The five categories giving me hell

Posted by · 3:48 pm · February 25th, 2011

With a little over 48 hours until the big night, I find myself in an uncommon state of disarray — my crammed Oscar weekend “To Do” list includes viewing all 15 short nominees in order to make an informed dart-throw of a prediction (stickler that I am, I held out for a theatrical screening), preparing copious supplies of food and alcohol for my second annual hotel-suite Oscar party (sorry, the guest list is full) and somehow finding time to write a final predictions piece.

Before I can check off that last task, however, I actually have to settle on some final predictions — and despite the presence of solid frontrunners in most key categories, this year is giving me more trouble than most. For a race that, only a couple of weeks ago, seemed smothered in blanket affection for a single film, other possibilities have opened up that unusually equalize the possibilities of both a titanic sweep and a widely splintered share-a-thon.

Every Oscar ceremony contains its share of 50-50 calls, but I’m struck this year by the number of categories that haven’t even narrowed themselves to that point: five races, in particular, have me scratching my head over at least three plausible winners. I imagine many of you are struggling with the same ones, so on the principle that many heads are better than one (or at least better than mine), allow me to lay them out in brief.

Best Documentary Feature

No category this year has made me switch my prediction as frequently and as unconfidently as this one — an unusually high-quality slate from which I can see any one of the five nominees emerging victorious, even apparent outsiders “Gasland” (which could benefit from being the most instructive and guilt-preying of the nominees) and “Restrepo” (the most visceral nominee, and the one likeliest to elicit admiring “how did they do that” reactions).

My prediction, however, has wavered between the other three. Since seeing it at Cannes, I maintained that Charles Ferguson’s sobering (yet entertaining) financial crisis doc “Inside Job” was the one to beat, though it didn’t become quite the crossover hit I expected. When “Exit Through the Gift Shop” surprised me by scoring a nomination, I came round to the idea that its off-the-wall spirit and high media profile would come through if votes split between the four “serious” films in the race, but more conservative voters could well find it too flip. I reverted to “Inside Job” for a while, but in the last few days, I’ve found myself wondering about “Waste Land.” Lucy Walker’s art-as-humanitarianism study is, for me, the least accomplished film of the five, but it’s also the sunniest and most feelgood — without skimping on nutritious social themes. I’m beginning to think voters might find it offers them the best of both worlds.

Best Supporting Actress

Another category where I can make a case for any nominee winning — yes, even rank outsider Jacki Weaver whose electric turn in a little-seen film could maintain a small but loyal band of support while the less committed flip-flop between her four higher-profile competitors. (Many a pundit had Marcia Gay Harden in fifth place back in 2000. Just sayin’.) A “King’s Speech” coattail victory for the well-liked, hard-working Helena Bonham Carter makes perfect sense on paper — but Oscar wins aren’t made on paper, and when I consider the peripheral function of her thin performance in the Best Picture frontrunner, I can’t help but wonder if voters will think she’s done enough.

Particularly when her competitors include Melissa Leo, whose impressive precursor run (SAG, BFCA, Golden Globe and a clutch of critics’ awards) makes her the de facto frontrunner, even if many pundits seem desperate for reasons to prove otherwise. Critics and industry voters alike don’t seem bothered by accusations of overacting, the continued “she’ll split the vote with her co-star” theory hasn’t been borne out by any major precursor and the fuss over her self-bought campaign ads exists is infinitely louder in the blogosphere than in the real world. And yet I wonder if the frontrunning status of her co-star Christian Bale is a boost or a hindrance to her chances. Might some voters, having checked off his name, feel inclined to reward another film in the next category? And if so, might young, screentime-advantaged Hailee Steinfeld — about whom any bad word might well be forbidden by law — be the one to benefit?

Best Original Song

If some categories are tough to call because they’re so stacked with worthy contenders, this one is competitive for the opposite reason — in a field where none of the nominees inspire particularly strong swells of feeling, the race can be decided on any number of arbitrary considerations. Those voters who don’t abstain entirely from voting here (I’d wager there are more than you think) could well indulge any one of following thoughts:

“Well, ‘Country Song’ sucked, but it’s a kick to hear Gwyneth Paltrow singing. Where’s she been? I like her.”

“There was a song in ‘127 Hours?’ Well, I haven’t voted for that movie anywhere else. I liked it.”

“Does Randy Newman have an Oscar already? I can’t remember. Anyway, I like him. And that movie made me cry.”

