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A night at the Oscars

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Picking the 2012 Academy Awards

It's that time again; time for the Hollywood elite to roll out the red carpet and part themselves on the back. That's right - it's the Academy Awards.

As someone who spends a lot of time at the movies, this is one of my favorite times of the year. Awards such as the Oscars are great because they inspire conversation - who do you think will win, who do you think should win, which movies did you see, which movies did you like, which did you hate - and on and on and on.

So I'm once more putting my prognostication skills on the line. These are my picks for some of the big awards come Sunday night. Again, these aren't necessarily the people and films that I think should win. They're the ones I think will win. Sometimes, they're the same. More often, they're not.

Here are my 2012 Oscar predictions, with a few thoughts thrown in for good meaure.

Best Actor

Demian Bichir - 'A Better Life'

George Clooney - 'The Descendants'

Jean Dujardin - 'The Artist'

Gary Oldman - 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy'

Brad Pitt - 'Moneyball'

There are some exceptional performances to choose from this year. Demian Bichir's work as conflicted gardener Carlos in 'A Better Life' has received some notice, though he likely suffers in comparison to the higher profiles of his fellow nominees. Gary Oldman is a consummate pro, an actor's actor whose work on 'TTSS' has been hailed as the best in a long career. Surprisingly, this is Oldman's first Oscar nomination. Meanwhile, Brad Pitt's portrayal of baseball executive wunderkind Billy Beane helped elevate 'Moneyball' from a great sports movie to a great movie. Pitt is obviously due for an Oscar of his own, but he'll have to keep waiting. This is likely a two man race between the sweet silence of Dujardin and the deep personal malaise of Clooney. Despite the polar opposition of the roles, each man brings something remarkable and mesmerizing to the screen. Dujardin helps bring an era to life with joy and elan. Clooney exposes the soul of a man marked by sadness. Frankly, either man could take the crown and deserve it.

Winner: Clooney

Best Supporting Actor

Kenneth Branagh - 'My Week With Marilyn'

Jonah Hill - 'Moneyball'

Nick Nolte - 'Warrior'

Christopher Plummer - 'Beginners'

Max von Sydow - 'Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close'

This one may seem like an easy pick, but it's a little deceptive. While the general consensus is that Plummer will win (he hit the actor trifecta - he's a dad, he's dying and he's gay), it might not be as open-and-shut as that. Branagh is one of the most respected actors around and the chance to play Laurence Olivier (one of his heroes) is one that he clearly embraced. Jonah Hill shocked a lot of people with his subtle, nuanced portrayal of Peter Brand, the number-cruncher from 'Moneyball.' And crazy as he is, Nick Nolte is capable of truly stunning performances, and 'Warrior' taps a lot of that potential. Still, the one with a shot at taking down the trifecta is von Sydow. His turn as the mysterious (and silent) Renter in 'Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close' would be the heavy favorite in any other year. To convey such emotion without words - especially in a world where he is the only one not speaking - is a difficult task, yet he manages it effortlessly. Still, this one will have the expected outcome, but it'll be a close race.

Winner: Plummer

Best Actress

Glenn Close - 'Albert Nobbs'

Viola Davis - 'The Help'

Rooney Mara - 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo'

Meryl Streep - 'The Iron Lady'

Michelle Williams - 'My Week With Marilyn'

Tough year for the ladies in the lead category. This group is a wonderful blend - you've got a pair of grande dames of American cinema in Close and Streep, a seasoned and respected pro who never quite broke out big in Davis, a presumed heir to the Streep/Close throne with Williams and a raw newcomer who explosively burst onto the scene in Mara. Williams seemed to channel Marilyn with her performance, creating not so much an imitation as an homage. This is already her third nomination; she'll get hers someday, but not yet. Mara was phenomenal in her titular role, but she suffers from both her youth and comparisons to Noomi Rapace's work in the original film. I feel for Close - this has long been a pet project of hers - but she picked the wrong year. This leaves us with two. My brain tells me to go with Streep - it's a high-profile biopic of a prominent world leader, Streep totally Streeps it - and that makes sense. But Davis's stolid strength was the foundation on which 'The Help' was built. Without Davis, that film would have been an already-forgotten trifle. Call it a hunch.

