Friday, 24 February 2012

OSCARS 2012: Shaping up the Race - The Big Awards!

Last week I attempted to foresee who was likely to be taking home the big golden guy at this Sunday’s Academy Awards in regards to the acting categories, and had quite a bit to say about them (too much? shut up!). So I present you now with a similar outlook on how the rest of the race is going, including the main event itself, Best Picture.
I’m going to leave out a lot of the technical awards just because they can be so incredibly unpredictable and biased at the Oscars, and plus I’m not convinced my thousands of readers (again, shut up) are going to be all that absorbed over Sound Editing, Live Action Short etc. (even though you should be - the Short Film Oscars are some of the most important awards the Academy dish out).
So onward, and if I turn out to be incorrect on Sunday and you’ve put some sort of stake in my predictions, I bequeath you to not follow suit by putting some sort of stake into my body!


THE ARTIST - Michel Hazanavicius
BRIDESMAIDS - Annie Mumolo, Kristen Wiig
MARGIN CALL - J.C. Chandor
A SEPARATION - Asghar Farhadi
Original Screenplay usually tends to be fairly easy to predict - in recent years it has slanted towards the indie darling (Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, Lost in Translation) that has racked up buzz and nominations but generally speaking is unlikely to take Best Picture... that is until the past couple of years when The Hurt Locker and The Kings Speech took this home and went on to seal the big prize of Best Picture in addition. Years prior would then have had logic leaning towards Woody Allen securing this for Midnight in Paris, and for all intents and purposes he has been the far away favourite for some time now. There seems to be a swell of industry support in giving him his long overdue fourth Oscar - especially considering it’s been 25 years since he last won (for Hannah and Her Sisters) and he nabbed the Golden Globe as a neat precursor.

However, the recent trend in this category, and some of the precursors (such as the BAFTA) going to Best Picture favourite The Artist are seriously making it a contender. Last year The King’s Speech triumphed over more conventional Oscar choices in this category such as The Kids Are All Right, and something innate in me is seeing the same thing happen this year on Sunday. The one disadvantage The Artist has is that it was written by Michel Hazanavicius, who will likely take home Best Director for the same film, so that may sway some people from voting for him once again here. Having said that, if the film has enough support that won’t necessarily matter - when The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was the big favourite back in 2004 Peter Jackson managed to nab Oscars for Producing, Writing and Directing. 

Bridesmaids was financially the most successful of the category and has a lot of love from the acting branch in particular, so there is a remote chance it could sneak in there as an absolute shocker, but I think chances of doing so are very remote - if The Artist isn’t going to sweep up this category in it’s clutches then it’ll go to overdue Woody Allen, something of an industry darling. That Midnight in Paris was very well received, and nominated for both Best Picture and Best Director shows that there is love there, and this may be seen as the opportunity to award Woody with a consolation prize as it’ll likely win neither of those, but I can’t help shake the feeling that Hazanavicius and his little dog are going to sneak in there and claim this.
A Separation and Margin Call are the content, lucky nominees who don’t really stand a chance at winning, and Bridesmaids is the popular outsider that could just sneak in there and surprise due to it’s huge industry support and love. However - this seems a duke-out between The Artist and Midnight in Paris. I will probably rue my decision on Sunday night, but I am going to opt for The Artist nabbing this, though I won’t be remotely shocked if I’m incorrect and Woody Allen is finally given another overdue Academy Award. It's been his best shot in recent years so I'm thinking it's almost 50/50 as to which way it's going to go.
PREDICTION: Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist
ALTERNATIVELY: Woody Allen - Midnight in Paris
DARK HORSE/SURPRISE: Annie Mumolo, Kristen Wiig - Bridesmaids


THE DESCENDANTS - Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
HUGO - John Logan
THE IDES OF MARCH - George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon
MONEYBALL - Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin
TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY - Bridget O’ Connor, Peter Straughan
Some big names in the writing world are being bandied here, and oh look, there’s that sneaky George Clooney getting another nomination in addition to his lead actor nod (though in truth I think he hoped for more from The Ides of March which was generally ignored by the Academy). However, I’m going to burst Mr Clooney’s bubble as I don’t think he’s going to be going near the stage in this category at least (unless there’s a consolation vote from those voting for Jean Dujardin in Best Actor), and likewise I think John Logan and Hugo will be sitting this one out. Tinker Tailor Solider Spy is a bit of an anomaly - initially I would have dismissed it’s chances also, but it’s coming off the back of a win at the BAFTA’s, which doesn’t necessarily mean anything here, especially seeing as it garnered far more nominations there than it has at the Oscars, but there’s a little warning sign flashing somewhere in the back of my mind over it as a potential spoiler.

