Friday, February 25, 2011

Predictions, Shoulda-Beens and Other Oscar Musings

The 83rd annual Academy Awards air this Sunday on ABC.  Here are my picks in the Oscar pool and who I'm rooting for in spite of it.


Vegas is going with Melissa Leo, which would mean both retards from the abysmal The Fighter may very well walk home with the supporting hardware.  This is the same sort of overwrought performance the Academy loved in Sandra Bullock which would be a real tragedy for a few different reasons:

#1: Hailee Steinfeld.  It is a joke she was even nominated in this category as she has more screen time than Jeff Bridges who got a nod in a leading category.  Her character was adapted brilliantly by the Coens and performed flawlessly.  And, as everybody knows, she's 14.  This is a blessing in the category, and Paramount knows this.  She is not only who I think deserves this award, I'm going out on a limb and picking her to win.

#2 Amy Adams.  I'm hoping she'll split enough Fighter votes with Leo to give it to Steinfeld.  Adams has delivered bankable performances the last few years, which makes this a reasonable nod.  To call her the only likable thing about the film makes it sound like the film was likable, but, I mean, I also watched After.Life just because Christina Ricci was in it, so come on.

#3 Jacki Weaver.  It is a shame that I have to root for Steinfeld in what is clearly not a supporting performance because it takes away from a non-mainstream pick the Academy got right.  The criminally underseen Animal Kingdom will hopefully get some buzz based on the few seconds of a clip we'll see as Weaver is introduced.  In a lot of ways, that's the best we can hope for these days.


The hard and fast truth is that I have yet to see Mike Leigh's Another Year.  For the sake of this article, the point is moot.  The King's Speech wins this award in a category filled with a lot of fluff.  The Fighter is cliché at best. The Kids Are All Right is most memorable for stifled moments in the narrative progression.  Inception doesn't even belong in this category because it was adapted from a Scrooge McDuck comic.  Seriously, look it up.  The King's Speech will walk away with one of the easiest picks of the night.  It's a writing award for a movie about talking.


This is going to be a win for The Social Network which, while it wouldn't be my vote, I'm O.K. with.  My issues with the film I will discuss further in the "Best Picture" category, but the writing is partly responsible.  It is a dialogue driven movie and succeeds on that account.  As a depiction of "our generation"?  It reads like an outsider looking in, and I don't think the film will age terribly well for it.

True Grit is the best adaptation since No Country For Old Men.  No surprise who is responsible for that.  A reading that made the Coens produce an epic that is not only hopeful but non-cynical is no small feat.  True Grit captures the quirk and the style of the original and makes it relevant for 2010.  It would easily have my vote, but you can't always pick with your heart.

127 Hours and Winter's Bone are two big nothings, and Hollywood will never, no matter how juggernaut Pixar becomes, give a writing award to an animated film.  The Social Network is a pretty easy pick here.


Let's be serious.  I'm not even going to waste your time here.  Remember when the VMAs gave Taylor Swift that award instead of Beyoncé and Kanye flipped out because there was no internal logic for picking "All The Single Ladies" for video of the year and not having it win the subdivision?  Kinda like this year when the Grammys had Arcade Fire losing to The Black Keys in the minor categories only to win Album of the Year?  Say what you will about the Academy, they typically don't pull that garbage.  RottenTomatoes is an unfair barometer here:  The differential between Toy Story 3 and How To Train Your Dragon is only 1%.  Instead, check out something like MetaCritic that widens that gap to 18%.  There is no second place.  Toy Story 3 FTW.


Last year I watched all the animated shorts but Logorama.  Oops.  Though mostly a throwaway category, this one is always pretty important to me.  And frustrating as they often nominate a lot of lightweights.  The selections this year are pretty strong, save for Let's Pollute.  This work by a former Pixar character designer might sound like a safe pick based on subject matter alone-- not an unfair criterion in the short categories-- however, not only is the film not very witty in its sarcasm, it's smug and crammed with sweeping generalizations to boot.  Next to its competition, it isn't much to look at either.

Pixar's Day & Night is easily the most recognizable here as it was in front of Toy Story 3.  This hasn't always meant that much in this category (see Presto, Lifted, One Man Band), but this film also distinguishes itself.  Day & Night is the most cinematic of the nominees and is brave in its own right-- emphasizing theme over narrative structure.  Expect this to be a popular pick in the Oscar pools, and it maybe even deserves it.

