Picking Winners at the 84th Annual Academy Awards

Originally posted at Buffalo Spree

For the next week and a half, Spree contributor William C. Altreuter, our online film reviewer Jared Mobarak, and me will share our thoughts on who will take home the Oscars. Let’s kick things off with … Best Supporting Actress. —C. S.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
Bérénice BejoThe Artist as Peppy Miller
Jessica ChastainThe Help as Celia Foote
Melissa McCarthyBridesmaids as Megan Price
Janet McTeerAlbert Nobbs as Hubert Page
Octavia SpencerThe Help as Minny Jackson


Christopher Schobert:

Bill, it seems like every time you and I tackle the Oscar noms, I find myself a bit bored by the majority of the nominees, and Best Supporting Actress is no exception. There are a number of notable absences who would have spiced up the category: Carey Mulligan in Shame, any of the fine actresses in A Separation, Shailene Woodley in The Descendents. Oh, and Jessica Chastain is in for the wrong film—she was stronger in both Take Shelter and Tree of Life.

But it is certainly an eclectic group. I haven’t seen Albert Nobbs, though I hear McTeer is actually better than Glenn Close. Melissa McCarthy was a hoot in Bridesmaids, but come on. If I were a voter, I would fight the urge to vote for Chastain and go for Bejo. I think she’s underrated—her performance is as strong as Jean D’s.

But the winner will be Octavia Spencer, and it’s hard to get to upset over it. She (and Viola Davis, for that matter) light up every scene in The Help, to the point that I found myself annoyed to be spending so much time on Emma Stone and Bryce Dallas Howard instead. She’ll likely be the first actor to win an Oscar for including, ahem, “certain ingredients” in a pie, and that has to mean something. Seriously, it’s the epitome of note-perfect acting, and in a well-liked hit. How can she lose?


William Altreuter:

This is an unusual year for the Academy, I think. I never had the sense that any sort of consensus was forming around any particular movies, and although there were a number of performances that sounded like they’d be great on paper, I also never got the sense that there was much buzz building around anyone. In some cases you could hear the buzz dwindling, like the doppler effect of a train whistle as the train goes by. We’ll have to talk about some of those later on in this discussion though, because as it so often is Best Actress in a Supporting Role is the exception that proves the rule.

As impressed as I was by both The Artist and by Bérénice Bejo, and as cool as it would be to have a silent film win in the 21st century, I just don’t see it happening. Frankly, I thought Bridesmaids was a remarkable breakthrough—a raunchy chick comedy! The fact that it did great box office helps Melissa McCarthy’s cause, but you have to go back to the early 90s to see this award go to an actress in a comic performance. I haven’t seen Albert Nobbs, (has anyone?) but it seems to me that if it is going to win anything it will be Glenn Close who will take home the prize.

What does that leave? It leaves The Help: Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer. I found myself watching a lot of movies from the early 40’s late last year, and as I did I wondered, “What ever happened to the Hollywood melodrama?” Fact is, nothing happened to it—I just don’t go to them, that’s all. People loved The Help, and Ms. Spencer gave a fine performance in it. Ms. Chastain was good too, and ordinarily when two performers are nominated for the same award in the same movie there is a likelihood that the vote will split. That’s not happening here—there is no way that the Academy will ignore one of the few African-Americans nominated, especially when she is nominated for a movie about race.


Jared Mobarak:

have seen Albert Nobbs and Janet McTeer is fantastic in it (as is Glenn Close). But she will not win.

Melissa McCarthy has become her film’s token mention at every award show because while the guard has changed enough for a raunchy comedy—chick or otherwise—like Bridesmaids to create waves, the Academy is way too stuffy to do more than throw them a bone. And it’s funny that Jessica Chastain gets recognized for the role with the least amount of gravitas of the ten thousand she played in 2012. And that’s not saying I didn’t love her in The Help. I thought she was a delight.

However, it’s Bérénice Bejo and Octavia Spencer left standing as the two everyone knows will duke it out. The Artist is definitely not the masterpiece so many would love to say and really just a perfect little gem made at the perfect time, but the actors allow the case to exist. Bejo was my personal Number 2 for the year behind A Separation’s Sareh Bayat as a result; Spencer came in at Number 5.

The reality is that Octavia Spencer cannot lose. Her victory is deserving and SAG Award for Viola Davis or not, she will be the piece of The Help that takes home gold. And I’m perfectly fine with it because when I look back fondly at 2012’s best performances, Spencer and Sissy Spacek’s dynamic duo shines bright.


