FilmEdge’s Early Academy Awards Handicap

This morning, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Tom Sherak and actress Anne Hathaway announced the nominees for the 82nd annual Academy Awards, with winners announced in a live telecast on March 7th at 5pm PT/8pm ET.   FilmEdge makes our early handicap of the nominees and analyzes the changes made to possibly jazz up the award show’s appeal and ratings.

For the first time since 1943, ten films are nominated in the Best Picture category which will be . . . an interesting experiment in appealing to audiences who felt popular blockbusters got shunned too often for such honors.  But will the five-picture padding of the category actually give any of these films a better chance of winning?  All voting Academy members already nominated films in the Best Picture category before this expansion, so it’s a tough case to prove that the nominations were too selective previously.  Had “popular” films received enough nominations, they made it into the top five run for Best Picture, and if they lacked the votes they didn’t.  Sure, adding more films may well appeal to a broader viewership of the telecast at home, but does this actually make the Best Picture award more relevant or applicable this year?  Face it, this year’s Best Picture winner will beat all other films released this year (in the contest’s narrow terms), so the fact that it beats out nine other nominees instead of four is quite irrelevant . . . except in terms of Nielsen ratings.  Maybe, we’ll see how effectively this strategy plays out.

More analysis throughout the categories below:

Performance by an actor in a leading role
* Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart”
* George Clooney in “Up in the Air”
* Colin Firth in “A Single Man”
* Morgan Freeman in “Invictus”
* Jeremy Renner in “The Hurt Locker”
Jeff Bridges should be the clear favorite for Best Actor, having already taken home six awards (including the Golden Globes and SAG) for his performance as country music singer Bad Blake in CRAZY HEART.  Jeremy Renner delivered a haunted intensity in THE HURT LOCKER certainly deserving the nomination, and Clooney earned critical praise as the lonely manufacturer of unemployed workers, but Bridges now has the momentum which should hand him the gold.
Performance by an actor in a supporting role
* Matt Damon in “Invictus”
* Woody Harrelson in “The Messenger”
* Christopher Plummer in “The Last Station”
* Stanley Tucci in “The Lovely Bones”
* Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds”
Another collection of worthy nominees, but again Christoph Waltz has the overwhelming momentum in the category with a suitcase full of critics’ list wins dating back to late last year plus recent SAG and Golden Globe victories.
Performance by an actress in a leading role
* Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side”
* Helen Mirren in “The Last Station”
* Carey Mulligan in “An Education”
* Gabourey Sidibe in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
* Meryl Streep in “Julie & Julia”
Will Sandra Bullock take home an Oscar for THE BLIND SIDE and a Razzie for ALL ABOUT STEVE in the same weekend?   This category may provide an upset with Carey Mulligan‘s praised work in AN EDUCATION, but did enough Academy members see it to vote for her over the more obvious favorite?  A surprise may be in the works.
Performance by an actress in a supporting role
* Penélope Cruz in “Nine”
* Vera Farmiga in “Up in the Air”
* Maggie Gyllenhaal in “Crazy Heart”
* Anna Kendrick in “Up in the Air”
* Mo’Nique in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
Given NINE’s critical reception, I’m not sure how Cruz made the cut in this four-actress race.  Voting history may back the trend of competing actresses canceling out each other from the same film, which might remove Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick from the envelope.  Mo’Nique has the recent win momentum for PRECIOUS, but could Maggie Gyllenhaal‘s nomination by the Academy after shutouts at the Golden Globes and SAGs signal an apparent upset?  I wouldn’t be surprised if the attention Jeff Bridges drew for CRAZY HEART carries over for Gyllenhaal.  FilmEdge gives the edge to Mo’Nique for now, but we’ll follow the buzz for the next month with interest.
Best animated feature film of the year
*”Coraline”  Henry Selick
*”Fantastic Mr. Fox”  Wes Anderson
*”The Princess and the Frog”  John Musker and Ron Clements