U.K.'s The Gruffalo is also a front-runner here, and brings with it a weight of length (27 minutes).  It is a film that takes its animation seriously yet approaches it in a childlike way.  The tone and color hearken to classic Disney (it avoids the common trend of nailing thematic elements home with ugly characters in grayscale) and is about an unpretentious as any nomination in any category.  It is to be praised for that.

I'm not giving much of a chance to either The Lost Thing or Madagascar, A Journey Diary, though both are highly enjoyable.  The former should be praised for its restraint of keeping its elements within their world.  The latter should be praised for the fantastic multitude of animation styles and allowing itself to be told through vignette within an already abbreviated genre.

Forced to pick here, I give a slight edge by both my mind and heart to The Gruffalo, but wouldn't be surprised or upset if Day & Night wins.


There are a few categories I wish came with a footnote.  For example, how does Avatar win for cinematography when I'm not sure how many cameras were even used in its production?  Art Direction is such a category that isn't just subjective, but often misunderstood.

I expect The King's Speech to take this category not only because I expect it to have a big night, its tone matches its imagery for this genre piece that Academy voters lap up.  If I were an Academy voter, I'd go with True Grit here because it is a contender.  If unbiased, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 1 is just as fair.


I'm half-willing to go out on a limb here with I Am Love, a film sometimes defined by its costumes, but I don't know exactly how many of the nominees the voters need to have seen.  I also don't even really know what The Tempest is, period.  As far as predictions go, I would count Alice In Wonderland out in any eligible category and probably bet voters are going with The King's Speech across the board.

I'll take the fairly dark-horse and little-known I Am Love.  As far as diversifying in Oscar pools go, there are much riskier options among the minor categories.


All I have within me is pulling for The Wolfman here.  Paul Giamatti always looks old and bald, and nobody saw The Way Back.  I love whenever a brilliantly fun mess like The Wolfman stands a legitimate shot.  Half lumbering makeup, half CGI, all entertainment.


If True Grit is going to have any night whatsoever, this is its best shot.  Roger Deakins's Academy-approved record speaks for itself in this category.  He should have won in 2008, but split too many votes between No Country For Old Men and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.  I don't blame the Academy here:  I would have probably picked the latter as it is difficult to imagine the landscape of the contemporary Western without Deakins's eye.

Much like my beef with Avatar, I hope Inception doesn't win this category.  The remaining three nominations (The King's Speech, Black Swan and The Social Network) are all technically distinguished, but more showcases for performance.  I'm really hoping the Academy does the right thing here.


I have not seen any of these nominations, and nearly everyone sitting in the Kodak Theater on Sunday night is in the same boat.  This category requires voters to have seen every nominee, so it's not a safe bet to opt based on subject matter.

This, however, is what I do the majority of the time anyway.  My pick in these categories are Ne Wewe and Strangers No More, respectively, based on little more than plot synopses.  For mostly student films, this isn't too terribly unfair.


Lots of blind spots for me here, but often times the household name wins over subjects that seem timely (The Cove and Man On Wire, the two most recognizable titles have won the last two years).  That being said, I have a difficult time seeing Exit Through the Gift Shop winning this year.  Restrepo and Inside Job probably seem more "important" to a lot of voters, and I would probably pick Inside Job here, though a personal favorite eludes me.


It really sucks to have to check Christian Bale on a pool for playing Forrest Gump on smack.  Especially since, of the many things I do like about Bale, this will end up enshrining him.  He's the odds-on-favorite by a long-shot in a mostly boring category.  Geoffrey Rush would be a personal pick here as his understated performance was my favorite thing about The King's Speech.  Jeremy Renner is a nice nod that may receive, literally, three votes in a largely irrelevant category this year. 


I expect Inception to sweep the technical awards, which, if it has to win something, it's fair enough that it should win these.  The Academy shows what these awards are truly worth by including TRON: Legacy and Salt amongst the nods.  As far as stupid popcorn movies go, I'll begrudgingly take a humorless Inception in these categories and not lose any sleep at night.


Some may find it strange that, with as many layers Inception had, it is not nominated in this category.  I am glad as I looked at my proverbial watch many times wondering how much slo-mo stock could have been left on the floor.  I think Black Swan, The Fighter and Danny Boyle's style-over-substance gimmickry in 127 Hours are largely throwaways here.  I see this award going to The Social Network over The King's Speech for, in two movies largely centered on conversation, The Social Network moved very fluidly and (at least appeared) to have a lot going on.