Here’s another category that seems easy to predict: Best Supporting Actor. —C. S.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:


Kenneth BranaghMy Week with Marilyn as Laurence Olivier
Jonah HillMoneyball as Peter Brand
Nick NolteWarrior as Paddy Conlon
Christopher PlummerBeginners as Hal Fields
Max von SydowExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close as The Renter


Christopher Schobert:

What was I saying about boredom, and notable absences? You can paste it right here.

Admittedly, I have not seen Marilyn or Extremely Loud, although I’m a longtime fan of both Branagh and von Sydow. (The fact that Max has only one other nomination in his long career is astounding.) And having just caught up with Warrior, I can see the Nolte hype was legit. I’m thrilled to see Jonah Hill in the bunch, even though I don’t think it was warranted. And Plummer, the surefire winner, deserves every bit of praise he’s received; Beginners is very underrated, and he’s the anchor.

But wouldn’t this have been a far more interesting category with Albert Brooks for Drive, Viggo Mortensen for A Dangerous Method (my pick for most egregious snub of this bunch) Andy Serkis for Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Corey Stoll for Midnight in Paris (his Hemingway stole the film), Robert Forster for The Descendents, or Patton Oswalt for Young Adult? (Didn’t see it, but it’s Patton Oswalt.) Ben Kingsley in Hugo wouldn’t have sexed it up (sorry, Sexy Beast), but I would have been pleased to see him in the mix. And no Uggie?

You get my point. What’s undeniable is how likable all five of these actors are, and that Plummer’s victory is even more assured than Octavia Spencer’s. Considering how many fine performances the actor has given (un-nominated for The Insider, nominated but losing for The Last Station), his win just feels right. I expect it to be one of Oscar night’s more emotional speeches.


William Altreuter:

Chris, I like all of your alternate universe picks better than the ones we have, especially Andy Serkis, but the ones we have serve their purpose.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role is a category that exists to perform a valedictory function. Someday the desiccated corpse of Peter O’Toole will win this award, and everyone will talk about how it was long overdue. That’s why we agree that Plummer is a mortal lock, and why von Sydow is gnashing his teeth. Extremely Loud is the sort of movie that is made to be Oscar bait—it even had Tom Hanks! Unfortunately for Max, this is not the year for 9/11 nostalgia; Extremely Loud is conspicuously absent from all of the other nominations, even Best Adopted Screenplay.

I haven’t seen Warrior, so I’ll withhold comment. I liked Moneyball a great deal, but Jonah Hill’s performance didn’t really stand out for me.

The wildcard here, of course, is Branagh. He is always great, frankly. I think, for example that he is the best thing in the seventy-two hours of Harry Potter movies, even better than Maggie Smith. The Academy loves Brits, ’cause they class the joint up, and it loves itself, so a movie about movie stars is right in the wheelhouse. He’s been nominated five times—for directing, writing, and acting, so you could make the case that he’s due, but I don’t see it shaping up that way.

I reckon the Academy voters will go with Plummer on the theory that Branagh is sufficiently prolific to be able to wait another year. And I agree with you about his speech—Plummer is always interesting when he gets going.


Jared Mobarak:

Plummer. Can I be that succinct?

Oftentimes my winner is vastly different from what I believe the Academy will pick, but Christopher Plummer is fantastic in a film that flew under many people’s radars. He should win, he will win, and he deserves a win after a long career of memorable performances.

As for the rest of the nominees, I agree with you guys—not much to love. Yes, they are all very capable and some—Nolte especially—are deserving of the spot, but none do anything for me that wasn’t done better by Brad Pitt in Tree of Life, Brooks in Drive, John Hawkes in Martha Marcy May Marlene, and Ezra Miller in We Need to Talk About Kevin. But even if those four men were nominated, Plummer would still be my guy.


Christopher Schobert:

Wow—how did I forget about Pitt and Hawkes?!


Here’s one of this year’s more hard-to-predict categories: Best Actress. —C. S.


