I Am DB

January 23, 2017

Oscars 2016: Nominations Eve – My Absurdly Long Predictions Opus

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I was going to kick off this post talking somewhat extensively about a movie that premiered right around this time last year, at the Sundance Film Festival, in the wake of the second consecutive year of all-white acting nominees and the resulting rise of #OscarsSoWhite. The Birth of a Nation took home the festival’s  Grand Jury and Audience Prizes for Drama, and sold to Fox Searchlight for a record-setting $17.5 million. It was instantly proclaimed the front-runner for the next year’s Oscars. Then in the few months leading up to its October release, it became mired in controversy stemming from director/co-writer/leading man Nate Parker’s involvement in a sexual assault lawsuit years earlier, when he was in college. Parker’s past became the narrative around the movie, and by the time it came out, it was DOA. It has been almost entirely absent from the awards season, and no one even seemed to be talking about that fate.

I should have written what I wanted to about all of that earlier and had it ready to go, but I didn’t, and now there’s no time. There’s more than enough material out there to consume for anyone who missed the story at the time and wants to learn more. But I thought it was worth mentioning, especially since #OscarsSoWhite is not going to be a problem this year even without The Birth of a Nation in the running.

BEST PICTURE
So that’s all I’ll say about the movie that won’t get nominated for Best Picture. Let’s talk about the ones that will, starting with La La Land (which will easily be the year’s most nominated film), Moonlight and Manchester by the Sea. Rock solid, those are. We can also reasonably expect Hell or High Water, Lion and Arrival, all of which have demonstrated impressive staying power throughout the critics awards and guild nominations. That puts us at six, and of course we don’t know what the magic number will be. We’re now in the sixth year of Best Picture yielding anywhere between five and ten nominees depending on how the numbers play out. The first three years saw nine nominations, while the last two gave us eight. So as always, it gets trickier as we proceed. FencesHacksaw Ridge, Loving and Jackie are sure to have strong support among the ranks, but Loving‘s bare-bones simplicity and Jackie‘s ethereal intimacy probably don’t play as broadly as Fences and Hacksaw. Sully is a longshot at this point, having been eclipsed by too many other options since its September release, but a nomination isn’t impossible. Much more recent arrivals Silence and Hidden Figures were once thought to be certain contenders, but the reception for Silence has largely lived up to its title, while Hidden Figures – popular crowd-pleaser though it is – might lose ground to Lion as the year’s biggest heart-tugger. Both Figures and Lion found favor with the Producers Guild of America (PGA), but that group nominates a guaranteed slate of ten movies, and always leans commercial where the Academy leans prestigious. To that point, the PGA nominated Deadpool, whose other notable accolades include Best Picture and Best Actor nominations (Musical/Comedy) at the Golden Globes. But despite a super sincere pitch for inclusion, don’t expect the the wiseass mutant to show up in the Academy’s above-the-line races. Anyway, Hidden Figures walks the commercial/prestigious line, but is still a tough call. It went into successful wide release in the middle of the voting period, so might that help? I can see it going either way.

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Predictions:

Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Personal Picks:
20th Century Women
Fences
Jackie
La La Land
Loving
Manchester by the Sea
A Monster Calls
Moonlight
Silence
Sully

BEST DIRECTOR
The Big Three lead us off here as well, in the forms of Damien Chazelle (La La Land), Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) and Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea). Alongside this trio, the Directors Guild of America (DGA) put forth Denis Villeneuve for Arrival and Garth Davis for Lion. The latter selection took me aback, even coming just one day after it was nominated by another guild I hadn’t expected (which we’ll get to further down). I wasn’t sensing that Lion was that big a player, and I’m still skeptical it will hit the same notes with the Academy. The DGA nominees almost never match up with the Academy’s picks five-for-five, and I have to think that Davis will be the odd man out. Villeneuve seems like a good bet to repeat with the Academy, especially given that Arrival – unlike Lion – has been a more visible player across the top categories during the precursor phase…though Lion has done well.

The director’s branch sometimes uses that fifth slot to celebrate a helmer who has been largely overlooked by other groups, as was the case the past two years with Room‘s Lenny Abrahamson and Foxcatcher‘s Bennett Miller, respectively. On that possibility, never underestimate directors’ esteem for Martin Scorsese. Although Silence didn’t make much noise in the precursor phase (c’mon, these puns are begging to be used), it was one of the very last movies of the year to begin screening within the industry, and it certainly hasn’t been poorly received. It’s just gotten lost in the year-end glut. It has its admirers, and the fact that it’s been a decades-long dream of Scorsese’s to make it, and that it was surely a difficult production to finance and mount, might fuel its chances. Directors who respect Scorsese for continuing to push himself and create artful, challenging films may well want to show him their appreciation.

Still, there are others in the mix. Mel Gibson found himself back in Hollywood’s good graces with Hacksaw Ridge, which left many viewers breathless with its intense battle scenes and moved by its celebration of old fashioned heroism. David Mackenzie’s direction of Hell or High Water doesn’t call attention to itself, which the movie’s fans will likely appreciate. The same could be said for Jeff Nichols and Loving, but his odds seem distant. On the other side of the coin are a pair of movies whose directorial style is front and center: Pablo Larraín’s Jackie and Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals. Both men have found a fair amount of love from the critics, but their work might be too divisive to earn enough votes within the Academy…though I’d give better odds to Larraín. One last possibility worth mentioning is Denzel Washington, who delivered a forceful screen version of Fences. Powerful as the movie is, however, it retains the feeling of a play, and stands more as a showcase of acting and writing than directing.

Predictions:
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Martin Scorsese – Silence

Personal Picks:
Pablo Larraín – Jackie
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
J.A. Bayona – A Monster Calls

BEST ACTOR
Given the astonishing dominance of Casey Affleck, who has picked up nearly every single critic’s award there is for his aching performance in Manchester by the Sea, nominating four other guys feels like a formality. But that’s how it works,  so when Casey arrives onstage to collect the prize, he can acknowledge his fellow nominees Denzel Washington – the only other super-sure thing – and almost definitely Ryan Gosling. Andrew Garfield is a bit less definite, but still right on the edge of almost definite. Along with Affleck, Washington, Gosling and Garfield, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) went with Viggo Mortensen, an excellent choice that could easily repeat with the Academy. There are usually one or two differences between SAG nominees and Oscar nominees, but there’s also usually one category a year where the two bodies match up, and this year Best Actor could be the one. Although the most vulnerable of the five, Mortensen also has a nomination from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) and was a Golden Globe nominee.

Overall, the field isn’t nearly as crowded as usual, making for a less painful process of elimination to round out the category if the Academy passes on Viggo (or Garfield or even Gosling). Loving‘s Joel Edgerton has stayed in the mix thanks to several critic’s groups nominations, but it’s hard to gauge how that movie will do. Everything about Loving is quiet and unassuming, and especially when it comes to acting, those aren’t necessarily the performances that get recognized. Adam Driver has also been nominated by quite a few critics groups for his turn in Paterson, but he faces the same challenges as Edgerton in a movie that’s almost surely been seen less widely. Plus, Jim Jarmusch films have never exactly caught on with the Academy. Driver would need a passionate and sizable fan base within the acting branch.

Tom Hanks gave yet another of his reliable and understated – many would argue undervalued – performances in Sully, and after 16 years since his last nomination, he’s long overdue for another. Sully could be the one to bring him back, especially given the thinner-than-usual slate of contenders. The movie doesn’t give him the kind of unforgettable scene he had at the end of Captain Phillips, for which he was widely expected to be nominated, but 2012 was a maddeningly competitive year for Best Actor. Michael Keaton and Matthew McConaughey were at one time expected to be in the thick of the race for their vibrant performances in The Founder and Gold, respectively, but The Weinstein Company – distributor of both films – totally dropped the ball with the releases, dumping them into the packed December market with minimally-publicized one-week qualifying runs before releasing them wide this month (The Founder this past Friday, Gold this coming Friday.) Harvey Weinstein is usually much smarter and savvier than this, and The Founder is especially head-scratching since it was initially set for release in August, when it would have had breathing room and Keaton – whose hot streak continues with another excellent performance – could have built up some momentum. But for whatever reason – possibly financial limitations? – TWC put all their muscle behind Lion (which, admittedly, will work out well for them) and hung The Founder and Gold out to dry.

The remaining names in the mix face slim odds, despite having popped up in high-profile places. Deadpool‘s Ryan Reynolds and The Lobster‘s Colin Farrell both earned Golden Globe nominations in the Musical/Comedy category, while Jake Gyllenhaal raised eyebrows with a BAFTA nomination for Nocturnal Animals that displaced Denzel Washington. In fact, I learned in the wake of that surprise that BAFTA has never nominated Denzel Washington. NEVER! Not for Glory, not for Malcolm X, not for The Hurricane, not for Carbon Copy…what the hell is that about? Did Denzel do something early in his career to offend the Brits?

Oh, and for what it’s worth, Don Cheadle gave a great performance as Miles Davis way back in the April release Miles Ahead, but it’s been long forgotten save for one nomination in the precursor phase. Cheers to you, North Texas Film Critics Association!

Predictions:
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington – Fences

Personal Picks:
Same

BEST ACTRESS
For the second year in a row – noteworthy because, sadly, it’s not usually the case – the Best Actress conversation has far more deserving nominees than available space. Actually, it’s not that the pool is especially large as much as it is robust. Better to have a surplus of great work than a dearth, but it makes for difficult choices and unfortunate omissions. Emma Stone and Natalie Portman needn’t worry about this, as their spots are assured. Amy Adams is a near lock too, after Arrival went from a bubble candidate upon its release to a bona fide awards season darling. Her almost-certain nomination will be the sixth she’s collected in 11 years. (She has yet to win, but make no mistake: the Academy loves Amy Adams.)

Isabelle Huppert has pulled in major acclaim – and lots of precursor awards – for Elle, and is a good bet for a nomination, but faces obstacles. The movie is smaller, without the kind of marketing muscle that the likes of La La Land, Jackie and Arrival have in their corner. It’s a movie that voters will need to seek out rather than wandering into a screening any night of the week anywhere in Hollywood. Motivation to see the film shouldn’t be a problem given how much attention Huppert has garnered. She has rivaled Portman nearly neck-and-neck for prizes from critic’s groups, and has come out better so far when it comes to higher profile wins. The New York Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Association and National Society of Film Critics – three of only five standard critics groups that really matter on their own – gave their award to Huppert, and she also bested Portman at the Golden Globes, taking the award for the Drama category. Despite all of this, the movie is still something of an outsider, which could impact Huppert’s chances to some degree. Plus, for all the attention she’s received, she was passed over by BAFTA and SAG. Unlike all these critics groups, SAG and BAFTA actually share members with the Academy, so their selections can offer clues. But they also shouldn’t be overestimated; just last year, Charlotte Rampling scored a Best Actress nod at the Oscars, and Huppert fits a nearly identical pattern: veteran performer, acclaimed international star never before nominated by the Academy, earning some of the best review of her long career, landing a lot of wins and/or nominations during the precursor phase but missing out with SAG and BAFTA…if it could happen for Rampling – who also didn’t get a Golden Globe nomination, let alone the win – it could surely happen for Huppert. Still, there’s one key difference that should be mentioned, and that’s subject matter. Elle deals with a rape and its aftermath (other things too, but the rape is what sets the story going), and overall it subject matter is “difficult.” That might deter some voters from pursuing it. (Huppert’s is the only performance in the Best Actress conversation that I haven’t seen. I’d love to check out her work, but knowing what the movie is at least partially about, I know I don’t have the stomach for it. Not on the big screen at least. Maybe I can eventually give it a try at home.)

Speaking of SAG and BAFTA, both groups shared a rather baffling inclusion: Emily Blunt for The Girl on the Train. Don’t get me wrong: I love Blunt, and would have been thrilled to see her nominated for The Devil Wear Prada and Sicario. But The Girl on the Train? Despite its origins as a popular best-seller, the movie landed softly, middling in both its critical and box office reception, and for reason. She was good, and most reviews singled her out as the best thing about the movie, but still…it’s hard to justify such high profile honors when there was much more impressive work in the mix. (Plus – and of course this has nothing to do with the quality of the performance – but the character was so unsympathetic that I spent most of the movie’s duration wanting to violently shake her and give her a couple of good slaps across the face…not feelings I usually have toward people). Anyway, these nominations mean we have to talk about Blunt. Now we’ve talked about her, and I think that’s as far as she goes. I just can’t imagine the Academy affording her a spot given the competition.

No, I’m afraid the last spot may go to Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins. I say “afraid” because it’s a safe and unimaginative choice. Look, we all know Meryl Streep is a marvel (well, most of us), and she does it again in Jenkins as a wealthy socialite whose determination to be an opera singer is matched by her complete lack of talent. As we’ve seen in movies like Postcards from the Edge and A Prairie Home Companion, Streep has a lovely singing voice, so it may have required a unique skill set to suppress her natural ability and come off as such a disaster. The movie is charming and it’s a delightful performance, yes. Plus, outside factors always come into play, and Streep’s chances were no doubt boosted by the memorable speech she gave at the Golden Globes while accepting a lifetime achievement award. That went down smack in the middle of the Oscar voting period, and it almost surely won her some votes. But the fact is there’s richer, more complicated, more nuanced and simply more deserving work this year, and it will be a disappointment if voters rubber-stamp Streep for what is ultimately a lightweight offering.


One such performance that belongs here is Annette Bening’s in 20th Century Women, and when the movie debuted at the AFI Fest in November, she was touted as a highly likely nominee alongside Portman and Stone. But that was before Adams and Huppert surged, and before Streep picked up nominations from SAG and BAFTA; nominations that I believe mean more for her than for Blunt because she was already in the mix, whereas Blunt feels like a kooky outlier choice. Bening could still break through, but she’s looking more and more like a longshot. Ditto for Ruth Negga, who gave a beautiful breakout performance in Loving as a modest wife and mother who quietly but defiantly challenges the county’s discriminatory interracial marriage laws. Negga, like her co-star Joel Edgerton, may pay the price for the subtlety of the performance and the overall film. But if it turns out to have stuck with enough voters, Negga could have a shot.

Like Bening, Taraji P. Henson started generating talk when Hidden Figures finally bowed late in the season, but it may have been too late. She probably would have needed one major nomination elsewhere in order to have a fighting chance at the Oscars. Without one, she’s probably out. Jessica Chastain gave another fierce and worthy performance in Miss Sloane, but she and the movie were largely buried under higher profile releases. Also shamefully lost in the shuffle this season was the terrific coming of age comedy The Edge of Seventeen, anchored by a superb Hailee Steinfeld performance. She never earned buzz as an awards possibility, but she should have. She received a deserved Golden Globe nomination in the Musical/Comedy category, but that was the extent of her presence. Finally, I have to mention the most disappointing example of neglect in any acting category of the year: Rebecca Hall in Christine. She did get some critic’s group mentions here and there, but none from the ones that mattered (unless we count runner-up to Huppert from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association). As a real-life, troubled news reporter who shot herself on the air, Hall’s performance was like nothing we’ve seen her do before, and she captured the character’s pain and disappointment and social awkwardness with dry wit and deep pathos. She should be in the thick of any legitimate Best Actress conversation.

Predictions:
Amy Adams – Arrival
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land
Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins

Personal Picks:
Annette Bening – 20th Century Women
Rebecca Hall – Christine
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
You could pretty much stack this category with the five principal male performances from Moonlight and be done with it. That’s how good Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes (playing main character Chiron at ages 9, 16 and 26, respectively), André Holland and Mahershala Ali all are. But short of a major surprise, it’s Ali who will get the nomination. He’s completely run this category in the precursor phase and is the heavy favorite to win the award. I’m a bit surprised by his domination, not because he isn’t great – he is – but because he doesn’t have a huge amount of screen time, and because the other performances are also so good. Personally I’d give the nomination to Rhodes, who not only has the larger role, but arguably the greater challenge as well: connecting the adult Chiron in the movie’s final third to the younger actors who played him in the earlier segments. Regardless, Ali is a sure thing.

The only other likely lock is Hell or High Water‘s Jeff Bridges, who’s been a consistent nominee, winner or runner-up so far. A surprising number of critics groups also cited his co-star Ben Foster, but I don’t expect that to continue with the Academy. Ironically, the actor most deserving of award attention for Hell or High Water is the one who hasn’t gotten any: Chris Pine. Bridges and Foster are terrific, but we’ve seen both actors play similar characters before. Bridges, especially, could play this guy in his sleep. Pine was the real revelation, and reviews repeatedly said as much when the movie came out last summer. Unfortunately the role – although the lead one among the three – isn’t dominant enough for Pine to have broken through as a Best Actor contender. Too bad.

Dev Patel is probably in for Lion, nearly a decade after his breakthrough in Slumdog Millionaire brought him within striking distance of a nomination. Lucas Hedges is a strong possibility for Manchester by the Sea, but there are some potential stumbling blocks. Although Hedges has been a fixture among nominees from regional critics, he was passed over by the Golden Globes and BAFTA. He did land BFCA and SAG nominations, but SAG in particular has always been generous to young actors, and at 20 – not a kid anymore, but not far off – Hedges is in a bit of a grey zone with the Academy. They don’t often nominate young performers, and when they do, girls have a better track record than guys. If nominated, he would be the youngest male in either lead or supporting categories to be nominated since Haley Joel Osment for The Sixth Sense in 1999. Since then, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Kiera Knightley, Abigail Breslin, Ellen Page, Saoirse Ronan, Jennifer Lawrence, Hailee Steinfeld and Quvenzhané Wallis have all been nominated while between Osment’s then-age and Hedges’ current age. This is hardly a scientific argument, or a demonstration that Hedges won’t get the nod, but it’s not as certain as Manchester‘s expected presence or Hedges’ success thus far might lead you to believe. He could easily be among the overlooked.

For the one – or maybe two – remaining spots, we could look to Hugh Grant, who earned some of his best notices ever for Florence Foster Jenkins, and who scored with the Globes, SAG and BAFTA. His co-star Simon Helberg – also Golden Globe nominated – is deserving as well, but a long shot at best. Michael Shannon has been a critic’s favorite for Nocturnal Animals, but was ignored by most major entities (the BFCA cited him) while to everyone’s surprise, his co-star Aaron Taylor-Johnson scored nominations from BAFTA, as well as truly shocking Golden Globe victory over Mahershala Ali. I’m not expecting his good luck will extend to the Oscars (or that Shannon will manage to break through) but clearly the performance is sticking with people. In advance of Hidden Figures‘ release, Kevin Costner was generating a lot of talk, but he hasn’t been singled out by any group, so at this point a nomination would be a surprising.

I’m also compelled to mention three performances that haven’t had much traction, but deserve consideration. First, Alden Ehrenreich, the up-and-comer who stole the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar! out from under a jacked cast boasting Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johannsson, Channing Tatum and Tilda Swinton. Second, one of Ehrenreich’s scene partners in Caesar: Ralph Fiennes, who did blazing, boisterous work opposite Tilda Swinton in A Bigger Splash. Lastly, John Goodman as a creepy, unpredictable survivalist in 10 Cloverfield Lane. It’s crazy that Goodman has still never been nominated for an Oscar, and although the Academy rarely honors commercial horror/thriller/sci-fi movies like 10 Cloverfield, Goodman’s excellent performance would be a welcome exception. All three actors have received a smattering of recognition amongst the critic’s awards, but the odds of any getting Oscar love are slim to none.

Predictions:
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Hugh Grant – Florence Foster Jenkins
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel – Lion

Personal Picks:
Alden Ehrenreich – Hail, Caesar!
Ralph Fiennes – A Bigger Splash
Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea
Trevante Rhodes – Moonlight
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
As awards season was unfolding, one big question affecting people’s early predictions was whether Viola Davis would be pushed as a lead or supporting actress for Fences. Davis won a Lead Actress Tony Award for the role in a 2010 stage revival. The same part also earned Mary Alice a Tony Award in the original Broadway production, but her win was in the Featured Actress category (the Tony’s equivalent of Supporting). So while category fraud often finds leading performances shuffled into the supporting categories because odds of winning might be better there – see Rooney Mara and winner Alicia Vikander last year – there was precedent for Davis to go either way. It was reportedly Davis herself who, after watching a final cut of the film, felt her performance belonged in the Supporting race. Once people got a look at Fences, there was no question she’d be nominated; only where she’s be placed. Count her in.

She’s sure to be joined by Michelle Williams, who’s role in Manchester by the Sea is small but in one particular scene packs such a punch that it could actually leave people physically bruised. Moonlight‘s Naomie Harris is also a sure bet, playing a mother whose drug addiction continually gets in the way of her love for her son. All three of these actresses are playing mothers and/or wives, and motherhood is a big theme among the potential nominees this year. In Lion, Nicole Kidman plays the devoted adoptive mother of two Indian boys; in Queen of Katwe, Lupita Nyong’o is a mother concerned that her daughter’s success as a chess prodigy will build up hopes that can’t be fulfilled; and both Other People‘s Molly Shannon and A Monster Calls‘ Felicity Jones play mothers dying of cancer, fighting to ensure their children will be okay when they’re gone. Unfortunately, most of these terrific performances have received too little award attention to stand much chance of getting nominated, save for Kidman, whose chances look good thanks to nominations from SAG, BAFTA, the Golden Globes and the BFCA.

Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe both play wives and mothers in Hidden Figures, though their domestic roles take a back seat to their professional roles in the story of African-American women’s contribution to NASA’s space program in the 1960’s. Monáe was nominated by the BFCA, and Spencer was nominated for a Golden Globe and SAG award and is on many pundits’ list of expected Oscar nominees. I’m not sure what to expect. Her performance (and Monáe’s) are enjoyable, but don’t merit Oscar attention in my view. Not that my view has any impact on what will actually happen. But I just don’t know if I see it happening. Another option that’s vexing me is Greta Gerwig, who plays a bohemian artist boarding with a mother and her teenage son in 20th Century Women. Several critics’ organization’s nominated her, but I don’t know if the movie has managed to make an impression on enough Academy voters.

One actress who has has done well with critics but who has little prayer with the Academy is Certain Women‘s Lily Gladstone, a young actress who plays a ranch worker so lonely that she wanders into a night class just to be in the company of other people, and then begins to yearn for the instructor, played by Kristen Stewart. The movie also stars Laura Dern and Michelle Williams, but it’s Gladstone who has resonated. There’s no way the movie has been seen by enough people for her to crack the race, and even if it had, her performance, open-hearted as it may be, is so understated and quiet that she makes Loving‘s Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton look like they’re playing Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in What’s Opera, Doc?

Predictions:
Viola Davis – Fences
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Nicole Kidman – Lion
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

Personal Picks:
Viola Davis – Fences
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Lupita Nyong’o – Queen of Katwe
Molly Shannon – Other People
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
As evidenced by the preceding sections, and this annual post I’ve been doing for far too long, Oscar predictions are based in no small part on what other organizations have nominated. The most important place to look when it comes to the screenplay awards is the Writers Guild of America (WGA) nominations. Yet this always proves tricky, since the WGA plays by its own rules. If a movie is written by a non-guild member, or if the production operates outside of certain guild guidelines, it is deemed ineligible for consideration. Inevitably, this occurs every year with movies that are prominently in the running. In the category of Original Screenplay, this year’s affected movies include Florence Foster Jenkins, The Lobster, Paterson, Everybody Wants Some! and Miss Sloane. Of these, only The Lobster seems a possibility for the Oscars, and its chances would have been strong with the WGA had it been eligible.

