the ladies of Up in the Air, Mo’Nique cannot be stopped. Nor should she be.
Personal Choice: Mo’Nique
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
While Oscar voters sometimes want to keep the Best Picture space relatively serious, the writing awards are where they are more likely to vote for something fun. Movies like Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, Fargo and Ghost have all triumphed here rather than in Best Picture, so I think Inglourious Basterds stands its best chance at a major non-acting award here. Some will point to The Hurt Locker’s Writer’s Guild Award win as a sign in its favor, but keep in mind that Basterds was ineligible for a WGA nomination, clearing the way for The Hurt Locker. Not that Locker isn’t a good script and couldn’t pull through, but I think all the support for Inglourious Basterds – Christoph Waltz aside – will be channeled here to Quentin Tarantino, giving him his second screenwriting Oscar.
Personal Choice: Inglourious Basterds
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Up in the Air has earned gushing love for its writing and Jason Reitman has cemented his status as one of our finest young filmmakers. This category is full of great work, but Up in the Air is too smart, too “of the moment” and too appreciated to go home empty handed. I would be shocked if anything else wins. It’s kinda lame though that this dude Sheldon Turner gets to pretty much ride Reitman’s coattails to an Academy Award win, but what can you do?
Personal Choice: Up in the Air (with In the Loop nipping at its tail). Seriously, have you not seen In the Loop yet? WTF are you waiting for?
BEST ANIMATED FILM
It was such a good year for animated features that even this category could have had close to 10 worthy nominees. Fantastic Mr. Fox could pull an upset, but it’s hard to imagine that Up isn’t going to bring another Oscar to the halls of Pixar.
Personal Choice: Up…but I’d have no complaints about Mr. Fox
The black and white imagery of The White Ribbon took the prize from the American Society of Cinematographers and won some notable critics awards as well, but I don’t think enough Academy members have seen it. And nice as it is to see Harry Potter here, Colin Creevey stands a better chance of killing Voldemort than this movie does of winning. Basterds will have a lot of support, but I think it will fall by the wayside. It could go either way with Hurt Locker and Avatar, and while I don’t necessarily think most voters understand the technical challenges involved in shooting Avatar, I think they understand enough – and admire the film’s prettiness enough – that I’m giving it the edge.
Personal Choice: Avatar
BEST FILM EDITING
I think Academy members tend to vote for editing they can notice or at least intuit, so I’m ruling out Precious and Basterds, finely edited though they may be. Even more so than its cinematography, The Hurt Locker’s editing creates its powerful tension and helps the movie hold the viewer in a vice-grip. In Avatar’s favor, it is the rare action movie that is edited so cleanly that even during the rapid cuts of big battle sequences you never lose your bearing or feel like you’re watching a blur. And District 9 actually bridges that gap as an action movie that is also dramatically intense.
I have a number of friends who are editors, and I have to think they’re laughing their asses off at my ignorant commentary. Hey, I admit I don’t really understand what makes editing great and that I too tend to be wowed by editing that I notice…even though any editor will tell you that the best editing is invisible. So knowing full well that I don’t really know what I’m talking about, my gut tells me this one goes to The Hurt Locker.
Personal Choice: The Hurt Locker
BEST ART DIRECTION
This category often favors period pieces and historical recreations, which bodes decently for Sherlock Holmes and even better for The Young Victoria. But if there’s anything that can trump something from a history book, it’s something imagined and fantastical. So while Victoria could be crowned, I think the floating mountains, celestial skyscape and lush, eye-popping botany of Avatar’s Pandora will take the gold.
Personal Choice: Avatar
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Period frocks do even better with Oscar than period sets. Both Coco Before Chanel and Bright Star fit that bill (and I wouldn’t count out the latter), but The Young Victoria is the higher profile of the period films, and also required a greater number of costumes to dress all those royals at court. I expect it will rule the day.
Personal Choice: Bright Star
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
It’s not the strongest category this year, but then again, how often is this really a strong category? You usually find one or two good songs each year, and a few others – often cheesy ballads – that fill space. Perhaps that’s why this year, Oscar producers decided not to include performances of the nominated songs during the show.
The Princess and the Frog has two nominees and there was a time when a song from a Disney animated musical would have this sewn up, but while the movie is a welcome return to form for Disney animation, the songs by Randy Newman don’t live up to the Alan Menken/Howard Ashman tunes that scored wins for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin.
No one has heard of the movie Paris 36, let alone it’s nominated song, so we can safely discount that one. And the number from Nine? Ehh.
