The delightful absurdity of Oscar season

by Mr. Nobel

Most people don’t understand the reason why I and many others gleefully follow the Oscar season. I mean, the Academy’s legitimacy has taken several hits in recent years, so what’s the point of obsessing over something so meaningless, especially when most of the contenders haven’t been seen?

If you can’t see the appeal of following Oscar season, you’re doing it wrong. Oscar prognostication, at its best, is like following sports. In fact, it’s exactly like following sports. You’ve got a tournament (awards season), early playoffs (critics/guild awards) and the final match (Oscar night) along with the other requisites of a sports narrative (the underdog, the hometown champ, sadistic coaches, etc.). Following beats and keeping track of Oscar stats has all the appeal of doing the same for, say, hockey but in a stunningly less masculine and more geeky manner.

Is it wrong to reduce an art form to a single somewhat disgusting popularity contest? Of course it is, but just like with sports, it’s incredibly fun to be right, awesome to see your favorite team movie win and disappointing to lose $50 bucks and your pants in an Oscar pool. Addictive highs and lows as with any other sport.

All of this rambling preamble is, of course, to justify devoting the rest of the post to Oscar predictions. I’m posting this now to pre-empt the AV Club’s always fantastic Oscar-O-Meter in the hopes that I can outguess them this year. Dare to dream, friends. Dare to dream.

Top 10

Argo

Best shots – FTW: picture, director, adapted screenplay, editing; other noms: supp. actor (Arkin), supp. actor (Goodman), costume, production design, cinematography, sound mixing, sound editing

As one of two big hits with the fall festival crowd, Ben Affleck’s latest immediately shoots to the head of this year’s pack. The based-on-true-events angle should help this film’s chances immensely, as does Affleck’s rising stature as a fine craftsman. Warner Brothers haven’t been the best about managing Oscar campaigns in recent years, but Argo looks like it has the goods for the long haul.

The Silver Linings Playbook

Best shots – FTW: picture, actress (Lawrence), adapted screenplay, editing; other noms: director, actor (Cooper), supp. actor (De Niro)

Never count Harvey Weinstein out. The man who shepherded a fucking black and white silent French movie to Best Picture clearly has the goods when it comes to pimping his Oscar bait. The other of the two big fall festival hits has gained a lot of buzz, even winning People’s Choice at TIFF (prev. winners include Best Picture winners The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire and American Beauty) over Argo (the runner up). The Academy typically laps up crowd-pleasers like this, though its status as a straight comedy might come back to bite it in the ass. Jennifer Lawrence, coming off of an incredible year (i.e. The Hunger Games), is already the front runner for best actress. I am, however, hesitant about David O’Russell’s chances, mostly thanks to his notorious on set antics. A screenplay nod is more possible.

Les Miserables

Best shots – FTW: picture, actor (Jackman), supp. actress (Hathaway), costume, production design, adapted screenplay; other noms: director, supp. actor (Crowe), supp. actress (almost everyone else in the cast), cinematography, sound mixing, sound editing

Seriously, a fucking dog could probably direct this movie to multiple Oscar nominations. This is the stuff of Harvey Weinstein’s wet dreams: a celebrated director (Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech), a cast filled with much liked/respected actors/actresses, incredibly well-liked source material (the god damned musical) and massive box office prospects. Could this whiff, like Nine and Dreamgirls? Absolutely. But even if it stinks, it’s coming so late into the season that it still might get a buttload of nominations by name recognition alone.

Lincoln

Best shots – FTW: actor (Day-Lewis), costume, production design, cinematography, score, adapted screenplay; other noms: picture, director, supp. actor (Lee Jones), supp. actress (Fields), sound mixing, sound editing, makeup

The thing hurting Lincoln the most is how god damned baity the whole enterprise is. Two-time Oscar winner Steven Spielberg directing two-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham “motherfucker” Lincoln. So, a best actor nomination is pretty likely. As are nominations in best picture and other craftsy, period-y categories. But, again, voter fatigue’s probably going to set it at some point. Spielberg’s a cool guy and all, but does he really need another fucking trophy? As with Les Miserables, there’s a chance that this movie could whiff, but early test screening reactions have been mostly positive. Besides, if Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close could get in, a Spielberg movie about Lincoln’s a fucking certitude.

The Master

Best shots – FTW: original screenplay, cinematography; other noms: picture, director, actor (Phoenix), supp. actor (Hoffman), supp. actress (Adams), score (if Greenwood doesn’t get fucked by rules again), costume, production design, editing

I can see why TWC decided to bump up The Master’s release date. This film definitely looked like a challenging work from Paul Thomas Anderson and, presumably, would find more success given more time to linger and be discussed. The problem is I don’t think The Master’s going to age particularly well on repeat viewings. The film is constructed so obliquely and hypnotically that its lack of a real story or characters goes by unnoticed the first few viewings. Repeat viewings do away with the astonishment at PTA’s filmmaking balls, replacing it with apathy. The film’s too impenetrable  for the Academy rank and file to digest, and too abstract for real meat-and-bones acting. That’ll hurt its shot at winning the big ones (Best Picture, Director, Acting nods), but nominations aren’t unreasonable to expect. Mihai Malaimare Jr.’s stunning cinematography will be a force to reckon with, and a screenplay win for the much respected Anderson is possible, especially since it’s an original screenplay.

