Oscar Predictions: 2012

A confession – it’s been an insanely busy year at work, and it has impacted both my ability to watch and write about movies. This year, I’m going into the awards day without having seen a fair number of contenders, so this time round it’s more guesswork than personal preference. It’s also another year of a “first”, because this is the first year both free to air and basic cable channels aren’t televising the awards live (blasphemy!), but I have had the good fortune of being able to score an invite to the GV Oscars viewing party thanks to my client. I have also decided this year to stop predicting the documentary and short film categories since they are blind guesses. Let’s see how I will fare this year:
Best Motion Picture of the Year

The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Should win: Hugo
Prediction: The Artist

Perhaps because I am a cinephile, but a film like Hugo really appeals to the inner film geek, and it’s a master’s tribute to another master, which the industry may pick up on. However, The Artist is an equally good film and has garnered so many awards in the awards season that a win here is probably unstoppable. My personal favourite amongst all the titles here is Hugo, which is simply as magical as film can get.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Demián Bichir, A Better Life
George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Should win: Jean Dujardin
Prediction: Jean Dujardin

Few actors have to go through an entire film without saying anything, and Jean Dujardin’s silent film performance is a testament to great acting. Although the other actors all do pretty well, it’s hard to imagine Dujardin being upstaged at this point.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

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

Should win: Meryl Streep
Prediction: Viola Davis

I personally thought Meryl Streep was amazing as Margaret Thatcher, but I think her hopes of clinching yet another Oscar would be dashed by Viola Davis because The Help was simply a bigger movie. It would be a waste to have Streep lose yet again after her multiple nominations though.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Should win: Christopher Plummer
Prediction: Christopher Plummer

The age bracket for the winner in this category should be quite high, as I feel the strongest contenders would be Christopher Plummer and Max von Sydow. Max von Sydow is a bit handicapped (no pun intended) by the fact that he’s also playing a non-speaking character, and Jean Dujardin already has that aspect locked down.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Bérénice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help

Should win: Bérénice Bejo
Prediction: Octavia Spencer

I think every actor (including the dog) in The Artist are great actors, but Bérénice Bejo is likely to lose out to Octavia Spencer (who was also quite good in The Help) based on pre-Oscar wins and indicators.

Best Achievement in Directing

The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius
The Descendants, Alexander Payne
Hugo, Martin Scorsese
Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen
The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick

Should win: Martin Scorsese
Prediction: Michel Hazanavicius

Personally I think Martin Scorsese did a brilliant, amazing job in Hugo that outranks The Artist, but how do I go against the near perfect barometer of the Director’s Guild of America Award, which granted it to Michel Hazanavicius?

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

The Artist, Written by Michel Hazanavicius
Bridesmaids, Written by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
Margin Call, Written by J.C. Chandor
Midnight in Paris, Written by Woody Allen
A Separation, Written by Asghar Farhadi

Should win: Midnight in Paris
Prediction: The Artist

I liked Margin Call a lot but it’s a really small movie, and although I think Allen did a great job with Midnight in Paris, the Academy would likely reward The Artist for being “retro-revolutionary” as a silent film.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

The Descendants, Screenplay by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
Hugo, Screenplay by John Logan
The Ides of March, Screenplay by George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
Moneyball, Screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin.  Story by Stan Chervin
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Screenplay by Bridget O'Connor & Peter Straughan

Should win: Hugo
Prediction: Hugo

It’s a pretty even playing field for this category, and I am split between predicting The Descendants (a film which may be given this award as a consolation prize for not winning anything else) and Hugo. I felt that Hugo was a more involving film, however, hence the choice for the win here.

Best Achievement in Cinematography

The Artist, Guillaume Schiffman
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Jeff Cronenweth
Hugo, Robert Richardson
The Tree of Life, Emmanuel Lubezki
War Horse, Janusz Kaminski

Prediction: Janusz Kaminski

All 5 films featured great cinematography is so it’s quite a toss up for me. I am inclined to go with Janusz Kaminski because his work on War Horse was simply astounding.

Best Achievement in Editing

The Artist, Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius
The Descendants, Kevin Tent
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
Hugo, Thelma Schoonmaker
Moneyball, Christopher Tellefs

Prediction: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I honestly have no preference either way in this category, but The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo did boast tight editing which made the story seemed a little more immediate that its Swedish forefather.  

Best Achievement in Art Direction

The Artist, Laurence Bennett (Production Design); Robert Gould (Set Decoration)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Stuart Craig (Production Design); Stephenie McMillan (Set Decoration)
Hugo, Dante Ferretti (Production Design); Francesca Lo Schiavo (Set Decoration)
Midnight in Paris, Anne Seibel (Production Design); Hélène Dubreuil (Set Decoration)
War Horse, Rick Carter (Production Design); Lee Sandales (Set Decoration)

Prediction: Hugo

They would be insane to not award this to Hugo – if it wins nothing else it surely has to clinch the nod in this category.

