The Playoffs


Previous columns
2/22: The Case of ILM
People's Choice Awards, Broadcast Film Critics Awards
AFI Awards
Oh, Lord. Why did this have to happen? It's my first year online in a "professional" capacity and I have to handicap this year's Oscars? The murkiest in decades? Sweet fancy Moses...

But I'm going to take a shot at it, after reading Kenneth Turan's wonderful "
Secrets of an Oscar Seer," which puts forth several concepts I've been touting all along. To wit:

So the task is not figuring out what a "good" film or performance is, but determining what academy members like. It means, and this is often the hardest thing for beginning prognosticators to get used to, completely forgetting about one's own likes and dislikes, one's own ideas of quality. Even if your personal taste is impeccable, it not only doesn't matter, it will likely get in your way.

Amen, my brother.

Here's the deal: I've been reading everyone in the world's picks this last week--Ebert, EW,, what-have-you. Not so that I could choose someone to coattail so much as I could hear the reasoning behind their choices. If someone says--as someone did--that a voter told them in private that "everyone [they talked to] is voting for Denzel this year," I don't know how wide that voter's circle of acquaintances is, but it still gives you pause, right? After all, we're picking racehorses--and those horses
are not the movies themselves. They are the voting trends of the Academy. Also, not only am I going to give my personal preferences, for those of you who are curious, but I'm going to be horribly wimpy as well and tell you who I think could win if my pick doesn't, in a rampant case of second-guessing myself.

Best Picture: Again: Oh, Lord. It's pretty much accepted that Beautiful Mind is the front-runner at this point. What no one can really agree on is who the horse nosing in on BM is--Lord of the Rings or Moulin Rouge? I personally would like to see either of the latter two win, just for each film's verve and courage and spectacle; I have a personal fondness for each now, and I can't really choose between them. A lot of MR fans are saying that it's obvious that Moulin Rouge has to win now, or that it's the obvious spoiler, but as someone else noted--if it wins, it'll be "the most hated movie to ever triumph." There's apparently still a lot of voters who Just. Didn't. Get It, and that's been my suspicion all along. Seriously, I can't logic this one out, it's so murky. So I'm going to have to agree with Turan on this one, who said, "So, in direct contradiction to one of my own rules, I'm going to abandon the obvious favorite and pick Lord of the Rings because I have a personal preference for it. If I'm destined to go down with a ship, this one seems to suit the occasion."

Best Actor (and Actress). Russell...or Denzel? Russell...or Denzel? *Twitch.* Seriously, this contest is on the edge of a knife right now. I have no clue. The SAGs are supposed to be important indicators, and Russell won. However, if you keep your ear to the ground, you'll hear a lot of buzz that people are voting for Denzel.... Jeez. I keep teetering back and forth on this one. I have Denzel on my Oscar Pool picks right now. On a personal level, this "Thug Life" thing Crowe has going right now has gotten really, really old for me. However...

Okay, tell you what: I'm having the same problem now with Halle Berry (who won the SAG) and Sissy Spacek (who won everything else). There are also prognosticators shouting that Nicole Kidman's
obviously going to win. You know what? Somehow, I don't think so. Don't get me wrong--if she wins, no one'll clap harder than me. But here's my thought: At the SAGs, Jennifer Connelly "accidentally" got offered up for Best Actress instead of Best Supporting, knocking one of the ubiquitous five actresses off the list. Who was the weakest link, to use that horrible phrase? Kidman. Doesn't look good.

The speculation and rationalization over at Oscar Watch ("I feel a chart coming on!") are making my head spin, but you know what? I'm going to cut my losses and put both
Berry and Washington on my picks list. You know why? Because here's what I think will actually happen: the winners will either be Berry and Crowe, or Washington and Spacek. I don't know why. I'm not saying it's a "black" thing--I'm saying it's a front-runner vs. second-most-likely thing, and I think the Academy will mix it up. Don't say I didn't call it (kinda...) when it happens.

Best Supporting Actor: Sir Ian McKellen. Next?