I so badly want to see Trent Reznor take center stage here for The Social Network.  It will be more comedic and nearly as epic as Elliott Smith's performance in a real fish-out-of-water appearance.  I want this so bad I'm not even considering that Inception and 127 Hours have a chance here (which they do).


The most irrelevant award presented at the ceremony:  An Academy that rarely picks their own movies correctly now have to be experts on music too?  Randy Newman's "We Belong Together" from Toy Story 3 seems an easy enough pick, but don't discount "If I Rise" from 127 Hours.  These performances will be bland and, honestly, it's only a matter of time before this category disappears.


With all my gut I'm pulling for Dogtooth, though I realize it stands a large lamp's chance in shotgun.  The Academy notoriously opts for typical Hollywood narrative structure if not altogether warmer selections than the occasional pick from the Von Trier/Haneke school of thought.  By this logic, expect In A Better World to win, despite Bardem's nomination.


Although this award typically predicts Best Picture, I think they will differ this year and the Best Direction Oscar will be something of a consolation prize for David Fincher.  To call The King's Speech an actor's vehicle isn't altogether untrue, but there are directorial touches (Firth and Rush falling out of step in while arguing along a foggy path still stands out as a key moment to me).  I just think the things The Social Network does right are due more to Fincher than anything else.


Apparently there is some murmuring about Annette Bening being a dark horse, which I just can not see.  Natalie Portman's performance in Black Swan is the thing Academy voters salivate over:  years of training, strict physical regimen,  commanding placement in every single frame of the picture.

It's a real shame that Michelle Williams stands zero chance here, but I won't be upset with Portman's win.  And the fact that Portman was able to turn this performance from a career that was going nowhere for over ten years only favors her all the more.


Colin Firth wins.  Sorry.  There is no drama here.

I will say this:  It is too bad Bridges won for the wrong picture.  And as much as I like James Franco, I wouldn't even consider him the darkest horse, mainly because 127 Hours was all glitz.


I am a huge proponent of the shift back to ten nominees in this category.  Sure, it's a little watered down.  Sure, I have to watch a few things each year that I never wanted to (lately they've been sports related: The Blind Side, The Fighter).  But instead of just one token Miramax pick every year, now we can have our animated dish, give a few bucks to some no-shot indies and split the lesser candidates so much that there is less confusion as to who should be the winner.  And guess what-- in its first year since the return of this format, it got it right against the highest grossing movie of all time.

* Winter's Bone -- this hollow nothing is an exercise in local color and confused about its philosophy.  I'm glad something like Winter's Bone can get a nomination, but it's too bad that it had to be Winter's Bone.  When all is said and done, it means nothing and stands to win nothing but a few Redbox rentals.

* 127 Hours -- Not nearly as obnoxious as Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours sees Boyle returning to his old toilet tricks (this time, we see the perspective of Franco drinking his own urine through the water bottle) as a director that has always resorted to gimmick when hard-pressed for narrative.  Again, this stands zero chance.  Will be lucky to see any award on Oscar night.

* The Fighter -- Easily the worst of the bunch, The Fighter runs every cliché in the book and has its actors ham it up every step of the way.  The voters love garbage like this, and I'm only hoping that it gets nothing outside the supporting categories.  Shoddily written, a joke of a directorial picture, nothing to offer.

* The Kids Are All Right -- The few moments of sincere depth are often squandered by bad, obvious punchlines.  Bening stands a very outside chance, but is the best part of this piece.  Though understandable for its subject matter, it often tries too hard to feel indie and ultimately isn't too far displaced from Garden State.

* Inception -- The heavy fanboy favorite on every IMDb message board, the ten-picture format gives Nolan the opportunity he deserved for The Dark Knight.  Unfortunately, Inception is such a headcase, it miraculously managed to lead legions of fans into taking it even more seriously than the suffocating pretension of the film itself.  For the literate film viewer, this thing had little to offer upon repeat viewings and I will be staying away from the message boards for the years to come.

