Thursday, February 10, 2011

2011 Oscar Predictions

And then it was Oscar season.

It's a great list of movies this year, despite my concerns back in October that the outlook wasn't so good. For the second year, the Academy has nominated ten movies for Best Picture; and while I was initially skeptical of this gimmick, I'd say it's panned out pretty well both times. There's not a single Best Picture nominee this year that isn't worth watching. Some are better than others, but... I suppose that's the point of the Oscars in the first place, isn't it?

I'm finding myself taking an analytical approach to my Oscar predictions this year, more from the brain than the heart. My analysis is below, with just the occasional heartfelt plea. Let's dig in...

  • Inception, Richard King
  • Toy Story 3, Tom Myers and Michael Silvers
  • TRON: Legacy, Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and Addison Teague
  • True Grit, Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey
  • Unstoppable, Mark P. Stoeckinger
  • Inception, Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo and Ed Novick
  • The King’s Speech, Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen and John Midgley
  • Salt, Jeffrey J. Haboush, Greg P. Russell, Scott Millan, and William Sarokin
  • The Social Network, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick, and Mark Weingarten
  • True Grit, Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff, and Peter F. Kurland
These categories sound confusingly similar to most people, so here are some quick explanations. It would be helpful if sound editing were referred to by its other name, sound design. That gives you a clearer idea of what the sound editor does, which is to find or create audio for everything that makes a sound in a movie (both real and imagined). Sound mixing is, as you might imagine, the process of sitting at a sound board with all the audio elements and adjusting the levels, blending the sounds, balancing the dialogue against the music, etc.

That being said, I'll admit that these are two of my weakest categories. I don't know much about how they're judged. But looking at the history of winners, it seems that flashiness tends to get all the attention - war movies, effects movies, action movies. I'd expect Inception to win both of these categories.

  • Alice in Wonderland, Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1, Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz and Nicolas Aithadi
  • Hereafter, Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojanski and Joe Farrell
  • Inception, Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb
  • Iron Man 2, Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick
Of the nominees, Inception stands out as the most innovative and original.

  • Alice in Wonderland, Colleen Atwood
  • I Am Love, Antonella Cannarozzi
  • The King’s Speech, Jenny Beaven
  • The Tempest, Sandy Powell
  • True Grit, Mary Zophres
This is another one of those categories that I can't claim to have any expertise on. I mean, what do I know from sewing? But this is also one of those categories where a little bit of research sheds a lot of light. For the last four consecutive years, royalty has always won (see the list). Not only do we have a movie about royalty this year, but we have a movie about royalty which is also poised to take some of the bigger awards. The King's Speech will win this category.


**UPDATED FEB. 14: Click here to read my short film predictions.

  • 127 Hours, Jon Harris
  • Black Swan, Andrew Weisblum
  • The Fighter, Pamela Martin
  • The King’s Speech, Tariq Anwar
  • The Social Network, Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter
This is an award that most often goes to the best picture winner, but not always. I think this is one of the rare years where Editing and Picture won't go to the same movie. Expect a Social Network win here.

  • “Coming Home,” Country Strong, Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey
  • “I See the Light,” Tangled, Alan Menken, Glenn Slater
  • “If I Rise,” 127 Hours, A.R. Rahman, Dido, Rollo Armstrong
  • “We Belong Together,” Toy Story 3, Randy Newman
Ugh. Look, do any of these songs get stuck in your head? They don't mine. The song from Tangled rings some '90s-Disney bells, but I think an overall affection for Toy Story 3 will push Randy Newman to the win.

  • 127 Hours, A.R. Rahman
  • How to Train Your Dragon, John Powell
  • Inception, Hans Zimmer
  • The King’s Speech, Alexandre Desplat
  • The Social Network, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
This one's a tough call as far as I'm concerned. I'd guess the front runners are Inception and The Social Network. I'm going to give the edge to The Social Network for the hipness factor of Trent Reznor, and the fact that Inception's Hans Zimmer is a previous winner.

