In recent weeks, a conflict of sorts has been raging between critics on either side of a single fence. For some, The Artist, the earnest and endearing foreign film featuring no spoken dialogue and a style semi-reminiscent of movies made after the turn of the century, is the unquestioned Best Film of 2011. They can’t understand why their fellow film pundits don’t lockstep agree, turning a bit of bickering into a backlash that seems to want to reconfigure Michel Hazanavicius and his efforts into some kind of aesthetic affront. While we tend to agree that The Artist is nowhere near 2011’s greatest, we also aren’t about to turn the title into a travesty. Instead, all we can really say is welcome to the annual Academy Awards argument. For every champion of a certain effort, there is someone who doesn’t like it, for whatever reason.
In the same vein, by a kind of analytical proxy, predicting is really no fun either. Sure, you can sometimes sense an upset in the making (see Alan Arkin in 2007), or pray for some last minute left field finish (GO TREE OF LIFE! ). But for the most part, every piece of the pre-Oscar puzzle leads one to an evening of anticipated anticlimaxes. Will we be pleased if some of the givens go home empty handed? Perhaps – it all depends on who or what exactly gets the bridesmaid vs. bride treatment. Will we scream if at least a couple of these certainties turn into Robin Williams/Marissa Tomeis? Damn straight! While we will definitely be back to Monday morning quarterback the slick off these celluloid symbols, until then, enjoy these less than educated guesses. They won’t help you win the office pool, but they probably represent the best bet when it comes to figuring out the funny little movie muddle known as Hollywood, starting with the biggest one of all:
What will win: The Artist
What SHOULD win: Hugo
Another year – another good movie being overpraised and positioned to sweep several major awards. One assumes that, when droopy eyes finally close early Monday AM, the gimmicky silent movie that can’t seem to win over audiences will walk away with Best Picture, Actor, Director, and various technical awards. It will be yet another example of PR pushing instead of genuine artist assessment and a ready cautionary example for future Oscar overviews. Still, when compared to the rest of the pack nominated (nine, this go round) it definitely deserves a frontrunner spot. For our money, however, Scorsese’s actual love letter to the origins of cinema was far more effective and entertaining than this cinematic stunt.
Who will win: Jean Dujardin
Who SHOULD win: Gary Oldman
With SAG and other organizations backing his sunny, smiling performance, Dujardin is a solid shoe-in. He’s been making the media rounds, doing all the right things (have you seen his Funny or Die villains piece??? Priceless) and has yet to run into any real opposition. Sure, some are hoping for Clooney to come out of nowhere and upset things, but for us, a far more telling twist would be if Oldman beat them all. While his turn in Tinker was somber and subtle, it represents a fully realized turn in an equally complex effort.
Who will win: Meryl Streep
Who SHOULD win: Rooney Mara
Ms. Mara is getting gypped here. She should have been resituated in the Best Supporting category so she could walk away with its top prize. Decades ago, this was how things were done (right, Timothy Hutton???). Now, she must face off against an Academy icon and a race-based favorite. Indeed, if Ms. Streep doesn’t take home her record setting third Oscar, it will be Viola Davis earning a major mea culpa from an organization that marginalized performers of color for more than half a century.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Who will win: Christopher Plummer
Who SHOULD win: Who cares…
Here’s the deal – the real Best Supporting Actors of 2011 were not even nominated. Albert Brooks. Asa Butterfield. Ben Kingsley – none of them made the final ballot, so our interest level is already waning. Then there is the whole “lifetime achievement” aspect of this category, a battle shaping up between two aging idols, each one capable of earning their first (and perhaps) only Oscar. Of the two, Plummer will walk away a winner, leaving poor Mr. Von Sydow to hope for another few years – and another fine role or two.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Who will win: Octavia Spencer
Who SHOULD win: Jessica Chastain
As they are often want to do, the Academy will try to make up for its decades of bigotry and prejudice by awarding an actress who both transcends the vile previous archetypes by…playing one of those very roles. As a maid making life a slimy shit pie for her ex-employer, Spencer was excellent. But for sheer range and “what can’t she do” dynamics, Ms. Chastain is our choice. From Take Shelter to Tree of Life, from The Debt to Coriolianus, she was uniformly terrific. For such heavy lifting alone, she mandates respect – and a shiny gold statue.
