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This was a strange year for the Best Picture nominees. Seven and a half of the nine nominees are period pieces, with only The Descendants and half of Midnight in Paris taking place in the present. Two of the movies are about silent cinema (Hugo and The Artist), two of the movies take place in Paris during the 1920s (Hugo and Midnight in Paris), and, bizarrely, two of the movies take place in 2002 (Moneyball and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close), which is something that can’t even be said about any of the Best Picture nominees from 2002. Hugo and The Artist are interesting mirror images of each other: One is a French movie that takes place in Hollywood of the late 1920s, and the other is a Hollywood movie that takes place in France of the late 1920s; One is a silent film about the birth of the sound era, the other is a sound film about the death of silent film history; One makes every effort to feel like it was made eighty years ago, while the other embraces 3-D technology arguably better than any other movie ever has; And, perhaps most differently, one will win Best Picture and the other won’t. And Hugo and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close both appear to have the exact same plot outline: A young boy goes on a search involving a missing lock/key in the hopes that it can help reveal a secret message from his recently deceased father. Of course, that’s where the similarities end between those two, as Hugo was the year’s best film, while Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was extremely awful and incredibly annoying. Even typing the movie’s title is annoying.
In my predictions, I always get somewhere between 15-19 of the 24 awards correct, but the dream is to go 20 for 24. I haven’t done it yet, but maybe this will be the year.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Midnight in Paris
Tree of Life
What Should Win? To me, Hugo was very clearly the best film of 2011, and nothing else was even close. Unfortunately, it won’t win Best Picture because it cost 150 million dollars to make, and to date it’s only brought in 66.7 million at the box office. Recent Oscar history has shown that a movie can win Best Picture even if it doesn’t make much money, a la The Hurt Locker, which took the big prize in 2009 despite making only 15.7 million domestically. But The Hurt Locker made back it’s budget, so it wasn’t seen as a box office failure. And regardless of artistic merit, a lot of Academy members don’t like voting for a box office failure.
What Will Win? The Artist is the front-runner, but audiences haven’t totally embraced it and there’s a bit of a backlash against it for being too simple to win Best Picture. Of course, simplicity didn’t stop Chicago or Shakespeare in Love from winning, so I don’t put a lot of stock into that theory. But audience reception really does mean a lot to some voters, and especially with older members that remember the Hollywood of the 50s and 60s when mega-hits like Ben-Hur and My Fair Lady routinely won Best Picture. Given that (and it pains me to say this), I think The Help has a decent chance, and if anything were to beat The Artist, it would be that. But even still, this reminds me of one of those NFL playoff games where people talk themselves into the underdog having a shot just because they don’t like the favorite, and then the favorite wins big anyway.
What Got Screwed? I had six of these nominees in my own top 15 of 2011, which is close enough of an overlap that they deserve their spot. I thought The Help was an exceedingly average movie with good performances, and I hated Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, which I found to be just awful filmmaking. I also hated Tree of Life, because I found it to be nothing more than an overly pretentious series of images set to music and alleged to have deep meanings about life, but which failed to coalesce into an actual “movie.” I think it would have worked better as a visual arts project for a museum. But even still, I’m weirdly okay with Tree of Life being here, because it was ambitious, audacious, and will probably be highly influential, and it inspired as much passion from its supporters as anything else this year. And I’d rather see the Academy recognize failed art than average commercialism. But if I could take out The Help and Extremely Loud & incredibly Close and swap in two more deserving movies, it would have to be Drive and Beginners, two fully realized movies that wore their styles on their sleeve and didn’t get the attention they deserved.
Woody Allen – Midnight in Paris
Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist
Terrence Malick – Tree of Life
Alexander Payne – The Descendants
Martin Scorsese – Hugo
Who Should Win? In making Hugo, Scorsese didn’t just craft a wonderful movie, but he also made a love letter to the history of cinema, and something that is sure to be one of the most treasured works by arguably the greatest filmmaker of the last forty years.
Who Will Win? Only four times in the last forty years has the person who won the Director’s Guild award then lost the Academy Award, and 2002 was the last time it happened, when Rob Marshall won the DGA for Chicago but lost the Oscar to Roman Polanski, for The Pianist. But I really believe this could be one of those years. Hazanavicius won the DGA, but Scorsese is so beloved that it’s not difficult to imagine people voting for him over “the unknown French guy,” and it’s hard to picture a scenario where Martin Scorsese will ever deserve a second Oscar more than he does for Hugo.