“Disney movies always have good songs, right? I don’t remember this one, but I’m sure it’s good. I like Disney.”

You see the problem here?

Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design

I list them together, because it’s the tandem nature of the awards that has me concerned. The last decade has seen an interesting flip: five consecutive years of Best Art Direction and Costume Design going to the same film (from “Moulin Rouge” to “Memoirs of a Geisha”) has been followed by four years of  the awards going separate ways — the on only one of those occasions were both the awarded films nominated in both categories.

It’s a reasonable deduction, then, that one of the two most effortfully decorated films in the race, “The King’s Speech” and “Alice in Wonderland,” will take both trophies. The former, if the sweep mentality really kicks into gear (the film may not feature the most ornate design work, but who in the Academy voted for “Chicago”‘s art direction with a straight face?). The latter, if that old “Best equals Most” chestnut comes into play yet again (and voters are unperturbed that Tim Burton’s murkily hideous film looks like a gaffer urinated across the camera lens). Of course, if “Inception” takes Best Art Direction, as good taste and clearly widespread Guild appreciation for the film suggests it might, then Costume Design becomes a toss-up once more.

Help me, readers. Which way do you feel the wind blowing? And which categories are chewing away at your all-too-frayed minds?

[Photo: Paramount Pictures]

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35 responses so far

  • 1 2-25-2011 at 3:57 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “Tim Burton’s murkily hideous film looks like a gaffer urinated across the camera lens.”

    That, sir, is pure gold.

  • 2 2-25-2011 at 3:59 pm

    Adam said...

    Which hotels in London carry Sky Movies Premiere? I think I’m going to have to check in to one as well.

  • 3 2-25-2011 at 4:01 pm

    daveylow said...

    I am as puzzled as you about these categories. I really think documentary will go to Exit or Restrepo, two standouts in that category.

    I have a strong feeling Leo is not getting the Oscar. But I have no idea who else might win.

    I will be surprised if the Academy gives Alice more than one award, not when Best Pictures are nominated in the same categories.

    I hope Randy Newman doesn’t win. He already has an Oscar. But then so does Rahman. Elton John thinks the song from Country Strong should win. But he thinks the winner will probably be the one from 127 Hours. I think he may be right.

  • 4 2-25-2011 at 4:09 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Kris: Thank you — I’ve been trying for the better part of a year to articulate what I find so gross about the film, and I think I’m done now.

    Adam: Surprisingly few. We’re checking en masse into The Rathbone on Charlotte Street, but I’m sure there must be cheaper options!

  • 5 2-25-2011 at 4:10 pm

    Speaking English said...

    ***… but who in the Academy voted for “Chicago”‘s art direction with a straight face?).***

    Really? How was that anything but a totally warranted win?

  • 6 2-25-2011 at 4:33 pm

    Chris said...

    Jackie Weaver WILL win Best Supporting Actress. Hollywood desperately need a new Aussie sensation!

  • 7 2-25-2011 at 4:40 pm

    Estefan said...

    “In a field where none of the nominees inspire particularly strong swells of feeling.”

    I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the amount of people who find “I See the Light” an emotional moment within said film. Part of the reason why I think it will win. It’s popular enough that enough Academy members have seen it and it’s the scene Disney has placed all over their FYC ads even before the nominations were announced.

  • 8 2-25-2011 at 4:42 pm

    San FranCinema said...

    Doc Feature: I’m predicting “Exit” in part because of the notion that the “serious” films will split the vote (and there are no shortage of die-hard admirers of Banksy’s aesthetic conundrum).

    Supporting Actress: In a race this close, I’m suspecting the least controversial choice gathers the most votes. And that means Helena. (Though on the “should” side, I’m firmly in camp Leo.)

    Song: Newman gets it as part of the other “sweep” this year: Pixar’s (Animated, Short & Song). I’d love to see “127 Hours” have Oscar attached to its name, but that “song” is hardly a song at all.

    Art Direction: “The King’s Speech.” The film was handsome enough to get plenty of votes here.

    Costumes: “Alice.” The opening section alone puts it in the realm of the typical period winner for this category.

    [I’m trying to sound more confident than I actually feel about any of these!]

  • 9 2-25-2011 at 4:42 pm

    Speaking English said...

    I agree with Estefan. “I See the Light” is placed in, for me, the best and most magical movie moment of 2010. Listening to the song recalls the wonder of seeing that scene for the first time.

