Friday, February 22, 2008

Oscar Picks, Year Four!

Hey, kids! It's that time of year again. Time for the glorious Oscar pool, the 4th Annual Athletic Reporter Oscar Picks column, and, to a lesser extent, the 80th Annual Academy Awards.

"But Joe," you ask. "Why should we listen to you? What do you know about the Oscars? Hasn't the accuracy of your picks in recent years been less than spectacular?"

Those are all fair questions...

Anyway, conventional wisdom holds that many of this year's races are closer than usual, so it promises to be an exciting Oscar ceremony.

Like I always do, 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.

Let's get to it!



No Country For Old Men

Other Nominees:

Michael Clayton
There Will Be Blood

A recurring theme of this particular Oscar Picks column may well turn out to be the notion that the Coen brothers could, in spirit if technically not in practice, tie Walt Disney's record by winning four Oscars in one night. I think they will. These will be the Coen brothers Oscars.

Count me among those who thought that the bizarre final 20 minutes or so just about ruined No Country For Old Men. There I sat, enjoying an excellent crime drama, and then all this weird crap happens for no reason. At least that's what it felt like. Oh well. Even if it's not for a movie of which I particularly approve, it will be nice to see the Coen brothers finally get their due (or get their due again; they each won Oscars for writing Fargo, so you can't really say that the Academy has ignored them completely).

There Will Be Blood was pretty much a character study, a showcase for Daniel Day-Lewis's Daniel Plainview. I'm firmly ensconced on the Day-Lewis bandwagon this year, but I can see why people might think that, pound-for-pound, Blood is slightly less deserving of Best Picture than No Country.

My personal favorite (of the three I saw) was Juno, which scored the one Best Picture nomination reserved for movies that aren't actually "Best Picture-y." Still, I've heard a good deal about how "relevant" No Country For Old Men (set in 1980) and There Will Be Blood (spanning the first fourth of the 20th century, give or take a couple of years) were to today's times, but... Juno actually takes place in today's times. So, there's your relevant.

Another reason I responded to Juno more than No Country For Old Men or There Will Be Blood, I think, is that characters in the latter two movies can probably be said to exist to some extent as metaphors (Daniel Plainview is capitalism, Eli Sunday is unchecked religious zealotry, Anton Chigurh is the inevitable, powerful force of evil in the ream of human existence), whereas, in Juno, the yuppie couple wanting to adopt a baby is pretty much a young couple wanting to adopt a baby, the spazzy teen boyfriend is pretty much a spazzy teen boyfriend...

As I get older I tend to be a little less interested in movies about the Big Ideas and more interested in movies about regular people dealing with their lives. Probably because I used to have Big Ideas, and now I'm a regular person dealing with his life. Makes sense, I suppose.

(well, and I like movies with boobs and gunfights. That's been pretty constant since I was about 12)

Michael Clayton I didn't see. I heard it was good and I'm sure it was, but, I got the feeling that if you sent away for "Oscar Movie Set in Present Day," then 6-to-8 weeks later you'd open up your mailbox and there you'd see Michael Clayton.

Atonement I didn't see. I heard it was good and I'm sure it was, but, I got the feeling that if you sent away for "Oscar Movie Set in the Past," then 6-to-8 weeks later you'd open up your mailbox and there you'd see Atonement.



Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, No Country For Old Men

Other Nominees:

Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Jason Reitman, Juno
Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Apparently Julian Schnabel is somewhat of a trendy upset pick, for those who want to pick an upset in this category. I don't. Nominations in a few of the big boy categories (Cinematography, Editing, Screenplay) might indicate some passionate support for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, but, I'm just going to bank on this being the Coens' year. They've been making great movies for over 20 years and they did an exemplary job with No Country For Old Men (my feelings about the film's conclusion notwithstanding), and I think those two factors will overwhelm whatever support Schnabel has out there.

As far as Jason Reitman goes, he's about the same age and my wife and I, and my wife was lamenting the other day the fact that he's a Best Director nominee and the two of us are, unequivocally, not. True, I told her, but, Buddy Holly was 22 when he died, so, in my mind, the day I turned 23 that whole "by the time this person was my age, he was doing x or y" ship had sailed in a big way. I mean, who's better than Buddy Holly? At anything?

So good on you, Jason Reitman.

Paul Thomas Anderson will probably be back in this category before too long. He's young and he'll almost certainly win Best Director one day, so nobody really has to feel like they're slighting him this year (it's sort of the same reason why they keep not giving Johnny Depp an Oscar).

And I'm sure Tony Gilroy's a fine man, but, it's tough to find anyone who thinks he's got a shot this year.



Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood

Other Nominees:

George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises

This would seem like a sure thing if it weren't for a small Daniel Day-Lewis backlash that seems to be building in some -- oh, who are we kidding? It's a sure thing.

