February 25, 2011

For Your Consideration: My Absurdly Long Oscar Predictions Opus – 2010

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 8:50 am

“New Rule: If they’re going to make a historical epic full of British actors in period costumes about Queen Elizabeth II helping her father get over his speech impediment, why bother having the Oscars at all? You win. Unless someone in America is making a movie where Meryl Streep teaches Anne Frank how to box, we give up.”
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx-Bill Maher, Real Time with Bill Maher, 9/24/10

Bill Maher may have called it earlier than anyone. It would seem that The King’s Speech is poised to be the big winner on Sunday night, with a Best Picture win and several others along the way. Despite The Social Network conquering the first half of the season, its chances are now slim to none. Ditto for everything else, even though True Grit and The Fighter, in particular, are bound to have their supporters. So…not a lot to say here.

Well, one thing. It’s been irritating over the last three or four weeks to see Oscar pundits suddenly jumping on The King’s Speech bandwagon and saying that they really knew all along it would be the favorite and that The Social Network never really had a chance. Because that’s not what they were saying at all before the Producer’s Guild of America, Director’s Guild of America and Screen Actor’s Guild awards all turned the tide away from Social and toward King’s Speech. Although The Social Network did kick ass amongst the critics awards like few films have (in recent memory at least), it was never an obvious Best Picture choice; not to anyone who has actually paid attention to the kind of movies that appeal to the Academy. Everyone was so sure it was gonna be The Social Network, until The King’s Speech started getting love from the guilds. Suddenly these people who had already declared Social‘s victory claimed they really figured that Oscar fortune would favor King’s Speech. Bad form, chaps.

Personal Choice: Inception

Now here we actually have some suspense. I don’t think King’s Speech director Tom Hooper has this locked up. The two biggest things in his favor are: a) the movie is the likely Best Picture winner, and Picture and Director usually go hand-in-hand; and b) he won the DGA award, which is a pretty reliable indicator for the Oscar – only six times have the DGA and the Academy diverged since the DGA started its awards in 1948. But of those six times, three have been in the last 15 years. And in the same time period, Best Picture and Best Director have gone to different films on four occasions. (Take that stat with a grain of salt though; Best Picture and Best Director have split 21 times, and many of them happened in consecutive years or just a couple of years apart. So it’s not a trend that has picked up speed in more recent years. In fact, it really has no relevance at all. Why am I pointing it out then? I…I don’t know. I can’t help it. This is like a drug addiction.)

Another thing that could favor Hooper is the exclusion of Christopher Nolan. Sort of. One of the criticisms leveled at Nolan (which is mentioned in this article from The Daily Beast that examines possible reasons for his omission) is that his films, dazzling and engrossing as they may be, are cold. I happen to disagree with this assessment of his work. If you look at Memento, The Dark Knight (and Batman Begins, to a lesser extent), The Prestige and Inception, there are love stories running through all of them, often fueling the protagonist’s actions. I mean, nobody’s going to mistake the guy for Nora Ephron…but I think his work has more heart than say, Stanley Kubrick’s.

I’m getting off-topic. Point is, similar complaints of coldness have been leveled at David Fincher throughout his career (and Hooper’s loss would be Fincher’s win. There’s been no precedent to suggest it would go to Russell, Aronofsky or the Coens). Even when Fincher directed The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which is a romantic movie both in its style and content, many still deemed it icy. All this to say that Nolan’s snub may suggest that the Director’s branch wasn’t interested in cold this year. They wanted warmth, and The King’s Speech has that.

On the other hand, Hooper is not well known in Hollywood. Such unfamiliarity didn’t stop American Beauty‘s Sam Mendes or The English Patient‘s Anthony Minghella from winning, but a guy like Fincher may appeal more than Hooper to art directors, sound designers, visual effects artists and others whose particular trades are well-represented in his movies. Beyond that, some voters may have the clarity to see that The King’s Speech is just not as powerful a directorial accomplishment as The Social Network. Really, I’m still stunned Hooper won the DGA…and though his Oscar chances are strong, I would like to think voters will realize there’s more impressive directing work to choose from. There is voting crossover between the DGA and the Academy, but the DGA has a much larger voting body and includes the diversity of commercial and television directors, who may have been excited by Hooper’s successful transition to feature films. He comes from TV, where his credits include HBO’s John Adams miniseries. (Interestingly, that series nearly swept the 2008 Emmy Awards – Best Miniseries, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor…but Hooper lost Best Director. I maintain it was the excessive use of dutch angles, which I must point out whenever possible. So obnoxious. He also directed the network’s Elizabeth I with Helen Mirren, and did win an Emmy for that.)

