Take this forecast with a grain a salt, built as it is on buzz, precursors, Oscar history, nominee pedigrees, educated guesses, instinctive hunches and conversations with voters. Enter your office pool with confidence but don’t blame me if you lose to some grandmother who hasn’t been to a movie since Gone With The Wind. As the race has entered its final phase I have tweaked this forecast from an earlier article in Issue 7 of AwardsLine (see all of our AwardsLine editions here). This is where I have landed for the 84th Annual Academy Awards. Predicting Oscars is not an exact science, and this year some of the categories are kinda tricky, but if you count on The Artist to make the most noise on Oscar night you’re likely to turn up in the winners’ circle. That is unless the common wisdom of collective punditry is completely wrong this year. Now wouldn’t THAT make for an interesting show?
The clear frontrunner is The Artist with strong precursor wins at the very predictive DGA and PGA awards, not to mention a slew of others that tip this race in the direction of the first black-and-white silent film to seriously compete for best picture since the very first winner, Wings, in 1927-28. Hugo, the nominations leader with 11, will probably have to settle for some technical wins even though it is widely admired. The Descendants and Midnight In Paris are likely to win consolation prizes for their scripts, with only the real dark horse, The Help, having a shot at an upset thanks to support from the all-powerful actors’ branch. But without nominations for writing, directing or editing, it would be unprecedented as no best pic since Grand Hotel in 1930 has pulled that off. It’s not likely to happen, but this has been a weird year.
The winner: The Artist
The Competition: The Descendants, Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight In Paris, Moneyball, The Tree Of Life, War Horse
This has turned into a real barnburner of a contest and is difficult to read. Brad Pitt started strong winning the NY Film Critics and National Society of Film Critics, but good buddy George Clooney eclipsed him at the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, National Board of Review and Golden Globes. It looked like a two-man race until Jean Dujardin broke his vow of silence and beat them both at the most important predictor of all, the SAG Awards, and then at BAFTA adding to his Golden Globe for comedy or musical actor. Now it’s a brawl as all three are in best picture nominees — another advantage past winners have had. There’s no clear-cut choice, but a hunch tells me Dujardin is peaking at just the right time, with France’s ‘sexiest man alive’ trumping his American counterparts. It pays to work with a cute dog.
The winner: Jean Dujardin, The Artist.
The competition: Demián Bichir, A Better Life; George Clooney, The Descendants; Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; and Brad Pitt, Moneyball.
One of the tightest races this year has turned into a seesaw battle between 17-time nominee and two-time winner Meryl Streep vs. her Doubt co-star Viola Davis. Streep won at the New York Critics, the Globes and BAFTA, while Davis racked up the Critics’ Choice and the SAG Award, making the ultimate Oscar winner a real question mark until that envelope is opened. Could the two frontrunners split the vote and let the very deserving Michelle Williams sneak in for her impeccable Marilyn? My guess is Davis’ SAG win and emotional acceptance speeches will tip the scales in her favor, making her only the second black winner ever here.
The winner: Viola Davis, The Help
The competition: Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs; Rooney Mara, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo; Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady; and Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Rule out Jonah Hill for being too young, Nick Nolte for being in a little-seen movie and Kenneth Branagh’s brilliant Laurence Olivier for being unlucky enough to face two way-overdue 82-year-old acting legends going for their first Oscar. Max von Sydow hadn’t figured in any previous matchups against Christopher Plummer this year, but the actors’ branch of the Academy reveres him — although opinions about his film are mixed. Still, it is a best picture nominee and that gives him a slight advantage over Plummer, who is single-handedly carrying the flag for the small indie Beginners. But with a string of great speeches at the Globes, CCMAs, SAG and others, Plummer’s got the Oscar mojo. Anyone else winning is a major upset. Again, it pays to work with a cute dog.
