Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Obligatory Oscar Predictions Post

Yes, it's that time of the year. The awards season usually outlast its welcome around the time when the Golden Globes are given, i.e. precisely when the 3-month-long charade begins. Think about it: for a quarter of every year we are obsessed about a finite list of films and about their chances of winning the one that matters. Golden Globes, critics' circle awards from a few First World metropolises (is that the plural of metropolis?), country club (a.k.a. guild) awards, BAFTAs, Razzies ... it doesn't matter, because every single mention of these awards will be followed the mention of the Big One. It's inevitable. And say what you will about the choices that the Academy have made over the years, it is still the most prestigious award in the world. Perhaps only the Nobel prizes garner as much worldwide media mention as the Oscars, but their popularity is only boosted by their credibility (for want of a better word). Oscars, on the other hand, matter to everyone, regardless of their interest in chemistry, literature, or magic (a.k.a. economics).

It matters to me too.

It would be remiss to not have an Oscar prediction post here at Cinewise. But I want to make this one a little different. We all know The Artist is going to win, unless The Descendants pulls a Crash and crush the reputation of the Academy once again. Instead of an in-depth category-by-category survey of previous years, the Cinewise predictions will consist of two halves:
  1. The should-winners from each category in which I have seen at least 3 films. Why? Mostly because I've covered most of this ground in last month's BAFTA predictions / should-winners and there are too many predictions out there that I don't think think I can add anything original or new to. The prediction jargon is old and tired. Also, for some big categories (especially in Actress and Foreign Language Film) I have sadly not overcome my own '3 films' rule.
  2. Film-by-film 'widgets' for all of the nominated films that I have seen, from the film with the most nominations to the one with the least. For each film there will be a list of its nominations and a mini-review of sorts.
So, without further ado, here are the Cinewise should-winners:

Best Motion Picture: The Artist
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Gary Oldman for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids
Best Achievement in Directing: Terence Malick for The Tree of Life
Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: Asghar Farhadi for A Separation
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published: Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Best Achievement in Editing: Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist

Not a lot there, I must admit ...

And here are this year's nominated films that I've seen and their little 'Cinewise widgets':

The Artist

10 nominations: Film, Actor, Supporting Actress, Directing, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Art Direction, Costume Design, and Original Score.
Cinewise blurb: The Artist swept everyone off their feet when it debuted in Cannes last year. It felt like a fluke whose balloon would burst before it crossed the Atlantic, let alone the English Channel. Little did we know that it would not only live up to its reputation, but surpass it to become probably the only universally acclaimed film of 2011 / January-February 2012 (except for those idiots in Liverpool ... yes, I just called you idiots). The Artist is too far removed from a novelty film or a shameless homage with a gimmick to sell tickets and garner critical praise. It is the real deal. The fact that it is still categorised as 'the silent film' shows our narrow-minded categorisation fetish. Why can't a film be just good? Whether its narrative soundtrack is exegetical or not is completely irrelevant. The Artist is worthy of all of its nominations and wouldn't surprise anyone (including myself) if it sweeps the board.


6 nominations: Film, Actor, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, and Sound Mixing.
Cinewise blurb: Another film that paid the price for our obsession to put things in discretely defined groups. Moneyball is a baseball film, which meant that if you look at a World map, the parts in the middle would ignore it completely. Moneyball is a sports film, which meant that it was going to be high on glucose and low on believability or relatability. To the chagrin of its producers and everyone else that was involved in it, it was neither. Yes, it had baseball as one of the main elements of its story and baseball is a type of sport. But those who've seen it realised that it was an incredibly powerful drama with a fantastic central performance from one of the world's most famous people. Brad Pitt has done some great acting over the years (Se7en and Twelve Monkeys come to mind), but he has never looked so good in anything as he does in here. Not even in the mind-numbingly beautiful The Tree of Life did we see what Pitt was really capable of. However, Moneyball isn't a one-man show. Jonah Hill is a revelation - you still expect a goofy line from his mouth, but in one film he managed to shed our perception of him as just another funny guy. The Steven Zaillian- and Aaron Sorkin-scripted film is a joy to watch with great emotional intensity, a great 'proper' film.

The Descendants

5 nominations: Film, Actor, Directing, Adapted Screenplay, and Editing.
Cinewise blurb: I have previously shared my opinion on this, so I'm not going to say too much here other than it being an incredibly safe film. Nothing more, nothing else.

The Help

4 nominations: Film, Actress, and two for Supporting Actress.
Cinewise blurb: The Help, like The Descendants, is a very safe film. But it has a considerable advantage over the Clooney-starring disappointment: it has charm. Yes, it's very cheesy and it glamourises a time and a theme that is still too sensitive. Yes, it lacks bite. But it is generally quite an enjoyable film, something that would easily fill a lazy Sunday afternoon. Although Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer drew too much attention to themselves, the make-or-break element of this film is Emma Stone. Thankfully, she is the one that saves this from going the TV-movie way and adds some sass to the proceedings. She is effortlessly funny and we are immediately empathetic to her character from the very beginning. Jessica Chastain was better in The Tree of Life and I think Bryce Dallas Howard is somehow overlooked in all of this - she is quickly becoming the go-to movie bitch, what with her great turn in 50-50. The Help will soon be forgotten, but it is a good film nonetheless.

