2012 OSCAR PICKS & PREDICTIONS

Yes, yes, we all know the Oscars don't really matter. The whole idea of competitive awards for artistic achievement is a little dicey to begin with, and the Academy Awards broadcast is just a self-congratulatory Hollywood wankfest, in which they get nearly everything wrong. (This is, after all, the body that incorrectly deemed How Green Was My Valley a better film than Citizen Kane, Ordinary People a better movie than Raging Bull, and that Crash was in any way better than being hit repeatedly in the skull with a ball-peen hammer.)

And who the hell remembers who won anyway? Pop quiz: who won Best Actress last year? No cheating now, but I'll give you some context: it was the year that The King's Speech—a perfectly pleasant, artistically uninspired crowd-pleaser—won Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Actor (Colin Firth), and Best Director (Tom Hooper). It missed the sweep of the Big Five, however, when Helena Bonham Carter lost the Best Actress Oscar to...

If you answered, "Who is Natalie Portman," you either remember Black Swan way better than I do, or you cheated, or you're my freakish mother who never forgets a useless piece of trivia. (Or maybe you're Natalie Portman herself. In which case: Hi, Natalie. Loved you in Beautiful Girls. Congratulations on your Oscar last year. Please choose better movies.)

Besides, by this point we're just sick to death of all of it. When I was a kid, the Oscars were the one night of the year when we could see all these famous and beautiful people dressed up in one place, but cable television changed all of that. By this point in the year we've already seen Christopher Plummer win a Golden Globe, a Screen Actor's Guild Award, a Critic's Choice Award, a BAFTA, the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, and a Motor Trend Car of the Year Award. We know he's going to win the Oscar, and, by this point, we just don't care—especially since we know that we're going to have to sit through a four-hour endurance test just to see him win another statue for what must be, by now, an increasingly tacky mantle.

So, haters, I hear you: the Oscars are too long, utterly predictable, scandalously commercial, culturally insignificant, and almost guaranteed to be—as they are every year—a gigantic disappointment.

But you know what, Sachean Littlefeather? I could give a rat's ass: I still like 'em. I grew up in a paper-mill town in rural New England, and the antenna on the roof brought in three networks on a television that required pliers to change the channel. The annual Academy Awards broadcast was proof of the existence of a world where people wore evening gowns and tuxedos and thought (as I did) that movies and acting and stories were important. My mother (from whom I got all those beliefs) had a friend who held an Oscar Night costume party every year, and it was practically the only time I ever saw my parents get dressed up, put on perfume and cologne, and do something that struck me, then, as the height of sophistication. (The first of these I remember would have been in 1976: my mother—for whom Oscar Night is still a secular holiday—went as Greta Garbo, in slouch-hat and sunglasses. My father—less enthusiastic about the whole endeavor, but game—went as one of the victims from Jaws, in a blood-stained T-shirt with a rubber shark pinned to it.)

So, however cynical and jaded I get, and no matter how much of a letdown it is every single year, I'll probably always be a sucker for the Academy Awards. It will always feel like real Hollywood glamour, I'll always get excited about it, I'll always spend the last few weekends before them trying to see every single nominated movie, and I'll always—always—put way too much thought and effort into my Oscar Picks.

And now I have a place to publish them. Here they are, in approximate order of awarding. (The actual order is a mystery until Oscar Night—Why, exactly?—so I've followed last year's order, which is the kind of thing someone as anal and obsessed as I am does with his time.)

BEST ART DIRECTION
Nominees: The Artist; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2; Hugo; Midnight in Paris; War Horse

Will Win: Hugo
Should Win: Hugo
Write-In Nominee: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

This is a strong category, with nary an unworthy candidate to be found, but the incredible detail of the (almost wholly artificial) world of Hugo—along with its faithful recreation of the innovative art direction of Georges Mélièsmake it a clear stand-out.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Nominees:
The Artist
, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, The Tree of Life, War Horse

Will Win: The Tree of Life
Should Win: The Tree of Life
Write-In Nominees: Melancholia, Meek's Cutoff, Drive

Look to this to be the only award Terrance Malick's The Tree of Life receives all evening: it will win for the film's overblown "cosmic" sequences, but Director of Photography Emmanuel Lubezki
deserves the trophy just as much for the beautifully lensed (and far superior) domestic scenes. At least one of my three write-ins deserves the slot that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo occupies, but I'd still vote for The Tree of Life.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Nominees:
Berenice Bejo, The Artist; Jessica Chastain, The Help; Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaid's; Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs; Octavia Spencer, The Help

