I like just about everything there is to like about the Oscars except the show itself. And the politics. And the fact that the Academy is a bunch of old white dudes, and that their choices tend to reflect that. And the notion the ceremony propagates that an actor is not truly rewarded for the creative work he or she does, but by some circle-jerk validation from the very institution that dicks them around incessantly in the first place. So, uh, I don't like the Oscars. But I like trying to sound informed! And you can too, if you follow my highly scientific Oscar predictions.
(x) The Tree of Life
(x) The Artist
() The Descendants
() Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
(x) The Help
(x) Midnight in Paris
() War Horse
What's What?: Personally, I think this is a disappointing crop of nominees. The Academy didn't pay much attention to some really great work this year, which is reflected in every one of these categories but most harshly in Best Picture. As far as keeping up, I didn't do all that great a job this year, but then again I wasn't expecting things like Extremely Loud and Whatever or War Horse to get any sort of attention. I'm thrilled to see The Tree of Life in but I get the feeling that it probably scraped by at eighth or ninth place - can you imagine a voting constituency that was uninspired enough to champion Extremely Blahhh appreciating something as abstract as The Tree of Life? The Help is not Best at anything, except being cute and colorful and really poorly filmed/edited. Midnight in Paris getting a nod is simple adherence to Woody Allen's annual pattern: if he made a movie that didn't totally blow, the Academy falls over themselves trying to reward him in some capacity. And as fun as The Artist was, I don't think people are going to be very impassioned about it a decade from now.
What's Missing?: Man, where to start? Shame and Melancholia were both inhibited by an excess of penis and an excess of incendiary director, respectively. I imagine Drive was a little too garish for the Academy's tastes. Certified Copy and Beginners probably went unseen by voters and Bridesmaids is too straight-comedy for them to want to honor. I dunno, honestly, there are about fifteen or twenty films I saw last year that could effortlessly replace half of this list.
What's Winning?: Probably The Artist. The Descendants is hot on its heels, but Midnight in Paris and The Help might be able to ride their strong box-offices and general public affection to potentially threatening territory.
What Should Win?: The Tree of Life, but it doesn't have a shot in hell. Short of that, Moneyball, I guess. Why does saying that make me feel so empty?
() Demian Bichir, A Better Life
() George Clooney, The Descendants
(x) Jean Dujardin, The Artist
(x) Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
(x) Brad Pitt, Moneyball
What's What?: Can't say Clooney's work looks too exciting. I imagine it's a bunch of that hangdog bullshit that everyone lapped up in Syriana, then Michael Clayton, then Up in the Air. Get a new schtick, dude! Demian Bichir was the big surprise in this category, primarily because I would never have guessed that a sufficient amount of voters would have watched A Better Life. He must have been occupying some top spots on more than a few ballots. Dujardin and Oldman are more than deserving - the former for a light touch on a movie that relies heavily on physicality, and the latter for that chilling robotic presence that hardly cracks but merely shifts in unexpected directions. Pitt is good and he's growing on me as an actor but I think this is simply a legacy nomination.
Who's Missing?: Gosling in Drive, Fassbender in Shame. By all accounts, Michael Shannon in Take Shelter, though I haven't seen it. Wish there was room for Ewan McGregor, too.
Who's Winning?: This is a pretty close race, Bichir notwithstanding. You have two contenders who the Academy considers well past their due in Oldman and Pitt, with the former never having been nominated previously a huge mark in his favor. But Dujardin's been a major charm factory on the red carpet and folks love rewarding George Clooney for playing the same goddamn role over and over again, so really, the trophy is anyone's to lose. Oldman has a slight edge, though, because...
Who Should Win?: ...he's the strongest of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy's many, many virtues, which makes it all the more disappointing that Tomas Alfredsson assembled those virtues so nonsensically. His work deserves a better vehicle.
(x) Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
(x) Viola Davis, The Help
(x) Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
() Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
() Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
What's What?: Ugh. Fucking Albert Nobbs. Written by Close, produced by Close, starring Close playing a woman playing a man who ceaselessly cranks out quirky tics but also cries a lot. Her recent career, in which the eternally unwatched Damages is the only bright spot, does little to suggest that she has been nominated for four Oscars in the past; this desperate Oscar bait performance is but a sad footnote in that obscurity. This movie was her pet project, a road to that fifth nomination and hopefully statue, but it came out and sucked and voters could barely muster the energy to get her into the category. This is all to say that it's middling work from a great actress in a lousy movie and we should all move on. Mara's good, but Lisbeth Salander is a plum part no matter who you give it to, you know? Obligatory biopic nods to Williams and Streep in movies that few people watched or really championed, and nominating Streep AGAIN is beginning to feel less like a way to honor our greatest living actor and more like a lazy way out for voters who didn't watch all their screeners. And then there's Davis, who somehow comes across as the only person who truly put in the effort to make her part worth it and didn't just ride biopic waves or an easy part to a nomination. Blame it on the lack of interesting roles for women, but she is the clear standout here.
