Objectifying subjective things is always a challenge but Hollywood loves to dress up and do it. While 2011 was by all measures a blah year for the film industry, tomorrow several wonderful projects will be honored for well deserved excellence.
Having seen nearly all the nominated works, here are my 2012 Oscar selections, starting with the smaller awards and working up to the biggies.
Best Achievement in Visual Effects. For a growing number of films, computer innovation has replaced the soul of a poet. Five tech-heavy films are nominated.
The ones that won’t win are Hugo, Real Steel, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which was one of the best unsung picture of the year. (note: The fact that I missed the last flight out in San Jose because I went to see it and lost track of time has nothing to do with that opinion.).
The winner: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. A suiting send-off to a remarkable body of work.
Best Achievement in Sound Mixing. Can I hit this one three years in a row? If so, it’s a guess. The four I don’t think will win are The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Moneyball, War Horse, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
The winner: Hugo. The seamless blend of sight and sound made this a solid and popular movie.
Best Achievement in Sound Editing. The car movie Drive replaces Moneyball amidst the previously mentioned four (above) from the Sound Mixing category.
The winner. Going out on a limb I’m taking War Horse. This was a trickier edit than the rest by a significant margin. The film was a bit uneven and preposterous, but not because of its audio decision-making.
Best Live Action Short. Pentecost, Raju, The Shore, Time Freak, and Tuba Atlantic are the nominees.
The winner: Raju, a visceral and compelling story about kidnapping for profit through unethical orphanages in India, deserves the Oscar.
Best Animated Short Film. Toss a coin. The winner, I think, will be The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. I wouldn’t bet the mortgage on it. In fact, I wouldn’t even bet the dishes. La Luna would not surprise me.
Best Achievement in Makeup. There are only three nominees here: Albert Nobbs, Harry Potter, and the Iron Lady. The winner: Waving my magic wand, I’m flying with Harry.
Best Achievement in Film Editing. Interesting collection of five nominees here, two of which do not belong. The ones that don’t are the disappointing and choppy The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and a straightforward baseball movie no one will remember six months from now (Moneyball). The field is three: The Artist, The Descendants, and Hugo.
The winner: The extraordinary genius of The Artist. This film is an amazing achievement, an instant classic that will remain compelling fifty years from now. The other two — The Descendants and Hugo — are just good movies.
Best Documentary Short Subject. This category is always tough to pick, since it relies on voter interests and biases. Among the five films nominated, I think the winner is The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom. It is hard not to view this film as compelling cinema.
Best Documentary Feature. The nominees are Hell and Back Again, If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, Pina, and Undefeated.
The winner: I am hitching my wagon to the Weinsteins. Undefeated in an upset.
Best Achievement in Costume Design. The nominees include Anonymous, The Artist, Hugo, Jane Eyre, and W.E. Three of these are British period pieces. Sometimes you feel like all British period pieces are dressed out of the same prop room. Hugo is Scorcese’s baby and it’s nicely costumed. But it won’t win.
The winner: The Artist. Every little thing — including the tedious decision-making and execution behind the costumes — is what drives this great movie.
Best Achievement in Cinematography. Throw out The Tree of Life, which I considered a convoluted mess. Throw out The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which was disappointingly bad compared with the original version despite spending six times the budget. Throw out War Horse, which was an embarrassment to horses everywhere. That leaves us with Hugo and The Artist.
The winner: Hugo was good. The Artist was sensational. The Artist in a tap dance.
Best Achievement in Art Direction. The overrated War Horse is here but I have no clue why. Hugo, The Artist, and Harry Potter belong. A surprise nomination here is Midnight in Paris, the really good film Woody Allen has made since his hair was black.
The winner: Taking a flier here, but I think this is one category in which the work propelled Hugo to box office success.Hugo would be a very deserving winner.
Best Original Song. I hope I get this right since there are only two nominees: “Man or Muppet” and “Real in Rio.”
The winner: “Real in Rio.” If the Muppets win, I’m sticking my ice cream cone directly into my forehead hard enough to create blunt force trauma.