Winner: Davis

Best Supporting Actress

Berenice Bejo - 'The Artist'

Jessica Chastain - 'The Help'

Melissa McCarthy - 'Bridesmaids'

Janet McTeer - 'Albert Nobbs'

Octavia Spencer - 'The Help'

This category is a tough one to figure out. Both Spencer and Chastain did wonderful work in 'The Help' - often in the same scene - but it seems likely that they could wind up splitting some votes, which would put them out of the running. Spencer probably has the slightly better chance, but both are longshots. Ditto McTeer, whose strong work in 'Albert Nobbs' simply hasn't raised any sort of buzz. It's unfortunate, but the publicity machine plays a very real part in these awards. Agendas also play their part, and this category seems like it may wind up as an agenda-driven vote. Bejo is wonderfully sweet and vivacious and engaging as the up-and-coming starlet in 'The Artist,' but will she get lost in the shuffle of all of the film's other nominations? If the Academy decides that 'Bridesmaids' needs to be recognized, this could be the place - the category is notoriously comedy-friendly. My guess is that the remarkable run of Melissa McCarthy continues.

Winner: McCarthy

Best Director

Michael Hazanavicius - 'The Artist'

Alexander Payne - 'The Descendants'

Martin Scorsese - 'Hugo'

Woody Allen - 'Midnight in Paris'

Terrence Malick - 'The Tree of Life'

Best Director is such a crapshoot. You'd think it would be a tandem award with Best Picture - that makes sense to me anyway - but that's not always the case. There have been nearly 25 instances when the Best Director won for a film other than the Best Picture winner. Is this another one of those years? Hazanavicius took the wonderful silent film concept behind 'The Artist' and ran with it, creating something memorable and visually impressive. Payne is always wonderful, but he truly shines when he can portray the sort of upper-class problems prominent in 'The Descendants.' Scorsese finally got his long-overdue directing Oscar a couple of years ago, but 'Hugo' was a delight, showing just what kind of striking, unforgettable shots can be created when you give a true auteur the power of 3D. This is Allen's seventh nomination for directing, and well-deserved - it's his best work in close to two decades. Nobody brings neuroses to the forefront quite like he does. Malick's eye brings a sweeping, epic touch to 'The Tree of Life,' showcasing his ability to mine the breathtaking from the mundane.

Winner: Hazanavicius

Best Picture

'The Artist'

'The Descendants'

'Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close'

'The Help'


'Midnight in Paris'


'The Tree of Life'

'War Horse'

And here we are. The big one. We're looking at nine wonderful nominees this year. However, when the list expands like this, it becomes much easier to eliminate choices. Some of these films, wonderful though they may be, have zero chance of actually winning the award. 'Extremely Loud' was damned by fiercely mixed reviews. Granted, it deserved those reviews; it's a deeply flawed movie in some particulars. 'Moneyball' was a revelation, bringing a new kind of sports movie to the masses while still feeling like a throwback in a lot of ways. Heck, I thought it was unfilmable. I was wrong. It'll get some love from the Academy, but not here. 'The Tree of Life' came out too long ago, and was a bit too lengthily cerebral - a wonderful film, but not the sort of movie that wins Best Picture. 'War Horse' is another movie that simply never managed to capture the collective imagination in the way necessary to achieve victory in this category. A wonderful story that was wonderfully told, but it just doesn't have the buzz.

This leaves us with five legitimate contenders. 'The Help' was very successful and landed acting nods for three of its actresses. While its portrayal of the South of the time might have been a touch disingenuous, it was still a well-crafted and well-attended film. Still, it isn't quite there. Ditto 'Midnight in Paris,' which has been hailed (and rightly so) as a triumphant return to form for Woody Allen. It's a wonderful movie, filled with the kind of magical realism that Allen hasn't explored in years. And as always, it's quite funny. 'Hugo' might have been my favorite film of the year - the rich world created by director Martin Scorsese was an absolute pleasure in which to lose myself. The performances were a delight, the story was lovingly told and the entire movie was absolutely stunning aesthetically.

But in the end, it comes down to two main contenders. You've got the spunky silent film and the brooding character exploration. 'The Artist' was a phenomenon; a film that captured the imagination. However, in the end, the conceit felt a bit underwhelming, like the film was using the stylistic choice as a crutch. On the other hand, 'The Descendants' was an understated look at one man's attempt to make sense of the world around him. The leisurely pace and quiet banality of the situation may have been part of the point, but it might negatively influence the voters. In the end, 'The Artist' appears to have the momentum, so that's the pick.

Winner: 'The Artist'

Last modified on Wednesday, 22 February 2012 15:36


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