Oscars, Oscars, Oscars!

Uggie with his paw on the Golden Globe. Is the Oscar next?
Ah, the Oscars, the award show where brave and challenging films come to die. I – like many others – am a bit frustrated with the Academy this year. It’s hard to be happy when 2011 saw so many original films and so many actors at the top of their game, yet we won’t be able to see them come February 26th. I could take the easy way out and whine that a dud like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close got into the Best Picture race when We Need to Talk About Kevin never had a fighting chance; however, I love the Oscars, so I will try to focus on the positive. (Extremely Loud is a better film than its co-nominee War Horse is, anyways.) I can be happy that Oscar surprised with the Best Director/Best Picture double whammy for Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life just when I thought its chances were toast. Even better, my two favourite films of 2011, Midnight in Paris and The Descendants, are named as the cream of the crop – at least some percentage of the Academy is still doing its job right!

Can the all-American Descendants upset The Artist?

The Oscar race of 2011-2012 has certainly been a curious one. On a personal level, I’ve never been so interested in the race, having had a chance to see many of the contenders before the buzz began; however, that fact also shows that I’m still really naïve when it comes to chatting about the Oscars, since I can rarely divorce my personal opinion from the facts. Take, for example, the Best Picture front-runner The Artist. After seeing it at TIFF, I found myself raving about this silent little gem and recommending it to everyone in the film department. It wasn’t my personal favourite of the festival, that was The Descendants, but I was as caught up in the charm of the film as everyone else.

As the season went on, though, and The Artist racked up one award after another, I started second-guessing my love for the film. “Did I really give The Artist 4½ stars but only 4 to Melancholia and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?” I ask myself virtually every time I look at the reviews on the sidebar. I even gave The Artist a second chance and joined some friends from the department at The Bytowne for a double bill of my TIFF treasures, The Artist and Shame. After seeing them both a second time, I must say that the dog tricks of The Artist had nothing on the doggy style of Michael Fassbender. And to think the latter was shut out… for shame! That’s how it goes with the Oscars: We find ourselves jazz-handing a movie one day and giving it the middle finger the next.

That’s why I still love the Oscars, though, and will certainly tune in Sunday night. It reminds me why I love the movies I love, and why my favourite actors continually amaze me. (I’m looking at you, Meryl!) Therefore, without further ado, here are my picks and predictions for this year’s Academy Awards. And no matter how snippy I may seem, I honestly still like The Artist!

Midnight in Paris is my winner for 2011 regardless of what Oscar says!
Best Picture:
As suggested above, it’s safe to say that The Artist has this prize wrapped up in pink ribbons. For the record, I still very much like The Artist; it’s a great reminder of the magic of the movies. The industry seems to agree, since The Artist has won most of the major guilds, the Golden Globe, the BAFTA, and the Critics’ Choice Award. That being said, it wouldn’t be unprecedented for The Descendants, Hugo, or The Help to pull an upset. (Although the latter seems unlikely, since the last film to win Best Picture without a nomination for Best Director was Driving Miss Daisy… wouldn’t that be an ironic turn of events if The Help was the film to break this track record?) On the other hand, Tree of Life has a Best Director nom, but it has just about as good of a chance to win as Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close… all those poor people who bought a ticket for a ‘Brad Pitt movie’ and found themselves at an art film! Brad Pitt is one of three actors to appear in two Best Picture nominees. (The other two are Viola Davis and Jessica Chastain, both of whom are in The Help and then Extremely Loud and Tree of Life, respectively) Pitt’s Moneyball might be a longshot, too, since his lead performance has gone from top contender to dark horse. I’ll admit that I was probably wrong about Moneyball at TIFF. It’s a real crowd pleaser. However, I saw Moneyball sandwiched between The Artist and The Descendants, and I still think it’s down to those two. I’m personally rooting for Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Much like The Artist and Hugo, it’s a love letter to the past. I found it smarter and far more nuanced in its use of the past as inspiration for the present. It’s ultimately a matter of taste, I guess, but it would only be fitting for Midnight in Paris to be the best comedy to win the Oscar since Allen’s Annie Hall.
Will win: The Artist
My pick: Midnight in Paris
Snubs: Shame, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (but only the latter ever stood a chance.)

