Hey, it’s time for my yearly exhaustive Oscar run-down! Let’s get right into it in hopes that this will make it all go faster and that next year they decide to hold these things the weekend before or after the Super Bowl, when anyone still might be thinking about the previous year’s movies.
… Christopher Plummer has one of those supporting roles that’s just about a co-lead; that and him being quite good in the movie will be more than enough in a weak field.
Should win: Speaking of that weak field: what a bunch of bullshit. Branagh does next to nothing in Marilyn; nothing he does has much dramatic weight and he’s not even particularly funny (hey, that describes My Week with Marilyn itself!). Max von Sydow is competent in a terrible movie. Nick Nolte does recovering-alcoholic shtick in the overrated Warrior; it’s Hardy and Edgerton who shoulder the hard work there. That leaves Plummer and Jonah Hill; both were highlights of their respective movies but I’d vote Hill because I’m an ageist asshole.
Missing: Lots of people have complained about the lack of Albert Brooks, and fair enough; he was just playing a scary bad guy, but he was terrific. My real beef, though, is the lack of Brad Pitt, who supports young actors and Terry Malick alike in The Tree of Life, doing heartbreaking, nuanced, career-best work as a stern dad in 50s Texas.
Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Will win: Though Octavia Spencer has been the presumed favorite for awhile now, I’m wondering if Jessica Chastain will win an unofficial 2011 achievement award—then again, if they split the Help partisans, McCarthy could sneak in. This feels like the acting category ripest for a surprise if only because while Spencer does feel vaguely inevitable, she’s not as undeniable as her main-category costar. Spencer will probably win, but don’t count McCarthy out.
Should win: Well, okay, Jessica Chastain was nominated, but it should’ve been for Tree of Life; of this lot, in these particular movies, Melissa McCarthy should take it. Some people still bag on that Marisa Tomei win for My Cousin Vinny, but that is surely one of the most richly deserved Oscar wins of my lifetime [OH WORD. —Ed.]. McCarthy isn’t quite in that league—her character isn’t as important to the movie’s story—and did already pretty much win an Emmy as appreciation for Bridesmaids, but she lights up the screen in a movie full of talented comic performers. Berenice Bejo from The Artist does some screen-lighting-up, too, although it feels more like a co-lead performance.
Missing: This is another category where I could perform an eighty percent overhaul of the nominees; chief complaint is the lack of Carey Mulligan, so raw and poignant opposite a chilly Fassbender in Shame.
Guillaume Schiffman, The Artist
Jeff Cronenweth, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Robert Richardson, Hugo
Emmanuel Lubezki, The Tree of Life
Janusz Kaminski, War Horse
Will win: This is one category that can often wrench free of Best Picture Frontrunner domination, and it certainly seems like The Artist could lose to Hugo (nodding to that movie’s technical prowess) or The Tree of Life (as this is the movie’s only realistic shot at an award), so probably one of those two. Then again, The Artist is in black and white, which may turn out to be gimmick enough.
Should win: As much as I love black and white, The Artist is the only movie nominated, actually, that doesn’t strike me as particularly deserving. Like the long-standing Academy obsession with movies that photograph already-beautiful mountains, a lot of the beauty of The Artist has to do with it being in black and white, not as much with the decisions made after that one. This year’s mountain-inclusive contender, War Horse, actually has some of Kaminski’s best work in a long career lensing for Spielberg, and the chilly sheen of Dragon Tattoo helped elevate that movie’s boilerplatey origins (although I feel bad for Jeff Cronenweth; I feel like his name gets absorbed into Fincher’s whenever anyone discusses the look of the latter’s movies [There’s a reason for that—between the time Cronenworth shot Fight Club and contributed his very fine work on the last two, the DPs on Fincher’s very visually consistent films have been Conrad Hall’s son and Darius Khondji on Panic Room, the great Harris Savides on Zodiac, and Fincher’s frequent crew member Claudio Miranda on Benjamin Button. —Ed.]). But really, there is no getting around how much Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography brought to The Tree of Life; so much of that movie has to do with the way Lubezki’s camera places us into the characters’ world, and makes some potentially ordinary sights look ethereal and transcendent (oh, and that beginning-of-life stuff ain’t bad, either). Dude also shot Children of Men and Sleepy Hollow, which makes him ridiculously versatile as well as deeply talented [He also shot Reality Bites! —Ed.]. If you’re going to throw a consolation prize to Tree of Life, this one would be just about perfect.
