Someone should be posting these.
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Visual Effects
BY ED GONZALEZ ON FEBRUARY 17TH, 2011 AT 10:00 AM IN AWARDS
A category that seems almost too easy to call. Some said that Alice in Wonderland's visual effects were more like human-rights offenses, that Iron Man 2's visual F/X team phoned it in after the first film, and that Lots-o'-Huggin' Bear didn't need to take a swim in Hereafter's impressive tsunami. And though Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 was strongly reviewed, is there anyone who expects the film to break the franchise's always-a-bridesmaid status at the Oscars so far? Yeah, for its Paris-bending-back-on-itself and zero-gravity scenes alone, Inception shows off the sort of iconic craftsmanship that usually takes this prize in a walk. I gather Inception is so far ahead of the pack that the only thing that can prevent it from winning is a write-in nomination for The King's Speech or the world finally waking up from this horrible nightmare where the Christopher Nolan film actually exists.
Will Win: Inception
Could Win: Alice in Wonderland
Should Win: Inception
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Cinematography
BY ERIC HENDERSON ON FEBRUARY 16TH, 2011 AT 10:00 AM IN AWARDS
The first wave of guilds—directors, producers, and actors—all supplicated down on their knees for The King's Speech, all in near-simultaneity with the announcement of the film's dozen Oscar nominations. If the impact of that sea change has had some Oscar bloggers stepping off of observation decks and into the paths of oncoming trains, a few of the more insular guilds have started to show signs that they're not interested in laying down for another Weinstein sweep, and have taken the competition into their own hands—quite literally.
The Art Directors' Guild couldn't quite manage to sidestep The King's Speech's gimme in the category for best "period film" (presumably referring to a big blot of discharge Carrie White's mother warned her about), but at the same time gave Inception a rather unexpected leg up. Now, the American Society of Cinematographers have continued momentum for poor little non-nominated Christopher Nolan's epic and its chances in the tech categories by handing Inception the ASC award. Their slate of nominees aligned five-for-five with Oscar's, so this marks one of the most high profile guild snubs for The King's Speech to date.
On the one hand, this could be the ASC's way of crying "Uncle" over what is now Wally Pfister's seemingly lifelong commitment to putting Nolan's murky, monochromatic visions up there on the screen. On the other, even the BAFTAs, which collectively bore The King's Speech's children over the weekend, passed on giving it a lensing award, so maybe fans of its utilitarian, only occasionally off-kilter compositions are truly few. Ask some of those aforementioned bloggers what they think, and they'll tell you quite a few Oscar voters can be expected to put a check mark next to The King's Speech here even if Danny Cohen's name was Danny Trejo, and they may be right, but we're going to side with the guilds and suggest this one is actually The King's Speech's to earn, so to speak, not to lose. But against what?
Inception maybe, but Pfister's more evocative work on Nolan's The Prestige couldn't break through even when there were no Best Picture behemoths among its competition, as opposed to this slate's straight ticket. Fans of Fight Club and Requiem for a Dream can sleep easier now that Jeff Cronenweth and Matthew Libatique have, finally, broke through in a notoriously cliquey branch, earning plaudits for returning to work with David Fincher and Darren Aronofsky. But both The Social Network and Black Swan practically flaunt new-school credentials (the latter shot its subway scenes using a D-SLR, for Christ's sake) in a category that, Anthony Dod Mantle aside, typically favors salt-of-the-earth artisan efforts. Which makes the long-unrewarded Roger Deakins a perfect fit. Now on his ninth nomination without a win, his bid for True Grit represents his fifth for working with Joel and Ethan Coen, and seems a stylistic synthesis of the best elements of his two unsuccessful nominations from 2007.