  • Alice in Wonderland, Robert Stromberg, Karen O’Hara
  • Happy Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1, Stuart Craig, Stephenie McMillan
  • Inception, Guy Hendrix Dyas, Larry Dias, Doug Mowat
  • The King’s Speech, Eve Stewart, Judy Farr
  • True Grit, Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh
An even tougher call than Score. I'm going to shoot from the hip and just blurt out Inception. I could be expected to get this one wrong. If you have a better guess and a good reason for it, I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

  • Black Swan, Matthew Libatique
  • Inception, Wally Pfister
  • The King’s Speech, Danny Cohen
  • The Social Network, Jeff Cronenweth
  • True Grit, Roger Deakins
Very strong contenders here, but I'd narrow it down to either Social Network or True Grit. My brain says the former, my heart says the latter. I'm going to put my money on True Grit.

  • How to Train Your Dragon
  • The Illusionist
  • Toy Story 3
I'm going to do something very stupid with this category and take a long shot. Look, folks, I liked Toy Story 3 as much as the next guy. But while everyone's been distracted by Pixar for all these years, DreamWorks Animation has quietly grown into a superstar in its own right. Make no mistake about it, the smart money is on Toy Story 3 (the incinerator scene alone). But I was really impressed with How to Train Your Dragon, and am playing the odds on a dark horse victory.

  • Hors la Loi (Outside the Law) (Algeria)
  • Incendies (Canada)
  • In a Better World (Denmark)
  • Dogtooth (Greece)
  • Biutiful (Mexico)
I'll be honest: the only one of these movies I've even heard of is Biutiful, so... that one? I'll be more diligent with foreign films next year.

  • Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy and Jaimie D’Cruz
  • Gasland, Josh Fox and Trish Adlesic
  • Inside Job, Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
  • Restrepo, Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
  • Waste Land, Lucy Walker and Angus Aynley
The omissions in this category are surprising. No Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work? No Tillman Story? No Waiting for "Superman"? Crazy stuff.

Of the nominees, I'd say it comes down to Exit Through the Gift Shop and Restrepo. Gift Shop is innovative and fun, but Restrepo is a compelling perspective on an ongoing war. Even so, I think Gift Shop has it. Big questions: can Banksy attend the Oscars, and can he give an acceptance speech if he wins?

  • Another Year, written by Mike Leigh
  • The Fighter, Screenplay by Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson; 
Story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson
  • Inception, written by Christopher Nolan
  • The Kids Are All Right, written by Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
  • The King’s Speech, Screenplay by David Seidler
If it takes the fun out of it for you to know that most of the remaining categories are a foregone conclusion, then read no further. For better or for worse, the big awards this year are already decided. Just follow the guilds. Original screenplay will go to The King's Speech.

  • 127 Hours, Screenplay by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
  • The Social Network, Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin
  • Toy Story 3, Screenplay by Michael Arndt; Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
  • True Grit, written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
  • Winter’s Bone, adapted for the screen by Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini
This is a well-deserved win for Aaron Sorkin.

  • Christian Bale, The Fighter
  • John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
  • Jeremy Renner, The Town
  • Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
  • Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech
Christian Bale's winning streak will culminate in a victory here.

  • Amy Adams, The Fighter
  • Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
  • Melissa Leo, The Fighter
  • Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
  • Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
Melissa Leo, and good for her. She's been kicking ass in obscurity for a long time. If you missed Frozen River and "Treme," check them out as soon as possible.

  • Javier Bardem, Biutiful
  • Jeff Bridges, True Grit
  • Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
  • Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
  • James Franco, 127 Hours
Good thing they gave Jeff Bridges an Oscar last year. He deserves it again this year, but they're going to give it to Colin Firth no matter what.

  • Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
  • Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
  • Natalie Portman, Black Swan
  • Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
A well-timed win for Natalie Portman.

  • Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
  • Joel & Ethan Coen, True Grit
  • David Fincher, The Social Network
  • Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech
  • David O. Russell, The Fighter
  • 127 Hours
  • Black Swan
  • The Fighter
  • Inception
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • The King’s Speech
  • The Social Network
  • Toy Story 3
  • True Grit
  • Winter’s Bone
Of course, the one glaring flaw with having ten Best Picture nominees and only five Best Director nominees is that you can pretty much rule out the five best pictures that don't have matching director nominations. It's great that movies like Winter's Bone and Inception can be included in this category for praise, but they're simply not going to win.

There are three ways, and only three ways, that Oscar night can end. Either (1) Social Network wins Director and Picture, (2) King's Speech wins Director and Picture, or (3) Fincher wins director and Speech wins picture. I think a lot of people are expecting #1 to be the case. I think that's the least likely scenario of the three.