Missing: It’s a good crop, but it was a damn good year for cinematography: Larry Fong captured Spielbergian wonder for Super 8; Alwin Kuchler (who shot L Mag favorite Sunshine!) helped Joe Wright make his best movie with Hanna; and Manuel Claro captured the end of the world, complementing Lubezki’s beginnings, for Melancholia But perhaps the most deserving of The Artist‘s spot is veteran and Bryan Singer go-to DP Newton Thomas Sigal, who brought a whole lot of Michael Mannish moodiness to Drive [Good list. I would add the uncommonly rich low-key microindie palette of Cold Weather, shot digitally by Andrew Reed; and Midnight in Paris, which looks absurdly creamy and delicious, and was shot by Khondji, who is pretty ripe for recognition at this point. —Ed.]. Even so, no real complaints about the category: all five of these movies do look great.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Will win: Unless there is something popcorny and show-offy and well-liked yet not nominated for Best Picture in the mix, usually the editing prize accompanies the big end-of-night winner. Dragon Tattoo is the only one of these not on the BP list, and it’s probably not (nearly) enough of a crowd-pleaser to take it away from The Artist (although Tattoo‘s cutting is pretty dazzling).
Should win: Yeah, I’d go with Dragon Tattoo here. Thelma Schoonmaker’s work on Hugo mirrors Scorsese’s: lovely, top-notch, probably not in the absolute top tier of her career.
Missing: Drive; Super 8; War Horse. Any of them could’ve replaced one nominee in particular (I’ll name names: what is Moneyball doing here?).
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two
The Iron Lady
Will win: If any of the voters saw J. Edgar, they’ll be even more impressed by the formidable old-age-and-famous-person makeup in The Iron Lady.
Should win: I can’t say that I care, but I suppose I’d prefer Potter just ’cause it’s the only one of these movies I liked.
Missing: Well, I thought DiCaprio looked terrific in J. Edgar but that was probably undone, and rightfully so, by Armie Hammer looking a bit like the blob Senator Kelly turns into before he dies in the first X-Men movie. So we’re good here. [For all you high schoolers out there, the completed SAT analogy goes “Pretty Mountains : Best Cinematography :: Old-age Makeup : Best Makeup”. I would suggest that the crew from The Artist, who did a decent imitation of a specific period-glam look, for black-and-white photography, deserve some recognition. Also whoever rubbed dirt all over Michelle Williams’s face in Meek’s Cutoff. —Ed.]
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two
Midnight in Paris
Will win: OK, here’s one that Hugo should be able to snatch away from The Artist: period detail with fantastical storybook overtones should be a gimme.
Should win: Hugo is a fine choice; I also liked the various dressed locations of War Horse, particularly those evocative WWI trenches.
Missing: Frankly, I’d say the careful, striking art direction of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does as much for that movie as its labyrinthine script; I’m a little shocked that it didn’t make it in.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Tranformers: Dark of the Moon
Will win: This is the award for overall sound, so Hugo seems like a good bet.
Should win: I’m probably not great at distinguishing sound design from score in this case, but Girl with the Dragon Tattoo seems about right to me [Oh you mean because of the Floor Buffer of Rape? Fuck that noise. —Ed.] [Did you see what I did there? “Fuck that noise?” Because “that noise” in this case is an actual noise? —Ed.].
Missing: I don’t really know. Take Shelter, maybe? That movie was scary.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Will win: Though compared to Sound Mixing, the nominees only swap Drive for Moneyball, this an entirely different award, one for sound effects; I’m not sure if Hugo will win because it’s the classiest of the five nominees, or if Transformers will win for being the loudest. I’m guessing it’ll be Hugo.
Should win: Drive or Dragon Tattoo, I guess, but I’m really just playing favorites here.
Missing: Perhaps the best effects-intensive movie of the year, Rise of the Planet of the Apes; I can see throwing a bone to Transformers the first time around, but the third 150-minute block of clanging metal doesn’t seem like it needs the encouragement.
