18 January 2013

Oscar Zone, Vol. IV: Nominations & Predictions

Now that we've settled into a little bit of Oscar Season and the Golden Globes have come and passed, welcome to the Fourth Edition of the Oscar Zone - Norwegian Morning Wood's ultimate source of Oscar Knowledge, Predictions, and Inevitable Failure. It's always a tough spot of the year, dealing with Oscars. On the one hand they're fairly meaningless - a win is much more an indication of which studio was able to lobby politics in its favor the most rather than an accurate judgment of the integrity of the year's best films. Still, it's the most prestigious official award you can get in the film industry, and Oscar certainly has a way of canonizing its recipients as some of the best. It also immortalizes some films in ways nothing else can. Why else would anyone in 2013 care about Crash (2005)? For good or ill, they're a big deal and have a huge impact on the industry, if only for being the sole reason why some films are made.

They're also pretty fun to predict, talk about, and argue over. That and Box Office Predictions are the closest thing nerdy film snobs have to a Fantasy Football Season. Without further adieu then, here are our predictions for all 24 categories. First, though, here is how we've done in years past, and you'll actually note that I've gotten better each year:

2012: 16/24
2011: 14/24
2010: 12/24

Ugh, I'm really bad at this. Let's get to it. Predicted winners in BOLD.

Best Motion Picture of the Year

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

This is a race essentially coming down to Lincoln, ArgoLife of Pi, and Silver Linings Playbook. While Silver Linings is hitting at the right time and is the only film since Warren Beatty's Reds (1981) to score an acting nod in every category, romantic comedies (which is the closest genre you can put this in) very rarely win Best Picture. Likewise, the love of Life of Pi is evident from the ridiculous amount of nominations it received as well as the idea that since the Academy outright snubbed Ang Lee on Brokeback Mountain (2005) they may try to rectify it here.

Ultimately this seemed in the bag for Lincoln - which can also be seen as righting a past wrong (his snub in '99 when Saving Private Ryan lost to Shakespeare in Love and its Weinstein Machine), until Argo kicked ass at the Golden Globes. The American voters in the Academy ought to shine much higher on the American epic, Lincoln, although Hollywood does love depictions of its own, as seen with The Artist (2011) last year. It's ultimately a tough pick, but as Spielberg and Affleck come down to it again, the heady historical drama (see also: The King's Speech [2010]) ought to win the day.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln
Hugh Jackman for Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix for The Master
Denzel Washington for Flight

This is essentially coming down to Dan and Hugh, but there isn't really a question that the towering performance of Lewis will leave him with an unprecedented third Best Actor Trophy. As the Golden Globes indicated, everyone is in love with this performance. While it's not as totally in the bag as his turn in There Will Be Blood (2007), if he nails the Screen Actors Guild Awards on January 27th, it's all but assured.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva for Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts for The Impossible

This is shaping up to be the most interesting race of the night. You've got two great young acting talents, J-Chast and J-Law battling it out through two breathtaking, career-defining roles. They both have recent nominations in their history (Jessica for Supporting Actress in The Help [2011], Jennifer for Leading Actress in Winter's Bone [2011]). They also both won their respective Golden Globes in the drama and comedy categories. No matter who wins, it won't be the last time either of them is nominated. Although Zero Dark Thirty was so entirely driven by Jessica's performance, I'm giving the edge to Jennifer. It's very unlikely that anyone else from Silver Linings wins, but it's clear that the Academy was enamoured by the acting. Will her dig at Meryl at the Globes hurt her? This could sure go either way - what will the SAGs think?

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Alan Arkin for Argo
Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master
Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln
Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained

This is an insane category in that every nominee has already won an award, making it one of the most competitive races ever. Yes, for once, the Supporting Actor Oscar Winner is murky. I landed on Tommy Lee here through eliminating everyone else. Christoph Waltz easily wooed the Hollywood Foreign Press into his Golden Globe win, but he was better, or at least fresher during his last win as Landa in Inglourious Basterds (2009). PSH had a dominating performance, and since it was an especially featured role that could have gone leading, that may be in his favor, although the Academy seems to hate The Master. This could easily go to De Niro as sort of a capstone to his career, like they did with Alan Akrin for Little Miss Sunshine (2006), but this hasn't been the case lately (see: Mickey Rourke losing for The Wrestler [2008] to Sean Penn's Milk [2008]). With Tommy's scowl gone viral, who's doesn't want to see more of him in the spotlight?

