January 23, 2012

Oscars 2011: Nominations Eve

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 1:00 pm
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Predicting the nominees has been a bitch this year.

For starters, everyone seems to agree that 2011 wasn’t all that strong a year for movies. There was a lot of good and not much great…yet almost every category sports an abundance of worthy nominees. And while a few frontrunners are starting to emerge, no win feels inevitable. Usually by this time, the countless critics awards and initial guild nominations have helped clarify the field a bit, with at least one or two categories sporting a sure-fire winner. Not so this year. Without the usual sense of passion centered around a handful of films, things seem more prone to change between now and late February. All of which makes it an exciting race, but not an easy one to forecast. The new Best Picture rules don’t exactly help either. What new Best Picture rules, you may ask? Well let’s get the party started and find out…

Oh, a note for the nine of you that have actually read these in the past: normally I include my personal nomination picks for each category, but I’ve decided to hold off on that this year since there are still a few key movies that have yet to arrive in the Bay Area or which I just haven’t had a chance to see. They include The Iron Lady, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Coriolanus and Albert Nobbs. I missed the boat on a few others, including the acclaimed indie Tyrannosaur, but once again I’m pleased to say that I’ve seen pretty much everything that’s part of the conversation (I even saw Margaret during its super-quick theatrical run! ). Anyway, at some point between now and the awards, I’ll be sure to publish my own picks. Because I’m way smarter than the Academy.

The Artist
The Descendants
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life

Now then: rule changes. Note that on the list above, I’ve included eight movies. The especially astute among you will further note that eight is less than ten. Remember two years ago, when the Academy decided there would be ten nominees for Best Picture instead of the traditional five? The change benefited movies that, it’s safe to say, wouldn’t have made the cut on a five-film list. (Think The Blind Side, 127 Hours and District 9, to name a few.) Well last June, the Academy announced it was shaking up the process even further. The number of nominees will now fall somewhere between five and ten, and we won’t know the tally until the nominations are revealed.

Those of you familiar with Johnny Dangerously will understand if I pause at this point to quote Roman Maroni, who always had a colorful way of putting things.

Based on how many of the roughly 6,000 Academy members return their ballots and make selections in the Best Picture category, the accounting aces at PricewaterhouseCoopers will determine what percentage of first place votes a movie needs to earn in order to secure a nomination. According to the Academy’s press release on the topic, this new system means that the nominated films will more accurately reflect Academy members’ favorite movies. The downside is that because of the way the calculations work, a significant number of voters’ ballots will essentially be tossed out. It’s a system that favors consensus but means not every voting member will have their voice heard. For statistical nerds out there, Steve Pond of TheWrap.com is an expert in crunching Oscar numbers and has examined and explained the process in detail.

What this boils down to for schmucks like me is that predicting the Best Picture nominees just got a lot trickier. But schmucks we are, and predict we shall.

Count on The Artist and The Descendants, which have grabbed the lion’s share of the critics awards and each took home top Golden Globes recently (the former in the musical/comedy category, the latter for drama). The Help and Hugo are close to certain, and Midnight in Paris is probably in there too. After that, the real guesswork begins. Two movies with late December releases that were widely expected to be contenders are War Horse and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. But War Horse, despite strong reviews and good box office, has failed to gain traction with the industry. While cited by the Producers Guild of America and the American Cinema Editors, it went unnominated by the Writers Guild of America, the Directors Guild of America (which has been generous to Steven Spielberg over the years) and the American Society of Cinematographers. Those omissions hurt. Has War Horse been left out to pasture?

As for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, it was the last move of the year to screen for critics and guilds, with some of the season’s first voting critic circles convening before they’d seen it. The lack of recognition by the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild could be due to ballots being cast before the movie was seen. But mixed reviews and the same lack of guild support slowing down War Horse‘s chances indicate the movie just hasn’t caught on. There have been a smattering of nominations from this group or that, and it could factor into a couple of races further down, but Best Picture no longer seems in the cards.

The unlikely beneficiary of those two movies’ lackluster showings appears to be The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which in contrast to both, has scored big time with the guilds. It’s been nominated by the PGA, ACE, ACS and most surprisingly, the DGA and WGA. With all that support, its Oscar chances look better than anyone would have expected (and better than it probably deserves, but that’s another story). Then there’s The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick’s poetic rumination on life, death, the universe and really gorgeous swirls of color. It was admired by critics, and no doubt it has ardent supporters within the Academy. The question is whether it has enough to earn the necessary number of first place votes. Brad Pitt’s other 2011 effort, Moneyball, is a solid movie that garnered strong reviews and has one of the most acclaimed scripts of the year. It’s the kind of all-around admirable film that could absolutely find itself in the running.

