It’s rare to read a genuinely thoughtful and nuanced analysis of our collective love/hate relationship with the Academy Awards, since so much of what is written about the Oscars is basically carping and naysaying (guilty as charged). “Oscar cynicism has become its own special form of Oscar hype,” wrote A.O. Scott, in last Sunday’s New York Times, “and I wonder sometimes if the whole thing — the nominating process, the heavily publicized tweaks in the rules, the dreary broadcast and the endless drudgery of the ‘season’ — is exasperating on purpose. The louder we criticize, the more we must care.”
But, Scott continues, “I think that underneath all the empty pomp and hyperventilating coverage there is something worth caring about. Yes, the Academy often recognizes mediocrity and overlooks excellence. Yes, the documentary and foreign language film categories are hobbled by ridiculous rules that seem designed to exclude some of the best work… Yes, the show goes on too long, with too many bad jokes and not enough moments of genuine emotion or surprise. Yes, Hollywood is a swamp of vanity, myopia and bad taste. But it is also a community of hard-working and talented people who approach this annual ritual of self-congratulation with a sincere spirit of respect for the labor of others and reverence for the traditions that bring them together.”
Mr. Scott is right (about that, anyway — he then proceeds to defend Billy Crystal, which is unconscionable). There are plenty of complaints to be made about this year’s nominees (and we’ve certainly made them), but there is nonetheless something exciting about the whole Oscar thing, about the ranking and predicting, the flurry to see the films, and the ceremony itself (Crystal or no). So yes, the exclusions continue to rankle — there’s no bigger Drive fan than this one, you guys — and the inclusions are befuddling — not to continue to beat a dead horse, ha ha, but seriously with the Best Score nomination for War Horse? — these are the nominees we’ve got, and this is the show we’re gonna get, and we’re going to watch it, and enjoy it, and, yes, even live-blog it. Until then, we’ve put together both our picks for the best film in each of the major categories (“major categories” being chosen by the highly scientific method of “the ones we felt like writing about”), and our prediction for what actually will win. They’re all after the jump; check ’em out, and add yours in the comments.
Best Picture The Artist The Descendants Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close The Help Hugo Midnight in Paris Moneyball The Tree of Life War Horse
PICK: Hugo. As we mentioned earlier this week, much of what The Artist does well, Hugo does better, though without the (admittedly well-executed) novelty of its silent film construction. PREDICTION: The Artist will win, though, and it’s not an injustice or anything; it’s an utterly charming (if somewhat thin) evocation of the silent cinema, with surefire appeal to the Academy’s very, very old voting bloc. The Help could stage an upset (and if Viola Davis wins Best Actress, that will become more likely), but for now, The Artist is the safe bet.
Best Actor Demian Bichir – A Better Life George Clooney – The Descendants Jean Dujardin – The Artist Gary Oldman – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Brad Pitt – Moneyball
PICK: Oldman. His quiet and atypically understated turn as George Smiley was utterly riveting, finding the operatic performer working masterfully in a decidedly minor key. PREDICTION: Clooney. Most of the prediction articles we’re reading are calling it for Dujardin, but Clooney is an Oscar golden boy, with a previous Supporting Actor trophy, two previous Best Actor nominations, and nominations for writing and directing as well (including one this year, for co-writing The Ides of March). They love the guy, and his against-type turn as a cuckolded family man has several Oscar-clip-ready moments.
Best Actress Glenn Close – Albert Nobbs Viola Davis – The Help Rooney Mara – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady Michelle Williams – My Week with Marilyn
PICK: Williams. In stepping into the role of Marilyn Monroe, this consistently impressive actor did the impossible: refusing to be intimidated by the iconography, she simply became the character and got on with it. PREDICTION: Streep. Though Davis has pulled ahead in the last couple of weeks (mostly due to a decisive win at the SAG Awards), we still think Streep’s got this one locked up; in years like this, without a clear, blockbuster favorite, voters tend to distribute the awards over several pictures, and the all-but-certain win for The Help’s Spencer may be seen as that movie’s big victory.
Best Supporting Actor Kenneth Branagh – My Week with Marilyn Jonah Hill – Moneyball Nick Nolte – Warrior Christopher Plummer – Beginners Max von Sydow – Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
PICK AND PREDICTION: Plummer. This would have been a real horse race had Albert Brooks been nominated, but alas… So Plummer takes this one; the combination of elements that voters like is unstoppable, and it really is a charming, wonderful piece of work.
Best Supporting Actress Bérénice Bejo – The Artist Jessica Chastain – The Help Melissa McCarthy – Bridesmaids Janet McTeer – Albert Nobbs Octavia Spencer – The Help
PICK: McTeer. Albert Nobbs is Glenn Close’s vehicle, and she was rewarded with the nomination you can see her working for in every frame of the picture. But McTeer’s earthy, energetic performance is the real deal. PREDICTION: Spencer. The only way it doesn’t happen is if Chastain somehow splits the Help vote — or if there’s one of those “Marisa Tomei Surprise” situations for McCarthy’s bold, brassy comic turn.
