Your Guide to the Oscars

By Alan Mattli

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Tomorrow night, the annual Academy Awards are held in Los Angeles for the 84th time, celebrating another year of exellence in film. So here is my list of the categories, my preferences, my predictions, and my comments. And since I’ve been following the race ever since the end of last November, many of my bets may actually be accurate – save for a radical change in Academy tendencies.

Although 2011 has been an excellent year for movies, the Oscar race up to now has been a relatively boring one, since the French silent film The Artist has been on a veritable roll winning practically everything it was nominated for. And despite The Help and The Descendants gaining ground over the past few weeks, the cinematically traditionalist Academy won’t pass up the chance of awarding “Best Picture” to a silent feature for the first time since 1928 when Wings was the first film ever to win this category. The only real question remaining is how much of a landslide victory it’s going to be for The Artist. Personally, I think there are three scenarios:

Scenario 1 (least likely): The Artist is in for a modest victory à la No Country for Old Men in 2008 or The King’s Speech last year, winning up to four Oscars.

Scenario 2 (very likely): The Artist wins between five and seven Oscars, thus losing a few, but still walking away as the night’s big winner – think The Hurt Locker in 2010.

Scenario 3 (likely): The Artist sweeps the 2012 Academy Awards with a minimum of 8 awards, much like Slumdog Millionaire in 2009.

My favourite scenario would be the first one, not least because I don’t think Michel Hazanavicius’ film is deserving of too many awards. Sure, it’s a good film but it lacks depth and it’s not particularly challenging, unlike some of its competitors.

And now: the predictions!

BEST PICTURE

  • The Artist
  • The Descendants
  • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
  • The Help
  • Hugo
  • Midnight in Paris
  • Moneyball
  • The Tree of Life
  • War Horse

Will Win: The Artist – There is no obvious alternative frontrunner – unlike last year when The King’s Speech and The Social Network were battling it out –, so The Artist‘s march towards victory will very likely remain undisturbed.

Should Win: The Descendants – This is by far the best of the Best Picture nominees. It’s an arresting portrait of a dysfunctional family in turmoil, funny and sad at the same time, brilliantly written and marvelously acted. If this year’s race for the most prestigious Academy Award includes one film that can be called “great”, it’s definitely Alexander Payne’s The Descendants.

Could Win: The Descendants – Although The Help has won the important Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Acting Ensemble, it probably doesn’t have a strong enough lobby of people thinking it is worth of Best Picture, whereas The Descendants might. Not only is it the better movie, it’s also less manipulative and more easily likeable. Furthermore, it has a Best Director nomination which is often indicative of what Academy voters think of the films themselves.

BEST DIRECTOR

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

Will Win: Michel Hazanavicius – For a time, it looked like Martin Scorsese could pull off a Best Picture/Director split this year. He won several critics’ awards as well as the Golden Globe, and he is extremely well liked in Academy circles. However, the sheer power of The Artist brushed aside this possibility; Hazanavicius won both the BAFTA award and the Directors Guild Award. Much like Tom Hooper last year, a relative newcomer will, helped by his crowd-pleasing movie, outrival directors whose visions and skills are more refined, and who sport a truly individual style.

Should Win: Alexander Payne – Not only is The Descendants a better film than The Artist, it is directed with a steadier hand and more sense of direction. While Hazanavicius quotes films of the 1930s and 1940s, Payne creates an absorbing atmosphere one loves to delve into.

Could Win: Martin Scorsese – The fact that he is an Academy favourite and that Hugo celebrates early filmmaking and the conservation of old film rolls might just give Scorsese enough votes to secure an anything but undeserved win. It’s not very likely, though.

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

  • Demián Bichir – A Better Life
  • George Clooney – The Descendants
  • Jean Dujardin – The Artist
  • Gary Oldman – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • Brad Pitt – Moneyball

Will Win: Jean Dujardin – Admittedly, this is a much closer race than the two previous ones. But Dujardin, who really shines in The Artist, apart from the “Best Picture bonus”, won the Screen Actors Guild Award and Clooney, his toughest rival, already won an Oscar for his performance in Syriana.

Should Win: George Clooney – If there still were doubts that George Clooney is a good actor, The Descendants put them to rest. His nuanced performance that relies on little more than understated movements and looks might even qualify as his career’s best and would be a deserving winner – despite four very strong competitors. His problem, however, is that his acting comes across as effortless – think Cary Grant –, which scares away a lot of Academy voters.

