Wednesday, February 16, 2011

If I Picked the Oscars

Every year we do a little Oscar get together at my place - watch the show, critique the fashion, check out the parade-of-dead-stars montage and say, "Oh, that's right, I forgot HE died...", but most importantly we bet on the winners.  That's right, while the Super Bowl may be the single most bet-upon day every year, in my house Oscar night is the time to put your big ol' $5 bill on the line and put up or shut up.

Just like Fantasy Football magically makes that Arizona vs. Jacksonville game so exciting 'cause you're hoping Jay Feely can kick you 6 points so you can pummel your best friend and gloat about it at work the next day, so does betting on the Academy Awards suddenly make that best animated short category the single most important thing in the world 2 1/2 hours into the always excessively long ceremony.  And trust me, the overall winner each year is almost always determined by who correctly picks "Logorama" over "Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty."  What's that you say, you've never even heard of those flicks, well welcome to the club my friend, now put your fiver in the hat, pick up your pen and do what we all do...


That's why my 8-year old has about as good a chance as I do.  It's like they always say, "The family that bets together, stays together..."

Anyway, in this post I will not do that - pick all the winners that is.  Because let's face it, I wanna win that pot as much as the next guy.  No, in this post I'd like to do what Siskel & Ebert used to do, which is present my picks as if I were suddenly king of the academy and able to choose the winners from the best and brightest cinema had to offer in 2010.  I will use their list of nominees as a starting point, except for when they completely whiff and ignore great work.  Ok, and I'll also throw in my predictions of who I think the Academy will choose for the big categories - those are usually pretty obvious anyway.  And I won't do every single category - just the ones I care about and where I've seen the majority of the contenders.  Unless I decide not to.  So there.

Alright then... bring it on!

I'll start where the Oscars traditionally start - with Best Supporting Actor:

    •  Christian Bale in “The Fighter”
•  John Hawkes in “Winter's Bone”
•  Jeremy Renner in “The Town”
  •  Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids Are All Right”
  •  Geoffrey Rush in “The King's Speech”

I've seen all of these films except for "The Town" and for me, this one's pretty easy.  While Geoffrey Rush brings his usual charismatic charm to his role as royal speech therapist and Mark Ruffalo is charming as well as the sperm-donor with a heart of gold and John Hawkes, while not especially charming, brings a powerful authenticity to his role as well, Christian Bale clearly owns his film.

Bale's performance in "The Fighter" carries the movie and while it may seem a bit showy and over the top at first, he settles in and gradually reveals the layers underneath without resorting to melodrama.  The funniest moment was seeing the real Dicky Ecklund at the end of the film and realizing, wow, I'm not sure Bale was even wacky enough.

My Pick - Christian Bale in “The Fighter”

Oscar's Pick - Christian Bale in “The Fighter”   This one seems like a slam dunk, with Bale already having taken home the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards.

Best Supporting Actress:

Amy Adams in “The Fighter”
Helena Bonham Carter in “The King's Speech”
Melissa Leo in “The Fighter”
Hailee Steinfeld in “True Grit”
Jacki Weaver in “Animal Kingdom”

Amy Adams is great playing against type as a "sexy bitch" in "The Fighter", and there's lots of buzz surrounding Hailee Steinfeld in "True Grit", but for me Melissa Leo has the best role and makes the most of it as the matriarch of an irascible clan of characters.

My Pick - Melissa Leo in “The Fighter”

Oscar's Pick - Melissa Leo in “The Fighter”  Having already won a bunch of awards, I think she's a lock to take home Oscar as well.

Best Animated Feature:

    • “How to Train Your Dragon” Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
    • “The Illusionist” Sylvain Chomet
    • “Toy Story 3” Lee Unkrich

I actually really liked "How to Train Your Dragon" and it's kind of a toss-up for me between that and "Toy Story 3", which I liked, but not as much as the first two installments of the Pixar franchise.  Oh heck, I gotta give it to my Pixar bud, Carlos Baena who animated the Spanish Buzz Lightyear scenes, so once again, the Emeryville magic continues.

My Pick - “Toy Story 3”

Oscar's Pick - “Toy Story 3”  Not great surprise here.