Best Director The Artist – Michel Hazanavicius The Descendants – Alexander Payne Hugo – Martin Scorsese Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen The Tree of Life – Terrence Malick
PICK: Scorsese. And that’s the way it so often goes — there are occasional exceptions, but for the most part, the Best Picture was usually helmed by the year’s Best Director. And to that end… PREDICTION: Hazanavicius. No complaints there (or, really, about any of these nominees); his reanimating of the silent screen was done with meticulous attention to detail, and with an impressive command of the emotional power of the form.
Best Animated Feature A Cat in Paris Chico & Rita Kung Fu Panda 2 Puss in Boots Rango
PICK AND PREDICTION: Rango. But you’re not going to get a hard argument on this one; your author still hasn’t seen A Cat in Paris or Chico & Rita, the two more obscure titles in the bunch. And voters could very well pick Puss in Boots, simply because that’s the one they’ve heard the most about.
Best Documentary Feature Hell and Back Again If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory Pina Undefeated
PICK: Undefeated. Out of a strong bunch of documentaries, Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin’s non-fiction Friday Night Lights is the best: thoughtful, well-crafted, and unapologetically emotional. PREDICTION: Paradise Lost 3. This is a tough one to predict, since Undefeated has picked up some steam thanks to its recent, acclaimed theatrical run, and Pina has had a long, successful theatrical run. But this is the first of the Paradise Lost films to nab the nomination, and voters may very well see this as an opportunity to reward directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky for their 15-plus years of work on the series, which got three innocent men out of jail.
Best Foreign Language Film Bullhead (Belgium) Monsieur Lazhar (Canada) A Separation (Iran) Footnote (Israel) In Darkness (Poland)
PICK AND PREDICTION: A Separation. This beautifully modulated Iranian drama was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay — which has happened more often than you’d think (though it was far more frequent in the 1950s and 1960s). And just about every time a film is up for both, it wins at least the Best Foreign Film award (see La Strada, 8 ½, A Man and A Woman, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Amarcord, Fanny and Alexander, Talk To Her).
Best Original Score The Adventures of Tintin – John Williams The Artist – Ludovic Bource Hugo – Howard Shore Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Alberto Iglesias War Horse – John Williams
PICK: Iglesias. His moody, subtle work enhanced Tinker Tailor without smothering it — or, in other words, he did everything Williams didn’t. PREDICTION: Bource, He is kind of the obvious choice here, what with how much music The Artist required (and how vital it was to the film’s success) — though I’m still not sure how his controversial lifting of music from Vertigo didn’t get the score disqualified (as Black Swan’s and True Grit’s were last year, due to their interpolations of pre-existing works).
Best Cinematography The Artist – Gullaume Schiffman The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Jeff Croneweth Hugo – Robert Richardson The Tree of Life – Emmanuel Lubezki War Horse – Janusz Kaminski
PICK AND PREDICTION: Lubezki. We may not agree on the film, Tree of Life fans, but we can agree that it sure was pretty to look at.
Best Original Screenplay The Artist – Michel Hazanvicius Bridesmaids – Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig Margin Call – J.C. Chandor Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen A Separation – Asghar Farhadi
PICK AND PREDICTION: Allen. There are minor problems with his Midnight in Paris script (the thinness of Rachel McAdams’ character, primarily), but it is nonetheless a witty, beguiling piece of work, and in a very subtle way, it’s one of Allen’s most personal works — addressing his obsession and preference for our cultural past, while acknowledging (for the first time, it seems) the limitations of that obsession. He’ll probably take it, though this is a difficult category to guess at — a big night for The Artist could include a win here. But Allen has won this prize twice before (and been nominated for it twelve more times), and though a screenplay isn’t just about dialogue, it does seem like a stretch to think that a script without any could win the Oscar.
Best Adapted Screenplay The Descendants – Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash Hugo – John Logan The Ides of March – George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willmon Moneyball – Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan
PICK: Moneyball. It’s not easy to take a nonfiction book about statistics and turn it into a film as fast and funny as this one — in fact, it took two of Hollywood’s best scribes to pull it off. PREDICTION: The Descendants. Back in 2004, Payne’s last film Sideways was nominated for five Oscars, but only picked up the prize for Best Adapted Screenplay; though Clooney may grab the Best Actor statue, this is looking like Payne’s consolation prize again this year.
Those are our predictions and picks — add yours in the comments, and be sure to join us at 8pm Sunday for our big Oscar liveblog!