An assured ten-picture field might have opened the conversation up to movies like The Ides of March, My Week with Marilyn, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Drive, or even some populist choices like Bridesmaids, Rango or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. (Don’t laugh; Potter was one of the year’s best-reviewed movies, and even within the industry a lot of people feel it deserves recognition as the closing chapter of the most financially successful franchise ever.)

War Horse could still muster the support it needs, while The Tree of Life may not have the necessary backing. Moneyball is a question mark too. But this is the list I’m going with.

Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist
Alexander Payne – The Descendants
Martin Scorsese – Hugo
Woody Allen – Midnight in Paris
Terrence Malick – The Tree of Life

This category has three sure things: Hazanavicius, Payne and Scorsese. Two spots remain, and a lot of people are in the mix for them. The affection for Midnight in Paris will probably carry Woody Allen, but I wouldn’t call him a lock. Although The Help is a safe bet for Best Picture, its director Tate Taylor has been largely ignored throughout the season. The film’s direction isn’t especially dynamic (not that it needed to be), so he’ll probably fall prey to bigger names and bolder visions. If War Horse misses in Best Picture, it will kill any chance Spielberg has…which I sense isn’t much at this point anyway. David Fincher, on the other hand, could benefit from the lovefest that has swarmed Dragon Tattoo.

If the Academy goes with Hazanavicius, Payne, Scorsese, Allen and Fincher, it will match the DGA’s nominees five-for-five. That rarely happens. In the last 25 years, it’s only happened three times (1998, 2005, 2009). When the two bodies diverge, the Academy often favors an auteur or an indie filmmaker. (Mulholland Drive‘s David Lynch, City of God‘s Fernando Meirelles, The Sweet Hereafter‘s Atom Egoyan and Red‘s Krzysztof Kieslowski are among those who scored Oscar nods but weren’t cited by the DGA.) This year, that could mean good news for Drive‘s Nicolas Winding Refn, who took the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival last summer. But Drive is feeling more like a critic’s darling and less like a movie that’s connecting within Hollywood. The more likely nominee would be Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life. While the movie is divisive and it certainly isn’t perfect, Malick is a visionary filmmaker and one who has the admiration of many colleagues. Whatever the movie’s chances in the Best Picture race, I think it has a good chance of landing here.

George Clooney – The Descendants
Leonardo DiCaprio – J. Edgar
Jean Dujardin – The Artist
Michael Fassbender – Shame
Brad Pitt – Moneyball

With the assured presence of Clooney, Pitt and Dujardin, this category is shaping up to be a gathering of the Handsome Men’s Club. But as is usually the case, a number of strong candidates are left fishing for two available slots. Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar didn’t pan out as an awards magnet, but DiCaprio has plenty of admirers for his excellent performance and scored nominations from the Broadcast Film Critics Association, SAG and the Golden Globes. The Academy likes DiCaprio, so his chances are good. (Like anybody who writes about the Oscars, by the way, I shall proceed to repeatedly reference “the Academy” as though it were a monolithic entity absorbing the consciousness of its many thousand members into one aggregated voice).

I’d say three actors are realistically vying for the fifth slot. Michael Fassbender had a great year, with acclaimed performances in four movies. Several groups have nominated him for Shame, though he was overlooked by SAG. Still, plenty of actors are sure to admire his nakedness. No, not that nakedness. Well, yeah, I guess that nakedness too. But I mean more his emotional nakedness. Next is Gary Oldman, who took center stage for the first time in years with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Fellow actors could feel that it’s time to pay tribute to one of the greats who has, amazingly, never been nominated. Still, the performance is so restrained and quiet. The Academy tends to favor flashier roles, and Oldman’s George Smiley is as buttoned-down as it gets. Then there’s Michael Shannon for the gripping indie film Take Shelter. Critics love the performance, and Shannon has the respect of his peers. But despite the September release, have enough voters made time to see it? He missed out on nominations from SAG, the Globes and the BFCA, which doesn’t bode well…but in 2009 he was ignored by the same groups and still scored a Supporting Actor nomination for Revolutionary Road. Can he do it again?