Who Got Screwed? Arguably, the two most important things for a director are creating the style and drawing the best work out of their actors. Given that, I don’t think Woody Allen deserves to be here. I loved Midnight in Paris, but its strength was in its script. The movie wasn’t particularly interesting visually, and the acting was very good but unremarkable. That spot should have gone to Bennett Miller for Moneyball, a movie with impeccable craft and style, and the best ever acting by its stars, Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.
Demian Bichir – A Better Life
George Clooney – The Descendants
Jean Dujardin – The Artist
Gary Oldman – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt – Moneyball
Who Should Win? Part of me thinks Gary Oldman should win, because he’s such a criminally underrated and underappreciated actor that this is his first nomination. But if we’re going strictly by the performance, Oldman’s is a bit too restrained. I’d give it to Brad Pitt. Pitt is an actor who consistently gets a little better every year, and Moneyball is his best job yet. He nails every nuance, every subtle tick of emotion, every face tilt, smirk, shift of tone, and knowing smile. It’s one of those performances that you really don’t notice how great it is until you see it a second time, and the belief in the character completely sinks in.
Who Will Win? This is the first year in a long time where there’s A) no performance that towers in quality over the others, and B) no obvious frontrunner. I could actually imagine each person winning. Clooney and Dujardin are the favorites, having picked up the most precursor awards. Pitt is respected, due, and arguably the most deserving. Oldman is seen as heavily past due. And Bichir is the only nominee that really has a true showcase scene in his film, with the closing scene between he and his son in A Better Life practically screaming the words “For Your Consideration.” But even though I think everyone here has a puncher’s chance, it still probably comes down to Clooney and Dujardin. Clooney may have given his best performance, but I think Dujardin’s work had the higher degree of difficulty. Acting is easier with great dialogue; Dujardin did his work with no dialogue at all. And even though everyone loves George Clooney, I wonder if people might be a little sick of all of his accolades. Are we really ready for him to have two acting Oscars? Here’s a complete list of the living actors with two Oscars: Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Tom Hanks, Robert DeNiro, Sean Penn, Daniel Day Lewis, Denzel Washington, Michael Caine, Kevin Spacey, and Gene Hackman. I love Clooney as much as anyone, but he doesn’t strike me as someone that needs to join that list quite yet. I think Jean Dujardin will win.
Who Got Screwed? As much as I believe Gary Oldman is a great actor who should have been nominated long ago, I don’t think his work in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was one of the five best lead actor performances of 2011. That spot should have gone to Michael Fassbender for Shame, where he flawlessly displayed all of the pain, anguish, and lack of control that define addiction.
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
Who Should Win? Keira Knightley, for A Dangerous Method. What’s that you say? She wasn’t nominated? Well, of the nominees, and if we’re eliminating politics or career from the discussion and just focusing on the performance, I think it should be Rooney Mara by a landslide. Mara absorbed herself so deeply into the role that she truly became Lizbeth Salander, and she totally stole Noomi Rapace’s thunder after Rapace won raves for her portrayal of Lizbeth in the Swedish version of the film. Mara created a dangerous mixture of toughness and vulnerability that really deserves more than just the nomination.
Who Will Win? It’s effectively down to Davis and Streep. The argument for Streep seems to be “she was really good and she hasn’t won an Oscar in nearly thirty years,” while the argument for Davis seems to be “she was really good and only one African American has won Best Actress in Oscar history” (Halle Berry in 2001 for Monster’s Ball). While counting out Streep always seems a bit risky, betting against her has been the right move 14 out of 16 times. And with things relatively equal, it might be hard for voters to give Streep a third Oscar at the expense of giving Viola Davis her first.
Who Got Screwed? In some years, it’s difficult to even find five performances to nominate. But 2011 was an extraordinarily fruitful year for lead actresses, and this category could have been filled with five completely different names without a difficult search. Keira Knightley (A Dangerous Method), Charlize Theron (Young Adult), Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia), Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin), and Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene) were all worthy, and their absence just has to be chalked up to “in any other year, they could’ve been nominated.” But Knightley is the one that can legitimately say she got screwed. I saw A Dangerous Method at its premiere in Toronto last fall, and I walked away from the movie thinking it was Knightley’s Oscar to lose. I’m still amazed her performance couldn’t overcome disappointing reviews for the movie to snag a nomination. I would have given her Glenn Close’s spot.
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
Who Should Win? Christopher Plummer gave a career-best performance as the newly out of the closet gay man in Beginners, and he filled the role with a joy and vibrancy that’s contagious when watching the movie.
