Thursday, August 21, 2014
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It’s time, once again, to handicap the Oscars

Never having won best original song, this should be the year a James Bond film breaks that streak with Adele’s “Skyfall.” Courtesy photo

Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productionsí action adventure SKYFALL.

By
From page A1 | February 17, 2013 |

Consider the irony: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Music Branch finally comes to its senses, once again granting us five Best Song nominees, and it’s wasted effort … because this year’s obvious winner will blow all the others outta the water.

The 85th annual Academy Awards ceremony, to be broadcast at 4 p.m. next Sunday, arrives with the usual controversy and cool factoids. Political chest-thumping obviously cost Kathryn Bigelow her director’s nomination for “Zero Dark Thirty,” and that’s a shame. But how could Ben Affleck also have been overlooked, in the same category?

Happily, he has laughed ever since, while collecting trophies left and right, for “Argo.” (Revenge is a dish best served over and over.)

Little Quvenzhané Wallis became the youngest lead actress nominee of all time, while Emmanuelle Riva became the oldest. “Silver Linings Playbook” scored nominations in all four acting categories, the first time this has happened since “Reds” did the same, back in 1981. With its five nominations, “Skyfall” became the most-honored James Bond film, and then some; the entire series has garnered only seven previous nominations since 1962.

By the numbers, “Lincoln” leads with an even dozen nominations, followed by “Life of Pi” (11), “Les Misérables” and “Silver Linings Playbook” (eight each) and “Argo” (seven).

But enough stalling, I hear you cry; get to the meat of the matter. OK, fine: Let’s see how many right answers I can talk myself out of this time…

Visual effects

One of this year’s few dead-certs. “Snow White and the Huntsman” doesn’t even belong here, and “Prometheus” tanked at the box office. “The Avengers” may have been the year’s box-office champ — by quite a margin — but it’s destined to lose this, its sole Oscar nod. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” undoubtedly deserves to win, but the voters will figure been there, honored that. Which leaves that simply amazing CGI tiger: Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer and Donald R. Elliott, for “Life of Pi.”

Makeup

Yes, Anthony Hopkins looked sufficiently Hitchcockian, in “Hitchcock,” and Anne Hathaway certainly appeared gaunt, in “Les Misérables.” Honestly, though, nobody could overlook the multiplicity of marvelous dwarfs and other Middle Earth denizens: Peter Swords King, Rick Findlater and Tami Lane, for “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”

Sound mixing

This category represents the totality of the sound-mixing process — the music, the dialogue, the background noises and everything else — whereas the next category focuses more specifically on fabricated sound (sound effects, like visual effects).

The Motion Picture Sound Editors’ annual Golden Reel Awards generally aren’t much help, since they divide the spoils within additional sub-categories. Their 60th annual ceremony takes place tonight; you can check media feeds tomorrow, for the results.

“Life of Pi” and “Lincoln” are unlikely choices here. I’m pleased by the inclusion of “Skyfall,” but James Bond won’t win this mission. No, we’ve got a two-horse race between “Les Misérables” and “Argo.” An “Argo” sweep could start here, but let’s recall that Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and the rest of the “Les Miz” cast did their singing live, during shooting … rather than looping in their vocals during post-production. That must have been a nightmare to integrate with everything else, so I expect to see Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes collect statues, for “Les Misérables.”

Sound editing

A harder call. We can discount “Django Unchained” and “Life of Pi,” but “Skyfall” has a chance here. I more likely suspect a dead heat, between “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Argo,” and I believe the latter’s sweep begins here: Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn, then, for “Argo.”

Production Design

As of this year, this is the new designation for the category formerly known as Art Direction: a logical change, since it more accurately reflects the work involved with production design and set decoration, and honors the two individuals responsible for those duties. The annual Art Directors Guild Awards, presented Feb. 2, were divided into three branches, for period, fantasy and contemporary; the winners were, respectively, “Anna Karenina,” “Life of Pi” and “Skyfall.” The latter isn’t among the Oscar candidates, and therefore can be ignored.

This one’s obvious, and any other choice would reflect voter insanity. The shifting sets and backdrops, re-positioned stagecraft and stage dressing, and all the other elements that took place on the fly, as cameras recorded the resulting drama in long single takes, must have been a staggering logistical challenge … yet everything was executed with stunning precision. Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer darn well better win this category, for “Anna Karenina.”