Will Win: Octavia Spencer
Should Win: Janet McTeer
Write-In Nominees: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Melancholia; Sareh Bayet, A Separation; Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life

My least favorite batch of nominees on this year's ballot: there's not a true standout performance to be found here. If Chastain had been nominated for The Tree of Life I'd feel better about things; as it is, Spencer will win, and I have to vote for McTeer, who gave the best performance in a mediocre film. (Read my review of Albert Nobbs here. )

BEST ANIMATED SHORT
Nominees:
Dimanche/Sunday;
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore; La Luna; A Morning Stroll; Wild Life

Will Win: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
Should Win: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

It's probably dangerous to bet against Pixar and their charming La Luna here, but The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a delight: a magical, gorgeously rendered celebration on a life spent among books.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Nominees:
A Cat in Paris
, Chico & Rita, Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss in Boots, Rango

Will Win: Rango
Should Win: No opinion

One of my worst categories this year: Rango (the clear favorite to win) is the only one I've seen, and I liked it well enough. The (reportedly wonderful) Chico & Rita pulled off a surprise upset at the BAFTAs, however, and could be a dark horse here: it would nice to see the Academy embrace an animated film for grown ups—something that has never happened.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Nominees:
The Descendants
, Hugo, The Ides of March, Moneyball, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Will Win: The Descendants
Should Win:
Moneyball
Write-In Nominee: We Need to Talk About Kevin

If you're curious about the moment in the evening's festivities when I will begin to vomit uncontrollably, look for the announcement of a writing award for The Descendants, one of the smuggest, phoniest scripts I've encountered in years. Steven Zaillan and Aaron Sorkin's smart, funny adaptation of Michael Lewis's unfilmable nonfiction book Moneyball, on the other hand, was one of the best.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Nominees: The Artist, Bridesmaids, Margin Call, Midnight in Paris, A Separation

Will Win: A Separation
Should Win:
A Separation

This is the first long-shot I'm calling, but I think there's a real chance that Vegas bookies are going to take a bath on this one. They've got A Separation listed at 40:1 odds, with Woody Allen favored to pick up a third Original Screenplay trophy for Midnight in Paris. But writer/director Asghar Farhadi's screenplay for A Separation is exquisite: a complex, mature exploration of family, ethics, and justice in which every character is a little bit right, a little bit wrong, and completely, authentically human.

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Nominees:
Bullhead
, Footnote, In Darkness, Monseiur Lazhar, A Separation

Will Win: A Separation
Should Win:
A Separation

This is another category where I fell down on the job: I haven't seen four out of five of the nominees. But it's hard to imagine anything beating A Separation, which restored my faith that visual storytelling can be every bit as mature, complex, and insightful as a great piece of literature. This is brilliant filmmaking.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Nominees:
Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn; Jonah Hill, Moneyball; Nick Nolte, Warrior; Christopher Plummer, Beginners; Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Will Win: Christopher Plummer
Should Win:
Christopher Plummer
Write-In Nominees: Albert Brooks, Drive; Bruce Greenwood, Meek's Cutoff; John Hawkes, Martha Marcy May Marlene; Hunter McCracken, The Tree of Life; Brad Pitt, The Tree of Life

Seriously, no one else needs to show up. It is not, for me, a particularly strong group of nominees—see my write-ins for all the people who got robbed—but Plummer was wonderful in a surprisingly good movie, and deserves the award both for this performance and for a long and distinguished career. His only competition is fellow 82-year-old Von Sydow, who also deserves a lifetime achievement award, but not for the cloying, manipulative dreck of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. 

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Nominees
: The Adventures of Tintin
, The Artist, Hugo, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, War Horse

Will Win: The Artist
Should Win:
The Artist

A confession: I always try to pay attention to the music in movies—I understand how important it is—but I'm just not a musically-minded guy, and so I usually only notice the score if it's terrible. In this case,  I noticed the music in The Artist because it was the only thing to listen to, and so did everyone else. A shoe-in.

BEST SOUND MIXING
Nominees:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
, Hugo, Moneyball, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, War Horse

Will Win: Hugo
Should Win:
No opinion

Another category in which you only notice if the sound is terrible. I didn't notice.