Who's Missing?: Kirsten Dunst! The best work she's ever done and after Cannes no one cared. A real fucking shame. Juliette Binoche, so warm and yet complex in the deceptive Certified Copy. Charlize Theron for Young Adult and Elizabeth Olsen for Martha Marcy May Marlene, two very distinct portrayals of shellacked, hollow women.
Who's Winning?: Viola Davis. Her performance is the best in the bunch, she's been on fire in the publicity circuit, and she's picked up just about all of the precursor awards. Meryl might turn the tables a la Penn/Rourke but everyone keeps telling themselves that she'll get another statue in the future. Someday. Maybe. (Then again, she did win the Globe...)
Who Should Win?: Davis. No question.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
() Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
(x) Jonah Hill, Moneyball
() Nick Nolte, Warrior
(x) Christopher Plummer, Beginners
() Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
What's What?: This category is sort of a mea culpa this year. I have essentially no interest in seeing the three movies that I missed out on, but if I had to speculate...Kenneth Branagh is probably riding some weird wave of Hollywood goodwill for directing Thor and hanging out with indie darling Michelle Williams. Nick Nolte, shit, I couldn't even begin to guess. I didn't even know he was in the damn movie. I suppose Max von Sydow isn't any particular surprise since Eh made it in but from what I hear it's sort of a nothing performance (disheartening that he should be nominated for this when his undeserved snub for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly still looms). Everyone had a nice laugh about "Jonah Hill, Oscar Nominee" but his work is actually good - maybe not worthy of inclusion over 2011's wealth of strong supporting performances, but not a cause for shame. And Plummer is nothing short of touching, so even though his movie didn't pick up much heat he still turned heads.
Who's Missing?: A lot of people would say Albert Brooks for Drive, but you know, I liked Bryan Cranston more. This isn't just my rampant Breaking Bad fanboyism speaking, but Cranston's character is much more vivid in a smaller amount of time, and Brooks' scenes tend to bog the movie down a little bit. Honestly I saw a ton of great work in this category last year - Patton Oswalt, a rational but similarly dark counterpart to Charlize Theron in Young Adult; John Hawkes' strung-out cult leader demagogue in Martha Marcy May Marlene; Corey Stoll, the most vivid part of the cutesy but otherwise turgid/sexist Midnight in Paris.
Who's Winning?: Plummer, probably. It's going to one of the three old-timers for sure, and there is a lot of enthusiasm for his performance, moreso than the other two.
Who Should Win?: Search me. Of the two nominees I did actually see, Christopher Plummer. Again, not that Jonah Hill is bad; the performance demonstrates a command of tone no one expected from him, but as far as presentation and character construction goes this isn't a huge jump from anything he's done before.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
(x) Berenice Bejo, The Artist
(x) Jessica Chastain, The Help
(x) Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
(x) Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
(x) Octavia Spencer, The Help
What's What?: Solid work all around. Janet McTeer is the least milquetoast part of Albert Nobbs, a movie that manages to somehow make crossdressing boring. Chastain and Spencer are both enormous assets to their film, and McCarthy is a study in turning a small character into an unforgettable one. Bejo, with her highly-drawn early Hollywood glamour and effusive charm, fits The Artist like a cute little glove. None of these performances are knockouts, particularly, but there's no one who doesn't belong here.
Who's Missing?: Carey Mulligan in Shame. Man, she is great. The frayed emotional edges, the volatility half-heartedly disguised as energy, the way she holds herself changing so subtly from guarded to open depending on the circumstances. It's not really a supporting part - she gets plenty of screen time - but by that rubric Bejo and Spencer aren't either. Also, who was that woman who ate a fry really strangely in Young Adult in one scene? She was hilarious.
Who's Winning?: Spencer. She has got Hollywood goodwill out the ass and The Help's publicity machine is a gargantuan. I dunno, this feels like the lock of the night to me. McCarthy might have an outside shot, but Bejo's not enough, Chastain will lose simply by virtue of being in the same film, and not enough people saw McTeer.
Who Should Win?: McCarthy. Spencer and Chastain are good, but they aren't in particularly challenging roles (as if anything in The Help is particularly challenging). Bejo's nomination came from a combination of The Artist's eventual Oscar domination and her own charisma, not any display of technical aptitude. Sucks for McTeer, but Albert Nobbs doesn't deserve anything, except maybe a time machine back to 1985 where dull shit like this might have raised some eyebrows.