February 20, 2009

My Absurdly Long Oscar Predictions Opus: 2008 (Year of the Slumdog)

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 2:25 pm

Actually, I think it’s shorter than usual this year…

Greetings Slumdogs. We’re days away from the 81st Annual Academy Awards, and while many of this year’s categories seem like safe bets, there are still a few big ones that are up in the air. If you’re interested, here are my predictions (mostly in line with the general consensus out there, but like I said…most of this year’s categories feel like safe bets) and personal picks.

The absence of The Dark Knight still haunts, burns and infuriates me. But I’m not going to go off on that tangent again. The nominees are what they are, so with that, a note to the producers and directors of Benjamin Button, Milk, The Reader and Frost/Nixon: Relax. Enjoy the show. Have a good time. Let go of your nerves. Your films are excellent and you’ve done terrific work. You’re not going to win.

Slumdog Millionaire, and its director Danny Boyle, are miles out in front. If it doesn’t win Best Picture, no one will talk about Shakespeare In Love beating Saving Private Ryan ever again. (Though they will still talk about Ordinary People beating Raging Bull. That will never die.)

Personal Choice: Slumdog Millionaire/Danny Boyle

The moment that will have the most viewers on the edge of their seat this year will be the breath taken between the presenter of this award (last year’s Best Actress winner Marion Cotillard, presumably) saying “And the Oscar goes to” and actually reading the winner’s name. Brad Pitt, you can keep your seat. Same for you Richard Jenkins, though we are so happy to have you here with us. Frank Langella, you’re welcome to shift a bit, but don’t expect to move more than that. Only Sean Penn and Mickey Rourke should be prepared to get up.

As much as I love the awards frenzy – and you know I love it – the absurdity of it and the lack of sense it makes is exemplified in this year’s Best Actor race. How do you make a call between these performances? Each has classic characteristics that traditionally appeal to Oscar voters. On one hand, you have Rourke, whose real-life rough road made him uniquely suited to this role. He brought true pain and life experience to his character, whose path in many ways mirrors his own. On the other hand, you have Penn, who disappears into the skin of a character so different from the persona we know him to have publicly. It’s transformative work, not overtly drawn from personal experience, but rather from pure understanding of his craft.

Both performances rely, to an extent, on the audience’s awareness of the actors’ histories. Both performances are moving and shine a new light on the actors. Both have won multiple awards throughout the season. The Academy loves a great comeback, and Rourke’s is one for the ages. He’s been gracious and humorous in previous acceptance speeches, and has been incredibly open in speaking about his past mistakes. Penn is Hollywood royalty; everybody in the industry worships him, and his prior speeches this year have seen him humble and appreciative (yes, speeches matter. They shouldn’t…but they do). And in a year when Prop. 8 was high on Hollywood’s radar, politics will inevitably come into play for many voters who choose Penn.

So how do you choose? It’s almost impossible. I’m giving the slightest edge to Sean Penn due to the transformation and political aspects. But it’s pretty much a coin toss, and I’ll be really happy for either one of them (and a little bummed out for the other).

This one is a little easier to call, though it’s not a lock. Momentum is favoring Kate Winslet, who has yet to win after six nominations. Will controversy over The Reader hurt her chances? Will people be more inclined to break the record of losses for Meryl Streep, who hasn’t won since 1982 despite nearly a dozen nominations?

I think it’s Winslet’s year.

Personal Choice: Surprisingly, I’m not sure. I mean, yeah, I want Kate Winslet to win…because a) she’s seriously overdue, b) I’m deeply in love with her and c) she gets repeatedly, gloriously naked in The Reader. But while it is a great performance – one of two greats she gave this year – I can’t say I really think she deserves it for this one. If I’m truly honest with myself, I’d probably pick Anne Hathaway. I think she gave the boldest, most effective, most memorable performance of the bunch…save for Melissa Leo, who I haven’t seen yet. But Frozen River arrived from Netflix on Wednesday, so I’ll be watching it tonight for sure.

And speaking of which, an Oscar blog that I read regularly posted this interesting message from a source with ties to the Academy offering thoughts on why Melissa Leo has a good chance of surprising everyone with a win. I still don’t think she’ll get there, but this provides some insight into how voters sometimes think…and how warped and political the whole campaigning process can be. Seriously, if there’s any truth to #4 – and if that practice is widespread – the Oscars have even less credibility than I thought. Not that that makes me love them any less.