So, as with most of the big categories this year we seem to have a two-horse race, split in this category at least between Moneyball and The Descendants - two very atypical, Best Picture nominated American movies with big movie stars (Brad Pitt and George Clooney) in Best Actor-nominated leads. Aaron Sorkin, one of the two writers nominated for Moneyball is one of the most respected (and busy) writers in the industry, but is coming fresh off his much-deserved win last year for The Social Network. Whether or not the industry voters will be attentive to this and if it will affect their vote or not is debatable. What seems more prevalent is the current state of hype and buzz, which seems to be swinging more towards The Descendants - especially considering with The Artist in play it looks unlikely to secure any of its other major nominations.  

This category is generally more difficult to predict than Original Screenplay - everyone and their dog had Up in the Air down to finally get Jason Reitman an Oscar back in 2010, but instead it went to Geoffrey Fletcher for Precious in something of a surprise. I’m inclined to go with The Descendants because of it’s Best Director nomination which it is likely to lose, but again it would not surprise me in the slightest if Moneyball kept its early standing and went on to win.
Although Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is buzzing around in my thought process like a caffeinated fly, I think it’s safe to assume it will only win as a massive, nigh-unpredictable and unlikely surprise. The Ides of March and Hugo seem even less likely to get acknowledged here (I’m just ignoring Hugo’s being the most nominated film of the year including Director and Picture) which leaves either The Descendants or Moneyball, and again both are such atypical winners which share so many elements it is proving very difficult to edge out which one is going to nab it. I’m going to go out on a limb and say The Descendants’ slightly stronger showing all round, coupled with its last minute buzz countered with Moneyball writer Aaron Sorkin winning last year and Alexander Payne likely losing Best Director all helping to contribute to a Descendants victory. It would be a nice echo of 2005’s ceremony in which Payne was double nominated for Directing and Writing for Sideways and ended up securing the latter. 
PREDICTION: Alexander Payne - The Descendants
ALTERNATIVELY: Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin - Moneyball
DARK HORSE/SURPRISE: Bridget O’ Connor, Peter Straughan - Tinker Tailor, Soldier Spy


A CAT IN PARIS - Alain Gagnol, Jean-Loup Felicioli
CHICO AND RITA - Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal
KUNG FU PANDA 2 - Jennifer Yuh Nelson
PUSS IN BOOTS - Chris Miller
RANGO - Gore Verbinski
I have to confess to having an almost schizophrenic outlook to this years set of nominees - on the one hand I do love that the Academy regularly organises screenings and the like to ensure less mainstream, international animated films get recognition in this category (see Persepolis, The Secret of Kells, The Triplets of Belleville etc. for examples in previous years) nonetheless occasionally they smatter this with some really nonsensical ill-judged decisions and put some decidedly average mainstream tosh in there in favour of more deserving nominees. I still also cannot forgive the academy for snubbing the likes of The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn and Arrietty over the likes of Kung Fu Panda 2 and particularly Puss in Boots. Tintin seems to have fallen victim of the whole ‘is it animated?’ nonsensical controversy, which I find utterly ridiculous as there is little-to-no doubt when you are sat in the theatre watching the movie that it is an animated, and not live-action, movie. I fail to recall any confused movie-goers walking out perplexed over whether or not it was live action, and before anybody jumps on the ‘it was motion captured which doesn’t count’ bandwagon - I bite my thumb at you (to be awfully cultured) as motion capture techniques, rotoscoping etc. have been around and used in a plethora of animated films, including some of the Disney back catalogue, practically as long as the craft has existed.