Who will win: Michel Hazanavicius
Who SHOULD win: Martin Scorsese
It’s all a question of comfort zone. All Mr. Hazanavicius had to do was bone up on his motion picture history, pickpocket a few plotpoints from Singing in the Rain and A Star is Born, and then offer it all in stunning black and white. Oddly enough, he got his start in spy spoofs, meaning the Mel Brooks comparisons don’t fall too far from the tree. Apparently, this impresses the Academy (and the DGA). On the other hand, the true living legend of American cinema tried something different – a family film with a link to the artform’s past. He proved he could handle fantasy as well as a certain Mr. Spielberg and proved 3D could be a viable addition to the craftsman’s tool box.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
What will win: The Descendants
What SHOULD win: Moneyball
The Descendants was a walk in the park for its writers. It offered up a simple story with streamlined characters (distant dad, mischievous kids, angst-ridden adulterer) and a proud, personality-based pay-off. Moneyball, on the other hand, had to make baseball number crunching sexy…and interesting…and suspenseful …and it had to turn turnips like Billy Beane into an engaging lead. While we really don’t care who wins, we think turning the new, statistics based idea of competition into a solid effort should beat out a no win Best Picture afterthought.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Who will win: Midnight in Paris
Who SHOULD win: Bridesmaids
Woody needs this. Many in his former fanbase have bailed, leaving a new group of devotees to worship at his faded and flawed altar. So here’s to Hollywood embracing the aging artist and giving him something that, otherwise, his oeuvre argues he doesn’t deserve. Of course, The Artist could also walk away with this one, proving that the Academy is about as hip as a Hopalong Cassidy western. Still, if the voters want to prove how cool they really are, they could offer up Ms. Wiig and her crew a vote of confidence. Bridesmaids was terrific, much more than The Hangover with women. An Oscar would prove that.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Who will win: Hell and Back Again
Who SHOULD win: Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Here’s the challenge – figure out which of five uniformly good documentaries earn the Academy’s final approval. Do you pick the pro-environment screed, the 3D look at a famous dancer and choreographer, the story of a small Southern high school and its football team’s transformation from worst to first, a returning war vets struggles, or an indictment of the judicial system which actually aided in getting three innocent men freed? If you’re the members of AMPAS, you clearly go with the good old red, white, and blue. For us, the overall work of Berlinger and Sinofsky (including other films in their canon) demand respect, and a trophy.
BEST FOREIGN FILM
What will win: A Separation
What SHOULD win: A Separation
It’s from Iran, and deals with the unusual issue of familial dysfunction and marriage within a confused theocracy. It’s earned more praise than per screen review and remains a hot button topic among critics who either adore or abhor it. Still, when placed up against a Belgian crime drama set inside cattle farming, an Israeli tragicomedy about father and son scholars, a Canadian effort about a substitute teacher with a dark past, and a Polish sewer worker who shelters Jews from the Nazis, the choice seems obvious. What’s shocking is how A Separation is besting what should have been the real frontrunner. After all, the Academy can’t let a WWII story about the horrors of the Third Reich go unrewarded.
BEST ANIMATED FILM
What will win: A Cat in Paris
What SHOULD win: Rango
Puss in Boots and Kung Fu Panda 2 are far too commercial to warrant inclusion as part of the mix and since Oscar decided that the motion capture conceits of The Adventures of Tintin weren’t worth acknowledging, it’s down to an inventive spaghetti western riff – and two complete unknowns. Few critics had even heard of A Cat in Paris or Chico and Rita before their names were read back in January. Now, at least one appears to have gained a bit of an upper hand. While we still want the cheeky Leone-lite of Rango to win, we’re really not invested. Spielberg should be walking away with another award.