No, seriously, I mean it. People have noted that other actors have won previous awards, but you know what? The SAG was the first major award this year he was even nominated for (why, I don't know--the slowly-emerging respect for LOTR?), and then he won it, too. So technically, the others haven't had to compete with him those other times. Also, he lost Best Actor in '98/'99 to Roberto Benigni (!). (Sir) Ben Kingsley is probably the second biggest threat, but he's already got an Oscar, if you want to use the twisted rationale that is
Oscar Logic. Jim Broadbent's probably third in line, and had a wonderful three-film year, but MR's Zidler was really his standout role, and I half suspect no one saw Iris. Jon Voight, bless his heart, is makeweight with that heavy-makeup role. Ethan Hawke I still don't get. Now people are coming up and saying he'll win, too--kind of a "Marisa Tomei" logic--but you know what? Hawke's a nice guy. Not a bad actor. But a world in which he wins for this movie against all these other actors? Not a world I want to live in.

Best Supporting Actress: Arrrrrrrrrrrrghhhhh. Not as easy as you'd think. Jennifer Connelly is the front-runner, my prediction (again: lately, she's won everything), but also my personal choice. A lot of people are pointing to Helen Mirren's win at the SAGs, but remember--she didn't have to compete against Connelly that time. I love Maggie Smith, but in many of her films she seems to play one of two variations on the Maggie Smith Character: Simpering Old Maid or Delightful Bitch. Gosford Park was by-the-numbers Delightful Bitch--the finest Delightful Bitch to be had, to be sure. But still. If you have to go with Gosford Park, go with Mirren--actually, go with Watson, whose performance/ character was even richer, but is not nominated. Oh, well. Marisa Tomei? I think the nomination is validation enough; I'm not sure the Academy's going to want her to go around as "two-time Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei" if they felt sheepish about the first one. Actually, I think Kate Winslet would own this category--how many times has she been nominated by now?--except that no one saw Iris. Therefore, I go with Connelly.

Best Foreign Language Film:
Easy. Amelie. No Man's Land is the potential spoiler in this race, but--unless that "Let's not show our films because you have to see all of them to vote!" ploy works, Amelie's a crowd-pleaser, the most widely seen, and, most importantly, actually nominated for four other "normal" Oscars, which should tell you how highly the Academy already regards it.

Best Animated Film:
Shrek, by a mile. It's won tons of awards this year. Jimmy Neutron is just an insult to Waking Life and, on a technical level only, Final Fantasy. People tell me Monsters, Inc. was better. Again, though--we're looking at voting trends.

Best Original Screenplay: Memento should win, by all that is sane in the universe, although EW, for example, says Gosford Park will squeak past on its overall strength and visibility. I'm predicting Memento, though, on a hunch. Or maybe it's just wishful thinking.

Best Adapted Screenplay: I swear to God, I'm going to punch something if Lord of the Rings doesn't win this on principle. Is this not what this award is about? Taking a beloved piece of literature and creating a film that satisfies, by and large, both fans and non-fans as a work unto itself? So that's my personal preference, although Ghost World would also be great winning. I mean, seriously, you tell me--did Akiva Goldsman even need the book to do the Beautiful Mind screenplay? I have a horrible feeling, however, that Beautiful Mind will win this one. On my picks, however, you will see Lord of the Rings, because I could not physically force myself to uncheck that box.

Best Original Song: Again, a toughie, because they all sucked, pretty much. Even the Lord of the Rings song.  (Enya's "Aniron," a haunting little wisp of a song from the film's one romantic scene, was much better than the conventional credits-closer "May It Be.") That one would only win if everyone just said, "The hell with it, we're voting Lord of the Rings for Best Picture, why the hell not Song too?" And I don't think that'll happen. Sting won the Golden Globe for the Kate & Leopold song--you heard it? Nah, me neither. The Pearl Harbor song? All I remember was that it was more of that cookie-cutter Diane Warren dreck. Paul McCartney's "Vanilla Sky"? Dude, I saw the movie and I don't even remember that song--I own the soundtrack and I don't remember that song! And then there's Randy Newman, the Susan Lucci of songwriters, for Monsters, Inc. You know what? I had Sting right until this red-hot moment, but as I'm sitting here thinking about it--the year's so mediocre, why not give it to Newman for having lost all those other times before? It could happen.