BEST ACTRESS
Glenn Close – Albert Nobbs as Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis – The Help as Aibileen Clark
Rooney MaraThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as Lisbeth Salander
Meryl StreepThe Iron Lady as Margaret Thatcher
Michelle WilliamsMy Week with Marilyn as Marilyn Monroe


Christopher Schobert:

My pick won’t win. I know that. I’m speaking of my new crush Rooney Mara, who, to me, not only created one of the more unforgettable characters in recent film history, but also embodied Lisbeth Salander in a way that can only be called perfect. (Noomi Rapace was also wonderful in the Swedish trilogy, but her Lisbeth is different from Stieg Larsson’s in some key ways. Mara is that character, period.) Just think, she would be the first winner in history whose character wore a shirt that read “F*** YOU, YOU F***** F***.”

But even though I have yet to see Nobbs, Iron Lady, or My Week with Marilyn, I can’t argue with any of these nominees. And interestingly, outside of Mara and Close, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call this wide open.

Michelle Williams has lost every major award this season to either Streep or Davis, but she’s my dark horse. Her Marilyn was almost universally praised, and her story is that of a triumphant survivor. She’s also generally adorable, and more than willing to shed her clothes—and if we think that doesn’t swing voters, we’re kidding ourselves.

I don’t think she’ll topple Streep or Davis, though. And in the end, I see a Viola Davis victory. Hers is, along with costar Octavia Spencer, one of this year’s most memorable performances, and in a well-liked movie, to boot. Meryl is hurt by being Meryl. In other words, she is taken for granted by the Academy. She is always good, even when the movie is not.

Viola Davis, then, is the winner. And even though I’d vote for Rooney, this, like Plummer (or Spencer, for that matter), seems like a win we can all be satisfied with.

Oh, and my “wish they were here”s? Keira Knightley for A Dangerous Method and Elena Anaya for The Skin I Live In. (If you’ve seen Skin, you know why that would be an especially ironic category …)


William Altreuter:

I like this category, and may I just say that we seem to have moved past the time when it seemed like the only roles for women over the age of twenty-seven were as grandmothers?

Here’s how I see it. Another Oscar for La Streep is an inevitability, but she’s not going to get it by playing a polarizing, right-wing politician. This was one of the performances that we all knew was going to be terrific, even if we all knew that the movie would be unsatisfying. I’d put Leonardo DiCaprio’s J. Edgar Hoover in that same category.

Viola Davis is a contender. As we’ve discussed, there wasn’t any one movie this year that seems to have really stood out, but The Help was close. Not my cup of tea, but people who loved it really, really loved it, and I can envision it building momentum.  Although I don’t really see the need to re-make The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (“Now in American! No reading required!”) I can sort of understand the impulse—it is rich material, and it is going to make a ton of dough, a pleasing combination of Art and Finance. Even so, it is a franchise, and actors in franchises don’t win for the first movie out of the box. Mara will be a serious contender in a few years, when the third movie in the franchise comes out.

Michelle Williams is also a contender, because she was outstanding, and because Hollywood loves its movie stars. Unlike Streep (and DiCaprio) she is not portraying a monster; in the Church of Hollywood Marilyn Monroe is a iconic figure in the full religious meaning of the word, and Michelle Williams did right by her. An Oscar for this performance would be a mild upset, but that’s more because of the field than on merit.

Glenn Close wins it, I think, for a few reasons. First, this is the sort of stunt performance that the Academy loves. Cross-dressing trumps everything except being mentally challenged when the Academy Awards roll around. Second, she’s due. Close has been nominated six times: in 1982 for The World According to Garp, in 1983 for The Big Chill, and in 1984 for The Natural. In 1987, Cher’s performance in Moonstruck won over Close in Fatal Attraction (and Streep in Ironweed). In 1988, Close was nominated for Dangerous Liaisons. Streep was nominated for A Cry in the Dark, and Jodie Foster won for The Accused. That’s a string of great performances, in a wide range of parts. (And there were probably others. Her voice-over as Sunny von Bulow was pretty great.) She’d have racked up a couple of statuettes by now if her competition had been different. Finally, there is the backstory to Albert Nobbs: Close first played the role on stage in 1982. Stage actors get special love from the Academy. She worked for years to bring it to the screen, finally co-producing (and co-writing the screenplay). This is her year, and good for her. I guess I should go see the movie.


Jared Mobarak:

You have no idea how much I wish Bill would turn out to be right. Glenn Close is magnificent in a role that is as much about being a woman trapped within herself to survive than for portraying a man. There is so much nuance to the role, and seeing her absolute glee in a deserving moment of release when wearing a dress is worth watching the film itself. The places she goes run the gamut of emotion and it truly is a performance deserving of becoming her “career Oscar” pick.

