Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Oscars Analysis 2011: Nomination Prediction Results

Well that didn't quite go as planned.

My predictions for this year's Oscar nominations hit on just 50 out of 69 picks, good for a rate of 72%. That's a rather precipitous decline from my 91% mark a year ago (when I only predicted eight categories rather than 13). Nevertheless, this year's slate of nominees has me less frustrated than nonplussed. As it turns out, I overrated the appeal of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which is a shame, because it's a good movie) and underrated the heft of War Horse (which is heartening, because it's a great movie). I paid a bit too much devotion to guild awards, from which the voters strayed liberally (with the marked exception of the Screen Actors' Guild). And I was absolutely blindsided by one of the Best Picture selections.

But, aside from a pair of unforgivable omissions in the supporting actor and actress categories, I'm relatively content with this year's Oscar nominees. Sure, there's too much The Tree of Life and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and not enough Drive or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 for my liking, but no individual is ever going to be wholly satisfied with the choices of a collective. Perhaps it's because my hopes weren't all that high to begin with – I've been resigned that many of my favorite films of 2011 would fail to synchronize with the Academy's choices for some time – but the results are more eyebrow-raising than appalling. And if nothing else, this year's Oscars should raise the profile for a handful of well-made, little-seen movies. So that's something.

Now let's get to where I fucked up. (Incorrect predictions are in red.)

BEST PICTURE
The Artist
The Descendants
The Help
Hugo
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Moneyball
War Horse

Takeaways: Alright, let's get this out of the way: As far as the nomination for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close goes, I did not see that coming. In my defense, I haven't seen the film yet (I'm seeing it on Thursday), but that's no excuse for whiffing on it, and it's certainly no excuse for failing to even mention it as a possibility in my prediction column.

In any case, what's particularly intriguing to me about this list nominees isn't the actual selections but the number. Given that the new ballot procedures require any Best Picture nominee to receive at least 5% of all first-place votes cast, I'd anticipated that only seven would make the cut, and I'd considered slicing that to six. As it turns out, the Academy nearly gave us a full decathlon, suggesting that voters are all over the map in terms of their admiration. As for the eventual winner ...

Current favorite: The Artist. True, Hugo led the field with 11 total nominations (The Artist received 10, while no other film earned more than six), and The Descendants hit for the cycle (picture, director, screenplay, lead actor), so this race is hardly sewn up. That said, unless the landscape changes, the Academy will be going silent for the first time since Wings in 1928.

Snubbed: Drive. It never really stood a chance, but no movie this year was more electrically entertaining.




BEST DIRECTOR
Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist
Terence Malick – The Tree of Life
Alexander Payne – The Descendants
Martin Scorsese – Hugo
David Fincher – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Woody Allen – Midnight in Paris

Takeaways: Apparently Fincher isn't the next William Wyler just yet. Allen was hardly a surprise, and I'm a big fan of Midnight in Paris, but the Academy could have been more daring in a year when so many filmmakers wielded their craft with bravery as well as skill.

Current favorite: If Scorsese hadn't won for The Departed five years ago, he'd be my pick here. Given that he already has a statuette, however, I'll lean toward Hazanavicius, as the winner of this category invariably links with that of Best Picture.

Snubbed: Steven Spielberg – War Horse. After convalescing for three years following the critically drubbed Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (which is underrated, but no matter), The Beard returned with a vengeance in 2011, exhibiting his unparalleled technique in a pair of thrilling December releases. The Adventures of Tintin is dazzling on its own terms, but with War Horse Spielberg reminds us of the raw, beautiful power of classic cinema.




BEST ACTOR
George Clooney – The Descendants
Jean Dujardin – The Artist
Brad Pitt – Moneyball
Leonardo DiCaprio – J. Edgar Demián Bichir – A Better Life
Michael Fassbender – Shame Gary Oldman – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Takeaways: When a venerated actor such as Oldman finally receives his first Oscar nomination, it's hard not be pleased; I just wish he'd earned it for a better film (the performance, to be fair, is typically excellent). Bichir's nod is a bit of a shocker and illustrates just how much weight the SAG nominations carry.

