Sunday, February 27, 2011

Again, the Academy Awards: Predictions 2010

By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 2.27.11

Oscar prognostication, once no more than a living room activity, has become Big Business; every print or TV media personality remotely connected to cinema has jumped onto the bandwagon.

No surprise, really. The gig is tantalizing; the trick is to anticipate and navigate the complex weather patterns that might guide Academy voters each year. Will they honor individual achievement, or consider a nominee’s past work? (Hello, John Wayne.) Will a sweeps mentality prevail, motivated by an over-compensating desire to acknowledge a tremendous achievement? (Got my eye on you, Titanic and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.)

Will the voters in a particular category, stung by recent bad press, behave foolishly in an effort to be viewed as hip? (Nothing else can explain the Best Song wins by “Last Dance,” from 1978’s Thank God It’s Friday, and “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” from 2005’s Hustle and Flow.)

At the end of the day, it’s impossible to catch all the prevailing winds; the Academy Awards always produce some surprises. Indeed, that’s part of the fun. And although we definitely suffer from “awards show glut” at this time of the year, I take heart in the fact that the Oscars remain The Big Show. After all, nobody bothers to predict the Golden Globes, or offer contests for same.

The Academy Awards show itself continues to be tweaked and fine-tuned to increasingly silly degrees. We once again have 10 choices for Best Picture, apparently to bribe viewers who wouldn’t tune in unless they could see scenes from 127 Hours and Inception. And I could kvetch about the weirdness of having only four Best Song nominees, but I long ago gave up on the idiotic Academy members who rule this category. They’re wombats.

And I’m equally dismayed by the dweebs who make similarly ludicrous rules in the Best Animated Feature category, which once again fields only three entries. C’mon, folks; be logical: If you expanded the Best Picture category for the sake of acknowledging box-office popularity, wouldn’t it make sense to do the same with animated features?

But enough with the eye-rolling; let’s get to the meat of the matter. It’s a potentially exciting year for Oscar, and a tough year for predictions. So let’s see how many right answers I can talk myself out of this time...

Visual effects

A busy category this year, with five nominees (usually no more than three). The marvels of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 1 and Iron Man 2 aside, I suspect this is a dust-up between Alice in Wonderland and another hot challenger. I therefore expect these statues to be claimed by Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb, for Inception.


Nobody saw The Way Back, and Adrien Morot’s aging make-up in Barney’s Version, while excellent, also wound up in a little-seen film. Name-brand recognition is tough to beat in this category, and the name belongs to Rick Baker. So even though his film was perceived as a horror dud, I expect him to win, for The Wolfman.

Sound mixing

Bear in mind that this category represents the totality of the sound-mixing process – the music, the dialogue, the background noises and everything else – whereas the next category focuses more specifically on fabricated sound. Think sound effects, like visual effects.

The Motion Picture Sound Editors’ annual Golden Reel Awards aren’t much help here, since they divide the spoils within even more sub-categories. Their 58th annual ceremony, which took place Sunday, gave two awards to Inception, for music editing and sound effects/foley editing. The Social Network took the Golden Reel for “dialogue and ADR,” which would correspond most closely to this Oscar category.

My personal choice would be the folks who really made me feel like a part of the action, in True Grit, but that ain’t gonna happen. Both sound categories, as with visual effects, will be knee-jerk bones thrown to Inception, in this case acknowledging Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo and Ed Novick.

Sound editing

For the reasons cited above: Richard King, for Inception.

Art direction

This category more properly should be called art direction/set design, since it honors the two individuals responsible for those duties. The annual Art Directors Guild Awards, presented Feb. 5, divided this category into three branches, for period, fantasy and contemporary; the winners were, respectively, The King’s Speech, Inception and Black Swan. The latter isn’t among the Oscar candidates in this category, and therefore can be ignored.

I’m troubled by the love given Inception here, which suggests a similar Academy Award victory: perhaps another consolation prize. But I’m heading in a different direction, to acknowledge the more opulent work in this wonderfully colorful and imaginative fantasy. I hope to see Robert Stromberg and Karen O’Hara up on stage, for Alice in Wonderland.

Costume Design

I’ve never been impressed by films that merely drape their characters in “regular clothes,” no matter how authentic to a given time period; I’m therefore ignoring True Grit, The King’s Speech and I Am Love.

That leaves us with The Tempest and Alice in Wonderland, both handled by category heavyweights: Colleen Atwood (nine previous nominations, two wins) and Sandy Powell (nine previous nominations, three wins). They were up against each other last year, as well, and Powell won, for The Young Victoria.

The annual Costume Designers Guild Awards, which took place Tuesday evening, also divides its honors into the same three branches: period, fantasy and contemporary. The winners, respectively, were The King’s Speech, Alice in Wonderland and Black Swan.

All things being equal, I’d say it’s Atwood’s turn, for her sumptuous and wildly macabre work on Alice in Wonderland.

Original song

The recent Grammy Awards don’t help, because they operate on a slightly different calendar, and – starting this year – they also blended this category to include TV shows. Their winner was “The Weary Kind,” from Crazy Heart, which is last year’s news (and last year’s Oscar winner).

Disney hit-makers – and frequent nominees – Alan Menken and Randy Newman are waging war once again this year, for (respectively) “I See the Light,” from Tangled, and “We Belong Together,” from Toy Story 3. This could split the vote and give the honor to the haunting “If I Rise,” from 127 Hours. It’s an ethereal song, well used in its film ... but not terribly hummable, and rather dreary on its own.

I’d rather go with the fourth choice, because it’s the best nominee that both stands alone and “fits” with its film ... and because Gwyneth Paltrow sang it so masterfully: “Coming Home,” from Country Strong.