As it is, the WGA’s nominees this year are Manchester by the Sea, Hell or High Water, La La Land, Loving and Moonlight. The first two will surely be nominated, and it’s hard to imagine La La Land missing out even if its screenplay is pretty simple and straightforward. However we now come to another wrench in the gears; one which is less frequent than the yearly WGA ineligibilities. The Academy ruled last month that Moonlight and Loving will be considered in the Adapted category, not Original. Moonlight is based on a play Tarell Alvin McRaney, titled In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. McRaney receives a Story By credit on the film, though his material was significantly altered by Jenkins. Loving was partially informed and inspired by the 2011 documentary short The Loving Story, whose creator Nancy Buirski is among Loving‘s credited producers. Both Jenkins and Loving writer/director Jeff Nichols have been open about the source material that influenced their scripts…but we’ll save this for the next section. For now, we’re left with a race that looks quite different than it might have, and which the WGA now provides even less help in forecasting.

Two assumed slots are up for the taking, and will probably be filled from a short but potent list of challengers, topped by The Lobster. There were few films this year more original than this one, set in a world where single adults are forced to find a mate or else be turned into an animal. That’s an extremely simplistic description, but it will have to do until you see it for yourself. Despite the WGA’s ruling, I would be surprised if members of the writer’s branch didn’t support this one en masse. The movie feels like something Charlie Kaufman would have come up with, and given the good luck his films have had, surely The Lobster is on the shortlist of many a voter. Beyond that, the best bets are Captain Fantastic, 20th Century Women, Zootopia and Jackie. I have no sense of which one will come out on top, or if something else altogether might surprise. There’s no shortage of films that haven’t found traction on the awards circuit despite terrific scripts. Could we see Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Edge of Seventeen, Sing Street, Other People, or The Founder? I doubt it. But I wouldn’t mind being wrong.

Predictions:
Matt Ross – Captain Fantastic
Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Yorgos Lanthimos, Efythimis Filippou – The Lobster
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea

Personal Picks:
Mike Mills – 20th Century Women
Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water
Taika Waititi – Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Yorgos Lanthimos, Efythimis Filippou – The Lobster
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea

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BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Interestingly, the name of this category technically used to be Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published, and while I don’t know the circumstances around when or even if that officially changed, I do know that the last time a presenter of this award used that phrase was at the 2007 Oscars. Ever since then they’ve called it Best Adapted Screenplay. (How do I know this? Because I went to YouTube and started watching clips of this category until I found the turning point. That’s how dedicated I am to bringing you thorough commentary. That’s also why I’m never done until the nominations are hours away. This is my curse.) I bring it up because the literal interpretation of the category seems relevant in regards to Moonlight and Loving. The play that Barry Jenkins adapted was not produced or published (in fact, McCraney says it wasn’t really a play at all; that he never wrote it down in the way a play is written). Loving, though based on real events that are part of public record, was by Jeff Nichols’ own admission based in part on the documentary. So the Academy’s classification of Loving as adapted seems cut-and-dry to me. I’d be curious to know why the WGA saw it differently. As for Moonlight, it’s clearly adapted from another medium, but I wonder if it would have been considered an Original were the Academy still calling the category Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published.

In any case…they’re here now, and Moonlight will definitely be among the nominees, while Loving is a possibility. Fewer adapted scripts than originals were ruled ineligible by the the WGA; the most prominent was Lion, which is a good bet to land with the Academy. In the absence of the three movies mentioned so far, the WGA’s nominees were Arrival, Deadpool, Fences, Hidden Figures and Nocturnal Animals. Arrival will make the cut, and Fences looks good too. The WGA nominees often include some fun, commercial choices that tend to be ignored by the Academy (Trainwreck, Guardians of the Galaxy and Looper are recent examples), but they can usually be accommodated because of the more expected contenders that are disqualified. Translation: Deadpool probably won’t be a factor in your Oscar pool. It’s not an impossibility, but definitely not a likelihood. Hidden Figures and Nocturnal Animals both stand a chance, each having scored BFCA and BAFTA nominations along with mentions from other groups during the season. (BAFTA was especially taken with Nocturnal Animals, awarding it nine nominations. I don’t expect it will do quite as well with the stateside Academy.) This is one of the few areas where Silence has garnered a bit of attention, and I’ll say again that it was a late arrival, which could account for why it has struggled to gain traction in a field that is overcrowded, as always. Maybe it will surprise us with a decent showing.

Predictions:
Eric Heisserer – Arrival
August Wilson – Fences
Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi – Hidden Figures
Luke Davies – Lion
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

Personal Picks:
Park Chan-wook, Chung Seo-Kyung- The Handmaiden
August Wilson – Fences
Jeff Nichols – Loving
Patrick Ness – A Monster Calls
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Depending on the number of eligible films, there can be anywhere from two to five nominees for Animated Feature, and with 27 submissions this year, there should be no problem with at least 16 successfully qualifying, meaning we can expect a full slate of five nominees. Two of those will for sure go to Zootopia and Kubo and the Two Strings, which have dominated the critics’ awards with an almost equal number of wins (Kubo comes out just ahead). The category could easily be filled out by five mainstream releases, but the voters almost always include one or more lesser known films, often foreign, independent or both. Moana will probably make it, but I feel like Finding Dory is surprisingly difficult to call. Pixar movies have won this award in eight of the 15 years it’s existed. Only twice have they lost (Monsters Inc., Cars), and only three times have they not been nominated: for Cars 2, Monsters University and The Good Dinosaur…which we can probably all agree are the three weakest movies they’ve produced during that time period. Finding Dory has a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and was the second highest grossing film of the year. The problem is really that despite being universally well-received, it still seems to have been eclipsed by the three non-Pixar movies previously mentioned, and there are a lot of acclaimed indie films in the running (six of the most notable are highlighted in this Hollywood Reporter piece). Even though Dory has plenty of acclaim, does anyone think it matches the original, which won this award in 2003? And will members of the animation branch, when faced with something original vs. a sequel, go for the sequel? In a less crowded year with movies that look less interesting, maybe. This year, I’m not so sure. Or hey, maybe they’ll go with Seth Rogan’s hilariously raunchy Sausage Party, celebrating that animation can be totally adult-centric with a hard-R rating.

Regrettably, most of the smaller animated movies eluded me this year, or ran in theaters only briefly, just long enough to qualify for consideration. My personal list, therefore, is completely filled out by big studio picks. I have a feeling it would look slightly different had I been able to see some less-exposed contenders.

Predictions:
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
Zootopia

Personal Picks:
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
Sausage Party
Sing
Zootopia

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
As we move into the below-the-line categories, La La Land will be as much of a presence as it was above, starting here with a nomination for Linus Sandgren. He was among the lensers selected by the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), along with Bradford Young for Arrival, James Laxton for Moonlight, Rodrigo Prieto for Silence and Greig Fraser for Lion. Fraser’s nomination was a shock to me (it’s the other one I referred to above in the Best Director section when I mentioned my surprise over its presence on the DGA’s list.) I just don’t remember coming away from Lion thinking that the cinematography was among the year’s very best, and since the Oscar nominees are unlikely to align with the ASC picks, I’m once again left to think Lion will miss. Maybe I’m underestimating it.

If the Academy veers from the five ASC choices – either dropping Lion or perhaps something else – Nocturnal Animals could find its way in. Tom Ford’s movies can be counted on to look great, and Seamus McGarvey’s work on the movie is stylish and foreboding. Those adjectives may be even more appropriate to describe Natasha Braier’s gorgeous images in The Neon Demon, but unfortunately I don’t see the Academy going anywhere near that batshit crazy movie. (Nocturnal Animals is pretty batshit crazy too, actually, but The Neon Demon…Jesus, that movie is fuckin’ nuts.) The cinematographer’s branch has shown an affinity for Asian cinema over the years, which could bode well for The Handmaiden. There’s also been some recognition from critics groups for Hell or High Water, shot by Giles Nuttgens. I don’t expect it to make the cut, but it’s not out of the question.

Predictions:
Bradford Young – Arrival
Linus Sandgren – La La Land
James Laxton – Moonlight
Seamus McGarvey – Nocturnal Animals
Rodrigo Prieto – Silence

Personal Picks:
Stéphane Fontaine – Jackie
Linus Sandgren – La La Land
James Laxton – Moonlight
Natasha Braier – The Neon Demon
Rodrigo Prieto – Silence

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BEST FILM EDITING

Best Editing tends to mirror Best Picture closely, anointing that category’s favorites alongside possibly a “respectable” action movie. (Sometimes you get something that hits both buttons, like last year’s winner Mad Max: Fury Road.) This year’s Best Picture leaders La La LandMoonlight and Manchester by the Sea are all expected to score here, though it’s conceivable that either of the latter two could be usurped by any number of other prestige dramas. Arrival relies heavily on the success of its editing, and Hacksaw Ridge benefits from having intense war sequences. These movies all picked up nominations from the American Cinema Editors (ACE), though La La Land was in their Musical or Comedy category. Hell or High Water held the fifth spot in the Drama category. Across the pond, BAFTA also went with La La, Manchester, Arrival and Hacksaw, but swapped Nocturnal Animals for Moonlight. ACE’s Musical/Comedy category was rounded out by Deadpool, The Jungle Book, Hail, Caesar! and The Lobster. I’m doubtful any of these can break through into a race of just five, but Deadpool and The Jungle Book could conceivably crash the party.

For me, Jackie is right up there in terms of deserving recognition alongside those three, but I expect it will be overlooked. I would also think Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day – two intense, real-life dramas from Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg, each balancing a lot of moving parts – will have their supporters within the branch, as will Sully, which portrays the Miracle on the Hudson multiple times, from different angles and for different storytelling purposes throughout its running time. Had Sully caught on as a stronger contender in the top categories, I’d have given it better odds here. Lion could show up if it turns out to play across the Academy better than I’m expecting, as could Hidden Figures or Silence. I suppose we should also consider Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as a distant possibility, as The Force Awakens made a somewhat surprising appearance here last year. That movie had an ACE nomination, however, which Rogue One doesn’t. Not that an ACE nod is a prerequisite for an Oscar nod, but for a long shot like Rogue One, chances that it will make the cut without precedent from the guild seem slim.

Predictions:
Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Personal Picks:
Jackie
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight
Sully

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
As always, period pieces and science-fiction/fantasy films rule the day in the design categories, so naturally La La Land – which is neither – leads us off. True, contemporary films with “real-world” settings are seldom recognized in this category, but La La Land may be the most gorgeously color-coorindated movie since Dick Tracy, which took home the award in this category in 1990. Seriously, look at how the green of the pencil eraser interacts with the green of the pencil itself and the green on Emma’s shirt and the blue reflected on the window. Colors….pretty….

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Moving into more traditional territory for this category, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them could bring three-time winner Stuart Craig back to the race. The production designer on all eight Harry Potter movies, Craig returned for this spin-off where the 1920’s setting allowed him to blend period details into the fantasy elements of the wizarding world that earned him four nominations for the Potter movies. The unique design of the alien crafts in Arrival – both interior and exterior – make that movie a prime contender here, and Passengers should be in the thick of the conversation too. Although it earned a nomination from the Art Director’s Guild (ADG) in their Fantasy category, it didn’t show up with any critic’s groups that give out awards in this category. But many of those organizations, as well as the Academy, love to nominate “spaceship movies” even when the spaceships in question all look pretty much the same time and time again. Given the Production Design branch’s recognition in the last three years of Gravity, Interstellar and The Martian, certainly they should be taking a close look at the more imaginative, unique design of Passengers‘ enormous ship, designed to be a playground of luxury for its inhabitants on their journey to a new life in the cosmos. Elsewhere in the area of Fantasy, Doctor Strange is worthy of attention, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story brought some fresh locations and design elements to the 40 year-old galaxy far, far away.

On the period side, Jackie was frequently cited by critic’s groups for its re-creation of the Kennedy-era White House, while the 1790’s English setting of Love & Friendship also earned some attention. Silence and The Handmaiden spotlight different but equally impressive depictions of Asian locales, with the former taking place in 1600’s Japan and the latter in Japanese-occupied Korea in the early 1900s. Hail, Caesar! not only offers up renderings of old time Hollywood, but gets to show off plenty of variety thanks to its primary setting: a movie studio where one soundstage is occupied by a Roman epic, another by an elaborate musical number in a swimming pool, and so on through a variety of film genres.

Finally, to circle back around to the contemporary – and the batshit crazy – Nocturnal Animals is another viable possibility, while The Neon Demon is worthy but probably not viable. Even batshit crazy has a scale.

Predictions:
Arrival
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Jackie
La La Land
Silence

Personal Picks:
Arrival
Hail, Caesar!
The Handmaiden
La La Land
Passengers

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Kicking things off with a guaranteed spot is, you guessed it, La La Land!  It would be getting annoying by now if it wasn’t eminently worthy in category after category. Generally though, the same rules apply in Costume Design as they do in Production Design: period, fantasy and sci-fi films dominate. As such, many of the same titles vying for a Production Design nomination are in the mix here too: Jackie and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them are both solid possibilities; Love & Friendship and Hidden Figures are stronger contenders for their costumes than their sets; and Silence, The Handmaiden, Nocturnal Animals, Doctor Strange and Rogue One have about the same odds here as they do there, which are not great, but not impossible.

This is actually one of the most competitive categories of the year, with a plethora of stylish threads on display and jockeying for a position on the coveted list of five. Other challengers include the dapper duds and elaborate gowns seen in Florence Foster Jenkins; and Live By Night, Allied and Rules Don’t Apply. I group that trio together because, although set in three different 20th century decades – the 20’s, the 40’s and the 60’s, respectively – each one features immaculately tailored and beautifully designed outfits that seem like they could all be found in one decade-spanning epic.

There are two spoilers that must be mentioned. First, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, given that its predecessor earned a nomination in 2012 and it does feature some stunning pieces. Second, a little-seen Kate Winslet vehicle called The Dressmaker. The Australian film came and went from American theaters, but a Google search of its costumes clearly shows that it should not be underestimated. The Costume Designers branch has never had a problem nominating movies that were barely seen by audiences but which stood out for their incredible sartorial achievements. Remember The Invisible Woman? W.E.? 2010’s The Tempest? Bright Star? Angels and Insects? Probably not. But the Academy’s Costume Design branch did.

Lastly: if I had the power to influence the Academy in just one of its choices across all categories, I would use it to ensure that they nominate Kubo and the Two Strings for Best Costume Design. Animated films never seem to break through – if they get considered at all – in these crafts categories, and that needs to change. In this case, Kubo is as worthy of consideration as any other movie in the field, and if there was a better single costume all year than the one adorning Kubo‘s chilling villains The Sisters, I didn’t see it. The Costume Designer’s Guild (CDG) recognized the film’s achievement, nominating it in their Fantasy category – the first time they’ve accorded a nomination to an animated film. Do the right thing, Academy, and follow the CDG’s example.

Predictions:
The Dressmaker
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Florence Foster Jenkins
Jackie
La La Land

Personal Picks:
The Dressmaker
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Hidden Figures
Kubo and the Two Strings
La La Land

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BEST ORIGINAL SONG

This is probably the most difficult category to call each year, given how many possibilities there are and how open the voters are to looking beyond the usual suspects and nominating songs from movies no one has ever heard of. That’s a good thing, of course, but it makes predicting the nominees extra challenging. Of course, I wouldn’t exactly call the music branch voters – or the rules they play by – enlightened. This is a category in need of serious procedural overhaul, and the utterly illogical guidelines complicate guessmaking. For one thing, voters are sent video clips of the songs as they appear in the movie, which can work against songs that play over end credits or that seem less integral to the plot. If the Academy wants to change the category to Best Use of a Song in a Movie, then this methodology is appropriate. But when the category is simply meant to recognize the best songs, it shouldn’t matter how they’re used. Voters should receive audio only, not video, and judge the songs simply on their musical merits. But wait, it gets better. Clips submitted to the Academy for consideration and in turn sent to the voters can not exceed three minutes. So if the song runs five minutes, or four minutes, or 3:06, well, tough shit. The clip will cut off and that’s that. How is this possibly allowed, or considered an effective way of evaluating a piece of music? The branch leaders would probably argue that the time limit exists to expedite the judging process to some degree. Perhaps the better way to do that, however, would be to revise the submission guidelines in the first place, tightening up the qualifications so that you don’t wind up with a list of 91 songs for consideration. 91 songs! That’s how many are in play this year. The last three years all had between 70 and 80.

So…where to begin with trying to predict which five songs from a list of 91 will make the cut? Well, once again we can begin with La La Land, which actually cuts the field down by two. “City of Stars” and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” are standouts in the film and standouts in the field, and given the expected love for the film, both songs are sure to get in…though for what it’s worth, only “City of Stars” picked up a Golden Globe nomination. A third song from La La Land – “Start a Fire,” sung by John Legend – is also on the list (a maximum of three songs per film can be submitted), but beloved as the movie is and catchy as Legend’s track is, the category probably can’t handle three songs from one movie. That’s because unlike last year, which featured a dreadful pool of offerings – a dreadpool, if you will – there are actually a lot of worthy songs this time around. Moana has two in the running, and in a weaker year – or just a year without La La Land, both of them might have been able to pick up nods, but I expect that “How Far I’ll Go” will get a slot over “We Know the Way.” I’m surprised the powers that be at Disney didn’t also submit the fun and bouncy “You’re Welcome,” which is sung – quite respectably, if I do say so – by Dwayne Johnson. For my money it’s a better choice than “We Know the Way.”

Those are the relatively easy picks. After that it gets hard. Maybe because I loved the movie so much, I have to think one of the tunes from Sing Street will be included, and while voters could go with the slow-building ballad “Go Now” sung by Adam Levine, I don’t see how anyone can resist “Drive It Like You Stole It.” That’s just a no-brainer to me, although it does touch on the frustrating elements of the music branch’s voting system. One one hand, the song is featured in a big fantasy sequence involving a school dance, so the clip might appeal to voters looking for selections that have story impact. On the other hand, they’ll be missing most of the context, because there are things going on in that scene that won’t make sense to anyone who hasn’t watched the whole movie. So does seeing how the song is used in the movie help its chances, hurt them, or make no difference? Also, the song is about three-and-a-half minutes long, so the ending will be cut off. Brilliant, music branch. Way to go.

Plenty of rock and pop stars are in the mix, with some of them having taken on a music supervisory role for entire movies. In addition to voicing a lead character, Justin Timberlake oversaw the music for the animated Trolls, contributing the relentlessly upbeat “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” Pharrell played a large role in the music of Hidden Figures, and could find his song “Runnin’” in the runn…in the mix. Common contributes the searing and topical “Letter to the Free” to Ava Duvernay’s documentary 13th, which explores the mass incarceration of black men in America. Sia has three songs on the list, with “Never Give Up” from Lion definitely a standout for me. Feeling like the category could use some Iggy Pop? Well, he’s here too, with the title track of Matthew McConaughey’s Gold. The list goes on, and obviously I can’t go through all of these. If you’re interested in an overview, The Wrap‘s Steve Pond listened to all 91 and offered his thoughts. I did listen to a whole bunch of them, and found many that I liked, some of which surprised me, like Shakira’s “Try Everything” from Zootopia; Twenty One Pilots’ “Heathens” from Suicide Squad (unfamiliar with the band, I expected something numbing, bombastic and forgettable, and instead found it sort of charmingly creepy and low-key); and “Even More Mine” from My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. Not exactly a must-see for me, but I found the song – sung by actress/singer/Tom Hanks’ wife Rita Wilson – to be quite lovely and touching, with a nice melody.

I don’t expect to see any of those three nominated, but any of the previous four could make it. Others we might see? Perhaps “The Empty Chair,” from the documentary Jim: The James Foley Story.  A collaboration between Sting and J. Ralph, both past nominees. (Ralph has been nominated twice, each time an unexpected choice from a way-under-the-radar movie.) Or maybe “The Rules Don’t Apply,” from Warren Beatty’s movie of the same name (minus the “the.”), although I really hope not. The melody is bland, the lyrics are terrible and there are so many more deserving songs on the list. But it was nominated for a Golden Globe and BFCA award, so it’s not out of the question. Three-time winner and all-around songwriting legend Burt Bacharach has a contender this year, “Dancing With Your Shadow,” from a movie called Po that I’ve never heard of. But he collaborated with Sheryl Crow, and you have to think voters will pay attention to someone of Bacharach’s stature…although come to think of it, I seem to recall that the  clip package and accompanying list of songs sent to voters do not include names of the songwriters, in order to make sure the works are judged on their merits and not by who was involved. If voters are feeling bold and good-humored, they might honor Sausage Party‘s “The Great Beyond,” where the Broadway musical skills of The Little Mermaid/Beauty and the Beast/Aladdin composer Alan Menken meet the weed-addled mind of Seth Rogen. The song is okay, but it would make me smile to see it nominated.

Okay, I can’t do this anymore. It’s time to move on.

Predictions:
Audition (The Fools Who Dream) – La La Land
City of Stars – La La Land
Drive It Like You Stole It – Sing Street
The Empty Chair – Jim: The James Foley Story
How Far I’ll Go – Moana

Personal Picks:
Audition (The Fools Who Dream) – La La Land
City of Stars – La La Land
Drive It Like You Stole It – Sing Street
Letter to the Free – 13th
Never Give Up – Lion

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BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

At 145, the number of eligible scores is even more staggering than the number of songs, but the nominees are much more likely to be pulled from a relatively small and familiar pool, which makes for easier – or at least, less difficult – prognostication. Once again, La La Land leads the pack, and Moonlight will probably join it. Another leading contender was thought to be Arrival, but the Academy disqualified it (along with Manchester by the Sea and Silence) because it featured non-original contributions that the music branch felt would be indistinguishable to voters from the original music by composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. It’s too bad, as Jóhannsson’s score is quite unique and effective.

Mica Levi’s score for Jackie was a major presence on the critic’s circuit, and not unlike Moonlight, takes a  unusual approach to an emotional character study. Lion also received a lot of deserved attention from critic’s groups and should resonate with voters. Other scores that seem to be in the mix are Nocturnal Animals, Hidden Figures, Hell or High Water and Hacksaw Ridge. I would add The Neon Demon, Swiss Army Man and Passengers as being worthy of nominations, though I doubt they’ll break in. I hated pushing Passengers off my own list, but these are sacrifices one must make.

Predictions:
Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, Benjamin Wallfisch – Hidden Figures
Justin Hurwitz – La La Land
Dustin O’Halloran, Hauschka – Lion
Nicholas Britell – Moonlight
Abel Korzeniowski – Nocturnal Animals

Personal Picks:
Mica Levi – Jackie
Dustin O’Halloran, Hauschka – Lion
Nicholas Britell – Moonlight
Cliff Martinez – The Neon Demon
Abel Korzeniowski – Nocturnal Animals

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
The three nominees for Makeup and Hairstyling will come from a list of seven semi-finalists offering Deadpool, The Dressmaker, Florence Foster Jenkins, Hail, Caesar!, A Man Called Ove, Star Trek Beyond and Suicide Squad. It’s a rather underwhelming list, with the emphasis apparently less on the makeup and more on the hair…although even in that area, I can’t quite see what Florence Foster Jenkins or Hail, Caesar! have to offer that’s so impressive as to be shortlisted for an Oscar. A Man Called Ove is a Swedish film sporting work from makeup artists Love Larson and Eva von Bahr, who were nominated last year for another movie you’d never heard of: The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. Like that film, A Man Called Ove features aging work, and if their effort was good enough to make the shortlist last year, it may be again this year.

Predictions:
A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Suicide Squad

Personal Picks:
Seeing as I haven’t seen three of the nominees and only half of the remaining four make sense to me as contenders, I can’t say I really have any.

