Tag Archives: Academy Awards

Judging Films as Oscar-Winners

As Oscar-season hits a fever pitch, of course lots of people are also looking at the history of the Oscars and what’s won in previous years, and what maybe SHOULD have won in previous years. This is a fun pastime, one I’ve certainly indulged in it myself (as evidenced by this monster post over at Row Three), and there’s certainly nothing wrong with it.

But it does bring to mind something that kind of bothers me about how Oscar-winning films are often seen on down the road, especially those that are popularly deemed unworthy of their Oscars.

The most egregious case in point is How Green Was My Valley. Poor How Green Was My Valley is best known today for being the film that stole the 1941 Best Picture Oscar from Citizen Kane, as if the film mounted a sneak attack on Xanadu and snatched the statuette from Charles Foster Kane’s dying fingertips. Now, don’t get me wrong. If you ask me straight up which film is better, yes, Citizen Kane wins in a heartbeat. But that doesn’t mean that a lovely and evocative film like How Green Was My Valley deserves for its reputation to hang on the fact that some group of people voted to give it an award over seventy years ago.

How-Green-Was-My-Valley

Bringing it closer to home, I was pretty pissed when The Lives of Others won the Best Foreign Film Oscar over my darling Pan’s Labyrinth. I hadn’t seen The Lives of Others at the time of the awards, but it was nonetheless a TRAVESTY that my #1 film of the year had been passed over. Then a few months later I begrudgingly watched The Lives of Others, just so I could feel justified in my anger. And you know what? It’s a damn good movie. Maybe it doesn’t hit my personal buttons as much as Pan’s did, but it certainly was just as excellent a choice to win the award. And even if it wasn’t, doesn’t it deserve to be watched and judged on its own terms, rather than in competition with another film that it’s only related to because they happened to be pitted against each other for an award?

There are lots of other examples – I happen to think Shakespeare in Love deserved its Oscar over Saving Private Ryan but there are many who don’t, Chariots of Fire (a favorite of mine) is most often remembered as a film that didn’t deserve its Oscar, The Greatest Show on Earth is considered one of the worst films to win Best Picture, and on and on. Sure, The Greatest Show on Earth is a weird choice for Oscar, but ignore the baggage that you think belongs with the words “Best Picture Academy Award Winner” and it’s a pretty rip-roaring good time at the movies.

I’m not saying you can’t consider which films should’ve won Oscars instead of those that did, or that you can’t compare two films based on their both being Oscar nominees (or winners). But ultimately, that’s a fun parlor game, and in the final analysis every film deserves to be taken on its own terms. It doesn’t matter how great a film Citizen Kane is – it doesn’t mean that How Green Was My Valley isn’t also a great film. And it deserves better than the short shrift it often gets as “the film that beat Citizen Kane.” Oscars don’t matter that much. The films are what matter.

Join RowThree’s Oscar Live Chat

As we do every year, RowThree is hosting an Oscar live chat throughout the ceremony. Last year was the first year I participated in it, and it was definitely the best part of the whole Oscar shindig. No holds barred, everything’s open game. Come out and join us, starting at 4:30pm PST, just in time to get in some red carpet action before the main event starts at 5:00pm PST. We’ll be around for the whole thing, and believe me, the shenanigans are worth it.

I’m going to try embedding the chat over here as well – if all works properly, you’ll be able to get to it from here as well as RowThree. Definitely head back to RowThree afterwards in any case, as we’ll be continuing the discussion in the comments of the results post.

Cinema 101: The Academy Awards

cinema-101-academy.jpg

With the 83rd Academy Awards coming up this evening and all the entertainment media and blogs going crazy with coverage and predictions and stats and publicity, I thought it might be fun to pull back and look a bit at the history of the awards and the Academy that bestows them, as well as how the Awards work. The Academy Awards are one of the oldest awards in cinema, and however right or wrong or self-congratulatory they are, they can be a great springboard for the study of Hollywood. I may rail against the Academy’s choices and wonder why the Awards get the prestige that they do, but truth be told, I have a big soft spot for the Academy and its history.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