Will Win: True Grit
Could Win: The King's Speech
Should Win: Black Swan
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Art Direction
BY ED GONZALEZ ON FEBRUARY 15TH, 2011 AT 10:00 AM IN AWARDS
Here's one of those categories where the spoils usually go to whoever shows us the "most" of whatever it is they're nominated for. So we thought this was going to be a slam dunk for Alice in Wonderland, whose maker, Tim Burton, has seen three of his films previously take this award: Batman, Sleepy Hollow, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It seemed so easy, especially since we didn't need to have the conversation about whether voters care if an art director's vision is realized via nails or keystrokes, what with Avatar having won this award last year. But then Alice in Wonderland lost to Inception with the Art Directors Guild, at which point we had to ask ourselves: Does AMPAS even like Burton's latest? Yes, we know the putrid Memoirs of a Geisha was a winner here in 2005, but that film's six nominations suggested wider AMPAS support. Also, the Rob Marshall film didn't have to compete with a Best Picture nominee, let alone three, including one that stands a reasonable chance of sweeping on Oscar night in a more spectacular than The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King did in 2004.
Will Win: The King's Speech
Could Win: Alice in Wonderland
Should Win: Inception
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Actor in a Leading Role
BY ERIC HENDERSON ON FEBRUARY 14TH, 2011 AT 10:00 AM IN AWARDS
This ought to be chapter three in a series of prediction entries no longer than the amount of time it takes the orchestra to cut off the acceptance speeches of the winners in the short film categories. If you don't think Colin Firth is taking this one with, if anything, even more ease than Jeff Bridges coasted to his win last year, then you may as well put your money down on Hailee Steinfeld winning this category in a shock upset. Because she has as good a shot as at least two of the nominees that actually have a penis and roles nearly as central as hers. Not that being attached to a penis matters quite so much as being attached to a Best Picture nominee, especially one that recently all but swept the BAFTAs. A number of pundits have already pointed out, in comparing Firth's easy win here against Annette Bening's increasingly uphill battle to reach endgame over in Best Actress, how AMPAS continues to think that men age like fine wine and that women spoil faster than leaky, raw chicken breast tenders in a Styrofoam tray. Firth's emerging worry lines and crow's feet are as much to account for his easy win as his affected stammer as the emotionally crippled King Bertie, and the presence of a couple of actors whose youth and charisma make Oscar feel all funny in his special area only underline Firth's win. (For that matter, you might say Firth's Oscar chances last year weren't so much dashed by Bridges's battles with the bottle as they were by Tom Ford's taste in men, culled from the very same smoldering age bracket Oscar simply can't stomach.) Jesse Eisenberg managed to ride the coattails of what was once considered an Oscar juggernaut, and James Franco's extracurricular bid to snatch the title once held by James Brown. But Ryan Gosling and Andrew Garfield learned the hard way that the Academy is truly No Country for Young Twinks, just as Firth will now have to come to terms with the notion that his time as the thinking woman's sex symbol may not extend much longer beyond the time it takes to say, "I'd like to thank the Academy."
Will Win: Colin Firth, The King's Speech
Could Win: Miss LaHonda Watkins, The Miss Black Person USA Beauty Pageant
Should Win: Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Foreign Language Film
BY ED GONZALEZ ON FEBRUARY 13TH, 2011 AT 10:00 AM IN AWARDS, FILM
Do we even need to talk about Dogtooth's chances? We know it's here by the grace of that secret cabal that saves critical favorites from the oblivion into which the category's larger voting body hurls them, thus allowing AMPAS to save a little face when nominations are announced. We also know that most voters probably sliced off little pieces of their skin while watching the film. Yes, I'm with Eric on this: Dogtooth will probably come in fifth place like no other nominee in history has ever come in fifth place. And speaking of slicing off skin: Isn't that the only thing that doesn't happen to Javier Bardem's Job-like character in Alejandro González Iñárritu's Biutiful? If not the worst film nominated for an Oscar this year, Biutiful is certainly the most depressing. It's also the most recognizable film here, but it takes more than being popular to win an award in a category where AMPAS members are required to see all the nominees before casting their votes.