Pushing that rant aside, let’s see what we’ve been given. It’s a very mixed bag, perpetuated by the lack of a Disney/Pixar entrant in a category which has traditionally rewarded those films. Had Tintin made the cut I would have been championing it’s chances, but as it stands precursor favourite Rango seems to be the likely winner here. It has won a number of significant awards in the lead-up, including the BAFTA for Best Animated Film and the big Best Animated Feature award at this years Annie’s (the animation worlds equivalent to the Oscars) and interestingly will see Gore Verbinski pick up an Oscar which is a nice reason to hope for it’s victory. It's still not a definite done deal though, and the annie's in particular can sometime clash considerably with the Oscar choices - I still shudder thinking back to when the original Kung Fu Panda won practically everything it was nominated for, including Best Animated Film, at those ruddy Annie's, leaving the far superior Wall-E to go home practically empty-handed.

Irritatingly though, I can still easily envisage either Kung Fu Panda 2 or Puss in Boots upsetting if voters feel Rango has already been rewarded enough, though of the other nominees I can see A Cat in Paris as being the most likely to surprise win - being a charming international nominee that could lend this category some much needed gravitas, such as in 2003 when Spirited Away rightfully took home Best Animated Feature over the likes of the much more commercially successful and mainstream Lilo and Stitch and drivel including Treasure Planet, Spirit and Ice Age.
In what is probably the most unexpected line-up of nominees for any category this year, that unpredictability factor could easily translate to a surprise win. Hopefully we won’t get another Happy Feet year and the mainstream also-rans will stay as just that (so stay in your seats Puss in Boots and Kung Fu Panda 2... hopefully). Chico and Rita seems too obscure a choice unless the special screenings for the Academy Members proves fresh enough in the minds of voters (which given that it carried through to being nominated could prove to be the case). All being said in this difficult category, it seems as though Rango is still the safest and most likely winner here, but don’t discount A Cat In Paris or practically any of the nominees... but remember, regardless of who wins, light a candle for poor Tintin and Arrietty...
PREDICTION: RANGO - Gore Verbinski
ALTERNATIVELY: A CAT IN PARIS - Alain Gagnol, Jean-Loup Felicioli


THE ARTIST - Michel Hazanavicius
THE DESCENDANTS - Alexander Payne
HUGO - Martin Scorsese
THE TREE OF LIFE - Terrence Malick
Generally speaking, Best Director and Best Picture tend to tally up with one another, and it makes sense for this to be often the case - usually what is deemed to be the best film achievement of the year is usually the product of the best directing. When the two fall out of tandem it is often the result of an unexpected snub or shock occurring (surely nobody needs reminding of the year Ang Lee took home Best Director for Brokeback Mountain before Crash horribly swooped in like an unwelcome diseased harridan and clutched Best Picture) or external politics/overdue status/acknowledgement that the Film is great but something more popular is going to take home the big prize.

Terrence Malick is an industry darling who only appears now and again to make what tend to be extremely well received releases, and given his previous-nominee-but-no-wins status, he can comfortably claim the overdue status this year. There are those who believe a last-minute raft of voters have shifted loyalties to get him his long long overdue Directing Oscar, something which could have credibility to it considering Hazanavicius has won most of the precursors. It is also worth remembering that last year practically everyone believed David Fincher was going to secure Best Director for The Social Network when the award eventually (somehow... inexplicably... disgustingly) went to Tom Hooper for his amateur-hour directing of The King’s Speech (fish eye lenses and off-center, darlings!). However, I believe The Tree of Life, despite it’s Best Picture presence, was far too polarising and Malick would have been far more likely with a more mainstream release, so I’m going to group him in with Woody Allen and Alexander Payne in as the also-rans. If anybody is going to surprise, it seems it could be Malick (unless the Academy really feel like making it up to Woody for his long bout of losses) but I personally can’t see it happening.

More likely to benefit from a Fincher-Hooper about-turn like last year would be Martin Scorsese, inarguably one of the best directors working today, and there are a number of factors in his favour. Whilst he won only a few years back (for The Departed), he is a legendary filmmaker the likes of whom Oscar are happy to reward on multiple occasions (see for instance Steven Spielberg, who took this honour twice in the space of 5 years). He won the Golden Globe this year, and whilst that seams to mean less and less in terms of tallying with Oscar voters with each passing year, it gave him exposure which, coupled with his humble, intelligent and warm speech at the BAFTA’s and other recent industry events has served as a constant reminder of not only what an excellent filmmaker he is, but also what an amiable, articulate and beloved individual he is within the industry. Popularity can win prizes! Hugo also came in with the most nominations this year so the love could clearly be there, and it seems very few (if any) would be opposed to him taking home what would still be only his second Oscar for Directing. Clint Eastwood has 2, why not Marty?