Unfortunately, I don’t see it happening. The fact she has been universally passed over this awards season does not bode well for her, and the steam behind a Davis or Streep victory is too strong. Michelle Williams is thrown another bone like she is almost every year without a hope of winning and Rooney Mara is great, but it’s not a character I think the Academy will reward—especially a second version of it.

But while I’d love to see Viola take home the gold—the woman is fantastic in everything she does—I think her Doubt co-star is too universally applauded to beat. I haven’t heard anyone say The Iron lady is good, but they all acknowledge Streep’s performance. The Academy can’t help themselves from giving biopics like this an award and besides being an inferior film, I equate this win to Helen Mirren for The Queen. Or perhaps Jamie Foxx for Ray, a film that was also weak in comparison to the performance.

If only Tilda Swinton had been nominated for We Need to Talk About Kevin


Like Best Actress, here is a category that still seems undecided: Best Actor. —C. S.


BEST ACTOR
Demián BichirA Better Life as Carlos Galindo
George ClooneyThe Descendants as Matt King
Jean DujardinThe Artist as George Valentin
Gary OldmanTinker Tailor Soldier Spy as George Smiley
Brad Pitt – Moneyball as Billy Beane


Christopher Schobert:

What we have here, it seems, is a two-man race between Jean Dujardin and George Clooney. Kind of interesting, that, considering how wildly different their two films are.

What about the other three, you ask? Enjoy the nominations, guys. In another year, Brad Pitt might take this, but I get the feeling that Moneyball, despite being a universally acknowledged base hit (sorry) and a Best Picture nominee, is seen as rather light, like the Mets’ spending account. (Plus, Pitt’s best work this year was in Tree of Life.) It’s truly great that Gary Oldman squeaked in here; the fact that this is his first nomination is rather astounding, and if I were a voter, he’d be my pick from this group. As for Demián Bichir, he’s this year’s Javier Bardem, and I would imagine he’s fine with that. I look forward to catching A Better Life soon.

So Dujardin vs. Clooney … Both handsome, charming dudes, both very, very good. But I think Dujardin takes it. Despite some dents in the armor over the last few weeks, I still see The Artist as the film of the night. And of all the film’s nominees, Dujardin might be the most deserving. Quite simply, if he doesn’t pull off his lead role, The Artist is a failure. And as strong (and understated) as Clooney is in The Descendents, I think the role may have needed one dramatic flourish to ensnare Oscar. Mind you, I’m glad it didn’t have one—it made the film, and the character, far stronger. But it’s less showy by a mile, and as well-liked as Clooney is in Hollywood, I see Jean Dujardin taking home his first (and, let’s be frank—only) Oscar.

We could write a book (okay, an essay) on the fine lead male performances that were snubbed this year. At the top, without question, Shame’s Michael Fassbender. As the LA Times theorized, the role’s frequent frontal nudity, and the, ahem, size of his part, so to speak, may have hurt him. My guess is Academy members were turned off by the subject matter and never opened up their screeners.

I missed J. Edgar, but even its detractors believed DiCaprio gave a worthy performance. Drive was one of my 2011 favorites, but I don’t think Ryan Gosling deserved a nomination; I could see it for Ides of March before Drive, actually. Woody Harrelson was as good as he’s ever been in Rampart, and even though it never had a chance, Martin Sheen could have been in the conversation for his nice work in The Way.

Almost as disappointing, to me, was seeing the Academy ignore Michael Shannon’s work in Take Shelter. This is a performance that will only grow in esteem over the next few years. Are the Academy members actually watching all of these films? I’m starting to wonder …


William Altreuter:

I don’t want to disagree for the sake of disagreeing but although I like the reasoning in your breakdown, I see it working out differently.

It is odd that Brad Pitt is up for Moneyball instead of Tree of Life—I think that one change would make this a very different race. I also think that The Descendants is the sort of movie that Clooney is likely to win for. He is a much more versatile actor than he sometimes gets credit for, but in a straight melodrama like The Descendants we get to see him working un-ironically, and that counts a lot for the folks that have given this prize to Tom Hanks twice. I felt manipulated by The Descendants, but I never quite got to the point of exasperation, and that was mostly because Clooney kept me engaged.

Gary Oldman is handicapped because he is reprising a role that may have received its definitive performance thirty years ago. I liked Tinker Tailor just fine, and Oldman was great, but John le Carré movies are like Mets’ games for me: I’ll always watch them, and I will always find something to like about them, but that doesn’t mean that I’m expecting them to win the World Series.

