Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Oscar Surprise - 2012 Edition

My picks for who should win, who will win, who got snubbed, and a few thoughts on the 2011 movie season

What is there to say about last year’s movies? For me, there were two definite themes – escapism and nostalgia. The biggest winners at the box office in 2011 were Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and The Twilight Saga – Breaking Dawn Part 1. In fact, sequels were the big winner last year. The top nine highest-grossing movies of 2011 were sequels targeted to children, teenagers, or comic book geeks, and they provided classic movie escapism with little need for introspection.

Nostalgia is present in all the Academy’s top films. It is the raison d'être of Midnight in Paris. Hugo and The Artist are lovingly detailed tributes to the allure of Hollywood’s past. The Tree of Life is a meditation on the entire universe, as seen through the eyes of a middle-aged man recalling key moments of his youth. The protagonist of Moneyball struggles to break free of the comfortable, yet outdated traditions of major league baseball. The Help, War Horse, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close paint much prettier pictures of the difficult times they depict. Only The Descendants manages to be fully in the present, but even that film’s characters yearn for a simpler, easier past when confronted with the disturbing reality of the present and their uncertain futures.

With the current state of the world, it’s no wonder moviegoers turned out in droves for the likes of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Bridesmaids, and The Hangover Part II. It’s less surprising that so few opted to sit through all nine nominated Best Picture films. So I’m back to let you know who will likely be recognized on Sunday evening when the 84th Academy Awards are televised live on ABC.

Actor – Leading

Should Win: For first time nominees Demián Bichir and Gary Oldman, the nomination is most likely their only reward. Brad Pitt, one of my favorite character actors, finally delivered a worthy lead performance as Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland Athletics. I adored Jean Dujardin’s mostly silent performance in The Artist – such an expressive face! But George Clooney’s understated rendering of a grief-stricken husband and father trying to keep his family together is the winner in my book.

Will Win: It comes down to George Clooney versus Jean Dujardin. Since The Artist will probably be the big winner of the evening, I believe the Academy will reward The Descendants by honoring Clooney’s performance.

Snubbed: Michael Fassbender was excellent in so many movies last year: Jane Eyre; X-Men: First Class; A Dangerous Method, and Shame. He’s a great actor, and I was hoping to see him on the Academy’s list. Perhaps he spread himself too thin, or perhaps the Academy didn’t want to reward the sexually explicit Shame.

Actor – Supporting

Should Win: Of the five nominees, Christopher Plummer’s performance in Beginners was my favorite. It’s a great little film, and the interplay between Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor is a joy to watch. Jonah Hill proved in Moneyball he’s more than a comic actor, and Nick Nolte reminded those fortunate enough to see Warrior that he’s still got it.

Will Win: Second easiest call of the evening – Christopher Plummer.

Snubbed: While I realize the Harry Potter movies aren’t for everyone, Alan Rickman consistently delivered the devilish goods as Professor Severus Snape. He brought Snape to life, fully embodying the complicated hero. Rickman’s final performance as Snape in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 moved me to tears. He should have earned a slot in this category.

Actress – Leading

Should Win: Glenn Close, Viola Davis, and Rooney Mara all delivered heartfelt, understated performances of fictional women, while Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams were tasked with inhabiting the roles of two very famous, iconic women in history. Mara was the best thing in David Fincher’s reboot of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but she’s the youngest in this category. I think Viola Davis should take home the Oscar for her critical role in The Help. Without Davis, this sprawling drama might have struggled to find its center. With her, it stayed grounded. She gets my vote.

Will Win: Based on previous award ceremonies, the Oscar will go to either Viola Davis or Meryl Streep. Fun fact #1: the last two times Glenn Close and Meryl Streep competed against each other for an Academy award they both lost, first to Cher (Moonstruck) in 1988 and then to Jodie Foster (The Accused) in 1989. Will history repeat itself? I think it will. Viola Davis for the win!

Snubbed: Charlize Theron in Young Adult. The beautiful and talented Theron was at her fearless best in this Diablo Cody penned movie, directed by Jason Reitman. A darkly comedic role, Theron went for broke and delivered a searing performance that stayed with me long after the movie ended.

Actress – Supporting

Should Win: In another year, or an alternate universe, Melissa McCarthy would be standing on the stage accepting this award for her outrageously hilarious, yet completely genuine turn in Bridesmaids. Bérénice Bejo captivated audiences in The Artist, and Jessica Chastain delivered an outstanding supporting performance in The Help. (She was also brilliant in The Tree of Life.) Alas, these amazing actors are competing for naught, because the Oscar belongs to Octavia Spencer for her commanding performance in The Help. She vividly brought Minny Jackson to life, in a role she was clearly born to play.

Will Win: Easiest call of the night. Octavia Spencer for her career-making turn in The Help.

Snubbed: I was disappointed Shailene Woodley didn’t make the final cut. She was terrific in The Descendants, going toe-to-toe with George Clooney and making it look easy.


Should Win: Fun fact #2: Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Alexander Payne, and Terrence Malick have a combined 34 previous Oscar nominations and five wins. That other guy, Michel Hazanavicius, earned his first three nominations this year. I think Midnight in Paris is one of Woody Allen’s best films in years, and I loved what Alexander Payne did with The Descendants. But Terrence Malick really blew me away with the breadth and depth of The Tree of Life. Love it or hate it, Malick is doing exciting work in film and he deserves the recognition.

Will Win: First time’s the charm. Michel Hazanavicius will take home Oscar gold for his uplifting ode to Hollywood’s silent film era.

Snubbed: Bennett Miller took an “un-adaptable” book about baseball statistics and made it into an entertaining, heartfelt, root-for-the-underdog movie. Nicely done, Mr. Miller. Too bad there are only five directing nominations for the nine nominated films.

Best Picture

Should Win: This time ten years from now, which of the nine films will people still be watching? The Artist? Hugo? The Help? Those are the three front-runners, according to various Oscar polls. I could watch Midnight in Paris again and again, and I wouldn’t mind seeing The Tree of Life at least one more time. Still, The Artist is the kind of movie that has cross-generational appeal, and it’s a fun, enjoyable ride.

Will Win: My bet is on The Artist to win the top award of the night. Hollywood loves itself, and this frothy concoction is essentially a love letter to Tinseltown.

Snubbed: Some of my favorite movies of 2011 never had a chance of making this list. So here they are, in no particular order. Beginners, Warrior, Young Adult, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Bridesmaids, Super 8, Rango, X-Men: First Class, Hanna.

As for the other races, look for Woody Allen to win for his magical Midnight in Paris original screenplay, although he will not show up to claim his prize.

Hugo’s best shots at Oscar gold will come in cinematography, art direction, sound mixing and sound editing, but the Academy might also choose to reward John Logan for adapted screenplay. If that happens, Hugo could have a mini-sweep without winning any major awards. However, I’d prefer to see The Descendants or Moneyball claim the adapted screenplay prize. I also like Emmanuel Lubezki’s stunning camera work in The Tree of Life for cinematography.

In addition to its big awards, The Artist could easily take editing, original score and costume design. (It’s a challenge to make colors pop in black and white, and the costumes in The Artist are visually stunning.)

Rango will win animated feature film, hands down. I quite enjoyed Rango, Gore Verbinski’s head-trippy homage to Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns. A Separation, Iran’s foreign language entry, should also win its category.

There’s still time to take in some of these movies, whether on the big screen or via your DVD player. Even the animated and live action shorts are on screen in various theaters across the country. Escapism or nostalgia, or both – it’s your choice. Enjoy.

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