Mostly Oscar Predictions

We’ll be live-blogging the Oscar ceremony in the small hours of Monday morning, because why the hell not? And today we bring you our not-quite exhaustive category-by-category Oscar predictions, because why the hell not?

Merlin_1620892_image_1024wPicture and Director – Jim Eaton-Terry

This year is one of the more interesting Best Picture fields I can remember.  There’s no Artist or Kings Speech, no obvious all-conquering juggernaut, nor even a repeat of 2007’s two horse race (without Googling: what were the 3 also-rans in the year of No Country For Old Men vs There Will Be Blood?).  What’s more, there’s no film on the list I wouldn’t be at least content to see win.   Even the issue pictures which always make one’s heart sink (“should we feel bad about AIDS, Slavery, or the Magdelene Laundries tonight, darling?”) are all well worth a watch.

In terms of runners and riders, as always I’m going to assume that any film whose director didn’t get a nomination is pretty much out of the water.  That takes out the three solidly constructed true life dramas; Dallas Buyers Club will have to make do with Best Actor, Philomena, though great, can’t win because Coogan would just be too unbearable, and while I really like how Paul Greengrass’s commitment to humanizing both sides of the stand-off prevents Captain Phillips becoming another high-profile retelling of David and Goliath from Goliath’s point of view, I think that’s probably the right decision.  I am sad that Spike Jonze didn’t get recognized for his wonderful remodeling of TED talks and futurist videos into the aseptic future of Her, but eccentric little high concept romances don’t win Best Picture

Which leaves the front runners for Best Picture, and the nominated directors.   Nebraska is a lovely little film, but it doesn’t add much to the state of cinema and like all Alexander Payne’s work it’s already fading into my memory 4 days later.  Though I’d love to see Scorsese honoured for sheer frothing venom – if cinema must have elder statesmen I want them spending millions filming movie stars blowing coke up people’s bums – I suspect it’s too disreputable to win.  American Hustle, was to my mind little more than a collection of mannered performances with Russell’s signature meandering indulgence, but without the energy that carried Silver Linings Playbook, the end result was shrill and boring.

I’d love to see Alfonso Cuaron win Best Director for floating effortlessly beyond the limitations of the frame. If the award is for the most significant achievement in directing, there’s surely no competition there. But I suspect Gravity is not worthy enough for Best Picture; all Cuaron’s technique and technology is in the service of pure entertainment, and the Academy likes its winners to have higher purpose.  Which leads us to the obvious winner – 12 Years a Slave.   I described it as an issue picture at the start of this piece, but that’s deeply unfair; it’s both a very effective polemic and a purely beautiful piece of work.  Despite the many absurd claims made for the film (did most people really not know that slavery was an unpleasant business before now?) it works both as a profoundly serious look at the subject and as a story about human endurance and complicity.

Actress and Supporting Actress – Ron Swanson

This year’s Best Actress field is remarkable. The five contenders have won 6 Oscars between them, with only Amy Adams yet to receive a statue. Adams, though, is on one of the great runs in Oscar history, having been nominated for the fifth time in nine years, for her performance in American Hustle. Meanwhile, Sandra Bullock is the only nominee with only one previous nomination on her CV – she won in 2010 for The Blind Side, and deserves to, once again, for her work in Gravity.

She won’t, the award will go to Cate Blanchett’s performance in Blue Jasmine. Like Adams, this is her fifth nomination. She won the Supporting Actress Oscar for The Aviator back in 2005. The other two nominees, Meryl Streep and Dame Judi Dench are recognised for, respectively the 18th (!) and seventh times. Streep has won three times before, and Dench, just once, for her tiny cameo in Shakespeare in Love.

In spite of the starriness of the list, though, I’m a little disappointed at the acclaim received by Blanchett, and, to a lesser extent, by Streep. Blanchett’s histrionic performance in Blue Jasmine may have been beautifully pitched, but was only a little less empty and self-regarding than the rest of Woody Allen’s vapid monstrosity. Streep’s turn in August: Osage County is tonally similar to Blanchett’s, but at least she appears to be having some fun, recognising her material as being beneath her considerable talents.

It would have been great to see either Lea Seydoux or Adele Exarchopolous nominated for their splendid performances in Blue is the Warmest Colour, while the best lead turn in a realistic awards contender was, for my money,  Julia-Louis Dreyfus in Enough Said.

However, given the nominees, I would gladly vote for Bullock, whose carrying of the season’s best film just outpunches the slinky depth of Adams’ performance. The only way that Blanchett doesn’t win, though, is if the Academy voters are reticent to reward a Woody Allen film in the light of the renewed allegations against him.