Woody Harrelson garnered ecstatic reviews as a self-destructive L.A. cop in Rampart, but it’s doubtful enough voters have seen the movie. SAG awarded a surprise nomination to Demián Bichir for his work as an immigrant father trying to provide for his teenage son in A Better Life, but again, the movie was probably too-little seen. SAG’s nominations don’t always match up with Academy’s, and Bichir – lacking name recognition and coming from  lower profile movie – seems the least likely to make Oscar’s cut. Ryan Gosling’s name keeps popping up as well, both for Drive and The Ides of March, but neither film is likely to earn him the necessary votes (and frankly, if he deserves a nomination for any of his work this year, I’d argue in favor of Crazy, Stupid, Love).

With DiCaprio and Fassbender vulnerable, this category is primed for a surprise or two.

Glenn Close – Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis – The Help
Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady
Tilda Swinton – We Need to Talk About Kevin
Michelle Williams – My Week With Marilyn

While all the major races this year have the rare excitement factor of lacking clear frontrunners, some are more up for grabs than others, starting with this one. Streep, Davis and Williams are the locks, and surprisingly, it’s Williams who has by far captured the most critics awards to date, plus a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy (neither of which her movie really fits into, but that sort of loose categorization is nothing new).

In addition to these three, SAG nominated Glenn Close for Albert Nobbs and Tilda Swinton for We Need to Talk About Kevin. (Both films have yet to go into wide release, so for those unfamiliar with them, here are the Cliff’s Notes: in Nobbs, Close plays a woman passing as a male butler in 19th century Ireland. Swinton, meanwhile, portrays a mother whose son commits a Columbine-like high school attack.) Close was an Oscar darling in the 80’s, racking up five nominations between 1982 and 1988. She’s never won the award, and has found more success on television over the last decade. While Nobbs is a small film struggling for attention, it could be seen as a homecoming for Close, whose peers may want to welcome her back with a nomination. As for Swinton, she’s managed to maintain a firm presence on the awards circuit so far despite appearing in exactly the kind of independent film that so often gets lost in shuffle among higher-profile year-end releases. Her buoyancy bodes well. Both movies opened in December for brief qualifying runs, so voters would have had to catch the movies during those theatrical windows or else made time at home to watch the screeners. This is not an uncommon practice and it certainly doesn’t stand in the way of work being nominated, but can two such movies make their mark in the same race?

A number of worthy actresses are waiting in the wings should Close or Swinton falter. Charlize Theron gave a bold, biting performance in Young Adult, but the character may be too unlikable to earn enough support. Elizabeth Olsen’s acclaimed breakout as a young woman who escapes a cult in Martha Marcy May Marlene has its fans, though probably not enough for her to pull through. Ditto for Kirsten Dunst, who earned stellar reviews as a deeply depressed bride in Melancholia. She took Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival, but Cannes acclaim only occasionally translates to Oscar heat, and when it does it’s usually fueled by more critics awards than Dunst has collected. Personally, I gotta give a shoutout to the preternaturally gifted Saoirse Ronan, who gave a knockout performance in Hanna that should have her firmly in the Best Actress discussion. Alas, she’s been completely left out, so no luck there. The last viable contender – and the one with the best chance of cracking the final list – is Rooney Mara as the iconic heroine Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. If the movie catches fire throughout the Academy the way its guild support indicates it might, Mara could easily ride that wave. But I think the category will match the SAG slate of Close, Davis, Streep, Swinton and Williams.

Kenneth Branagh – My Week With Marilyn
Albert Brooks – Drive
Nick Nolte – Warrior
Christopher Plummer – Beginners
Max von Sydow – Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Plummer is in for sure. Brooks seems like a safe bet given that he and Plummer have split nearly all the awards given out so far. Although Brooks was a no-show on SAG’s list, it’s hard to imagine he won’t make the Academy’s cut given all the citations already under his belt.

Jonah Hill scored key nominations from SAG and the Golden Globes for his change-of-pace work in Moneyball, and most pundits are considering him a sure thing. I have my doubts. I think Hill could find himself in the same boat as Mila Kunis did last year for Black Swan. Despite nods from the BFCA, Globes and SAG, she was left off Oscar’s list. Like Kunis, Hill gives a good performance that allows him to stretch, but there’s nothing special about it beyond that. Voters may think an Oscar nomination is a little more than he deserves at this point.