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams for The Master
Sally Field for Lincoln
Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables
Helen Hunt for The Sessions
Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook

This was preordained from that first trailer for Les Misérables. The specific moment that Anne won her Oscar - her single take, live on-set rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" has been the centerpiece of all of Les Mis' marketing for good reason - it's the one guaranteed shot at Oscar that it has. Of course, it will probably walk away with quite a bit more.

Best Achievement in Directing

Michael Haneke for Amour
Ang Lee for Life of Pi
David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook
Steven Spielberg for Lincoln
Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild

Kudos to however Spielberg knocked Affleck and Bigelow out of this competition. Maybe he enlisted Bill Clinton to help him. In one of the wackier categories that doesn't line up at all with either the Golden Globes or the DGA Awards, Spielberg and Ang are really the only consistent nominees. Lincoln has far more widespread love than Life of Pi, and the Academy has shown that it loves them directors that can recreate them historicky period times - it's his to lose.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Amour: Michael Haneke
Django Unchained: Quentin Tarantino
Flight: John Gatins
Moonrise Kingdom: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola
Zero Dark Thirty: Mark Boal

I can see this going to Moonrise, it's the kind of quirky (awfully clichéd word to describe a very nuanced film that's otherwise hard to describe, I know) pic that has soared here in the past (Little Miss Sunshine, Juno [2007]), but it's totally out of momentum by now and the seriously crazy journalistic lengths Mark Boal undertook should be recognized. He did just win this award for The Hurt Locker (2009), and it's fun to see him go against Tarantino again in the same category. QT nabbed the Globe, but he was pretty shocked at it. Will the Academy approve such liberal use of the n-word? I think not.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

Argo: Chris Terrio
Beasts of the Southern Wild: Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin
Life of Pi: David Magee
Lincoln: Tony Kushner
Silver Linings Playbook: David O. Russell

The past five awards have all been based on books with similar Best Picture momentum. It also helps that Tony Kushner's adaptation an navigation of complex 19th-Century politics is astoundingly clear, concise, and impactful. Most of these were also nominated for WGA Awards, but we won't find that out until February 17th, a week before the Oscars. We won't need to, Lincoln is all over this.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

Brave: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
Frankenweenie: Tim Burton
ParaNorman: Sam Fell, Chris Butler
The Pirates! Band of Misfits: Peter Lord
Wreck-It Ralph: Rich Moore

Holy shit - the Best Animated Oscar is actually contested! While I dug Brave, there were many who thought Pixar had slipped a little, and that's reflected in my prediction here. Indeed the flick was kind of out there. The inclusion of The Pirates! Band of Misfits is intriguing and also makes this category full of three claymation pictures. That might indicate that claymation is hot among voters this year, in which case the best of the lot may be Frankenweenie. Wreck-It Ralph, though, had a far more engrossing hook, brand, and box office haul, causing me to lean in its favor.

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

Amour (Austria)
War Witch (Canada)
No (Chile)
A Royal Affair (Denmark)
Kon-Tiki (Norway)

Amour was nominated for Best Picture...and is the only Foreign Language Film so nominated. Doesn't that mean it's the best Foreign Language Film? The same thing happened with animated films Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010) - it's kind of a foregone conclusion it'll win here, which is spectacular, because this category is crazy hard to predict some years. The lack of the French film The Intouchables (2012), which for a long time was a foregone conclusion as an Oscar favourite, is a little surprising, but since Mike Haneke already cleaned up among his own Foreign brethren at the Golden Globes, he'll probably go for the kill here.

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Anna Karenina: Seamus McGarvey
Django Unchained: Robert Richardson
Life of Pi: Claudio Miranda
Lincoln: Janusz Kaminski
Skyfall: Roger Deakins

It's clear that there is some Life of Pi love with its astounding 11 nominations, but it's not really favoured to win that many. That expression of love ought to come through here, although Kaminski is 2/5 at the Oscars and if Lincoln sweeps, it's his. Roger Deakins, however, is 0/9 at the Oscars and really deserves a little Golden Bald Man as sort of a Career Achievement Award. The cinematography of Skyfall was also one of its more notable, if not its best aspect. Still, I don't think the Academy will go for it.

Best Achievement in Editing

Argo: William Goldenberg
Life of Pi: Tim Squyres
Lincoln: Michael Kahn
Silver Linings Playbook: Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers
Zero Dark Thirty: William Goldenberg, Dylan Tichenor

Editing is another nice way to acknowledge how much the Academy loved a film without really giving it a major award. 0D30 has plenty of love but is a bit to divisive for them to really back in anything major (except maybe Jessica for Best Actress). This could of course mean that Argo leaves empty handed, which seems highly unlikely. If it ends up making a run for Best Picture, this ought to fall its way.