The last clue that tells me Hooper is vulnerable is that he lost the Best Director at the British Academy of Film & Television Awards. This shocked me, as Hooper was on his home turf and The King’s Speech took seven awards, including Best Picture, Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress (we’ll talk about the latter two further down). A BAFTA win or loss is by no means a clear bellwether for the Oscar, but there is some crossover in voters, so the fact that they went for Fincher over Hooper is not insignificant…though it should also be pointed out that at the BAFTA’s, only directors vote for the winning director whereas at the Oscars, the entire membership can vote.

So what’s it all mean? The tea leaves could be read both ways, but I’m giving the edge to Fincher. That might be based a little too much on my personal feeling that Hooper doesn’t deserve this award, but there it is.

Personal Choice: In the still baffling-to-me absence of Christopher Nolan (despite what the article above claims), I’d actually give the prize to Darren Aronofsky. I think Black Swan has its problems, but Aronofsky puts on a hell of a show, and it’s because of his vision and talent that the film is so compelling.

Colin Firth pretty much has this in the bag, so there’s no need for a lot of analysis. But since I haven’t been able to comment on it from personal experience as of yet, I should say something about Javier Bardem. I wasn’t crazy about Biutiful, but you can’t say that Bardem didn’t pour himself into the role. He demonstrates a deep commitment to the part and he is compelling, but it’s a hard performance to love. The film is just so steeped in misery, and Bardem wears that well…but as far as actors going deep and exposing themselves, raw nerves and all, I’d rather have seen Ryan Gosling nominated for Blue Valentine.

As for Firth, the praise he’s earned for The King’s Speech is not unfounded, and while there are aspects of the role that definitely offer him the chance to do that showy, externalized Acting! to which Academy members have a Pavlovian response, it should be said that there are plenty of quiet, subtle elements to the performance as well, as Firth’s duke-turned-king struggles internally. So it really is the complete package voters are looking for…even if I think Firth was even more deserving last year for A Single Man. If you really want to see an example of screen acting at its finest, watch the scene from that film in which Firth receives a phone call about his partner’s car accident.

Personal Choice: I like all the performances but can’t say I’m super-excited about any of them. So I guess I’d fall in line and root for Firth. It’s nice to see a guy who’s been in the game so long, standing on the sidelines while others around him got all the accolades, finally having his moment to shine. (Not a reason to vote for him…just an opinion.)

When Black Swan was released and it became clear that Natalie Portman was going to be a major player this awards season, I wondered if the late January release of a likely-tepid romantic comedy with Ashton Kutcher would be the Kryptonite that sank her chances, just as (it’s widely believed) Norbit destroyed Eddie Murphy’s Oscar bid for Dreamgirls a few years back. I haven’t seen Portman’s No Strings Attached, but I doubt it’s as dismal as Norbit.

Okay, I haven’t seen Norbit either, but I’m a sentient being with a mild awareness of the movie. That’s pretty much all it takes to make a ruling on that one. Anyway, it seems pretty clear by now that Portman isn’t in any danger. 2011 is her year, no doubt. She turned No Strings Attached into a box office hit and has three other movies due in the months ahead, representing her interest in different types of films (one is a stoner comedy, one a comic book adaptation and one a low-budget indie). The pregnancy thing doesn’t hurt either. And then there’s her performance in Black Swan. You know, the thing that she’s actually supposed to be judged on. It’s terrific, and reflects the dedication of rigorous physical training – the kind of extra heft those Academy members eat up like M&M’s.

It is sort of a bummer that Annette Bening will likely lose again to another younger actress, though to be fair – and to take nothing away from Bening’s awesome performance in American Beauty – Hilary Swank totally deserved the win in 1999 for Boys Don’t Cry. Whether she deserved it in 2004 for Million Dollar Baby is more debatable in my mind, though I can’t make a case for Bening either, having still never seen Being Julia. Sympathy for Bening – a sense that her time has come – could prove to be a spoiler, but I don’t see it happening.