Nick Nolte gives a moving performance in the underseen drama Warrior as a recovering alcoholic trying to reconcile with his grown sons after years of abuse that tore their family apart. The movie was well-received by critics and those who’ve seen it…but it doesn’t seem like many people have seen it. Then again, the movie came out way back in September, so they’ve had time. The SAG nomination has kept him visible, as have the frequent commercials for HBO’s new series Luck, in which Nolte stars. Lots of Academy members have HBO and have surely seen those spots. Plus, Nolte’s a survivor. Actors like that.

Max von Sydow garnered buzz in advance of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close‘s release, but the movie has been such a nonstarter that it’s tough to gauge his chances. If the movie has a shot at any major nominations, he’s the best bet. But sentiment to honor a veteran who’s never won before may be siphoned off by Plummer.

Others in the mix are Viggo Mortensen for his dry, sly Sigmund Freud in A Dangerous Method; Patton Oswalt as Charlize Theron’s nerdy confidant in Young Adult (Oswalt has had audiences cracking up at various events throughout the season; never underestimate the effect that can have on voters); Armie Hammer, admired for his work as the Winklevii in last year’s The Social Network, got a SAG nod playing Hoover’s right-hand man (if you know what I mean, HOO-HA!) in J. Edgar; and Brad Pitt really deserves a nomination for his stern 1950’s father in The Tree of Life, but he’ll probably be honored solely for Moneyball.

There are a couple of blockbuster longshots,  like Alan Rickman for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, in which he capped off a decade of inscrutability and finally revealed the true colors and pain beneath the pallid visage of Severus Snape. There was also a lot of talk last summer around Andy Serkis and his motion-capture performance as the gifted chimp Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. A few critics groups have nominated Serkis, but the fact is that actors vote for actors, and they just aren’t ready to recognize motion capture. I don’t think Serkis should make the list this time anyway, but I did think he deserved it for his performance as Gollum in The Two Towers, and I wish the Academy had recognized this work he’s pioneered over the last decade by giving him a Special Achievement Oscar this year. But that ship sailed in November. Perhaps down the line…

I think von Sydow will just squeak by, while Branagh has landed on enough lists by now to seem like a good bet. Few of these performances really thrill me though, so I’d love to see a truly-didn’t-think-it-would-ever-happen surprise like Corey Stoll for Midnight in Paris (he played Ernest Hemingway) or Kevin Spacey or Jeremy Irons for the financial crisis drama Margin Call.

Bérénice Bejo – The Artist
Jessica Chastain – The Help
Melissa McCarthy – Bridesmaids
Octavia Spencer – The Help
Shailene Woodley – The Descendants

Chastain has had an amazing breakout year, and has been honored by various critics groups for her individual performances in The Help, The Tree of Life and Take Shelter, while other groups have cited her for all three films plus The Debt, Coriolanus and Texas Killing Fields. Some have posited that she will split her votes between various films and wind up shut out of the race, but most agree that she’ll score most of her votes for The Help, in which she took a potentially one-dimensional ditz and infused her with levels of depth. As long as she gets nominated for something, I don’t really care what it is.

Melissa McCarthy seems primed for Bridesmaids recognition, but a word of caution: performances this purely comedic – and comedies this broad, in general –  are seldom favored by the Academy. Sure, the past 25 years are spotted with comparable (to varying degrees) nominees, including Joan Cusack for In & Out, Robert Downey Jr. for Tropic Thunder, Marisa Tomei for My Cousin Vinny and Kevin Kline for A Fish Called Wanda (the latter two even won). But when it comes to comedy and the Academy, nothing is assured. McCarthy’s chances look good, bolstered by nominations from SAG, the BFCA and several critics groups (though not the Golden Globes). But if her name isn’t announced, don’t be too shocked.

If we go by the critics, The Descendants‘ Shailene Woodley would be a sure thing here. Tough to say whether or not the Academy will follow. Support for the movie overall could definitely carry her. And while the logic I used against Jonah Hill might seem applicable to Woodley as well – that she’s too young, or it’s too soon –  the Academy has a soft spot for young, emerging actresses. So whereas I likened Hill to Mila Kunis, Woodley may be more comparable to Hailee Steinfeld, nominated last year for True Grit. Then again, Woodley’s character isn’t nearly as colorful as Steinfeld’s, so…who knows how this will go.