Best Achievement in Production Design

Anna Karenina: Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Dan Hennah, Ra Vincent, Simon Bright
Les Misérables: Eve Stewart, Anna Lynch-Robinson
Life of Pi: David Gropman, Anna Pinnock
Lincoln: Rick Carter, Jim Erickson

The production design of The Hobbit was exceptional and deserving, but Les Mis is hitting a bit harder right now. Return of the King wowed in 2003, but that was riding a ton of Lord of the Rings buzz that hasn't followed the more middling Hobbit. Experts at Gold Derby have pointed out that this category has not gone to a film set in contemporary times in twenty years, and many of its experts have sided with Anna KareninaLes Misérables, or Lincoln. Looking at the last few winners though, Hugo (2011), Alice in Wonderland (2010), and AVABAR (2009), it seems like by far this category fancies fantasy rather than period productions. That splits this category between The Hobbit and Life of Pi, and with its 11 nominations, the latter has the advantage.

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Anna Karenina: Jacqueline Durran
Les Misérables: Paco Delgado
Lincoln: Joanna Johnston
Mirror Mirror: Eiko Ishioka
Snow White and the Huntsman: Colleen Atwood

Dueling Snow White tales aside, at first this may seem like the perfect category for Anna Karenina. It's a dopey period movie that no one really saw, and follows a long line of recent winners such as Marie Antoinette (2006), Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007), The Duchess (2008), and The Young Victoria (2009). It's predicted to win by a wide margin, and I wouldn't be surprised if it did. However, in all these years, no film has contested here that has had as much support as Lincoln. Both The Return of the King and The Artist won here when they were nominated with plenty of additional Best Picture support. However, however, this year is looking to be much more like 2010, where The King's Speech won Best Picture, but many other awards were split - it was nominated here and lost. I think that will hold true for Lincoln and we'll see another crappy period flick nab the honor.

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling

Hitchcock: Howard Berger, Peter Montagna, Martin Samuel
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Peter King, Rick Findlater, Tami Lane
Les Misérables: Lisa Westcott, Julie Dartnell

This award has actually quite often gone to the bigger blockbuster films such as Star Trek (2009), The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005), Return of the King and The Fellowship of the Ring (2001). If The Hobbit wins anything, it's this one, but with films such as La Vie en Rose (2007) and The Iron Lady (2011) also pulling this award out, it's really fair game. I give an edge to Peter.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

Anna Karenina: Dario Marianelli
Argo: Alexandre Desplat
Life of Pi: Mychael Danna
Lincoln: John Williams
Skyfall: Thomas Newman

No one is really running away with this so far this year, I'm leaning towards Lincoln based on its strong support elsewhere, but like cinematography, Life of Pi could very well pull away with this one. In years prior this has gone to sweeps (The Artist, Slumdog Millionaire [2008], Return of the King), near-sweeps (The Social Network, Brokeback Mountain) and totally random picures (Up, Atonement [2007]). Betting on John Williams and Lincoln is fairly safe, although this by far his best score. Life of Pi did conquer at the Globes, and the score is damn good, so a win there would not be surprising.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

Chasing Ice: J. Ralph ("Before My Time")
Les Misérables: Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer ("Suddenly")
Life of Pi: Mychael Danna, Bombay Jayshree ("Pi's Lullaby")
Skyfall: Adele, Paul Epworth ("Skyfall")
Ted: Walter Murphy, Seth MacFarlane ("Everybody Needs a Best Friend")

To be honest, I'm just glad we have a good field of nominees here instead of the two we had last year, even though that gave The Muppets (2011) a nice easy win. Incredibly, no James Bond theme has ever won an Academy Award - that will end in 2013. Everyone loves Adele, and she might as well add an Oscar to her ridiculously long list of Awards. "Skyfall" is a spectacular track, both for the movie it's featured in and for everyday casual listening - this really can only be rarely said for movie songs (but often for Oscar-winning movie songs - I love me some Three 6). Les Mis had a bit of a cheap shot here and has been criticized for creating the original song "Suddenly" purely to get some Oscar recognition. It's one of the weaker songs in the film for good reason, being shoved in there arbitrarily. And would I like to see Seth MacFarlane go home with an Oscar in addition to his hosting duties? Hell yeah.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