This year, justice will be served as the one great song in the category takes the prize: The Weary Kind, from Crazy Heart, by T-Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham. Since you won’t hear the song on the show, check out the video or just let the mp3 play in the background. I love the underlying percussion that enters in the second verse. It’s unobtrusive, yet gives the song an added depth.
If you’re interested in hearing the competition, here are links to Quicktime mp3’s via incontention.com:
Personal Choice: The Weary Kind
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
I suppose it’s possible that James Horner could get caught up in an Avatar sweep, but I think Michael Giacchino’s whimsical score for Up will float to the top.
Personal Choice: Up
There are three nominees. One is Il Divo. Ever heard of it? Neither has anyone in the Academy. One is The Young Victoria. I still can’t figure out how this got nominated. Even the artist admits there isn’t much in the way of makeup. Seriously. In a Variety article about the set design, costumes and makeup for the film, this is all hair and makeup artist Jenny Shircore could say:
But it’s especially in her dewy, makeup-free skin that Victoria’s youth shines through — although this is as much of an illusion as anything, Shircore reveals. “Emily did wear quite a lot of makeup, but that’s the skill of doing it, really, to make her look lovely.” The trick, she says, is “not to powder it into oblivion so that you get a dry, matte look. You’ve got to allow a little bit of sheen to come through.”
That leaves Star Trek, which features some fine makeup work, sure. Oscar worthy? In this weak field, I guess so.
Personal Choice: Can I still say The Road? No? Okay, then Star Trek.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Star Trek and District 9 both feature excellent work, but when James Cameron movies are nominated for Best Visual Effects, they win Best Visual Effects. And how can this one not? It changed the rules. One of the night’s surest bets.
Personal Choice: Avatar
BEST SOUND MIXING/SOUND EDITING
As usual, I have no idea how to make a well-thought out prediction in these categories because not only do I not understand either of them, but that obviously means I don’t understand how they differ from each other. So as always, my guess is pretty blind. I’m picking Avatar for both, but who knows? The Hurt Locker could easily get one of them.
Personal Choice: None. As in, I don’t have a personal choice. Not “none” as in none of them deserve win. That would just make me a dick.
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Now we’re getting into the categories where I haven’t seen any or all of the nominees and can only go by what I hear, so I’m looking to professional journalists who’ve all been covering the Oscars for years to guide my choices.
The two highest profile films are A Prophet and The White Ribbon. From what I’ve heard, the former is the preferred choice, but few think it will win and neither do I. It’s a violent movie, and the thing to remember about this category is that only Academy members who have attended screenings of all five nominees can vote. That means the deciding members are likely older and retired, and they don’t like violence. My concern around The White Ribbon is that it almost seems too obvious. Being one of the most recognized and critically acclaimed of the bunch would appear to give it an edge, but this category seldom follows traditional logic. So while Ribbon may well be the victor, I’m going with what many in the field are predicting: El Secreto de Sos Ojos, or The Secret in Their Eyes.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
The most well-known of the nominees are Food, Inc. and The Cove. The latter has collected the majority of pre-Oscar prizes and seems to be the favorite, so I’ll follow the pack.
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
These documentary categories are often so hard to pick because each one tells a story more devastating and heartbreaking than the last. It almost comes down to which one moves people the most. It looks like the majority of pundits are predicting The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant. I’ll probably make up my mind at the last minute, but both Music By Prudence and China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province also sound like they could be winners.
BEST ANIMATED SHORT
Oscar history favors the Wallace and Gromit short A Matter of Loaf and Death. Wallace and Gromit have earned their creator Nick Park four Academy Awards (three for short animation, one for feature length). The only time he lost was in 1990 for A Grand Day Out. That year’s winner? Nick Park for Creature Comforts.
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT
My friend Brantley recently saw these five films and posted a brief write-up on his blog, if you’re interested in seeing what they’re all about. The Door is the most widely expected to win. But every now and then this race favors something quirky and funny over something doomy and gloomy, so Instead of Abracadabra might pull it out of the hat.
And there it is. It will be fun to see how Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin handle co-hosting chores, and after last year’s really well-produced show, I’m curious to see how this year will go. Adam Shankman’s involvement has worried me from the beginning, but I read some interviews with him that led me to give him the benefit of the doubt. We’ll see. Enjoy the show, and we’ll meet back here one last time for a post-mortem…as soon as I can write it.
Is anyone still reading this, or have I pulled a Ted Striker?