Monday, February 19, 2007

Oscar Picks, Year Three!

Hey, kids! It's that time of year again. Time for the glorious Oscar pool, the 3rd Annual Athletic Reporter Oscar Picks column, and, to a lesser extent, the 79th Annual Academy Awards. For the curious, previous Athletic Reporter Oscar previews can be found here and here. If you're looking for a list of how correct any of my predictions turned out to be, well, no such list exists.

"How convenient," one might say. In reply, I would paraphrase Tim Robbins in The Shawshank Redemption by telling you that since I rule at predicting the Oscars, I find it decidedly inconvenient that this list can't be found. If you want, you can go look up previous results and compare them to my past predictions yourself.

Point is: I usually win whatever Oscar pool I enter. Yes, two years ago, I was beaten by my friend Andy. And last year, like Roberto De Vicenzo in the '68 Masters, I failed to observe a trifling yet rightly important part of the process, thereby losing quite ignominiously to Athletic Reporter Co-Creator and Photoshop Guru Jameson Simmons.


This year I've seen almost as few of the nominated movies and performances and I did last year, so my dispassion will be in full effect. And, as I've always said, the best way to win an Oscar pool is to be dispassionate about the movies. This year, Hollywood made that a pretty easy task.

(I hate to sound like that, like one of those "stuff used to be good and now it sucks" guys, but, come on. Just go back ten years; in 1997, we had -- and this is just from looking over a list of that year's Oscar nominees -- Air Force One, As Good as It Gets, Boogie Nights, Contact, Donnie Brasco, The Fifth Element, The Full Monty, Good Will Hunting, L.A. Confidential, Men in Black, My Best Friend's Wedding and Titanic. Look at that list of movies, look at what we've got this year, and then try not to swallow a bottle of pills and stick your head in the oven)

As has become tradition, I'll cut and paste what I wrote in 2005 to explain how this works.

Please note: these are my [Athletic Reporter Oscar Preview] predictions, not to be confused with my all-important picks in Athletic Reporter co-creator and Photoshop guru Jameson Simmons' Oscar pool (aka "The Only Reason At All I Still Pay Any Attention to the Oscars"). I reserve the right to refine my choices for Jameson's until late Sunday afternoon.

So, why don't we get started?



The Departed

Other Nominees:

Letters From Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
The Queen

First of all, I must bring up United 93. Entertainment Weekly says it was the critical favorite of the year, it won a host of year-end critics awards, and it may have been 2006's most talked-about film. Those more equipped than I to analyze its merits have already written on the subject, so I will only say that to me, United 93 was the movie that September 11, 2001 deserved. It was made with tremendous skill and care and with only one discernible agenda: "here's what happened." I think that Oscar voters just weren't in the mood to deal with it, and as much as I think the United 93 deserves any and all accolades available, I can't really blame the Academy for essentially punting by leaving it off the Best Picture roster. The Oscars are a party; who wants to be reminded of 9/11? I get it.

That having been said...

It seems to me that most years, Best Picture is one of the easiest races to predict. Or, if not (like last year, when Crash shockingly upset Brokeback Mountain), it's at least one of the races that doesn't require a lot of gnashing of teeth; usually there's a clear front-runner. Not this year. And there aren't many clues to help us out; it used to be that Best Director and Best Picture matched, as a rule. So, can we pick The Departed because its director, Martin Scorsese, seems like a virtual lock to win? Not really; this century, Best Picture and Best Director have split as often as they've matched. And The Departed was conceived, shot and promoted as a crowd-pleaser; we can't have a Best Picture winner that people actually liked, can we? That they'd actually want to watch a couple of times? In this day and age? What is this, 1995?

Little Miss Sunshine seems like the Little Movie That Could and, along with The Departed, it's pretty much the only Oscar movie of import that I saw this year (and that's only because it's been out on DVD for a while). Personally, I thought it was a delightful piece of fluff that completely fell apart in the last ten minutes.

I'm not sure if I'm the only one who noticed this, but, much like the University of Florida is currently the reigning champion of college football and college basketball, actress Mary Lynn Rajskub, who plays Chloe on "24" and has a small part in Little Miss Sunshine, could end up appearing in the reigning Emmy winner for Best Drama and the reigning Best Picture Oscar winner, which I can't imagine has ever been done. But, for her to pull it off, that would mean that Little Miss Sunshine would have to win. And, ever since the Shakespeare in Love tragedy, they don't tend to let the annual "Wildly Undeserving Small Britishy Movie That People Talk About For the Two-and-a-Half Months of Oscar Season and Then Completely Forget About" entrant actually win Best Picture. And yes, I know Little Miss Sunshine is an American movie. Still, it fits right into that category.

