Thursday, March 04, 2010

Oscars Predictions

It’s Oscars Day minus three, and the Academy has to be feeling pretty pleased with itself. Despite an initially skeptical response to the decision to nominate ten films for Best Picture, its gamble seems to have paid off and injected new interest in the race. Vying for Hollywood’s highest honor is a nice mix of indie and mainstream fare that includes not only the highest-grossing movie of the year, if not of all time, but a couple of cult faves (Tarantino, Coen Brothers), a crowd-pleasing “sports miracle” pic, a war movie made by a female director, a social consciousness-raising film made by a black director, a low-budget sci-fi blockbuster, and the first Pixar film ever to be nominated for Best Picture. Not to mention a showdown/throwdown between a pair of high-profile exes – the brilliant and beautiful Kathryn Bigelow and the brilliant and bigheaded James Cameron.

There’s no doubt this is one of the most diverse lineups in years. The real question is whether the extra nominees are just window dressing or whether expanding the field will actually make a difference in the ultimate outcome. The short answer is it could make a difference, but I’m betting it won’t.

Here’s how it could: In order to avoid a nominee winning with just 11% of the vote, the powers that be changed the voting system for Best Picture to something closer to an instant runoff voting system. Rather than picking just one movie, Academy members were asked to rank the ten in their order of preference. So in the first round of vote-counting, the movie with the least first-place votes will be eliminated, and the ballots that ranked this movie first will be redistributed, each reshuffled ballot going to the movie that it ranked second. Then the same thing is done with the movie with the next-least number of first-place votes; and again and again until one movie has more than 50% of the votes. This means that a movie that gets a lot of second-place votes could theoretically do better than one that had more first place votes. Still, my gut tells me that in the end the race will boil down to two frontrunners (see below), which makes it...not so very different from Oscars races in years past. We’ll see soon enough.

The other major awards are, alas, much less interesting this year—in particular, it looks like all four acting Oscars are sewn up—though one can always hope for a surprise or two. Nevertheless, I’m fairly confident making the following predictions:

Best Picture

NOMINEES: Avatar; The Blind Side; District 9; An Education; The Hurt Locker; Inglourious Basterds; Precious; A Serious Man; Up; Up in the Air

WILL WIN: The Hurt Locker, by a nose, over Avatar. Remember it’s neither critics nor ordinary joes that vote for the Oscars, but the industry. The Hurt Locker has won both the Producers Guild and Directors Guild awards—pretty good signs of its support within Hollywood. But the ten nominees and new counting system still have the potential to skew the vote in unexpected ways.

SHOULD WIN: There’s a part of me that’s rooting for District 9 (which has no chance of winning), but for overall craft and quality, The Hurt Locker deserves the trophy. Caveat: I haven’t seen Precious.

Best Director

NOMINEES: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker; James Cameron, Avatar; Lee Daniels, Precious; Jason Reitman, Up in the Air; Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

WILL WIN: Bigelow. No woman has ever won Best Director before, and you can just feel the Academy itching to give it to her. The more so for showing she can direct a “man’s movie” with the best of ’em. It’s bullshit, but it’s definitely a factor.

SHOULD WIN: Bigelow, for the same reason I think her film should win best picture, though Cameron does deserve props for pioneering what could be a groundbreaking development in cinema. (Not sure I like what it might bode for the future of cinema, but I also think the breathless extrapolations of a world in which 2-D and human actors are rendered obsolete, etc., are rather premature.)

Best Actor

NOMINEES: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart; George Clooney, Up in the Air; Colin Firth, A Single Man; Morgan Freeman, Invictus; Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

WILL WIN: Bridges has had this one in the bag since December, even before the nominations were announced. It’s as much a recognition of his career as of this particular role.

SHOULD WIN: It’s a particularly strong field this year (though I’d swap Freeman for Matt Damon’s wonderfully goofy performance in “The Informant!”), but I would give the award to Firth. He gives the best, most delicate portrayal of what I only half-jokingly dub “English grief” since Ralph Fiennes in The Constant Gardener. The subtle nuances and shadings of Firth’s performance are incredible.

Best Actress

NOMINEES: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side; Helen Mirren, The Last Station; Carey Mulligan, An Education; Gabourey Sidibe, Precious; Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

WILL WIN: Bullock – it’s her year, and she’s just so damn likable that once again you can feel Hollywood wanting to give her her own little golden guy. There is a tiny chance Streep will steal it from her, and an even tinier chance that they’ll split the vote and someone else will sneak in, but if you’ve got money riding on this, I’d put it on Miss Congenality.

SHOULD WIN: Again, I haven’t seen Precious, but among the other four nominees I would pick Mulligan. There’s something so fresh, and yet so true, about her portrayal of that old trope—a young girl on the edge of womanhood—that it really stood out for me.

Best Supporting Actor

NOMINEES: Matt Damon, Invictus; Woody Harrelson, The Messenger; Christopher Plummer, The Last Station; Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones; Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

WILL WIN: Waltz, easily. I believe he’s won every single award for supporting actor this season.

SHOULD WIN: I haven’t seen The Messenger or The Lovely Bones, but I have no problem with Waltz’s inevitable victory. He was sensational. That said, there’s a secret corner of my heart that’s rooting for Plummer – I find it hard to believe this is his first Oscar nomination ever.

Best Supporting Actress

NOMINEES: Penélope Cruz, Nine: Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air; Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart; Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air; Mo’Nique, Precious;

WILL WIN: Like Waltz, Mo’Nique has been cleaning up at all the precursor awards, and she’s the best chance Precious has for an Oscar.

SHOULD WIN: I haven’t seen Precious or Nine, so I’m reserving my opinion on this one. Of the three I have seen, Farmiga’s performance is the most mature and fine-tuned, though even she couldn’t sell me on certain aspects of her character.

Best Original Screenplay

NOMINEES: The Hurt Locker; Inglourious Basterds; The Messenger; A Serious Man; Up

WILL WIN: Inglourious Basterds is most likely, given the uniform admiration for Tarantino as a writer (though I personally think he’s a better director than writer).

SHOULD WIN: I surprised myself with this pick, but I’d vote for A Serious Man . It does a better job than any movie in recent memory of conveying the absurdity of human existence—and does it in a way that all you can do is laugh. Classic Coen brothers. (Caveat: haven’t seen The Messenger.)

Best Adapted Screenplay

NOMINEES: District 9; An Education; In the Loop; Precious; Up in the Air

WILL WIN: Up in the Air - this is its best (and, frankly, only) shot at Oscar.

SHOULD WIN: I haven’t seen Precious or In the Loop, while the other three screenplays are all interesting but imperfect. If I had to choose, I’d give the nod to District 9, by a hair, for turning the concept of the alien invasion movie on its head – even if the climax falls into more standard-action movie mode.

And there ya have it. Stay tuned to see whether Cameron gets to reanoint himself “King of the World,” or whether The Hurt Locker really becomes the Little Movie That Could, or whether Inglourious Basterds scores the upset of all upsets. Not to mention whether Avatar cleans up Cinematography and Art Direction as well as the expected techie awards, and whether Oscar finally has the balls to go edgy rather than sentimental for Best Foreign Film. No matter what the outcome might be, here’s hoping it’ll be a good show—and the best. Oscars. Evah.


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