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BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Like the Makeup and Hairstyling Branch, the Visual Effects branch has helped us narrow down the field this year by beginning with a list of 20 contenders, then whittling that down to 10: Arrival, The BFG, Captain America: Civil War, Deepwater Horizon, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, The Jungle Book, Kubo and the Two Strings, Passengers and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It’s a strong list, with only two that I would dismiss: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and The BFG. Both feature good work, but in the case of Fantastic Beasts, the strongest elements are undermined by some spottier contributions (the CG goblins populating a speakeasy were noticeably subpar), while the title character in The BFG – realized through a motion capture performance by last year’s Best Supporting Actor winner Mark Rylance – couldn’t climb out of the Uncanny Valley, close to the upper slope though he was.

The only one of the 10 films that will also be a player in top categories is Arrival, and since the branch usually likes to include at least one such movie among its selections, that may earn a spot by default…not that the work isn’t good on its own merits. Like pretty much all of the Marvel movies, Captain America features seamless work that looks terrific, but it may be overshadowed by its showier cousin, Doctor Strange, which sports work that is equally polished but more eye-popping, even if some of it hearkens noticeably back to 2010’s winner, Inception.

I had the opportunity to attend the branch’s Bake-Off event this year, where the teams behind each of the 10 remaining films present clips of their work and discuss techniques used and challenges encountered. The big surprise for me – and from what I could tell, just about everyone else in the room – was Deepwater Horizon. Most probably assumed that the majority of the movie’s effects were achieved practically, on set in real time with the actors. As it turns out, the demands of the true story about the 2010 oil rig explosion were too intense to be accomplished at the necessary scale with practical effects. Instead, a massive portion of the work was achieved through CGI, though you would never guess to watch it. CG fire – just one part of the movie’s demanding work – is always a challenge to visual effects artists, but the Deepwater Horizon VFX crew tamed the beast and enhanced the reality with smoke, ash and embers that were all added in post-production. This was a movie I’d have assumed would be dismissed had I not attended the Bake-Off. Now I’ll be straight-up pissed – and quite surprised – if it doesn’t get nominated.

The most interesting selection in the running is Kubo and the Two Strings. I have mixed feelings about this, which go back to the only other example of a stop-motion animated movie being nominated in this category: 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. It never felt right to me, since stop-motion essentially is a visual effect in the first place. How do you separate the visual effects from the animation technique when the animation technique is a visual effect? How do you fairly measure a movie that is one giant special effect against movies that blend special effects into real-world environments? On the other hand, the movie did utilize visual effects beyond the stop-motion, just as any live action movie would, and the crew at the Bake-Off emphasized that in their presentation, so why shouldn’t it have a chance? Certainly the crew was thrilled to be invited and given an opportunity to make their case, and they made an enthusiastic and impassioned plea for consideration. The crowd did seem impressed, but I couldn’t gauge if they were impressed with the visual effects specifically, or with the general impressive feat of doing a stop-motion animated feature.

Another category with some tough decisions to be made.

Predictions:
Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Personal Picks:
Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book
Passengers
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

BEST SOUND EDITING/BEST SOUND MIXING
After Best Sound Mixing turned out to be one of only two or three categories in which I was 100% correct in my predictions last year, maybe I should approach it with more confidence this year. As always, let me drop what is surely an overly simplistic explanation of what the two categories are all about. To lift directly from last year’s post, sound editors create and/or fix sounds that couldn’t be recorded during filming or were not usable, while sound mixers combine all the elements – dialogue, music, sound effects, etc. – into a balanced whole.

More often than not, at least in recent years, the categories are almost identical with one unique nominee in each. You might think La La Land would be a sure thing in both areas, but I’m not so sure. Going back to 2000, every time there has been a movie with a heavy musical component, it has been nominated only for Sound Mixing. Whiplash, Inside Llewyn Davis, Les Misérables, Dreamgirls, Walk the Line, Ray, Chicago, Moulin Rouge – all nominated for Mixing, none nominated for Editing. And in none of those years did the Editing category feature a music-heavy film that wasn’t nominated for Mixing. Now, eventually this pattern will end, and it’s not like music is the only sound in any of these movies; an Editing nomination could happen on other merits. But I’m going to side with history and say that La La Land gets the Mixing nomination, but not Editing. (If I’m wrong, and if I’m right about it’s chances in every other category, it will land 14 nominations, tying All About Eve and Titanic as the most nominated films of all time.)

These categories are also among the hardest to predict, since a) the criteria are less obvious to me – I can look at costumes or visual effects and form a reasonable opinion – and b) the nominees can come from anywhere: respected dramas, blockbuster action movies, animated adventures…there are a lot of options. I’m figuring this year’s crop will come from Deadpool, The Jungle Book, Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, Star Trek Beyond, Jason Bourne, Kubo and the Two Strings, Sully, Deepwater Horizon, Hacksaw Ridge, Doctor Strange, Arrival, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Passengers and Patriots Day. That may seem like a kitchen sink list, but trust me, there’s a strategy that goes into narrowing down the field…or if not strategy, at least a sense of vague intuition. Hey, shut up, you try doing this!

Sound Editing Predictions:
Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
The Jungle Book
Hacksaw Ridge
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Sound Mixing Predictions: 
Arrival
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Because the two categories are so difficult for most people outside of the sound field to make sense of, I always say that there should be one award, designated Best Sound Design, recognizing the overall aural experience of a movie. The rest of us are still poorly equipped to really judge even that, but we can probably  at least come up with a list that makes some sense to our untrained ears. With that said, I admit my ignorance and forego making personal picks in the two actual categories, instead naming my picks for the fake category of Best Sound Design. And this year, it looks pretty similar to my predictions: Arrival, Deepwater Horizon, Hacksaw Ridge, Passengers, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Usually I have some more interesting variations in there, but not so much this time around.

XX
And there we have it. I hope it wasn’t as torturous for you to read as it was for me to write. Nominations are announced tomorrow morning at the absolutely unholy time of 5:18am PST. That’s a half-hour earlier than the usual unholy time, but apparently the Academy is trying something new this year. In the past, the nominations have been announced live in a room full of press and publicists. This year, the nominees will be unveiled via a “global live stream” on Oscars.com, Oscars.org and broadcast on Good Morning, America. In addition to Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, several past winners and nominees will participate, including Brie Larson, Ken Watanabe, Jason Reitman, Jennifer Hudson and Emmanuel Lubezki. I’m not sure why the new procedure requires a start time half an hour earlier than what was already painfully early, but I’m an addict, so I’ll be awake to get my fix. For now, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite songs from a movie this year. It won’t be nominated for Best Original Song, because, well,  it’s not original. But it’s a classic, given an appealingly fresh take.

 

January 13, 2016

Oscars 2015: Nominations Eve – My Absurdly Long Predictions Opus

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 12:45 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Early in the premiere episode of the about-to-conclude-tonight American Horror Story: Hotel, Wes Bentley’s homicide detective is reviewing gruesome crime scene photos while listening to a recording of facts about the case to which they pertain. His notes identify the brutally mutilated victim as an Oscar blogger. I chuckled at that. Then I locked all the doors and windows and peeked out onto the street from behind the curtains to make sure no suspicious activity was afoot. I suppose if a deranged killer was out there targeting an Oscar blogger, there are several professionals for them to pursue. They wouldn’t bother with my small-time operation. So I’ll just continue toiling away here for the five of you who have showed up to read this. But in case this is my last hurrah, savor it. We who are about to die salute you…and still can’t believe Al Pacino wasn’t nominated for Donnie Brasco.

BEST PICTURE
To begin, it’s safe to say that whatever Vin Diesel might have promised us last April, Furious 7 will not be counted among this year’s contenders for the top Oscar. There are, however, an unusually high number of commercial films in the hunt that do have a legitimate shot. Mad Max: Fury Road, Straight Outta Compton, The Martian, Inside Out, Creed and even Star Wars: The Force Awakens all have varying degrees of momentum.

The big question mark is Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s one of the best reviewed movies of the year, and has collected several Best Picture wins from national and regional critics associations. Nearly every organization that didn’t give it their top prize, if they name runners-up or nominees, had it in one of those two positions. It’s far and away one of the two most honored movies of the year so far, which would appear to make it a no-brainer Best Picture contender…except that it couldn’t be further away from a typical Best Picture contender. This is a loud, crazy, high-octane action movie that begins at full-throttle and rarely lets up. Whatever intelligence and strong feminist themes run through it, it is on its surface a far cry from the type of films that earn Best Picture recognition. When this category was expanded to include more than five nominees, the move was believed to be, in part, a reaction to the Academy’s failure to nominate Christopher Nolan’s action drama, The Dark Knight. With a larger field of nominees, the thinking went, smart commercial movies could earn a place at this table. Alas, that isn’t really how things have gone…but then again, has there been such a film since The Dark Knight that has truly deserved that recognition? Maybe Skyfall. Definitely Fury Road. So this will arguably be the biggest test of the Best Picture expansion since its inception. Will voters make room for an acclaimed action film that has been embraced in all other corners as one of the year’s finest? Or will they ignore it in favor of more standard Academy fare that feels Moving, or Important?

The question is further complicated by the presence of The Martian. Ridley Scott’s sci-fi drama, with ample doses of crowd-pleasing laughs – so much so that it was rather questionably nominated in the Golden Globes’ Musical/Comedy categories, where it won Best Picture and Best Actor – is a box office success (more so than Fury Road), and also a big hit with critics (though less so than Fury Road). Crucially, it feels more like an Academy movie. I can’t articulate why, exactly. Whatever Oscar-friendly fortune smiled on Avatar and Inception – popular, mainstream films that have been nominated since the category’s expansion – also seems to grace The Martian. The Best Picture race will rarely accommodate more than two “popular” movies, and The Martian is a commercial film with a larger whiff of prestige than the gritty, grungy, in-your-face Fury Road, making it a more likely nominee. Given how well Fury Road has done in the precursor phase, it would be foolish to bet against its chances for a Best Picture slot. More importantly, it’s scored nominations from every guild to announce so far except one, which indicates support across the filmmaking community. Many voting members of the guilds are also Academy members. On the other hand, the film failed to land a Best Picture nomination from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), which could be a bad omen…or could mean little, considering that BAFTA’s Best Picture race still only has five nominees. Like our Academy, the BAFTA is a large voting body comprised of filmmakers, so it can be a decent indicator of which way the winds are blowing, but it’s still just one of many such indicators, and must be weighed accordingly. On paper, Fury Road appears to have all the momentum it needs to score a Best Picture nomination. Yet the fact remains that there is zero precedence for a movie like it to be nominated, while there is plenty of precedence for critically adored and even guild-heralded movies to be shunned by the Academy.

Moving on to some safer bets, I mentioned that Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the two most honored movies of 2015, at least based on the year-end awards. The other is Spotlight, which has captured the majority of Best Picture precursor awards so far. I expect it will be joined by Brooklyn and The Big Short, as well as aforementioned commercial prospects The Martian and Inside Out. So that’s five slots for sure, and six if we go with Mad Max: Fury Road. That leaves a maximum of only four spaces – five if we bet against Fury Road – and several contenders in the hunt: The Revenant (crowned with a Best Picture – Drama win earlier this week at the Golden Globes, though Oscar voting had already closed by then), Room, Carol, The Danish Girl, The Hateful Eight, Bridge of Spies, Steve Jobs, Joy, Trumbo, Sicario, Ex Machina, Beasts of No Nation, Son of Saul, plus Straight Outta Compton, Creed and Star Wars. That may seem like a kitchen sink list, but every one of those movies – even Star Wars – has legitimate potential to land a nomination. A solid case could be made for each, let me put it that way.

Once again, we don’t know how many nominees there will be. Last year there were eight, while the three previous years each had nine. I’m guessing nine again, based purely on the few years of evidence we have to work from. Ultimately, it has nothing to do with how many worthy films there are, or whether it’s been a strong or weak year for movies. It’s all about how many votes each movie gets. The way the numbers are crunched, a movie with a few hundred first place votes will be nominated over a movie with many more second or third place votes. (There are approximately 6,000 members of the Academy.) The passion vote is the key when it comes to the Best Picture nominations, and that’s tough to get a handle on. I’ve read, for example, that Carol and Room – while performing quite well with critics – have been less embraced by Academy members; the former for being perceived as too cold, and the latter for portraying difficult subject matter that has discouraged voters from watching it. Even if those rumors are true, there could still be enough devoted admirers who choose one of those films as their first choice, helping land it a coveted spot. (I’m counting on that passion vote to carry Fury Road over the finish line.)

Predictions:
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Carol
Inside Out
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Spotlight

Personal Picks:
Brooklyn
The Hateful Eight
Love & Mercy
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Room
Sicario
Spotlight
Steve Jobs

BEST DIRECTOR
Whatever happens with Mad Max: Fury Road‘s Best Picture prospects, director George Miller’s chances in this race are a different ball game. As far as the critics awards go, Miller is miles ahead of the competition, having been named the top filmmaker of the year by nearly two dozen groups. The director’s branch usually makes room for one outside-the-box contender alongside a line-up of more traditional choices that align with Best Picture nominees. Miller could end up fitting either of those slots, depending on how things go. I imagine fellow members of his branch will want to honor him for getting out there at age 70 and mounting an immensely challenging production full of brazen physical effects and practical stunt work. It was a complicated endeavor with stellar results, and it’s hard to imagine his peers won’t honor him for it.

His peers in the Director’s Guild of America (DGA) did indeed honor him for it, nominating him alongside The Revenant‘s Alejandro G. Iñárritu (who also took the Golden Globe, in a minor upset), The Big Short‘s Adam McKay, Spotlight‘s Tom McCarthy, and The Martian‘s Ridley Scott. It’s the first such mention all season long for McKay, though he has collected his fair share of Screenplay honors. His slot comes at the “expense” of the only other director besides Miller, Iñárritu, McCarthy and Scott to be recognized during the precursor phase: Todd Haynes, director of Carol, who was honored by a couple of major critics groups.

What does it all mean for the Oscars? Well, as is the case with most of the guilds, the nominees rarely line up exactly. Scott and Iñárritu seem safe, as does McCarthy, having directed the presumed Best Picture frontrunner. Despite dominating the critics circuit, however, I’m not prepared to say that Spotlight will go all the way. And good as it is, it doesn’t jump out as a directing showcase…although the fact that it isn’t a flashy epic shouldn’t deceive anyone into thinking it’s not a superbly helmed film. So McCarthy could be the omission that will shock the pundits. I’m hearing that The Big Short is playing like gangbusters with Academy members, and that its popularity was hitting its stride smack in the middle of the voting period, so McKay could definitely benefit if people are loving the movie. On the other hand, might some voters be reluctant to hand a Best Director nomination to the guy behind Anchorman and Talledega Nights? You never know. I mentioned that the Director’s branch often goes for a less mainstream, more outsider candidate, and that can translate to “arty,” so I wouldn’t count Todd Haynes out.

Steven Spielberg could break into the race with Bridge of Spies, which has proven a surprisingly strong contender throughout both phases of the season, earning consistent mentions from critics in various categories, as well as nominations from several guilds and a field co-leading nine nominations from BAFTA. The movie is exactly the kind of sturdy, old-fashioned, handsomely crafted and entertaining production that older Academy members love…or at least greatly admire. Other than Spielberg, the only two people I can see sliding in – and they’re both huge longshots – are Alex Garland (Ex Machina) and Denis Villeneuve (Sicario). I’d be surprised if anyone else showed up. There’s plenty of good, worthy work, but nothing that looks likely to push through. I don’t see Quentin Tarantino or David O. Russell getting in this year, nor up-and-comers like Lenny Abrahamson (Room), Ryan Coogler (Creed), or John Crowley (Brooklyn). Danny Boyle and Tom Hooper are past winners with prestige films in the mix – Steve Jobs and The Danish Girl, respectively – but nominations don’t appear to be in the cards.

We’ll see soon enough if I’m underestimating someone.

Predictions:
Steven Spielberg – Bridge of Spies
George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road
Ridley Scott – The Martian
Alejandro G. Iñárritu – The Revenant
Tom McCarthy – Spotlight

Personal Picks:
Quentin Tarantino – The Hateful Eight
George Miller – Mad Max: Fury Road
Alejandro G. Iñárritu – The Revenant
Denis Villeneuve – Sicario
Danny Boyle – Steve Jobs

BEST ACTOR
This is typically a tough category to crack, overcrowded with excellent, deserving work. The competition isn’t quite as intense this year as it’s been the last few, but there are several viable contenders, and the category feels more pliable than in other years. Leonardo DiCaprio is the one true lock, for his all-in work in The Revenant, and he’ll likely be joined by Michael Fassbender for Steve Jobs. The fate of that film seemed up in the air for a while when, despite strong reviews and big box office during its limited release, the movie faltered in wide release and disappeared from theaters far too quickly. But the critics revived it with constant mentions during Phase 1 of awards season, and Fassbender has been nominated for a Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award and Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) award – a hat trick which doesn’t guarantee an Oscar nod, but doesn’t hurt.

Last year’s winner Eddie Redmayne has good odds of being back again, for The Danish Girl, but that movie’s reception seems just muted enough to make what might seem on paper like a surefire nomination be less of a guarantee. (He plays a real-life artist who was one of the first people to ever undergo gender-reassignment surgery.) Heading into the fall season, everyone assumed – and even hoped – that Johnny Depp’s work in Black Mass would be a return to form for the actor, and a surefire awards magnet. Unfortunately the movie was underwhelming, and Depp – while very good – was stuck with a script that gave him a two-dimensional character to play. There was nothing below the surface to dig into. He’s been largely absent from the awards conversation, but did score nominations from SAG and the BFCA, so he’s not completely sidelined.

Bryan Cranston has done quite well on the circuit for his role as blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, and Cranston’s popularity among actors (everyone loves Breaking Bad) as well as the boost of being in a movie about the movie industry – which tends to go over well with Academy members – give him an excellent chance of finding a spot. Matt Damon is a favorite for his versatile turn in The Martian, while Will Smith has garnered positive notices for his performance in Concussion.

Circling on the periphery with limited chances but just enough buzz to break through as a surprise, we have Michael Caine in Youth, Michael B. Jordan in Creed and Ian McKellan in Mr. Holmes. Tom Hardy and Jason Segel have garnered some critical attention for Legend and The End of the Tour, respectively, but neither have the momentum to push through into this race, while Jake Gyllenhaal might have had a shot for Southpaw had the movie made more of a splash. I’d bet there are many voters who would want to make up for him missing out last year with Nightcrawler, but Southpaw just didn’t catch on. I should also mention child actors Abraham Attah from Beasts of No Nation and Jacob Tremblay of Room, though they would probably find themselves in the Supporting Actor race – despite both being leads – if they make it at all.

Predictions:
Bryan Cranston – Trumbo
Matt Damon – The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl

Personal Picks:
Abraham Attah – Beasts of No Nation
Matt Damon – The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant
Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs
Jacob Tremblay – Room

BEST ACTRESS
What I’m about to say will defy logic and make you doubt all that you have come to believe in and understand about the world, but just know that everything is going to be okay. Here goes: Meryl Streep starred in a movie this year and is NOT going to get nominated for an Oscar. It feels like heresy just to write that, but I must speak the truth. Meryl Streep’s performance in Ricki and the Flash is not part of the Best Actress conversation at all. It might have been, in a more typical year…”typical” meaning a year with a disappointingly small pool of great female roles from which to select. Happily for us all, this is not a typical year. In fact, the number of women in the Best Actress hunt is larger than it’s been in a long time, and the problem that has plagued Best Actor over the past few years – so much good work that no matter how the nominations turned out, some great performances were going to be left out – now impacts the ladies.

Two actresses that needn’t worry about the stiff competition are Brie Larson and Saoirse Ronan, who are comfortably positioned to be recognized for Room and Brooklyn, respectively. Whatever issues Room might have in cracking the Best Picture race, they shouldn’t impact actors’ desire to recognize Larson’s extraordinary work. Jennifer Lawrence is an Academy darling, and even though Joy hasn’t resonated as strongly as American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook – Lawrence’s last two collaborations with David O. Russell – her work in the film is admired enough to make her a likely nominee. She missed out on a SAG nomination, but ballots for those awards went out in mid-to-late November, well before the movie was completed and screening for guild members.

That leaves two slots and a dozen strong possibilities. In addition to Larson and Ronan, SAG nominated Cate Blanchett for Carol, Helen Mirren for Woman in Gold, and in a major shock, Sarah Silverman for the little-seen indie I Smile Back. Blanchett is probably a safe bet for an Oscar nod, and Mirren can never be discounted, but I suspect she’ll be squeezed out by more compelling work. Silverman’s SAG nomination is impressive, but a matching Oscar nod isn’t in the cards.

There’s been plenty of talk for Blanchett’s Carol co-star Rooney Mara as well as The Danish Girl‘s Alicia Vikander, but both of them are being promoted by their studios for Supporting Actress recognition. This has led to cries of category fraud, since both actresses are clearly leads. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which hands out the Golden Globes, rejected these categorizations and filtered Mara and Vikander into the Lead race, where both were nominated in the Drama category. Some critics organizations also put them into Lead, while others stuck with Supporting. Both actresses received SAG and BFCA nods, both in Supporting. Academy voters always have the option of ignoring the studios’ suggestions and placing performers in the category they feel is most accurate, though more often than not they go along with what is recommended. The danger for both actresses’ chances comes from the possibility that many voters will place them in one category while many will place them in the other, splitting their recognition such that they don’t collect enough votes in either category to break through.

A number of veterans have been in the conversation this year, from character actress Blythe Danner, playing her first lead film role in I’ll See You in My Dreams to Lily Tomlin for her acerbic turn in Grandma to Maggie Smith in The Lady in the Van. But the only one from this over-65 club who seems to have a real shot is Charlotte Rampling, who has earned raves for 45 Years. The movie is a small one, but she’s received enough praise that if voters get a chance to see the film, she could land a spot. It’s a definite “if,” however, especially since her performance is so quiet and internalized. Voters prefer fireworks. She missed out on a BAFTA nomination (her assumed spot went to Maggie Smith), and that could be a bad sign for her Oscar prospects. If she couldn’t break through with a home field advantage, she may not have the votes to get nominated on this side of the pond.

Carey Mulligan turned in a pair of excellent performances, with Far from the Madding Crowd and Suffragette, and Emily Blunt was terrific in Sicario, though like Rampling, who has racked up far more mentions than Blunt, her work is probably too understated and nuanced to pop amidst such strong competition. There’s also Charlize Theron’s lauded performance in Mad Max: Fury Road, but while that would be great to see nominated, I have a hard time imagining she’ll collect enough votes to get her there.

Predictions:
Cate Blanchett – Carol
Brie Larson – Room
Jennifer Lawrence – Joy
Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn
Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl

Personal Picks:
Emily Blunt – Sicario
Brie Larson – Room
Jennifer Lawrence – Joy
Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn
Charlize Theron – Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Whereas the last two years have seen one actor dominating this race heading into the Oscars – Jared Leto in 2013 and J.K. Simmons in 2014 – this time around the race is wide open, with critics groups spreading their love across a dozen performances. The one to collect the most prizes so far, believe it or not, is Sylvester Stallone for his reprisal of Rocky Balboa in Creed. It’s a part he’s now played seven times, and he was a Best Actor nominee the first, back in 1976. Stallone is quite good in Creed, and gets to bring some lovely new shadings to the character. On the other hand, we don’t tend to think of Stallone and “great actor” in the same sentence, and although he’s in a frontrunner position at the moment, it wouldn’t surprise me if many voters felt that he hadn’t “earned” Academy attention. He did just win a Golden Globe, and is nominated for a BFCA award, but was passed over by SAG, which is the only one of those three voting bodies that has any crossover with the Academy. On the other hand, if the enthusiastic standing ovation he received at the Globes is any indication, his chances look good.