Demian Bichir, A Better Life
George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt, Moneyball
Will win: The starpower of Pitt and Clooney may overwhelm them both, which leads the way for Jean Dujardin to tap-dance his way to victory.
Should win: I’m usually a favor of less-is-more acting, but Oldman does it hard enough to call my bluff and send me running back into the arms of George Clooney, who, like his buddy Pitt in the Malick movie, did career-best work in The Descendants [Seriously! That is some ostentatious underplaying! I actually kinda feel the same way about Alfredson's exquisitely dull and kitschy 70s interiors, now that you mention it, and I'm usually such a fan of ugly-looking rooms in cinema. —Ed.]. That said, I haven’t watched my Better Life screener yet. I could see Bichir pulling an Adrien Brody-style upset if Dujardin weren’t also a relative unknown in this country (I’ll spare him the indignity of a Benigni comparison).
Missing: Michael Fucking Fassbender, and not just because I’m one of hundreds if not thousands of straight dudes who are deeply attracted to him [Gary Oldman explains who else is deeply attracted to Michael Fassbender in this clip. -Ed.]. Even if you have trouble with Shame‘s slice of dirge-y addict life (and, by the way, it’s nearly impossible to make a drama that includes sex without getting complaints that it’s sex-fearful, sex-negative, and all-around square by ever implying that sex isn’t completely awesome all of the time), Fassbender is pretty remarkable in it, and is having a Chastain-style awesome year (where’s his supporting nod for Magneto?!).
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: Everyone thought a Streep-versus-Davis showdown was shaping up, but it seems increasingly unlikely that the always-nominated Streep will win for a movie that you have to assume voters liked far, far less than the Best Picture-nominated The Help. Davis should have this one in the bag.
Should win: Can’t really quarrel with Davis, who is reliably excellent, but Rooney Mara is the only one of these five I’d nominate for the actual performances given in these actual movies (albeit probably the fifth of my five), so I guess she’s my default vote.
Missing: The other four of my ignored dream team (who were one Tilda Swinton away from being shut out from the real nominees completely): Charlize Theron, Kirsten Dunst, Kristen Wiig, and Anna Paquin. Most galling to me is the ditching of Theron, who does hilarious, weirdly empathetic work as a different sort of monster than the one she played in Monster.
The Adventures of Tintin
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Will win: I tend to wonder if the Vertigo re-appropriation will affect The Artist which otherwise, not having much other sound beyond music, would seem like a shoo-in here. If it falters, expect some Williams love for War Horse.
Should win: The Artist‘s score did work pretty hard and the Williams scores certainly did their Williams score things effectively, but really, any of these would probably be fine.
Missing: I swear I remember thinking “I really like this score!” at least once in 2011, but damned if I can remember now which movie I was watching when that happened. Maybe it was while listening to the score for Tron: Legacy in the car.
“Man or Muppet,” The Muppets
Some stupid shit from Rio
Will win: Oh lord. It has to be the Muppets, right? I mean, technically, Rio was seen by almost twice as many people, but the old people will go for the Muppets, I think.
Should win: Are you kidding me? Bret McKenzie, get up there!
Missing: Everything else from The Muppets. My favorite is probably “Life’s a Happy Song,” but also what about “Pictures in My Head,” and for that matter, “Me Party”? What I wouldn’t give to see Amy Adams and Miss Piggy do “Me Party” live at the ceremony.
A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots
Will win: Without Pixar in the mix, and DreamWorks fans split between two acceptable but not fantastic movies, and even the alterna-cartoon fans potentially divided between two non-Ghibli movies, it seems like an easy one for Rango to take. The movie’s weirdness and early release date would’ve made it more vulnerable in a year with better competition.
Should win: Rango all the way; it’s funny, strange, and visually inventive.
Missing: Well, obviously The Adventures of Tintin didn’t pass muster with the old-timers afraid of being replaced by motion capture. I mean, it’s a Spielberg adventure movie done up as an actual cartoon; you’d think that would be catnip, especially in a Pixar-weak year.
“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore”
“A Morning Stroll”
Will win: “Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” looks like Pixar and feels like Pixar (indeed, it was made by some ex-Pixar people), only without the crystal-clear storytelling—but it’s sentimental enough for that not to matter.
