Oscar thoughts 2011

2/28/11 – 12:09 am: Update: Not too shabby this year, going 20 for 24.  Missed out on Tom Hooper in the close Best Director category, and was delighted (and surprised) to see Inception take home Best Cinematography, though I feel badly for Roger Deakins.  Missed Art Direction, though Alice in Wonderland surely would have been my second guess.  And didn’t see The Lost Thing beating Day & Night, and am surprised and somewhat happy that a little short film could take down Pixar.  It deserved it, being one of the many very good animated shorts this year.  Glad I took a chance on God of Love, but that’s more of a wild guess than anything.  May as well enjoy beating my wife (finally) this year, as I’m not sure it’ll happen again anytime soon.

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It’s that time of year again, when Hollywood movie studios spend millions of dollars in the hope of persuading Academy voters they are worthy of the little gold statuette, which in turn (studios hope) will translate into more dollars at the theater and home entertainment market.  So they politic and campaign, blanketing Los Angeles with advertisements with the aim of reaching many of the fewer than 6,000 Academy voters.  Perhaps it is a shame that the Oscars represent so little in the way of quality or technical expertise, or perhaps not.  There is an art to the campaigning, and this year it again seems Harvey Weinstein will lead his little movie-that-could over several other little movies-that-could (and a couple larger movies-that-did).

I don’t wish to seem cynical; this is merely the way the system works.  What is quality, anyway?  And what is good?  The critics leaned one way with all of their year-end awards, and the guilds leaned another direction.  Who knows best what “good” means; those who study and analyze, or those who do?  The question can go much deeper than entertainment: ask teachers and educational specialists the best way to teach, and I suspect you will find different answers.  I favor the idea of an “art world” consensus, the thoughts of those who pursue academic study in the field aggregated into a rough, general consensus opinion on a piece of art.  This is one way to determine if something is “good,” but only one way.

But again, the Oscars are not about which films or performances are “good” or the “best.”  Predicting the winners is more a matter of judging the campaigns, more akin to political polling than anything else, only with a much smaller electorate.  It is still a tricky business, particularly in a year when a couple of key categories are almost too close to call.  While many races are fairly sure runaways, a number of races will provide the telecast with a modicum of suspense.  Below are some of my thoughts on who will win, and a brief comment on whom I think should win.  These will rarely align, but I am not an Academy voter.

Best Motion Picture

This race is pretty much assured.  I believe The King’s Speech will win, though my personal pick would have been either The Social Network or Inception, as evidenced by my year-end Top 10 List. The King’s Speech is not undeserving, assuring this category will not be a disappointment.

Best Actor (Lead)

Colin Firth. I thought Jesse Eisenberg was fantastic, but will be happy to see Firth take home the prize, deservedly.

Best Actress (Lead)

Natalie Portman will win this category for Black Swan.  She is my personal pick as well, and I sincerely hope there is not an upset here that sees Annette Bening take home the gold for her poorly written part and mediocre acting in The Kids Are All Right.

Best Actor (Supporting)

The Fighter was a respectable movie, but Christian Bale was by far the most incredible part of the film.  He will win.  I wouldn’t begrudge Geoffrey Rush’s performance in The King’s Speech, but will be slightly rooting for Bale.

Best Actress (Supporting)

Both supporting actresses in The Fighter are noteworthy, but this seems to be a fairly certain win for Melissa Leo.  I believe she will win over Hailee Steinfeld, but I would be happily surprised to see Steinfeld’s role in True Grit take home the gold.

Best Director

This is the most contentious of the big categories.  I would love to see David Fincher win for the nearly flawless technical ability he showcased in The Social Network.  I would love to see Christopher Nolan win for the incredible Inception, but that won’t be happening.  I wonder how so many directors in the Academy dismissed him enough to not even nominate him.  I had the opportunity to interview Tom Hooper on the phone the day before he was nominated, and my ego wouldn’t mind claiming I had interviewed an Oscar-winning director.  While it may be close, I have a feeling David Fincher will win this year.