Letters From Iwo Jima was seen by almost no one, but those who saw it seem to have loved it, and the only people who need to see it for it to win an Oscar are the people in the Academy. One gets the sense that if every Oscar voter saw all five Best Picture nominees and actually voted for the picture they thought was the best, Letters From Iwo Jima would probably have a chance. Since that's probably not the way it works, it probably doesn't. Still, a Best Picture win wouldn't be a total, total, total shock. Not this year.

The Queen was just British people sitting around, and, much like it's not 1995, it's also not 1967. This is the only Best Picture nominee that I'd feel comfortable wagering against.

So, Babel? Of the few people who saw Babel, not that many of them even liked it. A movie that people didn't see and that just as many critics reviled as revered can't win Best Picture, can it? Well, um... yeah. In Babel's corner seems to be the fact that it's the only "important" Best Picture nominee; the only one that attempts to make a statement about today's world (I haven't seen it, but, how much do you want to bet that statement isn't "Wow, good thing America's around or else we'd all be screwed?")

Apparently, Not Being Terrible doesn't carry the same cache these days as Trying To Be Important.

I'll tell you the God's honest truth: when I started writing this item, I picked Little Miss Sunshine. Then, I changed it to Babel. Now, I'm picking The Departed, which will be the official 3rd Annual Athletic Reporter Oscar Picks Best Picture prediction. I might change it a few times by Sunday. I'm sorry; I know you come to me for Oscar pool guidance (and, if you don't, you should), but, for this year, for Best Picture, you're on your own.



Martin Scorsese, The Departed

Other Nominees:

Clint Eastwood, Letters From Iwo Jima
Stephen Frears, The Queen
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Babel
Paul Greengrass, United 93

It seems to be the consensus that this is Martin Scorsese's year. Much has been written about Scorsese and his Oscar history, and to that I'll only add this: how dumb would they feel now if they'd have given him an Oscar for The Aviator? That piece of crap; I sure liked The Departed, but, to get back on my good side, Scorcese would pretty much have to direct something that was as awesome as The Rock PLUS Rounders PLUS High Fidelity PLUS drinking beer and watching the playoffs. Get to work, Marty.

Also, experts predict that Scorsese will shatter the previous Oscar acceptance speech record for words-per-minute. Have you ever seen the guy? He talks like a hamster would.



Forrest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

Other Nominees:

Leonardo DiCaprio, Blood Diamond
Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
Peter O'Toole, Venus
Will Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness

Be afraid of the James Coburn factor. Be very afraid.

In 1999, James Coburn won a surprise Best Supporting Actor victory for Affliction, a movie hardly anybody saw and almost nobody remembers. Coburn had been around forever and had never won anything, didn't really win any of the critics' awards leading up to the Oscars, and then, out of nowhere, took home Best Supporting Actor (which was fine, really, since 1998's "real" Best Supporting Actor, Bill Murray in Rushmore, didn't even get nominated).

Why do I bring this up? Because the great Peter O'Toole, who (like Scorsese) has been nominated for seven Oscars and has lost them all, is up for the award this year. This may well be his last chance at winning, since he's 75 with the liver of a 348-year-old. So why am I not picking him?

For one, because Forrest Whitaker is the runaway front-runner, and everybody says he's going to win; for two, because nobody saw Venus; and for three, because Peter O'Toole got a special honorary "Sorry We Haven't Given You a Real Oscar Yet... What Were We Thinking?" Oscar in 2003.

Leo and Will Smith will be around for quite a while and will have quite a few more Oscar chances, so there's no need to feel bad about not voting for them.

And if I'd told you, three years ago, that there was this movie called Half Nelson starring a guy named "Ryan Gosling," and then I also told you it was a porno, you would have had no cause not to believe me. I think the nomination will serve as Gosling's reward.



Helen Mirren, The Queen

Other Nominees:

Penelope Cruz, Volver
Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal
Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada
Kate Winslet, Little Children

The sure thing of the night. Finally, the Academy makes up for its disastrous snub of Mirren's work in Teaching Mrs. Tingle.

Not much else to say about Best Actress this year, except to say this: was anybody else as shocked as I was to find out that Notes on a Scandal, a British movie starring Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, takes place in the present day? I mean; "Notes on a Scandal;" Judi Dench; Cate Blanchett; British... I assumed, like, 1874 at the absolute latest. But, nope.

Also, here's a picture of Penelope Cruz. Just because.



Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls

Other Nominees:

Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine
Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children
Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond
Mark Wahlberg, The Departed

A two man race, with Eddie Murphy as the presumed favorite over Alan Arkin, who returns as an Oscar nominee after 38 years. If Arkin pulls a mild upset here, that might be an indication of the depth of Little Miss Sunshine's support, and a clue about Best Picture. In my mind, this race comes down to just how put off the voters were by the very existence of Norbit.

And no discussion of this year's Best Supporting Actor race would be complete without a tip of the hat to Jackie Earle Haley, who -- after The Bad News Bears, Best Picture nominee Breaking Away and an unfairly overlooked performance in an episode of the unfairly overlooked early-90s show "Get a Life" -- was essentially shat right out the bottom of the entertainment industry, made a nice life for himself in San Antonio, and then was "rediscovered" just last year. This makes the case even stronger for my theory that in show business today there's no such thing as washed up, even if you spent your entire career being typecast; you just have to wait until you look nothing like the character (or type of characters) you're known for playing, so people no longer associate you with a certain role on sight. Think about it: William Shatner, Rick Schroeder, NPH, Jackie Earle Haley... it's a good theory.

As for me, I quite enjoyed Mark Wahlberg in The Departed. Although his performance as a cocky mid-30s white guy with a superiority complex who hails from the Boston area hardly qualifies as a stretch.

Djimon Hounsou is, according to my wife, still the object of fantasy for any female who has ever seen his work in Janet Jackson's "Love Will Never Do (Without You)" music video, and that will have to sustain him.



Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls

Other Nominees:

Adriana Barraza, Babel
Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal
Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine
Rinko Kikuchi, Babel

Okay. I understand that acting is a talent, and I'll concede that the craft can be honed through work and study. But, really, it's kind of like singing; you can either do it or you can't. Some people can show up out of nowhere having never been in anything and act circles around others who have been training for years. It's not like golf or playing the guitar, where natural gifts give one a tremendous advantage but are useless without thousands of hours of practice. It may sound like I'm trashing acting and I'm not, I respect it as a skill, but, let's face it; among this year's acting nominees are a game show contestant, two rappers, and a fifth-grader.

Now, if I had a vote I'd be voting for one of the rappers, so, I'm not saying what they've done isn't excellent in some cases. But, you could hold an open audition in Atlanta and find a complete unknown who could deliver an Oscar-caliber performance.

Which brings us to this year's prohibitive Best Supporting Actress favorite, Jennifer Hudson. I watched Season 3 of "American Idol," on which Hudson appeared, and when I heard she'd been cast in a movie, my first thought was, "her?" Though she had an undeniably superb voice she was, to me, otherwise unmemorable.

But by almost all accounts she's fantastic in Dreamgirls, and it would be one of Oscar night's biggest surprises if she didn't win. I hope she does, if only to drive home the point that there are obviously thousands of people out there who could win Oscars if given the chance (at least in the acting categories; I'm sure you can't just walk in off the street and start successfully art directing or sound mixing).



Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine

Other Nominees:

Guillermo Arriaga, Babel
Guillermo del Toro, Pan's Labyrinth
Peter Morgan, The Queen
Iris Yamashita; story by Iris Yamashita and Paul Haggis, Letters From Iwo Jima

Every year I tell you that the movie that people actually think is the Best Picture ends up having to settle for a screenplay award, and every year I've been right. I didn't think Little Miss Sunshine was quite the masterpiece others did, but it is entertaining and I would recommend it. I think a lot of Academy members are thinking they'd like to vote for it, but, it isn't a "Best Picture type of movie." Which shows how ridiculous the whole enterprise is, of course; to a normal person, it seems like the Best Picture should be the picture that people think is, you know, the best. Which could also include Pan's Labyrinth, over which some people seem to have flipped, but I think that movie was mostly pretty pictures, so Little Miss Sunshine is the pick.



William Monahan, The Departed

Other Nominees:

Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, Dan Mazer; story by Sacha Baron Cohen, Peter Baynham, Anthony Hines and Todd Phillips, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Children of Men
Todd Field, Tom Perrotta, Little Children
Patrick Marber, Notes on a Scandal

Again, we have a movie that a small portion of devoted fans seems to think was the greatest thing ever put onscreen (Children of Men) vs. a Best Picture contender (The Departed). And again, the movie with the smaller but more devoted following seems to have remarkably pretty pictures but also seems destined to lose the screenplay race.

