Friday, January 27, 2012

Thoughts on the Oscar Nominations

Here are some random thoughts and reactions I have about the Academy Award nominations. I’ve (mostly) resisted the temptation to wax philosophical on who got snubbed, instead choosing to focus just on the things that are interesting and/or surprising. Overall, I went 34/45 on my predictions of the eight major categories. Respectable, but not great.

· The inclusion of nine movies in the Best Picture race means there wasn’t much consensus in the voters’ first place choices. Because of the new rule that a movie must receive at least 5% of the first place votes to receive a Best Picture nomination, the math indicates that it’s extremely unlikely any of the nominees ran away with a huge chunk of the votes. As Mark Harris wrote in one of his Grantland columns, if the three “front-runner” films (The Artist, Hugo, and The Descendants) combined for 70-80% of the first place votes, then there simply couldn’t be more than 6 or 7 nominees. With nine nominees, we can probably assume that voters didn’t like weren’t as overwhelmingly enamored with the front-runners as they could have been, and that means that a Best Picture upset could be in the works.

· The Rotten Tomatoes ratings for the nine Best Picture nominees are as follows: 97%, 95%, 94%, 93%, 90%, 84%, 76%, 76%, and 46%. Man, that last number really sticks out, doesn’t it? That’s for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, which pretty efficiently illustrates how surprising it is to see it make the cut. Especially when that nomination could have gone to a critical and commercial success like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (87%).

· The year’s most decorated performance by a lead actor (with 6 awards so far) has been Michael Fassbender’s sex addict in Shame, so it’s worth wondering why he didn’t make the final cut with the Academy. As a few writers have suggested, it could be something as ridiculous simple as penis envy. Anyone that’s seen Fassbender’s, umm, revealing performance knows the guy isn’t exactly in dire need of more good fortune. But in a year where every film critic and blogger in America couldn’t stop talking about all the great performances by Fassbender and Ryan Gosling (7 good-to-great movies between them in 2011), it’s a bit interesting that neither of them could turn all that goodwill and momentum into an Oscar nomination—something Jessica Chastain successfully did in the Supporting Actress race.

· Speaking of decorated performances from all the Oscar precursor awards, Albert Brooks, as the villain in Drive, managed to win a whopping 17 of the 33 Supporting Actor awards handed out so far, and yet, no Oscar nomination. While I do think it’s surprising, in this case, I suspect it simply comes down to Academy members not liking the movie. Between the over-the-top violence and the long passages with little or no dialogue, Drive left several people with a bitter taste in their mouths (enough that one whackjob even sued the film’s marketing team).

· In the ten years that the Best Animated Feature category has existed, Pixar has been virtually unstoppable. All eight Pixar films released in that span have been nominated, and six of the eight have won, including the last four years in a row. (Monsters Inc. lost to Shrek in 2001 and Cars lost to Happy Feet in 2006, which was the last time a non-Pixar film won the category.) But this year, Cars 2 wasn’t even nominated, marking the studio’s first real failure. It will be interesting to see if this summer’s Brave can get them back on track.

· It’s utterly bizarre that there were only two nominations in the Best Original Song category. While it’s not completely uncommon for a category to only have three nominees (as is typically the case with Best Make-up), I’ve never seen just two. Best Original Song is one of the categories that mandates a certain point total within the vote to be nominated. The lack of more nominees means the voters didn’t find enough quality in the motley crew of eligible songs.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Third Man’s Oscar Nomination Predictions

Disclaimer: This is not about what I think should be nominated, only what I think will be. For my opinions about what I think the Oscar nominations unfairly overlooked or gave undeserved credit to, check back the week before the ceremony when I predict the winners and lament the coulda, shoulda, woulda’s of the awards season.

(Nominee predictions are listed in order of how likely I think they are)

Best Picture

The Artist

The Descendants


Midnight in Paris

Tree of Life

The Help

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

This year’s Best Picture race is fascinating, because we have no idea how many nominees there will be. At least five are assured, and ten is the max, but it could be anywhere within that span. The kicker is a film must receive at least 5% of the first place votes to be nominated. With around 5,000 Academy members, that means 250ish people need to think a movie is the year’s best. So, at least for this year, passion counts far more than consensus. If everyone agrees a movie was the year’s third best, that counts for exactly diddlysquat.

