Monday, January 23, 2012

Oscars Analysis 2011: Nomination Predictions

The Manifesto's dynasty is about to end.

O.K., to call it a "dynasty" is a bit excessive. Yes, my utter dominance in predicting the recent Oscar nominations has undoubtedly been awe-inspiring to pundits everywhere, but I've only been forecasting the actual nominations for two years (I've been officially predicting winners – often badly – for 10); it's not as if I'm rivaling Bill Russell's Celtics for championship durability here. Still, my success made me feel invincible, and I figured I'd glide off into the sunset and spend the rest of my days reclining luxuriously on the beach while sipping mojitos like Kathleen Turner in Body Heat. Then things got complicated.

Alright, so we all know by now that two years ago, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – in its infinite wisdom – expanded its list of Best Picture nominations from five to 10 in an effort to broaden its appeal to a mass audience. Though that maneuver predictably incited a firestorm of controversy among purists about the quality of the films nominated ("Dear God, we're watering down the Oscars!"), it didn't make the actual prediction business that much more difficult, as evidenced by my 10-for-10 showing a year ago.

This year, however, the Academy has added a new wrinkle (possibly as a result of Academy president Tom Sherak waking up one day and muttering to himself, "Shit, did we really nominate The Blind Side for Best Picture?"). Rather than mandating exactly 10 nominations, the Best Picture field will now feature up to 10 selections, with a minimum of five. So for those of us who make a living hobby out of prognosticating the Oscars, we not only have to guess which movies will be selected, but we also have to estimate how many will make the cut.

To make things even more difficult, the specific process for sussing out the Chosen Handful is, shall we say, complex. I won't go into details; suffice it to say that you basically need to be in a room with Microsoft Excel, an abacus, and Stephen Hawking in order to sift through the ballots and determine which movies have earned enough votes for a nomination. But there's one key element in play that's worth emphasizing: The balloting process places a heavy premium on first-place votes. That is, when Academy members fill out their ballots and rank their top five (yes, five – don't ask) Best Picture contenders, a first-place ranking is dramatically more significant than a second- or third-place ranking. Thus, the process places a movie that is generally well-liked by many but perhaps not adored (like, say, War Horse) in a less favorable position than a movie that has a smaller but more ardent following (like, say, The Tree of Life).

What does all of that mean? I have no idea. And that, of course, is the problem. Just bear that in mind when I only hit on three of nine Best Picture nominations and you see me two days later wandering around Boulder taking swigs from a carton of milk.

Alright, enough preemptive pessimism. Let's get to the predictions. Also, I'm expanding the categories in which I'm predicting the nominations to 13 total fields, up from eight in years past. I'm not interested in covering the remaining categories right now, partly because I don't want to bore my readers, and partly because I don't feel like spending three hours analyzing the chances of Transformers: Dark of the Moon earning a Best Sound Mixing nomination. As always, upcoming posts will predict the actual winner of all 21 categories (shorts excluded), but for now, you'll have to settle for this baker's dozen.

The Artist
The Descendants
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life

Comments: If nothing else, we can be absolutely certain that The Artist and The Descendants will be here, and I'm reasonably confident in Hugo as well. And that, sadly, is where my confidence ends. Gulp.

It breaks my heart not to include War Horse, but its pulse has been ebbing significantly over the past several weeks, and I think the lack of a nomination for Spielberg from the Directors' Guild constituted the moment it officially flat-lined. David Fincher's nomination from that same guild is the reason I'm including The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, as it's the type of polarizing work that certainly has its share of devoted supporters. Of course, no movie this year is more polarizing than The Tree of Life, and while Terence Malick failed to earn a guild nomination, I've felt a gnawing suspicion for months that it had the juice to land a Best Picture nod, so I'm sticking with that nebulous fear.

Undoubtedly my most dubious omission here is that of Moneyball; it's been a mainstay on the circuit thus far and is liked by virtually everyone, but that sort of universally mild appeal is precisely the type that the new ballot system works against. I'm sorely tempted to exclude The Help as well, but I think its ham-fisted social commentary will engage enough voters to squeeze in.