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Anonymous, Lisy Christl
The Artist, Mark Bridges
Hugo, Sandy Powell
Jane Eyre, Michael O'Connor
W.E., Arianne Phillips

Prediction: The Artist

I think the period films always stand a better chance in this category, but The Artist has the advantage of being more high profile than a film like Jane Eyre.

Best Achievement in Makeup

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
The Iron Lady, Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland

Prediction: The Iron Lady

Albert Nobbs featured makeup just a smidgen better than that of J. Edgar, and since I felt that The Iron Lady’s makeup trumped both films it’s an easy choice for me here.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

The Adventures of Tintin, John Williams
The Artist, Ludovic Bource
Hugo, Howard Shore
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Alberto Iglesias
War Horse, John Williams

Prediction: Hugo

I don’t think John Williams will suffer a split vote despite having two nominations here since Tintin has been almost totally snubbed, but my personal preference for scoring is still Howard Shore’s work in Hugo.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

"Man or Muppet" from THE MUPPETS, Music and Lyric by Bret McKenzie
“Real in Rio” from RIO, Music by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown; Lyric by Siedah Garrett

Prediction: Real in Rio

Two songs only? Seriously? I’m not a fan of either but I am guessing Sergio Mendes adds some cred to the Rio contender. I love The Muppets as a whole but was really unimpressed by the song.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Bo Persson
Hugo, Tom Fleischman and John Midgley
Moneyball, Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, David Giammarco and Ed Novick
Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Peter J. Devlin
War Horse, Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson and Stuart Wilson

Prediction: War Horse

I hardly get these technical awards right, but I am guessing that Transformers will win more for visual spectacle than sound. I was quite impressed by the quieter moments in War Horse, hence my vote for it.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

Drive, Lon Bender and Victor Ray Ennis
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Ren Klyce
Hugo, Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty
Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
War Horse, Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom

Prediction: War Horse

Same reason as my prediction in Sound Mixing, but honestly I have no preference either way.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler and John Richardson
Hugo, Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossmann and Alex Henning
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
Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew Butler and John Frazier.

Prediction: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

I feel it’s a toss up between Hugo and Transformers, but for pure visual spectacle Transformers will definitely win out over Hugo’s more subtle visual effects. So it’s really just a matter of how the Academy votes. 

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots

Prediction: A Cat in Paris

Such a weak category this year, and if memory serves correctly, the only year since this award started that Pixar was not nominated. I don’t like any of the Hollywood productions nominated here (not for an Oscar, anyway), so I am going with A Cat in Paris. Interesting how many films nominated this year have something to do with France or Paris. Honestly I felt that The Adventures of Tintin should have been nominated here and would have won my vote above the rest.

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

Belgium, "Bullhead"
Canada, "Monsieur Lazhar"
Iran, "A Separation"
Israel, "Footnote"
Poland, "In Darkness"

Prediction: A Separation


Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Genre: Action

Directors: Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor

Writers: Scott M. Gimple, Seth Hoffman, David S. Goyer

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Ciaran Hinds, Johnny Whitworth, Fergus Riordan, Idris Elba

Running Length: 95 minutes

Synopsis: Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) – still struggling with his curse as the devil's bounty hunter – is hiding out in a remote part of Eastern Europe when he is recruited by a secret sect of the church to save a young boy (Fergus Riordan) from the devil (Ciaran Hinds). At first, Johnny is reluctant to embrace the power of the Ghost Rider, but it is the only way to protect the boy – and possibly rid himself of his curse forever.

Review: It’s probably a sequel that not many people had expected – after all, the original Ghost Rider movie in 2007 wasn’t exactly a trailblazer, even though it did score a pretty healthy box office taking. This time round, the cheesy humour that was so prevalent in the first film is toned down (although there is an absolutely brilliant joke about Twinkies), and the directorial duo behind the Crank franchise seems a little out of their depth when putting together larger-scale action set pieces that aren’t as organic as those found in Crank. 

The acting in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is simply rather uninspired, and even Nicolas Cage doesn’t tap that frequently into his “mad side”, a departure from the first Ghost Rider movie. However, Cage has always been an intense actor, and even though the audience will only get it in small doses it’s still an indication of what Cage is capable of. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast do not do as well, and many seem to be sleepwalking through the whole film.

Many audience members choose to watch a superhero movie to be visually dazzled by the CG and the action sequences, and in both aspects Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance falls a little short. Some of the CG is impressive but quality is rather uneven, and the addition of 3D feels mostly superfluous. The action sequences are also a little subpar, and doesn’t really impress excepting a handful of scenes. The climactic showdown turns out to be just a little anticlimactic, although it is preceded by a nicely choreographed car chase.   

The superhero movie genre has been transformed since films like Batman Begins came onto the scene, and whilst Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance would have been a perfectly serviceable genre film in the past, it quite simply will not be good enough when compared to the other superhero films that are set to be released this year.

Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)


J. Edgar * * *

Genre: Drama

Director: Clint Eastwood

Writer: Dustin Lance Black

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench

Running Length: 137 minutes

Synopsis: J. Edgar explores the public and private life of one of the most powerful, controversial and enigmatic figures of the 20th century. As the face of law enforcement in America for almost fifty years, J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) was feared and admired, reviled and revered. But behind closed doors, he held secrets that would have destroyed his image, his career and his life.

Review: J. Edgar is not one of Clint Eastwood’s strongest works, despite an excellent lead performance and a number of compelling scenes. Perhaps this is due partially to Dustin Lance Black’s script, which seems reluctant to delve deeper into J. Edgar’s psyche, choosing instead to present a rather superficial view of the man. There are lengthy scenes in the film which are very low key, and this is likely to lead to an emotional disconnect with the audience members.

The narrative structure of J. Edgar is, surprisingly, rather clunky, although it depends on the usual flashback and flashback-within-flashback shorthand. Although brownie points should be given for tackling a story that spans 7 decades, the segue between “present” and “past” is sometimes rather clumsily done. What is also extremely jarring is the subpar makeup, and the worst offender is that of Armie Hammer, who looks like he’s two hundred years old under a layer of overdone speckled makeup that truly detracts from audience immersion.    

The only actor to rise above the makeup is Leonardo DiCaprio, who puts forth a career-best performance as J. Edgar, perfectly portraying every aspect of the man. He disappears into the role, which is an essential part of any successful biographical depiction. It’s certainly an Oscar-worthy performance, but DiCaprio is unfortunately snubbed in this year’s nominations. Unsurprisingly, the only other actor that impresses is Judi Dench (mercifully not drowned under makeup) in her small handful of scenes – the scene where she utters the chilling “I would rather have a dead son than a daffodil for a son” is certainly one of the most emotionally impactful.  

What the script doesn’t shy away from is J. Edgar’s sexuality, and this is possibly one of the most overt depictions of J Edgar’s asexuality/homosexuality. Although it takes a while to get to J Edgar’s proclivities, when it does get there, the film is enlivened to such a great extent that his sexuality becomes the film’s focus. Not that there’s anything wrong in that, and this does make parts of the film somewhat akin to a tender love story (particularly the denouement), but given that plenty of J. Edgar’s life and career have been left out of the movie despite its length, one can’t help but feel slightly underwhelmed by the time the end credits roll.     

Rating: *** (out of four stars)


Chronicle * * *

Genre: Science Fiction

Director: Josh Trank

Writers: Max Landis & Josh Trank

Cast: Ashley Hinshaw, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Dane Dehaan, Michael Kelly

Running Length: 84 minutes

Synopsis: Three high school friends gain superpowers after making an incredible discovery. Soon, though, they find their lives spinning out of control and their bond tested as they embrace their darker sides.

Review: It’s not easy to be a fan of found footage movies – with the sickness-inducing camera shake and always flimsy excuses for the protagonists having a camera with them at all times, there are plenty of audience members who will not miss found footage movies if they all disappear overnight. However, Chronicle is a breath of relatively fresh air in this limited sub-genre, applying the found footage concept to the superhero movie, and the result is a very compelling piece of slightly flawed filmmaking.

Chronicle is basically an 84-minute answer to the question “what if you had superpowers?”, and it starts off lighthearted enough, with the three teenagers playing harmless pranks and messing with each other. The teens’ powers ramp up exponentially, the film quickly takes on a far darker edge, with Trank and Landis crafting a story with a number of surprising twists and turns despite what seems to be at first a very predictable film.   

One of the reasons why Chronicle works so well is in its casting – all three teenagers are charismatic in their own way, and the audience will definitely feel a connection to the trio. It may or may not be a compliment to their thespian skills to say that their portrayals of teenagers seem to come very close to real life. Of the three, Dane Dehaan is the most impressive, a Leonardo DiCaprio lookalike that plays Andrew, the most troubled teen of the trio. Trank also smartly chose to “document” some of the domestic issues that plague Andrew, which allows an insight into his backstory and fleshes out the character more than most similar films are able to.   

That’s not to say Chronicle is a perfect film – it requires a near-total suspension of disbelief, and eventually the film writes itself into a corner that it doesn’t really successfully extricate itself out of. Most glaringly, a short scene after the climactic showdown totally messes up the found footage conceit, and feels so out of place with the rest of the film Josh Trank should have simply edited it out of the movie entirely.

It’s not the only time that the film “cheats” a little, however, another example being replacing shakycam footage with steadier scenes by telling the audience that Andrew “holds” the camera with a telekinetic virtual tripod (to be honest, I am actually thankful for this). There are other sequences which do not fit into the film’s internal logic, but the movie is absorbing enough for audience members to overlook such lapses.

Made on the cheap with a budget of “only” US$15 million, the CG effects are a little hit and miss. Generally though, the effects are impressive enough, and despite the slightly chaotic end sequence, is a pretty thrilling film that doesn’t outstay its welcome. It’s definitely not a film for everyone, but given the right mindset (and a good resistance to motion sickness), Chronicle ranks as one of the first great surprises of 2012.  

Rating: *** (out of four stars)