Count me among those who loved Day-Lewis's performance unconditionally. Even the final scene, the "I Drink Your Milkshake" scene, rang true to me. And as far as There Will Be Blood is concerned, without Day-Lewis playing Daniel Plainview -- and, what's more, without Day-Lewis playing Daniel Plainview like he did -- I'm not sure you've got much of a movie.

The Cloon, I can't argue with. No one can. He's just a big honkin' movie star. You only get one or two George Clooneys (Cloonies?) every generation, and I enjoy ours (due in no small part to the lucky break that our generation's George Clooney actually happens to be George Clooney). But it's Daniel Day-Lewis's year, not his.

I've made no secret of my distaste for Sweeney Todd, but none of that was Johnny Depp's fault. He was just fine and he'll win an Oscar someday, but, as I parenthetically alluded to earlier, it won't be this year.

Viggo Mortensen's always good, and he fought some guys naked, which is pretty badass. But he won't win.

And, when I glanced at Entertainment Weekly's Best Actor prediction page and saw Tommy Lee Jones's picture, I thought, "Wait, he was nominated for No Country For Old Men? For Best Actor? He wasn't even in it that much... what page am I on? This is -- oh. Right." And I follow this stuff more closely than the average bear, so, my reaction probably doesn't say a lot for how memorable In the Valley of Elah was.



Julie Christie, Away From Her

Other Nominees:

Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
Laura Linney, The Savages
Ellen Page, Juno

Julie Christie's British and she played a person with a mental illness (Alzheimer's). It's hard to see the Academy not voting for that.

Unless they vote for Marion Cotillard; those who've seen La Vie en Rose rave about her performance, but have enough people seen it? And, of the people who have, will enough of them decide not to vote for Julie Christie?

It's a weird year for Best Actress, since the only nominee in a movie that anyone really saw is Juno's Ellen Page, and people her age don't win Best Actress, really. Although it should be noted that I heard someone praise Daniel Day-Lewis's performance for, among other things, his perfect American accent, and, well, Ellen Page is from Nova Scotia, so let's not pretend she wasn't doing an American accent as well.

Laura Linney and Cate Blanchett, we shouldn't have to worry about.



Javier Bardem, No Country For Old Men

Other Nominees:

Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War
Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton

Any other year you might think about Hal Holbrook pulling an upset for Into the Wild as a sort of lifetime achievement thing, but if they didn't give Peter O'Toole an Oscar last year they can skip Hal Holbrook on Sunday. People seem to have been fascinated by Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh. I'll admit that I don't quite get it, even though I have no trouble acknowledging that Bardem gave a worthy performance. It would probably be the biggest surprise of the evening if anybody else won Best Supporting Actor.

Too bad, though, because I kind of wish Philip Seymour Hoffman had a chance. I didn't see Charlie Wilson's War, but, based on the one three-second snippet of Hoffman's performance that I did see, extrapolated out to fill a two-hour movie, I'm sure he was excellent.

This is the one category this year where I feel there have been a number of egregious snubs, most notably Paul Dano in There Will Be Blood, but also Ben Foster in 3:10 to Yuma and John Travolta in Hairspray. Chins up, boys; there's always next year.



Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There

Other Nominees:

Ruby Dee, American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan, Atonement
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

Wide open, it seems. Entertainment Weekly picks Tilda Swinton but gives her only a 28% chance, with Amy Ryan at 25, Cate Blanchett at 22 and Ruby Dee at 20. Over at, their predictions roundup had Cate Blanchett ahead, plenty of others picking either Tilda Swinton or Ruby Dee, and Amy Ryan conspicuous in her almost total absence. Swinton's own Michael Clayton co-star, the Cloon himself, predicted Amy Ryan.

So, who knows? I say, go for the safest bet. Which, in this instance, is the out-there, gender-bending performance in a weird movie people didn't see. You've got an English speaking foreigner playing a man; sort of like with Julie Christie in the Best Actress category, what is there to Cate Blanchett's performance that Oscar voters wouldn't swallow hook, line and sinker?



Diablo Cody, Juno

Other Nominees:

Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Tamara Jenkins, The Savages
Nancy Oliver, Lars and the Real Girl
Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco and Brad Bird, Ratatouille

I suppose there's a slight chance that this could be the award that breaks Michael Clayton's way, but, Juno's the one to beat. They've marketed "Diablo Cody" (not her real name, if you can believe it) very well, sending her on press tours and Letterman and stuff, and I'd be even more sick of all that if she hadn't written such a good script. The director and cast of Juno deserve a ton of credit, too (it's not entirely fair that Cody is probably the only person associated with Juno who's going to come away with an Oscar for her efforts), but the script was right on. Maybe it had one or two extra-cutesy moments of self-consciously hip teenage dialogue... but maybe it didn't. I'm too young to have a teenager and too old to hang out with them (or so those bastards down at the county courthouse have declared), so maybe the ones who are determined to be hipper-than-thou actually make a point to try to talk like that. And even if, by and large, they don't, it's not out of the realm of possibility that one of them would.