Who Will Win? Plummer is the closest we have to a sure thing in the acting races this year; it should be his award to lose. But Max Von Sydow has a chance for an upset based mostly on the same reasoning as Plummer—old, respected, great career, never won anything. The problem with the case for Von Sydow is that his role wasn’t as good as Plummer’s, and he’s nominated for a movie that most people strongly dislike. Christopher Plummer should spend Sunday morning practicing his acceptance speech.
Who Got Screwed? I’m one of the people that was shocked Albert Brooks wasn’t nominated for Drive, and not just because he was expected to be. He was also really good, playing a deliciously creepy villain whose ruthlessness manages to consistently feel unexpected. And his omission from the category was especially surprising given the recent Oscar precedent of this award going to the year’s best villain, which happened three years in a row before Christian Bale broke the trend last year for The Fighter. (Those three winners were Javier Bardem for No Country for Old Men, Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight, and Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds.) I think Von Sydow’s nomination should have gone to Brooks, and I also think Ben Kingsley was unfairly overlooked for his portrayal of director Georges Melies in Hugo.
Best Supporting Actress
Berenice Bejo – The Artist
Jessica Chastain – The Help
Melissa McCarthy – Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer – Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer – The Help
Who Should Win? If you agree with the idea that a great supporting performance is about scene stealing, then it’s hard to say the award shouldn’t go to McCarthy. Every time she leaves the screen in Bridesmaids, you just can’t wait for her to get back. And her performance vaulted her from an unknown sitcom actress to a household name in a matter of weeks.
Who Will Win? I do think McCarthy has a very legit chance to upset, but Octavia Spencer has pretty well swept the precursor awards. Plus The Help was an even bigger box office success than Bridesmaids, and it’s seen as a triumph of acting (proven by it’s Best Ensemble Cast award from the Screen Actors Guild). But the huge support for The Help might be what costs Spencer the Oscar, as her costar, Jessica Chastain, could steal some of her votes. But will it be enough for McCarthy to swoop in for the win? Doubtful.
Who Got Screwed? I’m still a bit confused as to why Shailene Woodley wasn’t nominated for The Descendants. I thought she was just as good as George Clooney, and nearly as essential to the movie’s emotional resonance. Janet McTeer’s spot should have gone to her. And even though the role was completely unheralded and never in discussion for a nomination, I thought Melanie Laurent did a wonderful job in Beginners.
Best Adapted Screenplay
The Descendants – Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
Hugo – John Logan
The Ides of March – George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
Moneyball – Stan Chervin and Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan
Who Should Win? Moneyball and The Descendants were the two best adapted scripts of the year, and a lot of people think The Descendants will win because it was the better film (which is debatable, but that’s beside the point). But the Adapted Screenplay Oscar should also be about degree of difficulty. Did your source material easily lend itself to a film script? How much needed to be changed to create a viable film? With The Descendants, by all accounts the script captured the novel pretty closely. But Moneyball is another matter entirely. The book Moneyball doesn’t have a narrative. It doesn’t really tell a story or have a plot. The book is about new ways of analyzing statistics and using them to economic advantage. In choosing to turn that into a film, the screenwriters had to forge an angle for the story, find a beginning and an ending, and create all the dialogue from scratch. The fact that they did it so well, and the movie worked precisely on the strength of its script, is why Moneyball deserves the Oscar.
Who Will Win? It’s neck and neck between The Descendants and Moneyball, but I think Moneyball will win for the same reasons listed above, and because people love Aaron Sorkin.
Who Got Screwed? I really have a hard time understanding why The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo wasn’t recognized in this category, as its writer, Steven Zaillian, had the unenviable task of distilling an immensely popular 500-page novel about a murder investigation down to a 2-½ hour movie. A huge amount of detail inevitably had to be left out, but the movie comes across quite clearly, and the plot is without holes. I irrationally love Hugo more than anyone, but it was adapted from an illustrated novel, which is practically a rough draft of a screenplay. Its nomination should have gone to Dragon Tattoo.
Best Original Screenplay
The Artist – Michel Hazanavicius
Bridesmaids – Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
Margin Call – J.C. Chandor
Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen
A Separation – Asghar Farhadi
Who Should Win? Midnight in Paris is the most original story of the year, and it succeeds with dialogue and structure just as much as it does in concept.