First of all, who is this “Academy”, and what do they do besides hand out little gold statues every year? Today the Academy is a group of 6000 industry professionals, from all different areas of filmmaking ranging from studio executives to actors to writers to special effects technicians and everything else. Membership is by invitation only, which tends to give the group a bit of a snooty insider facade, and of course lends that Hollywood insider bias that the Oscars are often ridiculed for. But the Academy does a lot more that you might think – let’s take a look at how it got started.

mayer.jpgIn 1927, a dinner party at MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer’s house sparked the idea to start an institute that would benefit the entire film industry. By which they mostly meant the American film industry, and of course, the Academy has remained focused on Hollywood and American cinema, but there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. From that initial conversation, which also involved actor Conrad Nagel and director Fred Niblo, the project soon brought heavy hitters Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks (who became the first president), Sid Grauman, Jesse Lasky, Cecil B. DeMille, Irving Thalberg, and others on board. With both major studios like MGM, Paramount, and United Artists as well as exhibitors like Grauman and Lasky involved, the Academy had the talent and connections necessary to fulfill the role it created for itself.

The Academy quickly started publishing books of interest to industry professionals on technical and artistic topics like cinematography and sound recording – these first books were out as early as 1928. A program of film screenings was created, catering specifically to industry professionals – allowing them to see films in state of the art conditions prior to or concurrent with their theatrical release. By the 1930s, the Academy ran educational programs for non-industry people as well, teaching the US Signal Corps how to make their own training films, for example, and later acting as a liason between the government and the industry to make WWII training films. It was even involved in industry labor disputes during the 1920s and 1930s, though it explicitly moved away from such involvement in 1937, preferring to maintain its distance from labor conflict.

The Academy is probably best known today (aside from the Academy Awards) as an extensive resource both for industry professionals and outside researchers interested in the history of Hollywood film. Right from the start they started keeping detailed records of every film produced with full credits as well as directories of actors and their agents for the use of producers and filmmakers. Soon they were maintaining a full library of film-related material, from scripts and books to actual prints. As academic interest in film school and film studies grew in the 1960s, the Academy began scholarship and grant programs for film students, and in 1972 they opened their archives up to scholars and historians as well as indiustry professionals. This library and archive are invaluable for researchers even today, and the Academy is heavily involved in the preservation and restoration of classic Hollywood films. Expanding their reach beyond the industry, the Academy started putting on public lectures and later public screenings, often with the filmmakers in attendence. These events continue into the present, with events, exhibitions and screenings scheduled all the time.

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While it’s easy to see the Academy as simply “those people who give out the Oscars,” the institution performs an important function for both filmmakers and film historians, providing symposiums and information for industry professionals and the public alike, access to an extensive film library and archive to researchers and cinematheques, and a valuable reminder of the rich heritage of American cinema. The Academy has preserved much of the history of Hollywood, and its founders were among the pioneers in recognizing the importance of film preservation and education.

The Academy Awards

Of course, the reason we’re talking about the Academy is the thing they’re most famous for – doling out awards every year. And the Awards were one of the first initiatives undertaken by the Academy, as a way of celebrating the work of their colleagues. One of the things the Academy is often criticized for is their Hollywood centrism, and that’s a valid objection, but the Academy’s whole purpose is to provide information and recognition for the American film industry, so it shouldn’t really be surprising.

academy-awards_go-green.jpg

The first Academy Awards of Merit were presented in 1929 for films released between August 1, 1927 and July 31, 1928. The practice of using an August-to-August eligibility calender would remain in effect until 1934, when the current January-to-December schedule was adopted. The first awards were not kept secret, but were announced several months in advance and presented at a private awards dinner to the winners. It was only the next year, however, that the awards were kept secret until the ceremony and the awards were radio broadcast live – the awards would only grow in prestige and public spectacle. By 1942 they had outgrown a banquet-style ceremony and were moved into Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Now they are held in the Kodak Theatre, right next to the Chinese at the center of Hollywood.

The actual statue is officially known as the Academy Award of Merit, and was designed by production designer Cedric Gibbons. It depicts a naked gold man driving a sword into the reel of film upon which he stands. It’s unclear exactly how it got the nickname “Oscar” – one story is that when Academy librarian (and later Executive Director) Margaret Herrick first saw the statue, she remarked that it looked like her Uncle Oscar. The nickname was popularly used as early as 1934, and was officially adopted by the Academy in 1939.