There's one moment in particular in Juno that, for me, serves as a microcosm of why the movie was so successful (and we get into some plot stuff you'd probably rather not know if you've got a burning desire to see Juno but you haven't gotten around to it yet, so, tread lightly):

A pregnant Juno comes to visit Mark, the husband of the couple to which she has promised her baby once it is born. They've discovered previously that they share a love for being snobby about obscure bands. Juno is drawn to Mark because he amounts to the grown-up version of her spazzy-but-cool boyfriend, Bleeker. Mark is Bleeker plus a decade-and-a-half of money made, self-confidence found and comfort-in-own-skin achieved. Mark is drawn to Juno because she's a cute young thing who thinks it's cool that he plays the guitar and likes to be snobby about obscure bands. This in contrast to Mark's wife Vanessa; she has banished all of Mark's music stuff to one small room of the house, which, subconsciously, Mark chooses to focus on instead of the fact that Vanessa keeps a gorgeous house for him to live in.

Mark and Juno are alone together. Some music is played. Juno puts her hands on Mark's shoulders. She asks him, "did you dance like this at your prom?"

They sway together. Mark looks at her.

"Actually..." he says.

The entire movie -- the lives of the main characters -- turn here, between "actually" and what Mark says next. Will he say, "actually... this might make me seem lame and old, but, it's probably not appropriate for us to be slow dancing like this"?

No; he says, "actually... it was more like this," and he re-positions Juno's arms more intimately around his waist.

And, in the audience, you think, "Oh, Mark..."

This little scene, like most of Juno, was written, directed and acted with such depth of feeling and emotional truth that I'm excited to think someone involved could end up with an Academy Award, even if it's someone who decided that it would be a good idea for her name to be "Diablo Cody."



Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, No Country For Old Men

Other Nominees:

Christopher Hampton, Atonement
Sarah Polley, Away From Her
Ronald Harwood, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood

First of all: yes, the blonde chick from Dawn of the Dead is nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.

That's pretty fantastic, but, as we've discussed, it's going to be the Coen brothers' night.



The Counterfeiters, Austria

Other Nominees:

Beaufort, Israel
Katyn, Poland
Mongol, Kazakhstan
12, Russia

The Counterfeiters is about the Holocaust (catnip to Oscar voters), and, on top of that, the trailer made it look really good.

I have nothing more to add about this category, except to say that with Borat last year and now with Mongol, Kazakhstan has essentially been represented at two consecutive Oscar ceremonies. I haven't taken the trouble to look it up, but, you can be pretty sure that hasn't happened before.


Okay. It's getting late and this is getting long; let's plow through the pee-break categories, shall we? Here's what I always write about how that goes:

For the major categories, I'll give you my analysis; for the others, 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).

The only danger here is if EW has an off year. Like, say, last year, when mostly listening to their picks ended me up with an 11-13 Oscar picking record. Honestly, if you'd have made me bet on whether I ever, in my life, would pick more Oscar categories incorrectly than correctly in a given year, I would have bet on "no" and felt really good about it.

[actually, that's not true. I would have bet on "yes," and then, the next year, I would have intentionally made picks that had almost no chance of winning, thus outsmarting you and winning our little wager. But, if you said I'd have to place my bet and then afterwards you'd erase all memory of the bet from my mind so I couldn't pull the little trick I described, I would have bet that there was absolutely no way I'd ever come away from an Oscar year with a losing record. I once, in college, got them all right except for two! For Pete's sake!]

Anyway. I'll just tell you what Entertainment Weekly said, unless I disagree, in which case I'll let you know that you're getting my pick instead of theirs. Usually, though, when I against them in a pee-break category, we're either both wrong or they're right. I don't think, in three years of doing this, I've ever disagreed with EW and been right. But someday I'm sure that'll happen. Has to, right?

Here we go...

BEST ART DIRECTION: Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. I read somewhere else that Sweeney Todd wouldn't win because Dante Ferretti wins "all the time," but I looked it up, and, he's like 1-for-7. Not a convincing reason to pick against EW, to say the least.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: They (i.e., Entertainment Weekly) say There Will Be Blood's Robert Elswit, mainly because they assume that since Roger Deakins is nominated twice in this category he'll split the vote with himself. But, in the year of No Country For Old Men, will anybody actually vote for Deakins for The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford?

Still, Robert Elswit is supposed to be the front-runner, and this award generally goes to the movie with the most sweeping shots of the outdoors, which There Will Be Blood has in spades.

