The Final Stretch
With six days left in what has become both the most exciting and the most exhaustive Oscar season I’ve ever witnessed, we come to a stretch of second-guessing and faux reasoning against the frontrunner in valiant attempts at steering clear of boredom.
I’m just as guilty. And though my prediction that “Letters from Iwo Jima” would win Best Picture wasn’t as off the rails as less than a few would like to think (talk to voters – it was in the thick of it), it would be silly not to concede that I just couldn’t swim with most of the school due to the need for excitement.
Even still, last year was the most wide-open phase two we’ve ever seen, while this year, phase one left a million holes to be filled by prospective nominees. Once the films were slated late last month, the frontrunner emerged – and it hasn’t backed down.
So no, I won’t be stepping out onto unnecessary limbs this season because it is quite obvious that “No Country for Old Men” will be the year’s Best Picture winner. It shocks me to the core, because hey, I was the guy saying it didn’t have a snowball’s chance of a nomination. Yet here it is, tied for the most nods with that other film I didn’t think had a snowball’s chance.
This is a new Academy. This is an Academy suddenly, and in spite of its past behavior, concerned with its image in the film community. The group is clearly prone to the pressures of the critical conglomeration, and, perhaps more so, willing to pander to flavor-of-the-month popularity. Only in the guild circuit, I feel, are we seeing an honest celebration of the year’s best cinema, all be it as pieces of a pie rather than a blanketing assessment, because careful consideration can more easily be given to specifics. And even that process is diluted and saturated with the overbearing solicitation of film studios, so perhaps nothing is pure.
But I digress.
“No Country” is the Academy’s choice. Even studios holding out hope for their dark horse contenders can’t help but concede as much, and these people call hundreds and hundreds, inching on a thousand Academy voters during this stretch of time, desperately hoping to turn this person or that on to their product. But in the end, it’s one person and one ballot, and these people don’t like looking stupid (unless they do so at the risk of – GASP! – giving their Best Picture honor to a film centering on a homosexual relationship).
If – and it’s a big fat giant if – the frontrunner is prone for an upset, it certainly won’t be “Atonement,” which is happy to be in the mix. It won’t be “Juno” either, which in my own discussions and in talking with those who call way, WAY more voters than I do, it simply comes up in the #4 spot.
“Michael Clayton” has always been ripe for the steal, because it is so agreeable, so middle-of-the-road, so demographically attractive and, well, so mediocre on some levels. But dare I say it, if something is the true dark horse this year, it might just be Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood,” which could steal the Coen brothers’ thunder in a couple of areas if they aren’t careful over at the 42 West offices. If you knew the big (and I mean big) names that voted for this film and the frankly refreshing sense throughout the industry that it is one of the year’s finest films, you might be surprised.
But let’s not get sucked into the whirlpool, okay? This is one picture’s to lose, and seeing as you couldn’t even sleep under a rock and not hear about Scott Rudin, Joel and Ethan Coen, Javier Bardem and the film itself over the past three weeks, I’d say losing isn’t in the cards.
Oh, but wait – there are other categories, aren’t there? Allow me a brief explanation before getting to the charts:
The acting races are sewn up in all but one category, where five supporting actress contenders each have a clear shot at the win. Strangely enough, none of the studios behind those films have made major strides in getting their contenders out there, so to speak, other than a far-too-late Weinstein performance reel for Cate Blanchett. The double nominee won the Globe, while Ruby Dee took the SAG Award and Tilda Swinton grabbed the BAFTA. Amy Ryan, meanwhile, was the critical darling coming into the season.
So who wins???
Most still think Ruby Dee has it, based on nothing more than a career achievement scenario, but I’m not buying it. The SAG clearly liked “American Gangster,” nominating it in the ensemble category. The Academy clearly did not, as Dee is the only major nominee for the pic. I don’t think the Academy at large would have made it to the 45 minute mark of “I’m Not There” to even see Blanchett’s performance, and Saoirse Ronan, bless her, didn’t get much in the way of a PR shove in phase two.
So I kindly think it’s a duel between Amy Ryan and Tilda Swinton, and for the moment (this may change within the week), I’m sticking with Swinton as the Academy's way to honor “Michael Clayton.”