If we consider Stallone a lock, the only other person who enjoys similar status at the moment is Mark Rylance as the accused Soviet agent at the center of Bridge of Spies. Rylance isn’t well-known by film audiences, but he’s a Broadway fixture with three Tony awards, and has been a highlight of Steven Spielberg’s drama for those who’ve seen it. (I enjoyed the performance, but felt it needed to be more substantial in size to deserve an Oscar nod.)

From its earliest showings in September at the Venice, Telluride and Toronto film festivals, Spotlight was seen as having strong Oscar potential, with Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo the standout performers likely to earn award recognition. The only question throughout the fall seemed to be if the category would have room for both of them, or only one. Now the question is whether it will have room for either, as both have missed the cut with nearly every major group so far. SAG, BFCA and the Golden Globes all overlooked them. The thinking seems to be that they’ve split the vote, but I’ve said before that the long-held notion of vote splitting makes little sense to me. By and large, people will vote for the performances they most enjoy, whether or not there happen to be more than one in a given movie. If Spotlight does as well with the Academy as it’s expected to, I find it hard to believe that at least one of these guys isn’t getting nominated. But if only one, which one? Keaton could have support from what I’m sure is a large number of people who wanted to see him win last year for Birdman. Ruffalo, also widely admired by his fellow actors, is still awaiting his first Oscar, and he has the showier role in Spotlight. And in a late breaking boost, he got a BAFTA nomination last week. I think he’s going to make it, but it’s no sure thing.

Michael Shannon has garnered a fair amount of critical accolades for the searing housing crisis drama 99 Homes, and even landed SAG, BFCA and Golden Globe nods. But have enough Academy members seen that movie? Enough to go for Shannon over Keaton and Ruffalo in Spotlight, a movie many of them will definitely have seen? Only Shannon and Rylance have scored nominations from all three of those groups. Idris Elba was recognized by SAG and the Globes for Beasts of No Nation; Christian Bale by SAG and the BFCA for The Big Short; and Paul Dano by the BFCA and the Globes for Love & Mercy. Bale, Elba and Rylance have also added BAFTA nods to their tally. Tom Hardy picked up a BFCA nomination for The Revenant, while Jacob Tremblay scored a SAG nod for Room. SAG often goes to bat for child actors, but I’m unsure about Tremblay’s Oscar chances. People who’ve seen the film – actors who’ve seen the film, importantly – are definitely moved by his performance, but with someone so young, there’s often the question of the line between acting – making conscious choices about a performance – and playing a sort of make-believe guided by natural behavior. There’s also the category fraud issue again, seeing as Tremblay is unquestionably a lead in Room. As with Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander, Tremblay’s placement as Lead vs. Supporting has varied among critics groups.

Benicio del Toro garnered buzz for Sicario, and has been on the bubble all season long. He landed a BAFTA nod, but that’s the biggest honor he’s collected to date. The buzz may not have remained strong enough to get him in. Oscar Isaac is a longshot for his work in Ex Machina, and Joel Edgerton had a bit of shine around him early on for Black Mass, but his fortunes seem to have faded along with the movie’s. Still, if it somehow rebounds with the Academy – if they nominate Depp – he could benefit.

One more longshot that I have to mention is Harrison Ford for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He hasn’t been named by a single critics group, let alone SAG, the Globes or the BFCA…though to be fair, the movie wasn’t available for most of these groups to watch before they announced their nominations. It probably wouldn’t have made a difference. But consider: Ford is a beloved actor with only one nomination, way back in 1985 for Witness. He hasn’t even earned an Honorary Oscar yet. From George Burns to Don Ameche to Sean Connery to James Coburn to Alan Arkin to Christopher Plummer, this category often recognizes veteran actors who have never won before. With The Force Awakens, Ford returned to the role of an iconic character, also beloved, and slipped comfortably back into the part despite 30+ years elapsing since he’d last played it. The character is deepened in this new film, allowing Ford to bring new dimensions and play a more emotional arc than the earlier films allowed. All of these points, by the way, also apply to Stallone, though as popular a character as Rocky Balboa is, he doesn’t hold the same cultural significance as Han Solo. And those who’ve seen the movie know that Ford has one scene in particular that could go a long way toward earning him some sentiment for recognition. Do I think it will happen? No, probably not. Do I think it could? Absolutely. There are all kinds of factors beyond just the performance that voters think about when making their selections, and some of the things I’m mentioning here could propel Ford to a nomination.

Predictions:
Christian Bale – The Big Short
Idris Elba – Beasts of No Nation
Tom Hardy – The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight
Mark Rylance – Bridge of Spies

Personal Picks:
Tom Hardy – The Revenant
Oscar Isaac – Ex Machina
Jason Mitchell – Straight Outta Compton
Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight
Sylvester Stallone – Creed

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
We now come back to Rooney Mara and Alicia Vikander. If voters fall in line with the studio marketing, both will earn their recognition here…and chances are good that both will earn recognition. In Vikander’s case, the mystery is whether her nomination will come for The Danish Girl or Ex Machina. While the assumption all season long has been that Vikander would garner recognition for The Danish Girl, she has quietly amassed a field-leading number of critics group wins for Ex Machina. I don’t know what to expect from that film in terms of how it will play with the Academy. It was nominated for Best Picture by the Producers Guild of America, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will repeat with the Academy. It’s been out long enough and received enough attention that I’m sure many voters have seen it. So in which role has Vikander most impressed the most people? And could she end up pulling double honors, with a Best Actress nomination for The Danish Girl and Supporting for Ex Machina, which she got from the Golden Globes and BAFTA? That’s what I’m predicting…but I’m not convinced about her Best Actress chances. I just had to make a choice and get on with my life.

Mara and Vikander and their category confusion aside, the safest bet here is Kate Winslet, who has earned consistent accolades for her work in Steve Jobs, and just picked up an unexpected Golden Globe win. Jennifer Jason Leigh, one of the finest actresses to never be nominated for an Oscar, could finally have her chance with a live-wire role in The Hateful Eight, and Helen Mirren is in play for a small role in Trumbo…much too small, in my opinion. She earned the SAG/BFCA/Golden Globe trifecta, but enjoyable as she is playing gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, this is a spot that should go to someone who contributed more to their film. Like Elizabeth Banks, for instance, in Love & Mercy. The prolific actress gives one of her best performances, and although she has picked up some recognition in the precursor phase, she’s a dark horse for an Oscar nomination.

Another dark horse, though she has received a few major critic’s prizes, is Kristen Stewart for Clouds of Sils Maria. I’m a bit baffled by the attention she’s received for this. (Last February, she became the first American actress to ever win a César, France’s equivalent of the Oscar. Bizarre.) Clouds of Sils Maria is a movie that stuck with me all year even though I had significant issues with it, and Stewart was good…but Stewart is rarely better than good. There is something compelling about her screen presence, but she’s not a great actress, and I can’t figure why she’s earning such high marks for this role. Her co-star Juliette Binoche is the one who should be in the conversation, for Best Actress, but there’s been nary a peep about her, or a single critic’s notice during Phase 1. The question of “deserve” aside, I seriously doubt Clouds of Sils Maria has been seen by enough voters to earn Stewart a spot.

While Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton have been unable to register as widely as expected, Spotlight‘s Rachel McAdams has carried the torch for the movie’s lauded ensemble, earning SAG and BFCA nominations. She’s solid in the movie, but it’s a pretty muted performance, and I’m not sure she would be singled out unless voters indeed can’t choose between Keaton and Ruffalo, and want to make sure someone from the cast is acknowledged.

Jane Fonda has a shot for her brief, memorable work in Youth, but like Helen Mirren in Trumbo – more so, in fact – the role is much too small to deserve a spot. It’s little more than an extended cameo, really, but it was enough to land her a Golden Globe nomination. With all due respect to these esteemed actresses and the admittedly fine work they did in their films, it would be a shame if their brief contributions were allowed to eclipse roles that are significantly more substantial, even if from less known performers or films outside the mainstream. Consider Tangerine, the Sundance breakout hit starring transgender actresses Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, who created two of the year’s most vivid and memorable characters. The movie’s producers, indie rock stars Mark and Jay Duplass, initiated an Oscar campaign for Taylor and Rodriguez, and while the movie surely remains too under-the-radar to actually land any nominations, it would be a breath of fresh air from the Academy if they were to honor either of these vibrant performances.

Predictions:
Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara – Carol
Helen Mirren – Trumbo
Alicia Vikander – Ex Machina
Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

Personal Picks:
Elizabeth Banks – Love & Mercy
Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight
Mya Taylor – Tangerine
Alicia Vikander – Ex Machina
Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Bank on Spotlight and Inside Out to land here for sure, with Bridge of Spies also a near-lock. Quentin Tarantino and David O. Russell have both done well in the writing categories in recent years, but while QT’s The Hateful Eight is a good bet, Russell may not be able to repeat unless the Academy turns out to embrace Joy more enthusiastically than any other group this year. Straight Outta Compton, Sicario and Trainwreck all picked up nominations from the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) – alongside Spotlight and Bridge of Spies – but there are always several major players which are ineligible for recognition from the WGA, and this year’s victims include Inside Out and Hateful Eight. I’m sure the former will get a nomination, and the latter probably will too, so there won’t be room for all of the guild’s selections. Sicario may have the best shot of the three, but even that’s hard to say, seeing as the film has been on the bubble all season. It’s done well with guild nominations, but I can’t say with any confidence that things will play out the same way with the Academy. Ex Machina, which was also ineligible with the WGA, is another strong possibility here, though again, I’m have no sense of how the movie is playing with Academy members.

Predictions:
Bridge of Spies – Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Ex Machina – Alex Garland
The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino
Inside Out – Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley
Spotlight – Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer

Personal Picks:
Dope – Rick Famuyiwa
The Hateful Eight – Quentin Tarantino
Inside Out – Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley
Spotlight – Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer
Sicario – Taylor Sheridan

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
There are six films that have come up consistently in this category throughout the season: The Big Short, Brooklyn, Carol, The Martian, Room and Steve Jobs. There’s only room for five, of course, and there are a few others looking to break in. Chief among those is Anomalisa, written by Charlie Kaufman, whose work is always unique and admired. A few critics groups have nominated The End of the Tour, about Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky’s interviews with David Foster Wallace near the end of his Infinite Jest book tour, but I seriously doubt that movie has the momentum to be a threat here. Others that have cropped up are Creed, 45 Years and The Diary of a Teenage Girl, as well as Trumbo, which landed a WGA nod. But again, ineligibilities always clear the way for some longshot nominees to have their day in the sun with the WGA. Brooklyn and Room were the most notable omissions this year, but both seem like safe bets for an Oscar nod. I’d say Carol is the most vulnerable here, but the fact is that all six of these are favorites, and something’s gotta give.

Predictions:
The Big Short – Charles Randolph, Adam McKay
Brooklyn – Nick Hornby
The Martian – Drew Goddard
Room – Emma Donaghue
Steve Jobs – Aaron Sorkin

Personal Picks:
Anomalisa – Charlie Kaufman
The Big Short – Charles Randolph, Adam McKay
Brooklyn – Nick Hornby
The Martian – Drew Goddard
Steve Jobs – Aaron Sorkin

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Sixteen films were submitted for consideration this year, a quota which means that up to five can be nominated…though I think there can be fewer. Inside Out is a no-brainer, and Pixar’s other 2015 release, The Good Dinosaur, is a safe bet too, though it was less well-received than most of the studio’s films, and could be bumped. The animation is often stunning, but the plot is fairly pedestrian. I’m not sure which of those qualities will be given more weight by voters.

Anomalisa and The Peanuts Movie will probably make it, so if we assume there will indeed be five nominees, the question is whether or not one of the more obscure, indie animated films can break through. Salma Hayek produced Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, which might be able to land a slot. Japan’s renowned Studio Ghibli, which has enjoyed several nominations over the years, has When Marnie Was There in contention, but I feel like that movie has flown further under the radar than other Ghibli efforts. Not that it matters, since the branch members have often selected little-known movies that have received no mainstream publicity prior to being nominated. I don’t think this is going to be one of those years, but that could well be because I have absolutely no framework in which to evaluate movies like Moomins on the Riviera or Boy and the World.

Predictions:
Anomalisa
The Good Dinosaur
Inside Out
The Peanuts Movie
Shaun the Sheep Movie

Personal Picks:
Anomalisa
Inside Out
The Peanuts Movie
Shaun the Sheep Movie
When Marnie Was There

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Emmanuel Lubezki, who triumphed in this category the last two years, is going for a three-peat with The Revenant, shot in remote landscapes using only natural light. He’ll surely be keeping company with John Seale, the 70 year-old Oscar winner who came out of retirement to lens Mad Max: Fury Road, a monumental production with a dazzling visual style. And count on the brilliant, still Oscar-less maestro Roger Deakins to make the cut for his evocative work on Sicario. Those three are the sure things, with Carol‘s Ed Lachman probably right at their heels. Who gets the fifth spot?

Much has been made of The Hateful Eight‘s 70mm shoot and the decades-old lenses that were used, but will any of that ultimately be meaningful to voters on a film that, however well photographed, is largely confined to a single-room location? Robert Richardson is a three-time winner, nominated for Tarantino’s last two films, but I could see him getting edged out this time. Lubezki, Seale, Deakins and Lachman were all nominated by the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), which chose Janusz Kaminski’s work on Bridge of Spies to round out their list. Kaminski is another Academy favorite with two wins under his belt, but rarely does the Academy line up five-for-five with the ASC, and of these five impressively photographed productions, Revenant, Fury Road and Sicario seem immovable. Carol could get knocked out, but it feels too entrenched. The Martian has a good chance, as a movie that could hit a lot of these below-the-line categories and does have an exotic look thanks to its alien location. The employment of different film stocks, along with digital cameras, to capture the three distinct acts of Steve Jobs could earn it some votes, but the end result might not be viewed as dynamic enough to land a spot in such a competitive race. There is also plenty of deserving work that probably doesn’t have the momentum to make the cut, including Luca Bigazzi’s wondrous shot compositions in Youth; Maryse Alberti’s fluid work on Creed; Dan Lausten’s gothic play of light and shadow in Crimson Peak; and Cary Joji Fukunaga’s unflinching hold on child soldiers in the African jungle in Beasts of No Nation.

I could go on, as there’s no shortage of impressive cinematography to marvel at, but if the Academy offers up a surprise, it could be The Assassin. I missed the film, so can’t speak to it personally, but the Cinematographer’s branch of the Academy sometimes goes for a more obscure pick, and it’s often a foreign film. The Assassin has collected enough critics prizes to make me think it will be on voters’ radars, and while it’s definitely a longshot, I’m going out on a limb and guessing it turns up.

Predictions:
The Assassin – Mark Lee Ping Bin
Carol – Ed Lachman
Mad Max: Fury Road – John Seale
The Revenant – Emmanuel Lubezki
Sicario – Roger Deakins

Personal Picks:
Mad Max: Fury Road – John Seale
The Revenant – Emmanuel Lubezki
Sicario – Roger Deakins
Steve Jobs Alwin H. Küchler
Youth – Luca Bigazzi

BEST FILM EDITING
This category is closely associated with Best Picture, so some of the frontrunners are sure to appear here as well. However, the most obvious Editing nominee is Mad Max: Fury Road, even though its position here doesn’t necessarily reflect its Best Picture odds. It’s just a hell of a skillfully assembled movie. The Big Short moves between multiple storylines, and also uses a lot of rapid-fire imagery to convey its message, so expect a nomination for that. The Martian also shifts between different storylines, maintaining successful pacing throughout its running time, so I think it has a good chance too. As the current frontrunner for Best Picture, Spotlight would seem like a sure thing for Editing, but it was conspicuously absent from both the American Cinema Editors (ACE) and BAFTA nominees. That may be a bad sign, but given the history of connection between Picture and Editing, I can’t bet against Spotlight. ACE breaks things out into categories for Drama and Comedy, and The Big Short is named in the latter, where it feels like the only nominee that will also land with the Academy (it joins Ant-Man, Trainwreck, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and the only one I wouldn’t dismiss as a possibility, Joy. On the drama side, Fury Road and The Martian are up against The Revenant, Sicario and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. BAFTA threw Bridge of Spies into the mix as well. My guess is that Revenant, Sicario and Spies are fighting it out for the fifth spot, and I’m giving a slight edge to Sicario.

Predictions:
The Big Short – Hank Corwin
Mad Max: Fury Road – Margaret Sixel
The Martian – Pietro Scalia
Sicario – Joe Walker
Spotlight – Tom McArdle

Personal Picks:
Dope – Lee Haugen
Mad Max: Fury Road – Margaret Sixel
The Martian – Pietro Scalia
Sicario – Joe Walker
Spotlight – Tom McArdle

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Once again, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Martian are out in front. I’d be questioning the latter’s chances if “spaceship” movies didn’t do so well with the voters in this branch. Apollo 13, Gravity and Interstellar all picked up nominations here, so I’m guessing The Martian will follow suit, especially with the arid Mars exteriors lending color and character. While Gravity, Interstellar and The Martian are all technically science fiction, they portray realistic designs, as opposed to the more fantasy-based science fiction of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which could also find success here. Much of its design seems to take its cues from the earlier Star Wars movies, which might be a strike against it, and I don’t know if the category – which also favors period pieces – has room for both The Martian and Star Wars. But it very well might.

On the period side, Carol, Brooklyn and The Danish Girl seem the likeliest contenders, with Bridge of Spies also a strong possibility. The Art Directors Guild picks nominees across three categories – Contemporary, Period, and Fantasy – and still didn’t find room for Carol or Brooklyn, which came as a big surprise, though I think both are very much in the running for an Oscar nomination. Two additional strong contenders, bridging the gap between period and fantasy, are Cinderella and Crimson Peak. Also worthy of consideration is the excellent design of Ex Machina, but unfortunately films with contemporary settings – even ones like this that are not only uniquely stylish, but also serve the story quite organically –  are rarely given their due by designers. I’d love to be wrong in this case.

Predictions:
Bridge of Spies
Carol
The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian

Personal Picks:
Carol
Crimson Peak
Ex Machina
Inside Out
Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Costume designers, like their brethren in the Production Design branch, favor period pieces and, to a slightly lesser extent, fantasy.  So while Mad Max: Fury Road is a probable nominee, the frontrunners are Carol, Brooklyn and Cinderella. The Danish Girl is also a strong possibility, and Bridge of Spies, though more muted in color palette than the films that do best here, also has a shot. Trumbo and The Hateful Eight have decent odds, while Far From the Madding Crowd, Crimson Peak, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Martian could all find a way in. Two other films that deserve to be mentioned are the tongue-in-cheek 60’s spy adventure The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and the Will Smith-Margot Robbie con artist caper Focus. I’m sure neither earned any real consideration, falling outside the “prestige” purview, and in the case of Focus, being set in the present day. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. at least has the period setting in its favor, and maybe it will collect some votes, but not enough to get nominated.

Predictions:
Brooklyn
Carol
Cinderella
The Danish Girl
Mad Max: Fury Road

Personal Picks:
Brooklyn
Carol
Cinderella
Crimson Peak
Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Even with 74 eligible songs this year, the pickings are slim. Like…really slim. This list is comprised of lots of forgettable pop songs as well as tracks from movies you’ve never heard of. Vin Diesel’s promise of a Best Picture nomination for Furious 7 may not come true, but the unstoppable franchise may in fact land its first ever Oscar nomination, for the song “See You Again,” which serves as a farewell to the series’ late star, Paul Walker. In addition to that song, most of the critics groups that include a Best Song category have featured the same short list of titles: “Love Me Like You Do,” from Fifty Shades of Grey; “Simple Song #3,” from Youth; “Writing’s on the Wall,” from Spectre; and “‘Til it Happens to You,” from the documentary The Hunting Ground. There have also been a couple of mentions each for Shaun the Sheep Movie‘s “Feels Like Summer,” Pitch Perfect 2‘s “Flashlight” and Concussion‘s “So Long.” A number of critics groups nominated the Brian Wilson selection “One Kind of Love,” from Love & Mercy, but for reasons I’m not sure of, it didn’t qualify for Academy consideration…which is too bad. The lackluster category could have used the work of someone like Wilson.

I really have no idea what will happen here, and I’m not sure I care. The selections could all be from this pool of pop songs, or maybe something out of left field will impress the voters. It wouldn’t be the first time. The Wrap‘s Steve Pond once again listened to every eligible song and filed this report, but he doesn’t really offer predictions; just his own thoughts. If you’re interested in a bird’s-eye view of the contenders, it’s worth a read. I didn’t listen to most of these songs myself, but nothing I’ve heard this year has left much of an impression. Maybe there are some gems I didn’t hear.

Predictions:
See You Again – Furious 7
‘Til it Happens to You – The Hunting Ground
Feels Like Summer – Shaun the Sheep Movie
Writing’s on the Wall – Spectre
Simple Song #3 – Youth

Personal Picks:
Uhhh…..I like the new Adele stuff. Was any of that in a movie? Can we figure out a way to nominate David Bowie for something?

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Fortunately, one of the music categories offers some work this year worth getting excited about. Despite a typically large pool of qualifiers – 114 this year – the conversation has focused around a small-ish selection of likely nominees. Fresh off a Golden Globe win, legendary Italian maestro Ennio Morricone is gunning for his first competitive Oscar (he received an Honorary statuette in 2006) for The Hateful Eight, and I can’t imagine him not getting nominated for this terrific work. Another legend, John Williams, returned to sacred territory with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, to which I give 50/50 odds for a nomination. The popularity of the film and of Williams himself could be enough to get him a spot. Working against him? The score is good, but not great. He was nominated for each of the original three films, but none of the prequels, and the Force Awakens score is more on par with those later efforts.

Health issues prevented Williams from collaborating with Steven Spielberg on Bridge of Spies, making it only the second of the director’s 28 features since 1974 not to be scored by Williams. (Do you know the other? No Googling! And Twilight Zone: The Movie doesn’t count; Spielberg only directed one of that movie’s four segments.) Bridge of Spies was instead scored by Thomas Newman, who did nice work…though I preferred his score for Spectre. Newman, long overdue for an Oscar win, could be in the running again this year with either one. Another excellent composer who has never won – who has never even been nominated (not even for Fargo!?!) – is Carter Burwell, but he’s poised to finally join the club with his work on Carol. (He also won acclaim this year for Anomalisa.)

With The Danish Girl, last year’s winner – and a near-perennial at this point – Alexandre Desplat may collect his ninth nomination since 2006, and another of last year’s nominees, Jóhann Jóhannsson, could get cited for his moody, unsettling contributions to Sicario. That score might not make for the most enjoyable listening experience on its own, but works magnificently in the context of the movie. I generally favor scores that stand on their own as music you can listen to without the film, but what I favor has nothing to do with anything, and the Oscar for Best Original Score should first and foremost recognize music in service of its movie. Others this year that could land nominations for serving their movies well even if they might not be as compelling on their own include The Martian, by Harry Gregson-Williams, and Ex Machina, by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow.

Spotlight (Howard Shore), Brooklyn (Michael Brook), Inside Out (Michael Giacchino), Cinderella (Patrick Doyle) and Steve Jobs (Daniel Pemberton) are all serious contenders, but two scores that have done well in the precursor phase – Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant – will be sidelined. The Revenant was ruled ineligible, while Fury Road features the kind of thumping score – more rock than classical – which the music branch voters rarely favor. One last possibility that should be mentioned is The 33, a movie that isn’t otherwise on the Academy’s radar, but which features music by James Horner, the Oscar-winning composer of Titanic, among many other great scores. Horner died in a plane crash over the summer, and it’s possible his colleagues will want to honor him one last time.