Woody for the win! (How can I not root for my favourite director?)
Best Director
As you might gather from the Best Picture section, I’m pulling for Woody Allen. One of the main questions I ask when considering who deserves Best Director is, “Could someone else have made this better?” No. Woody Allen puts his signature stamp on Midnight in Paris and he does so flawlessly: the witty banter, the tracking two shots, the great ensemble, and the unabashed delight in nostalgia all show that Allen is still at the top of his game. Still at the top, too, is Martin Scorsese. Like Allen, Scorsese shows off his inspiration in Hugo, telling a tale of classic cinema and using the best advantages of contemporary techniques to realize the medium to its full potential. I doubt anyone could have made Hugo as well as Scorsese. Ditto Terrence Malick and Tree of Life. The same goes for Alexander Payne and The Descendants, which is by all regards a perfectly made film. Unlike Allen and Scorsese, he’s never won Best Director. (He should have won for Sideways.) Like Allen, though, I think Payne will have to settle for another win in the screenplay category because Michel Hazanavicious is easily the favourite for The Artist. It’s strange because there really isn’t an authorial signature on The Artist (it hardly contains the unmistakable directorial vision of Tree of Life) nor is there anything especially unique about its production. It is, however, a great production and a great film. And it has Uggie.
Will win: Michel Hazanavicious, The Artist (but don’t count out Scorsese!)
My pick: Woody Allen.
Snubs: Lynne Ramsay, We Need to Talk About Kevin

I'd bet the farm on Christopher Plummer in Beginners
Best Supporting Actor
Quite possibly the ‘sure thing’ of the night is Christopher Plummer’s win for Beginners. It’s hard to imagine that this is only Plummer’s second nomination, but a win would hardly be akin to a lifetime achievement award. His Hal is a worthy performance to cap off the legacy of a great career. Plummer’s only competition seemed to be Drive’s Albert Brooks, but Brooks and his film got the cold-shoulder from the Academy. There have been murmurings that surprise nominee Max von Sydow could pull an upset for his work in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, but that would be a disaster since virtually nobody endorsed this performance before or after the nominations. von Sydow’s work was politely received, yes, but a win for him could only be seen as recognition for his long and great career. I honestly think that we are as likely to hear von Sydow’s name on Oscar night as we are to hear the phrase “Academy Award winner Jonah Hill.”
Will win: Christopher Plummer, Beginners
My pick: Plummer
Snubs: Corey Stoll, Midnight in Paris; Uggie, The Artist

One day, Jessica, one day.
Best Supporting Actress:
Like Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress is a reasonably safe bet. Octavia Spencer is the favourite to win for her sassy performance as Minny the maid in The Help. Jackson’s work is one of The Help’s greatest assets – like Viola Davis, she redefines the role of “the help” and gives a performance worthy of both the history books and an Academy Award. I would be ‘voting’ for Spencer if her Help co-star Jessica Chastain were not nominated. Chastain’s spirited performance as Southern floozy Celia Foote is the high part of a stunning breakout year. With six strong credits under her name for 2011, Chastain’s impressive body of work warrants an advantage. She deserves the prize for her work in The Help on merit alone, regardless. Alternatively, I’d be happy if Oscar made a big surprise and awarded Janet McTeer for her ballsy turn in Albert Nobbs. She could be the dark horse, since many voters presumably went into Nobbs expecting to see the performance of a lifetime from Glenn Close, only to see McTeer steal the show. Melissa McCarthy has a small chance as well for her funny work in Bridesmaids, although I think this is a case where many people are using the actor to make a case for comedy than trying to reward the performance itself. Finally, Bérénice Bejo is magical in The Artist, but this is a) a lead role and b) an example where a good performance is riding high on the enchantment of fans of The Artist, who are simply channelling their love for the film into as many categories as possible. Despite the affection for The Artist, I doubt that anyone has a chance of besting Octavia Spencer, and that’s fine with me, since Jessica Chastain has six (yes, six) more movies slated for release in 2012, so I’m sure she’ll be back soon.
Will win: Octavia Spencer, The Help
My pick: Jessica Chastain, The Help
Snubs: Carey Mulligan, Shame; Vanessa Redgrave, Coriolanus