Janet McTeer has done well on the circuit so far, joining Glenn Close with a gender-bending performance in Albert Nobbs. If enough voters have seen it, she could land here too. Vanessa Redgrave is said to be brilliant in Ralph Fiennes’ Shakespeare adaptation Coriolanus, but this is another case where the movie is unlikely to have been seen by enough people. Shame‘s Carey Mulligan is floating on the edge, and can’t be counted out completely if we consider that voters will have made time for that film based on all the buzz it generated. Her inclusion would be a surprise, albeit a pleasant one. In a move I still can’t wrap my head around, Academy voters saw fit a couple years ago to award Sandra Bullock an Oscar for The Blind Side; if Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close does make an impression on voters, Bullock’s fine performance could earn her a second nomination.

I’m giving Woodley a slight edge over McTeer, but what do I know?

Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist
Mike Mills – Beginners
Annie Mumalo & Kristen Wiig – Bridemaids
Woody Allen – Midnight in Paris
Tom McCarthy – Win Win

The screenwriting categories are often the place where admired movies that can’t quite gain a foothold in other high profile races get their pat on the back. Think Lars and the Real Girl, American Splendor, The Squid and the Whale and Do the Right Thing. This year, there are a number of such films that could fill out a category which is already likely to include Midnight in Paris, Bridesmaids and The Artist. Diablo Cody, who won this award for Juno a few years ago, could be back with her uncompromising comedy Young Adult. She did earn a WGA nod, but that’s never a reliable indicator since so many scripts fail to qualify for the WGA due to arcane regulations. (The Artist, for example, was left off the WGA list but is considered an Oscar shoo-in). There’s Margin Call, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Take Shelter, Beginners, Win Win and 50/50 (the latter two earned WGA nominations and have popped up consistently with critics groups), all of which could reasonably make the cut.

The Tree of Life is always a possibility, but might be seen more as a triumph of directing that writing. I mean, that ending sequence…even Sean Penn has said he didn’t know what the hell was going on, and he starred in it. (True, he calls the script “magnificent,” but voters aren’t judging the actual script; they’re judging what makes it to the screen.) Animated and foreign films frequently earn a spot in the screenplay races, and this year such chances rest with Rango and the Iranian drama A Separation, respectively. But Rango hasn’t been cited with a comparable nomination by any other group that I’ve seen. A Separation has fared a little better, but unless voters caught up with it in the final days of voting, I’d be surprised to see it slide in.

My gut is telling me that 50/50 is going to miss, but I’m not at all confident that I’m right, or of what will take that fifth spot if I am. I’m going out on a long limb with Beginners, knowing full well that said limb is likely to snap underneath me.

Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash  – The Descendants
Steven Zaillian – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Tate Taylor – The Help
John Logan – Hugo
Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin – Moneyball

All five films above were nominated by the WGA, though the nod for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo took many by surprise. Since the Adapted category wasn’t gutted by the guild as badly as the Original category, it’s tough to guess whether Dragon Tattoo got in by default of sorts or if it’s a real contender. There only seem to be a few other realistic candidates. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (which was among the ineligible for  the WGA) could go either way; did voters find it too confusing, or did they think it effectively streamlined an intricate, dense novel? War Horse doesn’t feel like it can go the distance here, and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close remains a question mark. It doesn’t appear to have the support, but this is a movie that could turn out to surprise everyone.

I’m going with Dragon Tattoo, but it’s a toss-up with Tinker Tailor.

The Adventures of Tintin
Cars 2
Puss in Boots
Winnie the Pooh

Enough animated movies were released this year to qualify for a five-movie race. Nineteen films are in the mix, and it will be interesting to see if the nominees are all from the mainstream or if something more obscure muscles in, as was the case two years ago when The Secret of Kells had everyone asking, “What the hell is The Secret of Kells?”

The Adventures of Tintin made the list of eligible movies and seems a certain nominee…unless members of the animation branch don’t see motion capture as equatable to hand-drawn or computer-generated work. But I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t make it. Kung Fu Panda 2 is just as gorgeously animated as the first film, but felt a little flatter to me. Still, it dives deeper into some of the characters and manages to be more than just a rehash of the original. From what I’ve heard, the same can’t be said for Happy Feet Two. Although the original won this award in 2006, the sequel doesn’t seem to have registered. Then there’s Cars 2. Though a huge box office hit, it’s the most critically spanked movie in Pixar’s history. I didn’t think it was nearly the dud that so many called it, but yeah, it has problems that Pixar’s movies just don’t usually have. Still, the immaculate animation can’t be denied. If it misses the cut, it will be the first Pixar movie to do so since this category’s inception in 2001. Hard to imagine Pixar not having a horse in the race. I wonder – are animators from rival studios relishing a misstep by the great and mighty Pixar, or are they not thinking in such vindictive terms? The answer could hold they key to the movie’s nomination fate. I think it’s gonna make it, but I’m basing my guess more on the quality of the animation than the overall movie…which is probably a miscalculation on my part.