Predictions:
Bridge of Spies – Thomas Newman
Carol – Carter Burwell
The Danish Girl – Alexandre Desplat
The Hateful Eight – Ennio Morricone
The Martian – Harry Gregson-Williams

Personal Picks:
Ex Machina – Ben Salisbury, Geoff Barrow
Far From the Madding Crowd – Craig Armstrong
The Hateful Eight – Ennio Morricone
Sicario – Jóhann Jóhannsson
Spotlight – Howard Shore

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
The Academy has already taken a fair amount of guesswork out of this category by narrowing it down to seven contenders, of which three will be nominated. The lucky finalists are Black Mass, Concussion, Legend, Mad Max: Fury Road, Mr. Holmes, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, and The Revenant.

If you’re anything like me, that list begs a few questions. Like, what the hell is the The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared? Or, are they retroactively talking about the 1985 Tom Cruise-Tim Curry fantasy Legend? Because what could they possibly be thinking about by including the Legend with Tom Hardy as twin gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray?

There are some unfortunate omissions from this shortlist that deserve a shot at the final three, including In the Heart of the Sea (this poor movie got the shaft in every way), Everest, Ex Machina, The Danish Girl, Trumbo, and maybe Avengers: Age of Ultron. But the seven finalists are generally a good lot. Seriously, though…Legend? Am I forgetting something from that movie?

Predictions:
Black Mass
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant

Personal Picks:
Same

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Like the Makeup and Hairstyling branch, the Visual Effects group goes through an organized process of elimination that began with a list of 20 films. That was narrowed down to 10, from which the final five will be selected. Our pool consists of Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ex Machina, Jurassic World, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Tomorrowland and The Walk. Last Saturday, members of the branch gathered at an Academy theater for presentations by each film’s visual effects supervisor, immediately after which they cast their ballots. (The Makeup and Hairstyling branch held a similar bake-off event the same day.)

It’s an impressive line-up this year. There’s not a film here that doesn’t feature really high-quality work, so it’s a tough call. The voters love to honor visual effects from Best Picture-caliber movies, so that bodes well for The Revenant and The Martian. The primary work in both The Walk and Ex Machina, while excellent, is somewhat limited in terms of how much it’s employed. Ex Machina‘s effects create the visible robotic portions of the AI character Ava, but those parts are often concealed by clothing. The Walk, meanwhile, has one truly spectacular sequence that lasts maybe 20 or 30 minutes, but beyond that it’s not an overtly effects-heavy movie. I’m also not sure if both The Walk and The Revenant will make it. Each employs visual effects on major, buzzed-about sequences – the former on the breathtaking walk between the two World Trade Center towers, the latter on the harrowing bear attack – and both with stellar results. I’m trying to figure which one has the edge, but maybe they’ll both make it and push a presumed nominee like Jurassic World or The Martian out of the final five. As Yoda once said, “Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.” No idea, he has. Predicting the Oscars he should try sometime, then talk to me he can.

Anyway, if you want an insider’s view, Variety‘s David S. Cohen was at the bake-off, and offered his take on the presentations and how they were received.

Predictions:
Jurassic World
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Walk

Personal Picks:
Ant-Man
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Walk

BEST SOUND EDITING AND SOUND MIXING
I feel like a broken record when I reach the Sound categories each year, because I always say the same things: the difference between the two categories, the wide array of films that could turn up, and how I think there should be a single sound category honoring overall Sound Design. So first, the two categories. In simplest terms, sound editors create and/or fix sounds that couldn’t be recorded during filming or were not usable, while sound mixers combine all the elements – dialogue, music, sound effects, etc. – into a balanced whole.

Second, the array of possibilities. The categories are usually dominated by action movies, so we could see things like Mad Max: Fury Road, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Jurassic World, Tomorrowland, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Spectre, or Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We could see dramas that have strong action-ish elements, like Sicario, The Revenant, Everest, In the Heart of the Sea, The Hateful Eight (Tarantino’s last two movies have been recognized) or Beasts of No Nation. We could see something with a heavy musical component, like Straight Outta Compton or Love & Mercy (which employs sound mixing to great effect by using it to bring us inside Brian Wilson’s troubled headspace). We could see an animated film, which requires extensive creation of sound elements (several Pixar movies have been nominated). And we could also see the odd, straight drama that doesn’t seem an obvious candidate for recognition in Sound, but apparently is, because, well, what do we know? Bridge of Spies seems a likely bet to fill that potential slot this year.

Sound Editing Predictions:
Inside Out
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Sound Mixing Predictions
Bridge of Spies
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Finally, in lieu of personal picks that I feel wholly unqualified to offer, I have my fantasy category of Best Sound Design, which I feel slightly less unqualified to offer. I’d go for Inside Out, Love & Mercy, Mad Max: Fury Road, Sicario, and The Revenant.

And that’s everything. Well…almost everything. As always, my sincere apologies to the Documentaries and Foreign Language films that I didn’t get around to seeing, as well as the short films that no one ever gets around to seeing until the nominees are announced and each category’s selections are released as a package…at which point I probably still won’t get around to seeing them, so advance apologies for that too.

It’s all in the hands of the movie gods now. The nominations will be revealed tomorrow morning, in two segments beginning at 5:30am PST. Ang Lee and Guillermo del Toro will announce 11 categories, followed by John Krasinski and Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs with the remaining 13, including all the above-the-line categories like Picture, Acting and Writing. Will you be waking up to watch the gig live?? I will be!! Because, if you hadn’t figured it out by now, I’m waaaay too into this shit. Pray for me…

 

 

March 1, 2014

Oscars 2013: My Annual Absurdly Long Predictions Opus

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 12:30 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Alright, now that we are finally done with all that Olympic nonsense (seriously couldn’t care less) we can get to the competition that matters. The Oscars are 29 hours away, so it’s time to lay my cards on the table. Normally I start with Best Picture and work my way down through the categories, but Best Picture has taken shape unconventionally this year, such that it might be better to start from the so-called “bottom” and work our way up. It will all make sense in the end, I promise. Let us begin, and remember: pace yourself and drink lots of water.

BEST DOCUMENTARY/ANIMATED/LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
As usual, I haven’t gotten around to seeing most of the shorts. Or documentaries. Or foreign language films. But even if I had seen the shorts, there are no past awards to study or readily detectable buzz that would shed any light on what might be the winner. Even informed viewers are flying blind in these categories, trying to guess what might appeal to Academy members. So for what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve gleaned from some of the pundits I follow. For Best Animated Short, most seem to be predicting Get a Horse!, the old-school-meets-new-school Mickey Mouse cartoon that starts out looking like a vintage piece before breaking the fourth wall, going 3D and mixing black and white with color. The fact that it played in front of a huge hit like Frozen only increases its chances. There’s also Mr. Hublot, which is getting mentioned as an alternate.

Best Live Action Short has the least consensus of the three. I think I’ve seen four of the five nominees picked as winners, but Helium and The Voorman Problem had slightly more mentions. And for Best Documentary Short, everyone seems to agree on The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life, which hits the sweet spot of focusing on a Holocaust survivor and the healing power of art. The subject of the movie, Alice Herz Sommers, passed away just last Sunday at age 110.

If you’d prefer to investigate these categories a little more thoroughly yourself, here’s some brief descriptions and analysis from In Contention for Animated Short, Live Action Short and Documentary Short.

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BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
I haven’t seen anyone predict a victory for Palestine’s Omar or Cambodia’s The Missing Picture. Most seem to think it will go to the Italian film The Great Beauty, while others are leaning toward The Hunt from Denmark or The Broken Circle Breakdown from Belgium. How’s that for helpful? Maybe this will be more useful.


BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

The only one I’ve seen is 20 Feet from Stardom, which focuses on the role backup singers have played throughout the history of rock and roll. As it happens, this one appears to be the favorite, a feel-good introduction to the (mostly) ladies who took great songs and made them greater. I mean, what would The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” be without that soaring backing track from Merry Clayton? The movie stands in contrast to more sobering fare, and although the serious stuff usually wins here, 20 Feet may be too toe-tappin’ to resist. If not, The Act of Killing has been a strong presence on the doc circuit. But I’d be watching out for The Square; it deals with the Arab Spring in Egypt, but I gather that there’s an unexpected feel-good component as it traces relationships between unlikely allies. Not sure if I’m correct about that or not, but if I am, it could bridge the gap for voters as sufficiently dramatic but not depressing. Once again, thoughts from In Contention if you’d like to know a little more.

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BEST SOUND MIXING & BEST SOUND EDITING

This year, the two sound categories have four common nominees: Gravity, Lone Survivor, Captain Phillips and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The lone wolf in the Mixing category is Inside Llewyn Davis, and of the two categories, Mixing is the one that more often nominates music-heavy movies. Indeed, last year’s winner was Les Misérables, which shares a key trait with Llewyn Davis: live singing. That may well have given it the edge in another year, but this year it faces the force of Gravity. On the Editing side, All is Lost stands as the unique nominee, and as a movie that features almost no dialogue, it relies ever more so on sound to transport the audience. It’s a strong slate of nominees across both categories, but as always, few people outside of the Sound branch have any real knowledge of the work that goes into sound design. So they will vote for the movie that they consider an all-around impressive technical achievement, or the one that is most prominent in the Best Picture race. This year those movies are one and the same. Chalk these two up for Gravity.

Personal: Not that I know any better than most of the voters, but I’d go with Gravity for both, with Inside Llewyn Davis and All is Lost as second choices.

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BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

“Academy Announces 9 Films That ‘Gravity’ Will Beat for the VFX Oscar.” That was the headline The Wrap ran in early December when the 10 movies that would contend for the five Best Visual Effects nominations were announced. In many categories, a lot has changed since early December. Not in this one. This is the night’s surest bet. And if you want to know why, just check out the video below. Everything in this movie is CGI…and all of it immaculately created. The earth, the sun, the stars, the spaceships, the stations, the debris, the light, the reflections….even the damn spacesuits were created by the visual effects artists. The only real things onscreen are Sandra Bullock’s star power and George Clooney’s million dollar smile.

Personal: Gravity. I mean, come on! Even the spacesuits!!!

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BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

I’ve said that this branch rightly judges the quality of the work and not the quality of the movie when it comes to choosing nominees, but once the decision moves to the full Academy, minds are less open. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa should be a real contender here, since the makeup that turned Johnny Knoxville into an old man had to fool real people in up close and personal interactions. But it’s hard to imagine enough members handing an Oscar to the Jackass franchise. Then there’s The Lone Ranger, which also seems like a choice most voters just won’t want to make, given the whipping the movie took. So the winner, perhaps by a degree of default, will probably be Dallas Buyers Club. And to be fair, the extent of the film’s makeup work is broader than I understood, and all accomplished on a shoestring budget of $250 for the entire film. That’s crazier than the idea of Jordan Catalano winning an Oscar. The work in Bad Grandpa is excellent, so perhaps voters will surprise us and put that ahead of all other considerations. But Dallas is the safer bet.

Personal: I don’t have a strong feeling one way or the other. I’d get a kick out of seeing Bad Grandpa rewarded, while the work on Dallas Buyers Club is much more involved than I thought. I’d be happy for either team.

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BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

The Book Thief and Saving Mr. Banks are the outliers here, with this being the only nomination that either film earned. Her has wonderful music, but lacks the distinct theme that might put it over the edge. Alexandre Desplat has his sixth nomination with Philomena, and he has yet to win. The movie is apparently a big hit with Academy members, and Desplat’s lovely score will probably collect a lot of votes. But I’m calling this one for Gravity. Although it, like Her, doesn’t have a hummable theme that could stick with voters, it’s such a key component of the Gravity experience. Steven Price’s music is big and stirring without being overbearing or manipulative. It’s powerful enough to convey the mysteries, danger and beauty of space, yet intimate enough to underscore the emotional journey of the characters. And when it swells during the movie’s final scenes, you feel it throughout your body. Philomena could surprise, but I think Gravity‘s got it.

Personal: Gravity, for all the reasons stated above.

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BEST ORIGINAL SONG

Oh boy. Strap in for this one, because before we even get to who the winner will be, there’s a hot mess to be explained. As discussed in my earlier piece after the nominations were announced, this category included an out-of-left-field nomination for the title song from a little-known Christian film called Alone Yet Not Alone. There was instant grumbling from other musicians behind eligible songs that didn’t get nominated, with some making bitter and disrespectful comments and calling into question the legitimacy of its eligibility. Some of the concerns focused on the fact that the song’s co-writer Bruce Broughton was a former Governor of the music branch who did minor campaigning on the song’s behalf by personally contacting some members of the branch and asking them to make sure they listened to the song and gave it a fair shot amidst some higher profile competition. I wrote in that piece that the Academy upheld the nomination, and that the song was here to stay.

Two days later, the Academy rescinded the nomination.

It was a bold and rare move. According to Entertainment Weekly, there have only been five cases prior to this one when a nomination has been stripped. The Hollywood Reporter cites some additional examples, though the Academy might not consider all of them to be accurate. (The EW list has been confirmed by the Academy.) Whichever list is correct, the situation is still uncommon, and may be unique in only one way: this appears to be the first case on record where a nomination has been withdrawn due to improper conduct on the part of the nominee.

The organization’s Board of Governors felt that Broughton’s personal communication to fellow members constituted a violation of the voting process. Broughton was vocal in his disappointment. In addition to the comment in the previous link, he posted a message on his Facebook page that night (as did his wife), and gave an interview the next day to a music site called Sibelius Blog, in which he discussed his involvement with the movie and his work on the song before talking about the revoked nomination. After a few days during which this bizarre turn of events dominated the entertainment news headlines, the Academy issued an additional statement explaining more specifically why it considered Broughton’s actions unethical, pointing out that the voting materials sent to members of the music branch deliberately refrain from mentioning the songwriters, so that voters are basing their decision purely on the song itself, without any personal relationship to the artists coming into play. Their position was that by pointing voters toward his own track, Broughton removed that veil of anonymity, providing an unfair advantage. Other songs may have been campaigned more expensively or aggressively, but such campaigns were also more general and didn’t include the inside knowledge to which Broughton had access as a member of the music branch. Broughton responded with a letter to the Academy that called into question the phrasing of the voting instructions given to members of the branch, as well as asking why his actions were deemed inappropriate even though Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, while serving as an Academy governor, had been allowed to work on award campaigns for movies like The Artist and The King’s Speech (both of which won Best Picture). Many people inside the Academy and outside of it (mostly religious audience members to whom Alone Yet Not Alone was targeted) expressed anger at the decision and lobbied for the song’s nomination to be reinstated, but to no avail.

As if all of this wasn’t ugly enough, Oscar-winning producer Gerald Molen chimed in with an accusation that the Academy’s gesture was one of anti-Christian bigotry. Oh please. There’s some bullshit at play in this debacle, no doubt, but anti-religious sentiment is not part of it. Last year, Molen accused the Academy of a liberal bias because a documentary he produced — the largely derided propaganda piece 2016: Obama’s America, which was a big hit with the Fox News crowd — failed to land a nomination for Best Documentary Feature. I guess he couldn’t imagine that maybe the voters just didn’t think his movie was one of the five best the field had to offer. He was the sore loser in that case, and now he’s on the other side of the fence, defending a nomination that was criticized by those who failed to make the cut.

This whole episode was unfortunate, and it’s the Academy that came out looking bad. The Music branch has taken a lot of heat over the past few years for poor policies and bad decisions, but this is one situation that shouldn’t be attributed to them, since the Board of Governors made the call. It’s not like this was the first time an Oscar nomination was awarded to a little-known film that had observers saying, “Huh?” In 2009, an obscure animated film out of Ireland called The Secret of Kells cracked the Best Animated Feature category, where it competed against better known films like Up, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog and Coraline.  One of the three Makeup nominees the same year was an Italian biopic called Il Divo that was on exactly nobody’s radar. And still in ’09, right here in the Song category, a tune from a French film called Paris 36 — not one of the year’s big crossover foreign language films — was among the nominees. Last year’s song nominee “Before My Time” from the documentary Chasing Ice wasn’t exactly hot on the Billboard charts, and not many people were familiar with the 2004 French film The Chorus when it spawned a nominated song in that year’s race. So the recognition for “Alone Yet Not Alone” is not unprecedented.

Broughton probably should not have reached out directly to members of his own branch to advocate a song he had worked on, nor provided the track’s number on the list of songs so that members could identify it when the Academy’s procedure is clearly designed to withhold that kind of information. But given the widespread, aggressive and varied maneuvers so often used to net an Oscar nomination (or win), Broughton’s actions seem minor. It’s not like we’re talking intimidation tactics here! The only reasonable point made by Gerald Molen in his criticism of the revoked nomination is that personal campaigning happens all the time, and has for years. As one Academy member said to In Contention‘s Kris Tapley, “They should start coming after all of us. They should look at everyone and not just wait for someone to forward them an email from a guy who said ‘listen to my song.’ It seems really punitive and over the top.” Agreed. Penalizing Broughton and his little song from his little movie without applying the same standards across the board is a disingenuous move. By ironic coincidence, earlier in the day that the song’s nomination was stripped, Vulture ran a story detailing Harvey Weinstein’s history of zealously campaigning his movies for Oscar glory. In a system where his approach is permissible, does Broughton really deserve to be the poster boy for this issue?

What comes across much more clearly than wrongdoing on Broughton’s part is that a bunch of anonymous people whose songs didn’t get nominated decided to raise a stink, and the Academy caved. All of the suspicion around the nomination was about how a song from such an outside-the-mainstream movie could crack the final five, as if the fact that it wasn’t sung by a Grammy winning pop star for a big-budget studio movie should be held against it. There may well be a need to reform the eligibility rules for the Best Song category, but in the meantime all songs that are deemed eligible deserve equal consideration, and that’s what the category’s voting process attempts to offer. The Academy may say that the nomination was revoked because Broughton abused his position, but what I see is the Academy giving credence to those who whine and complain when they don’t get nominated instead of accepting it and moving on like adults.
The day the Academy released their second statement about the repealed nomination, Isaacs also spoke to The Hollywood Reporter, dismissing Molen’s claims and detailing why Broughton’s actions were different from other forms of campaigning that have been allowed in the past. There’s been no response from her or the Academy about Broughton’s point that Isaacs worked on Oscar campaigns while serving as an Academy governor, which strikes me as a fair question. In fact, all has been quiet since the beginning of February. Fair or not, the Academy’s decision stands and the Best Original Song category is down to four nominees, as a replacement selection was not named. I don’t even think the song should have been nominated in the first place…but because I thought there were  a number of worthier options, not because I suspected malfeasance. All in all, this is an embarrassing episode, and a regrettable one to befall Isaacs, the Academy’s first female president, in her freshman term. Perhaps the debacle will be a learning moment for the Academy to make some policy and structural changes, as suggested by Variety. But I doubt it.
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So…what were we talking about? Oh right…who is going to win the Oscar for Best Original Song. While “The Moon Song” from Her and “Happy” from Despicable Me 2 will both have their fans, and even though the latter just hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, this one comes down to U2’s “Ordinary Love” from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and “Let it Go” from Frozen. The former may seem like standard U2 fare, and maybe it is, but it’s also well-known to be particularly meaningful and personal to Bono and the boys, who had a close relationship with Nelson Mandela and were speaking out against Apartheid even in the band’s early days. A vote for them would in a small way honor the incredible work they’ve done over the years for human rights, and also in a small way pay tribute to Mandela himself, who died in December shortly after the movie opened. U2’s last nomination was in 2002 for “The Hands That Built America” from Gangs of New York. They were widely expected to win, but the voters shocked us all by making the bolder decision to honor Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” That was the right thing to do, but I would still like to see U2 win an Oscar.
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Still, despite the many factors that would make this the right song for which to honor U2, they are likely to be defeated by the juggernaut that is “Let it Go.” The song is a certifiable, unstoppable monster of a smash hit, the joy and delight of singing children everywhere. Like…everywhere, as demonstrated in this video depicting it in 25 different languages. Every voter probably has a child, grandchild, niece, nephew, sibling or somebody in their life that is keeping this song ringing in their ears. It is inescapable, and even if it’s not your thing, you can’t deny the power of Idina Menzel’s vocal.
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So while there’s a chance that admiration and a sense of honoring Nelson Mandela’s legacy could lift “Ordinary Love” to victory, the cultural permeation of Frozen and “Let it Go” makes it the likely winner.

Personal: “The Moon Song.” This delicate gem has been stuck in my head for a while now, and it beautifully captures the mood of the film. Both the performances by Scarlett Johansson and Karen O are fragile, their voices cracking in a way that nails the emotional simplicity of this lovely love song. I’d be happy to see U2 win, but this is my favorite song of the group.

Also, I have to say — at the risk of alienating the sizable 3-to-9 year old segment of my readership — I thought the songs in Frozen were unremarkable. And it’s not just because I’m not a little kid. I’m as down for a good Disney musical as anyone, and it’s not unheard of that I might be walking around my apartment singing Menken-Ashman showstoppers like “Under the Sea,” “Be Our Guest” or “Friend Like Me.” That’s right: I’m a 37 year-old childless, heterosexual male who likes Disney musicals. Deal with the paradox. But I found the songs in Frozen bland and forgettable. I had hoped for more from them, given that they were co-written by a lyricist behind Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon, but I guess that the subversive mind behind such tunes as “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “Super Mormon Hell Dream” would have to switch gears a bit for Disney. All that said, there’s a reason “Let it Go” is the nominee. It’s easily the movie’s best song, and the only one that deserves a place in the canon of classic Disney music. But I’d rather see the tune from Her win.

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BEST COSTUME DESIGN

The intricate period garb of The Invisible Woman is probably most consistent with the Academy’s past choices in this category, but I suspect that the movie is too far down the radar for most voters. On the other hand, confinement to the art houses didn’t prevent 2008’s The Duchess or 2009’s The Young Victoria from winning this prize. Still, I think both of those movies had slightly higher profiles than this one, which was never able to break through the cluttered year-end field despite strong reviews and the presence of Ralph Fiennes as star and director.

If we also rule out 12 Years a Slave and The Grandmaster, we’re left with The Great Gatsby and American Hustle. It’s a really tough call. Again, the voters tend to go for the more elaborate and pretty costumes, which is great for Gatsby. But that movie is far less popular than American Hustle, whose designers have been praised for capturing the film’s disco days with precise detail. With excellent reasons to justify either victory, I’m basing my guess on past behavior and giving the edge to The Great Gatsby. But Hustle‘s odds are just as good…and The Invisible Woman could still surprise.

Personal: The Great Gatsby. There are some nice items in American Hustle, mainly the outfits worn by Amy Adams. I won’t soon forget that white macramé bathing suit. But the lavish, exquisite styles of Gatsby are on a whole other level.

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BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

I understand the costumes for American Hustle getting nominated; I’m a little puzzled by the production design being singled out. Yes, the period is rendered exactingly, but the same could be said for a lot of movies. There were more interesting choices to be made here, and I’d be surprised if the Academy’s appreciation of the movie helps it here. 12 Years a Slave is probably too drab to win; the voters like more splendor and beauty in this category. Then again, Lincoln took the award last year, so there are always exceptions to the rule.

The remaining choices are The Great Gatsby, Her and Gravity. The latter also lacks the color and opulence that tends to stand out in this race, but if voters are just mechanically choosing the movie in all the so-called “technical” categories, then it has a chance. Gatsby and Her stand in a bit of opposition to one another. Gatsby‘s work is big, extravagant, showy. Her‘s is subdued, intimate, subtle. Voters traditionally prefer extravagant and showy, so I’m guessing Gatsby. But if people find it to be over the top, Her and even Gravity are waiting in the wings.

