Sunday, March 27, 2022


Regulars will know that I have a childhood love of the dumb old Academy Awards and have been running my own annual predix for years, usually not very successfully but sometimes beating the spread in the Best Picture and Best Actor and other categories. Even if you don’t want the betting advice, you can just share my appreciation of the excellent nominees and the fun of the guessing game.

This year I’ve seen all the nominated films, and you can see my reviews at these links --Don’t Look Up, Drive My Car, Licorice Pizza, West Side Story, Nightmare Alley, CODA, King Richard, Belfast, The Power of the Dog, and Dune

I’ve also seen all the nominated performances and nearly all of the other major nominees -- which in my experience is actually not helpful for predicting, because I can be swayed by quality and pure enthusiasm into error. But I did my best, and included second-guesses. Onward! 

L Best Picture: The Power of the Dog. I don’t see any way around it. I keep hearing intelligent people -- including the New York TimesKyle Buchanan -- say that CODA will win Best Picture. But, quite apart from it being the absolute worst film of the batch, CODA doesn’t have the traditional profile of the five previous No Best Director Nominee Best Pictures (Green Book, Argo, Driving Miss Daisy, Grand Hotel and Wings). Some of those films are sentimental in some way, as is CODA, but they also have at least one established star or, at the very least, a grizzled old-timer lead or two. (Sorry, Marlee Matlin!) With its teen lead and funny-horny parents, CODA would be a run-of-the-mill YA picture but for the deaf angle, and I don’t think that’s enough, especially since the Academy has elected art films the past two years in row -- could they backslide into feel-good goo-goo-ga-ga for such an unworthy product? Not out of the question, but to me at best CODA’s more like Breaking Away -- a scrappy also-ran. 

The other real serious contender (though I wouldn't completely count out the sentimental-but-actually-good Belfast) is Dune, an impressive chunk of movie- and money-making. But this is the same Academy that hasn’t put up any Star Wars films for any serious awards since 1978. Since the days of five nominees, at least one Best Picture slot has usually been dedicated to a big, sleek Cadillac of a movie that shows lots of flash -- but these only win when you can take them to heart, and Dune is just too freakish for that. (You could say the same for The Shape of Water, a Cadillac/art film hybrid, but that was also a love story.) Plus, The Power of the Dog is just really, really good. [If not: Dune.]

W Best Actor: Will Smith, King Richard. I really liked his performance; that it was delivered under the hagiographic pressure of Richard Williams’ still-living and powerful daughters makes the achievement even more remarkable. This is a rich field but Will Smith is a beloved figure in Hollywood and these guys really want to give it to him. [If not: Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog.]

L Best Actress: Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter. This is a tough one. Penelope Cruz is fantastic in Parallel Mothers but even with her moments of maternal horror it’s simply too subtle a performance for the Academy. Nicole Kidman did a creditable Lucille Ball, right down to Ball’s control freakishness -- which deprives her of the big emotional scene(s) that might have advanced her nomination. Spencer is a weird movie and Kristin Stewart’s Diana meets its challenge perfectly, but I think the eccentricity of the project cuts against her. 

That leaves Colman and Jessica Chastain, who in The Eyes of Tammy Faye really kills it; her and the other actors’ playing style is broad but rich in emotional truth, and she makes a woman who’s mainly remembered as a figure of fun into a sympathetic and even, ultimately, heroic figure. (Who didn’t feel that last parallel clip of Chastain and the real Tammy Faye deep in their gut?) The only question is whether the Academy will reward that kind of bravura loser story; it didn’t with Margot Robbie and I, Tonya

Colman’s performance, like Cruz’s, is subtle, but the character is not just experiencing shocks but also having an extended breakdown that’s brilliantly delineated by Maggie Gyllenhaal’s script and direction (and Jessie Buckley’s eerie flashback performance). And Colman approaches it with the guts of a cat burglar -- I was at several points shocked by how ugly and blinkered she allowed her character to be, yet I always saw where she was coming from (if only in retrospect) and was rooting for her all the way. Also the Academy has shown with Hilary Swank and Frances McDormand (and Luise Rainer and Katharine Hepburn) that it doesn’t mind giving Best Actress to the same woman within the same decade. [If not: Chastain.]

W Best Director: Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog. [If not: Kenneth Branagh, Belfast.]
W Best Supporting Actor: Troy Kotsur, CODA. [If not: Ciarán Hinds, Belfast.]
W Best Supporting Actress: Ariana DeBose, West Side Story. [If not: Kirsten Dunst, The Power of the Dog.]

These are the kind of sucker bets I usually miss, but not this year! I’m sticking with the conventional wisdom. (Here’s my demurrer, though: If some older voters felt themselves giving short shrift to CODA and the gooey sentiment it represents, maybe Branagh has an outside shot.)