Doing the math, I see that this leaves me with Demián Bichir and Jean Dujardin, an unlikely pair on the surface. Let’s look beyond the surface. I agree that The Artist stands or falls on Dujardin’s performance, and being in a movie produced by Harvey Weinstein has to be good for something.

On the other hand, as surprised as I was to see Bichir nominated, there was no denying the range of what he did in A Better Life, which is basically a West LA version of The Bicycle Thief. Would a win by Bichir be an upset? Maybe, but that’s my call.


Jared Mobarak:

Wow.

I consider Fidel Castro—if you don’t watch “Weeds” on Showtime, perhaps you saw Demián Bichir effectively portray the Cuban tyrant in Soderbergh’s Che—lucky to have earned a nomination let alone be chosen in this conversation as the dark horse to victory. Granted, I did not see the film—mostly because I had heard it was just a West LA version of The Bicycle Thief. Of course, that has all changed now.

Both Michael Shannon and Michael Fassbender need to be on this list, and the fact they are not really calls into question the point of the Oscars at all. Academy members include past nominees and a litany of people in the industry, so to think they hadn’t watched either Take Shelter or Shame is a scary thought. What’s the point if this were true? I know the awards show is seen as a joke to most in this world, but I really hope it hasn’t devolved completely into a farce where the old stalwarts get recognition solely due to their name.

I do think Leonardo DiCaprio’s omission speaks to the fact that this may not be the case. It’s a role like Streep in The Iron Lady that you’d assume would be a shoe-in, yet he’s nowhere to be seen. I applaud the voters for this fact and scratch my head that they can get something so right and then others so wrong. But what else should I expect?

The race for me comes down to Clooney and Dujardin, much like Chris has explained above. I love that Gary Oldman is in contention but a victory isn’t in the cards—I for one have loved both le Carré adaptations I’ve seen, with Tinker falling ever so slightly behind the perhaps manipulative but definitely resonant The Constant Gardener. And Pitt was great in a great film. I would never use the word excellent or award-worthy for either.

While I wouldn’t be surprised to see Clooney take the statue, I really don’t see Dujardin losing. He was my personal favorite of the year, and I think his charm will go a long way. Without him, The Artist is a gimmick with nothing to fall back on, and that says a lot.


Here’s a trio of interesting categories: Best Original Screenplay, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director. —C. S.


BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
The ArtistMichel Hazanavicius
BridesmaidsKristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo
Margin CallJ. C. Chandor
Midnight in ParisWoody Allen
A SeparationAsghar Farhadi

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The DescendantsAlexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash from The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings
HugoJohn Logan from The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
The Ides of March – George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Beau Willimon from Farragut North by Beau Willimon
Moneyball – Screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin; Story by Stan Chervin from Moneyball by Michael Lewis
Tinker Tailor Soldier SpyBridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré


Christopher Schobert:

These are always fun categories, because they give the Academy the opportunity to throw a bone to some films that otherwise aren’t real threats anywhere else (if nominated elsewhere), or not nominated at all—see Margin Call, Bridesmaids, and Ides.

Let’s start with Original Screenplay. Margin Call stands no chance. A Separation likely does not either; it will win Best Foreign Language honors, but I’m not sure Hollywood is intelligent enough to realize just how good that script was. (Kudos on the nomination, a very pleasant surprise.)

The Artist will soon be honored for its visual delights, and won’t take this. The obvious choice is Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris, a film that, Anthony Bourdain notwithstanding, is downright beloved.

But … I don’t see it happening. Woody doesn’t play the game, and despite garnering more praise and box office than he’s seen since, oh, Hannah and Her Sisters, I think the winners are the only two female nominees in the bunch. My first real “upset” prediction: I say Best Original Screenplay goes to Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo for Bridesmaids. Why? Intense, utter likability.

Bridesmaids plays very well on TV; so does Paris, yes, but it’s also a bit more common-man, and while the Academy does like to think of itself as high-brow, s*** humor likely brings about a more visceral response than Man Ray jokes. Also, I think they would love to see Kristen Wiig’s acceptance speech, while Woody, as they know, will be home practicing the clarinet.

Best Adapted Screenplay is, to me, a slam-dunk: The Descendants. Say what you will about the film—I liked it very much, but its detractors make some very good points—the screenplay is complex, funny, sad, and pretty nuanced. Moneyball seems the nearest competition, but Descendants will win this. Might be its only victory of the night, actually.


