PART TWO: THE TECHNICAL CATEGORIES
Nominees: Black Swan, Inception, The King’s Speech, The Social Network, True Grit.
Rule of thumb: The best single shot or scene can sell the whole film.
And for the first time in the prognosticating process this year, there’s a wild card thrown into the mix. And his name is Roger Deakins.
Traditionally, who the cinematographer is matters little in deciding the race. There’s a good reason for this — his or her name isn’t listed on the Oscar ballot. The acting nominations are the only one where the person’s name is actually included; in all other categories, they just list the films. You don’t always realize who you’re voting for. But there have been so many articles this year about how Deakins has just received his ninth nomination (for True Grit) but has never won. Deakins is best known for his work with the Coen Brothers (he’s done every movie of theirs since Barton Fink in 1991, including Best Picture winner No Country for Old Men) and is very highly respected in the industry. Plus, while ASC, the cinematographers’ guild, gave their award to Wally Pfister for Inception, it’s not always an indicator of who’ll win the Oscar (they agree less than half the time), and Deakins has already won the ASC award twice. So I’m going to say he’s due. The Oscar goes to: True Grit. (Possible upset: Inception.)
(One other possible factor in Deakins’ favor: True Grit is nominated in 10 categories, but isn’t a favorite in any except this one and maybe Costume. It would be unusual for a film to go 0-for-10 …)
Nominees: 127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, The King’s Speech, The Social Network.
Rule of thumb: Watch the guild award … and the Best Picture race.
For some reason, this category has greater correlation with the Best Picture category than any except Best Director; the last film to win Picture without an Editing nod was Ordinary People in 1981. Well, there’s basically two films that are thought to have a realistic shot at winning Best Picture, and the Associated Cinema Editors gave their trophy to one of them, so that makes this kind of easy. The Oscar goes to: The Social Network.
Best Art Direction
Nominees: Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, Inception, The King’s Speech, True Grit.
Rule of thumb: Let the guild narrow the field, then trust your eyes.
The art directors’ guild gives three film awards — for contemporary, period (historical) and fantasy movies. This year’s contemporary award went to non-nominee Black Swan, leaving us with the fantasy (Inception) and period (The King’s Speech) winners. It could go either way, really, but since I have to pick one, I’ll take the more spectacular piece. The Oscar goes to: Inception. (Possible upset: The King’s Speech.)
Nominees: Alice in Wonderland, I Am Love, The King’s Speech, The Tempest, True Grit.
Rule of thumb: Period films almost always win.
Which narrows it down to two: The King’s Speech (1920s-30s England) and True Grit (late 19th century American West). Either one could win, and Jeff Bridges has really been pimping Mary Zophres’ work on the talk-show circuit. But I’m going to bet on the Anglophile tendencies of the Oscar electorate instead. The Oscar goes to: The King’s Speech. (Possible upset: True Grit.)
Nominees: Barney’s Version, The Way Back, The Wolfman.
Rule of thumb: How necessary is the makeup to the plot?
The oddity here is that Alice in Wonderland was considered to be the favorite … until it didn’t get nominated at all. Expectations are that it leaves the door wide-open to a hair-and-fangs-sprouting Benicio del Toro. The Oscar goes to: The Wolfman.
Best Original Score
Nominees: 127 Hours, How to Train Your Dragon, Inception, The King’s Speech, The Social Network.
Rule of thumb: Obvious trumps subtle, classical trumps pop … and actors’ rule trump tech rules.
That last one is because the composers are usually pretty well-known to the Academy voters, so track records factor in more than in most of the tech categories. That’s a disadvantage to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, first-time nominees for The Social Network, as is their less-traditional musical style. But it works in favor of fourth-time nominee, zero-time winner Alexandre Desplat. With that in mind … The Oscar goes to: The King’s Speech. (Possible upset: The Social Network, or Hans Zimmer for Inception.)
Best Original Song
Nominees: “If I Rise” (from 127 Hours), “Coming Back” (from Country Strong), “I See the Light” (from Tangled), “We Belong Together” (from Toy Story 3).
Rule of thumb: How ell does it fit into the film, and how memorable is it?
Speaking of nomination oddities … “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me,” Cher’s featured piece from Burlesque, was cited by many as the early favorite, even winning the Golden Globe. Then it didn’t make the list here, throwing the category into chaos. “If I Rise” might have been the favorite had writer A.R. Rahman (the John Williams of Bollywood) hadn’t won two Oscars just two years ago for Slumdog Millionaire. My guess is one of the two songs from animated films wins, with a slight edge to Randy Newman getting his second trophy — on his TWENTIETH nomination. The Oscar goes to: “We Belong Together.” (Possible upset: “I See the Light.”)
Best Sound Mixing
Nominees: Inception, The King’s Speech, Salt, The Social Network, True Grit.
Rule of thumb: Pick the loudest film.
To think that when Salt comes out on DVD, they can put “ACADEMY AWARD NOMINEE” on the cover. (It happens. Heck, Norbit got a Best Makeup nomination …) But I’ll be surprised if they say anything other than … The Oscar goes to: Inception.
Best Sound Editing
Nominees: Inception, Toy Story 3, TRON: Legacy, True Grit, Unstoppable.
Rule of thumb: Pick the loudest and strangest-sounding film.
Almost too easy. The Oscar goes to: : Inception.
Best Visual Effects
Nominees: Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, Hereafter, Inception, Iron Man 2.
Rule of thumb: What blew your mind?
Even easier than the last one. This may be the biggest lock of the whole ceremony. The Oscar goes to: Inception.
One tangent before I take a break: the technical awards, which usually pile up early in the Oscar ceremony, can serve as an indicator of who will win Best Picture at the end of the night — often a film that gets a lot of Best Picture votes will get more votes in these categories because of it, as some voters say, “well, I dunno who had the best ________, but I know which movie was the best” and choose accordingly. If all of the above go as I’ve picked, the score will be Inception with four, The King’s Speech with two, and one each to Toy Story 3, The Social Network, True Grit and a non-Best Picture nominee (The Wolfman). Since the Best Picture race is generally thought to be between The King’s Speech and The Social Network, the former may have a leg up …