W Best Cinematography: Greig Fraser, Dune. All five movies are beautifully shot but Dune, The Tragedy of Macbeth, and Nightmare Alley are the least imaginable without their distinctive look. I would tip it toward Bruno Delbonnel, but the Academy may feel black and white is cheating. And Dune is the Cadillac of the bunch. [If not: Delbonnel, The Tragedy of Macbeth.

W Best Screenplay (Adapted): Siân Heder, CODA. It’s ludicrous, but if the news of a CODA groundswell is at all true, this will get past The Power of the Dog. (A spasm of insight would shift it to Gyllenhaal’s structurally brilliant script.) [If not: Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Lost Daughter.]

L Best Screenplay (Original): Adam McKay and David Sirota, Don’t Look Up. I was sure the backlash this film got from liberal know-betters would redound in the film industry, but this actually won the Writers Guild of America Award, among others. I guess it’s because Adam McKay does writing that really feels written -- almost as much as Aaron Sorkin, but he’s not up this year. [If not: Kenneth Branagh, Belfast.] 

L Best Film Editing: Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum, tick, tick… BOOM! As the year’s big-movie nominee, Dune should tend to prevail in craft awards unless wildly outclassed, and I frankly admire that Joe Walker and Denis Villeneuve made sense of a convoluted story and kept the battle scenes intelligible. But the underdog rumblings for tick, tick… BOOM!, unlike the rumblings for CODA, make sense to me: It’s such a brilliant assemblage of a messy story (with a first-time director), and it catches the rhythm of both the music and the lead’s hyperactivity. [If not: Walker, Dune.]

W Best Original Score: Hans Zimmer, Dune. As important as the unified visual style of Dune is, I can’t imagine it without the score -- it’s mixed way loud whenever no one is talking and with its blend of noises and actual music it really carries the far-outness of the thing -- it's practically an athletic composing performance.  [If not: Jonny Greenwood, The Power of the Dog]

L Best Art Direction: Tamara Deverell and Shane Vieau, Nightmare Alley. Dune has a great unified vision but so do all the contenders, and -- well, the nearly-expressionistic Nightmare Alley sets are just too good. Also, in this category, the past trumps the future. [If not: Adam Stockhausen and Rena DeAngelo, West Side Story.]

W Best Make-Up: The Eyes of Tammy Faye. [If not: House of Gucci.]

W Best Song: "No Time to Die," No Time to Die, Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell. [If not: “Sometimes You Do,” Four Good Days, Diane Warren.]

W Best Sound: Dune. [If not: West Side Story.]

W Best Visual Effects: Dune. [If not: Oh who are we kidding.]

W Best Costume Design: Cruella. [If not: Cyrano.]

These I am really, really just guessing at:

L Best Animated Feature: Flee.
W Best Documentary Feature: Summer of Soul*.
W Best International Film: Drive My Car.
L Best Live Action Short: On My Mind.
W Best Documentary Short: The Queen of Basketball.
W Best Animated Short: The Windshield Wiper.

Place your bets [not with me, I’m unlicensed] and see you tonight! (Oh BTW, cutting eight categories from the telecast including Editing, Score, and Production Design is straight-up bullshit.)

*UPDATE: One hour since posting, I have already copped out on the Documentary Feature category -- I figure if they give Flee Best Animated Feature they'll feel they've done their bit, while Summer of Soul is a blast of joy that people really want in their lives. OK, I'll stop fiddling with it! 

UPDATE 2, 7:20 pm: Just letting you true vipers know they've started giving out the pre-ceremony Oscars and I'm doing great: Got Best Sound, Best Doc Short, and Best Animated Short right!  They gave Best Live Action Short to Riz Ahmed's anti-racist anti-fascist The Long Goodbye, which I thought was too pushy-prop but apparently they liked it. (I did like the rap, though.) So I'm three for four so far, hooray! 

UPDATE 3, 7:45 pm: But now I'm fading! Dune took Best Editing and Best Production Design. But it also won Best Score and The Eyes of Tammy Faye won the makeup award. It's not too late for me to pull it out.

UPDATE 4. Three hosts is [said with a rich lady gangsta lilt] attrition by addition [dance move]. 

UPDATE 5. That's just a matter of timing. Look, by herself Schumer is a stitch, especially making fun of Leonardo DiCaprio and young girls. The Steve Martin gag still works! 

UPDATE 6. After Ariana DeBose's speech I feel like a little theater kid sitting on the floor in front of the TV sniffling. Brava! 

UPDATE 7. I'm doing great but am mainly commenting on Twitter -- to the extent possible, because I want to relax and enjoy these. But you know me -- I'm a kibbitzer. 

UPDATE 8. Someone should have told Will Smith that Frank Sinatra never smacked people around when the cameras were rolling.  

UPDATE 9. Well. I still think CODA is a drag, but one of the venerable Oscar traditions is bitching about how Oscar doesn't know what it's talking about, and my 73% score is not so bad. So, really, we're all winners! From Hollywood for Ugly People, Good Night! 

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