I love The Social Network. It's interesting and propulsive. It benefits from rewatching. It gives you a lot to think about. It doesn't tell you how to feel about its characters. It will last in your memory - twenty years from now, you'll find yourself thinking about it and having an urge to watch it again.

You might find yourself thinking that The Social Network will no longer be relevant when the whole Facebook fad wears off. Well, has All the President's Men become irrelevant with the obsolescence of the newspaper? Social Network isn't about Facebook; it's about success, the people who attained it, what they did in order to attain it, and what the consequences of their actions were. These themes are timeless. Social Network is great now, and it will remain great for decades to come.

But you won't win your Oscar pool thinking that way.

The Academy loves their royals. And they love period. And they love handicaps. And they love it when a handicap is overcome. And they love World War II. It's a ridiculous cliché to say that the Academy falls for these same conventions over and over again, but it happens to be true. The King's Speech has all of these things. Oh, and it's also a good movie. It will win Best Picture.

What's less certain is who will win Best Director. The DGA gave it to The King's Speech's Tom Hooper. That's a pretty strong predictor of him winning the Oscar. But it's not a guarantee, and I've got this naggingly strong feeling about Fincher. It might be a smart move to bet on Hooper; so if you're feeling Hooper, I can't fault you for placing your chips there. Me, I'm going to have to defer to my heart and go with Fincher. I think this will be one of the rare instances of Best Director and Best Picture going to different films.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Think the Oscars are pointless? Say so in the comments.

On Oscar night, I'll be live blogging during the ceremony via Twitter. Click here to follow me. The 83rd Academy Awards ceremony will air on February 27, 2011 at 8pm eastern/5pm pacific on ABC.


  1. Oscar season is dear to my heart. As you may recall, my son Ty arrived via emergency c-section very early the Saturday morning before Oscar Sunday in 2007. I held him in my arms as we cheered for our favorites that year, supporting many of the films and casts Larry and I enjoyed during my pregnancy. I remember getting excited about "The Departed," Forest Whitaker, Clint Eastwood, Helen Mirren and whatever installment of Pirates was released that year. Mostly, though, I remember being overjoyed about the new life that was beginning. Every year since, my family and I have a party and watch the Oscars together. We fill out ballots--Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon--are favorites this year. And while Larry and I are divided on Jeff Bridges and Colin Firth, Cienna maintains that Buzz and Woody would make fantastic nominees. We love the opening monologues, we love the fashion, we love the speeches and wins. And we love being able to re-live such a special time in our family's story. Reading your annual predictions is sort of like our pregame to all of that, so thank you!--Candy

  2. I def agree with you that as i entered awards season my mind stretched to think of 10 legitimate best picture contenders. I think there have been some outstanding films, despite overall it being a pretty lack luster year for movies. Now not all my favorites got onto the big ten this year, I was sad to see the Town omitted, but happy for Winter's Bone.
    That all being said per your predictions it's hard to argue with the fact that the academy's taste leans towards "mature" entertainment. So yeah King's Speech will probably continue it's domination, and I don't really have much to undercut the film for, but c'mon it's a well made film and it is a breath of fresh air to see a well made film for adults get attention and plaudits, but i think King's Speech's attention has gotten out of hand.
    I really do feel for best picture Inception deserves the award, I would love to see Black Swan swing the orignal screenplay award. I wasn't a fan of the fighter but I hope Bale gets supporting both for that role and his career and Natalie for best actress. But for me the lead actor and actress category is stuffed with talent, so it's hard to choose from.
    I don't know every year I read the nominations and their inclusions and omissions always make the contest bittersweet, and then when they read the awards I'm usually just annoyed, and I feel this will be another year of the same.

  3. Like you, I was really happy for Winter's Bone. And I was also surprised that The Town didn't get a best pic nom. I can think of one or two movies that are currently on the best pic list that I would take off in favor of The Town. Of course, I won't name them here. But like I said, all the movies on the best pic list are worth a watch.

  4. "Art Direction": The buzz I'm hearing is that Tim Burton does well in this category. So I'm thinking "Alice in Wonderland."

    I can't see "Best Animated Feature" going anywhere but "Toy Story 3." It got a "Best Picture" nomination; it just seems like a clear-shot victory to me.

    Also, I strongly agree with your analysis of the "Best Picture"/"Best Director" breakdown, though ultimately I come down on the side of a double-"King's Speech" victory.


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