Potential upsets: Aside from Moneyball and War Horse, the biggest lurkers are Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (my sister just had a heart attack) and Drive. The latter is a sexy sleeper pick, but I think it's too violent and nasty for most voters' stomachs, and I'm already wagering on one non-traditional picture with The Tree of Life.

Long shots: Bridesmaids (under last year's rules, it walks in, but not enough first-place votes this time around); The Ides of March (that Producers' Guild nomination was just a tease); Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (so close); Martha Marcy May Marlene (not so close).

David Fincher – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist
Terence Malick – The Tree of Life
Alexander Payne – The Descendants
Martin Scorsese – Hugo

Comments: The Directors' Guild nominations are the obvious point of reference here, but I'm again straying a bit by tabbing Malick, mainly because it's illogical for The Tree of Life to earn a Best Picture nod without corresponding recognition for its director's, er, treatise on the human experience, and I'm not a hedge-your-bets type of guy. In any event, Malick's inclusion means I'm giving short shrift to Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris, though it's possible that both could get in and leave Fincher out in the bitter, digitally photographed Swedish cold. That said, I think the Academy's new, torrid love affair with Fincher (he also deservedly earned nominations in 2008 for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and 2010 for The Social Network) will outweigh its long-simmering romance with Allen.

Potential upsets: Aside from Allen, the two biggest threats here are Tate Taylor for The Help and Steven Spielberg for War Horse. Neither received a guild nod, which is why I'm comfortable excluding them, but if one shows up, I'd bet on Spielberg, because let's be honest, you should never bet against Steven Spielberg (well, unless you're predicting this year's Oscar nominations).

Longshots: Nicolas Winding Refn for Drive (same logic as Malick, only in reverse); Bennett Miller for Moneyball (save it for the screenplay); Tomas Alfredson for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (if you somehow liked the movie, Alfredson's the guy to thank).

George Clooney – The Descendants
Leonardo DiCaprio – J. Edgar
Jean Dujardin – The Artist
Michael Fassbender – Shame
Brad Pitt – Moneyball

Comments: Clooney, Dujardin, and Pitt all won their conference tournaments and are thus automatic bids here. The two at-large spots, however, are considerably shakier. DiCaprio has the Screen Actors' Guild (SAG) mention, but J. Edgar has utterly fizzled, and his star power isn't as significant with the Academy as one might expect (to wit, he wasn't nominated for either The Departed or Shutter Island). For his part, Fassbender stars in one of the most unpleasant movies of the entire year. Both of these spots are there for the taking – I just don't see anyone else stepping up.

Potential upsets: It's possible that I'm severely underestimating Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – if so, then Gary Oldman finally gets his first Oscar nomination here. The other major player is Michael Shannon for his tour-de-force performance in Take Shelter; Shannon is a known quantity with the Academy (he earned a Best Supporting Actor nod for Revolutionary Road in 2008), and he's become increasingly visible due to his work on "Boardwalk Empire", so a mention here would hardly qualify as a surprise.

Longshots: Demián Bichir for A Better Life (he scored a surprise nod from SAG, but that's been it); Tom Hardy for Warrior (probably wishful thinking on my part); Ryan Gosling for Drive (this was the Year of Ryan Gosling, after all); Brendan Gleeson for The Guard (why not?).

Viola Davis – The Help
Rooney Mara – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady
Tilda Swinton – We Need to Talk About Kevin
Michelle Williams – My Week with Marilyn

Comments: As with Best Actor, three of these (Davis, Streep, and Williams) are virtually locked in. Unlike with Best Actor, I'm reasonably confident in a fourth (Swinton). Mara is my wildcard, and my rationale is simple: If voters like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (and they seem to), they can hardly overlook Mara for her searing, indelible performance.

Potential upsets: Glenn Close nabbed a SAG nomination for Albert Nobbs – I've yet to see the movie, so it's difficult to weigh in on Close's Oscar potential, but the buzz has been fairly muted. That said, she's the logical replacement for Mara. A friskier pick would be Charlize Theron, who delivers perhaps the finest work of her career in Young Adult; if Tilda Swinton weren't the greatest actress alive not named Kate Winslet, I'd bump her for Theron.