The only sure thing is Rango. So watch out for really any one of my guesses to be trumped by Arthur Christmas or a Kells-like surprise.

Guillaume Schiffman – The Artist
Jeff Cronenweth – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Robert Richardson – Hugo
Emmanuel Lubezki – The Tree of Life
Janusz Kaminski – War Horse

I’m so on the fence about War Horse. It missed with the American Society of Cinematographers, and the movie’s general lack of support from the guilds must be taken into account. But I just can’t write it off. I have a feeling that it could still pull through. If it doesn’t, or if Dragon Tattoo misses out (the other three are safe bets), the ASC’s fifth choice – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – could come in from the cold. Drive deserves to be here but probably won’t be, while Moneyball (shot by last year’s winner Wally Pfister) could be a surprise. It isn’t flashy, but it’s earned notices from critics and fellow cameramen. Other longshot possibilities might be The Descendants, Hanna, Melancholia, Anonymous and Midnight in Paris.

The Artist
The Descendants
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The editing category usually consists of prestige movies that are also in the running for Best Picture, as well as perhaps a really well constructed action movie (The Bourne Ultimatum and The Matrix are past winners). I don’t know if The Descendants will really show up here, but admiration for the movie and its overall positioning in the field so far make a reasonable guess. The Social Network took the prize last year, and its editors re-teamed with David Fincher for Dragon Tattoo, which once again seems to have the guild support it needs. The editor’s guild was one of the few that recognized War Horse, and I could see it replacing The Descendants or Moneyball, but I suspect it will miss with the Academy. I may be in the minority thinking that The Tree of Life could be a surprise contender, but so be it. For a movie that goes in some unusual directions, the editing helps the film retain a shape that gives it forward momentum. Drive would be great to see, but it might be competing for votes with Dragon Tattoo.

The Artist
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The Harry Potter films have earned more nominations in this category than in any other. None have won yet, and while there weren’t many new locations in the final film, it’s obviously their last chance to recognize it. It could be omitted for being more of the same, but I’m banking on its inclusion. From a purely objective standpoint, Anonymous deserves to be here, but if voters feel the movie lacks narrative respectability, will they go for it? (It explores the idea that Shakespeare’s plays were written by someone else, and its critics were none too kind.) Who knows how voters think about these things, but I’m guessing they evaluate the work first and the film second. I’m not sure if Tinker Tailor can go the distance, but it’s earned some key nominations so far and has an understated elegance and lived-in feel.

This is a category that favors period pieces and fantasy, so examples of the former that could find their way in are Jane Eyre, War Horse or even The Help. A couple of years ago, Sherlock Holmes made the cut, so its nominated team could repeat with the sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides has a shot as well (the second Pirates film earned a nomination back in 2006). And bridging the gap between period and fantasy is Midnight in Paris, so that’s a potential spoiler too.

The Artist
The Help

Also a category that goes for period and fantasy films. Not that I’m totally confident of Anonymous getting in for Art Direction, but I’m even less confident here given that I see a broader slate of contenders in this race than I do for Art Direction. Still, I’m sticking with it. Madonna’s directorial debut W.E. was ripped by the critics, but the costumes look like just the kind of lavish threads the Academy loves. If The Tempest could get in last year, W.E. certainly could this year, and its nomination from the costume designers guild places it in the running.

But there are lots of fine feathered films jostling for position here, including Jane Eyre, My Week With Marilyn, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, A Dangerous Method and Midnight in Paris on the period end of the spectrum. Comic book adaptations Captain America: The First AvengerX-Men: First Class and Thor all have a shot, and I’d rank their chances in that order even though Captain America was the only one of the three ignored by the guild. Unintentionally campy mainstream entries like Red Riding Hood (which scored a guild nomination) or Immortals could show up, but I’d say Jane Eyre is the most likely to break through if any of my five picks are wrong. And surely a couple are.