Should win: My personal favorite is the weird, chicken-centric “A Morning Stroll,” although if I were voting on this and there was a box for “any of these except ‘Wild Life’ because that short was astoundingly dull and even confusing given a fairly straightforward subject,” that’s probably what I’d check.
Missing: Judging by the other “highly commended” shorts in the nomination program playing at IFC Center, this five is just fine, save “Wild Life.” But I have to wonder: do other countries just not care about making shorts anymore? Most of these are from the U.S. or Canada.
LIVE ACTION SHORT
Will win: Having watched all five of these and not really liked more than one of them, it’s difficult for me to conceive anything but “Tuba Atlantic” winning. Maybe “The Shore” for its relaxed, leisurely professionalism, but “Tube Atlantic” is also quite funny, so there’s that.
Should win: “Tuba Atlantic.” Seriously, it’s the only one of these I’d even consider watching again.
Missing: If this group of five is the best the Academy can do, then either there’s nothing else remotely worth watching, or they’re even worse at picking shorts than they are in the big categories.
Hell and Back Again
If a Tree Falls
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Will win: I’m assuming that the recently released prisoners of Paradise Lost 3 will carry that movie to triumph.
Should win: Hell if I know. I don’t really care for nonfiction movies. I liked that one about Conan O’Brien. And though I haven’t seen the sequels, the first Paradise Lost is terrific. I’ll defer to Editor Mark on this one [As far as I’m aware, Pina Bausch never got an innocent man released from Death Row, so, yeah. —Ed.]
Missing: It sounds like The Interrupters, which I totally meant to watch on PBS the other night, got shafted, but again, not really my bag. Mark? [This year, with the rewriting of the nomination rules and a number of notable snubs, has seen some excellent writing about the documentaries that should be up there instead, notably by Eric Hynes. The Interrupters is very worthy, The Arbor is a real achievement, whoo boy is Senna a movie that was made with the full support of the subject’s family-run charitable foundation. —Ed.]
FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Will win: This category sometimes surprises, but it’s hard to bet against A Separation, which seems to be as admired as any recent movie in any language.
Should win: I couldn’t say. I saw zero foreign-language films in 2011. Not on purpose! I just tend to gravitate more towards genre/visual fare and there wasn’t a Let the Right One In this year (I guess I should check out 13 Assassins, though). Also, some of these are only just coming out now.
Missing: Take it away, Mark! [The delightful presence of A Separation as the odds-on favorite notwithstanding—is Iran hip right now? "Timely"?—The Turin Horse and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, though both submitted by their countries, are formidable representative of the kind of genuine world-cinema artistry than this category never knows what to do with; but did I think Le Havre was reasonably Academy-friendly (and quite worthy despite its somewhat lukewarm reception). —Ed.]
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Will win: I’m guessing Hugo or Harry Potter will take it based on affection for the movies more than the quality of the effects (which, granted, are higher than any number of recent inexplicable winners).
Should win: Rise of the Planet of the Apes gave us full-on effects-based characters that were, for my money, more convincing than similar work in Lord of the Rings.
Missing: It would be nice if this category more often found room for smaller-scale effects triumphs; if Hereafter could get in last year for an OK tsunami recreation, you’d think Tree of Life could make it for a stunning beginning-of-universe recreation.
Midnight in Paris
Will win: I have a hunch that the voters will be in the mood to reward Woody Allen again; he hasn’t gotten one of these in ages.
Should win: Oof. I’m tempted to say Bridesmaids (and it is a dark-horse candidate to win, what with the lead actress as co-writer and all), but I tend to think that it succeeded more on performance (and, by that extension, directing) than writing. So maybe Midnight in Paris, minor as it is, is the right call here. Yeah, yeah, I’ll see A Separation soon [Do! —Ed.].
Missing: As far as awards are concerned, Diablo Cody is as likely to be treated as a flavor of the month by her biggest boosters as her most vocal detractors. But her script for Young Adult, while having the same occasional dips into cartooniness as Juno, is also funny, sad, and unsparing; a pretty neat writing trick, I’d say. [Not to get all hashtaggy but there is some real fierce writing in Margaret. I also enjoyed the scope and logic of Contagion. —Ed.]