Is there a precedent for such a resolutely bleak film as Biutiful to be considered a frontrunner? Unlike González Iñárritu's previous film, Babel, Biutiful doesn't seem sufficiently middlebrow—something that could also be said about Rachid Bouchareb's elegantly constructed Outside the Law. I was ready, then, to call this race for one of the stupidest films nominated for an Oscar this year, Susanne Bier's In a Better World, which was dubbed by our own Aaron Cutler as "the sort of movie that wins the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar" when he caught it in Abu Dhabi last year. It's a well-acted but condescendingly written colonialist hissy fit about the ethics of violence that takes place, in part, in the Africa of Ridley Scott, Fernando Meirelles, and Edward Zwick's fallacious imaginations. Its tackiness is unbelievable, not unlike recent winners in this category, but then I saw Incendies.
I'm still not sure what to make of Incendies's climax, an allegorical time bomb so heavy, so wild, it makes the whole of Dogtooth seem straighter than Howards End. Absurd, maybe, but this is undeniably the most gorgeously crafted film in the category (one particular scene—the assassination of a bus full of Muslims by a group of militant rightwing Christians—is still shaking me). It helps that the film tells the most compelling and heart-wrenching story in the category: of twins—one girl, one boy—returning to Lebanon to put the pieces together of their recently deceased mother's unspeakably torturous life. Denis Villeneuve, whose previous Maelstrom I admired for its style, is no middlebrow visionary, but this story of characters reaching for each other across beautifully connected parallel timelines, understanding themselves and each other a little more with every terrible secret that's revealed, may be described as a soap opera, and voters in this category love a good sudser.
Some might say that Incendies's political subject matter will hurt the film's chances. But unlike Paradise Now, which bugged people for how it dared to humanize the demon, the terrorists of Incendies mostly terrorize themselves. The film bases politics in the personal, not in the geopolitical, and that's a distinction that helped another sudsy family melodrama from Canada, Denys Arcand's insufferably self-congratulatory The Barbarian Invasions, persevere in 2003 over a group of nominees that so happened to included a self-serious Nordic film (Evil) about institutionalized violence and boys behaving badly.
Will Win: Incendies
Could Win: In a Better World
Should Win: Incendies
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
BY ERIC HENDERSON ON FEBRUARY 12TH, 2011 AT 10:00 AM IN AWARDS, FILM
I see no reason why this entry need be any longer than Ed's post yesterday, the one about how his post predicting Christian Bale for Best Supporting Actor needn't be any longer than his curt prediction for Heath Ledger in the same category for 2008. Though it doesn't hurt that this is the only category the once (and probably not future) Best Picture frontrunner doesn't face off against The King's Speech, Aaron Sorkin's screenplay for The Social Network would've been a pretty sure bet even if it was the movie's only nomination, because his dialogue consistently makes everyone in the cast hyperventilate.
Will Win: The Social Network
Could Win: Your mom
Should Win: The Social Network
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Actor in a Supporting Role
BY ED GONZALEZ ON FEBRUARY 11TH, 2011 AT 10:00 AM IN AWARDS, FILM
Not sure there's much more to say here than I did two years back ago when I called this for Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight except that this is probably one of two categories where The King's Speech most deserves to win. Christian Bale, for eating, regurgitating, then shooting up The Fighter's scenery, has lapped up nearly every supporting actor accolade since the start of the awards season. Oscar loves a showboater, and unlike his co-star Melissa Leo, Bale seems to have kept the drama on screen. I'm not sure the momentum he's mustered can be toppled, even by some slightly unhinged awards speeches that suggest playing Dicky Eklund wasn't exactly a stretch for the actor—though we knew that already from the way Bale talks to his mother. I know, it's been less than a month since industry awards revealed that The Social Network was probably never our Best Picture frontrunner, but even then the only honor Geoffrey Rush has wrestled from an unkempt Bale's twitchy fingers, not counting SAG's ensemble award, was a prize from the Central Ohio Film Critics Association. Oscar loves a saint, but in the supporting categories at least, they love losers even more.