There’s enough trivia about the Oscars to fill several books (and it has), but here are a few important dates.

1934 – awards for editing, score, song added
1934 – It Happened One Night sweeps Picture/Director/Actor/Actress/Screenplay
1936 – awards for supporting actor/actress added
1939 – award for special effects added
1941 – award for documentary added
1942 – Greer Garson’s speech lasts minutes, instigating speech limits
1947 – special award given for foreign language film – the Italian Shoeshine
1953 – first televised Oscars
1956 – award for foreign film added (special awards were given most years from 1947)
1959 – Ben-Hur sets 11-win record, unmatched until 1997
2001 – award for animated feature added

How the Awards Work

There are a lot of eligibility rules that are specific for each category, but the basic rule is that a film must have played a one-week commercial run at a Los Angeles theatre between January 1st and December 31st. A lot of times films will open for an Oscar qualifying run at one LA cinema (often the Laemmle Sunset 5), then not release any further until later the next year. Certain categories have further restrictions – for instance, foreign films have to have a certain percentage of the dialogue be non-English, and original scores can only contain a certain amount of pre-released music. These restrictions have led to odd non-nominations, like The Band’s Visit, which was deemed ineligible for foreign film because the Israeli and Egyptian characters resorted to English to understand each other, even though the film was totally produced by Israel.

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For most categories, only the members of the relevant branch of the Academy may submit nominations – for example, only cinematographers can nominate in the Best Cinematography category, and only directors can nominate in the Best Director category. All members may nominate for Best Picture, however, and Best Foreign Film nominees are selected by a committee representing all branches. When it comes to final voting, all members may vote in every category, though in certain categories (the short film categories, for example) they must have seen all the nominated films to vote. It is possible, though rare, for ties to happen in the final vote. The only two times it has happened in major categories is 1932, when Fredric March and Wallace Beery tied for Best Actor (for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Champ, respectively) and in 1967, when Barbra Streisand’s performance in Funny Girl tied Katharine Hepburn’s in The Lion in Winter.

As mentioned above, the awards tend to be very Hollywood-centric, making it surprising when a foreign film gets any nominations other than as a foreign film. In fact, many studios refused to support the 1948 awards when it became clear that the UK-produced Hamlet was likely to win the Best Picture award (and it did).

Recently, the Awards have come under media attention for their tendency to reward middle-of-the-road “Oscar-bait” pictures – lushly produced films with recognizable actors and inspirational plots, bonus points if the film is pseudo-independent or smaller-scale. This means that most of the films nominated tend to be limited release films that don’t play multiplexes or get a lot of publicity, which makes it harder to get the interest of the public, who often haven’t heard of the front-runners for the awards. On the other hand, critics and film buffs who follow independent and foreign cinema find the awards painfully safe, not reaching into the more interesting corners of lesser-known cinema. Still, it’s hard to appeal to every audience who pays attention to the Oscars – it’s probably best just to see the Awards as a fun and glitzy celebration of the movies rather than as a truly meaningful recognition for films that deserve it.

Further Reading

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

2010 Oscar Prediction Time!

We’re only a day away from the Academy Awards, and I figured I’d put up a few prediction thoughts. We’ll be live-blogging the ceremony itself over on Row Three, so look out for that starting around 4pm PST. Plus, if you think you’ve got a good peg on the awards this year, throw your predictions into the Row Three Oscar Pool for a chance to win a sweet minimalist Reservoir Dogs poster (valued at $99). My predictions are already in the comments over there, but I’d like to say a bit more about them over here.

Best Supporting Actor

inglourious-basterds-christoph-waltz-2.jpgMatt Damon, Invictus
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Christopher Plummer, The Last Station
Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

This is a gimme for Christoph Waltz. He’s been getting Oscar talk since Inglourious Basterds came out, he’s been winning all the awards up to this point, and if anyone else won this, it would be the upset of the year.

