Oscar predictions, part 1: The Special Categories

As promised yesterday, it’s time for my annual Academy Awards predictions.  Again, these are for entertainment purposes only, so please, no wagering.  (And if you do wager and lose, don’t whine at me about it, I warned ya.)

The format will be a little more complex this year.  First of all, to keep from wearing you out, I’ll be splitting the prognostications over three separate blog entries — one of the “special” categories, one for technical achievement, and one for the big names (writing, directing, acting and Best Picture).  Also, in addition to listing the nominees, my pick, and the reasons for the pick, I’ll be including rules of thumb for how to pick each category, and possible upsets in categories where I don’t think my choice is a stone-cold lock (that’s half of them — 12 out of the 24).

Here’s a few general rules about how Oscars are won, before we proceed:

  • Oscar nominations are based on merit; Oscar wins are based more on politics. I covered that in yesterday’s post, so I won’t reiterate it here.  It’s the most important rule to remember — the people who complain that Oscars don’t always go to the most deserving candidate are just people who don’t understand how the Oscar system works.  Life isn’t fair, and neither is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.  Cope.
  • The juries of one’s peers are exceedingly important. Before the Oscars, there are the guild awards, given by various sections of the movie-making community.  The directors have the Directors Guild Awards.  The actors have the Screen Actors Guild Awards.  The editors, the cinematographers, the sound mixing wallahs … you get the picture.  Many of the people who vote for those awards are also members of the Academy, and are the ones who vote on the same categories at the Oscars (only Best Picture is voted on by everyone).  So the guild awards, even more than the Golden Globes or other awards given by film critics, are often good indicators of who will be coming up on stage come Oscar night.
  • Keep a sharp eye on who’s aging, who’s “overdue,” and who’s a previous loser. The Academy voters like to spread the wealth, and make sure as many people win as possible.  They also like to honor their longest-serving veterans who haven’t received a trophy previously.  So being a previous Oscar winner is actually a disadvantage, while being a senior citizen — in Hollywood, that’s anyone over 40 — can boost your vote totals (they want to make sure they say “we love you” before you croak).  And if you’re older, have been nominated several times before and never won … better have that speech prepared.  (This is especially true in the acting categories.)
  • The average age of an Academy voter is 57. Granted, some of them let their grandkids fill out the ballot (Jack Palance once admitted it to a reporter), but not all of them.  This tends to cause the winners to be slightly more conservative/traditional choices than those of the critics.

Finally, I’ll underline the films I’ve actually seen, so as to help screen out any lingering “I watched that, and it was really good/bad” bias.

Okay, on to the predictions!

PART ONE: THE SPECIALTY CATEGORIES (for specific types/lengths of films)

Best Documentary Feature

Nominees: Exit Through the Gift Shop, GasLand, Inside Job, Restrepo, Waste Land.

Rule of thumb: What’s the hot topic in Hollywood?

This category got a bit of a shakeup when two expected nominees — Waiting for “Superman” and The Tillman Story — didn’t make the final five, and has been the subject of controversy as to what to do if Exit Through the Gift Shop wins (since its director Banksy has repeatedly refused to publicly reveal his identity — logical, since he’s a notorious graffiti artist and therefore a criminal — so how can he accept the award?).  It’s that controversy that will probably keep enough voters away from Exit Through the Gift Shop and send them over to the highly-regarded doc about the 2008 Wall Street meltdown and the brokers who helped make it happen, a topic that affected everyone in Hollywood with an investment portfolio.  The Oscar goes to … Inside Job.

Best Foreign-Language Feature

Nominees: Biutiful (Mexico), Dogtooth (Greece), In a Better World (Denmark), Incendies (Canada; done in French), Outside the Law (Algeria).

Rule of thumb: No one wants to read subtitles AND be depressed too.

I mentioned my opinion of Dogtooth yesterday, and from what I’ve read, it seems to be the opinion of most of the voters too.  Biutiful is the best-known of the other four (thanks to Oscar-nominated star Javier Bardem), and Outside the Law, a film about the Algerian revolution against the colonial French in the 1950s and 1960s, certainly seems topical right now, but they both are reportedly very downbeat.  The momentum seems to be behind the Danish two-families-with-kids-in-crisis drama, so that’s where I’m going.  The Oscar goes to … In a Better World. (Possible upset: Biutiful.)

Best Animated Feature

Nominees: How to Train Your Dragon, The Illusionist, Toy Story 3.

Rule of thumb: One word — Pixar.

The Little CGI Studio That Could — now part of the Disneycorp collective — has dominated this category, winning it five of the nine years it’s existed, including the last three in a row (for Ratatouille, Wall*E and Up).  And considering their entry this year is not only the best-reviewed film of 2010, it’s also the only cartoon nominated for Best Picture or Best Adapted Screenplay … well, draw your own conclusions.  The Oscar goes to … Toy Story 3.

Best Animated Short Film

Nominees: Day & Night, The Gruffalo, Let’s Pollute, The Lost Thing, Madagascar: A Journey Diary.

Rule of Thumb: Who pushes the envelope the farthest?

A lot of really good nominees here — Pixar’s Day & Night is the best-known, having been the opening act to Toy Story 3 in theaters, and Gruffalo aired on the BBC.  But it’s the French travelogue/collage with the  dozen different styles of animation (including some beautiful watercolor-style scenes) that looks like the winner.  The Oscar goes to … Madagascar: A Journey Diary. (Possible upset: Day & Night or The Gruffalo.)

Best Documentary Short Film

Nominees: Killing in the Name, Poster Girl, Strangers No More, Sun Come Up, The Warriors of Qiugang.

Rule of Thumb: Happy stories get the votes.

Which is a tough hurdle when you’re dealing with documentaries, most of which tend to be about how things have gone wrong and/or people trying to fix them.  It also makes the film about the multi-ethnic, multi-religious school in Tel Aviv — what one reviewer called “the anti-“) to stand out.  The Oscar goes to … Strangers No More. (Possible upset: Poster Girl or The Warriors of Qiugang.)

Best Live-Action Short Film

Nominees: The Confession, The Crush, God of Love, Na Wewe, Wish 143.

Rule of Thumb: Roll the dice and hope.

If there’s a reliable rule for picking this category, I have yet to discover it, and my experience has been that anyone who claims they know who’ll win it is lying.  So since the Academy is a mostly American organization, I’m going to just take the one American-made nominee and cross my fingers.  The Oscar goes to … God of Love. (Possible upset: any of the other four.  Seriously, it’s a total crapshoot.)

Back this afternoon with the technical categories

it Through the Gift Shop
GasLand
Inside Job
Restrepo
Waste Land
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3 Responses to Oscar predictions, part 1: The Special Categories

  1. […] If you missed part one of my annual Academy Awards predictions, click here.  And now … […]

  2. […] you haven’t read Part 1 or Part 2 of my Oscar predictions, you might want to check them out first.  But now it’s […]

  3. […] into the Academy Awards this year, I had my predictions ready (see here, here and here if you missed them earlier) and had a goal in mind.  I correctly picked 16 out of […]

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