Best Writing (Original)

There are some very good and some great screenplays in this category.  Another Year is bold in its quietness, but Inception is mind-blowing on every other level, not the least of which is the fact that it was made into a movie.  But while I wish Nolan would take the prize, it will go to David Seidler for The King’s Speech, and he will not be undeserving.  How on earth was The Kids Are All Right even nominated?

Best Writing (Adapted)

This is another no-brainer.  Aaron Sorkin will win for The Social Network, and I will be happy for him.

Best Animated Feature

I would have loved to see Tangled mentioned next to the other nominees, but the field is still strong (I haven’t seen The Illusionist yet, though).  But Toy Story 3 will win, naturally, even if How to Train Your Dragon was fantastic and a huge success.

Best Foreign Language Film

As the rules for voting in this category are slightly odd (Academy members have to prove they’ve seen each nominee in the theater), this category is anyone’s guess.  Biutiful is widely known, but some say too avant garde for the Academy.  Then there’s the Golden Globe winner In a Better World, which is probably favored.  Incendies received some exposure, and while I would love to see the aberrant Dogtooth win, I’m going to play it safe and say In a Better World will take home the prize. 

Best Cinematography

Too many great nominees.  These were five of my top six films of the year, and I would love to see any one of them win.  I believe it is Roger Deakins’ time to shine, finally, for True Grit

Best Editing

Another snub for Inception, which should have won this category.  127 Hours is flashy, but I believe The Social Network will take this category, and I won’t be disappointed in the least.

Best Art Direction

Time for the less renowned categories.  This category seems to have prognosticators split.  I’ll follow the bulk of the pack and pick The King’s Speech.   

Best Costume Design

This category seems evenly split between Alice in Wonderland and The King’s Speech.  I’ll go out on a limb and say Alice in Wonderland.

Best Makeup

Probably the most useless category this year, with three relatively obscure nominees.  I’ll go ahead and pick The Wolfman, just because everyone else has, and it’s Rick Baker.

Best Music (Original Score)

The King’s Speech could be a surprise upset here, but I will be happy when Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross win for The Social Network.

Best Music (Original Song)

I’m just glad Burlesque wasn’t nominated.  Toy Story 3 will win this one.

Best Sound Mixing

And the Academy leaves Inception to be consoled by three of these technical categories.  It will deservedly win them, no doubt.

Best Sound Editing

Again, Inception will take this category.

Best Visual Effects

And Inception for a third time.

Best Documentary (Feature)

I would love to see Exit Through the Gift Shop win, just so Banksy could invisibly collect his prize.  And it might win, though the favorite is Inside Job, which I think will take the category.  It’s too bad, as I loved Waste Land and named Restrepo one of my top five films of the year.

Best Documentary (Short Subject)

I’ve only seen one of the nominees here (Sun Come Up), but seeing has nothing to do with predicting.  Many of those choosing winners believe Strangers No More will win, so I will follow suit.

Best Short Film (Animated)

These I have seen, though it hardly matters.  Who’s to know which film’s Oscar campaign was the most effective?  I would imagine Day & Night will win this one, as it’s phenomenal, original, and Pixar.  The Gruffalo, while not as groundbreaking as Day & Night, is sublimely polished and enjoyable, and has a very recognizable vocal cast.  But I believe Pixar will take this one.

Best Short Film (Live Action)

I have seen all of these, also, and had seen God of Love a couple of additional times last year.  I still think it’s one of the strongest entries, being beautifully shot and having a sweet, quirky story, but I’m not sure if it can take the prize.  The others vary from fine to good.  You know what, I’m going to risk it here and say that God of Love will win for Best Short Film (Live Action).

That’s it for my predictions this year.  I’ve risked little, and will probably be rewarded little as a result.  But many of the races seem staid, with only a couple key categories even questionable.  One mustn’t be too cynical about this ultimately fruitless endeavor, as it is a key part of the entertainment industry’s economic cycle.  If viewed as such it is possible to ignore the discrepancy between what is the “best” and what will win Oscar gold.

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