Current favorite: It's a toss-up right now for me between Clooney and Pitt, though if I had to guess today, I'd go with Clooney. Of course, given the overall strength of The Artist, we can't count Dujardin out either.

Snubbed: DiCaprio. We've reached the point in his career where we anticipate the extraordinary every time he appears on screen – which is a little scary, given that he's only 37 – so perhaps voters are becoming anesthetized to his greatness (though that never stopped Meryl Streep). Whatever the case, his haunting, mesmerizing disappearance into the tormented, decaying soul of one of America's villains is unforgettable. Kind of like his last half-dozen performances.




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

Takeaways: For all the complaining I'm certain to do over the next month (not to mention the next two categories), let me take a moment to extend a heartfelt "Thank you" to the Academy for recognizing the year's finest screen performance by nominating Rooney Mara for her devastating work as Fincher's titular heroine. (I'd been afraid that she'd lose her spot to Close.) As for Close knocking off Swinton, I'll be stunned if the former is more deserving of a nomination (mainly because the latter is Tilda Swinton), but I'll reserve final judgment until I actually see their respective performances.

Current favorite: None. This is probably a three-way race between Davis, Streep, and Williams. Davis was the pick earlier in the season, but The Help's so-so nomination tally (Best Picture nod notwithstanding) indicates that she's on shaky ground. Smart money's on Williams.

Snubbed: Elizabeth Olsen – Martha Marcy May Marlene. I could have selected Charlize Theron as well for her unflinching portrayal of squirmy immaturity in Young Adult, but by passing on Olsen, the voters failed to recognize a stunning new talent.




BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Kenneth Branagh – My Week with Marilyn
Jonah Hill – Moneyball
Nick Nolte – Warrior
Christopher Plummer – Beginners
Albert Brooks – Drive Max von Sydow – Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Takeaways: And let the aforementioned complaining begin. I have no idea how it happened (though SAG clearly had something to do with it), but Brooks' exclusion is one of two black marks that will leave a permanent scar on the Academy's credibility. I can't comment on von Sydow's work yet (though I certainly didn't see him coming), but it doesn't matter, as Brooks' exhilarating turn as a remorseless gangster eclipsed each of the remaining four performances. Badly done.

Current favorite. Plummer. Brooks would have been his lone competition. He's not looking back.

Snubbed: Brooks. Still angry.




BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Bérénice Bejo – The Artist
Jessica Chastain – The Help
Melissa McCarthy – Bridesmaids
Octavia Spencer – The Help
Shailene Woodley – The Descendants Janet McTeer – Albert Nobbs

Takeaways: And here lies the second tragedy of this year's nominations. I had never heard of Shailene Woodley prior to her revelatory performance in The Descendants, but following her note-perfect turn as George Clooney's bitterly wounded, fiercely loyal daughter, I'm confident I won't be seeing the last of her anytime soon. Perhaps she and Albert Brooks can hold their own ceremony in which Drive and The Descendants tie for Best Picture. Hell, Patton Oswalt can host.

Current favorite: Spencer. As with the Best Actor category, Bejo could pull the upset if The Artist sweeps, but Spencer's crowd-pleasing act will be difficult to overcome.

Snubbed: Elle Fanning – Super 8. Obviously Woodley's omission hurts the most here, but Fanning's lovely, tentative turn as a wary teenager was the clear high point of J.J. Abrams' Spielberg homage.




BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
The Artist – Michel Hazanavicius
Bridesmaids – Annie Mumolo, Kristen Wiig
Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen
Rango – John Logan Margin Call – J.C. Chandor
Young Adult – Diablo Cody A Separation – Asghar Farhadi

Takeaways: This was always going to be a difficult category, and while I'm disappointed with my predictions, I'm certainly pleased that Margin Call can now declare itself an Oscar nominee. A Separation is allegedly arriving in Boulder theatres in mid-February and has been appointment viewing for me for months.

Current favorite: The Academy has made some of its nervier decisions in this category in the past, so Bridesmaids or Midnight in Paris could sneak in. That said, it's difficult to bet against The Artist at the moment.

Snubbed: Crazy, Stupid, Love. – Dan Fogelman. The tone is wildly aberrant, but Fogelman provides all of the film's characters with surprising depth, and the dialogue clicks perfectly. There's even a brilliantly executed plot twist.




BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The Descendants – Nat Faxon, Alexander Payne, Jim Rash
Hugo – John Logan
Moneyball – Aaron Sorkin, Steven Zaillian
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Steven Zaillian The Ides of March – George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon
The Help – Tate Taylor Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Bridget O'Connor, Peter Straughan

Takeaways: I was afraid that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy would show up here – that it did so but failed to make an appearance in Best Art Direction utterly baffles me. The Ides of March is a bit more of a surprise but certainly a pleasant one.

Current favorite: None. I'm currently waffling between The Descendants and Moneyball, but Hugo could feasibly throw its weight around as well.

Snubbed: The Adjustment Bureau – George Nolfi. Metaphysics plus politics sounds like an ungainly mix, but Nolfi delivers a thrilling story that is both philosophically engaging and emotionally moving.




BEST ART DIRECTION
The Artist
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Hugo
Anonymous Midnight in Paris
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy War Horse

Takeaways: Recognition for War Horse in place of Anonymous is hardly shocking, but the Midnight in Paris nod is quite puzzling, especially given that the voters clearly admired Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy on a number of levels. And hey, Harry Potter!

Current favorite: Hugo. Blanket sweep of The Artist aside, this one isn't close.

Snubbed: Sucker Punch. Zack Snyder's films aren't exactly marvels of characterization, but he knows how to maximize a set.




BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
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

Takeaways: Hey, a perfect category! I think I had 12 of these last year, and I only picked eight fields.

Current favorite: The Tree of Life dominated the precursor circuit, but I'd be wary, as its photography doesn't scream for your attention, and the Academy tends to favor flashier pictures. The somber black-and-white hues of The Artist and the stately compositions of War Horse are also in play here.

Snubbed: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 – Eduardo Serra. The art direction is on a level all its own, but Serra's crisp, dark-toned lensing deserved recognition as well.




BEST FILM EDITING
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 Moneyball – Christopher Tellefsen

Takeaways: Sometimes things don't make sense. My reason for picking against War Horse for Best Picture was that it performed so poorly across the guilds. Not only did Oscar voters nominate it for the top prize, but they also handed it a number of craft nominations, except for Film Editing – which, naturally, was the one guild in which the movie did receive recognition. I give up.

Current favorite: I'd lean toward The Artist, but Schoonmaker is a legend, and the Baxter-Wall combo won last year, so this is a tight race as well. (Sense a pattern?)

Snubbed: Martha Marcy May Marlene – Zachary Stuart-Pontier. The film's nonlinear structure is tricky and could have been off-putting, but Stuart-Pontier turns it into a source of fascination.


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
The Artist – Ludovic Bource
Hugo – Howard Shore
War Horse – John Williams
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross The Adventures of Tintin – John Williams
Jane Eyre – Dario Marianelli Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Alberto Iglesias

Takeaways: I figured the Academy would balk at naming John Williams a double-nominee when he's basically Spielberg's personal composer – so much for that theory. As for Iglesias, his nomination here only makes Tinker Tailor's failure in Best Art Direction all the more perplexing.

Current favorite: Has to be The Artist, although War Horse could make a push.

Snubbed: Hanna – The Chemical Brothers. The electro-punk outfit's limitless energy perfectly serves the film's propulsive drive.




BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Hugo
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol Real Steel

Takeaways: I'm relieved to see The Tree of Life shut out here. The inclusion of Real Steel is a surprise, but I welcome it, as the effects served the story without upstaging it.

Current favorite: Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Game over.

Snubbed: None really, but I probably would have selected Green Lantern or Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol over Hugo.




So that's that. Stay tuned over the next month for more detailed category-by-category analysis.

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.


BEST PICTURE
The Artist
The Descendants
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Help
Hugo
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).





BEST DIRECTOR
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).





BEST ACTOR
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?).





BEST ACTRESS
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.]





BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
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).





BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
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).





BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
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).





BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
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).





BEST ART DIRECTION
Anonymous
The Artist
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Hugo
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).





BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
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).





BEST FILM EDITING
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).





BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
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.





BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Hugo
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.