So it’s usually about this time of year that I wrap up a series of blog entries predicting (well, attempting to) the winners of the Academy Awards. Last year, it ended up as three or four entries, probably about 10,000 words, complete with historical markers and rules of thumb for how each category tends to go. I’ve had fun doing it, had some success as well (last year I picked 18 of the 24 winners correctly), and I hope people have had fun reading it.
This year … it’ll just be this one article. A month or so ago, I was all revved up for doing a big showstopper franchise of columns, but it ended up as just this little indie production.
Now, I’ll grant that part of the reason was the depression I’ve been pushing through the last couple of months (see my previous post). But another part of the reason was that it’s been a pretty blah movie awards season. And much of the reason for that was that 2011 was a pretty blah year for movies — especially the type of movies that tend to win Oscars.
Now, I do have predictions ready, and I’ll give them at the end of this piece. But I finalized most of them only a couple of hours ago. I didn’t include the usual explanations or past track records. Heck, I probably won’t even be watching the Oscars broadcast tomorrow night; I’ll get the results on the Internet later. I’m simply not that enthused about the Oscars this time around — and I’m not alone in that. The consensus, in fact, is that there’s not much in the nominated films to be enthused about.
It’s generally thought that the French black-and-white silent melodrama The Artist will take home the big prize, Best Picture, tomorrow night. You got that right — a foreign film, with lead actors largely unknown on this side of the pond, shot and presented in a manner that basically died out when Calvin Coolidge was president, will probably get the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ imprimatur as the best film of 2011. Not that people are really thrilled about that. I’ve compared its Best Picture candidacy to Mitt Romney’s run for the Republican presidential nomination (see the picture above) — almost everyone agrees it’s the front-runner and has the best chance to win, most of the pundits say it’s a foregone conclusion, but almost no one is excited about the possibility. It’s just that all the alternatives are less appealing.
And that pretty much says what you think it does about 2011 in film. It was a year when almost everything that could disappoint, did disappoint.
Examples abound — I’ll just give a few. The Tree of Life became the first American film in years to win top honors at the Cannes Film Festival, but its release in the U.S. was so thin a peripatetic that it never generated the wave of excitement it might’ve deserved. (Or most of it might’ve deserved; the last ten minutes were a muddle). A fourth Pirates of the Caribbean flick did okay at the box office, but not well enough to guarantee a fifth installment, and the critics savaged it. Pixar, the animation studio that could do no wrong, had its first critical disaster with Cars 2; Dreamworks’ own sequel, Kung Fu Panda 2, didn’t exactly pick up the baton. Stephen Daldry, Meryl Streep and Steven Spielberg all had big, important, potentially Oscar-attracting end-of-year releases (actually, Spielberg had two!) that were met with a collective “meh” when they hit the screens. And many high-profile independent releases that looked like they might fill the gaps instead got a cold shoulder from Academy voters.
The Academy voters … I should address that. A recent survey of Oscar voters done by the Los Angeles Times found them to be overwhelmingly white, male, and old (the average age is 62), and as one might imagine, they tend to have more conservative tastes than the viewing public at large. Traditional types of films tend to have an advantage with them, at the expense of more challenging fare — especially this year. Almost all of the movies that were expected to be nominated this year and weren’t were of the “challenging indie” type: Take Shelter, Shame, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Young Adult and We Need to Talk About Kevin (all favorites for a nod or five) were shut out completely. Drive, thought to be a major contender in several categories, was named in only one — Sound Editing. And the aforementioned The Tree of Life got only three nominations and is favored in just one, Cinematography. It’s like the Academy put their foot down and said, “stop scaring us with these dystopian visions and complex ethical dilemmas — we want feel-good stories and happy endings, and we want them NOW!” (With maybe a “get off our lawn” thrown in out of habit.)
The result? Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen’s love letter to 1920s expatriate Paris, suddenly becomes not just a Best Picture nominee, but possibly the closest The Artist has to a rival for the top trophy. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, also with an interwar Parisian setting — and at bottom, a tribute to early filmmaking disguised as a children’s movie — picked up eleven nods and should win big in the technical categories. The Help, a much milder look at the civil rights movement than anything I’ve read in the history books, has muscled its way into the discussion (thankfully without bringing the pie along). And then you have the French mimes.
Not that any of these films are actually bad — I thought Hugo was terrific, and The Tree of Life excellent as well (though, again, the final ten minutes …). I have every reason to believe the rest of the nine Best Picture nominees are at least good. But all seem to be flawed in some way, or play more like novelties than the Great Classic Films they hope to be remembered as. Last year, the nominees for Best Picture included not just eventual winner The King’s Speech, but also The Social Network, Inception and True Grit, any of whom I believe would run away with the title this time around. (And maybe Toy Story 3, too — is a cartoon winning any more screwy than a B&W silent winning?). 2010 was, simply put, a really good year for movies.
And 2011 … wasn’t quite as good. But still, someone has to win the awards, and tomorrow night someone will. It’s just not as interesting to me this time around. But I’m sure Hollywood will survive.
* * *
Oh, yes, predictions. For a more in-depth analysis of each category, I highly recommend Mark Harris’ Oscarmetrics columns at Grantland.com (you can access them here; also, check out his book Pictures at a Revolution for an insightful and entertaining snapshot of how Hollywood and the Oscars became what they are today). From me, just the picks, ma’am … okay, and a smidgen of commentary. Remember, please, no wagering — these are for entertainment purposes only …
- Picture: The Artist (whatevs)
- Actor: George Clooney, The Descendants (I am less sure of this than I am of any other — Moneyball‘s Brad Pitt or The Artist‘s Jean Dujardin could also win)
- Actress: Viola Davis, The Help (sorry, Meryl — again)
- Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners (close to a slam-dunk)
- Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, The Help (ditto)
- Director: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
- Original Screenplay: Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
- Adapted Screenplay: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, The Descendants (read: consolation prize)
- Cinematography: The Tree of Life (and deservedly so)
- Editing: The Artist
- Art Direction: Hugo
- Costume: The Artist
- Makeup: The Iron Lady
- Original Score: Ludovic Bource, The Artist (not a doubt in my mind)
- Original Song: “Man or Muppet”, The Muppets (I would’ve preferred “Life’s a Happy Song”, but they didn’t ask my opinion)
- Sound Mixing: Hugo (War Horse may win this one, though)
- Sound Editing: War Horse (Hugo may win this one, though)
- Visual Effects: Hugo
- Animated Feature: Rango (easiest pick on the list)
- Foreign-Language Feature: A Separation, Iran (for once, the Academy nominates the consensus favorite in this category)
- Documentary Feature: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (since the Academy didn’t nominate any of the consensus favorites; par for the course)
- Documentary Short: The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom
- Animated Short: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
- Live-Action Short: The Shore