Who Will Win? A lot of people are predicting The Artist here, but I just don’t see it. Not only is there no dialogue (the obvious hindrance for a win in this category), but the story is also very basic. I loved The Artist and don’t wish to discredit it’s screenplay, which certainly didn’t write itself, but I think there’s a big difference between a very good screenplay, and an Oscar winning screenplay. Midnight in Paris is an Oscar winning screenplay. But having said that, it still has one major voter hurdle to overcome, namely the public knowledge that Woody Allen doesn’t attend the Oscars. Not only is it a bit of a drag to award someone who won’t be there to give a speech, but it can also be construed as disrespectful to the institution of the Oscars. Will that perception be enough to cost Woody the Oscar? No, I don’t think it will be.
Who Got Screwed? This was the category that I really think got it wrong in the nomination process. I haven’t seen A Separation, and it’s supposed to be phenomenal, so I’ll leave it out of my complaining. But I really don’t think The Artist and Margin Call deserve to be here. For those two slots, I can think of four very deserving movies: Beginners, Win Win, Crazy Stupid Love, and 50/50. Beginners and Win Win are the two that I really think belonged here, and especially Win Win, which ended up completely shut out of the Oscar nominations despite being one of the year’s best films.
Best Animated Feature Film
A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots
Pixar began releasing a movie every year in 2006, and since that happened, it’s been pretty difficult to fathom this category without their participation. But Cars 2 sucked just enough to not get nominated, leaving the category open in what may be an increasingly rare occasion. Of the nominees, I haven’t seen Chico & Rita or A Cat in Paris, and I thought Kung Fu Panda 2 was clearly the strongest of the other three. But every Oscar predictor seems to unanimously agree that Rango will win, so it seems foolish to bet against it.
Best Documentary Feature
Hell and Back Again
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
If this were simply a popular vote, Undefeated would win. It’s a classic, crowd-pleasing sports tearjerker, and there was barely a dry eye in the theater when I attended the Toronto premiere. But Best Documentary is one of the categories that an Academy member may only vote for if they verify that they’ve seen all of the nominees. And because the only people who do that are documentary enthusiasts, popularity won’t mean anything here. Pina, a 3-D dance film by legendary German director Wim Wenders, has a decent shot because of its success in theaters and its artistic pedigree, but the likely winner is Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory. The story of a wrongly incarcerated trio called the West Memphis Three, the directors spent the better part of two decades making the three films that tell their story, and led to their eventual release. The film is now showing on HBO On Demand, and it’s supposed to be outstanding.
Best Foreign Language Film
Bullhead – Belgium
Footnote – Israel
In Darkness – Poland
Monsieur Lazhar – Canada
A Separation – Iran
From what I saw, my favorite foreign film of the year was Le Havre, but unfortunately it wasn’t nominated. Of the nominees, the only one I’ve seen is Footnote, which I saw in Toronto and is quite good. Monsieur Lazhar is also very well regarded, while I haven’t heard anything about Bullhead. But I think it comes down to in Darkness versus A Separation. In Darkness is a holocaust story, and apparently a very good one, so it goes without saying that it will receive plenty of support from a voting body that skews very old and very Jewish. But even still, the overwhelming love and accolades for A Separation are simply too loud and numerous to ignore. Even though I haven’t seen the film yet, A Separation sounds like it just can’t lose.
Jeff Cronenweth - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Janusz Kaminski – War Horse
Emmanuel Lubezki – Tree of Life
Robert Richardson - Hugo
Guillaume Schiffman - The Artist
Much as I disliked Tree of Life, its gorgeous imagery is the one quality I freely credit it with, and Emmanuel Lubezki is a five-time nominee who has yet to take home a statue. I thought Sean Bobbitt deserved a nomination for his gorgeous work in Shame, but no dice. Out of the other nominees, War Horse has an outside chance, and Hugo could certainly win given how masterfully it utilized 3-D. But voters should recognize that this is the best chance Tree of Life has to take home an award.
Best Film Editing
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Best Editing Oscar usually goes one of two ways: either A) it goes to the film that created the best puzzle or built the best suspense, or B) it goes to the eventual Best Picture winner. Given that, I think we can effectively rule out Hugo and The Descendants. And even though The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo did a great job in crafting it’s puzzle, it was also close to three hours long, which means a lot of people will inevitably think it needed another twenty minutes cut out and they’ll blame that on the editor. I would have liked nominations to go to Beginners for its use of still photos and time jumps, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy for its slow-burn build-up of information and intensity, but neither made the cut. Personally, I think Moneyball was a major achievement in editing, as it seamlessly mixed in flashback footage of Billy Beane’s playing career, real life voiceovers of play-calling and sports radio, and a nice twist on classic sports movie montages. But the subtly skillful editing in The Artist ably helps it sustain viewer attention without the use of dialogue, and I suspect the lack of an obvious shoo-in candidate will mean this award gets swept up in The Artist’s march towards Best Picture.