BEST SOUND EDITING
Nominees:
Drive
, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, War Horse

Will Win: War Horse
Should Win:
Drive

No, no lay person understands what sound editing is, or how it differs from sound mixing. Apparently Moneyball had great sound mixing, but really fell down on its sound editing, and Drive was the other way around. I can't say I noticed in either case, but if you think I'm not going to vote for Drive in the only fucking category in which I can, you're crazy.

BEST MAKE-UP
Nominees:
Albert Nobbs
; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2; The Iron Lady

Will Win: The Iron Lady
Should Win:
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

The Iron Lady will win, but goblins and Voldemort are more impressive to me than Margaret Thatcher (even if Thatcher is scarier).

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Nominees:
Anonymous
, The Artist, Hugo, Jane Eyre, W.E.

Will Win: Hugo
Should Win:
Hugo

I've only seen Hugo and The Artist, so my money's on Hugo.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
Nominees:
The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement
; God is the Bigger Elvis; Incident in New Baghdad; Saving Face; The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

Will Win: Saving Face
Should Win: No opinion

Look, have you seen the goddammned Documentary Shorts? They played in Chicago at the Music Box over one weekend, for exactly three performances, and I had 20 other movies to see. Cut me some slack!

(Do I sound defensive? Sorry. Long post. Getting tired.)

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT
Nominees:
Pentecost
, Raju, The Shore, Time Freak, Tuba Atlantic

Will Win: The Shore
Should Win: Raju

I did, however, see the Live-Action Shorts, and I do have an opinion. The Shore is expected to win—perhaps because it has the most recognizable cast, including Ciaran Hinds and Conleth Hill (Varys the Spider from Game of Thrones, with hair, which was unnerving). But for my money the real winner here is Raju, an engrossing, harrowing tale of a German couple who adopt, and then lose, a small boy in India. It packs as much tension, ethical conundra, and emotional wringing in 22 minutes as most films manage in 90: highly recommended if you get a chance to see it.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Nominees:
Hell and Back Again
; If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front; Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory; Pina; Undefeated

Will Win: Pina
Should Win: No opinion
Write-In Nominees: Senna, Bill Cunningham New York

I don't know exactly what is wrong with this branch of the Academy, but I know that every year they seem to get it wrong, and multiple attempts to fix the voting process haven't changed anything. If you asked most critics to name their favorite documentaries of 2011, you'd hear about Senna, The Interrupters, Project Nim, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Into the Abyss, and Bill Cunningham New York, most of which didn't even make the short list. (This was the second snub for the director of The Interrupters, Steve James, whose universally praised Hoop Dreams failed to receive a nomination in 1995.) The only one of the current nominees I've seen is Hell and Back Again, and I wasn't impressed: Paradise Lost 3 is favored to win, but I'm going to bet on Pina.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Nominees:
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
; Hugo; Real Steel; Rise of the Planet of the Apes; Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Will Win: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Should Win:
Hugo

ROTPOTA will win—if only as a stealth vote for the perpetually championed Andy Serkis—but Hugo made me believe that CGI and 3-D could actually be used to artistic purposes.

BEST FILM EDITING
Nominees:
The Artist
, The Descendants, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, Moneyball

Will Win: The Artist
Should Win:
Moneyball

I suspect that a great deal of what gets attributed to great directing—and even great screenwriting—is in fact great editing: when it's good, you don't notice the editing, but a movie just seems to snap and flow exactly like a movie should. Moneyball had an unobtrusive style, but felt like a precise and polished piece of filmmaking without an ounce of fat.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Nominees:
"Man or Muppet," The Muppets; "Real in Rio," Rio

Will Win: "Man or Muppet"
Should Win:
"Man or Muppet"

No, it's no "Rainbow Connection," but "Man or Muppet" is a catchy little ditty. I mean, seriously, having just written down the title it will take me most of the afternoon to get the tune out of my head.

BEST DIRECTOR
Nominees:
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist; Alexander Payne, The Descendants; Martin Scorsese, Hugo; Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris; Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life

Will Win: Michel Hazanavicius
Should Win:
Martin Scorsese
Write-In Nominees: Lars Von Trier, Melancholia; Nicolas Winding-Refn, Drive; Steven Spielberg, War Horse; Xavier Beauvois, Of Gods and Men

It is disappointing that Martin Scorsese received his thinly disguised lifetime achievement award for the forgettable The Departed just a few years ago, because his wonderful homage to movie-making would have been the perfect opportunity to honor his own body of work. (It also would have been completely deserved on the merits of the film itself.) I still have hope that he may surprise here, but the odds are in the favor of Hazanavicius, who turned in a charming and competent film that—for whatever reason—has all the momentum this season. I liked The Artist—and I'm trying hard not to turn against it just because it's so overpraised—but this award is going to piss me off. Like Tom Hooper last year, Hazanavicius is in company where he simply doesn't belong, and will—mark my words—never find himself again.

