Oscar Nominations: Predictions, Cheers and Gripes

Academy Awards Predictions, Cheers and Gripes

There are always surprises when Oscar nominations are released – usually one pleasant surprise for every three or four head-slapping omissions or inclusions. This year is no different – the bold and brilliant Shame and Take Shelter completely snubbed, the masterfully escapist The Adventures of TinTin shut out of Best Animated Feature, a softer showing than expected for what I thought was the best film of 2011, The Descendents. But then there were some unexpected highlights too, like Rooney Mara for Best Actress… Let’s get to it.

Best Picture:

The Artist • The Descendents • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close • The Help • Hugo • Midnight in Paris • Moneyball • The Tree of Life • War Horse

This year the Academy changes their voting procedure so only films that got 5% or more of the overall #1 votes on ballots could be nominated for Best Picture. So every film above has their ardent supporters. The poorly reviewed Extremely Loud is the biggest surprise and a non-entity here, and War Horse snuck in with voters eager to reward a one-dimensional old-fashioned war film. The Tree of Life is the token “art” film of the group, and The Help represents the only mainstream hit. The Artist, with it’s uncomplicated love of classic film, is the film to beat, though Hugo (also with its uncomplicated love of classic film) scored more nominations and is the only likely upset. The Descendents and Moneyball both show strong support elsewhere but are likely too emotionally gray and cerebral, respectively, to win here.

Will Win: The Artist
Should Win: The Descendants
They Snubbed: Jeff Nichols’ haunting, anxious and brilliant Take Shelter

Actor in a Leading Role:

Demian Bichir for A Better Life • George Clooney for The Descendants • Jean Dujardin for The Artist • Gary Oldman for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy • Brad Pitt for Moneyball

Demian Bichir and Gary Oldman (his first ever Oscar nomination, finally) are happy to be here but their films are too small and cerebral, respectively, to win. Jean Dujardin is the face and heart of The Artist, but my instinct is his performance is too slight to win. I’m guessing it comes down to George Clooney vs. Brad Pitt – I think Clooney is going to pull it out for The Descendants because his is a more emotional role, but Pitt also starred in The Tree of Life, which the voters also clearly liked. It’s a toss-up.

Will Win: George Clooney, The Descendants
Should Win: Clooney
They Snubbed: Michael Fassbender’s electrifying, brave work in Shame

Actress in a Leading Role:

Glenn Close for Albert Nobbs • Viola Davis for The Help • Rooney Mara for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo • Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady • Michelle Williams for My Week With Marilyn

This is probably the hardest category to call, because each nominee has her strengths and drawbacks. Rooney Mara is captivating, sexy and smart in Dragon Tattoo, but she’s plays a violent, complex heroine and is a newbie in the category. Glenn Close is a beloved veteran but is hampered by being in a weak movie, Albert Nobbs. The Academy loves actresses playing actresses, but My Week With Marilyn is a slight film, to put it kindly. The mighty Viola Davis is overdue but some see The Help as too mainstream. Meryl Streep is also overdue and is playing a British historical figure (Oscar catnip), but her film is also reportedly very weak. My best guess is that the Academy will fall into their Anglophile blind spot again and give it to Streep.

Will Win: Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady
Should Win: Viola Davis for The Help
They Snubbed: Although she’s nominated elsewhere, Jessica Chastain’s terrified but strong mother in Take Shelter was the actress’ best role this year.

Actor in a Supporting Role:

Kenneth Branagh for My Week With Marilyn • Jonah Hill for Moneyball • Nick Nolte for Warrior • Christopher Plummer for Beginners • Max von Sydow for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Nolte and von Sydow are veterans who will be sitting this round out (though Nolte’s inclusion thankfully sheds some light on the woefully underrated Warrior). Kenneth Branagh scores points for playing Hollywood icon Laurence Olivier and being the best part of Marilyn, but the movie is just too featherweight. Jonah Hill is a nice surprise for Moneyball, but nobody is going to beat Christopher Plummer’s staggering work in Beginners. He’s a veteran with no Oscar wins, and he’s the center of one of the year’s most emotionally moving films. A lock.

Will Win: Christopher Plummer for Beginners
Should Win: Plummer
They Snubbed: Andy Serkis, the motion-capture wizard, once again snubbed for his truly exceptional work on Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Actress in a Supporting Role:

Berenice Bejo for The Artist • Jessica Chastain for The Help • Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids • Janet McTeer for Albert Nobbs • Octavia Spencer for The Help

Janet McTeer is in a lot of ways the best part of the mediocre Albert Nobbs, but she’s an also-ran here. Bejo is charming in the Best Picture frontrunner The Artist, but I don’t think she’ll pull it off. Normally you’d worry about two women from the same film splitting the vote, but people seem to prefer Octavia Spencer’s showier role to Chastain’s in The Help. I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility for Bridesmaids McCarthy to upset here, because, seriously, how awesome would that be!?

Will Win: Octavia Spencer for The Help
Should Win: Jessica Chastain for The Help (as a reward for all her great work this year)
They Snubbed: Carey Mulligan’s rendition of “New York, New York” alone was enough to warrant a nomination for Shame

Best Director:

Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist • Alexander Payne for The Descendants • Martin Scorsese for Hugo • Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris • Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life

Though there’s no insane omissions like last year’s unacceptable snub of Christopher Nolan, this year’s best director race is looking awfully similar to last year – four brilliant veterans and one newbie whose shaky direction will probably win. I wasn’t in love with Terrence Malick’s wobbly The Tree of Life, there are sequences of the film that are beguiling displays of technical mastery. Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen’s zestiest work in years, but the movie is fairly lightweight. Alexander Payne has proven once again to be one of our finest directors in his best film to date, The Descendants. This really comes down to Hazanavicius and Scorsese – Hugo has the most nominations, and it’s Scorsese for Pete’s sake, but I’m guessing the love for The Artist will carry Hazanavicius home.