Will Win: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Could Win: Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech
Should Win: John Hawkes, Winter's Bone
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Music (Original Song)
BY ERIC HENDERSON ON FEBRUARY 10TH, 2011 AT 10:00 AM IN AWARDS, FILM
It's like a perfect battle. New guard vs. old school. The power of youth vs. the experience of the established. Trash vs. class. The faceoff between "Bound to You," Christina Aguilera's "Maybe This Time" moment toward the dramatic climax of Burlesque, and "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me," Cher's torch song belted as if from the depths of a movie career gone all too predictably sour with age, is one of those Oscar matches that elevates a category that in many other years seems as rote and irrelevant to the artistry of movies as Best Visual Effects. Here, at last, is a pair of nominees that, despite the general shittiness of the movie vehicle carrying them, legitimately pays tribute to the integration of form, content, and intent. These two songs say more about the stars singing them than Burlesque, a frivolous stab at camp, ever attempts. That the category pits diva against divette is just the cherry on top.
Oh, wait. Am I looking at the wrong list? What?! You're telling me Oscar's music branch ignored both? Even the one penned by Diane Warren? Make that Golden Globe-winner Diane Warren? They drafted an awkward four-song slate just to avoid making room for just one of the two? And this after new regulations forcing the powers that be not just listen to songs, but actually see how they're used in their films? Maybe we really have seen the last of the big, Fosse-cribbing musical template.
Instinct, and recent history in this category, would suggest a win for "Coming Home" from Country Song Strong. But even though it fulfills the "stands in for the main character's emotional state during a pivotal moment of the movie's dramatic arc" requirements of the category's new order, that also means it stands in for vapid, shallow, flavorless filmmaking. And it does so in spades. "Coming Home" makes LeAnn Rimes's Con Air "Love Theme for a Vivisected Stuffed Rabbit" sound like Barbara Jean tracing the air in Nashville. It's not out of the running completely, if only because given a choice between its strident A/C blandness and A.R. Rahman's ambient attempt at musical existentialism, Oscar voters probably prefer the former.
No matter. If The King's Speech threatens to undo nearly a decade's worth of progress in Oscar's Best Picture track record, this slate almost assuredly means we're back to the era that brought Alan Menken his four Oscars. Menken is back again this year with "I See the Light" from Tangled. He's facing reasonably stiff competition from Randy Newman's latest Pixar ditty, but Toy Story 3 is a movie about growing up, moving on, and breaking old habits. Not exactly the theme song for what stands to be the most regressive Oscar night in recent memory.
Will Win: "I See the Light," Tangled
Could Win: "We Belong Together," Toy Story 3
Should Win: "4:33," John Cage
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Short Film (Live Action)
BY ED GONZALEZ ON FEBRUARY 9TH, 2011 AT 10:00 AM IN AWARDS, FILM
Tanel Toom's The Confession and Michael Creagh's The Crush, a kids-with-killer-instincts double bill from the British Isles, were ruled out early by the four of us who watched all the nominees in this category. The former, seemingly made with My First Michael Haneke® tracing paper, features one more odious plot twist than the latter, but if it's infinitely less reprehensible than The Crush in the end, it's because it has a fantastic lead performance from Lewis Howlett, a guilt-ridden cherub of a boy worried about making his first confession, to counterbalance the considerably less accomplished turn by the portly, carrot-topped Joe Eales, a wee Phillip Seymour Hoffman who exits the film in a fashion that may gratify more than it shocks. A rather contrived take on how Catholic guilt takes root in young lives, The Confession is handsomely made and, unlike The Crush, more than just a fucked-up stunt, but we've made the mistake before of picking the most self-serious nominee in the bunch and calling it a day.
Luke Matheny's God of Love strikes me as the sort of lark that's lucky just to be nominated, though I would be remiss if I didn't mention that everyone but myself called it their favorite of the five nominees. (Make of that what you will, but remember: The majority of people who vote here do not wear skinny jeans.) This black-and-white Jarmushian doodle about a guy trying to seduce a girl with love-inducing darts boasts a confident lead performance, a hilarious Witness joke, and a melancholic third-act twist, but to quote Eric, it's also "very Tisch." Which is to say, its artistry isn't as seamless as that of other films—good or bad—that have taken this prize in years where there wasn't an Israeli-Palestinian or Holocaust-themed production in the running. Those years, the Academy has repeatedly stated its preference for films—from The Shooter to The New Tenants—with the sort of macabre sense of humor that God of Love is too smart to indulge.