Art Direction:

    “Alice in Wonderland" Production Design: Robert Stromberg; Set Decoration: Karen O'Hara
    • “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1" Production Design: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan
    • “Inception” Production Design: Guy Hendrix Dyas; Set Decoration: Larry Dias and Doug Mowat
    • “The King's Speech” Production Design: Eve Stewart; Set Decoration: Judy Farr
    • “True Grit” Production Design: Jess Gonchor; Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh

For those of you not in the know, Art Direction determines the overall "look" of a filmA Production Designer will work with the Director and the Director of Photography to incorporate all the style choices into a cohesive vision that helps to support the characters and the narrative.  Or they can just choose to make everything Orange and Teal and call it a day.

Nothing really jumps out at me from this group.  "Alice in Wonderland" is the most obvious choice simply because an entire world and all the characters had to be realized to make that film. "Harry Potter" looked good, but the looks of those films have been pretty much set ever since Alfonso Cuaron took the helm in "Prisoner of Azkaban" and created that dark, cold, steely atmosphere.

The most glaring exemption here is "Black Swan".  In a psychological thriller, Art Direction is an essential element for making the whole movie work. Production Designer, Therese DePrez and Art Director Davin Stein did incredible work - draping the film in black, white and red, and slowly changing the tones from light to dark.  For the Academy to complete whiff on this one and not even nominate "Black Swan" is indefensible.

My Pick - "Black Swan"

Oscar's Pick - "The King's Speech"  The Academy loves costume drama... and the UK.  'Nuff said.


    • “Black Swan” Matthew Libatique
    • “Inception” Wally Pfister
    • “The King's Speech” Danny Cohen
    • “The Social Network” Jeff Cronenweth
    • “True Grit” Roger Deakins

All great work.  Black Swan and Inception stand out in my mind.  I loved the from-behind-tracking shots following Natalie Portman, the great dance sequences and the many shifts of mood created by the fantastic cinematography of "Black Swan."  In a film like that, the cinematography plays such a crucial role in supporting the themes and subtext of the story.  Brilliant job.

My Pick - “Black Swan” Matthew Libatique

Oscar's Pick - “Black Swan” Matthew Libatique   They might go with Danny Cohen and "The King's Speech" here again, but I think this is where "Black Swan" starts a run on technical awards.

Film Editing:

    • “Black Swan” Andrew Weisblum
    • “The Fighter” Pamela Martin
    • “The King's Speech” Tariq Anwar
    • “127 Hours” Jon Harris
    • “The Social Network” Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter

Ok, now here's something I think I know a little about.  All of these are fine examples of great work (except for perhaps again, "The King's Speech" - nothing wrong there, but nothing exemplary either.  It seems like every year there is one movie that the Academy just loves and throws in all categories regardless of whether it actually deserves it or not and this appears to be the year of the stuttering king!)

However, I must again order off the menu and choose a film that was not even nominated.  To me, the best edited film this year was "Inception" and the great work by Lee Smith.  To make that story work with so many parallel stories playing at once, and so many complex ideas to get across was no easy feat - and Lee Smith did a great job.

My Pick - "Inception" Lee Smith

Oscar's Pick - "Black Swan" I hope.  If they give the award to "The King's Speech"  I will be hurling mu shu pork at the tv.  Really.

Visual Effects:

    • “Alice in Wonderland” Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips
    • “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1” Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz and Nicolas Aithadi
    • “Hereafter” Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojansky and Joe Farrell
    • “Inception” Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb
    • “Iron Man 2” Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick

I'd like to tell you a little story.  The year is 1983 and the Academy Awards are about to present the winner of the Best Visual Effects for the prior year.  A young, impressionable teenager eagerly awaits the affirmation of the incredible work of cinematic art he has recently seen. Instead, "E.T." wins for it's Mary Poppins inspired blue-screen work of a boy on a flying bicycle over "Blade Runner's" revolutionary visualizations of a dystopian Los Angeles belching fire while Japanese advertisements echo from the ever-present floating blimps.

Welcome to the real world, Todd. I'll never forgive the Academy for that one.

This year however, they can't really screw it up too much.  For me, the winner is "Inception" for its incredibly realized dreamscapes and that one iconic image of the world folding up.

My Pick - "Inception"

Oscar's Pick - What...?? No King's Speech here?? Wha happened? Well, since the stuttering king isn't here, it's kind of a toss-up, but I think they may go with “Alice in Wonderland”.

But I could be wrong... just like I was in 1983.

Stay tuned next week for part 2 when we get to the really juicy stuff, like Best Actor, Actress and Picture.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Blade Runner over The Thing? For realz?

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