Only three movies are sure things: The Artist, Hugo, and The Descendants. After that, it becomes a guessing game based on math and demographics. I personally struggle to imagine twenty people thinking The Help is the best movie of the year, let alone 250, but there’s a large number of Academy members who (irrationally?) believe Best Picture must, by definition, go to a movie that enjoyed large box office success, and The Help is the only movie that qualifies out of this year’s contenders. Woody Allen has enough fans (particularly actors and writers) that Midnight in Paris should get to 250 first place votes, and Tree of Life, while enjoying some militant hatred from a lot of people, also has the luxury of inspiring unrepentant gushing from others. If there’s a single movie that benefits from the new rules, it’s Tree of Life. No way does it get a nomination under the old (pre-2009) rules.

Many predictions have the nominees ending at six, while others think War Horse gets in too. But the voters who love nostalgia and old-school movie-making already have other choices, and the reception for War Horse has been just tepid enough that I don’t see how it gets enough first place votes. On the other hand, I think The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo will. I look at it this way: What will youngish Academy members who hated Tree of Life and don’t care for silent cinema vote for? For a huge number of film lovers born since 1970, David Fincher is the leading genius of current American cinema, and each of his last two films have received Best Picture nominations. Plus consider these tidbits: a lot of people still think he got gypped last year for The Social Network (Oscar loves a good make-up vote), the book has legions of fans, and the movie was actually, like, really good, you know?

In a year where most of the contenders are long out of theaters, being one of the only great movies fresh in voters’ minds should make a huge difference.

Best Actor

George Clooney – The Descendants

Brad Pitt – Moneyball

Jean Dujardin – The Artist

Michael Fassbender – Shame

Gary Oldman – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Clooney, Pitt, and Dujardin are locks, and it appears five actors are competing for the last two slots. Michael Shannon in Take Shelter is certainly worthy, but the combination of being under-seen and unflashy seems to have killed his momentum, so he’s officially a long shot at this point. While some predictors are leaving him out, I think Fassbender is a lock. He has two things going for him that often lead to nominations: The performance is extremely daring and vulnerable (and prompted George Clooney’s Golden Globes joke about his being a likely ringer in cock-golf), and Fassbender has enjoyed the sort of year that simply deserves recognition, giving good performances in four (!) well-received movies.

That leaves three dudes for one spot. Many believe that slot will belong to Leonardo DiCaprio, but I just don’t see it. To say J. Edgar was underwhelming is a compliment, and the film’s make-up is so universally ridiculed that it’s (literally) difficult to see an Oscar-nominated performance under all that silly-putty. That leaves either Oldman or Demian Bichir (A Better Life), who got the SAG nomination. Both are decent bets and it’s probably a toss-up, but I think voter demographics will sway towards Oldman. The (self-perceived?) prestige of the Academy likes to nominate heretofore-unrecognized craftsmen, and no one fits that mold more than the never-nominated Oldman.

Best Actress

Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady

Viola Davis – The Help

Michelle Williams – My Week With Marilyn

Rooney Mara – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Tilda Swinton – We need to Talk About Kevin

Streep, Davis, and Williams are in for sure, and everyone seems to agree that Mara, Swinton, and Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs) are fighting for the last two spots. But I’m operating on the belief that Mara is also in for sure. She passes every stage of the Best Actress Nominee Triathlon with flying colors: Great performance, uncanny physical transformation, explicit nude scenes. Plus the movie is fantastic and successful, and this may (unfairly) be its best shot at a major nomination.

So it comes down to Swinton and Close for the last nomination, and both are great actresses in widely acclaimed performances. But both films are also still in extremely limited release, so I think it will come down to simply which one more voters have seen. Because We Need to Talk About Kevin has a much more interesting title and premise, while Albert Nobbs probably comes across as boring, that may be all it takes to get a chance with voters who likely have been staring at stacks of 30-40 “For Your Consideration” DVDs for the last two months.

Best Supporting Actor

Christopher Plummer – Beginners

Albert Brooks – Drive

Kenneth Branagh – My Week With Marilyn

Jonah Hill – Moneyball

Nick Nolte – Warrior

The fifth spot is likely the only one that is seriously up for grabs (though various sources think Brooks and Hill might be vulnerable). Armie Hammer has been getting some consideration for J. Edgar, but I’m chalking that up to another death-by-makeup. The movie makes Hammer look like his face was applied by Wayne Newton’s cosmetologist. Max Von Sydow is probably the only other major contender for playing a mute in Extremely Loud & incredibly Close, and Oscar loves it when great actors challenge themselves with limiting their expressiveness. But the film is getting tepid reception and backlash for its sappiness, while Warrior is quickly turning into the movie that everyone seems to agree is being criminally ignored. The Oscars have a long history of loving boxing movies (Christian Bale won last year’s Supporting Actor statue for The Fighter), and they have an equally long history of giving Supporting nominations to actors on the comeback from personal struggles. I think Nick Nolte barely grabs the last spot.

