28 February 2014

86th Oscar Predictions (Part I)

I love the Oscars.

And I hate the Oscars.

Oh, Oscar...  I am your bitch.
Maybe not hate, but at times it can be incredibly frustrating paying attention to the whole awards season.  Granted, it's kind of trite to blame the Oscars as it's only the climax of three months of critics' awards and guild awards and this guy's awards and whoever else decides they have to award the movies of the past year.  Still, everyone knows the Oscars and takes the Academy's choices in consideration when selecting what movie to watch next.  Some want to see all the Oscar-winning films and others -- like my step-dad -- are of the mind that if a movie won an Oscar it's not going to be entertaining.  (My step-dad says it in jest since I'm pretty sure he liked The Departed and Unforgiven.)

Anyhow, I've been an Oscar-watcher since the 2000 race when Gladiator won Best Picture.  I'd watched a few Oscar shows before then, but that year was the first that I actually paid attention.  And started my journey of learning everything about the Oscars.  Everyone has one thing they're really good at and while I can write a decent screenplay, knowing the Oscars seems to be where I excel.  From memory I can name every Best Picture winner and how many and what Oscars it won.  I can name every Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Actress winner.  I have charts and graphs and pages of what awards are commonly won together and what nominations can best determine which nominee will win Best Picture.

All in all, I'm just a big Oscar nerd.

But here's the rub:  Knowing Oscar history does little to nothing when trying to predict winners for the current Oscar race.  Sure, there are some indicators you can look to for help -- the guilds are typically the best, the Golden Globes aren't as good but you can't ignore them -- but what ultimately happens is personal feelings play a larger role.  Sometimes those feelings are lucky (I held fast to Christoph Waltz winning last year and it paid off), but most times they're the bane of your prognostication (I should've known Carey Mulligan couldn't overcome Sandra Bullock in the 2009 race).

And that's why I end up doing two Oscar predictions:  The nominees I want to win and the nominees I think will win.  Sometimes they match, most times they don't.  Nevertheless, at the end of the night, my biggest concern is updating all my charts and graphs and pages of Oscar info, because really, whatever/whoever wins wins.  There's nothing that can change that, so it's best to accept the results and see how this year's winner matches up with various cross-references to past winners.  Really, I'm an Oscar historian:  I don't care too much about the winners, just how they fit in with Oscar history.

Anyway, I suppose that's enough about me and my Oscar history.  You're really only here to see what I'm picking to win so you can call me an idiot in the comments.  (Trust me, go to any Oscar blog/site and it's venom and vitriol from anyone who disagrees with you.)  I'll explain my choices as I feel (because maybe I don't want to tell you all my secrets) and breakdown some of the categories as well.  Also, while I think it's great the Oscars recognize short films, those are just too random to accurately predict.  Plus, I haven't seen them.  And it's a bit embarrassing to admit, but I haven't seen any of the Foreign Language Film nominees (I know, I know...) and I've only seen The Act of Killing from the Documentary nominees and Frozen from the Animated Feature slate.  So you're on you're own for those six categories.

So, after all this ado, here are my thoughts about the 86th Academy Awards.
I'll start with the tech awards, and I'm gonna make it really easy as well:  If there's a Best Picture nominee nominated for Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects, and Makeup, pick it to win.  Why?  Because for the most part, the typical AMPAS member/voter usually makes the effort to see all the Best Picture nominees, which means if they look at a category and haven't seen the other nominees, they'll at least feel good about having seen the Best Picture nominee and toss their vote toward that film.

So let's look at these categories:

SOUND MIXING
Captain Phillips
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Inside Llewyn Davis
Lone Survivor

SOUND EDITING
All is Lost
Captain Phillips
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Lone Survivor

VISUAL EFFECTS
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
The Lone Ranger
Star Trek: Into Darkness

MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
Dallas Buyers Club
Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa
The Lone Ranger

Dallas Buyers Club
Go ahead and pick Dallas Buyers Club for Best Makeup -- because no matter how great a job the makeup team behind Bad Grandpa did, do you honestly think the Academy will give a Jackass movie an Oscar?  They should, but they won't.  (By the way:  If Rick Baker is nominated, pick him.  He's won 7 Oscars for his makeup work, and the category's only 32 years old.)

Since pretty much the only things real in Gravity were the actors and their suits, there's little doubt it'll win Best Visual Effects.  Plus, even if The Hobbit team did fantastic work, The Lord of the Rings trilogy won three Oscars for its effects and it's up against a Best Picture nominee.

Now, there's usually confusion about what the difference is between the sound categories.  The distinction is really quite simple:  Best Sound Editing awards the creation of a film's sound effects; Best Sound Mixing awards the creation of the film's soundtrack, including sound effects, dialogue, and score.  So if a door slamming sounds weird, that's poor sound editing.  If the music is overwhelming, that's poor sound mixing.  Easy, right?
Gravity

Anyhow, you look at the sound categories and you've got Best Picture nominees Gravity and Captain Phillips.  For Sound Editing, I'm giving Gravity the edge here since practically everything in the movie had to be created from scratch.  And I'm going with it for Sound Mixing as well because the debris ripping through the space shuttle in complete silence still freaks the hell out of me.

On the other hand, Paul Greengrass's The Bourne Ultimatum won both sound awards in 2007, so it wouldn't be out of the question for Captain Phillips to sneak in for either category.  I don't think it's likely though.

