Monday, February 15, 2010

Oscar Predictions: The Major Awards

And we're back with the live telecast of Ed's Oscar Predictions. Hope the adverts weren't too loud and annoying.

Having looked through the Technical Awards with an occasionally surgical, but largely slapdash, precision, I will now be considering the Major categories as defined by me and, judging by the way in which the ceremony is conducted, by the Academy. I'm not saying the Technical Awards aren't important, just saying that if Best Editing was so important to the Academy it'd be the last award they hand out.

As with previous predictions, for each one I'll say who should win, who will win, and who the dark horse will be for each category, since that allows me to hedge my bets and come away from the whole thing claiming I was all clever and shit.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

District 9 (2009): Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
An Education (2009): Nick Hornby
In the Loop (2009): Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009): Geoffrey Fletcher
Up in the Air (2009/I): Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner

I must not have been the only one surprised and delighted by the nomination for In The Loop. Armando Iannucci, Oscar nominee just seems really strange to me. Pleasant surprise aside, I' can't quite bring myself to believe that it'll win, despite how bizarre and wonderful such an eventuality would be. It just seems too caustic and too British to win through. This category is actually quite interesting since, without a serious Best Picture contender behind any of them (Precious, maybe, but District 9? Can't see it happening) the field is wide open. If I had to choose (and I kind of have to, given the nature of this enterprise) I'm going to plump for Up In The Air. It's attracted plenty of attention throughout awards season and Jason Reitman is already an Academy fave.

What Should Win: In The Loop

What Will Win: Up In The Air

Dark Horse: District 9

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

The Hurt Locker (2008): Mark Boal
Inglourious Basterds (2009): Quentin Tarantino
The Messenger (2009/I): Alessandro Camon, Oren Moverman
A Serious Man (2009): Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Up (2009): Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Thomas McCarthy

This category is very tight this year, as four of the nominees are Best Pictures contenders and, since Avatar's cliched, cheesy and downright awful script was rightly ignored, there isn't the sweep factor that usually allows the Best Picture winner to take the screenplay prize along with it. First, the films that definitely won't win: The Coens', despite writing a brilliant film, won't win because A Serious Man is too odd and personal to appeal to a broad selection of voters; and The Messenger won't win because it's a film that almost no one had heard of or was discussing as an Oscar contender prior to the nominations. That leaves Up, Inglourious Basterds and The Hurt Locker. I'd love for Up to win it, if only so Thomas McCarthy could get an Oscar and use the clout to get more films like The Station Agent and The Visitor made, but Pixar have always been bridemaids, never brides when it comes to the Original Screenplay award (Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and WALL-E were all nominated for the same award in previous years) and I can't see that trend ending with Up. So, Inglourious Basterds, or The Hurt Locker? I think that Inglourious Basterds will just pip it for having the showier, more loquacious script at the expense of The Hurt Locker's gripping and realistic writing, giving Quentin Tarantino his second Original Screenplay Oscar, after his win in 1995 for Pulp Fiction.

What Should Win: The Hurt Locker or Up

What Will Win: Inglourious Basterds

Dark Horse: A Serious Man

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Penélope Cruz for Nine (2009)
Vera Farmiga for Up in the Air (2009/I)
Maggie Gyllenhaal for Crazy Heart (2009)
Anna Kendrick for Up in the Air (2009/I)
Mo'Nique for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009)

Even if Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendricks weren't splitting the Up In The Air vote, Mo'Nique's had this award sewn up for months now. Her performance as Mary, the abusive, hateful mother of Precious is truly astounding; she creates a compelling monster who completely dominates every scene she is in, but it's the final scene of the film, in which she breaks down and lays bare the years of abuse visited on her daughter and the reason why she let it happen, is spellbinding. Mo'Nique takes us into the mind of a truly horrible human being and shows us what twisted logic led her to think that letting her husband sexually abuse their daughter for years was not only acceptable, but that somehow it was all Precious' fault. It's a brilliant performance.

Who Should Win: Mo'Nique

Who Will Win: Mo'Nique

Dark Horse: At this point, the rest of the nominees.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Matt Damon for Invictus (2009)
Woody Harrelson for The Messenger (2009/I)
Christopher Plummer for The Last Station (2009)
Stanley Tucci for The Lovely Bones (2009)
Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds (2009)

It's interesting that this year both Supporting Awards became foregone conclusions so early in the awards season, and that both will go to actors portraying villains. Unlike Mo'Nique, Christoph Waltz will be waltzing home with an Oscar for playing a villain who is, despite being a Jew-killing Nazi, actually quite charming. Hans Landa, the Jew Hunter, is a man who is very, very good at his job, and from the moment he enters a farm house and asks its owner for a glass of his delicious milk, the audience never takes their eyes from him. He completely dominates every scene he is in and maintains a delicate balancing act between being the embodiment of all that is evil in the world and being downright hilarious.

Who Should Win: Christoph Waltz

Who Will Win: Christoph Waltz

Dark Horse: Unless, during the ceremony, Brad Pitt takes Waltz out, I don't think anyone else is going to have a look in.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side (2009)
Helen Mirren for The Last Station (2009)
Carey Mulligan for An Education (2009)
Gabourey Sidibe for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009)
Meryl Streep for Julie & Julia (2009)

Up until a few months ago, if you had presented me with this list, I'd have said Carrey Mulligan without a moments hesitation. Whilst the rest of the nominees have either seniority on their side (Streep, Mirren, Bullock), or are in films that have real muscle behind them in other categories (Sidibe) none of them display the same insouciant charm and brittle fragility that Mulligan did as a schoolgirl seduced by an older man. That's what I would have said a few months ago, then The Blind Side made $244 million off the back of Sandra Bullock's performance, and suddenly things weren't so clear cut. Though I still think that Mulligan's is the better performance, Sandra Bullock is going to take home the statuette on the night. The Academy loves a comeback, and an Oscar would be the perfect cap to a year in which Bullock appeared in the two biggest hits of her career (The Proposal and The Blind Side) and gained some of her best notices, too. Though, when they talk about her success on the night, I think they'll skim over All About Steve. There's definitely a sense that it's Bullock's turn, whereas everyone else has either won Oscars in the past, or are young and talented enough to get a second crack a few years down the road.