If the Best Actress field is filled with powerhouses, the same cannot be said of the Supporting Actress list. Three of the actresses are nominated for the first time – Sally Hawkins, June Squibb and Lupita Nyong’o, who is the second favourite, and has only the tiniest chance of winning. Meanwhile, Julia Roberts is nominated for the fourth time, but the first since she won in 2001 for Erin Brockovich. If you want to feel old, by the way, Roberts’ first Oscar nomination came 25 (!) years ago.

That she, Hawkins and Squibb have no chance of winning is because Jennifer Lawrence, at the age of 23, is set to win her second Oscar (from her third nomination in four years), for her scintillating turn in American Hustle. She’s brilliant in a film that is probably going to be squeezed out in the major categories, and is the closest thing in the entire ceremony to a sure thing.

I would have loved to have seen Amy Adams nominated for her turn in Her, but otherwise it’s a fine selection. As brilliant as Nyong’o is, and it is a fearsome, moving performance, I would vote for Lawrence, given the chance.

Amy Adams

Visual Effects, Costume Design, Make-Up and Hair Styling – Livia

It’s fair to say that a majority of Academy voters does not have a very strong grasp of modern visual effects; for this reason, the surest indicator in recent years of a win has been for a nominee also to be up for Best Picture. They may not know much about the state of the art, but they know what they like.

This can sometimes make for worthy victories – as with last year’s Life of Pi – and sometimes for decisions which everyone should be regretting before the winners have made it to the Vanity Fair party (Hugo, anybody?). This year, justice will be served when Gravity (and a team led by UK facility Framestore) waltzes home, so much a lock that the other nominees might want to think about saving money on a babysitter. It will be a deserved win for a film which is a technical triumph and which would have been unthinkable without visual effects but without ever only being about visual effects.

Among the also-rans, it’s pleasing to see The Lone Ranger alongside the more predictable seat-fillers. The film’s status as a critical football and commercial disaster has rather overshadowed the quality of its visual effects with ILM and MPC contributing huge, organic environments and extremely complex fx animation to the film’s two huge madcap action sequences. A nomination is a well-deserved consolation prize.

Costume design is a category which plays to the simpler impulses of the voters. Forget creative or stylish takes on modern life, or the presentation of character through costume: the order of the day here is frocks and plenty of them. It’s often a place for otherwise unloved films to pick up a little bit of spare prestige – Anna Karenina, The Young Victoria, The Duchess, Marie Antoinette – and this year is unlikely to be different.

12 Years A Slave and American Hustle have the obvious traction of being heavily nominated in other categories but – The Artist’s recent win aside – that is less of a predictor of form in this category than in most. Neither has the straightforward dressy appeal of most winners, and The Invisible Woman’s deliberate (and legitimate) sour drabness is likely to count against it. Baz Luhrmann’s regular collaborator (and wife) Catherine Martin has won before – for Moulin Rouge – and Oscar loves a bit of glitz.  Assuming The Grandmaster is an anomalous nomination on Harvey Weinstein’s coat-tails, this is The Great Gatsby’s to lose.

With the arguable exception of Best Song, Best Make-up and Hair Styling is traditionally the maddest category of the night. Leaving aside the fact that it is usually interpreted as Most Makeup – to the extent that they might as well abandon a vote in favour of a weigh-in of latex and wigs  – it regularly throws up some extraordinarily unexpected names. This is the category which gave Norbit the right to dine out as an Academy Award Nominee (and The Nutty Professor a statuette). Even by these standards, the makeup branch has done itself proud this year with a nomination for Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa.

Failing a Rage Against The Machine style grassroots campaign on behalf of the Johnny Knoxville vehicle, that leaves a straight fight between The Lone Ranger and Dallas Buyers Club. Although the former includes some truly magnificent mutton-chops on Stephen Root, it also has Johnny Depp’s controversial styling as its most prominent calling card. Dallas Buyers Club would be an atypical winner in this category, being determinedly realist, but it benefits from making people look really, really ill (worked for Amadeus) and putting men in slap (worked for Ed Wood and Mrs Doubtfire). Chuck in some Eighties big hair fun, and I’d say we have a winner.

Score and Song – Victor Field

Disney-Frozen-Let-It-Go-4

With “Alone Yet Not Alone” disqualified, “Frozen”‘s “Let It Go” (whether performed by Idina Menzel or Demi Lovato) is even more the frontrunner than it was to begin with – “Happy” (“Despicable Me 2”) is toe-tapping for sure, but “Ordinary Love” (“Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom”) is weighed down by its worthiness (see also “Cry Freedom” losing to “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life”) and “The Moon Song” (“Her”) could be too tied to its movie to work away from it, be it sung by Karen O or by Scarlett J. With my luck U2 will add “Oscar winners” to their CV, but I’d vote for the Lopezes – and not only because for the first time in forever I’ve warmed to some of their work here*, Elsa’s showstopper included.