Personal: I have to go with Her. Gatsby looks great, but Her presents such a beautiful and unique near-future with a warm color scheme that so nicely compliments every other aspect of the movie from the visual to the emotional. Extra points for creation of the cityscape, incorporating footage shot in Shanghai to create an enhanced Los Angeles.

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BEST FILM EDITING

Pundits always claim that this category usually goes hand in hand with Best Picture, but I’m not sure when or how that idea took root, since the two categories have aligned only 34 times in the 79 years that the Editing award has existed. In a year with a tight Best Picture race, many will be looking at this category to give an indication of which way the scales are tipped. I’m not so sure.

Dallas Buyers Club is the only nominee I can say with certainty is out of the running. I don’t think 12 Years a Slave will take it either. That leaves Captain Phillips, American Hustle and Gravity. The former two took the gold from the American Cinema Editors guild, where there were categories for drama and musical/comedy. In recent years, one of the guild’s winners has usually gone on to take the Oscar. But I think Gravity will be the Academy’s pick. It’s heavy use of long takes makes for less editing than any of the competition, which in a way might make the decisions around where to cut seem all the more crucial. The fact is that like most of us, the majority of Academy members don’t really understand what goes into this work. They’ll pick the movie that feels the most effectively edited. That could definitely be Captain Phillips, but I think it will be Gravity.

Personal: Gravity. I don’t know better than any layman, but it’s said that the best editing is invisible. Gravity embodies that more than any of this year’s nominees.

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BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Like Best Visual Effects, this award seems to be one of the night’s easiest calls. With all respect to The Grandmaster, Prisoners, Inside Llewyn Davis and Nebraska — all gorgeously photographed — it’s gotta be Gravity. Though much of the movie’s photography had to be accomplished via VFX, Emmanuel Lubezki still designed the shots as he would for any film and worked closely with the VFX artists to implement his vision. The movie features some stunning long takes, including its already legendary opening shot which runs for…17 minutes? 13 minutes? I’ve read both, and since I was too enthralled even upon my second viewing of the movie to clock it myself, I’ll go with Kris Tapley’s 13; he’s a guy who really pays attention and respect to cinematography. (Check out his excellent annual feature spotlighting the Top 10 Shots of the Year. I stole a couple of pictures here from that post.) 13 or 17…either way, it’s a goddamn glorious shot. Just one of many.

Lubezki has been in this position before, going in as the favorite to win the Oscar in 2006 for Cuarón’s previous film Children of Men, and again in 2011 for The Tree of Life. He won the American Society of Cinematographers prize for both of those, and both times walked away from the Oscars empty-handed. He took the ASC prize this year as well, which is notable because the guild has been resistant to 3D. Gravity is the first 3D movie they’ve feted, which only adds to the likelihood that the stars — and the satellites — have finally aligned for Lubezki’s overdue Oscar win. The right movie, the right year. As for Roger Deakins, still awaiting his first win as Prisoners marks his 11th nomination, well, he’ll definitely be back sooner than later.

Interesting sidebar: assuming Gravity wins Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects, it will be the fifth movie in a row to do so, after Life of Pi, Hugo, Inception and Avatar. Never mind that Pi, Hugo and Avatar should not have won for Cinematography (though I did support Avatar at the time), nor should Hugo have won for VFX. What’s done is done, and it signals a growing connection between the two crafts, as well as a dangerous endorsement of 3D, which was showcased by all but Inception. (I say dangerous because outside of IMAX nature documentaries and the like, 3D has proven to be an exploitative gimmick that as far as I’m concerned has been justified only twice since Avatar: Gravity and the opening credits sequence of Oz the Great and Powerful. Seeing it win Oscars is not helping put an end to its unwelcome invasion.)

As the lines blur more frequently between cinematography, visual effects and even production design, many people within the industry have suggested that the Academy divide the cinematography category into two, just as they once did to award films shot in black and white vs. those shot in color. Here, the idea would be one category for films with a heavy CGI component, and one for films shot more traditionally, in natural environments. It’s an issue the Academy is aware of, with former president Hawk Koch suggesting that such a potential category could be called Visual Imaging. This may be a change worth making somewhere down the line, but I don’t think we’re there yet, for the same reason there shouldn’t be a category for performance capture acting, as people have been suggesting in recent years. The fact is that these things still aren’t happening regularly enough and to such an extreme degree — like Gravity — that five worthy contenders could be identified each year. There might be one or two dominant films, but the rest of the nominees would be filler. Even the illustrious Mr. Deakins thinks a divided category would just result in a whole other set of complications. This year, the Visual Effects Society presented an award for Best Virtual Cinematography in a Live Action Feature, which was of course awarded to Gravity. Lubezki was a winner along with three members of the visual effects team, but none of the other four nominated films — Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, Pacific Rim and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug — cited the cinematographer, because ultimately the line between camerawork and effects for the films as a whole was more traditionally divided. That may cease to be the case someday, and projects like Gravity may happen more often. In the meantime, maybe the Academy and the studios could figure out ways each year to make sure voters understand what constitutes cinematography and what constitutes visual effects in these “hybrid” films.

Anyway, that’s all just food for thought. Right now, whatever it signals for the future, Gravity has this in the bag.

Personal: Gravity all the way.

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BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

A pretty weak category this year. The Croods and Despicable Me 2 have their admirers, but not enough of them, despite efforts on the part of DreamWorks Animation to give The Croods a push with some swanky events in late January. Ernest & Celestine, the sole nominee of the group I haven’t seen, is said to be wonderful and charming, but poses no threat. The Wind Rises won a decent number of critics awards, but even a thoughtful alternative such as that won’t be able to ice out the phenomenon that is Frozen. Disney kept their beloved hit on voters’ minds with some gatherings of their own, most notably an intimate concert with performances from the film’s cast. A nice event I’m sure, but they needn’t have bothered. Frozen is way ahead of the pack in this race.

Personal: The Wind Rises. It’s the most original and ambitious film of the bunch, and it is so refreshing to see an animation master like Hayao Miyazaki show that the medium can be used to tell mature stories. As great an age for animated films as this is, most of them still cater to kids and families. Miyazaki and The Wind Rises offer a reminder that animation can be targeted at adults. Oh well…Miyazaki may not win, but he was honored in January by The Simpsons, and really…isn’t that even better than an Oscar?

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BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

It’s too bad that Before Midnight doesn’t have more muscle in this race, but it’s basically sitting on the bench. The Wolf of Wall Street will prove too divisive, so it’s out as well. Captain Phillips took the prize from the Writers Guild, but didn’t have to contend with 12 Years a Slave or Philomena, both of which were ineligible. While it may not be able to overcome the momentum of the frontrunners in its other three categories, Philomena could have more luck here. Like last year’s winner Argo, it successfully weaves a lot of humor into a movie that depicts serious and even tragic events. Apparently it is loved by many Academy members, and this could be the place they show their admiration. It won the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) prize, which can sometimes be a barometer for the Oscars, but it’s hard to know. It might have had a hometown advantage of sorts. Harvey Weinstein has done plenty to keep the movie in the spotlight, sending co-writer/star Steve Coogan and the real Philomena Lee on a slew of publicity stops. The pair even met with Pope Francis to advocate for the release of 60,000 adoption files still being kept from families in situations like the one Philomena endured. This race could go either way, but I think the sheer power of 12 Years a Slave will be hard to ignore. Whether voters are going by the effectiveness of the storytelling, the weight of the real-life events depicted or some combination of both, 12 Years stands tallest.

Personal: Before Midnight or 12 Years a Slave. The former, like its predecessors, offers such an honest, intimate and unconventional portrait of a relationship, and it would be nice to see Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke recognized for this special series of films. And John Ridley’s adaptation of Solomon Northrup’s memoir about his time in bondage is direct and raw, never going for manipulation.

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BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

The nomination for Dallas Buyers Club demonstrates how much the movie resonated with Academy members, but it won’t win here. Neither will Nebraska or Blue Jasmine, both of which are liked, but neither of which have the special sauce it takes to win. So it boils down to Her and American Hustle. Her would appear to be the frontrunner, having dominated the critics awards, and taken home the Golden Globe and the Writers Guild Award. There’s no doubt that it’s the most original of the nominees, but of course as I often say, the category isn’t necessarily recognizing work that is original in that way. There are two obstacles in its path. First, there are a lot of Academy members — especially older ones — who just don’t get the movie. There were enough passionate supporters to secure it a Best Picture nomination, and it obviously had a decent amount of support within individual branches, but now with the whole Academy voting, those who think the movie is too weird could hold it back. Second, this may be the best chance that American Hustle‘s supporters have to give it a major win. There are two other categories we’ll get to where it stands a chance, but I don’t think it will triumph in either. Its odds are better here. Between Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter, voters are enamored with David O. Russell, so they may feel the time has come to recognize him. Hustle took the BAFTA, but Her wasn’t nominated.

Either outcome seems 100% viable to me. My gut tells me that Hustle will pull it off, but my heart says that Her‘s originality can’t be denied. I may flip-flop when the moment of truth comes and I have to check my ballot, but I’m going with Her.

Personal: I too would love to see David O. Russell win an Oscar, but not for the American Hustle screenplay, which I found to be the source of the movie’s flaws. There is only one truly original work here that is original not just in the way the category is meant to be interpreted — that is, work that is not based on previously existing material — but also in its entire premise and execution. That would be Her.

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

We can start by eliminating Julia Roberts and Blue Jasmine‘s Sally Hawkins. They did good work, but their journey ends with the nomination. June Squibb has minor spoiler potential for her laugh-out-loud work in Nebraska, but although she’s a comic force of nature in that film, she’s up against even stronger forces. Not that she doesn’t make a compelling case for herself…

Barring Squibb’s guilt trip, the winner is expected to be either Jennifer Lawrence or Lupita Nyong’o, whose name — in case this is an issue for anyone — sounds like neon-go. Academy members have been vocal in their adoration of Lawrence’s performance, and it could be said that hers is the more “entertaining” of the two. She’s also the only member of Hustle‘s nominated quartet that seems to have a chance. Lawrence won the Golden Globe and the BAFTA, while Nyong’o took the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) award and the Broadcast Film Critics Award (BFCA). The timing of the BAFTA — those awards were handed out February 16, two days after Oscar voting began — is often seen as an indication of where winds might be shifting, so some pundits are no doubt reading Lawrence’s victory as a sign that she’s pulling ahead. That may be, but consider that she was not awarded the BAFTA for Best Actress last year for Silver Linings Playbook. She lost to Amour‘s Emmanuel Riva before going on to pick up the Oscar. So BAFTA was a bit late to the Jennifer Lawrence bandwagon, and may have wanted to jump onboard. Her Oscar win last year is another big obstacle. As loved as she is — and she really, really is — are voters prepared to hand her a second consecutive Academy Award? Back-to-back wins certainly happen, but not often. She would be only the third actress to do it, and the youngest actress to ever win two Oscars.

In Nyong’o’s favor is not just that she gives a wrenching performance in a powerful film, but that her character is so horribly victimized. I assure you that many of the votes Nyong’o will receive will be given to her as much if not more so because of what the character goes through as for the skill of her portrayal. Among the outside factors that will help her case are the grace and eloquence she’s expressed throughout the many Q&A’s she has participated in and on stage when accepting prior awards. This is, after all, her first film. She’s fresh out of drama school, and being thrust into the blinding spotlight can be overwhelming and surreal. Yet she’s handled it with the poise of a pro and the overwhelming gratitude of one who’s been warmly welcomed to the club. Her personal narrative is an asset. On top of that, this category loves to recognize ingenues. It’s amusing that at 23, Lawrence is the old pro here, but she is.

So…while the virulent strain of Jennifer Lawrence Fever that has cloaked this country for the past two years remains strong enough to lift her to her second Oscar in a row, I think Lupita Nyong’o is, if not the antidote, than at least a temporary break in the state of delirium.

Personal: June Squibb. I’ll be thrilled for Nyong’o if she wins, but I thought she needed a little more screentime to justify an Oscar win. She is excellent, but I didn’t feel she had enough to do, and I’m not convinced she would be dominating the field as she has if not for the brutality suffered by Patsey. Squibb’s performance may not be the most challenging of the bunch, but hers was the definition of great supporting work, and I relished every moment she was onscreen.

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BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

This outcome has seemed pretty set in stone for a couple of months now. Jared Leto cleaned up with the national and regional critics associations, and took the Golden Globe, the BFCA and SAG awards. He missed out on the BAFTA, but wasn’t nominated, so winning would have been a feat. (It went to Barkhad Abdi.) Surprises could always happen, but I don’t imagine Bradley Cooper, Jonah Hill or Michael Fassbender would emerge victorious at this late stage. Abdi is the most likely threat, but at the end of the day, voters are too deeply moved by Leto’s inhabiting of Rayon.

Not that he needs any help at this point, but Leto might earn extra points for his tactful handling of a heckler at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, who interrupted a celebration of Leto’s work by shouting out that heterosexual actors shouldn’t play gay and transgender characters. Leto engaged with the audience member briefly, then invited her to come backstage after the event to continue the conversation. Between the performance and his admirable offscreen behavior, Leto should be sitting pretty.

Personal: Bradley Cooper’s was probably my favorite performance, and a win for Barkhad Abdi would be pretty sweet too. Leto was excellent, and I’ll have no problem with him getting it. But I feel the same way as I do about Nyong’o: the movie needed more of him to warrant an Oscar win.

On a side note, I’d like to throw a request into the ether and see if it makes its way to the show producers, regarding the clips that will be shown for each of the performers. Barkhad Abdi gives a wonderful performance throughout Captain Phillips; so good, he got an Oscar nomination! So when it comes time to show a small sample of his work, please distinguish yourself from every award show up to this point by choosing a clip other than the one where he says, “Look at me! I’m the captain now.” That’s not his only line. Thank you.

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BEST ACTRESS

When Blue Jasmine hit theaters last July, Cate Blanchett was declared the one to beat for Best Actress. Little has changed. Meryl Streep, Judi Dench and Sandra Bullock are just along for the ride on this one. Amy Adams, celebrating her fifth nomination and her first in the lead actress category, is the only threat Blanchett faces, and the threat is minimal. Her performance has been lauded enthusiastically by voters, and she has definitely gained ground, but Blanchett, armed with the SAG, BFCA and BAFTA awards, a Golden Globe (she won in the Drama category, while Adams took the Musical/Comedy prize), and over 20 critics awards, will be nearly impossible to beat.

The one chink in her armor is the reignited scandal about Woody Allen, sparked when his estranged daughter Dylan published an op-ed in The New York Times detailing her claims of abuse, and mentioning actors from Allen’s films — including Blanchett — in her effort to question the ongoing devotion showered upon him by the film industry. It didn’t take long for people to wonder aloud what the situation would do to Blanchett’s chances. It may have been a crass question to ask, but it does mean something; all manner of outside factors like this one absolutely impact the race whether they should or not. As I followed the media storm over the next several days, I considered writing about it here, but decided that it’s a can of worms I’m better off not opening. When she was questioned about it, Blanchett gave a brief answer clarifying that it was a difficult matter for their family. (Figures it was entertainment/Oscar writer Jeffrey Wells who asked the question. That guy is such a douche.)

The one award she publicly accepted after the scandal reared its head again was the BAFTA, and Blanchett shrewdly avoided the controversy by not thanking anybody specifically, instead offering a general thanks to everyone who made the Blue Jasmine experience so special and memorable for her. She devoted the bulk of her speech to saluting Philip Seymour Hoffman. Heartfelt sentiments no doubt, but you can bet it was also a calculated effort to avoid invoking Allen while there’s so much heat on him, and unfairly on her. I’m sure she did lose some votes from people who can’t stomach honoring Allen’s work in any way, but most Academy members who have spoken about it say that none of it has anything to do with Blanchett. When she wins the Oscar, it will be hard to avoid his name, but we’ll see. Blanchett is a class act; I’m sure she’ll handle it gracefully.

Personal: Cate Blanchett. One of the best, at her exceptional best.

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BEST ACTOR

Of the four acting nominations, this one is probably the least settled. Momentum is with Matthew McConaughey, but I wouldn’t call him a slam dunk. Leonardo DiCaprio has a lot of supporters declaring this the time to finally recognize him, and it is interesting that the “it’s his/her time” sentiment that so often factors into these awards (think recent examples like Jeff Bridges and Kate Winslet) is with McConaughey rather than DiCaprio, who has consistently been one of the finest actors out there, nailing his roles every time out of the gate. This nomination is only his fourth, but there are definitely a few other times he deserved to be in the running. McConaughey, meanwhile, is in the midst of a remarkable career turnaround that has seen him forsake the generic romantic comedies and bland studio dramas and adventures which were keeping him busy in favor of smaller, more exciting character driven pieces with notable directors. The McConaissance, as it has been brilliantly dubbed, is in full swing, and the only reason I can’t say that it peaks with Dallas Buyers Club is that he may still be on the climb. So it’s intriguing that the “it’s his time” narrative that might have benefitted DiCaprio sits instead with McConaughey on the sheer concentration of great work in such a short period.

It’s also not out of the question that Chiwetel Ejiofor could pull this out. The 12 Years a Slave star was the clear frontrunner during the first half of awards season, when the critics awards were the source of all the buzz. Then McConaughey won the Golden Globe for Drama, then the BFCA award, then the SAG trophy. (DiCaprio took the Golden Globe for Musical/Comedy.) Ejiofor rebounded with the BAFTA win, but McConaughey wasn’t nominated by the Brits. Ejiofor is a respected actor who has been doing sturdy work for years now (he made his big screen debut opposite McConaughey in Amistad), and has earned rapturous praise for his performance of Solomon Northrup. A win for him does not seem so impossible.

The buzz seems to be around these three, leaving Bruce Dern and Christian Bale on the sidelines. Dern has worked the campaign circuit like an animal and regaled Q&A audiences and various gatherings of voters with great stories of his many years in Hollywood. He has friends and admirers throughout the Academy, but the nomination and the part itself will have to be his reward.

So Ejiofor is still in the game, and DiCaprio is closing the gap, but McConaughey is still out in front. Dallas Buyers Club has bowled over voters, and his enthusiastic speeches at other award ceremonies have charmed. His SAG speech, in particular, was a gas. It might have seemed strange and rambling, but was actually a giddy and joyous expression of excitement about the adventures that actors get to go on, and those in the room seemed to know exactly what he was talking about. (The video quality in that link isn’t great, but for some reason SAG’s official video cuts off after about a minute.) And there’s one other important thing working in McConaughey’s favor: True Detective. The terrific series debuted a few days before the nominations were announced, providing Academy members who have HBO — which I’m sure is an awful lot of them — with a weekly reminder of his talent. The actor is simply killing it on that show, and will need additional shelf space for the awards he may start winning come this September’s Emmys. If voters are torn over who to vote for, a look at True Detective might tip the scales for McConaughey.

Personal: I have to go with McConaughey. These are all outstanding performances and I’d be happy to see any of them take the stage. There are all kinds of ways to judge these things, but in this case, McConaughey was the one who most successfully made me forget about the actor and see only the character…which especially impressed me since he still had his Texas twang and southern charm (as much as a homophobic profiteer can be charming, at least). I suppose Bale did that for me too, but I don’t know…there’s an electricity to McConaughey’s work that sets it apart. Ejiofor is a close second. It’s a restrained, internalized performance but he conveys so much intelligence and emotion. And when he finally breaks down, it’s just devastating.

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BEST DIRECTOR

This one is pretty much decided. Gravity is a groundbreaking achievement that was dependent on non-existent technology to produce. So like George Lucas and James Cameron before him, Alfonso Cuarón invented the technology. Not single-handedly of course, but he brought together the right people, conveyed his vision, saw it through over four-and-a-half years and delivered an experience that demanded people get off the couch and go out to the theater. Even those who find the movie too thin and lacking substance are awed by the directorial accomplishment. He already has the Golden Globe and awards from the BFCA, BAFTA, and most telling, the Directors Guild of America. If anyone can beat him, it’s Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave, but that would be a shock at this juncture. David O. Russell, Alexander Payne and Martin Scorsese are earthbound this year. The night belongs to Alfonso Cuarón.

Personal: Alfonso Cuarón. His achievement is on a whole other level, even if — as he told the crowd at the DGA ceremony — “I barely understand how we made the film.”

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BEST PICTURE

So why did I want to leave this category for last instead of kicking off with it as usual? Because I believe something fairly unique is about to happen. I’ve predicted Gravity to triumph in seven races so far, and even if it doesn’t get all of them, it will get most. I don’t think there’s any question it will emerge with the most wins of the night. And usually, the film that wins the most awards claims Best Picture among its tally. I don’t think that will happen this year.

We can eliminate most of the competition, as the category is seen as coming down to three movies: Gravity, 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle. Some might also think Philomena stands a chance, but they’re kidding themselves. Hustle is clearly loved by the Academy, co-leading the field alongside Gravity with 10 nominations including one in each acting category. When it took the SAG top prize for Best Performance by an Ensemble, pundits exclaimed that its Best Picture chances were suddenly elevated. Don’t be fooled. Time and again people try to equate SAG’s top award with the Academy’s, and the two simply don’t correlate. Yes, sometimes they go to the same movie, but for different reasons, judged on different criteria. While 12 Years a Slave features a line-up of terrific performances, Hustle‘s are a lot more fun, and pop off the screen with the kind of electricity that befits that movie. Hustle is seen as more of an acting showcase than 12 Years, and that’s why it won the Ensemble award from SAG.

Which brings us back to Gravity and 12 Years. The Producers Guild of America awards were expected to clarify the field, but the two movies tied…the odds of which are incredibly unlikely. The PGA awards use the same preferential system of voting that the Academy uses for Best Picture (though not for any of the other categories), hence the expectation that the Oscar win might be signaled by the PGA winner. No such luck this time around. In past years, I’ve linked to detailed write-ups by The Wrap‘s Steve Pond about how the preferential ballot works, but this year he recorded a succinct, helpful video.

Another tie is unlikely, so with Gravity‘s likelihood of winning 5 to 7 awards, including Best Director, it appears to have the edge. But I’m expecting Best Picture will go to 12 Years a Slave.

It’s not exactly crazy talk. We’ve watched throughout the awards season — at the Golden Globes and the BFCA and BAFTA awards — as 12 Years has lost in most or even all of its categories throughout the night, but still come out with the top prize. What 12 Years has going for it, as Best Picture winners so often do, is a sense of importance. At the very end of this piece from Vulture, published the day of the nominations, the writer points out that Academy members “don’t pick the film they think is best, they pick the film they think will best represent them.” I recall Siskel & Ebert talking about the Oscars years ago, and they said that the Academy tends to make the mistake that to vote for a movie is to endorse its message. Siskel pointed to Gandhi as an example. While he acknowledged that it was a very good film to which he gave a positive review, he said the movie with the enduring cultural impact, and in his mind the better movie, was Tootsie. I would add E.T. Still others would point to The Verdict. It’s not that Gandhi isn’t a good film, but by naming it Best Picture, voters got to celebrate what the movie, and the man himself, stood for.

I’m not calling this year’s race a repeat of 1982’s, because I do think 12 Years a Slave is a remarkable movie that would be a deserving Best Picture winner purely on its artistic merits. But it’s not easy to consider it purely for artistic merits, because right or wrong, its win would also make a statement. As one anonymous voter told Entertainment Weekly, they are voting for 12 Years not because it’s their favorite movie of the year, but because “these stories shouldn’t be marginalized, and it’s a triumph it got made. The film needs to be in the world, and for all the years that it hasn’t been, this is the best picture of the year.” That’s just one voter’s opinion, and as EW’s piece shows, other members are voting differently. But I do think that many people will go with 12 Years, even if they like Gravity or another film better, because naming it Best Picture sends a message. Even if they don’t rank it #1 on their ballot, they may go with #2 or #3, and as the video above demonstrates (as does this older article by Steve Pond), a movie needs a lot of second, third and fourth place rankings to come out the winner.