As incredible as Michelle Williams is in Blue Valentine, it’s the kind of performance that’s almost too real, too natural, too naked to win an Oscar. Academy members rarely go for subtle and natural. They wanna see you work for it. And besides, I’m sure Blue Valentine hasn’t been seen widely enough. Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Lawrence were both excellent, but they’re along for the ride this year. Portman takes it.

Personal Choice: Natalie Portman

It’s too bad that Mark Ruffalo faces such stiff competition, because he really is excellent in The Kids Are All Right. He does so many interesting things with that character. And as impressive as John Hawkes is in Winter’s Bone, his prize is the recognition. Ditto for Jeremy Renner.

The frontrunner is of course Christian Bale, who has won most of the key Supporting Actor races along the way, but I wouldn’t be shocked (disappointed, but not shocked) if Geoffrey Rush pulled an upset. I’m not expecting that; I think the Academy loves The Fighter, and a vote for Bale is the most obvious way to honor the film, not to mention a great, overdue actor and a tremendous performance. Besides, who could resist the chance, however unlikely, that Bale would pull a repeat of his infamous tirade from the Terminator: Salvation set and start screaming obscenities at the random girl who hands out the trophy, cussing her out for moving around too much while he makes his speech? “WHAT IS YOUR FUCKING PROBLEM? DID YOU JUST WIN AN OSCAR? DID-YOU-JUST-WIN-AN-OSCAR?? NO! NO YOU FUCKING DIDN’T. SO STOP FUCKING WALKING AROUND WHILE I’M TRYING TO GIVE MY SPEECH. IT’S DISTRACTING, IT’S FUCKING DISTRACTING!! HOW HARD IS IT TO STAND IN ONE FUCKING PLACE? FUCK!!!”

Nah, the truth is that Bale has been a teddy bear on the awards circuit this season. Affable, grateful, smiling, enthusiastic and generous with his praise for his co-stars and his real-life counterpart Dickie Eklund and the Ward family, whose lives The Fighter depicts. Still, I have to wonder if a contingent of cinematographers and maybe other below-the-line Academy members will refuse to vote for him, as a belated “fuck you” for his behavior that day. There’s no way to ever know of course, but I’d bet anything Bale will lose at least a few votes for that outburst. Enough to hurt his chances? Probably not. If Bale loses, it will more likely be due to Rush benefitting from all that affection for The King’s Speech. Even with the film’s understandable popularity in England, Rush’s BAFTA win was unexpected. Again, there’s no reason to think it foreshadows an Oscar victory, but there is a nagging voice in my head suggesting Rush has gained ground. Despite the praise I’ve heard from others, I don’t see this as an Oscar-winning performance. I enjoyed it, but it hardly blew me away. I’m sticking with Bale for the win, but I’ll be watching this one nervously.

Personal Pick: Christian fucking Bale.

It seems like Best Supporting Actress is often the most wide-open, anything-could-happen of the top categories, or the one where the unexpected is most likely to happen. Marisa Tomei, Marcia Gay Harden, Anna Paquin, Tilda Swinton, Juliette Binoche…all relative-to-huge surprises.

If we go with the flow of the precursors, then not only is Bale a lock to win, but things look good for his co-star Melissa Leo as well. Yet despite wins at the Broadcast Film Critics, the Golden Globes and SAG, I’ve still seen Leo as being vulnerable. And things may have changed even more dramatically in the last few weeks. The first sign of trouble I see – the one that’s been there for a while, and which is utterly arbitrary  – is that you can really tell how much Leo wants it. There’s nothing wrong with hunger, nothing wrong with working the campaign trail if that’s how the game is played (though Mo’Nique proved last year that playing the game isn’t a requirement), but on every awards show I’ve watched this season, as the camera holds on the faces of the five nominees, you can just see Leo on edge, desperately hoping she gets the prize. It’s not that I think this hurts her chances, but rather that her barely contained desire cosmically positions her to lose the big one. Watching her in those moments, it seems like she’ll barely be able to keep it together if they call another name. And in a way, it’s understandable. She’s the kind of actress for whom an Oscar is probably the most meaningful. For a working actress like that – not a big star, not a household name, but a good, strong performer who has done consistently fine work for years in television and film – I have to think the validation of an Oscar would be pretty special. I first saw Leo back in the early 90’s when she was a regular on NBC’s great police drama Homicide: Life on the Street, and it’s been satisfying to see her hitting such a stride in her career of late, getting good material and opportunities. So it makes sense to me that she really wants it. My feeling that she’s fated not to win it for that very reason is nothing more than a bizarre gut feeling.

