Thursday, January 19, 2012

My First (and Final) Stab at 2011 Oscar Predictions (pt. 1)

Although this year has many a pundit in a tizzy about not only which films will be nominated for the Best Picture prize, but how many.  In the first year of a fluid number of Best Picture nominees, one would expect more excitement.  For a while there, before The Artist's official frontrunner position was writ-large over the critics and many other voting bodies, it seemed like an open race.  But the die, it appears, has been cast and things will go the way of The Artist, which is what many were saying in the first place before they had any "evidence" to support the notion.  As I have stated before, I have no problems with The Artist, a film I enjoyed quite a bit.  I guess my lack of enthusiasm stems from my lack of a real dog in the eventual Best Picture race.  It wasn't a bad year for movies or even a bad year for Oscar movies, necessarily (save The Descendants...more on that later).  It was certainly a middling year for the latter.  As a cinema enthusiast, I admired Hugo well enough to grade it a "B" when I first saw it.  As time passes and I consider Scorsese's latest offering, I do find myself somewhat baffled by its prominence in this year's awards race as it is not without its significant problems, both narratively and stylistically.  At any rate, here are my predictions.

Best Picture
 1. The Artist (lock)
2. The Descendants (lock)
3. Hugo (lock)
4. The Help (probable)
5. Midnight in Paris (probable)
6. Moneyball (shaky)
7. Bridesmaids (somewhat wildcard)

Likely to Spoil: War Horse, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Tree of Life, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

As my above predictions indicate, I think we're looking at seven best picture nominees.  I am going out on a rather big limb and predicting Bridesmaids as the seventh nominee.  Before you tell me how crazy I am, consider the guild support for Bridesmaids (PGA, WGA, SAG, ACE, ADG, CDG, plus probably a few more that I'm forgetting).  It's considerably more than War Horse has gotten, so I suspect that it gets left off in a year where a film needs five percent number one votes to land a slot.  Also, this isn't the 1980s.  That's the last time Steven Spielberg was able to get into the Best Picture race without a corresponding nod for his direction.  Despite claims that AMPAS loves him, they tend to be all or nothing where he's concerned.  Regarding The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which has gotten guild nods from the big four (PGA, WGA, DGA and ACE), it's obviously a bigger threat than any of us thought.  How much of this is residual guilt for last year's about-face that turned the tide from The King's Speech to The Social Network is up for debate.  I do suspect that the guild love for Dragon Tattoo will help it, if not necessarily in Best Picture.

Best Director
1. Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist (lock)
2. Martin Scorsese - Hugo (lock)
3. Alexander Payne - The Descendants (lock)
4. Woody Allen - Midnight in Paris (probable)
5. Tate Taylor - The Help (wildcard)

Likely to Spoil: David Fincher (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), Bennett Miller (Moneyball), Steven Spielberg (War Horse), Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life), Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive)

Tate Taylor is the big question mark here, which gets to the question of how much will the Academy really love The Help?  Call me crazy, but when a film has such solid guild support as The Help, it's silly to not consider it even a threat for Best Director.  Lest we forget that Marc Forster, Bill Condon and Sean Penn all got up early on Oscar nomination morning (well, maybe not Sean Penn).  Then it was Mike Leigh, Paul Greengrass and Jason Reitman who were awoken by phone calls from agents, cutting short what I'm sure they assumed would be a morning of uninterrupted sleeping in.  My point is, there are always kinks to be seen and I do have a feeling about Tate Taylor.  It may seem insane, but is there really an abundance of sound logic in instead predicting Steven Spielberg, whose film has been largely shut out by the key guilds?  Or Terrence Malick, whose film I love and who certainly engenders respect in the directing branch, but at the end of the day, may have crafted something too self-consciously esoteric for the straight-laced Academy?  Even when he somewhat surprisingly got in for The Thin Red Line, there was a corresponding DGA nod to predict it.  Plus, it's not like Malick would show up if they nominated him anyway.  Really, from where I'm sitting, David Fincher is the only one who you can justifiably put ahead of Tate Taylor in that he's in the club and has the guild support to boot.  Yes, Tate Taylor is a newbie, but if they love the film (ie. Jason Reitman's suprise nod for Juno), anything can happen.

