Okay, time for the Academy Award predictions I promised in yesterday’s post. I’ll do sixteen of the 24 categories today, saving the last eight (the big ones, natch) for tomorrow. Please turn of your cell phones, and refrain from talking during the presentation …
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TECHNICAL AWARDS (10)
*** Best Cinematography
Nominees: Changeling, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire.
My pick: Slumdog Millionaire. Slumdog, Dark Knight and Benjamin Button have been splitting the critics’ cinematography awards, but Slumdog’s recent wins at the BAFTAs (the British equivalent to the Oscars) and from the cameramen’s guild give it a solid lead over the other contenders. (Incidentally, I’ve love to see Roger Deakins get it for The Reader — this is his EIGHTH nom without a win, and he’s wowed me time and again with his imaginative camera work for the Coen Brothers and Night Shyamalan — but the odds are way against him. Maybe next year.)
*** Best Editing
Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Frost/Nixon, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire.
My pick: Slumdog Millionaire. Similar to the above — won the BAFTA and the guild award — but without the split among the critics. I don’t think this one is close.
*** Best Art Direction
Nominees: Changeling, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, The Duchess, Revolutionary Road.
My pick: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Art Direction (aka Production Design) is a complicated category — it’s mostly about the movie sets, but includes bits and pieces of lighting, props, camera work, costume, makeup and possibly catering for all I know. Benjamin Button has been winning most of the critics’ awards in this category, and no wonder — the film’s story spans 85 years! That’s a lot of sets …
*** Best Costuming
Nominees: Australia, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Duchess, Milk, Revolutionary Road.
My pick: The Duchess. Pre-1900 period pieces have an advantage in this category, as most folks figure that creating modern outfits is easier than creating 18th-century ones. I don’t know if that’s necessarily true (if anything, you have to be more careful with modern costuming because if it’s not authentic, you have people around who remember the era and thus can spot your errors), but it’s the prevailing view. And four of the five nominated films were set in the last 100 years, while The Duchess takes place in the late 1700s. This isn’t a slam dunk, but I feel pretty confident with this one.
*** Best Makeup
Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Hellboy II: The Golden Army.
My pick: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Heath Ledger’s Joker mask was interesting and all, and the freaks in Hellboy II are pretty creatively done … but I think gradually transforming Brad Pitt from a wrinkled, gray-haired toddler to an infant octogenarian trumps both.
*** Best Original Score
Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Defiance, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire, Wall-E.
My pick: Slumdog Millionaire. A.R. Rahman, the John Williams of Bollywood, has been cleaning up in this category, winning the Golden Globe, Satellite, BAFTA and Critics’ Choice trophies, and I see no reason to believe his streak will end on Sunday. Besides, it could serve as a consolation prize for the award he won’t win …
*** Best Original Song
Nominees: “Down to Earth” (Wall-E), “Jai Ho” (Slumdog Millionaire), “O Saya” (Slumdog Millionaire).
My pick: “Down to Earth”. Weird things happen in this category, even in the nominating process — a quirk in the system caused both Alicia Keys and Jack White’s “Another Way to Die” (from Quantum of Solace) and Bruce Springsteen’s “The Wrestler” to end up on the outside looking in. So you have two songs from Slumdog stealing votes from each other, and facing off against a tune sung by the highly respected Peter Gabriel and co-written by ten-time nominee (and zero-time winner) Thomas Newman. Hardly fair, but sometimes life isn’t. Thankfully, “Down to Earth” is a great song.
*** Best Sound Mixing
Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Slumdog Millionaire, Wall-E, Wanted.
My pick: The Dark Knight. Traditionally this one goes to the loudest film, and that’s Dark Knight.
*** Best Sound Editing
Nominees: The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Slumdog Millionaire, Wall-E, Wanted.
My pick: Wall-E. The Dark Knight has a shot here, but the uniqueness of the sounds created for the characters in Wall-E is so impressive that I think it will become the first cartoon to win an Oscar that’s not for animated feature, song or score. Another feather in Pixar’s cap.