The Departed is full of sassy underworld bon mots; when some hangdog lowlife tells Jack Nicholson's character that the hangdog's ailing mother is "on her way out," Nicholson's Frank Costello offers an impossibly cool "We all are. Act accordingly." Matt Damon tells his live-in girlfriend during a tough time in the relationship that she'll have to decide whether to stay or go; "I'm [expletive deleted] Irish. I'll deal with something being wrong for the rest of my life."

If you've seen the movie, go here; it'll be fun. If you haven't seen it, see it, and then go.



Pan's Labyrinth, Mexico

Other Nominees:

After the Wedding, Denmark
Days of Glory, Algeria
The Lives of Others, Germany
Water, Canada

Lousy Mexicans, sneaking over the border and taking all of our Oscars...

The Lives of Others is getting fantastic reviews, but, as we've discussed, some of the people who have seen Pan's Labyrinth seem to be beside themselves about how mind-blowingly brilliant it was. Some, but not all.


And there you have the bulk of it; for the rest of the 3rd Annual Athletic Reporter Oscar Picks column, we'll be turning it over to the good folks at EW. 2005 me: tell them how this works!

For the major categories, I'll give you my analysis; for the others [i.e., the "pee break" categories], I'll just tell you who Entertainment Weekly says is going to win (that's what everybody does anyway. Like you've got any clue about Best Documentary Short).

That about says it all; if, for some reason, I differ greatly with what EW says, I'll let you know.

BEST ART DIRECTION: John Myhre and Nancy Haigh, Dreamgirls. So says EW. Though it might be wise to watch out for Pan's Labyrinth. In fact, that advice holds for any category in which Pan's Labyrinth is nominated.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Emmanuel Lubezki, Children of Men. This category is generally (not always, but generally) won by the movie whose characters spend the most time outside. And, to prove it, as I do every year, I'll list the last several winners: Memoirs of a Geisha; The Aviator; Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World; Road to Perdition; Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; American Beauty; Saving Private Ryan; Titanic; The English Patient; Braveheart; Legends of the Fall. See?

BEST EDITING: Stephen Mirrione and Douglas Crise, Babel. EW says United 93, but, Babel has to win something, doesn't it? It tied with The Departed at the editors' awards, and since The Departed editor Thelma Schoonmaker already has two Oscars (one of them coming just two years ago), let's say this is the bone they'll throw Babel.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: Alexandre Desplat, The Queen. Who am I to argue?

BEST ORIGINAL SONG: "Listen" from Dreamgirls, music by Henry Krieger and Scott Cutler; lyrics by Anne Preven. Not having heard any of the songs, I can't offer an opinion. Watch out for "I Need to Wake Up" from An Inconvenient Truth, though; those Academy voters might get caught up in the Al Gore rhythm (ha! Al-Gore-rhythm... algorithm... oh, never mind).

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: John Knoll, Hal Hickel, Charles Gibson and Allen Hall, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Didn't see it; effects are supposed to be incredible.

BEST SOUND EDITING: Christopher Boyes and George Watters II, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

BEST SOUND MIXING: Michael Minkler, Bob Beemer and Willie Burton, Dreamgirls.

You may or may not have heard that Apocalypto's sound mixing nominee Kevin O'Connell has been up for 18 previous Oscars without ever winning one.

Working for him: sentiment. Nominations one through 18 didn't seem to drum up much press, but this year, all of a sudden, I've read about him in a few different places.

Working against him: Mel Gibson hates Jews.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN: Yee Chung Man, Curse of the Golden Flower. Here I differ from EW (they picked Marie Antoinette). Why? Because over the weekend Curse of the Golden Flower won the Costume Designers Guild award in the period film category. Pick with me and against EW at our own peril, though.

BEST MAKEUP: David Marti and Montse Ribe, Pan's Labyrinth. Over Apocalypto and Click? Yeah, I think so.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: Cars. I liked Cars fine. If I were judging it against the rest of what Pixar has offered in years past I'd say it's not quite up to snuff, but, it's not competing against The Incredibles and Toy Story 2, it's competing against Happy Feet and Monster House.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT: The Little Match Girl. I have nothing to add.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: An Inconvenient Truth. There's a rumor going around that if this movie wins, Chicken Little will be accepting in place of Al Gore.

(oh, Al. You seem like a nice man)

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT: Two Hands. Not to diminish or belittle the work of the people in this category, but, much like I've always thought that sailing or archery would be the most likely way for me to get into the Olympics if for some reason I absolutely had to, I've always thought that if I really put my mind to it I could snag an Oscar for Best Documentary Short. But probably not, though.


That's all I have for you, Oscar-wise, until next year. Now, I'm off to consider my choices and allot my points for the Oscar pool. Hopefully, after pretty much winning last year, I can actually win on Sunday.

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