* Black Swan -- Remember when Mickey Rourke accepted his award for The Wrestler at the Independent Spirit Awards and he gave a little anecdote about Darren Aronofsky?  Rourke puffed him up so much as to say that directors as good as he only crop up every 25 years.  Apparently Aronofsky's response to that was "thirty".  Fast forward to this year's New York Film Critics' Circle award dinner when Aronofsky's ego tried sparring with Armond White of all individuals.  To me, Aronofsky has always been a very talented director with a little bit of an ego problem that wouldn't bother if it weren't for the fact that his films treat the audience like they are dolts.  I enjoy his films, I do.  It's just that I get it.  I get what he's trying to tell me without needing it continually pounded into my head.  Black Swan is about a familiar big theme: art and the artist.  He, alongside Portman, present this very well even with a somewhat kitschy horror model.  That worked for me.  He just doesn't know when to let up and allow the subject matter speak for itself.  It works for the Academy-- his most understated and best film was The Fountain which was largely ignored.  However, I just see Aronofsky in some sort of limbo that Hollywood will throw a bone to without ever considering a serious contender.

* Toy Story 3 -- Is it unfair to call Toy Story 3 a little overrated?  I mean, it's still in my top five for 2010, but the 99% at RottenTomatoes is a little unreasonable.  I mean, it's only the second best Toy Story movie.  The one shame of the ten movie nomination format is that it placates the animated film (as if "animated" was a genre rather than a medium).  Toy Story 3 is a great film that everyone accepts is great.  RottenTomatoes shows that nearly everyone agrees with this (hate to bring up Armond White twice in this article).  It is simply beyond Hollywood to accept an animated picture as its best.  I don't know if it ever will.

* True Grit -- My pick for best nominated picture in the bunch, though it stands little chance on Oscar night.  I do like that, after the late '90s indie rush at the Oscars, the Coens are somehow Academy staples in 2011.  Maybe they don't take the trophy every time, but they're a part of the public consciousness enough that I have hope that, sometimes, we get it.  Also something to consider:  True Grit has become the highest grossing Coen Brothers movie, and the second-highest grossing Western of all-time.  No small feat in a world that sees "Deadwood" canceled with little noise.

* The Social Network -- Although considered a main contender with The King's Speech for the top prize, to me, The Social Network has lost a lot of steam-- comparable to last year's Up In The Air.  And to me, a lot of the rhetoric is baffling.  This is the movie of "new Hollywood" and of "our generation".  Last time I checked, the writing was not only cynical of Internet culture, it treated it as something of an oddity from an outsider perspective.  For a movie supposedly about the social network, the Internet actually had very little to do with the movie.  Technically, to Fincher's credit, the elements come together to make a very good film.  I like Eisenberg's strange creation, I like the casting of Justin Timberlake, and I like the historic tweaks (like Eisenberg's relationship status) that made the film deeper thematically.  It is more than worthy of the award for best picture (more worthy than The King's Speech, for sure), I just don't buy the depth which is being argued, the scope being purported, or the legacy and timelessness being assumed.  A great film, but no masterpiece.

* The King's Speech -- This thing has picked up so much steam post-Golden Globes, it is difficult for me to see anything but it winning.  It is a film of great actors sitting in great rooms interacting with great dialogue.  It is in many ways a showcase for Firth (and for a overshadowed, but better Rush), but also a well-handled director's piece.  Tom Hooper's treatment of the material is never condescending and the picture is generally very placidly acceptable.  At best, the picture is very déjà vu of, if not openly nostalgic for, the Miramax of old.  To compare it to The Queen in subject matter alone is unfair.  The King's Speech evokes the picturesque of The Wings of the Dove, the weight of The English Patient, and the uplift of Shakespeare in Love.  It's a film your mom will love and, while that isn't necessarily a compliment, you could do a lot worse.


  1. While I don't think it was best picture of the year, I have to disagree with how dismissive you are toward Winter's Bone. John Hawkes is for sure my choice for Best Supporting (at the moment anyway, I still haven't seen The King's Speech).

  2. To me, True Grit was the perfect antidote to Winter's Bone. Nothing against Jennifer Lawrence's performance, but the writing just really rings untrue to me. Remember before David Gordon Green was making stoner comedies and was crafting meaningful, rural, authentic films that tied true life, working class people to the landscape? Winter's Bone was too much like Frozen River in that it puts up a facade of Bruce Springsteen authenticity and makes a young girl mouth off to methhead gangsters. This is a girl with the street smarts to strongarm murderers but doesn't really understand how signing up for the Army works? The attempts to draw the character as strong seem contrived; the attempts to draw the character as naive are forced.

    Maybe it's easier to accept from True Grit because we're in a Western and I'm suspending a certain amount of disbelief. The blue collar nature of Winter's Bone wants me to accept it at face value and I can't.