William Altreuter:

I love the Best Director and Best Screenplay categories because they exist to demonstrate Hollywood’s contempt for the auteur theory. You can get a pretty good argument going in a film class about whether writers or directors are the most responsible for the creative process of filmmaking, but in LA everybody knows it is all about who put the deal together. Everybody else is just the help.

At the risk of sounding glib, and as though that has ever stopped me, The Artist won’t win because the voters Are going to mostly assume that it works because of the performances or the direction. There may be people who wondered how a silent movie could even have a screenplay. Margin Call was a dog, but it caught the flavor of the way they talk in the corridors of high finance. Maybe I’d have liked it better if it had come out in 2009, the way that The China Syndrome caught lightening in a bottle after Three Mile Island. Nobody has thought about The China Syndrome in thirty years—it was dated nine months after it came out, but it hit a sweet spot. Margin Call felt passe immediately.

I found A Separation wrenching. Asghar Farhadi wrote and directed, and I can’t help but think that this will mean that he splits his own vote.

Woody Allen movies are kind of like Bob Dylan albums. If you like the latest one, then it is his best one since whatever the last one you liked was—usually Blood on the Tracks and Annie Hall. That’s too bad, because it means we are evaluating the artists based on who they once were and are today, rather than looking at the work in front of us and responding to what that current work is saying. I liked Midnight in Paris a great deal, and if it won I think that would be a signal, an olive branch from the Academy that Allen has always held at arm’s length. There is a lot of baggage here to overcome, but I can see it happening, sort of.

On the other hand, Bridesmaids. Everyone loved it, for good or for ill it was groundbreaking, and it made a bunch of money. Frankly, it is a lock.

Best Adaptation is a tougher call. The Ides of March was clever, and felt like it was well written. I don’t know whether Clooney’s participation helps or hurts its chances, and I don’t think it matters because it will probably split its support with The Descendants, the other Clooney vehicle in this field. Tinker Tailor was sort of the opposite of The Ides of March it didn’t feel well constructed; it felt like O’Connor and Straughan knew there was a lot of detail that they needed to get on the screen, so they jammed as much in as they could.

I’d say it comes down to Hugo and Moneyball, and as good as Hugo was, the mere fact that a pretty good movie got made out of a book like Moneyball is so amazing that I cannot imagine it being denied. It kicked around for so long in development that everyone had a chance to wonder how anyone could make it into a movie. It kicked around for so long that the SABERmetric theories it espoused have gone from eccentric outsider analysis to received and accepted opinion. And it turned out to be a baseball movie that wives and girlfriends liked. That’s a pretty good story, and that’s why I pick Moneyball.


Jared Mobarak:

There have been so many great screenplays this year, but I have to admit this is the category I care the least about. Unless a film is written by its director, I generally forget who did the work. I’ve always been a director guy because, frankly, film is a visual medium. Yes, you need a great story to be successful, but I’ve seen many bad scripts made into exciting films and many great scripts ruined by an inept voice behind the camera.

Almost all here are deserving of the award and while I’d usually go for more stage fare like the very conversation-heavy Margin Call or Ides of March, one cannot deny the success of films like Tinker and The Artist finding greatness inside the silent subtext surrounding their speech. A perfect world would probably see A Separation and Tinker take the prize for their ability to say so much with so little, but a perfect world this is not.

Therefore, my match made in heaven becomes Bridesmaids and The Descendants for what the acceptance speeches could hold. We all know Kristen Wiig and would love to hear what comic soundbytes she might share, but what most may not know are the faces behind the names alongside Alexander Payne’s for Adapted Screenplay. Nat Faxon and Jim Rash—a.k.a. the badly accented German dude from Beerfest and “Dean Dong” Dean Pelton from “Community”—are two funny, often absurd performers willing to do whatever necessary for a laugh. So, the fact they are the original writers behind such a poignant film about life and death is a feel good story in and of itself and to see them honored above broad preconceptions would be the best artistic vindication since those precocious Bostonians Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (who, of course, some still say never actually wrote Good Will Hunting). Sometimes the talent within overcomes the image the media loves to manufacture.


BEST DIRECTOR
Woody Allen – Midnight in Paris
Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist
Terrence MalickThe Tree of Life
Alexander Payne – The Descendants
Martin ScorseseHugo


Christopher Schobert:

I don’t mean to be trailing off here, but I think this is another no-brainer: Hazanvicius for The Artist.