  • 10 2-25-2011 at 4:47 pm

    tintin(uruguay) said...

    Harry potter’s Art Direction was allways perfect. They deserves an oscar.

  • 11 2-25-2011 at 4:56 pm

    DylanS said...

    Guy: Did you by chance write a review of “Alice” that you could post a link for? I ask only because your humorous put-downs of the film have been a highlight of this season for me, culminating with that gem above.

    Anyway, in terms of theese near impossible categories to predict (of which I would also add Best Makeup), I am also struggling a great deal. With these kinds of categories, I reccomend simply picking the film you liked best out of the mix. It often narrows the selection down under that logic, and if anything else, you won’t be beating yourself up on Oscar night if it gets called as a winner.

  • 12 2-25-2011 at 4:57 pm

    Graysmith said...

    You guys are stressing about this way too much. I’ve had my final predictions ready for the past two weeks or so, certainly since the BAFTAs anyway. It’s not like anyone wins a million dollars for being right anyway, and you can tinker for all eternity and you’ll still end up being wrong.. So just let it go already.

  • 13 2-25-2011 at 4:57 pm

    Parrill said...

    Yeah these are tough ones.

    I”m going Tangled for song but feel like I’m wrong.
    King’s Speech double dip (Hope I’m wrong)

    And because when I saw Waste Land in Santa Monica there was nothing but a theater full of old people with tears in their eyes, my gut is telling me Waste Land.

  • 14 2-25-2011 at 5:41 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Speaking English: Dante Ferretti constructed every inch of “Gangs of New York” from scratch. I’m a fan of “Chicago,” but he was robbed blind.

    DylanS: I never reviewed Alice. These jabs are all I got.

    Estefan/Speaking English:Have a sizeable majority of Academy members seen Tangled? I’m just asking. (Plus, I just don’t get that song — it’s insipid beyond speech.)

  • 15 2-25-2011 at 5:45 pm

    MJS said...

    I think Toy Story should win the song easily. Voters will probably be looking for something else to give the movie and this is logical. One could make the same argument for 127 Hours, and that would make sense if it was on the bubble for editing or something, but songwriting is pretty far removed from what that movie excels at. Plus that song is the kind of breathy new-age bullshit that gets nominated a lot but rarely wins (anyone remember that song from Crash)?

    I’m as baffled as anyone by the supporting actress race, though I think that Jacki Weaver is a stronger dark horse than people think given the split vote.

    Doc is hard because the “serious” vote could indeed be split, but the thorn in my side about it is that the rumors that “Exit” is a hoax is probably going to be a bigger problem for Academy voters than it is for critics.

  • 16 2-25-2011 at 6:27 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Guy, I totally agree with you on “Gangs of New York.” I just think “Chicago” was still a worthy winner, whether it would have been my #1 choice or not.

  • 17 2-25-2011 at 6:29 pm

    San FranCinema said...

    Another tough call for me: Desplat or Reznor/Ross for Score.

  • 18 2-25-2011 at 6:41 pm

    Estefan said...

    @ Guy Lodge: I don’t know any Academy members. :-) But, Tangled is the tenth highest grossing film of the year. It’s not out of the question that a good number of them have seen it.

    Tarantino certainly has, as evidenced by his top ten list of the year.

  • 19 2-25-2011 at 8:13 pm

    Nelson said...

    Yup, you nailed it, these are the really tricky categories that have me scratching my head as well.

    Supp. Actress: Leo
    Costume: The King’s Speech
    Art Direction: Alice in Wonderland
    Original Song: Toy Story 3
    Documentary: For now Inside Job

    My other tricky category: Foreign Film, but that’s always the case

  • 20 2-25-2011 at 11:32 pm

    Dooby said...

    I’m predicting Inception to get screwed over by these awards so I regretfully have it pegged for losing Art Direction to Alice In wonderland and Sound Editing to True Grit.

  • 21 2-26-2011 at 1:00 am

    Paul Outlaw said...

    Guy, regarding Supporting Actress (my fave bone of contention this year), two things:

    1) Less showy ≠ “thin” (or “meagre,” as you said elsewhere). Kris’ Oscar Guide to this category expresses very succinctly what HBC accomplishes in this role.