Best Music – Original Score
Ludovic Bource – The Artist
Alberto Iglesias – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Howard Shore – Hugo
John Williams – The Adventures of Tintin
John Williams – War Horse
This is a tough category for me, as my three favorite scores of the year aren’t even here (Trent Reznor’s work in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Howard Shore’s score for A Dangerous Method, and the Chemical Brothers beats that soundtracked Hanna). Given what is here, I think Hugo has the best chance for an upset, and you can never quite count out John Williams even though he’s come up empty on forty (!!) of his previous forty-five nominations. But The Artist should have this race pretty well locked up, and not just because the score is very good, but because it has such a prominent role in an otherwise silent movie. It’s pretty much impossible to miss its quality, though there could be some backlash over the use of Bernard Herrman’s Vertigo score in one sequence, which inspired Kim Novak to tell the press that she felt like Vertigo had been “raped.”
Best Music – Original Song
“Man or Muppet” – The Muppets
“Real in Rio” – Rio
God, what a
pathetic boring race. Not even a decade ago, it looked like this category had turned a major corner when Eminem won the Oscar for “Lose Yourself,” the timeless theme song from 8 Mile. False alarm, I guess. Out of 39 eligible songs, the Academy could only get two nominees due to the complicated rules that involve minimum point totals. This category has always had the same credibility problem as the Grammys, which comes from the fact that popular music still has too much of a generation gap for voters in their forties and voters in their eighties to come to any kind of agreement on quality. Which means that the nominees usually end up being bland and inoffensive, because that’s the only stuff that doesn’t lose out on all the points coming from the older voters. I guess the Muppets song will probably win, but who cares? This category needs a major overhaul next year.
Best Visual Effects
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
There’s a small chance Hugo could win this if it goes on a semi-sweep of the technical categories, but the most impressive special effects of the year were in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and I expect them to be recognized.
Best Art Direction
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Midnight in Paris
Of its eleven nominations, this is the one award that I think Hugo has safely in the bag. Not only did it seamlessly recreate a Paris train station from the late 1920s, but also the magical sets from the films of Georges Melies.
Best Costume Design
I like Hugo here, too, mostly because of the lobster costumes in one of the flashbacks to the Melies films. Lobster costumes!
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
The Iron Lady
I’ve said this in years past, but I think this is a dead category that will disappear from the ceremony within ten years. Almost all creature effects, disfiguring, and aging are now done digitally, so there’s little use for dramatic makeup anymore. But the makeup in The Iron Lady was pretty good, and about as prominent as film makeup gets these days. Unless you count the clay-faces that the actors in J. Edgar were turned into, which thankfully did not earn a nomination.
Best Sound Editing
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
The sound awards typically boil down to pure guesswork for Oscar predictors, but there are a few constants: Bad movies don’t win and war movies often do. So War Horse is as logical a guess as it probably gets.
Best Sound Mixing
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
I’m picking War Horse. See above for the (limited) details.
Best Documentary Short
The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement
God is the Bigger Elvis
Incident in New Baghdad
The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom
This is the one category that I haven’t seen a single one of the nominees. But my sources tell me that Saving Face is the best one, and my sources don’t like it when I don’t listen to them.
Best Short Film – Animated
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
A Morning Stroll
La Luna is by Pixar, and it’s very good, which for some people should be all you need to know. But if you can believe it, Pixar has actually lost this category the last six times it was nominated. Voters usually see the five nominees all together as one screening, and in that setting, the Pixar one almost always stands out as actually being the most normal and polished, while the other four can be all over the board in terms of style, tone, technique, and theme. Take A Morning Stroll, for example, which was my favorite. It documents a man walking past a chicken on the sidewalk in three different time periods/styles. In 1959, the art is in newspaper style and the man glances down at the chicken. In 2009, the art is like an iPod commercial, and the man is too busy on his mobile device to notice the chicken. And in the zombie apocalypse of 2059, the man tries to eat the chicken. I loved it, and I’m pulling for it to win even though my sources are predicting The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which I found boring.
Best Short Film – Live Action
I’m torn on this one. Raju had the best story, The Shore had the best quality, and Time Freak was the funniest. I would probably choose Time Freak, but I suspect Raju will play better with the voters.