Original Score. This is always one of my favorite categories because how a film is scored is so hugely important to the emotional experience of the viewer. John Williams has received 47 nominations — second only to Walt Disney — for a very good reason: He gets it. Williams is nominated twice this year, for The Adventures of TinTin and War Horse. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is nominated, but the score had little impact on the film. Hugo (Howard Shore) is nominated and might win, except for one big problem.
The winner: Ludovic Bource, who scored The Artist, was superb. And the score made the film. Double-down on Ludovic. He will out-poll a legend.
Best Foreign Language Film. This, to me, is a two-film race: Bullhead from Belgium and the powerful Iranian film A Separation. Israel, Poland, and Canada are also represented, so it’s nice they get to rent a tux and go to the Oscars for free.
The winner: A Separation. Park your bias and go see this wonderful movie about the moral conflicts of life in modern day Iran. A very deserving winner.
Best Animated Feature. Okay all you parents of young kids, here are your nominees: A Cat in Paris (no chance), Chico & Rita (outside chance), Kung Fu Panda 2 (sequel city), Puss in Boots (touche!), and…
The winner: Rango. Rango was one of my favorite films of 2011. If you don’t enjoy Rango, it’s not the film’s fault. I hope the snake slithers up to accept.
Best Adapted Screenplay. Five nominees but an easy pick. The non-winners will be for The Descendants, Hugo, The Ides of March, Moneyball (spare me!), and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
The winner: In a walk, Alexander Payne, Nat Faxton, and Jim Rash for the tightly written Hawaiian family angst film The Descendants.
Best Original Screenplay. A three-film competition. The two that surprise me even being in this are category are the writers of Margin Call and Bridesmaids. The Iranian film A Separation won’t win because it’s Iranian. That leaves us with Woody Allen’s well written return to form (Midnight in Paris) and Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist.
The winner: Woody’s film is clever. The Artist is brilliant. Congratulations, Michel, on a statuette well earned. Maybe next year, Wood-man.
And finally we get to …. the Big Six.
Best Director. Three will applaud from the audience, one will read about it in the New York Daily News tomorrow. The applauders: Alexander Payne (The Descendents), Marty Scorcese (Hugo), and Terrence Malick (the dreadful Tree of Life). Woody Allen will either read about it in the paper or hear it mentioned by one of his bandmates at clarinet practice.
The winner: Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist. While the Academy does not release vote results, I doubt this category is even close.
Best Supporting Actress. This is an easy pick, too. Two of the five, Berenice Bejo for The Artist and Octavia Spencer for The Help, tower above Jessica Chastain (The Help), Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids), and Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs).
The winner: Octavia Spencer, The Help. This popular retro look at segregation in the deep south benefited from a compelling theme, a strong ensemble cast, and its carefully crafted drive for viewer empathy. Octavia Spencer and Best Actress nominee Viola Davis made The Help an important film. Congratulations to Octavia; it took a superb performance to outshine the wonderful Berenice Bejo.
Best Supporting Actor. Hollywood sometimes rights wrongs by going to the “body of work” tiebreaker when multiple performances seem too close to call. You will see this principle in action Sunday night. The nominees are: Kenneth Branagh (as Olivier in My Week With Marilyn), Johah Hill (a puzzling choice for a generic effort in Moneyball), Nick Nolte (superbe in Warrior), Max Von Sydow (a compelling mute in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) and…
The winner: Christopher Plummer for Beginners. A fine actor who’s done the job for decades finally gets his overdue turn at the podium.
Best Actress. Four deserving actresses and Rooney Mara are in this category. Michelle Williams (one of my favorites) will not win despite a great mimicry of Marilyn Monroe. Glenn Close has long been consumed by the Albert Nobbs project but you can’t win if no one goes to see you. Mara was terrible in Dragon Tattoo and has no business being shoved into a group of titans.
Best Actress is a two-woman race. Both are deserving. Viola Davis was superb in The Help. Meryl Streep carried a blah film (The Iron Lady) on her remarkable shoulders.
The winner: Meryl Streep. All the buzz in Hollywood is around Viola Davis. She may win and, if so, congratulations. The Help was a very good but not great movie. Even so, it was much better than Streep’s vehicle, The Iron Lady.