Could Win: George Clooney – Some people would list Gary Oldman or Brad Pitt as Dujardin’s co-frontrunner. But it is Clooney who received the Golden Globe and other accolades, and who, thusly, remains the only alternative to the category’s favourite.

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

  • 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

Will Win: Viola Davis – Before the Screen Actors Guild Awards, it looked like this was Meryl Streep’s award to lose. But then, Viola Davis was honoured by her own guild and the tables have been turned ever since. Davis’ role as a Southern maid in the 1960s is more understated and thus more demanding than Streep’s Margaret Thatcher. Moreover, Streep already calls two Oscars her own.

Should Win: Rooney Mara – Replacing Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander wasn’t easy but Mara did it brilliantly. She subtly looks past the violent Lisbeth and instead focuses on the sociopath hidden inside.

Could Win: Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady continues to divide audiences but Streep’s powerhouse performance is always hailed as the film’s big selling point. Maybe winning the Golden Globe turns out to be an asset after all.

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

  • Kenneth Branagh –My Week with Marilyn
  • Jonah Hill – Moneyball
  • Nick Nolte – Warrior
  • Christopher Plummer – Beginners
  • Max von Sydow – Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Will Win: Christopher Plummer – His portrayal of a man coming out of the closet towards the end of his life is certain to touch the Academy as it did audiences. With a Screen Actors Guild Award, a Golden Globe and numerous other awards under his belt, Plummer will go on to deservedly win his first Oscar.

Should Win: Max von Sydow – It’s obvious that the Supporting Actor Oscar will be, to a degree, a career award this year, as both frontrunners are 82 years old and look back on an amazing filmography. But it is the mute performance by von Sydow, who was snubbed so many times (The Seventh Seal, Through a Glass, Darkly, The Emigrants / The New Land), that truly captured my heart.

Could Win: Max von Sydow The Academy might feel that they owe him an Oscar even more than they owe it to Plummer, not least because of their love for Ingmar Bergman, with whom von Sydow frequently collaborated. Furthermore, the fact that he doesn’t say a word in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close fits the theme of talking as little as possible this year’s Academy Awards seem to follow (The Artist, Gary Oldman, Rooney Mara).

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

  • Bérénice Bejo – The Artist
  • Jessica Chastain – The Help
  • Melissa McCarthy – Bridesmaids
  • Janet McTeer – Albert Nobbs
  • Octavia Spencer – The Help

Will Win: Octavia Spencer – There has really been only one in this category for months now. Spencer’s feisty performance seems to have struck nerve with critics and industry members alike.

Should Win: Octavia Spencer – She’s great, there’s no denying that.

Could Win: Bérénice Bejo – If The Artist goes on to sweep the Oscars, a win in this category would be an early indicative. The Best Picture momentum might cost Spencer her award.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon – The Ides of March
  • John Logan – Hugo
  • Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash – The Descendants
  • Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin – Moneyball

Will Win: The Descendants –This category is probably Oscar night’s most interesting one; it has been completely open up until last Sunday when The Descendants won the prestigious Writers Guild Award, which put it in front for the Oscars.

Should Win: The Descendants – With bad writing and direction, the story could easily have become a cheesy TV soap opera. But the sharp script is a key factor in the film’s brilliance.

Could Win: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – In the other categories it’s nominated, Tomas Alfredson’s film is the “dark horse”, the unpredictable factor. Here, it will most likely be the only thing standing between The Descendants and the Oscar. Not only is the script both subtle and clever, the Academy might want to honour this screenplay because Bridget O’Connor died in 2010 from cancer. The only major drawback is the fact that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy‘s complexity could scare off voters. But since Moneyball, which would be the challenger in another year, was co-written by Aaron Sorkin, last year’s winner, Straughan looks like a hopeful candidate.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Woody Allen – Midnight in Paris
  • J.C. Chandor – Margin Call
  • Asghar Farhadi – A Separation
  • Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist
  • Annie Mumolo, Kristen Wiig – Bridesmaids

Will Win: The Artist – Woody Allen is the odds-on favourite in this category, especially after his Writers Guild Award last week, but I have a feeling The Artist‘s countless nods to early Hollywood could win Academy voters over. People saying that it doesn’t stand a chance because it wasn’t even nominated for a WGA, beware: last year’s winner in this category, The King’s Speech, wasn’t either.

Should Win: A Separation – 2011’s best film is the strongest contender in this category and would be thoroughly deserving of an Oscar, if for its multi-layered portrait of Iranian society alone.

