Saturday, February 26, 2011

83rd Academy Awards Predictions

Last year, I was 16/24. My all-time record is 20/24. "Should win" picks are who I would vote for if I was a voting member of the Academy. "Will win" picks are who will actually take home the hardware.

Best Picture:

Should win: Toy Story 3

Will win: The King's Speech

My Pixar bias is clearly showing (or maybe that's animation bias…How To Train Your Dragon was the second best movie I saw all year and clearly Dreamworks Animation's finest work.) If you look below at my other picks, you'd think I'd have The King's Speech as my "should win." It has all the ingredients I place high value on (screenplay, score, and cinematography) and has great acting on top of that. However, I still think TS3 was the best film of the year, maybe just because I grew up with the first two films, and because it is so well-written.

I'm not going to come in here and complain like I always do that the crop of movies this year really sucked. I was quite surprised that TS3 didn't pick up the Golden Globe nomination, seeing as how the slightly inferior Toy Story 2 actually won the damn thing, even beating Being John Malkovich.

As usual, we eliminate everything that wasn't nominated for film editing (127 Hours, Winter's Bone, Toy Story 3, True Grit, The Kids Are All Right) and we pick one from what's left. Black Swan is too bizarre, Inception was released too early, and The Fighter had good acting, but not much else. That leaves The King's Speech and The Social Network. And really, it's as close as I can ever remember it. So The Social Network possesses the Globe and the NBR award, along with most of the awards in the critics' circles, but The King's Speech has SAG, DGA, PGA, and BAFTA power behind it. While BAFTA is inherently biased toward the British films and have made some really screwy picks for Best Film over the years, the Producers' Guild has been on the same page as the Academy for the last three years and 14 of the last 20 years. Roger Ebert said it best: "A British historical drama about a brave man struggling to overcome a disability and then leading his people into World War II looks better to the academy than a cutting-edge portrait of hyperactive nerds." I'm going against the Vegas odds and leaving the 3:2 favourite on the table in exchange for the 5:2 film: The King's Speech.

Best Director:

Should win: Tom Hooper

Will win: David Fincher

Well, if I can't have Lee Unkrich, that makes it a tough call. I really wanted to pick Darren Aronofsky, just because of how much Black Swan scared the shit out of me. I pick Hooper because he has three actors in the film with legitimate shots of winning. But my prediction is that Fincher's name will be called. Maybe I'm just hedging my bets a little bit since I'm unsure of Best Picture. It has only happened three times in the last decade where a director won and their film lost. (Ang Lee, Roman Polanski, and Steven Soderbergh) Fincher winning wouldn't bother me at all…Fight Club is one of my favourite movies of all time. Still, the smart money is definitely on Hooper since he won the DGA.

Best Actress:

Should win: Natalie Portman

Will win: Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman for that white hot lesbian scene. That's all I can say. Playing a dual personality role can be tricky, so she deserves it. I howled when Bening lost to Swank in 2000, denying American Beauty the Big 5, so I'd be happy if she got some redemption. But I do think Julianne Moore was better in Bening in The Kids Are All Right.

Best Actor:

Should win: Colin Firth

Will win: Colin Firth

It's Firth's to lose, clearly. I dare say it was the finest male performance since Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood three years ago. James Franco overacted, nobody could understand Jeff Bridges, and nobody saw Biutiful. I could watch Firth's final speech scene over and over…it's hard to imagine being on the edge of my seat for five minutes of monologue, but that is exactly what happened. Potential upset is Jesse Eisenberg. He's not entirely undeserving, but he'll only win if it so happens that the Academy is heaping praise onto The Social Network. But I don't think they will.

Best Supporting Actress:

Should win: Hailee Steinfeld

Will win: Melissa Leo

I think the category is weak this year. Hailee Stanfield belongs in the leading category. Nobody saw Animal Kingdom. My pick for Leo is risky, because for some stupid reason, people nominated for the same film split the support, even though Amy Adams deserves no votes at all. Helena Bonham Carter was just kind of there…I think she was upstaged by Rush and Firth.

Best Supporting Actor:

Should win: Geoffrey Rush

Will win: Christian Bale

This is risky. I believe that the Academy may not vote for Bale because of his tirade against some poor cinematographer while filming Terminator: Salvation, but maybe I just think that because I don't like the guy. But I never let things like that get in the way. I'm partial to drug addict loser performances, although Bale's kind of weakened in the second act. I prefer scummy characters with no redeeming qualities. Geoffrey Rush could win…we know the Academy likes him. I think he benefitted from a great screenplay more than anything.