And you know that if it loses, cultural and media critics will be all over the Academy in the following days. They might not necessarily level charges of overt racism, but they will definitely suggest that the organization’s refusal to honor the movie that boldly confronts such a traumatizing chapter in American history, which turns a necessary eye onto a shame that continues to affect society today, is an insult and a travesty. You thought the backlash was vocal when Brokeback Mountain lost Best Picture? If 12 Years loses, just wait….

On the other hand, Gravity is probably more widely respected than Crash, the movie that felled Brokeback. For months now, pundits who are out there talking to Academy members hear Gravity named most often as their favorite movie of the bunch. With Cuarón’s Best Director win nearly assured, tradition is on Gravity‘s side to get Best Picture as well, as is the fact that Gravity will win more awards than any other movie. The Picture/Director split is still a rarity (it’s happened 22 times at this point), but the way everything has fallen this year, it seems like a strong possibility. As always, we can go all around the bend pointing out things that have never happened before, or stats that are rare, all to justify either outcome (like the point I made in the previous Oscar post about movies without a Screenplay nomination almost never winning Best Picture. That would indicate that Gravity is out). But in the end, each year is unique, and this year I think that Gravity will win the night’s biggest haul, but lose the top prize to 12 Years a Slave.

Personal: I suppose Gravity and Her were my favorite of the nominees, but I’m just as emotionally tuned into the messages these awards can send as anyone, and if I weigh all the factors, I land on 12 Years a Slave.

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PREVIEWING THE SHOW

With Ellen DeGeneres onboard as host, I think the easiest prediction to make is that this year’s ceremony will prove far less controversial than last year’s Seth MacFarlane show. As long as she doesn’t try to make any 12 Years a Slave jokes. (I don’t recall exactly how Whoopi Goldberg handled Schindler’s List; only that she referenced how Billy Crystal usually came out and sang a medley that poked good-natured fun at the Best Picture nominees and then remarked, “He got The Crying Game; I got Schindler’s List.” That may have been the extent of jokes about the night’s eventual winner.) I’m sure Ellen will do well. She’s all about making people comfortable, and especially after all the disapproval that MacFarlane’s gig incited, it was no surprise that returning show producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan went with someone as good-natured and well-liked as Ellen. One thing is for sure: just like last year, the bar was set high at the Golden Globes by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler…who, come to think of it, managed to find the right tone for a 12 Years a Slave joke.

What else can we expect? The show’s theme is a celebration of movie heroes, from the Avengers to Atticus Finch, and there will also be a tribute to The Wizard of Oz, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. U2, Pharrell Williams, Karen O and Idina Menzel will be on hand to perform the nominated songs, and there will also be performances by Pink and Bette Midler. As usual, the producers promise surprises, so we’ll see what they have in store.

Reading this has probably taken you right up to the start of the show, but if you still have a few spare minutes, here are a couple of Oscar quizzes you can try your luck at. I aced the first one, and got 60% on the more difficult second one. And with that, I think I’ve done enough damage here. Enjoy the show!

February 22, 2013

Oscars 2012: My Annual Absurdly Long Predictions Opus

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 8:40 pm
Tags: , , , ,

On Sunday evening, the envelopes will be opened and one of the most unpredictable Oscar seasons in recent memory will come to a close. I can’t recall a year where so few categories had clear frontrunners…though I have a feeling that if I were to go back through the corresponding posts for years past, I would find that I made similar proclamations. But this time it’s really true. Really!

BEST PICTURE
Nine nominees grace the field this year, and right off the bat I’m eliminating Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Django Unchained as movies that never had a prayer; the nominations were the prize. Next I’m scratching off Les Misérables and Zero Dark Thirty, which coulda been contenders had they proven less divisive. That leaves Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi, Lincoln and Argo. And really, it’s the latter two that are seen as the last pics standing. Life of Pi is more admired than it is loved (though oddly, will probably end the night with the most awards), and Silver Linings Playbook, as much as people adore it, will probably be considered too lightweight for the top prize. (I disagree, but to date the Academy has not consented to my repeated, unfounded requests for membership, so my opinion means jack.)

When Ben Affleck was overlooked for a Best Director nomination, Argo‘s chances seemed dead. But the night of the nominations, the movie took Best Picture and Best Director at the Broadcast Film Critics Awards. That weekend, it repeated those wins at the Golden Globes (in the Drama category for Best Picture). It looked as though Argo was only mostly dead…which as we all know courtesy of Miracle Max, means slightly alive. Argo soon went on to win Best Picture from the Producer’s Guild of America, and has basically been unstoppable ever since, with the Best Cast in a Motion Picture prize from the Screen Actor’s Guild being the strongest indication of the industry’s wide support. That award goes one of two ways: either it really is a celebration of the actors, or it’s a celebration of the movie itself. Argo‘s win fell into the latter group. Not to take anything away from its excellent ensemble, but when put up against the casts of Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln and Les Misérables it’s not the most deserving. A vote for the cast of Argo was a vote for the movie, and solidified its standing as Hollywood’s favorite of the year. If Silver Linings or Lincoln really had a shot at Best Picture, the SAG award would have been the clue. As it is, Argo is likely to overcome the handicap of Affleck’s absence from the Best Director race to take home the night’s top award…which will make it only the fourth movie ever to do so.

Personal: Lincoln. I’m happy for Argo‘s success and have no problem with it winning, but as I posted earlier this week, Lincoln was tops of the year in my eyes, followed closely by Silver Linings Playbook.


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By the way, that Oscar poster at the top is just one piece of a larger, incredibly cool design by artist Olly Moss, who tweaked each statuette to represent that year’s Best Picture winner. To see the whole thing, click here and then enlarge to see the details. Click here to see them even larger, along with the name of each movie. The poster was done in partnership between the Academy and the awesome, pop culture-centric Gallery1988. In addition to Moss’ official poster for this year’s Oscars, the Academy also commissioned a series of posters for each Best Picture nominee. Check those out here.

And now, back to the show…

BEST DIRECTOR
Argo‘s march to the top prize leaves the Best Director category in a rare, unsettled state. Two things usually hold true: the movie that wins Best Picture also wins Best Director, and the winner of the Director’s Guild of America award takes home the directing Oscar as well. This year, Ben Affleck took the DGA honor, meaning an automatic divergence between the DGA and the Academy. Since Argo‘s momentum for Best Picture practically guarantees a Picture/Director split, where does that leave us?

Benh Zeitlin, the young filmmaker behind Beasts of the Southern Wild, was the category’s surprise nominee, and he’ll have to settle for that. Despite admiration for Amour, I think Michael Haneke is unlikely to triumph here. So we’re down to Steven Spielberg for Lincoln, Ang Lee for Life of Pi and David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook.  When people watch Lincoln, do they think of it as a director’s movie? The writing and the performances are what stand out, and Spielberg himself has stated that the movie features his quietest direction ever. Not that such a thing makes it unworthy, but voters might not see the movie as a director’s showcase. Life of Pi, on the other hand, is a more obvious achievement in direction. Lee had a book that was considered impossible to bring to the screen; his star was an inexperienced young actor; his second main character was a CGI tiger; the bulk of the movie was shot in a tank, leaving much to be created outside of the practical shoot; and he was filming in 3D. Dude sure didn’t make it easy on himself. Working against his chances, Pi has felt like a somewhat lifeless contender all season. Even with 11 nominations, second only to Lincoln, it doesn’t seem to have generated much conversation. Does Lee have the momentum to go the distance?

That leaves David O. Russell, clearly admired by his fellow directors, who also nominated him two years ago for The Fighter. Furthermore, the fact that Silver Linings scored the rare feat of landing a nominee in each of the four acting categories speaks to the admiration that actors, who make up the largest voting block within the Academy, have for Russell. The Fighter had three Oscar nominated performances, and garnered wins for Christian Bale and Melissa Leo (who beat co-star Amy Adams). He’s probably the guy right now, more than anyone else, that actors are dying to work with. Comedies don’t fare well with the Academy, which hinders Silver Linings’ chances for a Best Picture win. But for all those Argo supporters who can’t vote for Picture and Director in lockstep, here is an seldom-seen chance to honor a comedy (which is really more than a comedy, let’s be honest) and still feel, with the Picture vote, that they’re backing something more substantial. (A stupid argument, really, but Academy history bears out that they like to give Best Picture to movies they consider substantial.)

In the end, I think voters will go with Lee, but with no precedent this year and no nominee whose movie is way out in front, this prize is up for grabs. Interesting Trivia, Part I: If Lee wins, he will have the bizarre distinction of being the only person to experience both the DGA/Oscar split and the Picture/Director split….twice: he won for directing Brokeback Mountain even as Best Picture went to Crash, and he took home the DGA prize for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon but lost the Oscar to Traffic director Steven Soderbergh. Interesting Trivia, Part II: If Spielberg wins but Lincoln loses Best Picture, it will be the second time he’s won for directing a movie that doesn’t capture the top honor (the other being in 1998, when Saving Private Ryan fell to Shakespeare in Love).

Personal: David O. Russell. Silver Linings Playbook could have been an entertaining but average rom-com. It’s Russell’s personal investment in the material, intense directing style and ability to bring out exceptional work from his actors that elevates it to something more.


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BEST ACTOR
Not every statuette is up for grabs. This one is all-but-engraved for Daniel Day-Lewis, who is poised to carve himself a little piece of Oscar history as the first person to win Best Actor three times. He has steamrolled the competition all season long, and charmed crowds with warm and funny speeches at the Brittania Awards, Golden Globes, SAG and British Academy of Film and Television Arts ceremonies. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if he gets voted Pope when the bishops emerge from their conclave in the months ahead.

His performance as Abraham Lincoln is absolutely deserving, but it disappoints me that his win is such a given, because in a more just Oscarsphere, he would be engaged in a tight race with Joaquin Phoenix, who is equally mesmerizing in The Master. Denzel Washington, Hugh Jackman and Bradley Cooper (whose nomination makes me really happy) are all truly excellent, but Day-Lewis and Phoenix are in another league with their performances. It’s a shame Phoenix hasn’t been given the momentum during awards season to make this the neck-and-neck race it should be. As you may have seen via the link above, Day-Lewis even acknowledged Phoenix’s work in his SAG acceptance speech, remarking on his talent and wishing he were there with the rest of the Best Actor nominees. (Phoenix was passed over by SAG; his Oscar nod replaces SAG nominee John Hawkes, from The Sessions.) Some might argue that Phoenix hurt his chances with those comments last year about his discomfort with the whole awards machine, but I don’t believe the remarks made any impression on the many critics organizations who bestow awards, and if more of them had honored Phoenix, he might have emerged as a threat to Day-Lewis. (And for what it’s worth, Phoenix has attended all the major ceremonies at which he’s been nominated, including the Golden Globes and BAFTA awards.) Alas, it wasn’t to be. Phoenix is riding the bench with Washington, Jackman and Cooper. In the end though, they can all take consolation in the fact that if you’re not going to win an Oscar, losing to Daniel Day-Lewis is the next highest honor.

Personal: I’d have to call it a tie.


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BEST ACTRESS
Like the rest of the contingent for Beasts of the Southern Wild, 9 year-old Quvenzhané Wallis (once again, that’s pronounced Kwah-VENN-Jah-Nay) will have to be content with her nomination. Naomi Watts is moving in The Impossible, but this isn’t her year (though I have to say, it surprises me that this is only her second nomination, after 21 Grams in 2003. Seems like she should have more than that).

As far back as late November, this category was shaping up as a race between Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook and Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty, who started to generate buzz even before the movie had been widely seen within the industry. When you factor in the many regional critics awards, Lawrence and Chastain have virtually split the precursor field, with both earning key wins along the way – Chastain took prizes from the National Board of Review, the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Golden Globe for Drama; Lawrence won the Los Angeles Film Critics award, the SAG award and the Golden Globe for Musical/Comedy. Silver Linings and Zero Dark Thirty have helped establish Lawrence and Chastain as two of the brightest, most exciting new talents in movies. A win for either will cement their status; at the same time, voters know that both actresses will undoubtedly be back here again….which could pave the way for Amour‘s Emmanuelle Riva, who has been gaining ground in recent weeks. Riva is the oldest Best Actress nominee ever, and will be celebrating her 86th birthday on Oscar night. She’s picked up a few awards along the way, most notably and recently the BAFTA award (she also tied with Lawrence at the Los Angeles Film Critics awards). The BAFTA win gives pause, as it has occasionally marked a turn of the tide away from a frontrunner toward a less expected winner. However the BAFTA award has also been known at times to favor European actresses, and Riva’s strong performance in Amour may have been boosted by that continental pride.

Chastain’s hopes seem to have faded of late, along with the general fortunes of Zero Dark Thirty, and it’s now Riva who poses the greatest threat to Lawrence. She definitely has major spoiler potential, and Chastain could still pull it off, but I think Jennifer Lawrence will take it. She has the most well-rounded part, and she totally kills it. She’s young, yes – only 22 (Chastain is 35, for what it’s worth) – but this is already her second Best Actress nomination, and the Academy loves an ingénue.

Personal: Jennifer Lawrence. It’s such a dynamic, movie star role, allowing her to be funny, strong, vulnerable, angry, sad…she gets to do more than any other actress in the category, and she does it all perfectly. Plus, she’s generally awesome. Have you seen this girl do interviews? She’s offbeat, down to earth, poised, funny, she speaks her mind…she’s kind of a breath of fresh air. And her speeches at the Golden Globes and SAG awards have nicely balanced playful wit and genuine gratitude. That stuff matters to voters. (Then again, her Saturday Night Live monologue, in which she jokingly mocked her competition, was seen by some voters who have no sense of humor as being in poor taste. She could lose a few votes for that. Oh, and if you don’t get the Tommy Lee Jones joke from that monologue, or if you want to know why everyone was laughing at Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig when they read the nominee names in that Golden Globes clip, you should watch this. It’s worth it.)


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BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
One of the widest open, toughest-to-call categories of the night. If we want to look for patterns and signs, recent history might favor Django Unchained‘s Christoph Waltz, since the last three winners of this award all have names beginning with “Chris” (Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale and Christoph himself, for Inglourious Basterds). Then again, I’d rather base my prediction on something more solid…not that there’s much terra firma to be found in this category. All five nominees are past winners, and a legitimate case for why they could (if not why they should) win can be made for all. Still, the weakest of those cases is for Alan Arkin, whose role in Argo is too brief, albeit quite enjoyable.

Of the precursor awards I’ve counted, The Master‘s Philip Seymour Hoffman has collected the most wins, though only one – from the BFCA – is among the major bellwethers. Tommy Lee Jones has done well too, with a key victory under his belt in the form of a SAG award. Waltz emerged as a surprise winner at both the Golden Globes and the BAFTA awards, giving him unexpected momentum. And then there’s Robert De Niro, doing his most acclaimed work in ages in Silver Linings Playbook. He hasn’t won any major awards so far, but he’s been out there championing the film and doing a lot of publicity…something else that voters apparently like to see.

Against each of them? The Master doesn’t seem to have enough traction with Academy members to land Hoffman a win. He’s widely admired, but the movie’s status as a critics’ darling accounts for his success on the precursor circuit. With Jones, some people just find him too damn ornery and don’t want to honor him, which is stupid reasoning, but it happens nonetheless. (Not that they’re necessarily wrong about him being too damn ornery; seriously, did you see his face in that Golden Globes clip linked above?). He’s undeniably entertaining in Lincoln, but will people see it as kind of playing himself? Waltz is a hoot in Django Unchained, but having won so recently, and for a role that is arguably quite similar to this one, are voters ready to make him a two-time winner? And De Niro may be great in Silver Linings, but does the performance stack up with the best work of his career? It’s great to see him on his game again, but the fact remains that the movie is, for now, an anomaly in an otherwise unimpressive slate of films and performances over the last several years. An Oscar win might seem like an overreaction to seeing him do strong work again.

Waltz or Jones are probably the safe bets, based on the awards they’ve already won, but I don’t get the sense that those wins are necessarily as telling in this race as they might normally be. Things really could go any way, and I’m guessing – with no evidence to support me – that voters may use this as something of a career achievement award for De Niro, who hasn’t won since Raging Bull in 1980 and hasn’t been nominated since Cape Fear in 1991. Many of the Academy’s younger members have never had a chance to cast a vote for him, and however disappointing his output has been over the last decade or so, they might want to personally honor one of the all-time greats. (Point of interest: if he does win, he’ll join presumed Best Actor winner Day-Lewis in the three-timers club; prior to Raging Bull, he took home Best Supporting Actor for The Godfather Part II.)

Personal: It really is a tough choice; all the performances are so damn good…though I say again that Arkin’s part is too small; he doesn’t really belong here. I’ll be happy to see any of the other four get it, but if pressed, I guess I would choose Hoffman. His character is a great counterpoint to Joaquin Phoenix’s, and just as provocative. Then again, De Niro…the nice thing about that role is that he gets to do a lot of different things. Funny De Niro, angry De Niro, emotional De Niro, loving De Niro…in some ways it’s a different kind of character for him.


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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Anne Hathaway has this race pretty much in the bag. Like Daniel Day-Lewis, she has dominated the field up to this point, collecting awards from BAFTA, SAG, the BFCA, nearly every regional critics group, and taking the Golden Globe as well. Jacki Weaver’s surprise nomination speaks loudly of the actors’ branch support for Silver Linings Playbook, but while she’s essential to the movie’s success, it’s not enough of a standout role to win. Sally Field, another nominee going for her third Oscar, is a respected industry veteran whose fight to be cast in Lincoln has probably won her admirers, but the performance has received mixed reactions. With her fourth nomination, The Master‘s Amy Adams continues to be a favorite of Academy members, but she hasn’t yet found herself in that magical role that can take her all the way. As for Helen Hunt, The Sessions may not have been seen by enough people, and the performance probably isn’t deemed flashy enough for her to win. None of the nominees get the kind of for-the-record-books scene that Hathaway gets in Les Misérables, singing “I Dreamed a Dream” in one shattering, close-up take. She should face smooth sailing to a win, unless she’s capsized by a wave of sentiment for Sally Field. It’s not out of the question that Field could pull an upset, but it’s unlikely.

Personal: Helen Hunt. I’m taking nothing away from how good Hathaway is, but as powerful a showcase as she has with her solo, her time on-screen is too brief for me to say it deserves the win. I’d go with Hunt, who gave a low-key but deeply felt, moving performance as a sex surrogate in The Sessions. She’s so open-hearted, and beautifully details the character’s complicated feelings about her work with crippled poet Mark O’Brien. Given the size of the part and the role her character plays in the story, she should really be in the Best Actress category, but the studio likely thought she stood a better chance here.


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That’s the end of the acting categories, and I would be remiss not to include these latest episodes of Between Two Ferns, featuring Zach Galifianakis interviewing nominated actors on the day of the Academy’s Nominees Luncheon earlier this month.


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BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
John Gatins’ script for Flight is a smart and compelling piece of work that goes in some unexpected directions, but it was on the fringe to begin with, so the nomination is the win. I’d like to think Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola stand a chance for Moonrise Kingdom, as this category sometimes favors smart, touching and idiosyncratic comedies, but there isn’t a lot of chatter about the movie, and the fact that this is its sole nomination doesn’t bode well.

That makes it a three-way race between Mark Boal for Zero Dark Thirty, Michael Haneke for Amour and Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained. And like so many categories this year, it’s genuinely up in the air. Boal took the prize from the Writer’s Guild of America, but neither Django nor Amour were nominated, having been deemed ineligible. A win for Boal would be a nice gesture of support in the wake of all the controversy that has unfairly dogged Zero Dark Thirty, and by extension it would acknowledge Kathryn Bigelow, whose surprising omission from the Best Director category has been overshadowed by Ben Affleck’s absence and the Argo momentum. Plus, the tide started to shift back toward more positive buzz for the movie right as the voting period was about to open, with endorsements from Leon Panetta and a coalition of 9/11 families. On the other hand, Boal won this award for The Hurt Locker just a few years ago, and voters might not be so quick to anoint him a two-time winner. Tarantino, meanwhile, seems due for a second screenwriting Oscar to join the one he already has for Pulp Fiction. He was expected to win for Inglourious Basterds (a better script) in 2009, but lost to Boal. He took home this year’s Golden Globe and BAFTA awards, neither of which were widely expected to go his way, so those help his case. But is the movie too controversial to amass enough support? In addition to its frequent use of the N word – era-appropriate but still troubling to many – the movie is incredibly violent. Voters were first exposed to it right around the time of the Newtown shooting, and it’s hard not to think about that and the subsequent debate over gun control, violence in movies, etc. when watching some of the movie’s excessively bloody moments. I have no idea if that will matter to voters, but I can see it being a factor for some.

Finally, there’s Amour, the unflinching depiction of an elderly couple dealing with the wife’s slowly fading mental and physical faculties. The movie was certainly powerful, but frankly it could have worked as a 40 minute short instead of a 127 minute feature. And I just don’t see it as much of a screenwriting achievement. But maybe that’s just me. Clearly it was admired within the Academy, in order to break out beyond the Best Foreign Language Film category and earn nods for Picture, Director, Actress and Screenplay. True, those are all branch-specific nominations, except for Best Picture, where the entire Academy votes for nominees, so it’s possible that the support isn’t as broad as it seems. Then again, a vote for Amour does allow those who loved the film but don’t get to chime in for Best Foreign Language Film (you have to see all five nominees in order to vote in that race) to have their shot at honoring Haneke.

I just don’t know. The pundits are split here. Some are calling it for Amour, others for Django, and a few still think Zero Dark Thirty is in play (I do too). The arguments for and against each make sense. I really have no idea which way this will fall, but I’m timidly going with Django.

Personal: Moonrise Kingdom. The detail and intricacy of Zero Dark Thirty is impressive, but I’m more drawn to the imaginative than the procedural. As I’ve said many times, Wes Anderson is one the most original filmmakers working today, and Moonrise Kingdom hit so many beautiful notes.

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BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Once again, Beasts of the Southern Wild is first to go, although I’m sure it will collect its fair share of votes from those who admired its originality. David Magee’s script for Life of Pi provided the blueprint for making the unfilmable filmable, but the criticisms people have with the final product tend to focus on its structure and thematic content. The movie is ultimately seen as more an achievement of direction and technical artistry, even if it all began with finding a way to translate the novel to the screen.

As with the Original Screenplay category, three nominees look to have a reasonable shot: Chris Terrio for Argo, David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook and Tony Kushner for Lincoln. Silver Linings Playbook is clearly beloved by the Academy, and they are more likely to honor Russell here than in Best Director. His BAFTA win was probably that show’s biggest surprise, seeing as the movie was not nominated for Best Picture or Best Director. There is crossover membership between this Academy and the British Academy, so is Russell’s victory a sign?