Does he deserve it? When did that start mattering? Let us not forget that Tom Hooper defeated David Fincher last year at this time.

Malick should win, but the nomination was his reward. The Descendants buzz really has died down, so I don’t think Alexander Payne is a real threat. Honestly, a win from Marty or Woody would not go down as a shocker. But as well-liked their films are, it doesn’t feel like their year.

It does, however, feel like Michel Hazanvicius’s year. He’ll ride the Artist love to a win. And whether or not that’s the proper pick, I just can’t bring myself to get too perturbed by the film’s victory lap.


William Altreuter:

Best Director is such an odd category, isn’t it? It always feels like Miss Congeniality to me, even though it shouldn’t. Out of the eighty-five films that have been awarded Best Picture, sixty-five have also been awarded Best Director, and only three films have won Best Picture without their directors being nominated. In other words, Best Picture is a way to give out an additional prize: one for the director, and one for the money guys, who are the real Hollywood royalty and want to get their moment in the sun just like everybody else. Of course this means that the best way to handicap the award is to pick the likely Best Picture winner. In sports terms that’s called following the chalk, and the chalk line this year points to The Artist.

Of course, there are cases to be made for and against the other nominees. Midnight in Paris is wonderfully done, but Woody’s relationship with the Academy has been fraught. Hugo was stylish and an artistic reach by Scorsese, one of the greats who was regularly snubbed by the voters—but they gave him a Lifetime Achievement award, and that ought to hold him for a while.

Alexander Payne’s The Descendants deserves credit for getting such strong performances from all involved, but it doesn’t really feel like a Best Picture winner—it comes up a little short in its ambition, maybe. I’d love to see Terrence Malick win for The Tree of Life: great performances, a stylish, distinctive look, and a movie that feels like it was intensely personal to the director, even as I related to every moment. I’m not sure what the case against it is, actually. I’d vote for it.


Jared Mobarak:

I agree. Hazanvicius has been on an awards tear and no one seems able to defeat him.

Malick should get the win because no other film on that list has more of its director’s fingerprints smearing frames than The Tree of Life. A recluse who would most likely never show up—not that Woody will—it almost seems unworthy of the Academy’s time or efforts to give him more praise than the nomination. My question, however, is that while the fervor behind whether Banksy would retrieve his Oscar in 2011—he didn’t end up winning—why does no one seem very intrigued where it concerns Malick being almost as much an enigma as the graffiti artist?

Scorsese already won his coveted statue for probably his least effective Best Director nomination and Allen won’t be winning anything besides screenplay, if that. And as far as this year’s Jason Reitman slot for subtle directing with no chance of victory, Payne will be happy to get the recognition after a lengthy hiatus from the spotlight.

It is Hazanvicius’ night and he should prevail with more than just this …


Time for the biggie, and even though there is a likely victor, this category is always capable of surprise: Best Picture. —C. S.


BEST PICTURE
The ArtistThomas Langmann
The DescendantsJim Burke, Jim Taylor, and Alexander Payne
Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseScott Rudin
The HelpBrunson Green, Chris Columbus, and Michael Barnathan
HugoGraham King and Martin Scorsese
Midnight in ParisLetty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum
MoneyballMichael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz, and Brad Pitt
The Tree of LifeDede Gardner, Sarah Green, Grant Hill, and Bill Pohlad
War HorseSteven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy


Christopher Schobert:

The Artist. It’s looked that way since Cannes, and I honestly don’t believe anything has changed this. But let’s explore the rest anyway.

There are nine nominees this year, due to a strange, asinine voting change. (If the process has been unchanged from last year, I believe No. 10 would have been something interesting—maybe Tinker Tailor or Dragon Tattoo.) Of the nine, three have no chance whatsoever: The Tree of Life (too bad, but it doesn’t), War Horse (no director nomination = no shot), and, of course, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Loud’s inclusion here is the joke of the night.

The second tier includes four films that are certainly in the mix, but stand little chance of being called to the podium: The Descendants (too quiet, will win at least one award elsewhere), Hugo (it has more nominations than anything else, but will win nothing of relevance), Midnight in Paris (everybody digs it, but unlikely), and Moneyball (even less likely).