Longshots: Kirsten Dunst for Melancholia (not with Lars von Trier in the vicinity); Elizabeth Olsen for Martha Marcy May Marlene (c'mon, let's bring back the "Talented hot young actresses who get naked get nominated" trend!); Kristen Wiig for Bridesmaids (you'll see her in the screenplay category); Olivia Colman for Tyrannosaur (further proof that the Brits are taking over the industry).

[Note: This is an incredibly strong field overall. I won't be surprised if I go three-for-five.]

Kenneth Branagh – My Week with Marilyn
Albert Brooks – Drive
Jonah Hill – Moneyball
Nick Nolte – Warrior
Christopher Plummer – Beginners

Comments: Yikes. Brooks and Plummer have been punching and counterpunching all season and will continue to duel until the ceremony – they're both safe bets, Brooks' lack of a SAG nod notwithstanding. Branagh, Hill, and Nolte all earned recognition from the guild, but I'm really picking them due to a lack of alternatives, as the buzz of their competitors has been tepid at best.

Potential upsets: If I really wanted to go all-in with The Tree of Life, I could stump for Brad Pitt here, but I'm betting that many voters will consider him a lead, regardless of the campaign strategy. Armie Hammer has the SAG nod to his credit for J. Edgar, but I've hardly heard him mentioned elsewhere. If Theron gets in for Young Adult, Patton Oswalt might show up here.

Longshots: Ben Kingsley for Hugo (never count Sir Ben out); Viggo Mortensen for A Dangerous Method (perhaps if anyone were talking about the movie); Alan Rickman for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (weep).

Bérénice Bejo – The Artist
Jessica Chastain – The Help
Melissa McCarthy – Bridesmaids
Octavia Spencer – The Help
Shailene Woodley – The Descendants

Comments: Bejo and Spencer are in. Woodley doesn't have SAG recognition, but I'm picking her anyway because I believe that a cosmic justice exists in the galaxy, and that cosmic justice exists primarily to ensure that certain transcendent performances in movies are recognized by the Oscars, and Woodley's astonishingly self-assured turn in The Descendants is just such a performance. As for Chastain and McCarthy, my confidence is minimal, but no one else has put forth a strong case.

Potential upsets: Janet McTeer in Albert Nobbs and Vanessa Redgrave in Coriolanus both have their staunch supporters, but it's difficult for me to judge their credentials because I live in a remote part of the world called "Colorado", and those movies have yet to play in a theatre located near me.

Longshots: Carey Mulligan for Shame (clinging to Fassbender's coattails with all her strength); Evan Rachel Wood for The Ides of March (too much star power around her, too little buzz for her); Elle Fanning for Super 8 (sorry, for a second I thought I was filling out my "Deserves to be nominated" ballot).

The Artist – Michel Hazanavicius
Bridesmaids – Annie Mumolo, Kristen Wiig
Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen
Rango – John Logan
Young Adult – Diablo Cody

Comments: I'm confident that I'll bat .600 in most categories, which would be awesome if this were baseball but is somewhat pathetic for Oscar predictions. In any event, no way The Artist fails to show up here, and I like Bridesmaids and Midnight in Paris to capitalize on their general good will in this category in particular. As for the others, Rango has the irreverence and originality that should appeal to plucky voters, while I'm banking on Juno's popularity to be of sufficient endurance that Cody can score another nomination for a more, ahem, adult script.

Potential upsets: The Writers' Guild nominations are tricky as predictive mechanisms because a handful of high-profile releases (such as The Artist) are ineligible for a variety of lame reasons. Nevertheless, guild nominees 50/50 and Win Win certainly have a fighting chance. Voters could also skew foreign with A Separation or small-scale with Beginners.

Longshots: Margin Call (if these were the Topicality Awards, this would be a shoe-in); Martha Marcy May Marlene (too creepy); Take Shelter (too disturbing).

The Descendants – Nat Faxon, Alexander Payne, Jim Rash
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Steven Zaillian
The Help – Tate Taylor
Hugo – John Logan
Moneyball – Aaron Sorkin, Steven Zaillian

Comments: The Descendants and Moneyball are both locks, and The Help and Hugo should both ride their (presumable) Best Picture nominations to respective mentions here. My wildcard is Zaillian's script for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Conventional wisdom suggests that the screenplay for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is more Oscar-esque, but I simply cannot understand how anyone who saw that movie could have walked out believing that its screenplay deserved commendation, when all it really deserved was a dose of concentrated oxygen to the face from Anton Chigurh.