Best Supporting Actress

MoNique_Precious.jpgPenelope Cruz, Nine
Vera Farmiga, Up In The Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Crazy Heart
Anna Kendrick, Up In The Air
Mo’Nique, Precious

I haven’t seen Precious myself, but everyone who has considers Mo’Nique‘s win here a done deal. I’ll defer to that, since I think Maggie won’t win on a surprise nomination, Penelope won’t on the weaker of her two performances this year (and she wasn’t the strongest performance in Nine, either), and Vera and Anna will cancel each other out.

Best Actor

Jeff_Bridges_CrazyHeart_72dpi.jpgJeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up In The Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Morgan Freeman, Invictus
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

All the momentum right now is behind Jeff Bridges, whose Golden Globe for Crazy Heart makes him a heavy favorite for Oscar. Invictus hasn’t been very visible, A Single Man is likely too small a release, and Clooney is almost a token nom for Up in the Air (he does a good job, it’s not that Oscar-riffic a role). Jeremy Renner might possibly upset, but look for Bridges to take it.

Best Actress

blindside.jpgSandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Helen Mirren, The Last Station
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Gabourey Sidibe, Precious
Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia

This is a tough one for me. Sandra Bullock is going in as an unlikely favorite, having won the Golden Globe and some other critics and guild awards, but I’m still torn on whether the Academy will actually give it to her. Especially up against such a strong category. Mirren and Streep are simply perfection in everything they do, and the younger generation Mulligan and Sidibe are both brilliant in their films. Yet Bullock is the industry insider, the one whose film was a ginormous hit, and the one who apparently turned in a strong performance after a career of slight romantic comedies and thrillers. That kind of gets the Academy’s attention. So I give Sandra Bullock the nod for “will win”, but I stand firm that Carey Mulligan should go home with the prize for her mature-beyond-her-years, incredibly subtle performance.

Best Director

hurtlockerbigelow.jpgJames Cameron, Avatar
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds
Lee Daniels, Precious
Jason Reitman, Up In The Air

It would be going against years of tradition for Kathryn Bigelow not to win Best Director after winning the Directors Guild award a few weeks ago. So that’s my prediction, and I’m sticking to it.

Best Picture

the-hurt-locker-pic1.jpgAvatar
The Blind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Precious
A Serious Man
Up
Up In The Air

It’s unusual for the Best Picture winner to be different from the Best Director winner, and I’m fairly sure Bigelow is taking that Director prize. Even leaving that aside, The Hurt Locker has a whole lot of momentum on its side right now. Which still surprises me a little. I watched it this week, and it’s quite well-done and I enjoyed it a lot, but it doesn’t strike me as an Oscar film. But what do I know? I expected Up in the Air to be the frontrunner, and though it is nominated, it has had almost zero Oscar buzz.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Up-In-The-Air.jpgDistrict 9
An Education
In The Loop
Precious
Up In The Air

I personally think Up in the Air has the best dialogue and the most timely script of any film this year, a throwback to Billy Wilder classics, so I’d like to see it win. And I think it has a good chance, especially since it will likely be shut out of other major categories and it’s such a classically-produced studio film that the Academy will want to honor it somewhere. This is its best shot. In the Loop is hilarious, but likely too vulgar for the fuddy Academy; An Education is a strong contender, but doesn’t sparkle in the dialogue quite as much as Up in the Air. I haven’t seen Precious, but have heard much more about its acting than its script, and I doubt District 9 is really in the running.

Best Original Screenplay

inglourious-basterds-1.jpgThe Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
The Messenger
A Serious Man
Up

This would seem to be a showdown between Inglourious Basterds and A Serious Man – two films in which likely our best currently-working writer/directors turn in some of their best work. But Inglourious Basterds is inarguably Tarantino’s best work, so I give it the edge over the Coens this time around.

Film Editing

2-the-hurt-locker.jpgAvatar
District 9
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Precious

Editing often goes to Best Picture, so my prediction here sticks with The Hurt Locker. And really, it deserves it here, no problem.

Cinematography

weisse-band-1.jpgAvatar
Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
The White Ribbon

All of these are gorgeous-looking films, but I’m going to give the edge to The White Ribbon, not only because it’s the only black and white film in the bunch, but because it uses its black and white to the best possible effect. Also, it just won the Cinematographers’ guild award.