Saving the most likely till last then, we have Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist. The big deciding factor in this and many other of the major categories this year is whether or not the love for The Artist is such that it’s going to be a big winner, or if the haul is going to be more evenly split. There seems to have been a balance in recent years of both - for every year of The Return of the King or Slumdog Millionaire we have the likes of The Departed’s year, where even the big winner of the night only scooped 4 awards, or Crash which only won 3. If The Artist is not going to comfortably collect a clutch of it’s 10 nominations then Michel could lose out, but everything seems to be pointing to a big win - I’m seeing 6 or 7, possibly even more, and if that kind of support is there then there’s no way Hazanavicius is not going to prove victorious here.
It seems one of the most locked awards of the evening, Hazanavicius has just too much momentum to really be usurped unless the Academy get tired of the The Artist winning everything already, and Martin Scorsese should never be disregarded entirely. Terrence Malick would be a big shock, but a welcome one by many seeing as he is long overdue for recognition in this category. Woody Allen and Alexander Payne don’t really stand a chance - if The Artist isn’t going to get that big push (I think it will) then Scorsese is hot on Hazanavicius’s heel at nabbing this, and if for some bizarre reason even that isn’t going to happen then only Malick really has the standing to pull off an upset. Something in me says Woody Allen shouldn’t be ignored, but I think that is just paranoia from his reputation and standing in the industry, and I glance over to Original Screenplay and remind myself if he’s going to get consoled anywhere, it will most likely be there. 
PREDICTION: Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist
ALTERNATIVELY: Martin Scorsese - Hugo
DARK HORSE/SURPRISE: Terrence Malick - The Tree of Life



THE ARTIST - Thomas Langmann
THE DESCENDANTS - Jim Burke, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
THE HELP - Brunson Green, Chris Colombus, Michael Barnathan
HUGO - Graham King, Martin Scorsese
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS - Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum
MONEYBALL - Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz, Brad Pitt
THE TREE OF LIFE - Sarah Green, Bill Pohlad, Dede Gardner, Grant Hill
WAR HORSE - Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy

I always find it a little disappointing when, as has so often been the case in previous years, the big award of the evening seems like a surefire thing. Of course this has backfired spectacularly in previous years when we see an entirely unwelcome surprise such as Crash (a predictable example, but so for a reason). This year seems to be another such case where it seems difficult to envisage anything other than The Artist from walking away with the big prize in the same way precursor favourites Slumdog Millionaire, The King’s Speech, No Country For Old Men etc. have recently. In years where Best Picture was more uncertain (such as when The Hurt Locker fought it out with Avatar or Million Dollar Baby took on The Aviator) the evening was lent that bit more excitement up until the final prize, but alas it seems the big award of the night for this year is a done deal. It’s not that The Artist is an undeserving winner (though I did not rank it in my top 5 films of the year, let alone pole position), it is in fact an extremely accomplished, charming and fairly unique motion picture in this day and age, with no potential taboos for backlash (such as when some of the Academy vanguard vocally refused to watch Brokeback Mountain for instance) and there have certainly been far worse films to take this award (Shakespeare In Love, Crash and Million Dollar Baby come to mind instantly) but for the purposes of the Oscar evening itself and predicting the winners it makes the finale of the evening that bit stale and predictable.

So which films could pose even that remotest potential surprise (and anything other than The Artist winning would be a huge surprise indeed)? The Help has a surge of support from the acting branch and as I have mentioned both this week and last, they should never be underestimated. The Help is also one of the most financially successful and popular of the titles in the running for this, and sometimes Hollywood likes to reward the success stories. As I mentioned in the Best Director commentary, there may be voters who felt The Artist has received its due enough in the precursor nominations and it’s time to reward something else, and The Help would certainly be an audience pleaser. If Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis both win their respective categories (and I currently have them as favourites to do so) then the chances of this happening will be that little bit stronger. This is further anchored by the film winning the Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture award at the SAG awards, as this often (though not always) lines up with Best Picture at the Oscars. Hey, it happened with Crash.