Another mistake we've often made in more difficult-to-call years is choosing the "ethnic" nominee, and we're tempted to go there again. Ivan Goldschmidt's Na Wewe is a chronicle of an attack by rebels on a group of people traveling by bus through Rwanda's neighboring Burundi region. The film maintains a somewhat shaky, off-putting farcical tone throughout that doesn't truly make sense until the euphoric last act, when a fascinating link is drawn between the name of Bono's famous band and the two races pitted against each other during the 1994 Rwanda massacre. This is the most philosophically potent nominee in the bunch, an anecdote that uses language to succinctly reveal the fundamental absurdity of racism. It may scream "winner," but we know how this category has shaken down before, so we're putting our chips elsewhere.
We're going to risk making the "kids with cancer" mistake again by calling this for Wish 143. Ian Barnes and and Samantha Waite's film, a softie with a very tough exterior, concerns a terminally ill 15-year-old hornball who's granted a wish by the Dreamscape Foundation, and instead of wanting to go to Disneyland or meet Gary Neville, asks for an audience with a naked chick. Completely sensible if you ask me, and the whole thing is executed with that particular mix of seriousness and humor that goes over well with voters, though in this case it's an easy-to-stomach balancing act, in part because the epiphany-like twist that heartbreakingly caps the film doesn't play as a con against audiences. Maybe the film is too good to win, but another thing going for it is the lasting-impression factor: It will be the final film to be seen by voters during screening programs, and that has boded well for over 50% of the winners in this category in the last 10 years.
Will Win: Wish 143
Could Win: Na Wewe
Should Win: Wish 143 or Na Wewe
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Documentary (Short Subject)
BY ERIC HENDERSON ON FEBRUARY 8TH, 2011 AT 10:00 AM IN AWARDS, FILM
Last year, Ed noted the competition in this category didn't want for tragic gravity. With another full slate of five nominees this year, each nuzzling right up against the 40-minute limit stipulated by Academy rules, the documentary short subject field is again a tad more heavy than rich, with altruism invariably trumping aesthetics. Which isn't a bad thing at all, even if a few of this year's nominees are unquestionably softball pitches, and ever so faintly dry. (Odds there's an Elinor Burkett lurking among these filmmakers are blessedly long.)
The biggest offender in that regard is The Warriors of Qiugang. I hasten to clarify that, at no less than three years in the making, it's pretty easily the most dedicated effort of the whole batch, and announces the achievement in a title card right off the bat. Filmmakers Ruby Young and Thomas Lennon planted themselves in a small Chinese village doing battle with a nefarious pesticide-manufacturing plant that has, so they tell it, decimated their turf's ecosystem in the span of just a few decades. Their struggle against faceless bureaucracy is obviously admirable, but, so far as Academy members are concerned, it's hard to imagine voters getting too riled up about a couple thousand villagers complaining about the quality of their air when hundreds of children killed in shoddy schools toppled by an earthquake couldn't get their attention last year.
Another short that doesn't quite register loudly enough on The Cove litmus test (the one which measures how likely voters are to equate their check mark with the act of efforting change in world policy) is Sun Come Up, though the topic is probably the most politically friendly in the entire lineup. Jennifer Redfearn and Tim Metzger's film smartly tackles the threat of global warming in microcosmic fashion, by focusing on a small tribe living their existence on an island off the coast of Papua New Guinea, an island that is about to be wiped from the face of the earth by the rising seas. Sun Come Up follows them as they send reps to the mainland to beg for a new piece of land to call their own. If its heart is open, its approach is a tad too abstruse to stick the landing the closing title cards attempt.