Midnight in Paris

4 nominations: Film, Directing, Original Screenplay, and Art Direction.
Cinewise blurb: Woody Allen is apparently the second most-nominated person in Academy Awards history behind Walt Disney. Now let that sink in. This is nothing against the Woodster, I'm a huge fan. However, it is curious that somebody who is so anti-awards consistently gets nominated. Anyway, Midnight in Paris. This is clearly his best film since the 1980s. Now that he is too old to play his lead roles in front of the camera, he has been looking for a surrogate. In Owen Wilson he found the perfect man. Wilson relishes this role and gives all he can - he is equal parts the buffoon and the sad soul. Although the 'present' parts of the film feel a little forced (a trend that has been continuing lately in his films), the film finds its foot in the 'past' sections. It easily makes its way to your heart and becomes a wonderful bittersweet comedy.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

3 nominations: Actor, Adapted Screenplay, and Music
Cinewise blurb: This is a glaring omission in the best picture category. It is somehow understandable that films like Drive, The Skin I Live in or A Separation did not make it to the shortlist of 9. TTSS, on the other hand, should have been a shoo-in for this category. The fact that the Academy deemed only 9,not 10, films were worthy of a nod is beyond my understanding. This was a grand film with an A-list cast, based on a novel by one of the most acclaimed authors of all time. Perhaps the fact that it was a remake of sorts ruined its chances - does Bill Wyman's sequel theory apply to TTSS as well? My theory that it just about failed to be nominated for the Big One was because it wasn't the near-perfection as we all thought it was going to be. It was incredibly powerful, enjoyable and thrilling from beginning to end. Gary Oldman, easily the best part of any film he's been involved in, gave another incredible performance. The problem was that it was built up too much. The critical expectations were as intense as the fanboy anticipation of any upcoming superhero film. This became a classic before it was released. We were expecting a film on a par with The Godfather or Seven Samurai or any other classic. Of course, it wasn't. However, its stature as a flawed masterpiece will cement its reputation as one of the best films to come out in the early part of this century. The fact that it's not going to be seen as the 'best film' of 2011 is a point we will soon forget. Just like we've all forgotten about Shakespeare in Love or Crash.

The Tree of Life

3 nominations: Film, Directing, and Cinematography/
Cinewise blurb: The 3 nominations that The Tree of Life received from the Academy may seem a tad less for a film as daring and original as this. But let's consider each nomination one by one. First, the coveted big one. As I've said before The Tree of Life is arguably the most original film of the bunch. It doesn't look or feel like anything else (except for other Terence Malick films). It wasn't meant to be a crowd-pleaser and the critical opinion was rightfully divided in two. On one side were those (including myself) who thought this was the pinnacle of American cinema and another great masterpiece from a living legend that only film intelligentsia can understand or appreciate. Yes, there was definitely a sense of snobbery involved there. On the other hand were those who were sick to their stomachs with the esoteric nature of Malick's films. Can't the man just come out and say what he wants to say like a normal human being instead of making these films that make every viewer an obtuse orangutan? Both sides have a point. If you've seen this, you must have either loved it or loathed it. But there is no denying its standing as an 'important' piece of film. The Academy saw that particular side of it (Malick's films have always been warmly received by the Academy) and nominated it rightfully for the Big One. As for the directing, few filmmakers are as indivisible from their works as Malick. You either like all of Malick's films, or none of them. It was only logical that it was nominated for directing as well. On the artistic side of it, it takes an unadulterated genius to conceive and make a film like The Tree of Life. For that alone its directing nod is fully deserved. Finally, was there a more beautiful film this year? Perhaps only Melancholia came close to the physical beauty of every shot of The Tree of Life, but it is still not in the same league. So, the 3 nominations that seem far too small a number for a film like The Tree of Life, but the categories for which it was nominated were spot on. Brad Pitt? Yes, he's fantastic here. But this was never meant to be an actor's film.


2 nominations: Supporting Actress and Original Screenplay.
Cinewise blurb: Bridesmaids may or may not open the floodgates for women's buddy comedies that are not Sex and the City. That is completely beside the point. Bridesmaids doesn't need to be the next Old School or The Hangover either. No, it is a stand-alone film that is funnier and better than your average comedy. Who cares if it only stars women or was written by women? This is not a women's film. It is a brilliant comedy. Who cares what the anatomical differences between the makers of this film and of The Hangover? Can't we just enjoy a good film? Now that I got that out of my chest, let's move on. The two nominations for Bridesmaids show how much the Academy also enjoyed this film. It wasn't different, it didn't break any rules. It had the usual cliches and an awkward and cheesy ending just like any other comedy. But the difference was that it was actually really well written and acted. Yes, I wish there were fewer bridesmaids so we got to know each of them a little better. But I enjoyed it throroughly. I hope Melissa McCarthy wins the Supporting Actress nod, but unfortunately it doesn't seem likely at this point. Regardless, just like when Johnny Depp was nominated for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, the real victory is the nominations. Bridesmaids is already a winner.

