Saturday, February 21, 2009

Everybody In the Pool: Oscar Edition 2009

Is that your final answer?

With the 81st Annual Academy Awards right around the corner, it's time for the second edition of my uninformed, hastily prepared, completely unscientific major Oscar picks! For my first time out last year, I ended up with a respectable 7 out of 11 (roughly 64%) correct predictions including the best picture winner so if you're one of those compulsive types or those easily overwhelmed by your Oscar party pool sheets, then look no further. Of course, keep in mind, when you're right 64% of the time, you're wrong 36% of the time.

One prediction, however, that you can take to the bank will be that this year's Academy Award will overtake last year's as the lowest rated Oscar telecast yet. I found last year's nominees to be probably the most interesting slate of nominated films in recent memory, which also in turn may have been a bit too weird for the general audience. In contrast, there seems to be so little buzz going around with little to no surprises outside of the usual Oscar bait. There also seems to be an anticlimactic feeling going around as the consensus seems to agree that the feel good film of the year, "Slumdog Millionaire" is set for a big night. How will it fare on my list?

Best Makeup

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Special random bonus prediction! I figured I'd throw out an extra prognostication to one of those less glamorous catagories where people who look like your next door neighbors go up and awkwardly accept trophies from fancy movie star presenters. While the two other films had more than admirable makeup work, "Benjamin Button"'s ambitious backwards aging work deserves some Oscar gold. That old man kid was freaky!

Best Animated Feature
Kung Fu Panda

Once again, why can't they nominate a couple extra films to round out the category? There are plenty of animated films out there and it'll make the creators of the two other films tremendously happy just to be brought in to lose to Pixar. "WALL-E" winning is probably the biggest lock of the evening. If Pixar keeps this up they'll just have to scrap the nomination process altogether and just give the award to them outright every time they make a big release.

Best Documentary Feature
Nerakhoon (The Betrayal)
Encounters at the End of the World
The Garden
Man on Wire
Trouble the Water

This is the category where I have the least amount of substantive knowledge to base my picks on. Off the bat it really all comes down to "Encounters" and "Man on Wire", since those are the only two documentaries I have heard of. From a strictly objective standpoint I'd have probably gone with "Encounters" because it had the pedigree of being directed by a big name acclaimed director like Werner Herzog. However, I heard a lot of good second hand praise for "Man on Wire", so it gets the edge.

Best Cinematography
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
The Duchess
Revolutionary Road

"Benjamin Button" has that vast, sweeping visual story that's prime territory for Oscar gold. Ironically if I went by the logic that since "Benjamin Button" is essentially the same film as "Forrest Gump" it should win all the categories that "Forrest Gump" won, then it would actually lose this catagory (while sweeping all the really big ones). The Dark Knight may be an upset candiate based on sympathy support for getting shafted on best picture.

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

If I went by the Forrest Button formula, then "Benjamin Button" should win. However, I think this will be the first stepping stone to a potential big picture showdown for "Slumdog Millionaire". In many cases the best picture showdown ends up becoming a two horse race between the best adapted screenplay winner and the original screenplay winner. Cold logic would dictate at least one of the two films with the best scripts should be in theory the best picture.

Best Original Screenplay
Frozen River
In Bruges

If the Academy is looking for this year's Diablo Cody to give the statute to, then they need not look any further than Dustin Lance Black, the 29 year old writer of "Milk". He's young, he's gay, it's his first major film writing job (although he did write and co-produce a bunch of episodes of "Big Love"); it's a solid opportunity for the Academy to show how "with it" it is. The era of established, long time insider screenwriters is over; twentysomething, counter cultural, first time scribes please report to the dance floor!

Best Director
Danny Boyle - Slumdog Millionaire
Stephen Daldry - The Reader
David Fincher - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard - Frost/Nixon
Gust Van Sant - Milk

Actually I'd be happy to see Fincher or Van Sant win this award as well. Despite being some of the most unique and visionary directors of the last two decades, the three have been almost completely overlooked by the Academy (save for Van Sant's director nomination for "Good Will Hunting" in '98). Boyle's been racking up best director awards like a machine all award season long, so he appears to be the heavy favorite here. Best adapted screenplay? Best director? Are the stars lining up for "Slumdog Millionaire"?

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams - Doubt
Penelope Cruz - Vicky Christina Barcelona
Viola Davis - Doubt
Taraji P. Henson - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei - The Wrestler

This is probably the most wide open of all the acting races. I figured Adams and Davis end up splitting the voting between them. Penelope Cruz was just too damn good looking in the film to win since history has shown that the Academy rarely gives out awards to exceedingly beautiful actresses unless they hag it up (Charlize Theron, Nichole Kidman). Every Oscar nominated performance by Marisa Tomei seems to just be the same trashy woman character except older, more dire, and more naked. So, by default Henson comes away with an award winning performance as Sally Field in Forrest Gump.

Best Supporting Actor
Josh Brolin - Milk
Robert Downey Jr. - Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman - Doubt
Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon - Revolutionary Road

Aside from "WALL-E", this is second biggest lock in an Oscar category. Could you imagine the awkward shock throughout the auditorium if somehow it went to someone else? It'd be the worst possible way to win a best supporting actor Oscar. Even though he is getting some support via the dead card, Ledger really does deserve the posthumous win, that Joker was a monster performance.

Best Actress
Anne Hathaway - Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie - Changeling
Melissa Leo - Frozen River
Meryl Streep - Doubt
Kate Winslet - The Reader

Last year's best actress winner, Marion Cotillard, was a bit of an upset and I'm calling and hoping for another one this year. Anne Hatheway has been getting some serious buzz and acclaim for her performance so it wouldn't be totally unexpected for her to win (although she does have the good looking handicap on her). Melissa Leo reminds me of this year's Amy Ryan; she'll get plenty of buzz still won't win. Meryl Streep is Meryl Streep. Actually any other winner except Kate Winslet would be worth it just to see Kate's head explode in frustration after failing to win an Oscar for the 6th time.

Best Actor
Richard Jenkins - The Visitor
Frank Langella - Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn - Milk
Brad Pitt - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler

If there is any justice in this universe, Mickey Rourke should get his much deserved Oscar, if only for the fact that there's probably no chance that he'll ever get to this point again. He'll probably never get another juicy role that is so perfectly made for him. He'll probably never make another choice for a role as wisely as this. Besides, if he wins we will get to see whatever insane acceptance speech he's got in the hopper AND we will get to see him present next year! It's win win!

Best Picture

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

I could say that all the supposed guilt over "Brokeback Mountain" losing and the passage of Prop 8 may compel enough Oscar voters to recruit "Milk" for an upset victory. I could say that enough Oscar voters will elect for the safety and security of the comfortable Oscar trap of "Benjamin Button". I could say that the highly cynical view of the process would lead to the always poignant Holocaust themes of "The Reader" giving it the dark horse win. I could also say that the impeccably detailed, thoroughly professional cinematic play that is "Frost/Nixon" would impress enough voters. However, I'm going to have to stick with the masses on this one with "Slumdog Millionaire". It's got the momentum, the positive vibes, the general appeal, and all other beneficial Oscar mojo working for it right now. Who am I to bet against it? It is written.

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