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.)
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
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.
Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist
Terence Malick – The Tree of Life
Alexander Payne – The Descendants
Martin Scorsese – Hugo
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.
George Clooney – The Descendants
Jean Dujardin – The Artist
Brad Pitt – Moneyball
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.
Viola Davis – The Help
Rooney Mara – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams – My Week with Marilyn
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
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
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
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
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
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
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.
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
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
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
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
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.