Also working against Sun Come Up is the category's one bone fide upper: Strangers No More, a sweet-trite snapshot of a year in the life of Bialik-Rogozin School, a sort of world charter school located in Tel Aviv, where children from every war-torn corner of the globe are invited to come and make a fresh start for themselves. And to learn Hebrew. We're not oblivious to the movie's secret, cherubic weapons, including one that, unfortunately, didn't even occur to filmmakers Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon. Is it callous to suggest that if they'd have just had the foresight to give a full profile to the kid who briefly, in the film's opening moments, introduces himself as Egyptian, their Oscar would've been a slam dunk?
On the other side of the Gaza Strip (politically, not geographically) is the category's most challenging work: Killing in the Name. Jed Rothstein examines Islamist fundamentalism by following Jordanian crusader Ashraf al-Khaled, whose wedding day was crashed by a suicide bomber who killed no less than 27 members of his wedding party (including three of the four parents), as he confronts various proponents of jihad, demanding an justification for the casualties. As Ed noted to me, Rothstein pulls few punches, and includes some downright terrifying footage of holy war's collateral damage. That said, it's Oscar chances are somewhat compromised by the same problem Laura Poitras's The Oath would've faced had it been up for documentary feature: One or two too many people profiled in both movies have a potentially alienating way of lamenting not the fact that terrorist acts by Islamist radicals kill people, just that they unwittingly kill other Muslims, thereby blocking aspiring martyrs' ascendance into heaven. Tough sell.
That leaves Poster Girl, Sara Nesson and Mitchell Block's portrait of Robynn Murray, a young Army vet who, at one time, was featured on the cover of an infantry magazine as a model female soldier, but now copes (and just barely) with the ravaging effects of PTSD and the physical pain of a hip injury. No other movie in this group so fully invades its subject's personal space (to the point that I expected her quavering voice to trigger a sympathy panic attack), and no others are so fully rewarded with the raw, emotional payback that invasion produces. Murray's battles with psychological despair, the ineptitude of the VA network and persistent flashes of what she witnessed while fighting in Iraq are all rendered in intimate, occasionally violent stolen moments. Just when you think the doc is about to overplay its hand, Murray starts ripping up her Army conduct manuals to make a paper-mâché of her torso, essentially mirroring the documentary's aesthetic approach. If you don't think voters eat up amateur artistry finessed from injustice, then you've apparently forgotten about Born Into Brothels.
Will Win: Poster Girl
Could Win: Killing in the Name
Should Win: Poster Girl or Killing in the Name
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Short Film (Animated)
BY ED GONZALEZ ON FEBRUARY 7TH, 2011 AT 10:00 AM IN AWARDS, FILM
Even though some were pegging Logorama as a possible upset over A Matter of Loaf and Death in this category prior to last year's Oscar ceremony, I didn't think the former's crude hipster snark would resonate with voters as significantly as the humanist warmth of Nick Park's most recent Wallace and Gromit adventure. That it did in the end may bode well for Let's Pollute, a six-minute snarkfest about pollution so oversaturated with sarcasm it made me want to mix my cardboards and plastics out of sheer frustration, but will the young'ns who helped push Logorama to a win last year find real innovation to the ingratiating film's surface-deep regurgitation of the style of '50s educational films? Hopefully voters will embrace a film that doesn't feel as if was made in order to be excerpted by Michael Moore.
For legit animated artistry behold Madagascar, a Journey Diary and The Lost Thing. The former is a reverie-like personal journey through the past and present of the main character's titular homeland, conveyed using a number of different animation techniques, from CG to watercolors. It's the most richly evocative nominee in the category, making breathtaking use of perspective throughout, though I wonder if the rationale for the various artistic modes director Bastien Dubois employs feels somewhat arbitrary. The Lost Thing, the story of a boy trying to find a welcoming place for a "lost thing" in an exceedingly gray, Orwellian world that brings to mind postwar England, is an eye-popper with a sturdier narrative foundation, but it's also a philosophically vague and borderline naïve commentary on the relationship between the status quo and "the other"…and, um, how whites could probably stand to have a little bit more "color" in their daily lives?