Who Should Win: Carrey Mulligan

Who Will Win: Sandra Bullock

Dark Horse: Gabourey Sidibe

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart (2009)
George Clooney for Up in the Air (2009/I)
Colin Firth for A Single Man (2009)
Morgan Freeman for Invictus (2009)
Jeremy Renner for The Hurt Locker (2008)

In any other year, Morgan Freeman's performance as Nelson Mandela, a role that he's always seemed just perfect for, or Colin Firth's subtle, achingly sad portrayal of a gay man brought to the brink of suicide by the death of his lover, would be a shoo-in, but there's been a real swell of support for Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart recently. It's not hard to see why, many people have compared his role to Mickey Rourke's role in The Wrestler last year, with his vulnerable, haggard old country star showcasing the sort of affable charm/hidden depths combination that Bridge's does so well. This is also the fifth time Bridges has been nominated, and there seems to be a sense that it's time he won to make up for the times he didn't. This is known as the Scorsese Factor. So, with all that in mind, I think it'll go to Jeff Bridges: Clooney and Freeman have already won in the past; Jeremy Renner, despite giving the best performance out of the lot, is still young and will have other chances; and they gave Sean Penn an Oscar for playing a gay man last year, so they don't have to acknowledge the existence of gay people for at least another decade. It's The Dude's turn.

Who Should Win: Jeremy Renner

Who Will Win: Jeff Bridges

Dark Horse: Colin Firth

Best Achievement in Directing

Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker (2008)
James Cameron for Avatar (2009)
Lee Daniels for Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009)
Jason Reitman for Up in the Air (2009/I)
Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Now, some of you may have gleamed from the rest of this post that I strongly believe that Avatar will win Best Picture, and there's lots of reasons why it will win, some of which I'll list in a moment. Now, generally, Best Picture and Best Director are paired together; of the 80 films that have won Best Picture, 59 have also won Best Director. However, I don't think that this will be the case this year since, whilst Avatar will win Best Picture, Kathryn Bigelow will win Best Director. Given that Bigelow used to be married to James Cameron, director of Avatar, this could be seen as the highest profile divorce settlement of all time ("You take Best Director, I'll take Best Picture. You can have the china plates, I'll have the silverware."), but more importantly it just seems like the wheels of history have turned and brought us to a point where, finally, a woman will win Best Director. It's long overdue and I can't see the Academy missing out on this opportunity to right a wrong that has persisted for far, far too long.

Who Should Win: Kathryn Bigelow

Who Will Win: Kathyrn Bigelow

Dark Horse: Jason Reitman

Best Motion Picture of the Year

Avatar (2009): James Cameron, Jon Landau
The Blind Side (2009): Gil Netter, Andrew A. Kosove, Broderick Johnson
District 9 (2009): Peter Jackson, Carolynne Cunningham
An Education (2009): Finola Dwyer, Amanda Posey
The Hurt Locker (2008): Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal, Nicolas Chartier, Greg Shapiro
Inglourious Basterds (2009): Lawrence Bender
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009): Lee Daniels, Sarah Siegel-Magness, Gary Magness
A Serious Man (2009): Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Up (2009): Jonas Rivera
Up in the Air (2009/I): Daniel Dubiecki, Ivan Reitman, Jason Reitman

The decision to expand the list of nominees to ten this year, rather than five - in response to very vocal criticism of the Academy over the exclusion of The Dark Knight last year -has certainly turned up some interesting candidates (who, last summer, could have foreseen that Peter Jackson wouldn't be nominated for Best Picture for The Lovely Bones but for that weird South African science fiction film about giant prawns?) but the award won't go to interesting candidates like the aforementioned District 9, A Serious Man, or Up (the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture since Beauty and the Beast in 1991, and only the second one ever) or Academy-pleasers like An Education, The Blind Side Up In The Air, but to Avatar.

The monumental success of Avatar makes it pretty much a certainty that it will win Best Picture because, frankly, the film industry needs it to win Best Picture. So much time, money and effort has been spent developing 3-D and telling audiences that 3-D is the future that Avatar seemed to hold the entire history of cinema on its shoulders prior to release. Now that it has been released and, to the shock of pretty much everyone, become the most successful film of all time - unadjusted for inflation, of course - it only seems fitting that they should reward it for, if not changing the course of cinema history, at least offering concrete proof that 3-D is viable. Whilst I maintain, as I have throughout these predictions and elsewhere on the blog, that Avatar is not the best film that was released last year (The Hurt Locker was, naturally) I can't help but feel that Avatar deserves it. Regardless of what I feel about the film, its success is staggering, and James Cameron has, in the face of all the pessimism and jeers of the world, made himself King of the World again. Or the king of his own, bioluminescent world.

What Should Win: The Hurt Locker

What Will Win: Avatar

Dark Horse: The rest of them, but Up In The Air probably has the best chance of causing an upset on the night.

Right, that's your lot. Take your gift bags and piss off.