Argo: John T. Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, José Antonio García
Les Misérables: Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, Simon Hayes
Life of Pi: Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill, Drew Kunin
Lincoln: Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, Ron Judkins
Skyfall: Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell, Stuart Wilson

When musicals or movies with heavy music influences are nominated here, they tend to win (Dreamgirls [2006], Ray [2004], Chicago [2002]). Les Mis fits the bill pretty solidly for the production of its sound content, which is vital for this film. Still, it has also gone to bigger flicks like Inception (2010), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), and King Kong (2005), a testament to how vital sound is to the creation of these big fantasy and action worlds - in which case, Life of Pi or Skyfall may seem destined to pull out the win. There's also of course sweepers like The Hurt Locker and Slumdog Millionaire, and if Lincoln sweeps, this is Andy, Gary, and Ron's to lose. So, that basically leaves Argo with no chance, but I'm not convinced that the musical can't win here.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

Argo: Erik Aadahl, Ethan Van der Ryn
Django Unchained: Wylie Stateman
Life of Pi: Eugene Gearty, Philip Stockton
Skyfall: Per Hallberg, Karen M. Baker
Zero Dark Thirty: Paul N.J. Ottosson

War movies rule this category - dating back to U-571 (2000). Since then it's gone to Pearl Harbor (2001), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), and The Hurt Locker. The only recent loss that's worrisome is last year's War Horse (2011), but let's face it, that movie sucked anyway. Even though there's actually little war in Zero Dark Thirty, the sound editing is precise, adds great tension to the narrative, and is integral to the viewing experience of that final raid of bin Laden's pad in Abbottabad. There's not a great chance this goes to anyone else.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

The Avengers: Janek Sirrs, Jeff White, Guy Williams, Daniel Sudick
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, R. Christopher White
Life of Pi: Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik De Boer, Donald Elliott
Prometheus: Richard Stammers, Trevor Wood, Charley Henley, Martin Hill
Snow White and the Huntsman: Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, Phil Brennan, Neil Corbould, Michael Dawson

This is a raucous category this year. The Avengers surely deserves to win for this. The Hobbit certainly deserves to win for this. This category, though, does heavily favor nominees also nominated for best picture (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button [2008], AVABAR, Inception [2010], Hugo). The only flick here that really fits that bill is Life of Pi, and that film has been widely praised for only its visuals anyway. And to be fair, Richard Parker is worth that Avengers single take or the crazy double-sets of The Hobbit anyway.

Best Documentary, Features

5 Broken Cameras
The Gatekeepers
How to Survive a Plague
The Invisible War
Searching for Sugar Man

So we at last move on the crappy categories that are really up for grabs. No one really knows how these will turn out. There's usually only one or two big docs a year and those get the Oscar nods obvi. There isn't anything totally apparent this year, but Searching for Sugar Man supposedly has some buzz, and yeah I've kind of heard about it before, though it's a little foggy. That's good enough for my prognostication here.

Best Documentary, Short Subjects

Kings Point
Mondays at Racine
Open Heart

If there's anything worse than Feature Docs it's Short Subject Docs. What an awful, awful category. We might as well get the dartboard out. Open Heart would mean that both docs would feature stories from Africa. It's getting the best odds, though, so sure, I don't care.

Best Short Film, Animated

Adam and Dog
Fresh Guacamole
Head Over Heels
The Simpsons: The Longest Daycare

This is the only really juicy category in this section of the Oscars because we actually get to see half of these before other animated films like Ice Age: Inconsequential Drift (2012) and Brave (2012). To that, we'll go with Maggie Simpson's Oscar Debut here, because Dave Silverman and the rest of The Simpsons lore deserve an Oscar. It's not actually favoured, but with my rule about kind of knowing about something and letting the most popular nominee win - The Longest Daycare is all over this.

Best Short Film, Live Action

Buzkashi Boys
Death of a Shadow

So we're finally on our last category here. It's fitting that I get exhausted and don't care by this point, because really, these categories are impossible to predict. I actually did try to watch some of these this year, and then found myself doing ANYTHING ELSE with my time. Siding with Derby again, Curfew it is.

So folks, that's it. How will these predictions fare? My lifetime correct pick rate is 58%, which is pretty awful. Let's boost that over 60 this year. Over the weeks to come we'll also be taking a closer look at the acting, writing, directing, and Best Picture races. Those are really the only ones that matter. The ceremony comes on February 24th, hosted by Seth MacFarlane.

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