Best Actor in a Leading Role
1. George Clooney - The Descendants (lock)
2. Jean Du Jardin - The Artist (lock)
3. Brad Pitt - Moneyball (lock)
4. Michael Fassbender - Shame (probable)
5. Gary Oldman - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (wildcard)

Likely to Spoil: Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar), Michael Shannon (Take Shelter), Ryan Gosling (Drive), Demian Bichir (A Better Life)

My reasons for omitting DiCaprio, but keeping Fassbender may seem contradictory.  I'm chucking DiCaprio because his movie was so poorly reviewed and it seems so quiet right now for him.  He's hit many of the precursors thus far, but where's the heat? Where's the passion?  Michael Fassbender may seem quiet too and he did miss SAG, which might prove to be the death knell in hindsight should he miss at AMPAS.  I think Fassbender's charm, his cinematic ubiquity in 2011 combined with the performance itself puts him in for a "We're happy you're getting famous" nomination that even Academy members who neglected to pop in their Shame screeners won't feel badly about.  They already gave one of those nods to Michael Shannon back in 2008 and given the general lack of real buzz surrounding Take Shelter, I doubt they'll feel compelled to oblige him again, though many are predicting such an outcome.  Ryan Gosling had a high-profile year as well, following up his career-best performance in Blue Valentine.  In a weaker year, he'd have a shot for either Drive or The Ides of March.  Let me rephrase.  In a year where a weak performance like George Clooney's wasn't so solidly in the five, Gosling might have a chance.  But, as it stands, the top three are looking good to go and your winner will likely come from that list of names.  I'm just praying it's not Clooney.  Not just to beat up on The Descendants, but because Brad Pitt is so good and so understated in Moneyball.  And Du Jardin is so charismatic and committed in The Artist.  And (back to beating up on The Descendants for just a moment), isn't Clooney's unremarkable, autopilot, death-rattle of a performance exactly the type of turn we should avoid rewarding to an actor of his considerable talents, lest we encourage more unimaginative and facile project choices for him in the future?  Basically, I'm saying less The Descendants and Up in the Airs, more Michael Claytons, please.

Best Actress in a Leading Role 
1. Viola Davis - The Help (lock)
2. Meryl Streep - The Iron Lady (lock)
3. Michelle Williams - My Week With Marilyn (lock)
4. Tilda Swinton - We Need to Talk About Kevin (probable)
5. Rooney Mara - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (shaky)

Likely to Spoil: Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Charlize Theron (Young Adult), Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids)

I'm very tempted to put Close in over Swinton, whose role is tricky and even fans of hers doubt that she really pulled it off.  I could also see Close replacing Mara, who is a late surge in the race, is absent from much of her movie and (rumor has it) is anything but warm and fuzzy on the press circuit.  But, Swinton stays because she's hit all the major precursors (Globes, SAG, BFCA, BAFTA and an NBR win to boot).  Also, Tilda Swinton is uber-personable, despite her seemingly impenetrably "weird" persona and a lot of people like her, even if they aren't going to rush to pop in their Kevin screeners.  If the guild support for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is going to help anyone, it's Rooney Mara.  This category rarely lacks a PYT and if it can't be Elizabeth Olsen or Kirsten Dunst, I'll predict Mara and just be glad it's not Felicity Jones (Like Crazy).  Given the at best tepid response to Albert Nobbs, I see no reason to put her in ahead of either of these women, though she could obviously get in there simply for the respect her name still commands.  The win is likely down to Davis vs. Streep.  For a while, it looked like a three woman race with Michelle Williams getting her fair share of critical citations.  After her gracious, but hardly gushing or effusive Golden Globes speech last weekend, I don't think people are eager to hand her the win just yet.  To that, I say fine.  I haven't seen My Week With Marilyn, but for an actress as interesting and versatile as Williams to go down in the history books as winning an Oscar for a Marilyn Monroe biopic seems wrong somehow.  After 2010's banner year in Best Actress (seriously, take a gander again. What a phenomenal list of performances and roles), it's a little hard to get truly excited about this lineup, however it happens to shake down.  There are really two things keeping my favorite Oscar category salvageable in terms of my own overwhelming enthusiasm.  Finally (knock on wood) seeing Swinton as a lead actress nominee without having sanded her edges to get there and that they may award Viola Davis the statue.  Kristen Wiig would certainly be an exciting, if not necessarily worthy choice.  But, since they are likely to give her a screenplay nod, that may have to suffice as her reward.  Charlize Theron really should have been more solidly in there, not just because she's so good in Young Adult, but because she's campaigned so well.  A perfect mixture of enthusiasm, gratitude and humor, without seeming desperate.   I sincerely hope that Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia) and Elizabeth Olsen (Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene) don't take the awards season cold shoulder as a sign that they should stop challenging themselves with great performances in prickly, difficult parts.  March on, ladies.  I'm in your corner.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
 1. Christopher Plummer - Beginners (lock)
2. Albert Brooks - Drive (lock)
3. Kenneth Branagh - My Week With Marilyn (lock)
4. Jonah Hill - Moneyball (probable)
5. Brad Pitt - The Tree of Life (shaky)