Art Direction

avatar_pandora.jpgAvatar
Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Nine
Sherlock Holmes
The Young Victoria

Another category where all of the nominees are quality contenders. The art direction was one of the few things I loved unequivocally about Avatar, so I would be neither surprised nor disappointed to see it win. I doubt Nine will win with its dark and stagey art direction, but Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus‘s brilliantly imaginative look (or looks – there are at least four or five distinct ones in different parts of the film) and Sherlock Holmes‘s steampunk Britain could mount a challenge.

Makeup

star-trek.jpgIl Divo
Star Trek
The Young Victoria

This is an odd category…a futuristic sci-fi film, an Italian film no one’s ever heard of, and a realistic period film. This seems almost a gimme for Star Trek.

Costume Design

the_young_victoria.jpgBright Star
Coco before Chanel
Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Nine
The Young Victoria

Hmmm, will the Academy give their award for costume design to the film about the actual clothing designer? Possibly. Once again, the Academy has gone totally period in this category, and really, any of these could take it. But I’ll throw the prediction to The Young Victoria.

Best Foreign Film

Weisse_band_01_pieni.jpgAjami, Israel
El Secretro de sus Ojo, Argentina
The Milk of Sorrow, Peru
Un Prophete, France
The White Ribbon, Germany

This is a fight to the death between Un prophete and The White Ribbon. Perhaps predictably, I’m guessing the one that I’ve seen will win – The White Ribbon. Even though it is the only one I’ve seen, it is really, REALLY good.

Best Animated Film

29up_600.jpgCoraline
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Princess and The Frog
The Secret of Kells
Up

SUCH a strong year for animated features this year. There were at least five others that would been nomination-worthy. I’d love it if one of the stop-motion films got it, and I think of this set, The Fantastic Mr. Fox is the one that will be remembered the best for the longest, but I doubt anything is going to stop Pixar from gaining another Oscar with Up.

Best Original Score

holmes-downey.jpgAvatar
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Hurt Locker
Sherlock Holmes
Up

Going on the record now to say that if Avatar wins this, I’m puncturing my eardrums. Metaphorically. Sorry, James Horner, recycling bits of your other scores into bland program music does not make for the best score of the year. Honestly, I think I’d pick Sherlock Holmes myself – that was a really interesting score that picked up on themes and characterization in the film and rendered them musically. But I’m not sure it’s likely to win. Fantastic Mr. Fox might, but I remember the song parts of the score more than the actual score, and those don’t count. Eh, I think I’ll stick with Sherlock Holmes.

Best Original Song

crazyheart.jpgAlmost There, Princess and the Frog
Down in New Orleans, Princess and the Frog
Loin de Paname, Paris 36
Take It All, Nine
The Weary Kind, Crazy Heart

Two songs from Princess and the Frog might cancel out, no one saw Paris 36, and while “Take It All” was one of the best numbers in Nine, that was mostly due to Marion Cotillard, not the song itself. That leaves “The Weary Kind”, which based on the snippets in the Crazy Heart trailer, is actually fairly good. So we’ll go with that.

Sound Editing

hurt-locker-june2-590x3311.jpgAvatar
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Star Trek
Up

I had a sound designer friend explain to me the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing; Editing is the creation and placement of sounds, whereas Mixing is the layering and direction of sounds. Got it? But I usually pick the same film for both categories (which exist separately largely because there are two separate unions for editing and mixing). This time, The Hurt Locker.

Sound Mixing

The Hurt Locker movie image (3).jpgAvatar
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Star Trek
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

The Hurt Locker

Best Visual Effects

avatar-visual.jpgAvatar
District 9
Star Trek

And here’s a category I think Avatar deserves to win, and I’m pretty sure it will.

Best Documentary

the-cove-movie-073009-xlg.jpgBurma VJ
The Cove
Food, Inc.
Most Dangerous Man in America
Which Way Home

The Cove has been getting rave reviews all year from all quarters, so I think it would be pretty shocking for it not to win.