The competition: Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn; Jonah Hill, Moneyball; Nick Nolte, Warrior; and Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
It has been a long, long time since Hattie McDaniel became the first African-American Oscar winner, taking the supporting actress award for playing a Southern maid, Mammy, in Gone With The Wind in 1939. Octavia Spencer’s turn as a Southern maid in The Help should be able to pull off the same feat, especially since she’s been on a roll winning a number of key supporting awards whenever and wherever her nominated co-star Jessica Chastain hasn’t heard her name called. Chastain may be the supporting actress of the year in number of roles, and Berenice Bejo may have done it without saying a word, but they will probably have to settle for just the nomination this time around.
The winner: Octavia Spencer, The Help
The competition: Bérénice Bejo, The Artist; Jessica Chastain, The Help; Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids; and Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Only six times since its inception in 1949 has the winner of the DGA Award for best director failed to go on and collect the Oscar. The last time was nearly a decade ago. It is one of Oscar’s most reliable indicators and the fact that it went to Michel Hazanavicius, director of frontrunner The Artist, only goes to show he may be invincible. However, voters wanting to spread the wealth may decide one career Oscar is simply not enough for Martin Scorsese, whose Hugo is much-loved, and let him sneak in. But for the safe bet …
The winner: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
The competition: Woody Allen, Midnight In Paris; Terrence Malick, The Tree Of Life; Alexander Payne, The Descendants; and Martin Scorsese, Hugo.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The three best picture nominees in the category are the only ones with a realistic chance of winning here. Of those, Hugo is thought more to be a director’s triumph than a writer’s. The final contest probably comes down to a knock-down drag-out between The Descendants and Moneyball. The latter boasts two heavyweight writers in Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin (with story by Stan Chervin), both past winners in this category, but they go up against another past winner, Alexander Payne, who with his co-writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash have pulled off a strong humanist comedy-drama, and it won the WGA Award. Moneyball was almost an impossible job of adaptation, but it was turned into a masterful script. Toss a coin.
The winner: The Descendants, Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.
The competition: Hugo, John Logan; The Ides Of March, Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon; Moneyball, Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian and Stan Chervin; and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Although The Artist is likely to win best picture, even its writer (and director) Hazanavicius told me he thinks voters will probably not even realize the silent, dialogue-challenged masterpiece was written (of course it was). He thinks Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris has this one in the bag. In fact, Woody’s most successful film ever, a best picture nominee, is the solid frontrunner to take the consolation prize and win for its magical script. This was one of the surest bets in any category until Hazanavicius grabbed the BAFTA away from Woody, who responded the next week by winning at WGA (where The Artist wasn’t eligible).
The winner: Midnight In Paris, Woody Allen
The competition: The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius; Bridesmaids, Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig; Margin Call, J.C. Chandor; and A Separation, Asghar Farhadi.
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The category has some of its strongest entries in years but for a number of reasons, including its winning run at earlier awards ceremonies, Iran’s A Separation — which tries to put a universally relatable human face on that country and its people — should easily pull out a victory. But beware: This is the category where the most surprises happen. At BAFTA it was upset by Pedro Almodovar’s non-Oscar nominated The Skin I Live In. If that’s the case, Canada’s Monsieur Lazhar might be the most user-friendly.
The winner: A Separation (Iran)
The competition: Bullhead (Belgium), Footnote (Israel), In Darkness (Poland), Monsieur Lazhar (Canada).
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
With Pixar completely out of it for the first time in a year when they competed (Cars 2 ran into a speed bump) and disdain for motion capture sinking Steven Spielberg’s PGA and Globe winner The Adventures Of Tintin, the field opened up. It includes a couple of obscure entries from tiny distributor GKIDS along with a trio of films distributed by Paramount including two DreamWorks Animation entries. Yet Gore Verbinski’s Rango looks to be the one to beat. Puss In Boots conducted a massive trade campaign and could prevail, but it’s probably not got enough juice to get by the frontrunner.