Could Win: Midnight in Paris – I think its status as frontrunner helps The Artist but if Hazanavicius doesn’t win Original Screenplay, it will surely be Woody Allen’s delightful, unapologetically intellectual script. Considering the many awards it has won so far, it wouldn’t come as a surprise.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

  • Chico & Rita
  • Kung Fu Panda 2
  • Puss in Boots
  • Rango
  • Une vie de chat

Will Win: Rango – Without The Adventures of Tintin there to stop it, Gore Verbinski’s mediocre, overly tame celebration of insane characters will win this category with relative ease.

Should Win: Une vie de chat – This nomination is the category’s biggest surprise, and an extremely welcome one.

Could Win: Chico & Rita – It enthused European audiences and might be picked as proof that there is great animation to be found beside the big studios, particularly after four years of (rightful) Pixar reign.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

  • Hell and Back Again
  • If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
  • Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
  • Pina
  • Undefeated

Will Win: Hell and Back Again – After the end of the Iraq War, only Afghanistan remains, so this portrait of soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder might connect with the anti-war Academy.

Should Win: Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any of these movies. If pressed, I’d probably root for Wim Wenders’ Pina.

Could Win: Undefeated – From what I’ve heard, the story told in this documentary is tiresomly standard: a constantly losing football team that is turned into a group of winners by a new coach. However, the comeback motif could be inspiring and relevant enough to win over American voters.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

  • Bullhead (“Rundskop”, Belgium)
  • Footnote (“He’arat Shulayim”, Israel)
  • In Darkness (“W ciemności”, Poland)
  • Monsieur Lazhar (Canada)
  • A Separation (“Jodái-e Náder az Simin”, Iran)

Will Win: A Separation – Although this is the category that keeps surprising us year after year (Departures instead of Entre le murs in 2009; El secreto de sus ojos instead of Das weisse Band or Un prophète in 2010), A Separation is an unusually strong contender, having won award after award over the past three months. For once, it seems like the Foreign Language Oscar can actually be predicted.

Should Win: A Separation – The dominance of Asghar Farhadi’s film is by no means unfounded. It’s a landmark masterpiece that deserves every accolade.

Could Win: In Darkness – If any movie can beat A Separation, however improbable, it will most likely be Poland’s submission, whose Holocaust motif will be sure to inspire the Academy.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

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

Will Win: Emmanuel Lubezki

Should Win: Jeff Cronenweth or Janusz Kamiński

Could Win: Guillaume Schiffman

BEST EDITING

  • The Artist – Anne-Sophie Biron, Michel Hazanavicius
  • The Descendants – Kevin Tent
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall
  • Hugo – Thelma Schoonmaker
  • Moneyball – Christopher Tellefsen

Will Win: The Artist

Should Win: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or Hugo

Could Win: The Descendants

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

  • Ludovic Bource – The Artist
  • Alberto Iglesias – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • Howard Shore – Hugo
  • John Williams – The Adventures of Tintin
  • John Williams – War Horse

Will Win: Ludovic Bource

Should Win: John Williams for War Horse

Could Win: Alberto Iglesias

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

  • The Muppets – “Man or Muppet” (Bret McKenzie)
  • Rio – “Real in Rio” (Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown, Siedah Garrett)

Will Win: “Man or Muppet”

Should Win: “Man or Muppet”, not least because it was written by Bret McKenzie, whom you might know as Bret from Flight of the Conchords.

Could Win: I’ll let you fill in that one.

BEST ART DIRECTION

  • The Artist – Laurence Bennett, Robert Gould
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 – Stuart Craig, Stephanie McMillan
  • Hugo – Dante Ferretti, Francesco Lo Schiavo
  • Midnight in Paris – Anne Seibel, Hélène Dubreuil
  • War Horse – Rick Carter, Lee Sandales

Will Win: Hugo

Should Win: Midnight in Paris or Hugo – Unfortunately, Maria Djurkovic’s fantastic art direction for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was scandalously snubbed.

Could Win: The Artist

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

  • Anonymous –Lisy Christl
  • The Artist – Mark Bridges
  • Hugo – Sandy Powell
  • Jane Eyre – Michael O’Connor
  • W.E. – Arianne Phillips

Will Win: The Artist

Should Win: Jane Eyre or Hugo

Could Win: Hugo

BEST MAKEUP

  • Albert Nobbs – Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnston, Matthew W. Mungle
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 – Edouard F. Enriques, Gregory Funk, Yolanda Toussieng
  • The Iron Lady – Mark Coulier, J. Roy Helland

Will Win: The Iron Lady

Should Win: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Could Win: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 – This is the Academy’s last chance to give an Oscar to the series, which so far has never won one.