Best Documentary Short

chinas-unnatural-disaster-1024.jpgChina’s Unnatural Disaster
Last Campaign of Booth Gardner
Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant
Music by Prudence
Rabbit à la Berlin

I have seen none of these, but I’m placing my bet on China’s Unnatural Disaster, a film about the Sichuan earthquake. Just for reference, Last Campaign of Booth Gardner is about Washington congressman Booth Gardner’s attempts to pass laws allowing assisted suicide, Last Truck is about a rural GM plant closing down and the effects of that on the community, nearly all of whom worked for GM, Music by Prudence is about a disabled woman in Zimbabwe finding strength by making music (that kind of uplifting story in the face of adversity makes this a contender, too), and Rabbit a la Berlin is about a warren of rabbits that lived between the Berlin walls during the cold war and their attempts to readjust after the walls came down. See, I did my homework!

Best Animated Short

LogoramaLA.jpgFrench Roast
Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty
The Lady and the Reaper
Logorama
A Matter of Loaf and Death

All of these shorts are available online, and I collected them all in a post on Row Three, so check that out. My prediction is for Logorama, but they’re all actually really good.

Best Live Action Short

kavi.jpgThe Door
Instead of Abracadabra
Kavi
Miracle Fish
The New Tenants

None of these are available online. Some are available on iTunes, though – I saw Instead of Abracadabra when it was part of a set of Sundance shorts available for free on iTunes. It was quite good, but I’m not sure it can beat out Kavi, the story of an Indian boy growing up essentially in slavery. The others I wasn’t really able to find out very much about.

Last minute Oscar predictions

Figured I should get some Oscar predictions out there, since the ceremony is, like, tonight. They’re going to be relatively terse, though – my computer died on Friday and my newly ordered one has not yet arrived, so I’m tapping this out on my iPhone. Which is not optimal for writing at length. So you can thank my old computer for saving you from my verbosity.

Predicted winners are denotes by an asterisk, since I don’t know if I can use HTML in the WordPress app. EDIT: Adding HTML from a computer. ;) Italics for my predictions, bold for actual winners.

BEST PICTURE
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Frost/Nixon
Milk
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog has the momentum, and none of the others are going to catch it.

BEST DIRECTOR
David Fincher – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard – Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant – Milk
Danny Boyle – Slumdog Millionaire

Picture and director almost always go together, and Slumdog is so clearly Boyle’s film that there’s no question in my mind this year.

BEST ACTOR
Frank Langella – Frost/Nixon
Richard Jenkins – The Visitor
Sean Penn – Milk
Brad Pitt – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke – The Wrestler

Rourke is the obvious choice, with the personal comeback story and the Golden Globe (and an Independent Spirit Award earlier this week, I think), but I’ve seen a lot of support for Penn lately. This one could go either way.

BEST ACTRESS
Anne Hathaway – Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie – Changeling
Melissa Leo – Frozen River
Meryl Streep – Doubt
Kate Winslet – The Reader

This is the most unpredictable category of the night as far as I’m concerned. I haven’t seen Changeling and highly doubt Angelina has a chance, but all the other four are worthy. Melissa Leo is probably out; Frozen River was released too early and is too small. But between Anne, Meryl, and Kate, it’s kind of a crap shoot. I’m going with Kate because she’s due (and deserves it for both The Reader and Revolutionary Road), and I think Anne’s buzz has peaked and fallen. And Meryl already has some, for better movies than Doubt.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Josh Brolin – Milk
Robert Downey Jr – Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman – Doubt
Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon – Revolutionary Road

The Academy likes to use Supporting Actor to throw a completely unsuspected win, but I will be very surprised if anyone other than Ledger wins.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams – Doubt
Penelope Cruz – Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis – Doubt
Taraji P Henson – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisai Tomei – The Wrestler

Penelope should have this one in the bag, despite all these actresses being worthy. The only potential upset is probably Viola Davis, whose brief time onscreen was the most memorable part of Doubt.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Frozen River
Happy-Go-Lucky
In Bruges
Milk
Wall-E

I don’t have a strong feeling about this one; I doubt In Bruges can pull off another upset after the Globes. I’ve heard Milk buzz in this category lately, so we’ll go with that.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Doubt
Frost/Nixon
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

It is written. It may be cheesy at times, but it is written.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Bolt
Kung Fu Panda
Wall-E

There’s more support for Kung Fu Panda than I would’ve expected, but I’d be surprised (and a bit dismayed) if Wall-E loses.