Best Original Screenplay:

Should win: The King's Speech

Will win: The King's Speech

I'd be really surprised to see anything else win. The Academy loves a biopic, and so do I. It's pretty tricky to write stammers into a screenplay…only the Coen Brothers do it better. David Seidler is a 73 year old guy who hasn't really written anything else, but looking at the other four nominees, I don't think he has anything to worry about.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Should win: Toy Story 3

Will win: The Social Network

I should note that my string of 15 consecutive correct predictions in the writing categories came crashing down last year, because for some stupid reason, I thought the academy would pick Up in the Air over Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. So, time to start anew. Toy Story 3 has credibility as three of its four writers are past Oscar winners. Michael Arndt's screenplay for Little Miss Sunshine was one of the best in years so I'd be delighted if he were to win again. Unfortunately, there are three other all-star screenwriters nominated in this category (Aaron Sorkin and Ethan and Joel Coen.) The Coens have won twice, so maybe there's some upset potential here. But, if they couldn't beat The Hurt Locker with their script for A Serious Man then I don't know what.

The rest!

Animated Feature: Toy Story 3

Art Direction: Alice in Wonderland

Cinematography: True Grit

Costume Design: Alice in Wonderland

Documentary Feature: Inside Job

Documentary Short Subject: The Warriors of Qiugang

Film Editing: The Social Network

Foreign Language Film: Incendies

Makeup: The Wolfman

Music (Original Score): The Social Network

Music (Original Song): "We Belong Together", from Toy Story 3

Short Film (Animated): Madagascar, Carnet de Voyage

Short Film (Live Action): God of Love

Sound Editing: Inception

Sound Mixing: The Social Network

Visual Effects: Inception

Monday, February 21, 2011

Let's Talk About How To Train Your Dragon...

Hmmm...been awhile since I last wrote something. Is it a little bit odd that it's about a kid's movie? Maybe may remember my Pixar series...

I watched How To Train Your Dragon because it has two nominations this year (Best Music, Origianl Score, and Best Animated Feature.) Since Toy Story 3 is a lock for Best Animated Feature, I was mainly tuned in to the musical score to see if it had any chance. If you've seen a lot of movies with me, you'll know I place high value on three things above all: the first is a good screenplay, the second is musical score, and the third is cinematography.

Let's talk a bit about DreamWorks Animations before we go on. Throughout their entire history, they've been completely hit or miss. We've seen everything from them...critical and box office disasters (The Road to El Dorado and Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas,) watered-down sell-out sequels (Shrek The Third and Shrek: Forever After,) and works which were critically acclaimed (Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Chicken Run.) Needless to say, I wasn't quite sure what I was going to get with How To Train Your Dragon, seeing as how Aardman Animations wasn't around to bail anyone out this time, so I decided to forego a trip to the theatre to see it and waited almost 11 months from its release to rent it.

It would appear I owe DreamWorks an apology.

What a surprise. I was not expecting anything with a sharp script, dazzling aerial scenes that must have been spectacular in 3D, and a soundtrack which gave me goosebumps and raised the film to a whole different level. Some critics have compared the flying scenes to Avatar and have labelled this film as being "Avatar for simpletons." Could they have spent more time on story and character development? Yes, absolutely. The film didn't find it's center for a long time, but when it did, that center was so good that it's easy to see why critics went crazy for it. What's different is that the dragons themselves are given a level of complexity to the extent that I was drawing comparisons between the main character and the dog whisperer (dragon whisperer, in this case.) This is what sets Dragon apart from Avatar, which was visual glitz and glitter, but emotionally shallow. And if you look at the most difficult things to do in animation, this film had them all: humans, hair, fabric, hair and fabric blowing through the air, hair and fabric underwater...

And, if nothing else, they've pre-empted Brave, which appears to follow similar themes. Recall that Antz was released before A Bug's Life, although the latter eventually pulled ahead in box office receipts.

And wouldn't you know it...DreamWorks intends to drive the film into the ground by making not just one, but two sequels and possibly more, to the same extent that the Shrek, Ice Age, and Madagascar franchises lost all their integrity. For shame, Jeff Katzenberg, for shame.

I'll be back with my Oscar picks at the end of the week...there's still some short film homework which needs to be done.