That leaves The Help and The Artist. The Help could win it—I would not be surprised by this in the least. But even though I am hesitant to put too much weight in the other major awards that predate the Oscars—see Crash’s 2004 victory—it’s hard to deny that The Artist has won virtually everything. And it simply seems the ideal film for its time. It celebrates movies, for goodness sake. Stardom, and celebrity, triumph! Also, despite a foreign director and star, it was shot in Los Angeles, mostly with an American cast and crew. So it’s nowhere near as “foreign” as, say, A Separation.

No, it’s a Hollywood creation, through and through, and one that doesn’t knock the system. It embraces it, and the Academy will embrace The Artist Sunday night.


William Altreuter:

We have three tiers here I think. When the Academy decided that it was going to go back to the practice of ten nominees for Best Picture one of the stated objectives was that this would open up the field to movies that might have otherwise been overlooked. This supposedly included comedies, foreign films, genre stuff (other than Westerns, I guess) and animated features. It hasn’t taken long for that theory to go out the window: all of these movies are pretty much look like the sort of movies that usually get nominated for the Big Prize. They are all statement movies, of one sort or another, and although Midnight in Paris is a comedy, it isn’t Bridesmaids.

 So let’s sort them out. The Help is a movie about Race. Like many Hollywood movies about race in America it is mostly about how white people aren’t so bad after all. If The Help had been made by Spike Lee, we’d really have a contender here, but as it is, I don’t think so.

My family loves Jonathan Safran Foer, the author of the novel Incredibly Loud is based on. I do not, and I do not find the source material improved upon by incorporating Tom Hanks. This is post-9/11 art at its worst, I think: sentimentalizing tripe. The Academy gave this award to Roberto Benigni for his appalling Holocaust movie, so I suppose they are capable of anything, but I’d like to hope they don’t sink to this level.

I haven’t seen War Horse. I’m told the point of the stage production is the direction and design. I suppose it might be a swell movie, but movies about animals shouldn’t be Best Picture nominees.

So that knocks out the novelty candidates. The remainder are all legitimate, and I’d be fine with any of them. We’ve already expressed appreciation for The Descendants; it is a little small, a bit too intimate to really qualify as the sort of movie we think of when we think Best Picture, but that’s not a knock on it. Midnight in Paris was every English major’s dream come true, and like all English majors we will have our hearts broken when it doesn’t win. We are a sentimental people, the English majors, and having our hearts broken is why we got into it in the first place.

Getting Moneyball made at all is why this movie got nominated. It was a struggle, and it turned into something much better than anyone had any reason to expect. If they still showed movies during baseball game rainouts this would become a classic the way Pride of the Yankees did, through repetition. Instead it will become a classic the way Bull Durham did—because your wife will watch it with you. That is a worthy thing, but it ain’t Best Picture worthy.

This leaves Hugo, Tree of Life, and The Artist. The Artist will win. It really is good, or at least it is more than merely a stunt. Hugo would be a meritorious upset, and Tree of Life will go on to become the sort of movie that we’ll look back on and say, “How come that wasn’t Best Picture?”


Jared Mobarak:

Yes, it seems The Artist can’t lose, and I’m not sure it should. It didn’t make my Top Ten of the year, but then only two of mine even made the Oscar nomination list—so what do I know? Hazanvicius crafted a film that has found universal appeal and the kind of Hollywood gravitas the Academy loves to reward.

As far as the rest of the nominations go, while I would have called Extremely Loud a joke a month ago, it seems everyone who has seen it critically in 2012 has enjoyed it much more than those before. Does that mean it deserves to be here ahead of say Shame, 50/50, or Beginners? I blindly say no until I actually see it.

The Tree of Life sadly has no shot—and I honestly can’t believe it got the nomination despite being my #1. Moneyball is a weak candidate in the mold of The Blind Side. War Horse is epic enough and sentimental enough, but has no steam behind it. And Hugo is a children’s film … can those even win this category?

To me, The Help has no shot and I’ll be really surprised to see its producers on stage. The acting is great, the message could be construed as great if you look beyond the contrived stereotypes, but the film itself doesn’t leave any impression above your run-of-the-mill bestseller adaptation.

Midnight in Paris is my dark horse, and as opposed to Chris, I think The Descendants has a real shot at upsetting our juggernaut. Alexander Payne has a knack of creating films for the masses and his look at family amidst tragedy does just that. Perhaps we’ll see another 2010 where Soderbergh got the directing statue and Gladiator the film along with many more … It definitely wouldn’t surprise me.


Christopher Schobert:

And there you have it. Enjoy the Oscars, and prepare to hear Bill, Jared, and me say “I told you so.”

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