So:

SOUND MIXING
Prediction:  Gravity
My Pick:  Gravity

SOUND EDITING
Prediction:  Gravity
My Pick:  Gravity

VISUAL EFFECTS
Prediction:  Gravity
My Pick:  Gravity

MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
Prediction:  Dallas Buyers Club
My Pick:  Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa

Let's move on to the music categories:

SCORE
The Book Thief
Gravity
Her
Philomena
Saving Mr. Banks

SONG
"Happy," Despicable Me 2
"Let It Go," Frozen
"The Moon Song," Her
"Ordinary Love," Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom

First off, you can go here to listen to all the song nominees and here for clips of the score nominees.

With Best Song, "Let It Go" seems impossible to beat.  It's everywhere.  It's perfectly used in the film.  And it's a great song.  On the other hand, U2 was expected to win back in 2002 for "The Hands That Built America" from Gangs of New York, and they lost that bid.  So there's a possibility the Academy might toss them a make up bone.  I doubt it.  "The Moon Song" is lovely, but might be too mellow, especially alongside "Let It Go" and "Happy."

Score is a bit trickier.  Gravity relies on its sound design to really pull you into the moment and the score is a powerful part of that.  The music is never overwhelming and fits the film -- it's grand, it's uplifting, it's life-affirming.  As great as Gravity is with its silences, the moments the score sneaks in and then wallops you are just as wonderful.

I adore the Philomena score.  It was sweet and humble, like Philomena herself.  As for Her, I honestly can't remember the score, so I guess that means it wasn't worth noticing.  Recently there's been a few nominees -- Michael Clayton, The Hurt Locker, and Argo for example -- like that, where the film somehow gets nominated for its score and it's so subtle you don't recall there being any music in the film.

Saving Mr. Banks
My favorite score of the nominees is Thomas Newman's work on Saving Mr. Banks.  I've loved American Beauty (for which he should've won an Oscar, and then he should've gotten a second for Road to Perdition) and his unique style fit the journey of creating Mary Poppins perfectly.  Outside of Emma Thompson's performance, the score is the best part of Saving Mr. Banks.
Newman's work since

SCORE
Prediction:  Gravity
My Pick:  Saving Mr. Banks

SONG
Prediction: "Let It Go," Frozen
My Pick:  "Let It Go," Frozen

Here are the nominees for Best Production Design and Best Costume Design:

PRODUCTION DESIGN
American Hustle
Gravity
The Great Gatsby
Her
12 Years a Slave

COSTUME DESIGN
American Hustle
The Grandmaster
The Great Gatsby
The Invisible Woman
12 Years a Slave

One thing to keep in mind with Production Design and Costume Design:  In the past 65 years -- that's going back to 1948 when Best Costume Design became an Oscar category -- the film awarded Best Production Design was also nominated for its costumes in 56 instances.  That's about 86% of the time.  So using that information, we can narrow Production Design to American Hustle, The Great Gatsby, and 12 Years a Slave.  And since there seems to be a bias to awarding films set way in the past, we can drop American Hustle -- though if it does win, expect it to win Best Picture as well (same thing if it wins Costume Design).

Anyhow, that leaves us with The Great Gatsby and 12 Years a Slave.  Now, I know above I said to go with the Best Picture nominee, but for these categories, the film with the flashiest sets/costumes tend to come out on top.  So I'll put my money on The Great Gatsby.  Now, a caveat:  Three of the last four winners in this category were 3D films (which Gatsby also is), so don't be surprised if Gravity finds a way to win.  But since much of that movie was celestial vistas, I have my doubts.

The Great Gatsby

Looking back on history, 41 times through 65 years the same film has won both Production Design and Costume Design Oscars.  Taking that step, we're looking at the same three films as we did for Production Design.  And since Catherine Martin won both categories the previous time she was nominated (back in 2001 for Moulin Rouge!), it's hard not to see The Great Gatsby picking up this Oscar as well.

PRODUCTION DESIGN
Prediction:  The Great Gatsby
My Pick:  Gravity

COSTUME DESIGN
Prediction:  The Great Gatsby
My Pick:  The Great Gatsby

And now the last categories for Part I:

CINEMATOGRAPHY
The Grandmaster
Gravity
Inside Llewyn Davis
Nebraska
Prisoners

FILM EDITING
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
12 Years a Slave

Three of the last four winners for Best Cinematography were shot in 3D -- the only one that wasn't was Inception, but for all intents and purposes it might as well have been.  On top of that, 8 of the last 10 winners were also Best Picture nominees.  And as much as I'd like to see Roger Deakins (Prisoners) finally win an Oscar, he's done better work in the past;  plus, Emmanuel Lubezki has been winning practically everything for his lensing, so it'd be awfully, awfully foolish to go against Gravity.

Looking at Film Editing, there's always the debate of what makes good editing.  Some might say seamless cuts are best, others like frenetic cuts, and some say knowing when to cut is best.  And that's why this category can be a bitch to predict.  Captain Phillips won the ACE Eddie (that's the editors guild award) for dramatic feature when many were expecting Gravity to take it; and American Hustle won the Eddie for comedic feature.  This is one of those categories, especially this year, where the winner will ultimately determine the Best Picture winner.  A win for Gravity indicates a sweep; for American Hustle, a win shows broader base; and if Captain Phillips takes it, I think that shows weakness in the support for Gravity.  In addition to Gravity missing out on the Eddie, it's been 10 years, going back to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, since a film has won both Best Editing and Best Visual Effects.

CINEMATOGRAPHY
Prediction:  Gravity
My Pick:  Gravity

FILM EDITING
Prediction:  American Hustle
My Pick:  Captain Phillips

Don't forget to check out Part II.

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