More concrete, and more recent, is the fact that Leo put out her own For Your Consideration ads right in the middle of the voting period. Actors have successfully self-campaigned before, but usually to win a nomination. As the article points out, however, it hasn’t gone so well for those already nominated now seeking the win. From various pieces I’ve read, reaction to Leo’s move has been mixed. Some have applauded her while others have deemed it crass. Some Academy members have said that the move will cost Leo their vote. Which is total bullshit, because let’s face it, Academy members: the entire system you’ve set up for your award is kind of crass. Any regular Oscar observer knows by now that this is a fantasy, but we still like to proffer it: the award should be about the PERFORMANCE. Yet Winning an Oscar can be as much about the campaigning. Studios and publicists force actors and directors to run a months-long gauntlet of screening Q&As, press interviews and party appearances to schmooze Academy members and woo votes. So here you have someone who, in addition to doing all of that, tried another path as well. And suddenly she’s going to be penalized for it? There are ways one could promote themselves that would be pretty obnoxious; Leo hasn’t crossed that line. Most leading Oscar pundits (oh yes, there is a thriving subculture out there around movie awards) have supported Leo, and here is one piece that makes some good points in her defense.

Despite any unfounded sense I’ve had that she might not win, the fact is that Leo was entering the Oscars as the frontrunner. She didn’t need to do this. She was in really good shape, and this has definitely become an issue. If she doesn’t win, we’ll never know if it was because these ads cost her too many votes (which seems unlikely to me anyway)…but wow, how terrible will she feel, wondering if she torpedoed her own chances?

There is also the theory that Leo won’t win because she’ll split the vote with her co-star Amy Adams, but I don’t think this is an issue. People talk about the roadblock of vote-splitting all the time, and it’s never made sense to me. You’re evaluating two completely different performances. If a voter prefers Leo, they’ll vote for her. If they prefer Adams, they’ll vote for her. What difference does it make if they come from the same movie or not? Catherine Zeta-Jones beat Queen Latifah for Chicago, F. Murray Abraham beat Tom Hulce for Amadeus, Jack Nicholson beat John Lithgow for Terms of Endearment, Robert DeNiro beat Lee Strasberg and Michael V. Gazzo for The Godfather Part II…hell, director Steven Soderbergh beat himself, winning for Traffic when he was also nominated for Erin Brockovich (not an acting example, but the same logic applies). The split vote is a myth.

So who will get it, if not Leo? Adams is excellent in a change-of-pace role, and the Academy is awfully fond of her. This is her third nomination since 2005. I could see her pulling an upset (and it would be hard for Leo to look – and maybe even feel – too upset if her co-star and friend was the one to beat her). Many are looking to Hailee Steinfeld, who gives a stellar debut performance that’s at the heart of the widely-embraced True Grit. Helena Bonham Carter took the BAFTA award, but though I’ve stated that I could see Geoffrey Rush repeating his BAFTA win at the Oscars, I don’t think Bonham Carter has the same chances. For one thing, she didn’t have to compete against Leo (who was overlooked by BAFTA) or Steinfeld (who was nominated – appropriately – in the Lead race, rather than Supporting). Between that and the general fondness for The King’s Speech, she got lucky. And as for Jacki Weaver, well, it’s an honor just to be nominated.

I don’t know what will happen. For now I’m still giving the edge to Leo, but Hailee Steinfeld could totally nab it.

Personal Choice: Melissa Leo (helped by the fact that I was also really struck by her work in Welcome to the Rileys, a film no one else seemed to see or care about, but which I liked. Not only was Leo’s performance really lovely, but it was a 180 degree turn from The Fighter.)