BEST SOUND EDITING

  • Drive – Lon Bender, Victor Ray Ennis
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Ren Klyce
  • Hugo – Philip Stockton, Eugene Gearty
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon – Ethan Van der Ryn, Erik Aadahl
  • War Horse – Richard Hymns, Gary Rydstrom

Will Win: Hugo

Should Win: Drive, which is alongside The Descendants the best American film nominated for an Oscar.

Could Win: War Horse

BEST SOUND MIXING

  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce, Bo Persson
  • Hugo – Tom Fleischman, John Midgley
  • Moneyball– Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, Dave Giammarco, Ed Novick
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon – Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush, Peter J. Devlin
  • War Horse – Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson, Stuart Wilson

Will Win: Hugo

Should Win: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Could Win: War Horse

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 – Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler, John Richardson
  • Hugo – Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman, Alex Henning
  • Real Steel – Erik Nash, Josh Rosengrant, Dan Taylor, Swen Gillberg
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White, Daniel Barrett
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon – Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew Butler, John Frazier

Will Win: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Should Win: Rise of the Planet of the Apes or Hugo

Could Win: Hugo

———-

BEST SHORT FILM, LIVE ACTION

  • Pentecost
  • Raju
  • The Shore
  • Time Freak
  • Tuba Atlantic

Will Win: Raju

Could Win: The Shore

———-

BEST SHORT FILM, ANIMATED

  • Dimanche/Sunday
  • The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
  • La Luna
  • A Morning Stroll
  • Wild Life

Will Win: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

Could Win: La Luna

———-

BEST DOCUMENTARY, SHORT SUBJECT

  • The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement
  • God Is the Bigger Elvis
  • Incident in New Baghdad
  • Saving Face
  • The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

Will Win: The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

Could Win: God Is the Bigger Elvis

———-

No matter who is going to win the most, whether I’m completely off target with my predictions, and whether my wishes come true or, I’m looking forward to a long night of suspense, joy, frustration, and marking the winners on all my lists – as I am every year. Let the Oscars begin!

If you’re watching the Oscars live too (ORF 1, which I’d recommend, and Pro 7 broadcast them; the ceremony begins at 2.30am), you can check out my Twitter account for occasional comments.

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7 responses to “Your Guide to the Oscars

  1. Thanks for this great summary, I really enjoyed reading it – particularly since I spent all day at the cinema today checking out some of the “Best Picture” nominees.

    Concerning “Hugo”, I don’t quite understand why exactly it’s up for Best Picture – sure, it’s Scorsese, about movie-making and the visuals are beautiful, but the story entirely failed to emotionally capture me.

    I definitely agree that Max von Sydow should win Best Supporting Actor, what a performance. Also, I really hope HP8 at least wins for Make-Up, although in my opinion the series should have won at least once for Art Direction as well, Craig and McMillan have done a consistently amazing job throughout all 8 movies.

    It’s a lot harder to find a place to watch the Oscars in decent quality (unless you have SkyTV) now that I’m in the UK, but I’ll watch them even if I have to do it over a wobbly online stream – let the excitement commence! 🙂

  2. Oh, I forgot – I really wish there was a honorary category for animal actors this year, just for Uggie 😀

  3. Thanks! 🙂

    Yeah, Uggie would definitely deserve one! 😀
    And I agree that HP should have won an Oscar for Art Direction once, especially the seventh one. Craig and McMillan did an amazing job there.

    Oh, and which BP nominees did you check out?

  4. Concerning “Hugo”, I do see the problems people have with it. I don’t right out love it either. However, to me it felt better than the sum of its parts, probably because of its subject matter.

  5. Thank you for the films’ highlights – some surely will be on my ‘to watch’ list! 🙂

  6. I went to see a triple bill of “Extremely loud and incredibly close”, “Hugo” and “The Artist” 🙂 The cinema chain where I just moved to has a member card that allows you unlimited movie access, and I just got mine 😀
    I have to say that, in my opinion, “Hugo” works beautifully as soon as it turns to the “movies” focus – there’s just not enough of that in the first half to hold it together, so it feels kind of disjointed to me. It’s obvious where Scorsese’s heart truly lies 🙂

  7. Does the Ceremony start at 2.30am (Zurich time) or the whole coverage which starts (1.30pm PT)?

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