27 February 2011

If I Had a Ballot

“I still think awards are stupid. But they’d be less stupid if they gave them to the right people.” — Ron Swanson, Parks & Recreation

Here are my Oscar predictions and preferences. If my previous track record is any guide, I’m wrong on about twenty percent of these — and hopefully a few preferences become realities.

Best Short Film & Documentary Short Subject
I haven’t seen enough of these to cast a ballot with confidence.
Will Win Short Film: God of Love
Should Win Short Film: N/A
Will Win Documentary Short: Strangers No More
Should Win Documentary Short: N/A

Best Animated Short Film
I have a soft spot for this category, which is (perhaps) my favorite of the below-the-line Oscars. I loved Madagascar, Carnet de Voyage, which is a beautiful and striking and lovingly animated short film. I also enjoyed Pixar’s Day & Night, a poignant examination of differences, and The Gruffalo, a British adaptation of a children’s book that features many celebrity voices. The latter two are probably where the contest is, and the winner typically is the longest of the shorts, which would be The Gruffalo. Yet, it seems a little thin so Day & Night might swoop in.
Will Win: The Gruffalo
Should Win: Madagascar, Carnet de Voyage

Best Visual Effects
Although the visual effects field was expanded from three to five, most of the nominees this year are exactly the kind of tired, regurgitated effects that fulfill more-is-more Academy preferences instead of useful, resourceful, compelling CGI. Inception — with its reality-defying dreamscapes — will take home the gold and, of this weak field, rightfully so.
Will & Should Win: Inception

Best Sound Mixing
Nothing in the Academy bylaws dictates that voters understand the differences between Sound Mixing and Sound Editing — or even what they are — which is why the winners in these categories tend to be loud, blockbuster films or better-loved films. Never mind how theater-vs.-home experiences alter the perception of sound. Inception is the likely winner, but each time I’ve seen The Social Network, I’ve marveled at how its soundscape balances all the elements and allows Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue to remain crystal clear.
Will Win: Inception
Should Win: The Social Network

Best Sound Editing
Ditto here what I noted in Mixing. These categories are so different it’s rare (in my opinion) that the same film should earn both awards. Inception will be a worthier winner here than in Mixing, but still not the best sound editing job of the year. For that, turn to the subtle, atmospheric, naturalistic sounds and snaps of the western landscape in True Grit. The Coens’ sound team, nominated in both categories for work on No Country For Old Men, is among the best sound crews in the business.
Will Win: Inception
Should Win: True Grit

Best Original Song
It was a bad year for original songs in films. My prediction, written by Alan Menken, feels a little derivative of his earlier work. I enjoyed A.R. Rahman’s song the most.
Will Win: “I See the Light” from Tangled
Should Win: “If I Rise” from 127 Hours

Best Original Score
Alexandre Desplat, the hardest working composer in the film business, is a good bet here. A great dark horse would be John Powell’s high-spirited, Celtic-infused melodies and evocations of friendship that back How to Train Your Dragon. The best score is the unorthodox fusion of electronica and classicism in The Social Network.
Will Win: Alexandre Desplat, The King’s Speech
Should Win: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, The Social Network

Best Makeup
To be honest, I haven’t seen any of these nominees and I haven’t lost any sleep because of that. The more-is-more theory of Oscar voting would predict a win for The Wolfman. The maybe-ostentatious-crap-was-nominated-but-we’re-not-that-desperate theory of Oscar voting (cf. Transformers) says Barney’s Version might prevail.
Will Win: Barney’s Version
Should Win: N/A

Best Editing
Without Inception editor Lee Smith in this category, it’s a safe bet to call it for Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter, who serve the rhythms of Aaron Sorkin’s rapid-fire Social Network screenplay.
Will Win & Should Win: Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter, The Social Network

Best Costume Design
Colleen Atwood’s complex yet gaudy duds for Alice in Wonderland might prevail here, but I suspect this will another boat lifted by the rising tide of The King’s Speech. A better choice would be the thematic threads of I Am Love.
Will Win: Jenny Beaven, The King’s Speech
Should Win: Antonella Cannarozzi, I Am Love

Best Cinematography
Nine-time nominee and long-time Coen collaborator Roger Deakins will likely strike gold this year for the impressive work on True Grit, which, in addition to rewarding Deakins, also fulfills the postcard replica standard the Academy often brings to this category. Matthew Libatique’s richly textured and fluid work on Black Swan is practically a ballet in and of itself, though.
Will Win: Roger Deakins, True Grit
Should Win: Matthew Libatique, Black Swan

Best Art Direction
I suspect this will be another of the technical categories that The King’s Speech brings along with its Best Picture win. It wouldn’t be my vote, but its art direction is still better than any of the travesties nominated in this category last year.
Will Win: The King’s Speech
Should Win: Inception

Best Foreign Language Film
How does one predict a category that requires a voter to see all the nominees? Well, it’s difficult unless you’re on the ground talking to actual Academy members. If the last few years have been any guide, a fallback option is to predict the film most likely to be the safe median of five. I’ve only seen Dogtooth, so I’m not in a position to say which film should win.
Will Win: In a Better World
Should Win: Check back in a few months.