*”The Secret of Kells”  Tomm Moore
*”Up”  Pete Docter
This competitive category boils down to three leading contenders: FANTASTIC MR. FOX gained more than a cult following and drew critical appreciation for Wes Anderson’s quirky vision, and Disney splits the difference between THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG and the Disney/Pixar hit UP.  Henry Selick’s work remains high quality animation pushing the boundaries of the stop-motion artform, but CORALINE just didn’t catch on as well.  UP directed by Pete Docter is most likely to rise above the rest for a win.
Achievement in art direction
*”Avatar”  Art Direction: Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg  |  Set Decoration: Kim Sinclair
*”The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”  Art Direction: Dave Warren & Anastasia Masaro | Set Decoration: Caroline Smith
*”Nine”  Art Direction: John Myhre | Set Decoration: Gordon Sim
*”Sherlock Holmes”  Art Direction: Sarah Greenwood  | Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
*”The Young Victoria”  Art Direction: Patrice Vermette  | Set Decoration: Maggie Gray
The AVATAR onslaught may well begin here with its astounding, imaginative art direction which delivered the splendor prompting James Cameron’s film into the high-grossing stratosphere.   Nothing against the other nominees, but none of them were given the opportunity to create a world which truly had never been seen before.  FilmEdge picks Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg and Kim Sinclair to get the Oscars for opening Pandora’s box (in 3D no less).
Achievement in cinematography
*”Avatar” Mauro Fiore
*”Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”  Bruno Delbonnel
*”The Hurt Locker”  Barry Ackroyd
*”Inglourious Basterds”  Robert Richardson
*”The White Ribbon”  Christian Berger
As stunning and technically groundbreaking as Mauro Fiore‘s work was in AVATAR, Barry Ackroyd has more than a good chance of upsetting Oscar for his indispensible cinematography for THE HURT LOCKER.  The former is an eye-popping adventure of discovery, the latter a psychologically riveting mission of dangerous isolation.  AVATAR may have looked just as good with another artist behind the camera (no slight at all to Mr. Fiore), but THE HURT LOCKER would have been a lesser film without Ackroyd’s eye for detail and feel for storytelling composition.  In the end, it’s a much easier job to lure audiences into Pandora’s lush forests than it is to entrance viewers in the deadly desert war in Iraq.   FilmEdge will applaud either win, but gives the 6-5 edge to Ackroyd in a less obvious, equally deserving effort.
Achievement in costume design
*”Bright Star”  Janet Patterson
*”Coco before Chanel”  Catherine Leterrier
*”The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”  Monique Prudhomme
*”Nine”  Colleen Atwood
*”The Young Victoria”  Sandy Powell
Achievement in directing
*”Avatar”  James Cameron
*”The Hurt Locker”  Kathryn Bigelow
*”Inglourious Basterds”  Quentin Tarantino
*”Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”  Lee Daniels
*”Up in the Air”  Jason Reitman
Much has been made in the press about the “battle of the exes” here but the two leading contenders couldn’t have made more different films.  Again the race boils down to James Cameron creating an unprecedented vision contrasting Bigelow’s gripping personal drama few have ever experienced or survived.   Cameron certainly has the mojo for marrying box-office blowouts with Oscar wins, but then again he’s already gotten credit for that achievement and both Academy members and audiences may well expect mind-blowing visual effects from his films.  Jason Reitman‘s UP IN THE AIR was a fine film and FilmEdge enjoyed it, but he finds himself caught in the clash of the nominated titans. It depends which Academy showed up at ballot casting, but FilmEdge gives the thin advantage to Kathryn Bigelow with her crtics’ list and DGA wins for helming THE HURT LOCKER.
Best documentary feature
*”Burma VJ”
*”The Cove”
*”Food, Inc.”
*”The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers”
*”Which Way Home”
FilmEdge gives the edge to THE COVE for Best Documentary Feature.
Best documentary short subject
*”China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province”
*”The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner”
*”The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant”
*”Music by Prudence”
*”Rabbit à la Berlin”