Costume Design

“Mirror Mirror” and “Snow White and the Huntsman” are ridiculous options, and can be ignored. (That said, Colleen Atwood’s nomination for the latter, her 10th, ties the category record held by Sandy Powell.) “Lincoln” would be an acceptable winner, but this seems an obvious match-up between “Anna Karenina” and “Les Misérables.”

The annual Costume Designers Guild Awards, which will take place Tuesday evening, also are divided into the same three branches: period, fantasy and contemporary. All five Oscar-nominated films also are vying for Guild awards, in the first two categories. The Guild champ therefore will be a strong candidate for the Oscar, as well.

Its visual opulence notwithstanding, “Anna Karenina” simply didn’t work for most viewers. I’ll therefore go with Paco Delgado, for “Les Misérables.”

Original song

This one pleases me no end.

The James Bond film series has won only two Academy Awards during its half-century run, for “Goldfinger” (sound effects) and “Thunderball” (special effects). Rather unbelievably, no song has ever won; heck, Shirley Bassey’s smoldering versions of “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds Are Forever” weren’t even nominated. “Nobody Does It Better” (from “The Spy Who Loved Me”) and “For Your Eyes Only” did earn nominations, but lost.

Well, that ain’t gonna happen this year. Adele and colleague Paul Epworth have this one in the bag, for “Skyfall.”

Original score

I have absolutely no idea.

John Williams set another all-time record, with his 48th nomination (“Lincoln”), breaking the record he broke last year, as well. He could win on sentiment alone; the man turned 81 on Feb. 8, and he obviously doesn’t have many scores left in him.

The enthusiasm for Adele’s “Skyfall” title theme could bring Thomas Newman an Oscar as well, for his dramatic score. Both Dario Marianelli and Alexandre Desplat are popular composers, and they’re nominated for high-profile films: “Anna Karenina” and “Argo,” respectively. This is Desplat’s fifth nomination, with no wins thus far; he easily could become part of the Oscar sweep for “Argo.”

On the other hand, much of the fifth nominee takes place with little or no dialogue, leaving music to augment and sometimes fully supply the story’s dramatic heft. I’ll therefore go with Mychael Danna, for “Life of Pi.”

Animated feature

Wow. Tough call.

“The Pirates: Band of Misfits” hasn’t a prayer, and “Brave” is a rare Pixar disappointment. Both “Frankenweenie” and “ParaNorman” are incredibly impressive, due to the delightful complexity of their unusual animation styles. But they cover similar thematic territory, which might split and dilute what I’ll call the “supernatural voting block.”

That leaves the candidate with the unexpectedly heartwarming character interplay, and solid message of inclusiveness. Director Rich Moore deserves the gold, for “Wreck-It Ralph.”

Foreign-language film

This often is a difficult category, because politics plays so strong a role.

But not this year. Given all the hype, honors and critical accolades already collected by this film, Austria seems a lock, for “Amour.”

Editing

The American Cinema Editors 63rd annual Eddie Awards ceremony took place Saturday evening; their awards are divided between drama and comedy/musical, and all five Oscar nominees were cited within those two divisions. The results therefore could have been helpful, but — alas! — this story went to bed too soon.

That aside, I’m not persuaded that “Lincoln” and “Silver Linings Playbook” are editor’s films, and “Life of Pi” is awfully slow. When we think slick editing, we want to reward adrenalin-fueled pacing.

That leaves “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” both of which get considerable juice from the manner in which they’re put together. But the latter runs long; the former is much tighter, more taut and boasts that edge-of-the-seat final act. The sweep therefore continues: William Goldenberg will triumph with this, his fourth nomination, thanks to “Argo.”

Cinematography

The results were surprising at the 27th annual American Society of Cinematographers Awards banquet, which took place last Sunday. To my astonished pleasure, Roger Deakins took top honors for his work on “Skyfall.”

He’s also up for the Oscar, and his ASC victory makes him the candidate to beat. But I can’t see it. Only one nominee displayed work so unbelievably amazing, that it transcended the very boundaries of his craft. Nobody came close to the clever, ingenious and inventive talent Claudio Miranda demonstrated, in “Life of Pi.”