Earlier in the year, The Kids Are All Right seemed like a potential winner here, but in the wake of The King’s Speech and Inception, it’s now running a distant third. Is there any reason to hope that Christopher Nolan will win? Will his egregious snub in the Best Director race actually help him here, rallying support from those who feel that he needs some kind of reward for his unique vision? He must have friends, allies and admirers throughout the Academy. All those people I talked about as being potential supporters of David Fincher because his films embrace their crafts…if there’s any credence to that theory, it must apply to Nolan as well. Besides, it’s right there in the name of the category: Best Original Screenplay. Yes, I know that means original as in not based on pre-existing material, but maybe it should count for something else too. Nolan should have won this award for Memento ten years ago. Dare I dream that his time has come?

Probably not. Although Nolan did win the award from the Writer’s Guild of America, he didn’t have to face The King’s Speech, which had been ruled ineligible by the WGA. And I’m afraid that too many people were too confused by Inception. We certainly don’t want to challenge people too much or make them think too hard. Much easier to just speak to their emotions, which The King’s Speech does quite well. The fact that its writer, David Seidler, overcame a stutter himself, will likely pluck at voters heartstrings too. I’m predicting The King’s Speech, but I’m hoping to be wrong. C’mon Academy, show some balls! Reach into that part of yourself that gave Eminem an Oscar for Best Song and honored The Departed as Best Picture. I know you can do it; I just don’t think you will.

Personal Choice: Is it not clear?

This should be an open and shut case. By all logic, the words “Aaron Sorkin” and “The Social Network” are already engraved. Throughout this entire awards season, Sorkin’s screenplay has not lost a single award for which it was eligible. Not one. Every critics group that gave only one Screenplay award gave it to The Social Network. Every critics group that recognized both Original and Adapted scripts gave their Adapted prize to The Social Network. It won the Golden Globe, the WGA and the BAFTA. 32 awards in all, if my notes are correct. I suspect, though I haven’t done the research to confirm this, that such a perfect record may be unprecedented. And if not, surely the list is extremely short. Sorkin is probably the safest bet of the night.

And yet, let me just throw out one thing. Last year, Up in the Air was considered a good bet to win Best Picture during the first half of the awards season, much like The Social Network was this year. And last year, the Adapted Screenplay for Air won suitcases full of awards. Even when its Best Picture hopes had faded, the film still went into Oscar night as the heavy favorite to win Adapted Screenplay. Then in the night’s biggest surprise, it lost to Precious. Now, Up in the Air‘s track record for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay wins wasn’t as strong as The Social Network‘s. But the similar set-up does give me a moment’s pause.

Aaaaand….moment passed. The Oscar goes to Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network.

Personal Choice: The Social Network

Pixar’s reign continues. Toy Story 3 wins.

Personal Choice: Toy Story 3

The presence here of The King’s Speech is just one of many cases where people’s love for the film allowed it to earn nominations it didn’t really deserve. In some of those cases, it might even win, but probably not in this one. Likewise, The Social Network will have to be content with a nomination. This should come down to a three-way race between Black Swan, Inception and True Grit, and I really don’t know which way it will go. Roger Deakins, the man behind the camera for every Coen Brothers movie since 1991’s Barton Fink and one of the greatest cinematographers ever to commit an image to celluloid, has still never won an Oscar. True Grit could finally change that. Like everything Deakins touches, especially for the Coens, it’s a beautifully shot film, embracing both tight confines and the open plains. I think Inception poses more of a threat than Black Swan, given its varied set-pieces and the fact that it won the prize from the American Society of Cinematographers. But that group has honored Deakins before. The Academy has yet to show him the money, and considering True Grit‘s popularity, this may be the easiest place to honor it.

Personal Choice: As much as I love Deakins and want to see him win an Oscar, on the whole I don’t think True Grit ranks among his best work. I’d be happy to see it win just because I want the man to win a damn Oscar already, but I’m more torn between Inception and Black Swan as the deserving winners.