Achievement in film editing
*”Avatar”  Stephen Rivkin, John Refoua and James Cameron
*”District 9″  Julian Clarke
*”The Hurt Locker”  Bob Murawski and Chris Innis
*”Inglourious Basterds”  Sally Menke
*”Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”  Joe Klotz
I always enjoy Sally Menke‘s work in Quentin Tarantino’s films and she deserves her nomination for helping deliver that uniquely branded style of film entertainment, though I’m not sure INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS will allow her to take the stage next month.  The developing nominee rivalry between AVATAR and THE HURT LOCKER ensues in the Editing category as well, and FilmEdge declares it a pick-’em contest.  In the end, I think Bob Murawski and Chris Innis did a better job supporting THE HURT LOCKER’s storytelling psychology with involves audiences in an emotionally challenging, uncomfortable environment, which gives the duo a slim edge.
Best foreign language film of the year
*”El Secreto de Sus Ojos”
*”The Milk of Sorrow”
*”Un Prophète”
*”The White Ribbon”
Achievement in makeup
*”Il Divo”  Aldo Signoretti and Vittorio Sodano
*”Star Trek”  Barney Burman, Mindy Hall and Joel Harlow
*”The Young Victoria”  Jon Henry Gordon and Jenny Shircore
Admittedly I haven’t seen either IL DIVO or THE YOUNG VICTORIA, and perhaps neither have many Academy members.  STAR TREK remains as the most obvious choice in the history of this category, and FilmEdge expects Barney Burman, Mindy Hall and Joel Harlow to be ready for their close-up on March 7th.
Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)
*”Avatar”  James Horner
*”Fantastic Mr. Fox”  Alexandre Desplat
*”The Hurt Locker”  Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders
*”Sherlock Holmes”  Hans Zimmer
*”Up”  Michael Giacchino
Multi-nominated musicians crowd this category as usual, but James Horner‘s and Hans Zimmer‘s compositions took back seats to the visual spectacle and character personalities of their respective films.  Only Michael Giacchino‘s touching, humorous and soaring score for UP contributed to the success of story and character in true stand-out style.
Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)
*”Almost There” from “The Princess and the Frog”  Music and Lyric by Randy Newman
*”Down in New Orleans” from “The Princess and the Frog”  Music and Lyric by Randy Newman
*”Loin de Paname” from “Paris 36”  Music by Reinhardt Wagner Lyric by Frank Thomas
*”Take It All” from “Nine”  Music and Lyric by Maury Yeston
*”The Weary Kind” from “Crazy Heart”  Music and Lyric by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett
Randy Newman has proven to be money in the bank composing songs for Disney animation, but he may be splitting his own votes with two tunes from THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG.  I don’t know if enough Academy members have seen PARIS 36 to give it the win, and I doubt NINE’s new song from an old musical will carry the numbers.  FilmEdge expects the emotional power from Jeff Bridges’ performance in CRAZY HEART to win the hearts of voters and the Oscar for Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett.
Best motion picture of the year
*”The Blind Side”
*”District 9″
*”An Education”
*”The Hurt Locker”
*”Inglourious Basterds”
*”Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
*”A Serious Man”
*”Up in the Air”
As noted above in FilmEdge’s analysis of the nominees, we remain unconvinced that expanding the Best Picture category to ten nominees yields significant results beyond a possible boost in telecast ratings for fans of populist films. This rule change may be even less relevant for 2009 nominees, when one of the top two contenders is now the highest grossing film in cinematic history.   The apparent trend indicates the Best Actor and Actress nominations have boosted films like THE BLIND SIDE, PRECIOUS, AN EDUCATION and A SERIOUS MAN into the top ten field which may otherwise have not cracked the top five.  INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS was a likely top five nominee given Quentin Tarantino’s status in Hollywood, and more likely that Neill Blomkamp’s DISTRICT 9 wouldn’t have made the Best Picture cut without Award-winner Peter Jackson producing it (even though FilmEdge liked DISTRICT 9 a great deal).  This leaves UP IN THE AIR aloft between the titans of AVATAR and THE HURT LOCKER, and I think the recent PGA win puts the latter over the top and earns the Best Picture Oscar for producers Kathryn Bigelow, Mark Boal and associates TBA.