The winner: Rango
The competition: A Cat In Paris, Chico & Rita, Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss In Boots.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
The rules are changing next year in order to open this controversial category to more deserving entries. This year the branch managed to fill it with a number of lesser-known entries and in the process probably has turned it into a race between HBO’s much-talked-about Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory and The Weinstein Company’s remarkable high school football doc Undefeated. Wim Wenders’ dance film Pina is a documentary told almost solely in terms of actual performance and might have been better off in the Foreign Language contest, where it was also short-listed. It seems a bit out of place here but is so different from the rest it just might have a shot. Still, I have a hunch voters will mark their ballots based on the film with the biggest heart and best-told story.
The winner: Undefeated
The competition: Hell And Back Again, If A Tree Falls: The Story Of The Earth Liberation Front, Paradise Lost: Purgatory, Pina.
BEST ART DIRECTION
The two films about the early days of Hollywood should rule the day here. With its true Hollywood flavor and the fact it was a homemade product, The Artist is certainly a contender, but Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo’s stunning production design and set decoration for Hugo is in a class with the past winners when movies were made on a much larger scale.
The winner: Hugo, Dante Ferretti (production design), Francesca Lo Schiavo (set decoration)
The competition: The Artist, Laurence Bennett (design), Robert Gould (set); Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2, Stuart Craig (design), Stephenie McMillan (set); Midnight In Paris, Anne Seibel (design), Hélène Dubreuil (set); War Horse, Rick Carter (design), Lee Sandales (set).
This one is wide open. The critics favorite is The Tree Of Life, and it won the ASC Award, but it is a polarizing film in the Academy and that could cost it votes among some branches. Janusz Kaminski’s widescreen vistas and work with horses in War Horse inexplicably failed to receive an ASC nod but thankfully was recognized here, representing the kind of work that Oscar voters usually reward. And once again there is a showdown between The Artist and Hugo, both having reasons to win. The former’s perfectly pitched black-and-white photography caught in the 1:33 ratio of the old silents vs. Robert Richardson’s challenging work on Hugo, which also required him to match and re-create images of some of the earliest movies in existence. Wow. This is tough.
The winner: The Artist, Guillaume Schiffman
The competition: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Jeff Cronenweth; Hugo, Robert Richardson; The Tree Of Life, Emmanuel Lubezki; and War Horse, Janusz Kaminski.
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Another sterling collection of worthy nominees, but again in the battle between Hugo and The Artist, give the edge to Mark Bridges’ cheeky re-creations of the silent movie era, a wonder in black and white. Anonymous is exactly the kind of period piece that almost always wins here, but did anyone actually see it? Madonna’s combination period and modern film, W.E., gave designer Arianne Phillips some real challenges and is probably the most fashion-conscious film in the bunch, which may be why it just won the Costume Designers Guild award. Still …
The winner: The Artist, Mark Bridges
The competition: Anonymous, Lisy Christl; Hugo, Sandy Powell; Jane Eyre, Michael O’Connor; and W.E., Arrianne Phillips.
BEST FILM EDITING
This category also seems to come down to a battle between The Artist and Hugo (although The Descendants beat the latter for the ACE Eddie drama editing prize). The unique challenges her longtime collaborator Scorsese threw at her with Hugo — particularly in piecing together new versions of Georges Melies early films — dictate the prize could very well go to Thelma Schoonmaker. She rose to the occasion, making the master director’s first foray into 3D pure cinema gold. But a sweep may be developing for the silent, and so in that case …
The winner: The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius and Anne-Sophie Bion
The competition: The Descendants, Kevin Tent; The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall; Hugo, Thelma Schoonmaker; and Moneyball, Christopher Tellefsen.
This usually goes to the most obvious. Last year’s winner, The Wolfman, over more subtle entries is proof of that. The seamless work on both Glenn Close and Janet McTeer in Albert Nobbs and Meryl Streep miraculously turned into Margaret Thatcher — younger and older — in The Iron Lady could split the vote giving the prize to the more pronounced makeup wonders of the final Harry Potter film. But expect Thatcher to pull out one more victory in her career.
The winner: The Iron Lady, Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland
The competition: Albert Nobbs, Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnston and Matthew W. Mungle; Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2, Nick Dudman, Amanda Knight and Lisa Tomblin.