Potential upset: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (please no).

Longshots: The Ides of March (no Best Picture nod means it's unlikely to show up here); War Horse (ibid); We Need to Talk About Kevin (Tilda Swinton is a greedy tramp who swallows all other praise).

The Artist
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Comments: Hugo and Harry Potter (finally!) are both safe bets, and I'm comfortable tabbing The Artist as well. If there's one category where Tinker Tailor Solider Spy deserves a nomination, it's for the film's sterling set design. Anonymous was a critical and commercial bomb, but it did earn a guild nomination, and I think its look is distinctive enough to show up here.

Potential upset: War Horse is the main challenger, and there's a 50-50 chance it will unseat Anonymous, but its relative failure on the circuit prevents me from sticking my neck out.

Longshots: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (creepy mansions are always a plus); The Help (period setting never hurts); Jane Eyre (I think voters will recognize it elsewhere instead); The Tree of Life (catastrophe of the movie aside, the production design was spot-on).

The Artist – Guillame Schiffman
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Jeff Crenoweth
Hugo – Robert Richardson
The Tree of Life – Emmanuel Lubezki
War Horse – Janusz Kaminski

Comments: The Tree of Life is a lock, and The Artist and Hugo should both follow. Digital photography is receiving increased acceptance in the industry (as it should), so Crenoweth should follow up his nomination for The Social Network with another nod for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. My sleeper pick here is War Horse, which failed to received a guild nomination but absolutely reeks of old-school, classical, cinematic beauty – it needs to be here.

Potential upset: Does it make any sense that I feel more comfortable picking against Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy here because I predicted it for Best Art Direction? It does in my head.

Longshots: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (eminently plausible); Drive (less plausible).

The Artist – Anne-Sophie Bion
The Descendants – Kevin Tent
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Kirk Baxter, Angus Wall
Hugo – Thelma Schoonmaker
War Horse – Michael Kahn

Comments: War Horse is the only selection here that makes me nervous, as it's a bit lengthy for an editing nomination, but it's cut together so beautifully that I think it makes the grade (and it scored a guild nomination to boot). And if it seems as though I'm turning a corner on the film's overall Oscar chances over the course of this post, I assure you that it's just a result of the random ordering of the categories.

Potential upsets: Moneyball and Midnight in Paris are two Best Picture candidates that could make a play in this category as well; if forced to pick a substitute for War Horse, I'd go with the former.

Longshots: The Adventures of Tintin (the stigma against animation is mighty indeed); Drive (for being badass); Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (ugh).

The Artist – Ludovic Bource
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
Hugo – Howard Shore
Jane Eyre – Dario Marianelli
War Horse – John Williams

Comments: The Artist is a home run, while Hugo and War Horse should follow with relative ease. A year ago, I might have argued that Reznor's and Ross' ambient, unsettling score for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was too abrasive for the Academy; after the duo's Oscar victory for The Social Network last year, that's no longer a concern. Jane Eyre is my wildcard, and it may be motivated by wishful thinking, but Marianelli definitively has what it takes.

Potential upsets: John Williams for The Adventures of Tintin (I'm not sold that he has enough cachet to land a double-nomination at this point, and my money's always on the live-action feature); Alberto Iglesias for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (its pictures are prettier than its music).

Longshots: Alexandre Desplat for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (though he could also get in for one of the other 87 movies he scored this year); Thomas Newman for The Help.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Comments: This is almost cheating, as the field as already been whittled down to a shortlist of 10. In any event, of my five selections, Mission: Impossible is the only one in which I lack substantial confidence, as it's possible that voters will be more dazzled by the stunt work and sets than the effects themselves. That said, they're too flashy and impressive to be ignored.

Potential upset: The Tree of Life. Guh.

Longshots: I might as well just list the other nominees on the shortlist: Captain America: The First Avenger; Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides; Real Steel; and X-Men: First Class. Someday an enterprising college student will write a riveting thesis on the correlation between visual effects and colons in movie titles.

That's a wrap. Check back soon to see how horribly I did.

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