Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Oscarology for Dummies

Thanks to everyone who gave great feedback on the last two posts both in person and on Facebook. In particular, the Oscar post seems to have stirred up a minor whirlwind of discussion, which is, of course, always welcome, good or bad. All news is good news!

Since there were more than a few questions about how I select movies and performances for my prediction list, I thought I would take this post to draw the curtain back on Oscarology and how you too can formulate your own predictions, because like last year, I plan on holding a contest on Facebook for who can beat my predictions. Interested in sticking it to me? (I can think of a whole staff that would be...) Listen up!

Note: I'm not gonna get into the niche races, like screenplays, animated feature, etc., on this post, instead simply formalizing my picks for the other categories. The next posts will get into the other categories.

Best Picture
Up in the Air
The Hurt Locker
An Education
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man

Lists are ordered in order of likelihood of nomination, by the by. The first key to predicting Oscar nomination patterns is to pay attention to other Oscarologists. Some know what they're talking about...others, not so much. Even more allow their personal opinions to cloud their judgment, and that is the greatest error you can make in this game. Personally, I thought Basterds was a crass, unintelligent piece of evidence proving what a second-class director Quentin Tarantino really is. (Sorry if you liked Basterds. Feel free to flame.) Still, as an odd-duck type of film, it will do very well with Oscar voters. Same with movies that haven't yet come out, like Invictus and Avatar. Especially on those two films, you have to consider prestige factor and the director. Invictus is directed by Clint Eastwood, who is nothing if not an Oscar darling. Something like The Maid, a fantastic foreign film with an unknown cast and production team, has little shot of making it big without buzz, hype, media attention, etc. Hype is the most precious currency available in Oscarland, as the ability to get people talking is worth more than a good film. See: The Reader, a Best Picture nominee last year.) Finally, there's the matter of reputation. A film like Up, which comes from Pixar, has a great chance of being nominated in the new ten-wide Best Picture field because of its company's reputation and standing with Oscar voters. The Fantastic Mr. Fox has a lesser pedigree, and thus won't receive the nomination. Argue the merits all you want, but sometimes Best Picture isn't about which is best at all.

Best Director
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Rob Marshall, Nine
Clint Eastwood, Invictus
Lee Daniels, Precious

Used to be that for Best Director, you could look at the Best Picture field's directors, make a change or two, take out any minorities or women, and that would be that. This year is different, because the ten-wide Best Picture field makes the previous system a crapshoot, and minorities are all over the place in this race. My list includes an African-American and a woman, and I stand by that at least two minority directors will sneak in the race, though I'm not confident about Daniels. The director race is most about reputation, above all others. Reitman is 3 for 3 on critically acclaimed films, so he'll be in. Marshall and Eastwood are both loved by the Academy, so count on them. Daniels... While his film is fantastic, the performances are what resonate, not his direction. Could be wrong here, but I don't feel confident about him. Quentin Tarantino seems like a likely replacement.

Best Actor
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Daniel Day-Lewis, Nine

Reputation plays a part here, but more than that, in the actor field, manly men are what play the best. Firth is going with the Sean Penn/Harvey Milk-type gay man, more confident than meek, so it'll play well. Clooney's an absolute star, so he won't have any trouble getting his third nomination. A lot of people are pulling for Bridges, and the career aspect helps (Hal Holbrook two years ago in Best Supporting Actor), plus his movie is apparently of The Wrestler-style emotional appeal. Freeman and Day-Lewis are megawatt stars that probably can't be denied, but we'll see as to how strong the performances are, especially on Day-Lewis' end. His spot could go to Jeremy Renner of The Hurt Locker instead. Still, every category has a common theme. If you can't see it here, it's this: star power + grizzled, aged gentleman.

Best Actress
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Saoirse Ronan, The Lovely Bones

Let me say this first: Mulligan, Streep, Sidibe, and Mirren are locked and loaded. Mirren's an Academy favorite, as is Streep (15 nominations kinda makes you a favorite), and Sidibe and Mulligan have the breakout star angle covered. The last spot is incredibly difficult to judge, though. Many have it going to Abbie Cornish (who?) of the film Bright Star (what?). This is an instance when the popular opinion seems so deluded you shouldn't follow it. Marion Cotillard of Nine could take the spot, though her performance is really Supporting, so it'll have a hard time here, and The Blind Side's Sandra Bullock is the right performance in the wrong movie. I'm giving the edge to Ronan, who, as I said before, will be the youngest actor ever with two Oscar nods, and her youth is the one stumbling block: don't Mulligan and Sidibe have that down? Sometimes, you just gotta go with your instinct, and I'm sticking with Ronan.

Best Supporting Actor
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones/Julie & Julia
Alfred Molina, An Education
Alec Baldwin, It's Complicated
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station

For the record: every pundit out there is really not taking Baldwin's performance seriously enough. His career is on fire right now, and he's hosting the ceremony. The performance might not even matter at this point. Molina, Waltz, and Tucci are all locks, though Tucci could be nominated for either of two films. (The Academy doesn't allow two entries in one category, by the way.) Plummer is a little freaky in his role, but then again, career factor. He's in, unless they slam him for category frauding (campaigning a performance in the wrong category to boost your chances; see: Kate Winslet's epic campaign fail for Revolutionary Road/The Reader last year.) I feel pretty confident about this lineup. Sometimes, you gotta take a risk or two (Plummer, Baldwin), and they'll pay off for you in the end. Hopefully.

Best Supporting Actress
Mo'Nique, Precious
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Penelope Cruz, Nine
Julianne Moore, A Single Man
Mariah Carey, Precious

More than anything else, as a predictor of the Oscars, you have to know your history. It helps you predict patterns, figure out who the Academy is most likely to reward for risks, and (perhaps most importantly) remember who's been nominated for what in the past. That has two benefits: actresses like Moore have been always honored and never fully embraced for years, and that pattern is likely to continue this year with a nomination but no shot at a win. If someone has won for something similar to the role they're doing now (Cruz), they'll probably be nominated again, but won't win. Deglammed pop stars (Carey) do well (see: Cher in Silkwood). Never forget precursor awards, either; the more early awards someone wins, the more traction they gain, and the likelier a win is for them. (This actually applies to Carey; she's already gotten two early awards.) Then again, sometimes, you just gotta look at the strength of the performance, and in that, Mo'Nique really shines.

Any questions? Feel like I'm drawing a blind eye to something obvious? Need treatment for PTSD after seeing Mariah Carey's name on that last list? Take it to the comments!

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