Will Win: Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist
Should Win: Alexander Payne for The Descendants
They Snubbed: Last year’s shoulda-won David Fincher gets shut out for turning the pulpy The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo into something close to art

Best Original Screenplay:

The Artist • Bridesmaids • Margin Call • Midnight in Paris • A Separation

J.C. Chandor is the new kid on the block, and the extra attention for his fabulously claustrophobic banking meltdown drama Margin Call will be its own reward. Not only is The Artist a silent film, but it’s story is easily the weakest part of the film. Bridesmaids is a sharply written comedy, but an Oscar nomination for an R-rated comedy is a reward in its own right. Iranian powerhouse A Separation is a real dark horse here, but I think Woody Allen’s incredibly charming Midnight in Paris will be the film’s big concession prize.

Will Win: Midnight in Paris
Should Win: Midnight in Paris
They Snubbed: Mike Mills’ autobiographical, equally heartwarming and heartbreaking Beginners

Best Adapted Screenplay:

The Descendants • Hugo • The Ides of March • Moneyball • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The Ides of March squandered an intriguing premise with flat, lazy plot twists, while Tinker Tailor favored Byzantine plot machinations over any character development at all. Hugo is primarily a film driven by visuals. That leaves Moneyball and The Descendants. Moneyball, co-written by Aaron Sorkin, zips with cracking dialogue and timely insight, but I think it will be (barely) trumped by Alexander Payne’s deeply moving and sometimes hilariously funny script for The Descendants.

Will Win: The Descendants
Should Win: The Descendants
They Snubbed: Christopher Hampton’s script for A Dangerous Method is a rare piece of work that makes you feel smarter after the film’s over.

Best Cinematography:

The Artist • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo • Hugo • The Tree of Life • War Horse

All very worthy nominees, especially Jeff Cronenweth’s breathtaking control of color and space in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. But, really, how do you deny Emmanuel Lubeski’s work on The Tree of Life – even if the film doesn’t quite hold together, every image is heart-stopping in its beauty and intimacy.

Will Win: The Tree of Life
Should Win: The Tree of Life
They Snubbed: The poetic and unsettling imagery in Shame

Best Editing:

The Artist • The Descendants • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo • Hugo • Moneyball

A tough category to call – traditional Oscar-watching logic is that you can’t win Best Picture without a Best Editing nomination, but rarely does this category match the eventual winner – so let’s count out The Artist. Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall deservedly won last year for The Social Network, but don’t expect them to repeat for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The Descendants is an exceptionally, if subtly, edited film, and subtlety doesn’t win Oscars. Moneyball really deserves this award for weaving beautiful baseball re-enactments, number crunching, and interpersonal drama into a cohesive whole. But I’m guessing the epic grandeur of Hugo takes it.

Will Win: Hugo
Should Win: Moneyball
They Snubbed: The exquisite tension building of Take Shelter

Best Animated Feature

A Cat in Paris • Chico & Rita • Kung Fu Panda 2 • Puss in Boots • Rango

Will Win: Gore Verbinski’s quirky, surreal Rango
Should Win: Of these, Rango
They Snubbed: Steven Speilberg’s most entertaining film in a decade, The Adventures of TinTin

Best Foreign Language Film:

Bullhead • Footnote • In Darkness • Monsieur Lazhar • A Separation

Will Win: The well-reviewed A Separation
Should Win: Haven’t seen it, but I’m guessing A Separation
They Snubbed: I’ve heard nothing but good things about Certified Copy

Best Documentary Feature:

Hell and Back Again • If a Tree Falls • Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory • Pina • Undefeated

Will Win: Not many films can claim to have exonerated innocent people from a crime they didn’t commit like Paradise Lost
Should Win: Sadly, I’ve seen none of these, though I hear good things about Pina
They Snubbed: I’ve heard nothing but good things about Project Nim

Best Art Direction:

The Artist • Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 2 • Hugo • Midnight in Paris • War Horse

Will Win: The lovely steampunk old Paris in Hugo
Should Win: The lovelier classic Paris of Midnight in Paris
They Snubbed: The bleak 80s noir of Drive

Best Makeup:

Albert Nobbs • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 • The Iron Lady

Will Win: Harry Potter
Should Win: Harry Potter
They Snubbed: Well, at least they didn’t nominate the scary J. Edgar

Best Score:

The Adventures of TinTin • The Artist • Hugo • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy • War Horse

Will Win: Even though it lifted a crucial piece of music from Vertigo, The Artist wins this hands down
Should Win: Williams’ jauntry score for TinTin
They Snubbed: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ unsettling soundscape in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Best Original Song

“Man or Muppet” from The Muppets • “Real in Rio” from Rio

Will Win: The Muppets
Should Win: The Muppets
They Snubbed: Nothing, really

Best Sound Editing:

Drive • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo • Hugo • Transformers: Dark of the Moon • War Horse

Will Win: Hugo
Should Win: Drive
They Snubbed: The balletic chaos of The Adventures of TinTin

Best Sound Mixing:

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo • Hugo • Moneyball • Transformers: Dark of the Moon • War Horse

Will Win: The battlefield chaos of War Horse
Should Win: Moneyball’s majestic baseball scenes
They Snubbed: The symphonic Shame

Best Visual Effects:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 • Hugo • Real Steel • Rise of the Planet of the Apes • Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Will Win: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, no contest
Should Win: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, no contest
They Snubbed: The motion capture of TinTin

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