The Ides of March
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Will win: Screenplay is a classic consolation prize; the only reason, then, to think that The Descendants won’t win is that Payne already got one of these for adapting Sideways.
Should win: I guess The Descendants! It’s not my favorite Payne movie — About Schmidt is funnier and more emotional, caricatures and all — and I admire the ways that Hugo actually improved upon its source material [Especially in its conception of the young girl, given appropriate creative aspirations of her own. —Ed.], but in an uninspired year, The Descendants had a lot of strong character writing without seeming like a novel condensed into a tiny space.
Missing: Don’t laugh, or rather, please laugh: the comedy writing in The Muppets is wonderful and, to me, award-worthy, although it wouldn’t stand a chance among these serious-minded choices.
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo
Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Will win: In this category, the Academy makes plenty legacy nominations, but it rarely goes for the legacy win, at least not if there’s a first-timer they like better. If Scorsese hadn’t just won five years ago, he’d be the guy to beat, but I think The Departed will hand this one to Hazanavicius.
Should win: What a solid auteurist collection: You’ve got your 70s guys Scorsese, Malick, and Woody Allen, plus Payne representing the late-90s wave and Hazanavicius as a promising newcomer [Generationally it makes sense, of course, but Malick is like currently in production on as many movies as he actually made in the 70s. I mention this not to be pedantic but because I’ve just realized how bummed I am that we didn’t get a risky, occasionally indulgent, varied middle period out of him like we did with Marty and Woody. —Ed.] . Malick gets my vote for making my favorite movie of his of the past two decades; as much as I like the Scorsese, Woody, and Payne movies, I can’t say the same for any of them (granted, Malick has less career competition in this regard; Tree of Life is also just a better movie than the other four).
Missing: From the 70s crew, there’s Spielberg; scoff if you want, but I’m not convinced his War Horse is up to something so dramatically different from Hugo (just a little less film-nerdy-friendly). From the late-90s crew, there’s Fincher, but you know, I’m not weeping for Fincher’s lack of recognition for a genre turn. I’d love to see a genuine indie rep in this category, but Miranda July and Aaron Katz were never even close to reasonable bets.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
Will win: The Artist, in part because lots of people just flat-out loved it, sure, but also because there isn’t really plausible alternative. It seems like Midnight in Paris and Hugo should be able to split the bittersweet faux-Parisian nostalgia vote with the presumed way-frontrunner, but The Descendants and The Help just don’t have the momentum required to spur that on and take the prize.
Should win: OK, let’s go through ‘em: I like Hugo and The Descendants but not as much as I like, say, Gangs of New York or About Schmidt (yeah 2002!). I like War Horse about the same as those (and if you want to keep the 2002 love going, nowhere near as much as Minority Report). Moneyball is out because it’s like The Social Network but not nearly as assured. The Artist and Midnight in Paris are semi-French delights but I can’t really go over the moon about either. The Help is out for lacking a strong point of view on either side of the camera. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is out for being fucking awful; its dubious legacies are Another Crap Sandra Bullock Movie to Benefit from a Wide Field and Another Crap Stephen Daldry Movie Old Academy Voters Like for Some Reason. That leaves the only movie in this top nine to make my top ten: The Tree of Life it is!
Missing: Because a list of movies that are better than Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close would be far too long, my annual better-than list (apologies to Armond White) (just kidding; never apologize to Armond White!) will take the form of non-nominated movies that are better than the perfectly good movies Moneyball and The Artist. In no particular order:
The Muppets; The Future; X-Men: First Class; Source Code; Rise of the Planet of the Apes; Drive; Melancholia; Young Adult; Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol; Shame; A Dangerous Method; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Rango; Bridesmaids; Submarine; The Adventures of Tintin; Hanna; Contagion; The Myth of the American Sleepover; Our Idiot Brother; Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; Terri; and Margaret.
And here’s a bonus round of some movies that are better than The Help (besides Moneyball and The Artist, of course): Arthur Christmas; The Trip; Beginners; Bad Teacher; 30 Minutes or Less; Captain America; Jane Eyre; Attack the Block; Insidious; J. Edgar; Your Highness; Fast Five; and Drive Angry.