Give Clooney the Best Actor prize he deserves!
Best Actor
I find it difficult to take this category seriously given the absence of Michael Fassbender’s raw, searing performance in Shame. If the Academy members aren’t mature enough to endure a film with an NC-17 rating, they should probably return their voting cards. Despite the inexcusable omission of Fassbender, voters did right by nominating Gary Oldman’s coolly detached performance in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I can forgive the Academy for snubbing Fassbender if they award Oldman. I can’t however, accept the fact that they acknowledged Demián Bichir’s performance. Bichir gives a fine performance in A Better Life, but it’s a relatively simple performance to reward, especially over not only Fassy, but also the complex work by Michael Shannon in Take Shelter, Woody Harrelson in Rampart, Leonardo DiCaprio in J. Edgar, or Ryan Gosling in Drive/The Ides of March. At the very least, Bichir’s nomination shows what benefits the Oscars give to a career; it also shows that aggressive campaigning still works. (In all fairness to Bichir, many people are rooting for his performance.) Really, though, the race is once again down to The Artist and The Descendants with Jean Dujardin and George Clooney. As cited earlier, I saw both performances on the same day, along with their co-nominee Brad Pitt (Moneyball). However, when time came to write about the films, I gave considerable praise to Clooney and Pitt, but only managed one word for Dujardin: “fetching.” Dujardin looks to be the frontrunner nevertheless. He is worthy, since he gives the best performance in The Artist next to Uggie. I, however, think that this prize fully belongs to Clooney. Clooney completely outdoes himself in The Descendants by brilliantly merging his charismatic star persona with a range of emotional vulnerability that one does not expect to see from one of Hollywood’s coolest cats. Give Hollywood’s leading man the statue he deserves!
Will win: Jean Dujardin, The Artist
My pick: George Clooney, The Descendants
Snubs: Michael Fassbender, Shame; Michael Shannon, Take Shelter

Hail to the Streep!
Best Actress:
I saved the best race for last: Best Actress arguably offers the strongest batch of nominees. As a good indicator of this fact, it’s the only contest that might end in a photo finish. As with Fassbender in the Best Actor race, however, the oversight of Tilda Swinton’s career performance in We Need to Talk About Kevin is absolutely criminal. I can’t really complain, though, since Meryl Streep would have had the number one spot on my ballot for The Iron Lady. It’s also hard to make a case against any of these actresses because they’re all so good! Take Michelle Williams, for example: she was the critical favourite for her brave portrayal of the most iconic actress of all time in My Week with Marilyn, but now she’s ‘the one that got away.’ Likewise, strong buzz on the festival circuit catapulted Glenn Close into contention for her work in Albert Nobbs, a passion project whose labour of love shows in each frame of her performance. On the other side of things is Rooney Mara, who stepped into a role made famous last year by Swedish actress Noomi Rapace and convinced even the harshest sceptics that she, too, could play Lisbeth Salander with hard-edged spunk. In any other year, all three of these performances (plus Swinton) could have won the gold. This year, either Streep or The Help’s Viola Davis will surely claim the prize. Both of the former Doubt co-stars have shared the major prizes (Streep the Globe and the BAFTA, Davis the Critics’ Choice and the SAG), although Streep fared slightly better with the small stuff. Both also have a large emotional pull behind them: Streep hasn’t won in almost thirty years and Davis poses the greater significance of potentially being the second African-American to win Best Actress. It’s a very tough call to make, especially since I’m a big fan of both performances. I’m personally hoping Meryl Streep wins the Oscar that she should have won for 2002, 2006, 2008, and 2009. The Academy has deferred her win much too long. She took an enormous risk playing Margaret Thatcher and it paid off beautifully. (You can read my longer explanation of why she deserves it here.) Viola Davis also gave a performance worthy of the award: much like her co-star Octavia Spencer, this performance should be studied in film classes to come. Both Streep and Davis’s performances will likely come to define great acting, and I’ll gladly join the crowd at the Kodak Theatre in giving a standing ovation to whomever wins; however, I'll just clap a little louder for Meryl Streep.
Will win: Streep, Davis? Streep, Davis? I think it will be very, very close, but I'm guessing Viola Davis wins for The Help, mostly due to the high emotions that have surrounded this performance since it debuted in August.
My pick: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Snubs: Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin; Rachel Weisz, The Whistleblower

Well, that's the long version. Here's the short one. I've seen all the nominees except for 2 animated features (Chico & Rita and A Cat in Paris), a few of the foreign films and docs, a bunch of shorts, and Transformers.

Will win
If I picked the winner
Snubs: a nominee I would have picked instead.