That said, I left Streep’s flawed film that night staggering down the sidewalk, reflecting in the aftershocks of yet again another brilliant performance by America’s most transcendent actor. Seventeen nominations and two Oscars, none in the past 30 years? This is a wrong that must be righted.
Both women are deserving. I hope Meryl is lucky enough to be recognized for what she truly is: the world’s finest actress.
Best Actor. I guess the Academy figured they needed five so they nominated Brad Pitt for Moneyball, Gary Oldman in “Tinker, Tailor”, and Demien Bichir for A Better Life. That leaves two, the ultra-popular George Clooney for The Descendants and the unknown (to America) Jean Dujardin for The Artist. For me this pick is easy.
The winner: Jean Dujardin for The Artist. George was excellent in a role that was not a stretch. Dujardin was amazing in a role that was.
Best Picture. To boost box office appeal, nine films are nominated. Four don’t belong. Another four should be in a sub-category called Really Good Pictures.
Those four are The Descendants, Hugo, The Help, and Midnight in Paris. My Week With Marilyn should be in with them but it wasn’t nominated at all. A mess like The Tree of Life was, as were two-star efforts War Horse, Moneyball, and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.
But in a year lacking depth of artistry, the winner stands alone.
The winner: By far this year’s best picture, The Artist.
Hopefully I got a couple right. I’ll be watching and keeping score, so I hope you pick your favorites and enjoy the show. Regardless who wins or loses, Billy Crystal will do a super job as host. He’s a far better choice than the original host, Eddie Murphy.
In closing, thank you for reading and thank you for going to the movies. Until next Oscar season, I hope to see you at the theater.
Stuart Mcgeady saysFebruary 26, 2012 at 1:54 am
Thanks for a knowledgeable and entertaining review, Ted! Of course you are totally correct about The Artist, Meryl Streep and Woody Allen. Would be interested to hear more about your pan of The Tree of Life, which I enjoyed as a meditation, or perhaps a tone poem.
Ocean Palmer saysFebruary 26, 2012 at 9:32 am
Tree of Life is a head-scratcher. Viewers either like it or don’t like it. No one, it seems, is in between. It didn’t work for me for four major reasons:
1. It seemed overshot and choppily edited. As I watched, I was thinking, “How many miles of footage did Malick leave on the floor?” Because of that, it didn’t seem like a filmmaker’s movie to me; Tree of Life seemed like a film editor’s movie.
2. Since I thought the edits were choppy, the transitions at times seemed noticeably abrupt. It was nearly impossible to get into any type of rhythm watching the film unfold.
3. I wasn’t sure (watching it) what the film aspired to be. Filmmakers tend to have a point of view. I was confused. Was Tree of Life supposed to be his, ours, or whose? Confusion is not always art. Because of points one and two above,
4. The score was nails on the chalkboard annoying. Irritating at times, the score was uneven throughout. Several scenes sounded like TV commercials, the volume jumping as soon as it cuts from the program to the ad. The worst part of the score was its intimidation intent. At times, it was trying to make us feel a certain way about a specific moment or scene. Dial down the noise, boys. I am quite capable of judging on my own.
All up and in, this film did not work for me at all. I saw a hundred films I enjoyed more last year and despite the Academy’s insistence on tossing it a couple olive branch nominations, I remain convicted that different isn’t always good and it isn’t always art. Sometimes different is disjointed. And that’s what this film was for me.
Stuart Mcgeady saysFebruary 29, 2012 at 2:01 am
Thanks for your incisive analysis. All your points make sense to me. Coincidentally, I just had a chance to revisit Malick’s The Thin Red Line, although it was marred by commercial interruptions. I find it hard to be critical, therefore I must be infatuated with the director’s style. Unusual tone for a war movie. Hey, good job with your Oscar picks! You nailed a bunch of them.
Ocean Palmer saysFebruary 29, 2012 at 9:31 am
I think all of us have our favorite genres, directors, actors, producers, etc. For example, I love the way Almodovar makes a movie but do not care much for Guy Ritchie’s frenetic shuffle-the-deck scene sequencing. Nor do I like car chases and explosions. I’m old school: story, script, director, actors, editor, sound. Malick has his fans and that’s good. It’s a hard business; everyone deserves fans.