BEST FOREIGN FILM
The Baader Meinhof Complex
The Class
Departures
Revanche
Waltz with Bashir

Waltz won the Globe and will likely win here. Wish I’d made time to see it. EDIT: I LOSE! I haven’t even heard of Departures.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
The Betrayal
Encounters at the End of the World
The Garden
Man on Wire
Trouble the Water

Everything I’ve heard about Man on Wire rates it among the best films of the year, period, let alone documentaries. Only possible upset is the post-Katrina Trouble the Water.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Changeling
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

Going with the likely Best Picture winner for Cinematography and Editing isn’t always safe, but it’s not a bad bet either. But either Benjamin Button or The Dark Knight could easily win as well.

BEST FILM EDITING
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Frost/Nixon
Milk
Slumdog Millionaire

Ditto above, except that it’s extremely likely The Dark Knight will win instead. I’m just currently on a mini-vendetta against TDK’s editing style.

BEST ART DIRECTION
Changeling
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
The Duchess
Revolutionary Road

Damned if I’m not going to choose Revolutionary Road for something, and this seems the most likely – I really loved the spare design. Subtle, but felt so right.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Australia
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Duchess
Milk
Revolutionary Road

Costumes were one of the things I thought Benjamin Button did really well – not only did they use costumes from throughout the 20th century, but the costumes served in large part as narrative cues to the changing time periods. EDIT: Should’ve known to go with the only non-20th-century-set film nominated. Apparently the Academy doesn’t think anything within living memory counts in this category…

BEST MAKEUP
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Could go to TDK just as easily, but I’m giving the edge to Button, since TDK was basically just the Joker.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Defiance
Milk
Slumdog Millionaire
Wall-E

So much of Slumdog’s appeal is in the music, plus it’s a huge part of the film’s infusion from Bollywood cinema.

BEST SONG
“Down to Earth” – Wall-E
“Jai Ho” – Slumdog Millionaire
“O Saya” – Slumdog Millionaire

I don’t know which song from Slumdog will win, but one of them will.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Iron Man

This is a dead heat for me among all thee nominees. I have no idea what the Academy will do, but I’m betting they’ll honor TDK in some of these technical categories, since they shut it out of most of the major awards. EDIT: I originally chose Benjamin Button in this category, then changed my mind at the last second. Should’ve trusted my instincts.

BEST SOUND EDITING
The Dark Knight
Iron Man
Slumdog Millionaire
Wall-E
Wanted

Ditto above. They may give one of these to Iron Man as well, but I couldn’t guess which.

BEST SOUND MIXING
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire
Wall-E
Wanted

Ditto above.

BEST SHORT (ANIMATED)
La maison en petits cubes
Lavatory – Lovestory
Oktapodi
Presto
This Way Up

I usually have to pick shorts based on title, but this year I’ve actually seen the last two, and I feel like picking the charmingly morbid Sundance short This Way Up rather than Pixar’s Presto. Don’t know how it’ll go, though – my animator friend told me he didn’t get screeners of any of the shorts before he had to vote.

BEST SHORT (LIVE ACTION)
Auf der Strecke (On the Line)
Manon on the Asphalt
New Boy
The Pig
Spielzeugland (Toyland)

Titles again! Don’t love any of these titles, so let’s take long German words for the win! EDIT: As soon as I saw the clip for this and found out it was a Nazi-era film, I knew I was right. Nazis are GOLD at the Oscars, man.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
The Conscience of Nhem Ens
The Final Inch
Smile Pinki
The Witness from the Balcony of Room 306

Again, it’s all about the title. That one sounds mysterious, doesn’t it?

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Done! And still with an hour to spare. :)

POST-CEREMONY EDIT
I ended up with fifteen of twenty-four correct, and most of the ones I missed weren’t major awards. I’m content with that. And also, yay for Penelope and Kate! Irony – one of the actress presenters was Nicole Kidman, who I believe was originally cast in The Reader until she got pregnant and Kate stepped in. No offense to Nicole, who I love, but Kate is better – and probably still would’ve won the Oscar this year, just for Revolutionary Road instead.