Eric calls it "gay," but Day & Night is still my favorite of the nominated shorts. Pixar's film is a morally charged study in visual perspective that made more sense in 3D than the film it accompanied in theaters, Toy Story 3. But it's going to take something a little less old-fashioned for Pixar to win again in this category anytime soon. In the end, we have to call this for The Gruffalo, an adorable fable about a small mouse's unique cunning in trying to outwit a trio of hungry predators. It's easy to see this one being a favorite with the children of every Academy member who'll vote here, though adults shouldn't have a problem connecting with a story about teaching children to be brave or appreciating the aesthetic mode—CG that looks like it could be stop motion—that recalls all things Maurice Sendak and Roald Dahl. Also, Helena Bonham Carter lends her voice to the project, so a vote for The Gruffalo is essentially a vote for The King's Speech.
Will Win: The Gruffalo
Could Win: Madagascar, a Journey Diary
Should Win: Day & Night
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay
BY ERIC HENDERSON ON FEBRUARY 6TH, 2011 AT 10:00 AM IN AWARDS, FILM
Rule number one for prognosticating the Best Original Screenplay category: Rule out Mike Leigh at your own peril. He's been nominated in this category for five of his last seven features and, for the second time in a row, earned his movie's solitary nod. (In contrast, the actors' branch has apparently grown weary of his films.) The screenwriters love him as much as they no longer love Woody Allen. Of course, I'm just talking about picking out potential nominees. When it comes to actually winning, his chances are nil even when we're not talking about one of his more weakly received efforts because, among other reasons, there will always be some for whom the concept of awarding a writing Oscar to a filmmaker who notably works improvisationally is tantamount to awarding Best Actor to, say, Mr. Brainwash—no matter how appropriate the citation would be.
"Appropriate" would be especially true this year, when none of Leigh's competition could even hope to approach his level of nuance and observation. No Charlie Kaufman, no brothers Coen, and no chatty robot recycling Chaplin. This year's lineup ought to be the perfect slate to give Leigh his long overdue. But since he's competing against four Best Picture nominees, expect him to come comfortably into fifth place—if he bothers to come at all.
Leading up to the nominations, many presumed that Christopher Nolan, having gotten his not-so-long overdue—or due at all—Best Director nomination, would be the frontrunner for a consolation prize in this category for apparently using color-coded note cards to organize the last hour of his allegedly mind-blowing, multi-leveled dreamscapes in Inception. "Robbed" once again, the Mark Harris "narrative" for that scenario has evaporated and been usurped by B-b-bertie's… b-b-blighted… b-b-beans in the gob. And though the quartet behind the screenplay for The Fighter appeared to be having a ball working in and around sports-movie clichés (and came up with my favorite diss of the year: "MTV Girl"), and though Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg's militantly sagacious, upper-middle-class lesbians occasionally talk like they were reciting stage directions (a plus in this category), there's little doubt this one's in the bag for The King's Speech. Yes, the movie's most celebrated sequence involves King George VI stomping around a working-class flat and transposing his dirty mouth, momentarily, into last year's (losing) screenplay for In the Loop. Most voters will be focusing on pithy exchanges like:
King George VI: My physicians say [smoking] relaxes the throat.
Lionel Logue: They're idiots.
King George VI: They've all been knighted.
Lionel Logue: Makes it official then.
Will Win: The King's Speech
Could Win: The Kids Are All Right
Should Win: Another Year
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Documentary Feature
BY ED GONZALEZ ON FEBRUARY 5TH, 2011 AT 10:00 AM IN AWARDS, FILM
When Waiting for Superman surprisingly but rightfully got Oscar's cold shoulder, the hunt for the Documentary Feature prize suddenly became a wide open one. Four of the nominated films lean hard on pressing social issues, always a plus, and no two overlap in subject matter, but the best documentary in this category, Lucy Walker's Waste Land, doesn't lean hard on our social issues. While that hasn't stopped previous films from scoring wins here, the last time I thought the Academy would go for a film about people living in and around landfills, surviving off the detritus they find there (2006's Documentary Short Subject nominee Recycled Life), I lost an Oscar pool. Significant though it may be, Walker's documentary approach may be too objective for a group that typically favors films that give them the warm and fuzzies or safely, sometimes cheaply, stroke their righteous indignation—though you could say its acclaimed competitors Restrepo and Inside Job suffer from a similar problem.