A Separation

2 nominations: Orginal Screenplay and Foreign Language Film.
Cinewise blurb: Since its release, A Separation cemented its status as the best-reviewed film by a mile. I have yet to hear a bad word said about it from the critics or from the viewers (granted, I don't know that many people who've seen it ... ok I only know 2 people who've seen it). So it is no surprise that it is the front-runner for the increasingly irrelevant Foreign Language Film category (irrelevant because of the selection process). Yet, A Separation, regardless of where it was made, is a very, very good film. A film that hooks you in from the opening and won't let you go until the end. I dare you find a better acting ensemble this year, or a story more captivating. Yes, it took some liberties in certain areas of the plot, but that shouldn't take anything away from its brilliance. If you haven't seen it, please do so. I highly recommend it.


1 nomination: Supporting Actor
Cinewise blurb: Obviously the Academy doesn't want to make the same mistake that it did for Chaplin, Hitchcock, Welles or Von Sydow (wait ...), so the nomination and what looks like a sure-thing victory for Christopher Plummer feels like a cheap-shot. Yes, the man deserves a little statuette and his performance here is definitely very good. But he should have got it long, long time ago. What really irks me is that Max Von Sydow, who is a far more accomplished actor and who also starred in more classics than any actor you can name (I dare you) is going to miss out for that film that everyone hates. Back to Beginners: it is a safe film, just like The Descendants. I didn't care for it that much, but I'm happy for Plummer.


1 nomination: Sound Editing
Cinewise blurb: Well ... I'm not even going to ... oh, ok then. WHAT IN THE FUCKING HELL?!?!? ONLY 1 NOMINATION?!?!?! FOR SOUND EDITING?!?!?! REALLY?!?!?!

The Ides of March

1 nomination: Adapted Screenplay
Cinewise blurb: Clooney proves once again that he is so good behind the camera. Don't get me wrong, he's a decent actor. But he really shines behind it. The Ides of March was an excellent, slick political drama / thriller. It had another stellar performance from the actor who gave the Year of the Gosling its name. Not only Gosling, but we also had the pleasure to watch Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Clooney himself. It was the cast made in heaven. The ending was one of my favourites this year and it left me infuriated and satisfied at the same time. The Ides of March was a clever film, perhaps too clever for the Academy.

Jane Eyre

1 nomination: Costume Design
Cinewise blurb: In a year of two decidedly unorthodox Brontë sister adaptations, it is no surprise that the more accessible of the two gets the Oscar nom. It doesn't matter if Jane Eyre wins or not, the only difference it will make is on the DVD / BluRay cover. Jane Eyre was a bold adaptation of a beloved novel. It was perhaps the best version of that novel that we have seen yet. It was dark, mysterious and just a tad bit fucked up. Perhaps a little less than Wuthering Heights, it took away all the formal qualities of the novel and bared the story fully naked. It was a bold decision, but in a time of endless adaptations and remakes, Jane Eyre showed how to adapt a story that we have come to memorise over the years. It felt original.


1 nomination: Documentary
Cinewise blurb: Hate is a strong word. Let's just say I dislike 3D. I'm not going to go on a diatribe as to why I don't like watching them. Pina, on the other hand, made me think twice (albeit for a few moments) that 3D might actually work as a narrative tool. How? Well, what is depicted in Pina is meant to be experienced in 3D. You want to see Bausch's choreography to use every square inch of the stage. Back and forth, left and right, up and down. It needs that space to realy flourish and come out at you. You need to watch it enacted on a stage. 3D offers the next best thing as it shows Bausch's wonderful dance repertoire performed by her dancers in some of the unlikeliest of places. This is what 3D was made for. This is what 3D needs to be used for, not to throw knives at the screen or fly with a dragon. It isn't necessary to like or understand modern dance (I'm a complete philistine when it comes to it), but you will certainly enjoy this fantastic documentary. Before I go, I would like to point out that Senna should have been nominated here.

The Rise of the Planet of the Apes

1 nomination: Visual Effects
Cinewise blurb: This was a revelation: it came out of nowhere and blew pretty much everyone off their feet (except my Mom, who hated it). The effects, which are of course rightfully nominated, were fantastic. It was old-fashioned entertainment. It was heaps of fun.

I'm glad that the whole awards shebang will be over after tonight and we can begin to concentrate on the films that will be shortlisted for next year ... wait ... what?

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