Moonrise Kingdom

Best shots – FTW: original screenplay, production design, score; other noms: picture, editing, costume, makeup

It’s pretty much this year’s Midnight in Paris – a charming summer indie box office hit made by a reasonably well liked auteur that’s modest in scope and ambition but (regarded by most as) very well crafted. I liked Moonrise Kingdom a hell of a lot more than Midnight in Paris, but, ironically, this film stands much less of a shot at getting through. You see, last year’s playing field (especially directing) wasn’t all that crowded. This year, we’ve got Spielberg, Affleck, Paul Thomas Anderson, O’Russell and more coming for blood. I think Moonrise Kingdom will still squeak on through nominations, but probably won’t have a shot at the big prize.

Anna Karenina

Best shots – FTW: costume, production design, cinematography, score (?); other noms: picture, actress (Knightley), supp. actress (Vikander), adapted screenplay

The reaction has been somewhat divisive, to be sure, but Anna Karenina has already found a devoted core of loyalists. That should generate enough first place votes to crack the best picture nominations. A surprisingly weak year for lead actresses could definitely help Knightley’s shot at getting nominated, but a win is probably unlikely, thanks to rather unenthusiastic praise. As with any sumptuous period film, technical wins are quite likely.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Best shots – FTW: {} ; other noms: picture, actress (Wallis), adapted screenplay, cinematography (?), score (if Benh Zeitlin doesn’t get screwed by the rules)

I’m not as big on this movie as many are, but I think it has enough hardcore loyalists (and, by extension, first place votes) to get a Best Picture nod. As stated previously, a weak year for lead female performances should help out the 7 year-old Quvenzhane Wallis, while a rather strong year will probably keep out both first-time feature director Benh Zeitlin and supporting actor Dwight Henry. Screenplay’s more of a surer bet, but adapted screenplay presents, as always, ferocious competition. Cinematography could go both ways. While Beasts is certainly a striking film, it’s not the most competently shot film which could cause the cinematography branch to not give the film this nod. If one of the presumptive front runners falters, Beasts could easily sneak in.

Zero Dark Thirty

Best shots – FTW: Original (?) screenplay, sound mixing, sound editing, editing; other noms: picture, acting (?, size of each role yet known), cinematography

It’s never a safe bet to assume that lightning will strike twice, and those expecting Kathryn Bigelow’s second collaboration with Mark Boal to go all the way are probably delusional. Still, working with a much more expansive cast, a larger budget and a more zeitgeisty subject should yield some dividends. The rather generic teaser released recently didn’t inspire a lot of confidence, but a series of striking images did. Hopefully, Zero Dark Thirty will retain the muscular and taut storytelling of The Hurt Locker but on a bigger canvas. The possibility of acting nominations will depend on how big each role turns out to be. Sound awards are a high probability though, as the Academy tends to give these up to war movies.

Promised Land

Best shots – FTW: {}; other noms: picture, supp. actor (Hal Holbrook), original screenplay

Fracking is a pretty topical subject matter, and Gus Van Sant directing off of a Matt Damon script lends the project some prestige. The first trailer looked kind of generic, but I’m certain that there’s a reason Focus moved this picture up. For now, I’ll keep predictions conservative.

Other contenders

Flight

It looks like a solidly constructed drama with a likely great turn by Denzel Washington. How much Oscar love this film gets will depend on how much of a genre-pic it will be.

Life of Pi

Footage wowed audiences at CinemaCon, but everything released thus far makes it look like a more religiously and CG inclined Cast Away. It has a good shot at several technical nods, but it doesn’t look likely to repeat Hugo’s run of nominations.

The Impossible

So Summit doesn’t have the most experience wrangling awards campaigns. As such, The Impossible is a film whose material certainly looks like Oscar material, but whose lack of Oscar-friendly names will hinder Oscar chances. It’s also coming out way too late in the season.

Django Unchained

All those rumors about a troubled production don’t inspire confidence. Also, this is Tarantino’s first film without longtime editor Sally Menke (RIP) and his shortest turnaround time. Yikes. It did have a fantastic script, though rumors of heavy edits on set might make this more Death Proof than Inglourious Basterds.

Cloud Atlas

The current voting system places emphasis more on admirers than on naysayers, so this movie could conceivably connect with enough Academy members if Warner Brothers campaigns hard. Healthy box office returns would help.

Nonstarters

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Is anyone even looking forward to this movie anymore? After rowing back on 48fps and the plans for ANOTHER sequel, I’m not sure Peter Jackson’s got much respect in Hollywood left this year. It also doesn’t help how the released footage looks like a slapsticky retread of Fellowship of the Ring.

The Dark Knight Rises

Even though it’s still got an unreasonably high IMDB score, the backlash against this one is palpable.

Hyde Park on Hudson

Bill Murray’s nomination doesn’t even look likely at this point. Shame, he really does look like FDR.

Killing Them Softly

It’s been moved around a lot, switching dates with The Master before getting pushed back into November. It’s doubtful that this one will get as much of a following as The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford did, and that one didn’t crack Best Picture.

The Avengers

No…just no.

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