Elsewhere, I think the industry holds deep respect for Julian Schnabel’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” so much so that I would say Schnabel would have taken the director prize had the film received a Best Picture nomination (though, in truth, he still could pull the upset). So I expect Ronald Harwood’s delightfully cheeky screenplay to triumph over the Coens and Janusz Kaminski to reign out for the pic’s cinematography. These are two categories where the clear artistic accomplishment of this film can be recognized, and believe me, it won’t walk away empty-handed.
Best Sound Mixing? Are Kevin O’Connell and Greg P. Russell really going to get the shaft again, people??? You know, I don’t think things are as desperate as some (and even the two fellas mentioned) do. It might sting a little that the Cinema Audio Society has still not given this duo an award, but it also kind of makes sense for the group to go with a choice like “No Country for Old Men,” whereas the Academy blindly goes with the loudest pic of the bunch more often than not. While “blindly” might not be the way Kev and Greg want to win this thing, it is also quite apparent that the sound mix on “Transformers” is “best all time” material, one of the most innovative and involved, call it complicated, jobs the trade has yet to see. If they win, they deserve it. And I think they will.
Let’s see, just going down my list here. Best Foreign Language Film and Best Animated Feature Film each have clear frontrunners that likely won’t be upended. The costume design arena has me at a slight loss, as I’m caught between “Atonement” and “Elizabeth: The Golden Age.” Best Art Direction could also go to “Atonement” or even “Sweeney Todd,” but for some reason I want to stick with “There Will Be Blood.”
The other tech fields of sound editing and visual effects seem to be headed for the robots in disguise, while Best Original Score tends to go to the most memorable work. This year, that is undeniably the work of Dario Marianelli in “Atonement.” Oh, and Best Original Song comes down to “August Rush” or “Once,” as “Enchanted” screwed itself out of a win when it was nominated three times. And that isn’t much of a toss-up – “Once” takes it.
Finally, fresh on the heels of his win over the weekend, Christopher Rouse is likely to take an Oscar home for the film editing of “The Bourne Ultimatum.” I’m happy to say I was on that train early on, but I’m also happy to say that if anything is set to be a deserved win Sunday night, this is it (and boy will I feel both silly and pissed if he misses).
I will see the shorts later this week and finally give educated guesses in those categories, so no comment at the moment. Let’s see, what am I forgetting…
Oh yeah, Best Original Screenplay. “Juno.” Duh. Easiest pick of the season.
So there we are, my brain leakage in this, the final stretch. The updated charts are both below and in the sidebar. Should anything change, I’ll be sure to note it here and Sunday afternoon, I’ll go ahead and post my full list of predictions in an entry here that makes it clear enough.
(On a side note, Gerard will be wrapping up “Tech Support” later this week, while I will be adding an addendum to his work by offering up my “Top 10 Shots of 2007.” I found last year to be one of the best year’s for cinematography in a long time, and I feel bad that I haven’t been able to do anything with the massive amount of interviews I’ve done with various lensers. I will be posting the shots and their comments in a two-parter starting Thursday, so be on the lookout for that.)
Previous Oscar Columns:
02/11/08 - "2/11 Chart Update"
01/21/08 - "1/21 Chart Update"
01/14/08 - "1/14 Chart Update"
01/07/08 - "12/24 Chart Update"
12/24/07 - "12/24 Chart Update"
12/12/07 - "12/12 Chart Update"
12/10/07 - "12/10 Chart Update"
12/03/07 - "12/3 Chart Update"
11/27/07 - "11/27 Chart Update"
11/12/07 - "11/5 Chart Update"
11/05/07 - "11/5 Chart Update"
10/29/07 - "10/29 Chart Update"
10/15/07 - "The Oil Man vs. the Demon Barber?"
10/08/07 - "Clean-up on Aisle September"
10/01/07 - "Still Anybody's Game"
09/17/07 - "Post-Toronto Update"
09/10/07 - "Notes from the Eye of a Storm"
09/03/07 - "Launching the New Season"
08/03/07 - "August Update"
07/01/07 - "The Silence is Deafening"
02/26/07 - "Forging Ahead: In Contention's Year in Advance Oscar Speculation"