Moving to music without words, perennial Oscar bridesmaid Thomas Newman is unlikely to be the bride with “Saving Mr. Banks,” nice though it is; and John Williams will also almost certainly have to do without a sixth Oscar for his admittedly fine “The Book Thief.” Steven Price’s loud, mood-driven FX-laden work for “Gravity” is another matter; while not having seen the movie (and to be honest not planning to – comparisons to “2001” were enough to put me off) it has a “works perfectly in its natural habitat but not so much on its own” vibe around it. That isn’t a charge you can make for Williams or for Alexandre Desplat’s melodic, charming and restrained work on “Philomena,” but in recent years Oscar’s usually gone for either non-traditional scoring (“The Social Network”) or more exotic tunes (“Slumdog Millionaire”) so it’s either Price or Arcade Fire for “Her”, and mu guess would be that Steven Price  would be advised to work on his acceptance speech while Desplat and Newman continue to wait.

*And yes, that was a painfully obvious and terrible pun.

Foreign Language and Documentary Feature – Indy Datta

Two Asian atrocity exhibitions crop up here, one in each category. Neither Rithy Panh’s stop-motion Khmer Rouge remembrance The Missing Picture (a documentary submitted as Cambodia’s official entry in the foreign language film category, which makes no distinction between fiction and documentary)  nor Joshua Oppenheimer et al‘s The Act of Killing is likely to win in its respective category, despite the massive critical acclaim each has received throughout the last year. 

Although the nominating bodies around the world that submit films for the foreign language shortlist have occasionally in recent years submitted distinctive and challenging works, and although these have occasionally even made the shortlist (Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth and The Missing Picture being the most obvious examples), the voting rules, which restrict voting to people who have seen certified theatrical screenings of all nominees, may arguably have the unfortunate effect of reinforcing the Academy’s conservatism and lessening the scope for an upset driven by the passion of a minority. And so every year the Oscar goes to another more-or-less middlebrow arthouse classic drama (with the very occasional foray into mild genre). In fairness, this tendency has recently rewarded Asgar Farhadi’s exquisite A Separation; but this category is typified for me by the stolid, self-important likes of The Lives of Others. Having seen none (none) of this year’s nominees, because every time I think I might dial up, say, The Broken Circle Breakdown or The Hunt (the return of the inexplicable Thomas Vinterberg) on VOD, my fingers kind of seize up and I just can’t do it, I’m predicting a win for Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, more or less purely on the basis that the last film I found so intolerably boring (to the extent of bailing for the sake of my own sanity) as Sorrentino’s last Italian film Il Divo was last year’s winner, Michael Haneke’s Yes, You’re Going to Die Too, You Fucks.

Actually, maybe The Act of Killing could win. But I think Best Documentary will go to 20 Feet From Stardom.

Animated Feature – KiwiZoidberg

Since its introduction in 2001; the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature has been dominated by Pixar. With 7 wins from a possible 13, it comes as some surprise that their 2013 effort Monsters University was not among the nominees when the shortlist was announced. The only other Pixar feature with this dubious honour is Cars 2.

This should pave the way for the Disney mother-ship’s Frozen to scoop the award. A huge box-office hit, it topped the charts over the festive season and is still pulling in the crowds with singalong screenings to go with the 3D experience. It’s the odds-on favourite, the other nominees are just making up the numbers.

Dreamworks Animation, so often the bridesmaid to Pixar’s bride (they both have 9 nominated features since 2001, but trail 7-2 in wins) make the shortlist again this year with The Croods. It’s the best thing Nicolas Cage has done in a while, so there’s that. And Gru and his minions returned last year in Despicable Me 2. Appealing to a younger audience and with maybe less crossover appeal for more mature viewers than other nominees, this was another box-office smash in a genre that continues to rake in the dollars.

The other two films are from outside the US. The French/Belgian Ernest and Celestine may be the sweetest tale of the bunch – a story of an unlikely friendship between a mouse and a bear. The characters are hand-drawn, the backgrounds beautiful water-colours. The Wind Rises is supposedly the last feature from Hayao Miyazaki. The highest grossing film of 2013 in Japan, it has caused some controversy with its subject matter (WWII aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi) but sees the creative genius behind Studio Ghibli go out on a high.

But it’s Frozen all the way for the statuette.