Best Documentary
This much can be said: 2010 was an impressive year for documentaries. One could have easily doubled the size of this category. I’ve seen four of the five nominees — Waste Land is my blind spot — and each is impressive. The Academy typically aims big with this award (“Best” often means “Most Important” by their standards) but what that means is unclear. Could it be the politically savvy Inside Job? The intense and harrowing Restrepo? The tongue-in-cheek art criticism of Exit Through the Gift Shop? Another in a come-from-behind? For weeks most Oscar bloggers have had Inside Job as the prediction; at the last minute there’s been quick switching to Waste Land. I’m switching too, but guessing a different film.
Will Win: Restrepo
Should Win: Exit Through the Gift Shop

Best Animated Film
It’s almost enough to make you wonder when Pixar is going to give someone else a chance. Toy Story 3 takes this in a cake-walk, although The Illusionist would be a very, very worthy alternate.
Will & Should Win: Toy Story 3

Best Original Screenplay
Usually this is the stronger of the two screenplay categories, but I tip my hat to the adapted field this year. Three of the five original screenplay nominees have critical problems. David Seidler is a careful writer, but Mike Leigh’s Another Year is another of the director’s stellar examinations of the human condition.
Will Win: David Seidler, The King’s Speech
Should Win: Mike Leigh, Another Year

Best Adapted Screenplay
It’s unlikely anyone can topple Aaron Sorkin’s crackling screenplay for The Social Network, more likely than ever to score a win here.
Will & Should Win: Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network

Best Supporting Actress
I just don’t know what to make of this category. At some point or another, four of the nominees — Melissa Leo, Helena Bonham Carter, Amy Adams, and Hailee Steinfeld — seem as if they could be possible victors. The wave of support for The King’s Speech might even truly lift Carter’s boat if Leo and Adams split and Steinfeld doesn’t emerge strong. Hell, at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if they called Jacki Weaver’s name.
Will Win: Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Should Win: Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

Best Supporting Actor
That Christian Bale is poised to win this category for an unremarkable scenery-chewing performance in a mediocre film is a source of great consternation for me. Perhaps the only thing more frustrating is the omission of Andrew Garfield. I’m holding out for a Geoffrey Rush upset, which seems quite possible. He’s my number two vote, anyway.
Will Win: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Should Win: John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone

Best Actress
There’s little doubt that Natalie Portman does the most acting in this category (i.e., clearest on-screen acting), but does that alone earn one an Oscar? While Black Swan sends all its arrows in her direction, and she suffers them well, there’s little to no lining behind her to buoy her performance above a spectacular freak-out. It’s not my number-one choice, at least; for that the contest is more fierce between Michelle Williams for Blue Valentine and Nicole Kidman for Rabbit Hole.
Will Win: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Should Win: Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole

Best Actor
Colin Firth will soon join the ranks of the people who should have won the previous year and will win go on to win not as a conciliatory gesture but for genuine, powerful acting. What’s still up for debate is my personal vote: Firth and Jesse Eisenberg gave two incredibly resonant performances: one a man physically struggling to speak, the other desperately yearning to be heard. In many respects they’re the opposite of each. Firth brings life to an almost instantly likable character with a difficult impediment, while Eisenberg brings a measure of likability to an impediment-free twentysomething. Comparing the two side-by-side might be a future project of mine. I literally had to flip a coin and leave it to fate to decide.
Will & Should Win: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

Best Director
Tom Hooper snagged the Director’s Guild Award, which is basically a silver bullet when it comes to this category. There’s always a 10% chance it’ll go to someone else, and of those who are stepping out on a limb, many are predicting David Fincher might be lucky. That’s an awfully big “might,” even if it’s more artistically appealing. I’m no Oscar historian, but I do know a think or two about the award’s history, and splits are quite unlikely. When a film has a show of love as strong as The King’s Speech has among the Academy, it’s dangerous to pick otherwise. Still, my fingers are crossed. Also, for all of Black Swan’s problems (screenplay-related), Darren Aronofsky would be deserving as well.
Will Win: Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
Should Win: David Fincher, The Social Network

Best Picture
If you love film and care about the outcome of the Oscars at least one percent, you do so likely because of the possibility that a winning film might be seen by people who might not otherwise have watched it at all. If you love Black Swan, or The Fighter, or The Kids Are All Right, or any of the other films nominated, you want as many people to see your beloved film — reward the artist, enrich the mind, encourage more work, champion your darling of the year. For me, of the ten nominees, that film is The Social Network, which is likely to lose this evening. That’s okay; it’ll join a long list of great films that turned up short of the big prize. And although the blogosphere has circled the wagons and painted The King’s Speech as a usurper to the crown, I have nothing against the film and in fact actually like it quite a bit. It just doesn’t resonate for me as a great film. Oscar could do better; Oscar has done worse.
Will Win: The King’s Speech
Should Win: The Social Network
Preferential Ballot: The Social Network, Toy Story 3, The King’s Speech, True Grit, Winter’s Bone, Black Swan, Inception, 127 Hours, The Kids Are All Right, The Fighter

In the coming months, I’ll slip back into this blog post and edit these categories somewhat after I catch up with some of the films I’ve missed. I saw many more Oscar nominees this year than I anticipated, what with having a new job and a new baby at home. And hopefully in a few months I’ll be ready to post my Best Of 2010 list.

Until then, I’ll be live-tweeting the Oscars at my Twitter account, @ScreenSavour, so if you’re online there, come follow along. Monday I’ll have a wrap-up and the obligatory “now-let’s-get-back-to-watching-movies” sigh of relief.


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