Best animated short film
*”French Roast”
*”Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty” (Brown Bag Films)
*”The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte)”
*”Logorama” (Autour de Minuit)
*”A Matter of Loaf and Death” (Aardman Animations)
Best live action short film
*”The Door” (Network Ireland Television)
*”Instead of Abracadabra” (The Swedish Film Institute)
*”Miracle Fish” (Premium Films)
*”The New Tenants”
Achievement in sound editing
*”Avatar” (20th Century Fox) Christopher Boyes and Gwendolyn Yates Whittle
*”The Hurt Locker” (Summit Entertainment) Paul N.J. Ottosson
*”Inglourious Basterds” (The Weinstein Company) Wylie Stateman
*”Star Trek” (Paramount and Spyglass Entertainment) Mark Stoeckinger and Alan Rankin
*”Up” (Walt Disney) Michael Silvers and Tom Myers
Achievement in sound mixing
*”Avatar”  Christopher Boyes, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson and Tony Johnson
*”The Hurt Locker”  Paul N.J. Ottosson and Ray Beckett
*”Inglourious Basterds”  Michael Minkler, Tony Lamberti and Mark Ulano
*”Star Trek” Anna Behlmer, Andy Nelson and Peter J. Devlin
*”Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”  Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers and Geoffrey Patterson
Achievement in visual effects
*”Avatar”  Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham and Andrew R. Jones
*”District 9″  Dan Kaufman, Peter Muyzers, Robert Habros and Matt Aitken
*”Star Trek”  Roger Guyett, Russell Earl, Paul Kavanagh and Burt Dalton
Adapted screenplay
*”District 9″  Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
*”An Education”  Screenplay by Nick Hornby
*”In the Loop”  Screenplay by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche
*”Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”  Screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher
*”Up in the Air”  Screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner
While many would consider this category to be the strongest chance for DISTRICT 9 to pick up some Academy hardware, Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell‘s intriguing sci-fi allegory likely lost its lead among voters with the late 2009 release of UP IN THE AIR.  Jason Reitman put his indelible, timely stamp on Sheldon Turner‘s early adaptation of Walter Kirn’s novel, and Academy members likely will reward Reitman with the win he won’t get in the Best Picture and Directing categories.
Original screenplay
*”The Hurt Locker”  Written by Mark Boal
*”Inglourious Basterds”  Written by Quentin Tarantino
*”The Messenger”  Written by Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman
*”A Serious Man”  Written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
*”Up”  Screenplay by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter  Story by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy
FilmEdge found Quentin Taranino‘s script for INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS a middling effort in his canon of often pyrotechnic screenplays and films, and doesn’t see the Academy awarding his oft-delayed and rewritten story this year. Joel and Ethan Coen‘s A SERIOUS MAN lacks the momentum to back its win despite the brothers’ pedigree in the category, nor will the buzz for Woody Harrelson’s performance put THE MESSENGER in the spotlight for voters.  So the final decision boils down to the emotionally elevating fantasy UP versus the gritty psychological realism of THE HURT LOCKER.  Since the WGA Awards won’t be handed out until February 20th, they offer no early indication of Writer’s Guild voting trends (not that the WGA results lock in an Oscar win).   It’s easy to overlook Mark Boal‘s script amid such a visually, psychologically riveting war story, but the transparency of his work was the key allowing THE HURT LOCKER to avoid Hollywood war movie cliches.   This independent, non-Hollywood film’s prowess among Oscar nominees may indicate that Academy voters are willing to reward the hard-to-take story over the uplifting feel-good fable, and FilmEdge tips the scales in Boal’s favor accordingly even if an UP upset would also have us applauding.

I’ll revisit this topic as necessary as the awards season continues, so stay tuned for updates and additional analysis here on the FilmEdge blog.


4 thoughts on “FilmEdge’s Early Academy Awards Handicap

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