Actor and Supporting Actor – Matthew Turner

hr_Dallas_Buyers_Club_5

I would like to go on record as saying I called Matthew McConaughey’s win for Best Actor back in September 2013 when I caught Dallas Buyers Club at the San Sebastian Film Festival. (I can produce witnesses if I have to (hmm… – ed)). There is no doubt in my mind that when McConaughey does win, he will be winning as much for the extraordinary run of roles he’s had in the last few years as for this role in particular, even if his performance as Ron Woodroof does tick the notoriously Academy-baiting boxes of issue-friendly illness (AIDS) and visibly dramatic weight loss for the part. In truth though, it’s no coincidence that various wags have coined the term “McConnaissance” to describe his recent career choices.  In a just and fair world, McConaughey would have been Oscar-nominated for many of his recent performances, and his win this year is likely to reflect that.

I think Dallas Buyers Club is going to take both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. And, as with McConaughey’s likely win, the supporting gong will be well deserved, since Jared Leto is rather wonderful as transsexual Rayon, transforming himself physically  and delivering the film’s powerful emotional punch – his gradually evolving friendship with Woodroof is easily the film’s most important relationship. On top of that, Leto is an actor who has frequently produced great work in the past (Requiem For A Dream, Fight Club, Panic Room), although – like pre-McConnnaissance McConaughey – he has been too often been hampered by a poor choice of projects (Alexander, Lord of War). It’s also worth noting that McConaughey and Leto both won the Screen Actor’s Guild awards this year and, as any seasoned Oscar-watcher knows, you never bet against the SAGs.

Original and Adapted Screenplay – Ron Swanson

The screenplay awards at the Oscars tend to be a little harder to predict than the main awards. There’s often a sense that Original Screenplay is kind of a plate prize for the little indie film that made it all the way to the main event, but nobody believed could win. If that’s the case this year, then it should be a two-horse race between Her and Nebraska.

I don’t see it going that way this year, though. Instead, I think one of the season’s supposed big hitters will win this award. American Hustle is starting to seem like the third runner in a two-horse race, despite having gamely kept up with both Gravity and 12 Years a Slave. Here is the chance to reward the film, and its director, David O. Russell, who rewrote Eric Warren Singer’s original screenplay, and I can’t see them passing that up. While I would vote, wholeheartedly, for Spike Jonze’s Her to win, I will be pleased to see Russell and Singer win.

There’s always a chance that Woody Allen can win this award, and Blue Jasmine certainly seems to have struck a chord with awards bodies. I could think of no less deserving winner, personally, given how trite and insignificantly mean-spirited the film is. The fifth nominee, Dallas Buyers Club would have no business winning, either. That film’s power doesn’t come from its script.

I also think Adapted Screenplay will go to a powerhouse, with John Ridley likely to win for 12 Years a Slave. While I wouldn’t rule out Philomena causing a surprise, it seems much less likely to triumph here than it was at the BAFTAs. The other three nominees have even less chance, with The Wolf of Wall Street and Captain Phillips being anything but writer’s films, and, sadly, no groundswell of support behind Before Midnight, my favourite script in either category. While Linklater, Hawke and Delpy deserve recognition for the intimate, recognisable and painful world they invite us back into, and for the achingly perceptive and beautifully paced story they tell, it has a less than zero chance of winning, unfortunately.

Cinematography and Film Editing – Indy Datta

Still reading?

It’s true to some extent of all the creative Oscars, but maybe particularly true of the screenplay, directing, cinematography and editing awards, that voters are required, effectively, to vote on the basis of imputing accomplishment to certain departments on the basis of a finished film, which can not help but generate potentially fallacious results. To what extent does Phillipe le Sourd deserve to be credited for the visual qualities of The Grandmaster, for example, directed as it is by noted visual stylist Wong Kar Wai? And what does “cinematography” even mean? Wong’s erstwhile DP Christopher Doyle would, if his reaction to Claudio Miranda’s Life of Pi win last year is any guide, bear the standard for the view that cinematography is purely about the physical act of exposing film  (or, at a push, a digital imaging sensor), choosing film stock and lenses, and manipulating physical light sources to capture and enhance the reality of a staged scene. But Oscar voters have usually chosen to reward a film not for exhibiting evident fluency in these old school virtues, but for a global sense of its striking visual quality or innovation: and does anyone believe that Mauro Fiore was more responsible for those elements of 2009 winner Avatar than James Cameron was?  This year’s likely winner is Gravity’s Emmanuel Lubezki (Oh for five until now), for a film which was, in the majority, not captured in camera at all, but rather created in computer. Self-professed traditionalists may gripe, but fuck ’em, this isn’t an award for best lighting cameraman.

Best Film Editing = most editing = Captain Phillips.

Zhang-Ziyi-in-The-Grandmaster-2013-Movie-Image1

Advertisements

One thought on “Mostly Oscar Predictions

  1. I should note that my comments about the voting procedure for foreign film were erroneous, which will teach me to drunkenly skim Wikipedia on my phone and call it research. But I saw The Great Beauty, and I was right about that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s