*** Best Visual Effects
Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Iron Man.
My pick: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. This one is tough — all three are deserving here — but I think Benjamin Button will probably win because the two comic-book films will steal too many votes from each other. I could be wrong …
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SPECIALTY AWARDS (6)
*** Best Animated Feature
Nominees: Bolt, Kung Fu Panda, Wall-E.
My pick: Wall-E. This is an easy one — Wall-E has won every award in this category except (surprisingly) the Annies, the awards specifically for cartoon, who went with Kung Fu Panda. Still, Wall-E was such an artistic tour de force (not to mention one of only two animated features nominated outside this category) that I think it’ll win hands down. *Directive.*
*** Best Foreign-Language Film
Nominees: Der Baader Meinhof Complex (Germany), Entre les Murs (France), Okuribito (Japan), Revanche (Austria), Vals im Bashir (Israel).
My pick: Vals im Bashir. This is the other animated feature that got a nod outside the category above. The Academy seems to find new and inventive ways to screw up the nominating process for foreign films — don’t ask me how they do it, but they do. Before this year’s noms were announced, the Swedish coming-of-age/vampire film Lat den Ratte Komma In (Let the Right One In) was running away with most of the awards, though some felt that Gomorra from Italy might have a shot at the Oscar too. Neither one was nominated. With those two out of the way, Vals im Bashir (the story of an Israeli soldier reconstructing his memories of the early-’80s war with Lebanon) is the clear favorite.
*** Best Documentary Feature
Nominees: The Betrayal (Nerakhoon), Encounters at the End of the World, The Garden, Man on Wire, Trouble the Water.
My pick: Man on Wire. Another easy pick, as this doc of a man who did a tightrope walk between the then-under-construction World Trade Center buildings in 1974 has not only won almost every documentary award in existence, but landed in most critics’ lists of the top 10 films — of any kind! — of 2008. Seems clear to me.
*** Best Documentary Short Subject
Nominees: The Conscience of Nhem En, The Final Inch, Smile Pinki, The Witness – From the Balcony of Room 306.
My pick: The Conscience of Nhem En. There are two categories this year that I call “dartboard picks” because there’s no clear favorite — any prediction is an educated guess at best. (The other one is Supporting Actress, which I’ll get to tomorrow.) All four films here have powerful subject matter — in order, the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror in Cambodia, the effort to eradicate polio in India, a medical group that does free operations for people with cleft lips or palates (also in India), and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King — and I’m picking Nhem En in part because the topic hits me harder, living in a city (Stockton, CA) with a large Cambodian population. But any of these could win.
*** Best Animated Short Subject
Nominees: La Maison et Petits Cubes, Lavatory-Lovestory, Oktapodi, Presto, This Way Up.
My pick: Presto. Thanks to YouTube, I’ve had a chance to watch four of the five nominees (plus a 30-second clip from La Maison), and all of them are well done. The most artistic — and the funniest — was Presto, which was not only perfectly animated but also hearkened back to the glory days of Looney Tunes with its “magician wants his rabbit-in-a-hat to perform/bunny wants his carrot first” story line. But all of them are treats.
*** Best Live Action Short Subject
Nominees: Auf der Strecke, Manon on the Asphalt, New Boy, The Pig, Spielzeugland.
My pick: Spielzeugland. There are two favorites in this list according to the commentators: The Pig, a Danish film about an argument between two patients (one of them Muslim) and their families over whether a cartoon picture of a pig should hang in their shared hospital room; and Spielzeugland (Toyland), a German story about a woman who in 1942 tells her son that all of his Jewish friends are being transported to Toyland … only to have to chase him down when he decides he wants to go too. My money’s on the Holocaust film over the religious-tolerance film.
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Coming up tomorrow: my picks for the eight high-profile categories — the ones for acting, directing, screenplay and best picture. ‘Til then …