Hugo is, as mentioned, sailing in with the most nominations this year, but I just don’t see the buzz for the film mounting to anywhere near enough to topple The Artist. Plus it just isn’t typical Best Picture material - a 3D family adventure film just seems like a totally unlikely choice over practically all over the other films in contention. Whilst the film itself lovingly has throwbacks to the history of cinema, I just struggle to see it getting enough votes to go take this. Statistically it shouldn’t be disregarded with its huge amount of nominations, but I see it far more likely to clutch a few technical awards and, at a push, sneak in for a surprise Best Director win.

There was an audible cheer of support when Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was announced as the somewhat surprise nominee in this category, but I half expected it as the Academy seem to go crazy for anything Stephen Daldry touches (The Reader notably took the spot of The Dark Knight back in 2009 which was widely regarded as the reason for the expansion to more Best Picture nominees). There has been talk that the film is getting a lot of last minute buzz and hype, and a 9/11 Stephen Daldry ‘tearjerker’ sounds on paper like a potential Oscar winner. However for all the hype it also seems to have been quite divisive, and a lack of a Directing or Editing nomination seems to indicate it’s not going to win (thankfully - everything I’ve seen of it seems utterly saccharine and the cynic in me would think it had been geared purely for this kind of awards gratification).

In fact, having mentioned Film Editing, it’s worth taking a glance over to that category as it is highly unusual for a Best Picture winner to not also have an Editing nomination at the least (and often they pair up with wins). Removing editing nominee The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo which did not secure a Best Picture nomination, the four other films to be nominated are The Descendants, Hugo, The Artist and Moneyball. Having discussed The Artist and Hugo, that leaves only Moneyball and The Descendants as, statistically speaking, the only other likely upsets. Moneyball has nabbed a number of nominations (though almost crucially missed out on Directing) and is the kind of sports-based drama I can really see the Academy getting behind, especially with the power of it’s performances behind it (nominated for both Lead and Supporting). The Descendants, however, seems to stand more a chance, seeing as how it secured both Editing and Directing nominations in addition to its writing and acting nominations. In fact, if previous years and Oscar statistics are looked at, The Descendants stands as the most likely to usurp The Artist over even The Help.

So what of the remaining nominees? The Tree of Life picked up a Best Director nod, and it certainly has its passionate and ardent supports in the industry who managed to secure its presence here, but I think the lack of an Editing or Writing nomination is very telling. War Horse looked like a far more likely think a few months back and again it is also suffering from (cruelly) missing out on a Best Director nod for Spielberg and, again, no Editing. Midnight in Paris, as mentioned, is likely to get its dues for Woody Allen in the Original Screenplay category where it is nominated, and it’s almost an Oscar cliche now from recent years for the Best Picture line up to have the popular indie comedy that gets nominated but doesn’t win (Sideways, Juno, The Kids Are All Right, Little Miss Sunshine etc.) and whilst Woody Allen does have more prestige and clout when it comes to Oscar this just isn’t his year to take the big one and the film itself doesn’t have anywhere near enough buzz.
It’s going to be The Artist’s night; realistically I don’t think any film bar The Help or possibly The Descendants is going to be able to sweep in enough votes to catch up with what is a deserving, charming winner. Moneyball could be a complete surprise if Brad Pitt takes Best Actor and the love has carried through to here, but I just don’t see it happening. The other films really should just be happy to be nominated, and everything I’ve seen, heard and read all seem to indicate it’s going to be a year where we have a clear dominant winner, and that for once it will be the French, and not us pesky Brits, who will be ‘coming’ on all of the newspaper headlines come Monday morning. Part of me would like to see The Help or Moneyball sneak in there, but I think that’s more for the shock factor than anything, and is something I just cannot envisage happening.
The again, stranger things have happened, it is, after all, the Oscars darrrling...

Tune in to the Oscars this Sunday (26th February) to find out how right (or wrong) I am!

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