Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Oscar picks and predictions 2012

One of the few good things about a feeble cinematic year is there is no overwhelming favorite set to dominate the 84th Academy Awards. For 2011, things are especially up in the air.

Consider that the two films with the most nominations, "Hugo" with 11 and "The Artist" with 10, have a combined box office total of less than $100 million. The also-ran, "The Descendents" with five nods, barely passed the $70 million mark.

Brisk ticket sales often don't correlate with quality filmmaking -- just look at 10 most popular movies of last year, nine of which were sequels (and the other was "Thor").

But when hardly anyone has seen the films being honored, that makes for little enthusiasm among potential Oscar-watchers. Even with the blessed return of Billy Crystal as emcee, I expect this year's Oscar telecast to be among the lowest-rated.

For those of us who like to see the awards spread around based on actual achievement, rather than following the bandwagon of a swaggering favorite, it's an exciting time.

Here are my predictions of who will win the Academy Award in each category, followed by my personal pick of who I think most deserves the statuette. For fun, I'll also suggest someone who should've been nominated, but wasn't.


Winner: The Artist
Pick: The Artist
What About...: A Better Life

Very tough call here. It had appeared to be a two-way race between "The Artist" and "The Descendents," but then "Hugo" popped up in a late rally to take the lead in Oscar nominations. There's no end of love between the Academy and Martin Scorsese, flavored with a dollop of guilt because it took him until late in his career before he finally won an Oscar. But I'm betting my own pick, "The Artist," will follow in the footsteps of "The Hurt Locker," and the Academy will vote its conscience for a little film that truly is the best of the year. An even littler film that hardly anyone saw is the wonderful immigration drama, "A Better Life."


Winner: Michel Hazanavicius
Pick: Hazanavicius
What About...: Pedro Almodóvar

It appears the director of "The Artist" will pick up the directing Oscar, and he deserves to. Hazanavicius won the Director's Guild prize, which has proven one of the most reliable bellwethers for the Academy Awards. Though, as noted above, the chance for a Scorsese upset is never to be discounted. Spanish auteur Almodóvar deserved more love for "The Skin I Live In," his most dazzling movie in at least a decade.


Winner: Jean Dujardin
Pick: Brad Pitt
What About...: Michael Shannon

This category is as interesting for who was left off the list as who will win. There was much gnashing of teeth about Michael Fassbender ("Shame") and Leonardo DiCaprio ("J. Edgar") being passed over. But the most worthy snubee was Shannon in "Take Shelter." Dujardin of "The Artist" won this prize from the Screen Actors Guild Awards, which usually preludes the Oscars. I would've thought George Clooney was the frontrunner for his game-changing role in "The Descendents;" the Hollywood establishment adores him. For my money, I thought Pitt gave the performance of his career in "Moneyball."


Winner: Viola Davis
Pick: Meryl Streep
What About...: Tilda Swinton

Davis of "The Help" seems to have this award wrapped up, despite early frontrunners status by Streep. It's a familiar spot for the grand dame, who always seems to get passed by a younger competitor late in the race -- despite 17 nominations, Streep is still looking for her first Oscar win in three decades. The feel-good political correctness of "The Help" seems to be buoying Davis; she would be only the second African-American woman to win this prize. Personally, I thought her role, in both scope and depth, was a supporting one. I have a lot of problems with "We Need to Talk About Kevin" -- starting with that title -- but Swinton is amazing in it.


Winner: Christopher Plummer
Pick: Plummer
What About...: Andy Serkis

Plummer, playing a septuagenarian widower who comes out of the closet in "Beginners," has this category totally locked up. A lot of people were angry Albert Brooks wasn't nominated for his turn as a gregariously malevolent mobster in "Drive," but from my perspective it was just Brooks doing a very good Brooks impression ... with razors. Serkis, whose digitally augmented performance carried "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," practically needs his own category.


Winner: Octavia Spencer
Pick: Spencer
What About...: Jessica Chastain

Another foregone conclusion: Spencer took a role in "The Help" that had been custom-written for her by a friend and knocked it out of the park, with sass and soul. Ironic that Chastain was nominated for "The Help," when she was so much better in several other roles during a fantastic breakout year, including "The Tree of Life," "Coriolanus" and "The Debt." Her turn as a supportive but realistic housewife in "Take Shelter" was probably her best.


Winner: Kung Fu Panda 2
Pick: Rango
What About...: The Adventures of Tintin

Astonishing that "Tintin," Steven Spielberg's first animated film, was not nominated. It's not a great movie, but head and shoulders above limp sequels "Puss in Boots" and "Kung Fu Panda 2." Something tells me, though, that one or the other will win -- the history of this relatively young category runs more toward "most popular" than "best." "Rango" was clearly the latter.


Winner: The Artist
Pick: The Artist
What About...: Rango

Many were overjoyed about "Bridesmaids" picking up a screenwriting nomination, but for me it falls into that category of movies that aren't nearly as funny as they seem to think they are. Plus, say what you will, it was a knockoff of "The Hangover." Michel Hazanavicius, who wrote and directed "The Artist," came up with the most truly inventive and fresh story of the year. The only challenger for sheer originality would be the wonderfully weird "Rango," but animated films rarely get nominated for writing.


Winner: The Descendants
Pick: Moneyball
What About...: The Skin I Live In

A competitive category with several really strong nominees. It would seem to be between "The Descendants" and "Moneyball." I thought the latter had the screenplay of the year, by script wizards Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin. But the screenplay awards tend to be given out as consolation prizes, and I think Alexander Payne will be honored similarly to his last film, "Sideways," which lost out on the biggest prizes but took home the writing statue.

And the rest...

Sure, it's easy enough to make predictions for Best Actor or Best Picture. But what about those smaller, technical awards that are given out when most viewers run to the bathroom or warm up more popcorn? It takes a true prognosticator of mettle and grit to make picks for Best Soundwave Mix Editing. (That's a fake category ... I think.) Here are my stabs in the dark.


Winner: The Artist
Pick: Hugo

I have plenty of reservations about "Hugo," but not its gorgeous look courtesy of Robert Richardson. I have no complaints, though, about Guillaume Schiffman's vivid black-and-white photography winning for "The Artist."


Winner: Hugo
Pick: Hugo


Winner: The Artist
Pick: Anonymous


Winner: The Artist
Pick: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


Winner: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory


Winner: Incident in New Baghdad


Winner: La Luna
Pick: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore


Winner: Raju
Pick: The Shore


Winner: A Separation


Winner: Albert Nobbs
Pick: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2


Winner: The Artist
Pick: The Artist


Winner: "Man or Muppet" from The Muppets
Pick: "Man or Muppet"

In an embarrassing occurrence, only two songs were nominated this year -- a clear indication of how weak the field was. How we miss you, Howard Ashman.


Winner: War Horse
Pick: Drive


Winner: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Pick: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


Winner: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Pick: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

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