Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Oscar Winner Predictions, Part 1: Picture/Director/Other Bests

The Oscars are this Sunday: the madness is almost over. I've got a slew of fascinating, insightful content ready to release into the blogosphere when the Oscars are over (I'll avoid spoilers, but I'm throwing together some pieces on a recent film obsession, a director whose short filmography deserves analysis, contrasting two very disturbed Europeans, and looking at a trilogy that, to this day, still haunts my nightmares). Until then, it's predictions ho! I'll start my three-part winner analysis today with Picture, Director, and the other categories you probably don't care about (foreign film, animated film, documentary short, etc.). Tomorrow, I'll cover acting and screenplay, and Friday we'll hit the tech awards. Sunday afternoon, I'll post my FINAL predictions (in case, y'know, I change my mind about them within the next three days, which is totally possible). For now, make due with these:

Best Picture
The nominees:
The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Up in the Air

Let's take a moment to dispel a commonly-held misconception. This is not only a two-horse race. Sure, The Hurt Locker has won the notable precursors, like the Producers Guild, Directors Guild, and Writers Guild, and Avatar won the Golden Globe, plus made enough money to sink a well-sized cruise ship. That doesn't mean the others are ruled out. Bear in mind that this year, the winner will be determined by a preferential ballot system, which is to say that the film with the most #1 votes doesn't necessarily win. The film that's most well-liked does. So let's take a look at who benefits from that the most. Inglourious Basterds did win the SAG ensemble award, and actors are the largest branch of the Academy. Plus, it's been seen by most everyone, which is certainly beneficial. It's mix of historical revisionism and violence can be a bit polarizing, however. Up and Up in the Air are more likely to get highly placed on most ballots, though they probably won't grab many #1 spots. Avatar will get plenty of top billings, but will also find itself on the bottom half of a fair few ballots. You either love it or you hate it. Doesn't seem to be much of a middle ground. Which brings us to The Hurt Locker. It's going to receive a fair majority of the #1 votes, and no one actively dislikes this movie, so if it doesn't get the #1 spot, it won't be too far away from it.
Winner: The Hurt Locker
Alternate: Avatar
Dark Horse: Inglourious Basterds

Best Director
The nominees:
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Lee Daniels, Precious
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

I think we can all agree that Lee Daniels and Jason Reitman are out. Their films were perfectly fine, but they're both too young, not showy enough, and are being eclipsed by bigger names. The safe choice here is Kathryn Bigelow. Academy voters are looking for a historic moment, and she'll be the first woman to win. Cameron is a possibility, but, simply put, he's kind of a dick and the Oscars are a popularity contest as much as anything else. I've heard whispers of Quentin Tarantino pulling an upset, and he does have Harvey Weinstein behind him, which one can't underestimate, but I'm not buying it. This one is Bigelow's.
Winner: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Alternate: James Cameron, Avatar
Dark Horse: Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Best Foreign Language Film
The nominees:
The Milk of Sorrow-Peru
A Prophet-France
The Secrets of Her Eyes-Argentina
The White Ribbon-Germany

At first glance, this seems like an easier choice. A Prophet and The White Ribbon have been huge critical successes that have battled for the top spot since Cannes in May. But let's take a moment to remember that this is the Academy: you know, the organization that awarded Departures last year over Waltz With Bashir and The Class. Oscar loves emotionally uplifting, obvious, dramatically satisfying, easy movies. A Prophet is a prison epic surrounding the life of a Muslim convict, and The White Ribbon is a surgical, casually horrific WWI fable. Neither are easy, uplifting, or overly emotional. Of the other nominees, The Milk of Sorrow is a classically made film about defective breast-milk, and Ajami is a lived-in, docudrama about Israeli-Palestinian ties. The Milk of Sorrow is out. Ajami has the prestige, but Oscar doesn't like their winners here to feel too improvised or gritty, and apparently Ajami is both. That leaves The Secrets of Her Eyes, which, allegedly, completely fits the Academy bill here. I know I should probably be predicting The White Ribbon, but I'm not going to. The Academy loves bland here, and that's what they'll go for.
Winner: The Secrets of Her Eyes-Argentina
Alternate: The White Ribbon-Germany
Dark Horse: A Prophet-France

Best Animated Film
The nominees:
The Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and the Frog
The Secret of Kells

This one's fairly obvious. Only one of these films landed a best picture nomination. I've heard people say that The Fantastic Mr. Fox can pull an upset, or The Secret of Kells has lots of underground support, based on the fact that it got nominated. Too few people have seen it, however, and Wes Anderson's style turns too many people off. Plus, Pixar pretty much owns this category. They don't like losing here, and they don't do it very often.
Winner: Up
Alternate: The Fantastic Mr. Fox
Dark Horse: Coraline

(now for the categories you all know and love!)

Best Documentary Feature
The nominees:
Burma VJ
The Cove
Food, Inc.
The Most Dangerous Man in America
Which Way Home

Another easy one. The Cove has steamrollered through awards season, taking every prize it can lay its flippers on. Food Inc. is good enough, but lacks the emotional punch the Academy loves here. Which Way Home has that punch, but it's too late to rally for an upset. Burma VJ is a feat of film-making, but Oscar hates feats of film-making.
Winner: The Cove
Alternate: Food, Inc.
Dark Horse: Which Way Home

Best Documentary Short Subject
The nominees:
China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of the Sichuan Province
The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner
The Last Truck: The Closing of a GM Plant
Music by Prudence
Rabbit a la Berlin

I'm going against the crowd here. Most pundits agree that The Last Truck taps into the Zeitgeist in a particularly American way. True. Something makes me favor China's Unnatural Disaster, however. Call it a hunch. Music by Prudence is sweet, Rabbit a la Berlin is technically innovative, and The Last Campaign... features an old fellow who'd like to die, but I really think it's between the first two.
Winner: China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of the Sichuan Province
Alternate: The Last Truck: The Closing of a GM Plant
Dark Horse: Music by Prudence

Best Live Action Short
The nominees:
The Door
Instead of Abracadabra
Miracle Fish
The New Tennants

It's hard for me to comment here, as I've only seen half of one of these. Instead of Abracadabra is too lightweight, The New Tennants is too profane and bizarre. The Door is allegedly a technical and visual accomplishment, which the Academy favors here. Kavi is about Indian children, which Oscar has loved in recent years. Miracle Fish, the only one I've viewed (part-way), is good, but a little too strange for Academy tastes.
Winner: The Door
Alternate: Kavi
Dark Horse: Miracle Fish

Animated Short
The nominees:
French Roast
Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty
The Lady and the Reaper
A Matter of Loaf and Death

Part of me really wants to go with Logorama here, but I'm hesitant. It's a little...hardcore to be an Academy Award Winner for Animated Short. Plus, Oscar really, really loves Wallace and Gromit. The only time they've lost is when they had to compete with themselves. Sadly, my favorite of the bunch, The Lady and the Reaper, will probably go unnoticed.
Winner: A Matter of Loaf and Death
Alternate: Logorama
Dark Horse: The Lady and the Reaper

That's it for now. Check back in tomorrow when I resume with categories that you knew existed! Yay!

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