Original Score: From what I'm reading, the smart money seems to be on Lord of the Rings, although you've got other, really formidable composers like John Williams (twice!) and James Horner in there as well.

Best Art Direction: Very simply, this comes down to Lord of the Rings and Moulin Rouge, and I would not be surprised if either of them won. In fact, it's a coin toss at this point. Because think of it this way: Aesthetically, they are apples and oranges. Think of MR's elephant boudoir, its Spectacular Spectacular, the Sparkling Diamonds set piece. Now think of LOTR's Shire, the autumnal Rivendell, the otherworldly Lothlorien. The problem is that they're both epic in different ways: one went for a fantasized reality while the other one went for realistic fantasy. It really depends on which aesthetic you like more. I love them both. However--and this is bias cropping up again--LOTR has been so canny about publicizing the massive human effort that went into creating Middle-Earth that many will think of it as more of an achievement--at least, I certainly do--so, to break a tie between equal competitors, I'm predicting Lord of the Rings over Moulin Rouge's soundstages.

Best Costume Design:
Okay, go back up and read exactly what I said for Art Direction. Only this time, I think the naturalistic simplicity of LOTR's costumes will work against it--in this case, Moulin Rouge's myriad can-can outfits and sheer dazzle look like more of an achievement. Again, I don't choose between them willingly. But I predict Moulin Rouge.

Best Makeup: Are you kidding me? Old age makeup and whore makeup next to old-age, foot, ear, full-face and sometimes even full-body prosthetics for dozens, if not hundreds, of actors? Lord of the Rings.

Best Cinematography: Andrew Lesnie for Lord of the Rings all the way. Even EW doesn't think the next best contender, The Man Who Wasn't There for its shimmering black and white photography, really has a chance.

Best Film Editing: Memento. As EW puts it, "Memento didn't get this nomination by accident." Caveat: This is one of those categories where non-technical voters start to just check off their choice for Best Picture, or the closest one to it. Lord of the Rings could sneak in and take this.

Best Sound and Best Sound Editing: Damn if I know the difference between these two. In fact, no one else knows, either, unless they work in sound. Action/war movies often win this on the "Most Sound" theory. EW says Black Hawk Down, a movie they can "still hear," could take sound over Pearl Harbor. Other nominees: Moulin Rouge, LOTR, Amelie. I don't know that either MR or Amelie are worth predicting in a Sound, As Distinguished from Score, capacity. Lord of the Rings could also sneak in and take this one on the "I don't know what this category means" theory; also the "Let's throw LOTR a technical bone" theory. However, they may want to throw Black Hawk Down a bone, too. As for Best Sound Editing--what the hell does that even mean? There's only two nominees, anyway: Monsters, Inc. and Pearl Harbor. This really, really pains me, but Pearl Harbor's going to win this one.

Best Visual Effects: Actually, this one's kind of a tough one: A.I., LOTR, and Pearl Harbor. However, there was a lot of overall (and I thought, undeserved) disdain for A.I., and a lot of overall (and rather well-deserved) disdain for Pearl Harbor. A.I., however, has Teddy and futuristic cities. Oh, and that woman who turns her head and it's half not there. And that woman whose head springs open in pieces when you press a button. And not-aliens ripped off from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Lord of the Rings, though, has Peter Jackson's camera swooping up and down towers, water foaming into horses, Liv Tyler in angelic slo-mo, entire matte-painting cities, Cate Blanchett having a radiation seizure, freaky albino ringwraiths, and Ian Holm freaking the hell out over that ring. Oh, and Gollum. And the Eye of Sauron. Wait a minute, isn't this the category that whole forced-perspective Hobbity thing would fall into? Lord of the Rings it is, then. (Better give it to 'em now, too, because I have a horrible feeling Attack of the Clones will be occupying this slot next year.)

Quickly, and for no other reason than that I heard they were front-runners:
Best Animated Short Film: For the Birds
Best Live Action Short Film: the accountant
Best Documentary Feature: Promises
Best Documentary Short: Artists and Orphans: A True Drama

All right then: Everybody out of the pool, and don't forget to watch Sunday night!
At the Digest
Oscars home
The Digest Oscar Pool
The Cleo Awards

Oscar nom predictions
Golden Globes

Other links