Lay Your Head Down – Albert Nobbs (5)
Life’s a Happy Song – The Muppets (1)
The Living Proof – The Help (4)
Man or Muppet? – The Muppets (2)
Star Spangled Man – Captain America: The First Avenger (3)

39 songs – culled from 30 movies – are eligible for the award this year. A look at the list reveals a handful of movies that you probably haven’t heard of…unless maybe you worked on one of them. So the final list could include something unsung…though not literally, since, well…it’s a…it’s a song, so it has to be…sung. However, lacking the time to seek out and listen to all 39 options and therefore limiting myself to what I’m aware of, these are my predictions.

Under recently passed rules, no more than two songs from a single film can be nominated, so while I’d personally like to see “Pictures in My Head” from The Muppets make the list, I think it will be overshadowed by the two I’ve included. Elton John wrote songs for the animated film Gnomeo & Juliet, and one entitled “Hello Hello” has been nominated by a few critics groups as well as the Golden Globes. A known entity and former winner like Elton could wind up nominated. So could Zooey Deschanel, who contributed songs to Winnie the Pooh. Of the two that are eligible, “So Long” could make it in. Madonna won a Golden Globe for “Masterpiece” from her film W.E., but the song didn’t qualify for the Oscar.

As the press release linked above indicates, songs must be substantially integrated into the film or be the first music cue during the end credits in order to qualify. These 39 songs have obviously met that benchmark, but sometimes appearing over the end credits can be a detriment nonetheless. Also, the voting is scored in a particular way such that there’s no guarantee a full slate of five songs will be nominated. There could be as few as two, or it’s possible the category could be omitted altogether. There’s a strong enough slate (by Oscar’s historical standards, at least) to ensure the category will be included this year, but as there’s no way to know how many songs will make it, I’ve ranked them in the order I think they’re likely to show up.

Ludovic Bource – The Artist
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Alexandre Desplat – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Howard Shore – Hugo
John Williams – War Horse

Despite the questionable presence of War Horse in other races, respect for John Williams is likely to carry the movie handily into this category. Many are betting he’ll make it for The Adventures of Tintin as well. Personally I felt the relentless Tintin score was the equivalent of being bludgeoned over the head with a giant cartoon hammer for the movie’s entire running time, not a second of which seemed to go unscored. I’m probably letting my own reaction cloud my better judgement, but I’m leaving the movie off.

I don’t have full confidence in any of these selections except The Artist, which is a slam dunk. (In fact, we can call that one for the eventual win right now.) Hugo could come up short, but I’m betting on it getting caught up in an overall sweep. Harry Potter is even less certain, but Alexandre Desplat has done a really nice job on these final two installments, and here is a last chance to recognize the series’ music. Desplat has other chances as well, with The Ides of March a possible option for recognition. Jane Eyre and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy both feature well-received scores, either of which could find a place on the final list. The Golden Globes list included the W.E. score by Abel Korzeniowski, but I’ve neither heard it nor heard much about it.

I’d love to see the Academy get adventurous and nominate The Chemical Brothers’ propulsive score to Hanna, but evidence over the last few years suggests that the music branch exhausted all their adventurous spirit on giving Oscars to Eminem in 2002 and Three 6 Mafia in 2005 (sing it with me everyone…).

Excerpts from some of these scores are available courtesy of The Playlist‘s look back at the best soundtracks of the year.

Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
The Iron Lady

The makeup branch has already narrowed the field of contenders down to seven movies, from which three will be chosen. In addition to those above, there’s The Artist, Hugo, Anonymous and Albert Nobbs. You’d think the limited field would make predicting easier, but this could be parsed out in a number of ways. Personally, I’m not sure what The Artist or Anonymous are doing here. From what I can tell, the makeup work consists mainly of creating era-appropriate hairstyles and applying facial hair. Fairly run-of-the-mill stuff. Ditto for Hugo, although the few sequences involving filmmaker George Méliès making his movies do feature some more elaborate and outwardly creative work. Still, the fact that The Artist and Hugo are Best Picture contenders sure to be recognized across a variety of categories means either or both could be swept in here.