Not necessarily. There’s also crossover between the Writer’s Guild and the Academy, and the WGA gave their award to Argo. I would have thought voters – especially a body of writers exclusively – would be hard-pressed to pass over Tony Kushner’s exquisite script for Lincoln, but their choice of Argo is yet another demonstration of the industry’s unwavering admiration for that movie. Chris Terrio’s sharp script has (and deserves) legions of admirers, absolutely, but I’ll be a little disappointed if it triumphs here, just as I was at its WGA win. I agree that it’s a terrific script, but Lincoln strikes me as the more challenging feat of adaptation, and the more impressive accomplishment. Faced with innumerable ways to approach a figure as dynamic as our 16th president, Kushner carved off a slice of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s massive book Team of Rivals and shaped it into a full course meal all its own. Not only does his script make the legislative process exciting and even funny, but the language alone is a feast for the ears. Plus, if Director goes to Ang Lee, this is really the best shot Lincoln has to win anything other than Best Actor. With a field-leading 12 nominations, it would be nice for Lincoln to take home more than one trophy. A vote for Argo here feels a bit like falling in line with the presumptive Best Picture favorite instead of analyzing the category individually and honoring the best example of adaptation and writing.

Still, I suspect that’s what will happen. Kushner and Russell are definitely in the running, but I think Chris Terrio will claim the prize for Argo.

Personal: At this point, it’s probably clear – Lincoln.


XBEST ANIMATED FEATUREAnother tough category to call. There tends to be an obvious front-runner in this race, but not this year. It doesn’t help that all the nominees are well-made, genuinely enjoyable and each deserving. That said, I think the most easily eliminatable (not a real word, I know) is The Pirates! Band of Misfits, though it’s a pretty funny movie that’s well worth a watch. ParaNorman and Frankenweenie (which would make a great double feature) would each be an absolutely worthy winner. Although ParaNoman has collected the most critics awards to date, I give Frankenweenie better odds due to the Tim Burton factor. I think there are a lot of people in the Academy who would love to see Burton win an Oscar. Actors adore him, and when you think of how much his movies rely on elaborate sets, costumes, makeup and visual effects, he surely has a lot of support from members of the below-the-line branches. Plus there’s a nice personal narrative to Frankenweenie, a successful expansion of one of Burton’s early short films which helped to launch his career. His live action movies of late have been less original and personal than his best work, but this labor of love was a reminder of Burton at his best.

Pixar’s Brave, while not as acclaimed as many of their other films, still managed to nab the Golden Globe and the BAFTA award, proving that the studio can never be discounted at awards time unless their movie centers around talking cars. Rounding out the competition is Wreck-It Ralph, which took the PGA award. Brave and Ralph are probably the ones duking it out for the win, and I’m giving Brave the edge due to wholly unfounded speculation that it will appeal to a wider array of voters than Wreck-It Ralph. But really, I have no idea who’s winning.

Personal: Honestly, I’d be happy with any of these; we really have an abundance of riches in this category. But I guess I’d be especially happy for ParaNorman or Frankenweenie…the former because it would be a nice boost to fledgling studio Laika, and the latter because I too would love to see Tim Burton win an Oscar. And hell, a Wreck-It Ralph win would also be nice, as Disney has yet to win this category for a homegrown movie.


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BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Robert Richardson did great work on Django Unchained, but he won’t win this time. Neither will Janusz Kaminski, who lit Lincoln with only the kind of light sources that would have been available in 1865. A cool approach, but the results have received mixed reactions. The staging and choreography of Anna Karenina, which largely unfolds in just one space, set the scene for some creative work from Seamus McGarvey, but voters may have been paying more attention to the costumes and sets than the camerawork. That leaves Claudio Miranda’s work on Life of Pi, which took home the American Society of Cinematography’s award, and greatest-living-DP Roger Deakins – who somehow still has not won an Academy Award – for Skyfall. He has a fighting chance, but my guess is that he’ll once again miss out, with Life of Pi taking the award for what many voters will consider the more striking visual achievement.

Personal: I really, really want to see Roger Deakins win an Oscar. While I don’t think Skyfall is up there with his absolute best, it still boasts superb work that is certainly worthy of the Academy’s recognition. Check out this cool piece from Vulture in which Deakins comments on classic images from 10 of his movies. He’s shot every Coen Brothers film since Barton Fink, so lots of their stuff is here, but the list criminally omits his work in Martin Scorsese’s Kundun. I’d have asked him about that extraordinary shot that rises above the teenage Dalai Lama to reveal him standing amidst an unending mass of slaughtered bodies.


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BEST FILM EDITING
Comedies don’t often get nominated for this award, so Silver Linings Playbook showing up here speaks to its Academy-wide appeal and the fact that it probably had heavy support in the Best Picture race during the nomination balloting. (Again, the movie is more than just a comedy, so maybe it’s not such a surprise after all if seen in a vacuum. But the fact that it was nominated over something like Skyfall surprised many…though I called it. Booyah!) Anyway, it won’t win, but it’s nice to see it here. Also out of the running is Lincoln, which likely got swept in on a tide of support for the movie over more deserving candidates like Cloud Atlas and, again, Skyfall. There’s a slim chance that it could go to Life of Pi, but the race is more likely down to Argo and Zero Dark Thirty. Either way, William Goldenberg will win an Oscar; he edited Argo on his own, and worked with Dylan Tichenor on ZDT. Conventional wisdom is that this award tends to align with Best Picture, though a look at the winners over the last 30 years, to pick a round and arbitrary number, reveals that in 16 cases, Editing and Picture did not match up. Still, in this case I think Best Picture-favorite Argo will take it.

Personal: Argo‘s editing really brings out the tension, smoothly blends the movie’s comedic and serious elements, and moves the story along at a brisk clip. Zero Dark Thirty moves more slowly, but I get the sense that there was much more footage and that the movie could have cut together in a lot of different ways. It feels like a movie that was made in the editing room more so than its competition, which gives it an edge for me. But I’m more than cool with Argo.


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BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
A tough category to call, less because it’s a tight race and more because none of the nominees scream “Winner” to me, at least not when you look beyond quality of the work and factor in how voters might feel about the movies in general. The work itself is all that should matter, but it’s rarely that simple.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey might stand a better chance if the Lord of the Rings films hadn’t been here before (all three were nominated; Return of the King took the prize). The recreation of the 1860’s White House and House of Representatives chambers for Lincoln is impressive work, but probably too unassuming to win. Anna Karenina could take the prize for featuring a variety of gorgeous environments yet making most of them work within a single theatrical space. Les Misérables could also score a win here, but most pundits who aren’t calling it for Anna Karenina are favoring Life of Pi. At first, Pi might not seem a logical choice since so much of the movie takes place in a single location without much variety. Then again, the production design works nicely in conjunction with the cinematography to create a storybook appearance throughout the film. There’s a really lovely, pastel color palette employed, which especially pops during early part of the film that takes place in Pondicherry. I’m guessing it will nab the prize here, but Anna Karenina and Les Misérables are not easily dismissed.

Personal: Anna Karenina. Aside from being visually sumptuous, it employs such a creative use of space. But I’d be okay with Life of Pi, too; its colors have really stayed with me.

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BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Lincoln, while again impressive, is probably too drab overall to win a category that almost always goes for garb that is colorful and elaborate. Both of the year’s Snow White films – Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman –  made the cut, and while they both show off some fantastic wardrobes, it could be that neither was seen widely enough to pull off a win. Then again, Mirror Mirror‘s designer Eiko Ishioka, who won this category in 1992 for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, died of cancer shortly before the movie was released, and that may have grabbed voters’ attention along the way. If it did, and if they observed her sensational, creative work on the film, she might be hard to deny. If not Mirror Mirror, then Anna Karenina most closely fits the mold of the typical winner in this category, though it’s possible that not enough voters have seen that movie either. That could open the door to Les Misérables…but if little-seen movies like The Duchess and The Young Victoria could succeed here in recent years, so can Anna Karenina. That’s my guess…but the quality of Mirror Mirror gives me pause.

Personal: Mirror Mirror. There’s really nice work throughout the category, and there were many more that deserved to be here, including Cloud Atlas, Moonrise Kingdom and Django Unchained. But none of them are as visionary as Ishioka’s creations.


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BEST ORIGINAL SONG

The one good thing about the omission of so many worthy selections from the list of nominees is that nothing here can challenge Adele’s title track from the latest James Bond film. It’s easily the best song in the category. And even if some of those deserving songs from the likes of The Hobbit, Brave and Django Unchained had made it and created a much stronger group, Adele would still win. Because she’s Adele and everyone loves her. And because “Skyfall” is a great song in a great movie. And because no song from a James Bond movie has ever won, and this is  the 50th anniversary of the franchise and the stars are aligned. I think the sky really will fall if Adele doesn’t win. But she will. This one’s a slam dunk. I can’t wait to hear her sing it on the show.

Personal: “Skyfall”


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BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Alexandre Desplat, the hardest working composer in movies, (dude scored eight features in 2012) is here with Argo, but I doubt the Best Picture frontrunner’s reach will extend here. It’s a nice score, but likely too understated to get noticed. The same could be argued of John Williams’ music for Lincoln, though as subtle as it is, it does have a distinct and more memorable theme, which boosts its chances. Still, Williams has lost the award for scores much more famous and impressive than Lincoln, so it’s hard to imagine a victory this time. Then there’s Thomas Newman for Skyfall. Like cinematographer Roger Deakins, also nominated for the Bond adventure, Newman is one of his field’s most impressive talents. Yet he remains Oscarless after 10 nominations. He makes a great contribution to Skyfall, and if voters are checking the movie off in the song category, perhaps they’ll do so here as well?

Probably not. Dario Marianelli’s lush score for Anna Karenina will put up a fight. But the favorite seems to be Mychael Danna for Life of Pi. Danna’s been around for a while and is enjoying his first nomination here, so I’m happy to see him earn the recognition; he should have been nominated in 1997 for The Sweet Hereafter. But honestly, the score for Life of Pi didn’t register for me at all, despite the acclaim. I saw the movie twice, and don’t remember noting the music either time. I definitely can’t recall any of it after the fact, while unnominated scores such as Cloud Atlas and The Hobbit are lodged in my head. I want to go with a prediction for Skyfall (which won the BAFTA, by the way; Life of Pi took the Golden Globe), but the majority of pundits who actually talk to Academy members think the award will go to Pi, so I’ll follow suit. And actually, I’m not counting out Anna Karenina or Lincoln.

Personal: Skyfall. Similar to my feelings about Deakins this year, I consider Skyfall a notch below the very best of Newman’s work, but it’s still excellent, and I’m so eager to see him win. How happy would it make me if Deakins and Newman win their first, long overdue awards in the same year, for the same film? Extremely happy. Both should have won as far back as 1994 for The Shawshank Redemption.


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BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Let’s knock out Hitchcock right away; it shouldn’t even be here. That just leaves The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Les Misérables. The Hobbit is the showier choice, with its 13 hirsute dwarves, plus long-bearded wizards, pointy-eared elves and curly-haired, hairy-footed hobbits. Les Misérables is more about wigs and hair, as well as making the poor and suffering of revolutionary France look appropriately haggard and sickly. There are strong cases to be made for both. As the Best Picture nominee, Les Misérables might have an edge. On the other hand, fantasy usually triumphs over realism in this category. But on yet another hand, voters may feel like The Hobbit is just treading familiar ground; two of the Lord of the Rings films won this award, and those were both Best Picture nominees. On a fourth hand, those earlier wins could bode well for The Hobbit. Grrrr….I don’t know. Pundits seem to be siding with Les Misérables, but I have a feeling the more obvious work in The Hobbit will win out. You should probably just toss a coin.

Personal: The Hobbit. Yes, this is a return trip to Middle Earth, but we have over a dozen new characters front and center, all of whom have elaborate facial hair, and all of whom had to look distinct from one another.


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BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Great accomplishments all around in this category. ILM had to do a wide variety of work on The Avengers, and it all looks superb and blends perfectly. WETA’s work on The Hobbit demonstrates the continuing evolution of motion capture, with Gollum looking even better now than he did a decade ago (and not just because he’s 60 years younger); Prometheus employs elegant effects to sell its futuristic setting; and Snow White and the Huntsman deserves credit for pulling off CGI-heavy bits without giving them the over-the-top, super-obvious CGI look that comes off as cheesy-fake. But one of the few sure bets of the night is that this award will go to Life of Pi. All of its creature work is excellent, but it boils down to the Bengal tiger Richard Parker, who is more than a special effect; he’s the co-star of the movie.

It will be a bittersweet victory; Rhythm & Hues, the visual effects studio that did the work, just filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. They had to lay off hundreds of employees, some of whom are now suing them, and they are trying to get an influx of cash in order to complete the projects they’re currently working on. Another casualty of the sadly screwed up visual effects industry.

Personal: Life of Pi. There wasn’t a single second when it occurred to me that the tiger wasn’t really there, interacting with actor Suraj Sharma’s Pi. I left the movie wondering how they got the tiger to behave appropriately, and even when it dawned on me, “Oh yeah…the tiger wasn’t really there,” I still didn’t see how that could be true. Fantastic work.


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BEST SOUND MIXING
I always talk about how my understanding of the sound awards is too unsophisticated to ever really make an informed guess of my own, so I usually look for consensus among the pundits and go with that. But this year, I actually feel like I can make a confident prediction in this category, and the fact that the pundits all agree just boosts my confidence. The Sound Mixing award usually goes to smart action movies or prestige dramas that have some action-y elements, like Apollo 13 and The English Patient. Unless, that is, there’s a musical or music-themed movie in the running. Victories in the last 25 years for Dreamgirls, Ray, Chicago and Bird provide the evidence. Of course, nothing is guaranteed; Walk the Line and Evita didn’t win the award. Still, the live singing factor that is so much a part of the behind-the-scenes narrative for Les Misérables should clinch it. Of the other nominees, Skyfall or Life of Pi seem the most capable of pulling an upset, while Argo and Lincoln are likely just along for the ride.

Personal: I remain too ignorant of how to judge sound work to really make an informed personal pick, but from what I understand of the task, I have to go along with Les Misérables.


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BEST SOUND EDITING
I’m on less solid footing here, as the nominees all seem like plausible victors. We again have Argo, Skyfall and Life of Pi, along with Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty. The first problem with judging Sound Editing and Sound Mixing – and I say this every year – is that no one really understands what they mean…and that includes most Academy members. Last year, I linked to this article that helped explain the two disciplines, and this year I’ll add this video from an Entertainment Weekly series called “Behind the Ballot,” where sound mixers and editors weigh in on their craft and how they judge the work. The second problem – and I said this last year too – is that even understanding what the two mean doesn’t really help the layman evaluate what’s good, bad or best. So with that said, I’m guessing that Skyfall will be the victor here, while I fully acknowledge that any of the others could easily prove me wrong. (Pundits are split between Skyfall and Life of Pi.)

Personal: Django Unchained. After reading this article about Tarantino’s approach to the soundscape for Django, I took note of the movie’s sounds in a way I never would have otherwise. The whip cracks did sound different somehow. So while I have no real investment in the category, I’ll root for Django and be happy with whatever wins.


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BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Now we get into the categories that, as usual, I’ve been unable to keep up with personally and know precious little about. In this race, Amour is the only nominee I’ve seen…and it’s the only one expected to win. But let me just say this: as I often point out in these annual write-ups, only Academy members who have seen all five nominated films can vote in this category, and the only people who likely have the time to do that are older, retired Academy members. And Amour…dear lord, it’s a brutal movie that’s all about getting old and dying. I mean…okay, that’s a bit glib. It’s a powerful film, moving, expertly made, wonderfully acted, and as the title suggests, it’s about love…what love looks like between two people who have built a life together and now have to face the end of that life. But it’s also a painfully up-close and extended look at the end of a life. So…it could hit awfully close to home for the people most likely to vote in this category. I still think it will win – apparently no foreign language film that was also nominated for Best Picture has ever lost in this category – but heavily favored films with multiple nominations have been overtaken here before. If Amour loses, it could well be because voters found it like looking into the world’s most truthful mirror and didn’t want to face what they saw.


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BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
All five nominated films are excellent, from what I’ve heard, but the buzz strongly indicates that Searching for Sugar Man will take home the gold. One of the nominees is 5 Broken Cameras, co-directed by Emad Burnat (a Palestinian) and Guy Davidi (an Israeli), about non-violent protests in a West Bank village that is being absorbed by spreading Israeli settlements. Earlier this week, Burnat and his family arrived at LAX, where they were held by immigration officials and threatened with being sent back if they could not produce papers explaining their business in America…even after such documents, including their invitation to the Oscars, were shown. With a little help from Michael Moore, they were finally released. It would be pretty awesome if Burnat won the Oscar and could then pull it out next time he gets detained. “You want to see my invitation? Here’s my invitation, motherfucker. Suck on that. PEACE!”

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BEST DOCUMENTARY/ANIMATED/LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
I’m not seeing consensus around a single winner in any of these three categories, but I am seeing pundits narrow each of them down to about two or three. For Documentary Short, Inocente, Mondays at Racine and Open Heart keep popping up. For Live Action Short, people expect it to go to Death of a Shadow, Buzkashi Boys or Curfew.

I’ve seen two of the Best Animated Short contenders – Disney’s charming black-and-white Paperman, and Maggie Simpson in The Longest Daycare. As the two higher-profile, studio-produced nominees, they’ve received more mainstream attention than their competition (Paperman played in theaters with Wreck-It Ralph, and The Longest Daycare with Ice Age: Continental Drift), but that doesn’t mean much when it comes to winning an Oscar. Since 2000, nearly every time a short from places like Disney or Pixar has been nominated, it has lost to something independent. However…for the first time this year, voting in this category (and in Live Action Short and Best Documentary Feature) has been opened up to the entire Academy. Before, as with Best Foreign Language Film, members had to attend special screenings and sign in, verifying they had seen all the nominees if they wanted to vote. With a much larger group able to cast a ballot this time, do the more recognizable titles stand a better chance? Some pundits are already liking Paperman‘s chances, and the expanded voting pool could make it happen. If you want to let history be your guide and choose a lower-profile pick, Adam and Dog and Head Over Heels are the ones popping up among the pundits. I’m going with Paperman.


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Interested in making more informed decisions in these always tricky categories? Click on the links to learn more about the nominees for Best Documentary Short, Best Animated Short and Best Live Action Short, courtesy of Entertainment Weekly.

PREVIEWING THE SHOW
Okay, for better or worse, those are my predictions, and I’m not confident about many of them. But that makes it an especially exciting Oscar year, and I’m even more pumped than usual for Sunday’s ceremony, to see how these many unpredictable races play out. It also promises to be an interesting show. Producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan have said that the theme of the night is music and the movies. There will be a tribute to movie musicals of the past decade, with performances by Jennifer Hudson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and several cast members from Les Misérables. There will also be a tribute to 50 Years of James Bond, featuring Dame Shirley Bassey, who famously crooned the title tracks for Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker. Fans have been speculating and hoping that all six actors to have played Bond would appear on stage together, but Meron and Zadan recently said that was never in the game plan. Barbra Streisand will sing on the show, for only the second time, and after the Best Picture award is handed out, the show will have a proper close with some kind of musical number performed by host Seth MacFarlane and Kristen Chenoweth. (Yes, Seth MacFarlane can legitimately sing. He even put out an album of 1940’s and 1950’s standards.)

That’s a lot of production numbers…and it doesn’t even include performances of the nominated songs. Adele will treat us to “Skyfall” – her first time singing live since her baby was born in October, and her first time singing on TV since last year’s Grammys. Norah Jones will sing, “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” from Ted, (co-written by MacFarlane), and I assume that Hugh Jackman will perform “Suddenly” from Les Misérables. There’s been no word on who will perform the other two songs; only that they will indeed be represented. Scarlett Johansson sang “Before My Time” for the documentary “Chasing Ice,” but she can’t attend, as she’ll be in New York performing on Broadway in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. And what about the fifth song nominee, “Pi’s Lullaby” from Life of Pi? It isn’t really your typical, performance-friendly song, so I’m not sure what they’ll do with it.

With the Skyfall and Les Misérables songs possibly being incorporated into broader tributes, will the other song nominees be given the same treatment? Maybe A Tribute to Climate Change for the song from Chasing Ice? How about A Tribute to Talking Bears for the song from Ted? They can work in “Bare Necessities” from The Jungle Book, “Movin’ Right Along” from The Muppet Movie, some Winnie the Pooh, those polar bears from The Golden Compass…I don’t know what to do with that Life of Pi song, though. Ugh, why did they nominate that?

I’m also excited to see what MacFarlane does as host. I’m not really a Family Guy guy (nothing against it, I just don’t watch it), but I enjoyed the hell out of Ted, and find him to be funny in general. I hope he doesn’t rely too much on character voices (I don’t think he will), but that he brings a streak of irreverence to the show. He has a take-no-prisoners sense of humor, but his love of old timey music also demonstrates a more traditional side. So in a way, he could be the perfect guy to host, especially under producers who are trying to modernize the show (as other producers have in recent years, with varying degrees of success) at the same time that they look to its past by incorporating lots of musical numbers, which can really be hit or miss. Plus, MacFarlane has his work cut out for him after Tina Fey and Amy Poehler threw down the gauntlet with their kick-ass stint at last month’s Golden Globes.

With all these tributes and production numbers, plus performances of the nominated songs, this could be one of the longest Oscars we’ve had in a while. Meron and Zadan have pretty much acknowledged that this ship ain’t coming in at three hours, though of course they hope to keep it close. I may be setting my DVR to go 20 or 30 minutes beyond the listed stop time. But this could also be one of the higher rated Oscars in a while. Not only is it possible that performers like Adele, Streisand and MacFarlane will draw in viewers, but the Best Picture nominees are actually a successful crop. The years with the biggest ratings are always the years with the biggest hits in the Best Picture race. 1997 – Titanic. 2003 – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. 2009 – Avatar. Nothing this year is that massive, but six of the nine nominees (Argo, Django, Les Mis, Lincoln, Pi, Silver Linings) have grossed over $100 million domestically; some of them well over that. (Amazing to me that Lincoln, a 2.5 hour movie about passing an amendment, has made $177 million dollars…and without 3D jacking up the prices. How awesome is that? Only Spielberg, I swear…) A seventh Best Picture nominee – Zero Dark Thirty – is likely to cross the $100 million mark soon. (The Wrap.com’s Steve Pond, ultimate Oscars number cruncher, takes a closer look at how the ratings have related to the Best Picture grosses in recent years.) It all bodes well for a successful telecast.

One thing I’m not looking forward to? Don Mischer is returning to direct the show. So expect a few cutaways to the movie stars in the front rows and a shitload of cutaways to the middle of the auditorium with people who nobody recognizes. Just like you want from the Oscars. (Yes, I realize that the Oscar show director even being on my radar is a sign of how sad my life is, but if you remember how weirdly directed the last two shows were, you too would have wanted to know who was responsible). We’ll see if Mischer gets it together this year.

Alright, one last thing, and then I swear I will bring this excruciating write-up to an end. This is my 150th blog post. Now, that’s a bit misleading, because the blog has only existed for a little over a year and I’m nowhere near that prolific. Most of the content on this site existed in e-mail form prior to my putting it on the blog as I was getting it ready to launch. But it’s fitting that I should hit a milestone number while writing about the Oscars, since they were the subject of my earliest bloggish scribbles.  I’ve been writing Oscar predictions in one form or another since at least 2000, possibly earlier. The earliest such e-mail I could find was the one with my 2004 picks, and that’s now the oldest post on the site. Not sure what my point here was…I guess maybe to say thanks to anyone who actually reads the blog…especially these painfully long Oscar write-ups, which I really do for myself, without any expectation that anyone else could possibly be interested enough to read it all. If you try and succeed, you deserve a medal.

That about wraps it up. Enjoy the show, and good luck with your Oscar pools. If you go with my predictions, I hope I don’t steer you too far off course. Just remember: it’s all a guessing game. Hopefully you win big, and/or see your personal picks take home the gold…unless they conflict with my personal picks, in which case you can go to hell. Cheers!

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