One more time, lemme just say: I’m so glad Robert Downey, Jr. made the list. And he’s my second choice. But let’s face it: if Heath Ledger doesn’t win, it will be the shock of the century. The biggest question about this category is who will accept for the late actor. As Christopher Nolan already accepted the Critic’s Choice Award and the Golden Globe on Ledger’s behalf, it would be nice to see a family member. Speaking of which, here’s an interesting article about what will happen to Ledger’s Oscar:

Personal Choice: Heath Ledger

Of the major categories, this is the most wide open of the night. It’s anyone’s game, really. Well, almost anyone. I think Taraji P. Henson will have to settle for the nomination. Beyond that, any of the other four have a legitimate shot. A lot of people out there love Amy Adams like they love their own daughter, but I suspect more votes will go to her co-star Viola Davis for a brief but powerful turn. Marisa Tomei’s work in The Wrestler is widely admired, but I have a hard time seeing it as a winner. The frontrunner is Penelope Cruz, who was sensational in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. A great part and a great performance. I think she’ll take it…but I’m watching out for Viola Davis.

Personal Choice: Penelope Cruz

Some people are expecting Wall-E to succeed here, but as clever a script as it is, Pixar’s movies find themselves in this category almost every time, and they never win. I think most people will use the Best Animated Feature category to honor Wall-E. Happy-Go-Lucky is just along for the ride, and while Frozen River and In Bruges both have definite upset potential, Milk – written by Dustin Lance Black – is the one to beat.

Personal Choice: In Bruges

A note to the writers of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Doubt and The Reader: see Best Picture/Best Director above. Simon Beaufoy, nominated 11 years ago for writing The Full Monty, returns and wins for Slumdog Millionaire.

Personal Choice: Slumdog Millionaire

If Waltz With Bashir had been nominated (and how come it wasn’t?!?) then there might be a short discussion to have here. As it is, the clever dog and the warrior panda will lose to a robot in love.

Personal Choice: Wall-E

I was surprised The Reader was nominated for this. I don’t remember thinking that the photography was particularly noteworthy (thought it was partially shot by the great, great, great Roger Deakins, who has yet to win an Oscar, unbelievable as that is). Benjamin Button‘s camerawork was simply gorgeous and The Dark Knight‘s was deep and rich. But I expect they’ll all (along with Changeling) be trumped by the energetic work that propels Slumdog Millionaire.

Personal Choice: Slumdog Millionaire

This one comes down to The Dark Knight and Benjamin Button. Both have a legitimate chance, but I think voters will favor the pretty, painterly Button over Knight‘s urban jungle.

Personal Choice: Benjamin Button

It’s hard to imagine Australia, Revolutionary Road or Milk (seriously? Milk? For Best Costume Design?) beating the elaborate frocks of The Duchess. Big, bold and outlandish tends to dominate in this category – think recent winners Elizabeth: The Golden Age and Marie Antoinette. Benjamin Button has a shot, but history favors The Duchess.

Personal Choice: The Duchess

There’s good work in all these films. Milk does a nice job of blending in documentary footage with the new material, and The Dark Knight‘s cutting is crisp and effective. But the gold will go to Slumdog for the editing’s role in unspooling the story so imaginatively.

Personal Choice: Slumdog Millionaire

There’s some fine music among the nominees, but none hold a candle to Slumdog.

Personal Choice: Slumdog Millionaire

I wish I could say that Bruce Springsteen would win on a write-in vote, but I think that would be an Oscar first. Tell me again how his title track from The Wrestler failed to get a nomination? This article offers a little explanation…but not much. What a joke.

Any of these three nominees could win. If the two Slumdog songs split the vote, Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman will swoop in with their fine song from Wall-E. But I think Slumdog will earn another trophy here, and “Jai Ho” (the song that plays over the end credits) is the more likely victor.

Personal Choice: Bruce Springsteen – The Wrestler (If I must stick to the nominees, I choose Jai Ho).

Aging make-up seems to be a staple by now, so normally I’d say the more fantastical work in The Dark Knight or Hellboy II would break through here. But the subtle gradations of Brad Pitt’s de-aging, combined with most voters’ likely inability to distinguish Button‘s make-up from its visual effects, will probably lead it to the win.

Personal Choice: The Dark Knight

As I say every year, the two sound categories are the ones I’m least capable of judging…which puts me in the same frame of mind as pretty much every Academy member who is not in the Sound branch. I would think that Wall-E would and should take at least one of the two, as Ben Burtt’s sound work was widely praised and most of the movie is essentially silent save for its multitude of sound effects. It would deserve an award even if the only sounds in the whole movie were Wall-E and EVE saying each others name. But will it win both categories? If it only gets one, I’d say the overall sensory onslaught of Slumdog Millionaire or the action-packed soundscapes of The Dark Knight or Iron Man will take the other. I can’t distinguish between the two types of work, so in my Oscar pool these categories are interchangeable. I’m going with Wall-E for one and Slumdog for the other…but I say that with little confidence.