BEST ORIGINAL MUSIC SCORE
It is a given that if John Williams has done a score it will likely get nominated. He is revered by his peers in the music branch and this year he did two scores and both are up. Hell, if he had scored Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star that would have gotten nominated too. However, the love for Williams will stop this year with the nominations (his 46th and 47th). Howard Shore’s Hugo might have a shot, but in its continuing battle with The Artist it seems highly likely this lively score for the silent homage by Ludovic Bource will prevail. Take that, Kim Novak!
The winner: The Artist, Ludovic Bource
The competition: The Adventures Of Tintin, John Williams; Hugo, Howard Shore; Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Alberto Iglesias; and War Horse, John Williams.
In a really good year for movie songs, the music branch in its infinite wisdom saw fit to nominate only two of them (the lowest total of nominees ever in the category thanks to a complicated scoring system that seems destined to destroy the song competition altogether). With Mary J. Blige, Madonna, Elton John , Sinead O’Connor and other high-profile singers not being invited to perform their non-nominated tunes on the Oscars this year, you have a 50% chance of getting this one right in your office pool. I’m going with Kermit.
The winner: “Man or Muppet,” The Muppets (music and lyrics by Bret McKenzie)
The competition: “Real in Rio,” Rio (music by Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown, lyrics by Siedah Garrett)
BEST SOUND EDITING
Since the entire Academy votes on sound awards even though most of them don’t have a clue what goes into sound design, the winners are often war films or musicals for whatever reason. This category has no discernible favorite, so it’s possible they will go with an overall favorite, Hugo. But this could be a category where some love is finally delivered to the unfairly neglected War Horse, a sterling example of the sound art if ever there was one, if only for all those horses’ hoofs.
The winner: War Horse, Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom
The competition: Drive, Lou Bender and Victor Ray Ennis; The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Ren Klyce; Hugo, Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty; and Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl.
BEST SOUND MIXING
Many voters don’t know the difference between mixing and editing where sound is concerned, but we think they will know enough to spread the wealth and go with nomination leader Hugo here.
The winner: Hugo, Tom Fleischman and John Midgley;
The competition: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Bo Persson; Moneyball, Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, Dave Giammarco and Ed Novick; Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Peter J. Devlin; and War Horse, Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson and Stuart Wilson.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
With the category now expanded to five nominees, it becomes a little more competitive, but it is likely to come down to a photo finish between Harry Potter and the Apes. Both were critically acclaimed and used effects to tell the story, not be overwhelmed by them as fellow nominee Transformers: Dark Of The Moon did in a 40-minute final assault on our senses. Hugo’s re-creation of early cinema as well as a thrilling train crash deserves the prize too.
The competition: Hugo, Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman and Alex Hanning; Real Steel, Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor and Swen Gillberg; Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White and Daniel Barrett; and Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew Butler and John Frazier.
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
A very good bunch of films but give the edge to the harrowing Saving Face, although actress-turned-nun Dolores Hart has a story that is wonderfully heartening and compelling in God Is The Bigger Elvis. It might take more than one vote from Mother Dolores, who is still a voting member of the actors branch.
The Winner: Saving Face
The competition: The Barber Of Birmingham: Foot Soldier Of The Civil Rights Movement, God Is The Bigger Elvis, Incident In Baghdad, and The Tsunami And The Cherry Blossom.
BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
Despite competition from perennial fixtures like the National Film Board of Canada and Pixar, it is the year of the silent film, and that extends to silent ‘toons too.
The winner: The Fantastic Flying Books Of Mr. Morris Lessmore
The competition: Dimanche/Sunday, La Luna, A Morning Stroll, and Wild Life.
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
Feature filmmaker Terry George, a past two-time writing nominee for Hotel Rwanda and In The Name Of The Father, is slumming in the short category this year with The Shore, but this poignant and quite wonderful 30-minute film should finally turn him into an Oscar winner along with his daughter who produced.
The winner: The Shore
The competition: Pentecost, Raju, Time Freak, and Tuba Atlantic.