Likely to Spoil: Nick Nolte (Warrior), Patton Oswalt (Young Adult), Viggo Mortensen (The Dangerous Method)

I think this is the lineup, honestly.  Despite the fact that there has been relative fluidity in terms of the precursor rosters (give an Armie Hammer here or take an Andy Serkis there), there does seem to be lack of real spoilers who could jump into the race at this point.  Although Brad Pitt hasn't been cited for The Tree of Life anywhere, I do believe that he's always been comfortably on the outside as a just miss in many of those cases.  He is very beloved in Hollywood, as evidenced by how he always escapes unscathed in the tiredly retreaded Jolie vs. Aniston debate.  He's excellent in both The Tree of Life and Moneyball (in that order) and I'm hoping what would be a relatively surprising double-nomination is what it takes to push him ahead of George Clooney in Best Actor.  Plummer looks good on paper for a win that, despite my love for the performance and film, baffles me.  In an expanded Best Picture field, Beginners has failed to catch fire in any other category and yet Plummer is solidly in there for the trophy?  The math doesn't add up for me and I still think that Albert Brooks could upset at the end of the day.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
1. Octavia Spencer - The Help (lock)
2. Berenice Bejo - The Artist (lock)
3. Jessica Chastain - The Help (lock)
4. Shailene Woodley - The Descendants (probable)
5. Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids (probable)

Likely to Spoil: Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs) and...really, not much else.  Sorry, Vanessa Redgrave.

Again, what once seemed like a wide-open race has firmed up nicely.  Spencer is looking more and more like the frontrunner for the win and the other two are locks.  Chastain hardly seems like a lock to many and I'm hearing pundits dusting off the old "vote splitting may hurt her" theory, which rarely happens in practice.  I think she's in and she's a lock for two reasons.   Firstly, despite being everywhere this year, the voting bodies have clearly rallied around The Help as the Chastain performance d'annee.  Does anyone think her work in Take Shelter, The Debt or even The Tree of Life for that matter are really going to be pulling that many votes away from the machine that is The Help?  Secondly, regarding vote-splitting with Octavia, I'm going to give you some years.  2000, 2001, 2002*, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010*.  Those are the years where two people from the same film managed to get nominated in supporting actress.  It's happened more often in the past ten years than it hasn't happened, with asterisks next to the years where one of the actresses won the trophy.  Know your history, pundits.  It's not that difficult.  Shailene will likely ride The Descendants train to a nomination, though I'd gladly give her the boot.  Would it be for Janet McTeer, whose film I haven't seen?  I can't say at this point.  Like Close, I think McTeer will suffer from the lack of enthusiasm surrounding Albert Nobbs and come up empty on nomination morning.  Since I'm predicting Bridesmaids for a Best Picture nomination, it doesn't make sense to exclude Melissa McCarthy, who even managed a BAFTA nomination.  On the outside of these six contenders are Vanessa Redgrave and Carey Mulligan, neither of which has any real shot, though I'd love to see Mulligan get in.

Coming Next: Screenplays and Other Below the Line Predictions...

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