I must state again for the record that the absence of Inception in this category is incomprehensible. It should be the winner, hands down. But we must work with what we have, and it is a pretty strong category this year. The least deserving nominee is of course one that has a good chance of winning. Yes King’s Speech, I’m looking at you. This is yet another instance where it’s easy to imagine that voters will just pick the movie they like without really thinking about what they’re voting for. I’m betting they’ll know better in this case, but who knows. The FighterBlack Swan and 127 Hours are all worthy contenders. But my money’s on The Social Network, with its complex timeline that juggles two legal depositions and the events that led to the lawsuits. Impressive work.

Not quite as impressive as Inception, but still.

Personal Choice: The Social Network or Black Swan

Tim Burton films fare well in this category. In fact, of the three Burton films that have been nominated for Art Direction over the years, all have won. So history favors Alice in Wonderland. But I suspect the streak may end this year. Sure, Alice in Wonderland is pretty, but it’s also overstuffed. If the award were for Most Art Direction, it would be a slam dunk. This criticism may not matter to voters who just like the purdy colors, but I feel like they might go a different way. The category also tends to honor period pieces, and The King’s Speech is more likely to benefit from that tendency than True Grit. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I is also in the mix, but probably doesn’t stand out enough for a win. And then there’s Inception, which combines elements of modern, fantasy and period design. That should make it the winner, but I have a feeling voters will go with the straightforward work of The King’s Speech.

Personal Choice: Inception

I haven’t seen The Tempest, but based on the images I’ve caught, it does look like it features some impressive costuming. However, I doubt most Academy members have seen it either. Same goes for I Am Love, which benefits from a striking dress or two, but not much more. As this is another category that most often goes for period pieces, we once again have True Grit and The King’s Speech in contention. Grit‘s costumes are good, but there’s not much variety and the colors don’t exactly pop. This is definitely a category where King’s Speech could benefit from Autopilot Syndrome, but this time I think Alice in Wonderland will stand out.

Personal Choice: Alice in Wonderland

I’m getting tired of saying this, but it just keeps being applicable: The King’s Speech barely deserves to be here, yet it stands a good chance of winning. The Social Network score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is original and effective, but may be a little too unconventional for more conservative tastes. And Inception may just be too loud and dissonant for older voters. I’m not usually a huge proponent of scores lacking a strong, memorable theme or those that relentlessly pound – characteristics that apply to Inception. But Nolan uses Hans Zimmer’s score as such a key tool in his arsenal, employing propulsive music to constantly keep the tension cranked. If we’re going by the most effective use of a score in a film, this is the one. But in this race, I think voters will prefer the lighter, more classical-stylings of The King’s Speech. Snore.

Personal Choice: Inception

This category is tough to call this year. None of these songs have much staying power. The question is whether or not voters take the time to go back and listen to the songs before marking their ballots, or just make a selection based on which film or artist they like or which song they just assume is probably best. (To hear the songs for yourself, mostly courtesy of InContention.com, click on the links below.)

While I have to admit that Gwyneth Paltrow’s got some impressive pipes, I’m ruling out her tune “Coming Home” from Country Strong, if for no other reason than I doubt enough people have seen the film. The Dido/A.R. Rahman collaboration “If I Rise,” from 127 Hours, is the most interesting and original entry, but there’s no guarantee that’s a good thing in a category that generally (though not always) likes to play it safe. That leaves the animated films. Pixar once again turned to Randy Newman to come up with a song for Toy Story 3. The result, “We Belong Together,” is a snazzy, upbeat number, but not all that strong, and not as good as some of his earlier Pixar tunes like “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from the original Toy Story or “If I Didn’t Have You” from Monsters, Inc. (the song that finally won Newman an Oscar after 15 nominations). Finally, there’s “I See the Light,” the love song from Disney’s Tangled. Written by Disney’s longtime go-to composer Alan Menken (working with lyricist Glenn Slater), it’s a nice enough tune with a pretty melody courtesy of Menken. But just as Randy Newman’s song doesn’t measure up to his past work, “I See the Light” is a shadow of the truly great songs Menken created with his late collaborator Howard Ashman for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. I suppose the comparison is unfair and irrelevant, but I can’t help thinking it.