There’s excellent work in all three of these nominees. The Dark Knight will probably earn the fewest votes, as it features the least obvious effects of the bunch. Iron Man‘s work is elegant and excellent, but also fairly traditional as visual effects go. The only one that really feels like it’s breaking new ground is Benjamin Button, so I’m going with that. But voters have often proven to be astoundingly stupid when voting in this category, so you never can tell.

Personal Choice: Benjamin Button

The secret to this category is knowing that only Academy members who have attended screenings of all five nominees can vote for the winner. Most Academy voters are working filmmakers with families, and probably don’t have the time to go see all five nominees in a theater. Those who do have the time are probably older, retired, more conservative. Which is why more fanciful or edgier movies like Pan’s Labyrinth or Amelie – both of which were breakthrough hits commercially and critically and were widely expected to win this award in their respective years – wound up losing to more traditional films grounded in reality.  At least, that’s my theory. The problem is that it doesn’t necessarily help determine this year’s winner.

The favorite going in, having largely dominated the previous awards, is Waltz With Bashir, Israel’s unique, animated documentary examining soldiers’ experiences in the Lebanon war. On one hand, the animation makes it a little trippy. Will the old folks respond? On the other hand, it’s a documentary, which lends it additional gravitas, and it’s a powerful film about a (generally) relevant subject. With all of that in its favor, I’m predicting it will triumph. But if it’s just too out-there for those old fogies, the winner will be The Class, France’s entry which has also been well received and won top honors at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Personal Choice: Waltz With Bashir…but it’s the only one I’ve seen.

Man on Wire has dominated nearly every documentary award given this season, so it would stand to reason that an Oscar win would follow suit. However this category is notorious for failing to recognize what everyone else seems to consider foregone conclusions, so nothing is certain. If Man on Wire gets tripped up, word is it would most likely be in favor of the Katrina-themed Trouble the Water. But I haven’t seen any of them, so I don’t know. (Once again, where is Waltz With Bashir? No Animation or Documentary nomination? WTF?)

Sorry, if you’re trying to fill out your ballot and win the pool, and are for some reason going by my picks, you’re on your own for the Documentary, Live Action and Animated shorts. Haven’t seen ’em (except for Pixar’s pre-Wall-E short Presto!), don’t know anything about ’em.

The final mystery is how the show itself will be. They seem to be trying all kinds of different things this year. Hugh Jackman is a great song-and-dance man, and he is funny – but he’s not a comedian, which has traditionally been the obvious way to go. (Anybody who blames Jon Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres or any other host for Oscar’s declining ratings needs to wake up. It ain’t their fault.)

Usually, the list of presenters is revealed ahead of time, but this year it’s been kept under wraps to preserve some secrecy. I read that presenters have even been asked not to walk the red carpet, but rather come in through a private entrance. I’m not sure how that will fly, given the red carpet opportunity for showing off dresses…although one positive result will be fewer opportunities for the vapid, awful, cringe-inducing interviews from the entertainment “reporters.”

I’ve read rumors – supposedly leaked from people in the know – that High School Musical stars Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens will present, as well as Twilight‘s Robert Pattinson. Beyonce is also rumored to be performing a number with Jackman. The Beyonce thing is probably true – after all, she’s performed at the Oscars twice before and this year’s show producers are Bill Condon and Laurence Mark – the writer/director and producer, respectively, of Dreamgirls (Condon was also an Oscar nominee for the Chicago screenplay and an Oscar winner for writing Gods and Monsters). I just hope they aren’t trying to boost ratings by throwing a bunch of hot young stars up there. That would just be crass. (I guess the Oscars are already kind of crass, but…in a classy way). I’m just saying, this isn’t the People’s Choice Awards or the MTV Awards. We expect to see a certain caliber of actor presenting at the Oscars. Occasional softballs like Efron, Hudgens and Pattinson are fine, but if the whole show skews in that direction I’m gonna be pretty damn disappointed.

On a more promising note, I read that Judd Apatow and Bennett Miller (director of Capote) are preparing special material for the show. Don’t know what that means exactly, but I love all things Apatow.

We’ll see how it all goes. Enjoy the show…

1 Comment »

  1. Okay, so I know I’m leaving this comment on my own post, years after it was written, but I just read that Waltz with Bashir was ineligible for a Best Animated Feature nomination because apparently the rotoscoping technique isn’t considered animation according to the category’s rules, and it was ineligible for a Best Documentary nomination because of some stupid deadline (which no longer exists) for booking theatrical exhibition that the movie missed. So in case anyone – including me – ever looks at this post again and wonders about Waltz’s absence from two categories, now we know. (http://www.hitfix.com/in-contention/gkids-sets-animated-documentary-approved-for-adoption-for-nov-release)

    Comment by DB — September 25, 2013 @ 12:10 pm | Reply

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