    2) In the “real world” where I live (i.e. Los Angeles), everyone who watches the Oscar race or actually votes that I know believes that Leo lost a lot of votes with those ads. The question is: did she lose enough to fall into second (or third) place? (My Oscar pool ballot still has her name checked off, but I am not overly confident about the pick.)

  • 22 2-26-2011 at 2:19 am

    JBM said...

    Here is my stab:

    Doc Feature: Inside Job; I’m pulling for Exit but I high agree that it may be too hip for the high minded doc branch….
    Supp. Actress: Hailey Steinfeld; She benefits from carrying the weight of the movie on her shoulders. Leo loses votes thanks to Bale. She’s this year’s Eddie Murphy. Don’t be surprised if Carter upsets.
    Song: Tangled; Randy Newman has his Oscar and so does AR Rahman and Menken has 8 wins. I dont know about this one…
    Costume: King’s; for me its only tech win.
    Art: Inception; King’s is too muted and Alice, too much….

  • 23 2-26-2011 at 2:23 am

    Dominik said...

    I had similar problems with Supp. Actress and Best Song and finally forced myself to make a prediction and stay with it, for the reason because I feel my predictions won´t get any better the more I reconsider them.
    I go with Bonham-Cater, because I believe the overwhelming support for her movie will also result into a win for her. She´s well liked, respected (as far as I can judge it) and she never won.
    For best song I chose “Country song”, because it´s the only bearable nominee for me.

  • 24 2-26-2011 at 2:24 am

    Dominik said...

    typo, of course: Bonham-Carter!

  • 25 2-26-2011 at 2:42 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Paul: I certainly agree that size isn’t all in the performance races, but I don’t see what special sauce Bonham Carter is bringing to the table here. I actually think it’s a pretty poor performance.

  • 26 2-26-2011 at 5:27 am

    daveylow said...

    I agree with Guy about the art direction for Gangs of New York, which also had remarkable costumes.

  • 27 2-26-2011 at 7:46 am

    Hero said...

    If you really want our thoughts Guy, here are mine. Just remember that I’ve had some good years predicting and some bad ones, and this feels like a bad one. ;)

    Doc–I’m going with Inside Job for no other reason than something about it feels like something the Academy would pick. More than any other race, I’d love to be wrong and see Restrepo surprise us all, but I’m not holding my breath.

    Supporting Actress–I’m picking Hailee Steinfeld on the theory that Leo and Adams will split and that the Academy likes young girls and lead roles in supporting. But HBC worries me.

    Song–I think Country Strong is out of the running, and the cartoon movies will cancel each other out, leaving 127 Hours and the voters one chance to support that movie.

    Art Direction–I’ve got Alice here, but I don’t feel good about that at all. I’m going with the theory that in the past the Academy has liked the Art Direction in Burton films, and in the design categories, they’ve shown more love for fantasy here than in Costumes, LOTR being an exception to every rule.

    Costumes–This is a hard category this year because there are no layer cakes to vote for. Since TKS is the only nominee that is at least both period and pretty, I’m predicting it.

  • 28 2-26-2011 at 9:28 am

    DarkLayers said...

    Paul Outlaw as an actor yourself, what do you think of the contention that Melissa Leo is excessively over-the-top?

  • 29 2-26-2011 at 10:33 am

    Paul Outlaw said...

    @ Guy: I think that is the first time you have come out and said that. So now I can say: agree to disagree. ;-)

    @ DarkLayers: I don’t agree with that at all. I think she does a fine job of playing a character who is over-the-top. Of the five, Leo’s performance remains the strongest in my opinion, despite what I think about her campaign or the affection I have for any of the other four nominees.

  • 30 2-26-2011 at 11:07 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I’m picking Hailee Steinfeld on the theory that Leo and Adams will split

    As I say in the piece, this is a theory that a lot of people (including some major Oscar pundits) keep posing. But what’s the basis for it?

    They didn’t split the vote at the BFCAs.

    They didn’t split the vote at the Globes.

    They didn’t split the vote at the SAGs.

    Clearly, having her co-star nominated isn’t denting Leo’s campaign. I can’t help thinking that many people are clinging to this idea simply because it’s an easy way to rule out two names in a tough category. ;)

  • 31 2-26-2011 at 11:12 am

    DarkLayers said...

    And as you mention qualitatively, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo give very different performances.

  • 32 2-27-2011 at 8:34 am

    Marv said...

    I’m not buying that Leo and Adams will spilt either. Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah didn’t spilt.