No Harry Potter movie has been nominated for makeup before, but it’s the only one of the seven contenders that features “fantasy” work, which is almost always represented. Between Voldemort, a bankful of goblins and all the battle wounds, I think it will get in. When it comes to more realistic makeup, I think the aging work done in The Iron Lady will trump the efforts that make Glenn Close look masculine in Albert Nobbs (though I haven’t seen either film and can’t speak to the breadth or quality of work). Finally, there’s Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life, which I know nothing about other than it being a biopic of French singer Serge Gainsbourg. I’m including it among my final three because it’s such an obscure selection, which leads me to think it must have a lot of support to have made it past higher profile movies.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
The Tree of Life

As with the makeup race, the visual effects contenders have already been narrowed down. The final five will be chosen from a list of ten featuring the five I’m predicting, along with Captain America: The First Avenger, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, X-Men: First Class, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and the suspiciously sans-colon-in-title Real Steel. Say what you want about the Transformers movies, but their technical achievements are always superb. The first movie should have won this award, so I can only assume that too many Academy members felt a refusal to vote for it could be the difference between getting into heaven or going to hell. The second film wasn’t even nominated, but this third entry was better received by critics and audiences (which is hardly saying much), and c’mon – the work is undeniably impressive. I think it will make it.

The Tree of Life‘s effects are as old school in technique as they are in substance, but goddamn if they aren’t pretty to look at. It’s possible that branch members will appreciate the throwback in a world dominated by computer graphics (though to be fair, the movie does include some CGI). Current industry leaders may not be able to resist an opportunity to honor one of the pioneers, Douglas Trumbull, whose credits include 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Blade Runner – movies that, along with Star Wars, probably inspired most of them to enter the field in the first place. Adding to its chances is the fact that the effects are featured front and center – they’re pretty much all you’re looking at for a good 20 minutes of the movie.

I can’t recall anything in Hugo that was especially impressive from an effects standpoint, but it’s the only certain Best Picture nominee that features effects prominently, and usually one such film makes the cut. Of the remaining five, the most likely spoilers are Captain America and Mission: Impossible. The former’s most notable achievement is making the impossibly buff Chris Evans look as scrawny as his 12 year-old self. (Seriously…I knew Chris Evans when he was 12, and that’s exactly what he looked like.) The result is good, but not quite seamless…and since it builds on work seen a few years ago in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, it might not be able to push through. As for Mission: Impossible, the effects are more subtle, which always means an uphill battle. But the film has been received with high praise from critics and audiences, and the work is solid. It could happen. I don’t see X-Men or Real Steel advancing, and although each of the previous Pirates movies has been nominated, I don’t remember anything in this one as elaborate or impressive as the first film’s skeleton pirates or the second and third films’ Davy Jones.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Super 8
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

Super 8
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

I always preface talk of sound awards by pointing out that I have no understanding of what really goes into creating sound for film, nor distinguishing between great, good or poor sound. As for the difference between sound editing and sound mixing, I’ve never been able to keep that straight either. For the curious among you, this short article from The Hollywood Reporter offers explanations of the two disciplines from some of its practitioners. So all of that said, my predictions in these two categories are always crapshoots where a couple of things are likely to stick. I’m relying on instinct; a review of past nominees; the wisdom of Gerard Kennedy, who covers below-the-line categories for the great Oscar website In Contention; and nominations from both The Cinema Audio Society and the Motion Picture Sound Editors.

I could list out other options that might score a nomination if any of those above miss, but there are so many possible contenders it seems pointless. So I’ll do it up Wheel of Fortune style. For the final puzzle on Wheel of Fortune, the contestant picks a few letters and then after seeing which ones turn up in the clue, they get to pick a few more. So here are four more movies that I would say have a good shot of showing up in one or both categories: The Adventures of Tintin, Cars 2, Drive and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Vanna, how’d I do?


And so now we wait. As usual, I remain woefully uninformed in the areas of documentaries, foreign language films and short subjects…but do you really want to read any more of this crap? Tomorrow morning at the ungodly time of 5:38 PST, Academy president Tom Sherak and actress Jennifer Lawrence – past Best Actress nominee and future Hunger Games heroine – will announce the nominees. I’m sure you’d be tossing and turning tonight with anticipation, so I’m glad I was able to provide this commentary to put you to sleep. Sweet dreams…I leave you with the first Oscar promo of the season, which debuted a few weeks ago. They’re not wasting any time…

1 Comment »

  1. Kudos on the comprehensive analysis. I’m not on the fence about anything related to War Horse. I think it’s doomed. it’s seriously one of the laziest efforts by Steven Spielberg I’ve ever seen. There’s two scenes I liked but the rest is after-school-special-caliber. I’m hoping all of his creative energy is going into “Lincoln”.

    And yeah, giving Close the award for ‘Nobbs’ could definitely be in the cards.

    Comment by Jim — January 23, 2012 @ 10:15 pm | Reply

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