[although, when you think about it, wouldn't sweeping shots of the outdoors almost be the easiest thing for a cinematographer? I mean, doing something indoors, or with special effects, I can see how tough that would be, making sure everything in an unnatural arena looks natural; but, aren't most of the outdoors pretty much just sitting there already? Isn't that kind of what the outdoors are famous for?)

BEST EDITING: Roderick Jaynes, No Country For Old Men. Here's why No Country is going to beat The Bourne Ultimatum, which plenty of people are picking in this category: first of all, it's Best Editing, not Most Editing. Second, Roderick Jaynes is, as you may well know, not a real person. Roderick Jaynes is -- for some reason -- the pseudonym under which Joel and Ethan Coen edit their own movies. It would be a "thing" to have Roderick Jaynes announced as the winner and have the Coens accept for "him," and since when has Best Editing ever been a "thing?" Academy voters aren't going to pass up a "thing."

In any case, this is why I say the Coen brothers could tie Walt Disney's Four Oscars in One Year record in spirit if not in practice; if they win all the awards they're up for, then they will have essentially won four Oscars each on Sunday. You and I and everybody else watching will know that. Technically, however, by the letter of Oscar law, Joel and Ethan Coen will have won three Oscars each, and Roderick Jaynes will have won one. Also, if "Roderick Jaynes" wins Best Editing, there will only be one Oscar statuette given away in that category (the Coens will each get one if they win any of the categories in which they're both nominated).

So, while they may find it cute to edit their films under a pseudonym, it could cost the Coen brothers a tie for the official record for Most Oscars Won in a Single Year. Though certainly, a share of the unofficial record would be theirs.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: Dario Marianelli, Atonement. Seems like everyone thinks it's between that and Ratatouille. I'll take Atonement, because the magazine says so.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG: "Falling Slowly" from Once, music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. Finally, you can just go on YouTube and watch all of these songs and decide for yourself. "Raise It Up" from August Rush isn't really very good, and the three from Enchanted probably will spit. Having seen all three, I would go straight to hell before I voted for anything other than "Happy Working Song," but others think "That's How You Know" is more likely to win. That's why they'll split the vote; they're all good enough to have a reasonable amount of support.

So, it'll probably be Once. That was nice little movie, and it would be cool to see Hansard and Irglova, who pretty much wrote the songs in the movie (and the songs pretty much were the movie), rewarded with Oscars.

Although my favorite song from a 2007 movie was this one, by far. Even though it's obviously a parody of what old white people think rap music is, it's actually a much better song than 3-6 Mafia's Oscar-winning "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp." I beg you not to click on that link if you possess any sense of decency, but, I also defy you to tell me that that video is not hilariously awesome (I'll also accept awesomely hilarious).

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Russell Earl and John Frazier, Transformers. I can't argue with this pick; when I went and bought our new HDTV I was waiting at Circuit City from them to go and get it for me, and they were showing Transformers on an even better HDTV than I bought, with the Blu-Ray DVD and surround sound... I felt like one of those people on the audience of the first-ever motion picture, who ducked when the footage of the locomotive approached. It was something else.

BEST SOUND EDITING: Ethan Van der Ryan and Mike Hopkins, Transformers.

BEST SOUND MIXING: Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell and Peter Devlin, Transformers. The biggest, explodiest movie usually wins the sound stuff anyway, and this nomination is Kevin O'Connell's 20th, with zero wins so far. He got some attention for his 19th nod last year and I'm sure would have been a sentimental favorite if the movie he worked on, Apocalypto, hadn't been directed by Hatespeech von Hitler. Transformers director Michael Bay, as far as I know, has no beef with the Jews, so this should finally be Kevin O'Connell's year.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN: Colleen Atwood, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Entertainment Weekly's guess is much, much better than mine.

BEST MAKEUP: Didier Lavergne and Jan Archibald, La Vie en Rose. La Vie en Rose seems to be considered something of a shoo-in here.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: Ratatouille. I'd look out for an upset by Persepolis if Ratatouille hadn't been so, so universally adored.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT: Madame Tutli-Putli. I actually did a little bit of research on this category, and that research led me to believe strongly that Madame Tutli-Putli -- and not EW's pick, I Met the Walrus -- will win.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: No End In Sight. Seems to be the favorite no matter whom you ask, although with Michael Moore (Sicko) around, I won't breathe easy until the envelope is actually opened.

Well, and then until the winner is read. The actual opening of the envelope in and of itself doesn't really reveal any -- you know what? Never mind.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT: Freeheld. I'm sort of depending on you completely for this one, Entertainment Weekly.

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT: Tanghi Argentini. I've seen this one predicted as the winner a couple different places, so, knowing nothing of any of the nominees, I'd be silly not to pick it.

That's all, folks. Enjoy the Oscars, now that you've been given permission by the WGA to do so.

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