Original score

Ouch. This is a battle between the subtle and the ostentatious. Of the latter, a sweeps mentality could give this to Hans Zimmer, for Inception, or Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, for their enormously popular work in The Social Network. Reznor, perhaps better known as the man behind Nine Inch Nails, absolutely would represent the “hip” vote that this category often succumbs to.

Alternatively – and this would be my choice – Alexandre Desplat delivered a marvelously quiet, moody, whimsical and stirring score for The King’s Speech. This is Desplat’s fourth nomination, and he’s yet to win.

(Randy Newman won the Grammy in this category, but he’s not an Oscar nominee here.)

Sorry, Trent. I’m going with Alexandre Desplat, for The King’s Speech.

Animated feature

All three are excellent, but in terms of touching hearts and box-office impact, the choice is obvious: Lee Unkrich, for Toy Story 3.

Foreign-language film

Always a tough category, because politics plays so strong a role.

Greece’s Dogtooth is too damn weird, and can be discounted immediately.

Biutiful would appear to have the inside track, because it also earned an acting nomination (Javier Bardem) and has been getting most of the media publicity. France’s Outside the Law has the post-WWII vibe. The Canadian/French Incendies, set in the Middle East, details the sort of “quest for self” that Academy voters love.

In a Better World took the Golden Globe in this category, and it has a voter-friendly blend of drama, family dynamics and sharp storytelling. Sounds good to me: Denmark, for In a Better World.


The hallucinatory magic of Black Swan owes much to its editing, as also is the case with the building tension of the boxing scenes in The Fighter.

The American Cinema Editors 61st annual Eddie Awards ceremony took place Saturday evening; their awards are divided between drama and comedy/musical, and the honors went to The Social Network and Alice in Wonderland. The latter isn’t nominated for an Oscar, which seems to make the choice easy.

And I agree. The adrenaline-fueled thrill ride of The Social Network is due in great part to the way the film is cut; I therefore expect to see Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter take the stage.


Another tough category, because I fear the deserving choice won’t win. That would be Roger Deakins, nominated for his spectacular work in True Grit.

Wally Pfister surprised everybody by taking the top honor at the 25th annual American Society of Cinematographers Awards banquet, which took place Feb. 13. And yes, much of his film – Inception – got its juice from his inventive camerawork. Goodness, he probably had to devise half a dozen new ways to shoot director Christopher Nolan’s ambitious fantasy.

Well, call me stubborn, but I don’t care. Deakins has been nominated nine times now – twice (!) in 2008 – and has yet to win. He’s long overdue for an acceptance speech, so I hope he’ll get to deliver one, for True Grit.

Original screenplay

They’re all excellent, with The Fighter, Inception and The King’s Speech appearing to have the inside track against The Kids Are All Right and Another Year.

Things got interesting with the Feb. 5 Writers Guild Award, which went to Christopher Nolan, for Inception. This is significant, because the writers guild members also historically vote as a powerful block come Oscar time.

That aside, I’m instead choosing the quieter, historically revealing and wonderfully engaging alternative: David Seidler, for The King’s Speech.

Adapted screenplay

No contest. He’s won everything else, including the WGA trophy in this category. Aaron Sorkin, for The Social Network.

Supporting actor

Also easy. He won both the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards in this category, and no wonder; he’s simply amazing. Christian Bale, for The Fighter.

Supporting actress

A few weeks ago, I’d have said that Melissa Leo was a lock in this category, also for The Fighter. She did equally fine work, and also won both the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards.

Since then, however, Leo has indulged in a truly tasteless full-page-spread advertising campaign in Daily Variety and other trade publications, in a blatant effort to suck up for votes. That sort of behavior has worked against many who came before her, and I suspect the same will happen this year. The likely beneficiary? Young Hailee Steinfeld, for True Grit.


Also easy, both for his work this time, and for his impressive career. And for being an all-around cool dude. And because Jeff Bridges won last year, Javier Bardem won the year before, and Jesse Eisenberg and James Franco are too young.

Colin Firth, for The King’s Speech.


Very hard: another dust-up between flamboyant and subtle.

This is a two-horse race, and Natalie Portman took the early lead, when she won the Golden Globe. But Annette Bening can’t be discounted. She has four nominations to her credit, going back to 1991’s The Grifters, and has yet to win. I want Bening to win; the heartbreaking subtlety of her work in The Kids Are All Right made that film.


I’ll go with Natalie Portman, for Black Swan.


While considering this category, we also need to remember that – for the most part – the director’s win corresponds to the year’s best picture. Not always, but usually.

Tom Hooper won the Directors Guild Award on Jan. 29, for The King’s Speech, which makes him the man to beat. But we can’t discount David Fincher (The Social Network) or David O. Russell (The Fighter). And it gets harder when we consider that the likely acting awards – which are significant to this category – are split between The King’s Speech and The Fighter.

I’ll go with another British invasion: Tom Hooper, for The King’s Speech.


A few weeks earlier, I thought True Grit had a solid chance in this category; it’s certainly the mainstream, family-friendly “safe” choice that also boasts respectable work from all involved on both sides of the camera.

The Fighter is another crowd-pleaser, and it boasts all that fine acting (Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams, in addition to the two cited above). The Academy loves boxing movies; let’s not forget Rocky and Raging Bull.

The Social Network has the advantage of timeliness; of all the nominees, it’s the film that reflects where we are as a world community, right now. But that also was true of Up in the Air, last year, and it didn’t win. Maybe we don’t like being reminded where we are, right now.

Maybe we’re more comfortable reflecting on where we were, and how we rose to great heights at the time.

Which makes the choice easier: The King’s Speech.

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