Best Picture
The Artist  - Thomas Langmann
The Descendants  - Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Scott Rudin
The Help  - Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan
Hugo  - Graham King and Martin Scorsese
Midnight in Paris  - Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum
Moneyball  - Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt
Tree of Life - Sarah Green, Bill Pohlad, Dede Gardner, Grant Hill
War Horse  - Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy

Best Director
The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius
The Descendants, Alexander Payne
Hugo, Martin Scorsese
Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen
The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick

Best Actor
Demián Bichir, A Better Life
George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Best Actress
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Drag on Tattoo
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn

Best Supporting Actor
Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Best Supporting Actress
Bérénice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help

Adapted Screenplay
The Descendants: Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
Hugo:  John Logan
The Ides of March:  George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
Moneyball: Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, Story by Stan Chervin
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy:  Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan
 Snubs: The Help (Tate Taylor), We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, Rory Kinnear), and I would swap Steven Zaillan's Moneyball nomination for one for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Original Screenplay
The Artist: Michel Hazanavicius
Bridesmaids: Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
Margin Call: J.C. Chandor
Midnight in Paris: Woody Allen
A Separation: Asghar Farhadi
 Snubs: Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin)

Animated Feature Film
A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots

Art Direction
The Artist: Laurence Bennett, Robert Gould
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2: Stuart Craig, Stephenie McMillan
Hugo: Dante Ferretti, Francesca Lo Schiavo
Midnight in Paris: Anne Seibe, Hélène Dubreuil
War Horse: Rick Carter, Lee Sandales
Snub: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The Artist, Guillaume Schiffman
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Jeff Cronenweth
Hugo, Robert Richardson
The Tree of Life, Emmanuel Lubezki
War Horse, Janusz Kaminski
 Snubs: Melancholia (Manuel Albert Claro), Midnight in Paris (Darius Khondji)

Anonymous, Lisy Christl
The Artist, Mark Bridges
Hugo, Sandy Powell
Jane Eyre, Michael O’Connor
W.E., Arianne Phillips
 Snubs: My Week with Marilyn

Documentary Feature
Hell and Back Again, Danfung Dennis and Mike Lerner
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
Pina, Wim Wenders and Gian-Piero Ringel
Undefeated, TJ Martin, Dan Lindsay and Richard Middlemas
Snubs: Project Nim, Bill Cunningham New York

Film Editing
The Artist, Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius
The Descendants, Kevin Tent
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
Hugo, Thelma Schoonmaker
Moneyball, Christopher Tellefsen
Snubs: Contagion, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Drive

Foreign Language Film
Bullhead, Belgium
Footnote, Israel
In Darkness, Poland
Monsieur Lazhar, Canada
A Separation, Iran
Snubs: Pina (Germany)

Albert Nobbs, Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnston and
Matthew W. Mungle
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Nick Dudman, Amanda Knight and Lisa Tomblin
The Iron Lady, Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland
 Snubs: J. Edgar

Music (Original Score)
The Adventures of Tintin, John Williams
The Artist, Ludovic Bource
Hugo, Howard Shore
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Alberto Iglesias
War Horse, John Williams
 Snubs: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross), Hanna (The Chemical Brothers)

Music (Original Song)
“Man or Muppet,” The Muppets, Music and Lyric by Bret McKenzie
“Real in Rio,” Rio Music by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown, Lyric by Siedah Garrett
 Snubs: The Randy Newman Fan Club blew it again this year, opting to nominate only 2 songs and passing over worthy songs like "Shelter" from Take Shelter, "Life's a Happy Song!" from The Muppets and "The Living Proof" from The Help

Short Film (Animated)
Dimanche/Sunday, Patrick Doyon
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg
La Luna, Enrico Casarosa
A Morning Stroll, Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe
Wild Life, Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby

Short Film (Live Action)
Pentecost, Peter McDonald and Eimear O’Kane
Raju, Max Zähle and Stefan Gieren
The Shore, Terry George and Oorlagh George
Time Freak, Andrew Bowler and Gigi Causey
Tuba Atlantic, Hallvar Witzø

Sound Editing
Drive: Lon Bender, Victor Ray Ennis,
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Ren Klyce
Hugo, Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty
Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
War Horse, Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom

Sound Mixing
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Bo Persson
Hugo, Tom Fleischman and John Midgley
Moneyball Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, Dave Giammarco and Ed Novick
Transformers: Dark of the Moon Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboushand Peter J. Devlin
War Horse: Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson and Stuart Wilson
Snubs: Contagion

Visual Effects
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler and John Richardson
Hugo, Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman and Alex Henning
Real Steel, Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor and Swen Gillberg
Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White and Daniel Barrett
Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew Butler and John Frazier
 Snubs: Super 8

Well, that's all. Fingers crossed... hopefully I'll do better than I did last year!
Any particular nominees that you think will win/ that you are rooting for?