BEST ACTRESS
Nominees:
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs; Viola Davis, The Help; Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady; Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

Will Win: Viola Davis
Should Win:
Rooney Mara
Write-In Nominees:
Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin; Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene; Charlize Theron, Young Adult; Michelle Williams, Meek's Cutoff

This is considered a two-horse race—between Streep and Davis—and I like them both enough that I won't begrudge terribly the Oscar one of them will win for a crappy movie. But if I'm voting my conscience, the most stunning performance I saw all year was newcomer Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Wrongly dismissed by some critics as a recreation of Noomi Rapace's fine performance in the Swedish-language original, Mara's portrayal of this fascinating character is a revelation. (Read my review here.)

BEST ACTOR
Nominees:
Demian Bichir, A Better Life; George Clooney, The Descendants; Jean Dujardin, The Artist; Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Will Win: Gary Oldman
Should Win:
Gary Oldman
Write-In Nominee: Ryan Gosling, Drive

OK, this is where I throw away any chance of winning the office pool: I'm not only saying Oldman should win, but that he will win. By all logic, he doesn't have a chance: even on his home turf, he lost the BAFTA to Dujardin. But there have been such upsets before in Oscar history, and I'm hoping for one now. (Hey, it could happen: Clooney and Dujardin split the popular vote, and all the people who appreciate actual acting vote for Oldman.) I wouldn't mind seeing the equally unlikely (and eternally under-appreciated) Pitt win here, but Oldman is the most deserving nominee by a country mile, having delivered a subtle, complex, mesmerizing performance. (Read my review here.)

BEST PICTURE
Nominees:
The Artist
, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse

Will Win: The Artist
Should Win: Hugo
Write-In Nominees: A Separation, Drive, Melancholia, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Of Gods and Men, Martha Marcy May Marlene

The Best Picture nominees are split pretty evenly between movies I liked (Moneyball, War Horse, The Tree of Life) and movies I hated (The Help, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close). I assume The Artist will win this trophy in a walk—and better it than The Descendants or The Help—but it should be no surprise by now where my vote is going. I gave Hugo the top spot on my Best Films of 2011 list, and my opinion hasn't changed. (Read my review here.)

So those are my picks. Please share your picks in the comments below, and let me know where you think I've gone horribly, horribly wrong. If you want to share the inevitable exhaustion, bitching, and crushing disappointment in real-time (complete with snide comments and gratuitous swearing) I'll be live-tweeting the Oscar broadcast at www.twitter.com/freerangecritic.

Now can I go see some 2012 movies?

The Unaffiliated Critic

Michael G. McDunnah is a freelance writer, a recovering lit major, a pop-culture junkie, and an unaffiliated critic. He lives in Chicago.

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2 thoughts on “2012 OSCAR PICKS & PREDICTIONS

  1. I couldn't tell you the difference between sound mixing and sound editing to save my soul, but Drive had some great sound work, whatever it's called. The use of music within the movie both as an external soundtrack and as music the characters were listening to was excellent. I also remember being impressed with how they ratcheted up the sounds of violence, like that unholy crack when Standard gets shot, and when Irene slaps the Driver. For me their selected, almost exaggerated use of sound helped emphasize the extreme violence and added to the stylized direction.

    Aaand I just wrote a paragraph on sound mixing, or whatever. Such is my sadness that Drive wasn't nominated for more.

    As to the rest of them, I couldn't say. Best Picture and Best Actor are moot for me without the presence of Take Shelter.

    1. Well said, Alex, and I totally agree: Drive got screwed. And I didn't mean to be dismissive of the sound editing, which was, as you say, excellent. (My non-glib understanding of the difference is that Sound Mixing is the overall sound-scape of the film, while Sound Editing is the actual creation of the sound effects. Maybe the visual equivalent is the Direction/Cinematography distinction?)

      I also agree about the music: as much as Winding-Refn and Brooks were overlooked, so was Cliff Martinez for the best score I heard all year. (That was a movie where I did notice the music, and the movie wouldn't have been the same without it.)

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