Original screenplay

Very, very difficult.

A month ago, Mark Boal would have walked away with this award, but “Zero Dark Thirty” has become an uncomfortable political hot potato. “Django Unchained” is little more than a violent, snarky, shaggy dog story, while “Flight” owes its juice to acting, not writing. And I’m simply amazed to see Michael Haneke here, for “Amour”; it may be an intensely personal film, but — again — that’s due more to acting than scripting.

The 65th annual Writers Guild Awards will take place tonight, and they’ll shed a serious clue; writers are a loyal bunch who usually vote as a block, and the WGA winners often go on to win Academy Awards. But two of the WGA nominees in this category aren’t up for Oscars, which complicates matters … and “Amour” isn’t among the WGA nominees, which hurts its chances for the Oscar.

I’ve talked myself into the fifth and final entry: a sweet, poignant and deliciously quirky script that I’d love to see win. So why not? I’m picking Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, for “Moonrise Kingdom.”

Adapted screenplay

This category more closely aligns with the WGA selections, diverging only by replacing Oscar’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild” with the WGA’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” But it really doesn’t matter. I’d love to see David O. Russell duplicate his recent BAFTA victory, and win for “Silver Linings Playbook,” but that won’t happen; it’ll be Chris Terrio all the way, for “Argo.”

Supporting actor

Oh, goodness. They’re all terrific. They’re also all former Oscar winners, and that never has happened before. How can anybody decide between them?

The “Argo” sweep could include Alan Arkin, although it’s really not fair that tag-team partner John Goodman wasn’t nominated, as well. Christoph Waltz definitely is the best part of “Django Unchained,” and Robert De Niro’s work in “Silver Linings Playbook” is funny, subtle and painfully tragic. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance in “The Master” is rather large to be a “supporting” role, so maybe he can be excluded for that reason.

I’m going with the fifth candidate, who took this category during the 19th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, which took place Jan. 27. Nobody got more juice out of his wonderful dialogue, in “Lincoln,” than Tommy Lee Jones.

Supporting actress

No contest. She turned three minutes of screen time in “Les Misérables” into a religious experience: Anne Hathaway.

Actor

Also no contest, because this guy is the title character in “Lincoln”: Daniel Day-Lewis.

Actress

Oh, boy.

Much as I’m delighted by her nomination, Quvenzhané Wallis is too young to win, for “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Naomi Watts also will be overlooked, perhaps unfairly; in another year, she could win for her work in “The Impossible.” And I’m reasonably certain that Jennifer Lawrence won’t be rewarded this soon, in what surely will become a very impressive career (although she did win the Screen Actors Guild Award).

That leaves the hard choice.

Emmanuelle Riva’s work in “Amour” is stunning: a full-blown emotional experience that transcends acting. By rights, she should win, and Academy voters often tap foreign actresses for this category; let’s not forget Marion Cotillard’s 2008 triumph, for “La vie en rose.”

On the other hand, the final nominee has been racking up victories with critics across the country, and plenty of people also feel that she should have won last year, for her supporting role in “The Help.” And let’s face it: “Zero Dark Thirty” has to bring something home. I’m going with Jessica Chastain.

Director

A wide-open category, since Ben Affleck isn’t present … although he won the Golden Globe and the 65th annual Directors Guild Award on Feb. 2, which is the best nose-thumbing he could have given his fellow Academy director’s branch members.

Of the actual nominees, Benh Zeitlin can be discounted; “Beasts of the Southern Wild” never penetrated the mainstream. David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook” is this category’s sole unabashed crowd-pleaser, which makes him a strong contender. Ang Lee supervised a boatload of elements, to make “Life of Pi” work. And Michael Haneke and Steven Spielberg drew amazing performances from their stars in, respectively, “Amour” and “Lincoln.”

Well, I’ve picked Tommy Lee Jones and Daniel Day-Lewis, so I should acknowledge the man who got them here: Steven Spielberg, for “Lincoln.”

Picture

No mystery: Affleck will get his revenge, and take the stage alongside George Clooney and Grant Heslov, as producers of “Argo.”

— Derrick Bang will be camped in front of his TV set all day next Sunday. Read more of his film criticism at http://derrickbang.blogspot.com. Feel free to argue about his choices here at www.davisenterprise.com

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