The muckracking documentary Gasland likely sent a few voters into a tizzy, but how many still gave a shit after learning that their tap water didn't light up when you held a flame up to it? If enough voters lost small fortunes during the 2008 financial crisis, Inside Job may just win by sheer force of voter enragement, but we're going to have to call this for Exit Through the Gift Shop. Topicality may not be on its side, but one thing the film does have is the entertainment media's complete and undivided attention, and if the recent win for Man on Wire is any indication (and, to a similar extent, Logorama last year for Animated Short Film), simply being hip and remaining the center of attention throughout the Oscar season is enough to guarantee victory. I'm no fan of graffiti artist Banky's documentary whatsit, but even I would vote for the film if I could, if only to see who or what, dressed God knows how, will show up on stage to accept the award.
Will Win: Exit Through the Gift Shop
Could Win: Inside Job
Should Win: Waste Land
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Music (Original Score)
BY ERIC HENDERSON ON FEBRUARY 4TH, 2011 AT 10:00 AM IN AWARDS, FILM
Colin Firth ain't the only one riding The King's Speech to an "overdue" Oscar win. Or, at least, he's not the most arguably overdue for the award from within The King's Speech's fold. After all, Firth, let it be reiterated, was nominated for his first (his first) Academy Award last year and predictably lost to an unawarded Hollywood institution who was on his fifth nomination. To hear people spin it this year, you'd think that one, solitary loss constituted an injustice on the scale of Meryl Streep's last three losses combined. In contrast, Alexandre Desplat has suffered three losses so far in this category in four years (for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and The Queen), and is frequently snubbed for arguably superior efforts (i.e. Birth, The Painted Veil, or even this year's The Ghost Writer).
Yes, it's fortuitous that he's hitched up to a potential Oscar juggernaut this time around, and we probably aren't alone in thinking his last, icier set of cues in service of the monarchy were more crisply rendered than his Beethoven pastiches this time around, but there's no denying he has rapidly emerged as one of the foremost composers of the moment—a designation that only Oscar seems convinced can also be applied to A.R. Rahman, who got another set of nominations for 127 Hours.
John Powell's themes for How to Train Your Dragon are alternately cute and rousing, and Trent Reznor's touch on The Social Network proved people like me right for thinking the instrumentals in The Fragile would make a great soundtrack. But the only score that seems even remotely capable of toppling The King's Speech is Hans Zimmer's incredibly literal-minded, four-chord musical accompaniment to Christopher Nolan's four-zone Inception. Compared to Zimmer's delightful work on last year's Sherlock Holmes, Inception is a thudding migraine. But it's also the only score in this lineup to inspire its own red button.
Will Win: The King's Speech
Could Win: Inception
Should Win: The Social Network
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Makeup
BY ED GONZALEZ ON FEBRUARY 3RD, 2011 AT 10:00 AM IN AWARDS, FILM
It's weird to think that this category has only been around since 1981, when Rick Baker won for his iconic makeup effects for John Landis's An American Werewolf in London. His competition at the time? The late Stan Winston for Heartbeeps, not the worst film nominated for an Oscar that year, but still. Proving once again that they can look past the crap to see the beauty, AMPAS's makeup branch rewarded Baker this year with his 11th nomination for his special makeup effects for The Wolfman—work that I found rather crude when I saw the film last February, though I'm willing to concede that my initial negative reaction should have been directed entirely at the film's visual effects team. The Wolfman may not have the "prestige"—high or low—of past Best Makeup winners (among them Amadeus, Bettlejuice, Driving Miss Daisy, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day), or even its fellow nominees (the furrowed foreheads of The Way Back and Barney's Version, by some accounts a worse film), but let us remember that previous winners in this category also include Harry and the Hendersons, The Nutty Professor, Men in Black, and Dr Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas—all work by Rick Baker.
Will Win: The Wolfman
Could Win: The Way Back
Should Win: The Wolfman
Philomena is one of the year's best Philomenas!