BEST PICTURE – THE ARTIST
Thanks to changes in the voting system, the Best Picture category only has nine nominees this year, not the ten we’ve all been accustomed to since 2010. Nevertheless, dramas remain the most prevalent genre singled out, as usual.
Right away, you can eliminate the World War I-era War Horse. Director Steven Spielberg isn’t going to get a make-good for Saving Private Ryan’s snub in 1999. (The overrated Shakespeare In Love pulled the big Best Picture upset that year.) Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life, which received mostly enthusiastic critical praise back in the spring, is a real long shot, as well.
Many have complained about the inclusion of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, the Tom Hanks drama about a son who loses his father on 9/11. Based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, critics were divided in their assessments. It doesn’t stand a chance.
The Descendants may have won a Golden Globe for Best Picture Drama but so did Avatar in 2010 and The Social Network in 2011. Did either of them go on to win the Best Picture Oscar? Nope and nope. (The Hurt Locker and The King’s Speech were the actual victors in those respective years.) George Clooney and company will have to be content with the nomination and their meaningless bowling trophy.
A Woody Allen film hasn’t won Best Picture since Annie Hall in 1978. The well-reviewed and surprisingly popular Midnight In Paris (the most commercially successful feature in the neurotic one’s long career with nearly 60 million in domestic revenue) had a good run back in the summer but the nomination will be its sole reward.
That leaves us with The Artist, The Help, Moneyball and Hugo, the real contenders for the top gong.
Moneyball got tremendous reviews (a 95% fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes) and made over 100 million in international ticket sales doubling its original budget. (It also boasts a script co-written by Oscar winners Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network).)
Despite receiving a 94% fresh rating from RT, Hugo has been an enormous commercial flop thus far. (Made for almost 200 million, it’s only earned back 86 million worldwide.) On the other hand, The Help had a lower approval rating from critics (only 76% fresh) and earned more than 200 million worldwide.
But as Roger Ebert as pointed out on more than one occasion over the years, academy members vote for the Best Picture of the year with their hearts. On that criteria alone, it’s hard to see Moneyball swooping in and making the steal. Martin Scorsese’s The Departed won this category five years ago (having finally screened it last year, I understand why) and while it would be tempting to give him another BP trophy to make up for all those snubs he had to endure before 2007, I don’t see lightning striking twice.
Made for just 25 million dollars, The Help went on to become an enormous summer blockbuster and despite some controversy, was mostly loved by audiences and reviewers. It has a very good chance of taking the prize.
But I believe the academy will choose The Artist instead. Of all the nominated films, it got the best reviews (a 97% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes). Although it’s only playing on roughly 900 screens at the moment, it’s already made 16 million in North America (21 million more overseas), a decent amount for an old-school art film. And it’s the most unique entry on this list: a silent film mostly shot in black and white.
It’s done very well on the awards circuit already and it likely has a stronger nostalgia factor about the early days of cinema going for it than Hugo. For the first time in 83 years and the second time in history, a silent film is going to snag the top Academy Award.
The Artist for Best Picture.
BEST DIRECTOR – Michel Hazanavicius (THE ARTIST)
Last year, I made a colossal fuck-up. I picked David Fincher to win this category for The Social Network. Shortly after making this prediction public, I realized too late that Tom Hooper had won the Directors Guild Of America prize for helming The King’s Speech. Why does this matter? Because roughly 90% of the time you win a DGA gong, you go on to win the Oscar. Sure enough, Hooper beat Fincher at last year’s Academy Awards and I felt like an ass.
I won’t let that happen again. At the 2012 DGA ceremony, Michel Hazanavicius won for making The Artist. That means previous Best Director winners Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen shouldn’t expect their names to be called. That also means two-time nominees Alexander Payne and Terrence Malick will continue their losing streaks.
Michel Hazanavicius for Best Director.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG – Man Or Muppet (THE MUPPETS)
Has there ever been a year where this category was literally a coin flip? On one side, you have the heavily percussive Real In Rio from the animated Rio. On the other, the 70s-style Elton Johnesque ballad Man Or Muppet from The Muppets. While the former has high energy and wouldn’t be out of place in a Carabana festival, it’s hard to imagine the academy not being simultaneously amused and moved by the latter. Ideally, the winner of this category should best represent a key plot point or overall summary of the film it appears in through pure emotion. That’s why Man Or Muppet, written by one of the guys in Flight Of The Conchords, is the preferable choice this year.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE – RANGO
When the nominations for this category were announced, one immediate question came to mind: where is The Adventures Of Tintin? The other late December offering from Steven Spielberg (War Horse) shockingly didn’t make the cut despite mostly good reviews. Nevertheless, a number of well-liked films did make the short list.
The popular Kung Fu Panda 2 will meet the same fate as Kung Fu Panda did three years ago. It won’t win. Neither will the Shrek spin-off, Puss In Boots. The French feature, A Cat In Paris, is a curious selection considering it’s never been issued in a North American cinema for a proper commercial run. And the Spanish offering, Chico And Rita, despite garnering a 94% fresh rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, is so unknown compared to most of the other nominees here it doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell.
That leaves Rango which benefits not only from strong reviews (an 88% fresh rating) and not being a sequel or a spin-off but also plenty of familiarity (it made over 120 million in theatres last spring). Unless there’s a late surge of votes for Kung Fu Panda 2 (which I can’t see happening), the cowardly chameleon will have his day.
Rango for Best Animated Feature.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, January 30, 2012