Best Supporting Actress

Octavia Spencer – The Help

Berenice Bejo – The Artist

Melissa McCarthy – Bridesmaids

Jessica Chastain – The Help

Shailene Woodley – The Descendants

This is the acting category most likely to take a major left turn, as only Spencer is a lock. But while everyone else appears potentially vulnerable, there also isn’t a lot of good competition for those spots. The best chance for a shake-up is from Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs), a past nominee. But while her performance is among the most acclaimed of the year, it also runs the risk of not being seen by many people, while her five main competitors all come from some of the year’s most talked about films. While Woodley was left out of the SAG nominations and Chastain turned in so many good performances this year that she could be splitting votes with herself, I still think they both make it in. And if these are the final five, they’re all first time nominees.

Best Director

Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist

Martin Scorsese – Hugo

Alexander Payne – The Descendants

Terrence Malick – Tree of Life

David Fincher – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

This is a particularly difficult category this year in part because the Best Picture nominees are so unknown. But it’s still difficult to fathom any scenario that doesn’t include Scorsese, Payne, and The French Guy (which will probably be Michel Hazanavicius’s official name during the Oscar telecast). That leaves four auteurs for two nominations: Fincher, Malick, Steven Spielberg (War Horse), and Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris). I think Woody has a difficult road because he’s such a non-visual director and he’s up against three guys who typically get called “genius” on a daily basis. Plus, he won’t show up for the ceremony anyways, so nominating him is just no fun. Fincher has been nominated for each of his last two films, and his directing style is just so damn stylish. And, again, a lot of people think he got robbed last year, so if anyone’s getting a few sympathy votes, it’s Fincher. Between Malick and Spielberg, I think Malick has a slight edge. The directors branch often likes to give one slot to someone who pulled off a unique and artistic vision, and that describes Malick perfectly. Plus, fair or not, voting for Spielberg just seems kind of boring, doesn’t it? Even if it’s the same faulty logic that cost Michael Jordan an MVP award or two, some voters just hate being predictable.

Best Original Screenplay

Midnight in Paris


Win Win

The Artist


This is the category that is typically decided most purely on merit. Unfortunately, that means predicting people’s taste, which is even more difficult that predicting their politics. Woody Allen is in for sure, but beyond that, we’re talking wild guesses. I think Bridesmaids is about as close to a sure bet as anything because, really, who didn’t like Bridesmaids? Right, no one. After that, it gets really difficult. I like the chances of Win Win and Beginners because they were incredibly warm, witty, touching, and clever movies, they were very well received, and they’re probably not getting nominated anywhere else (except for Christopher Plummer in the Supporting Actor race). But if they split the vote for people that are only picking one “Indie Comedy,” then they could both be left out. But Win Win seems to be on safer ground because its writer, Tom McCarthy, has been nominated before. Part of me struggles to see The Artist (no dialogue, after all) making the cut here, but consensus seems to suggest otherwise, and I don’t feel strongly enough about anything else. But here are some other films that could find themselves in this category: 50/50, Margin Call, Young Adult, A Separation, Tree of Life, A Better Life, and Take Shelter. See? Lots of options. I could be wrong about 80% of my picks in this one.

Best Adapted Screenplay


The Descendants


The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Moneyball and The Descendants are the only two sure things. Dragon Tattoo should be a sure thing, but it’s writer, Steven Zaillian, is already getting nominated for Moneyball, so voters might not want to pick him twice. At least, that’s what several people are arguing, but I call hogwash. Dragon Tattoo has a reputation for being an incredibly dense novel, but the film doesn’t drag or feel like it has any wasted dialogue. Plus, Zaillian brings the prestige of being a past nominee, so I think he gets in for both films. Hugo isn’t the kind of film that draws attention to its writing, but it’s already received enough Screenplay nominations from other sources that it, like The Artist in the Original Screenplay category, seems to be benefiting from its own momentum. The Help has a good chance for the last slot, but there’s a prevalent opinion (which I agree with) that the screenplay is actually quite average and is only made to look good by a fantastic ensemble cast. War Horse is also an option here, but I think Tinker Tailor has a better chance at the last spot. Turning a difficult novel (one that had already been adapted into a six hour miniseries) into a coherent 2 ½ hour movie while retaining the story’s complexity and intricacies is a commendable achievement that ought to be, well, commended.