“If I Rise” has spoiler potential, but my shot in the dark is that the award will go to “I See the Light.” The song is sweet, and the scene in which it occurs is more memorable than the song itself. Plus, when you look back at those Menken-Ashman years and beyond to The Lion King, when multiple songs from each film were nominated, the romantic ballad almost always won out over the rousing showstopper. In this case the songs are from two different movies, but I think the same logic will apply, allowing “I See the Light” to trump “We Belong Together.”

Personal Choice: “If I Rise”

The Wolfman is probably the safe bet here, for a few reasons. One, it’s the showiest of the contenders. There’s not a lot of subtlety about a guy turning into a werewolf. The reason this might matter is that none of the nominees, at least based on their box office numbers, were widely seen. Not that this reflects the number of Academy members who’ve seen them, since they get to see all their movies for free. But I’d be surprised if enough voters have seen The Way Back or Barney’s Version to make an informed judgment. So if they’re just looking at the three choices and basing their selection on instinct, they’d probably go with the werewolf. Which they might do even if they have seen all the nominees. Barney’s Version features some really well done aging makeup, while The Way Back‘s work mainly consists of facial wounds that reflect the harsh battle against nature that the characters are up against (cuts, bruises, blistering, etc.). Effective, but not flashy. I figure The Wolfman will nail it.

Personal Choice: The Way Back

It’s nice to finally see five films nominated in this category, which has previously allowed only three. I’ll be surprised and disappointed if Alice in Wonderland wins the prize, as its effects were inconsistent. Hereafter features one dynamite effects sequence – a tsunami ripping through a coastal community – but with no other major effects to speak of, there’s not enough to earn the win. Harry Potter and Iron Man 2 both feature high quality, impressive work that would not be undeserving, but you gotta figure that Inception – with its folding cityscapes, crumbling buildings, zero-gravity fights in spinning rooms and so much more – will emerge victorious.

Personal Choice: Inception

Understanding as little as I do about sound work in film, these two categories are always a crapshoot for me. Luckily, I always figure that most Academy members know as little about the category as I do, so we’re in the same boat. I’m going with Inception in both cases. My paper thin justification? For Sound Editing, I expect Inception‘s broad support gives it the edge over the other action movies in the race – Unstoppable and Tron: Legacy. Toy Story 3 and True Grit are here too, but my sense is that when there’s a quality, respected action (or sci-fi or fantasy) film in the running, voters will gravitate toward that.

In the Sound Mixing race, Inception faces more familiar competition – namely The King’s Speech and The Social Network. (True Grit and Salt round out the category). In their ignorance, voters could just go for King’s Speech, as I fear they’ll do in other places…but I actually think this is a category where they’ll display some semblance of logic. Again, the option of an action movie that is widely admired may make them feel like they’re applying their vote in a meaningful way.

Are you with me?

Personal Choice: Given that I love the film and don’t know any better, Inception for both.

I can offer no help here, as I haven’t seen most of the nominees and am not aware of what has struck the right chord. While I don’t think it’s favored to win, I do especially want to catch up with Exit From the Git Shop, which sounds pretty trippy. I had no idea who Banksy was until a few months ago when his super-ballsy Simpsons opening aired. I thought this article, about how the Academy wouldn’t let the never-seen artist accept a potential Oscar in any way other than the traditional climb up the stage – was interesting. And I love the Charlie Brown picture. (I think there are other photos of his recent L.A. art floating around online.)

Anyway, for what it’s worth, I hear that Inside Job may be the winner, or possibly Restrepo. But like I said, I can offer no help here. In fact, I can’t help with any of the remaining categories…and since I’m on vacation right now, racing to finish this up in time for you to digest it all before the awards (or choke trying), I’m not even gonna bother making the attempt. I’m afraid you’re on your own for Best Documentary Short, Best Animated Short, Best Live Action Short and Best Foreign Language Film. (Actually, In A Better World may have the edge in the latter category, if the buzz I’m hearing is accurate.)

And there we have it. Some tough calls in the below-the line categories, and some potential surprises in some of the top categories. As always, I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds. Along with my wishes for a good Oscar night that favors your favorites (unless they conflict with mine, that is), I’ll leave you with this video of James Franco seeking hosting advice from Judd Apatow. Very awesome, and a little NSFW.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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