Russell’s blind Oscar picks

Oh, goodie.  Goodie, goodie gumdrops.  Oscar nominations are out.

Just for giggles, I thought I’d see if I could guess this year’s winners cold.  By that, I mean before any of the Big Predictor Preliminary Awards have been doled out.  In my book, the BPPAs include the Golden Globes (sorta), the SAG Awards (definitely) and the BAFTAs (also relatively reliable).  Since the Golden Globes are this Sunday (whee!), I’d best get cracking.

Now, regular readers know I have two small children.  Which means that I don’t get out like I used to.  I love movies, and at my viewing peak I prided myself on having seen most (or all) of the movies nominated in major categories before the nominations were even announced, and always before the awards ceremony.  This year?  I’ve seen zero of the nominated films (though I hope to see “Beasts of the Southern Wild” in the near future.)  So that means my predictions have zero to do with my opinions about the quality of the films or performances.  Which is fitting, since their quality has only a small amount to do with who wins, anyway.

No, my predictions are based on my understanding of what the different awards Mean, and thus why they’re given to the lucky winners every year.  Each major award (Picture, Director, and Lead and Supporting Actor/Actress trophies) has a different valence, and is given out for a different reason.  We’ll see how good my understanding of the Academy Awards is.

Before I lay out a rough sketch of the different Awards, I need to discuss the Wild Card and the Trump.  If either are in play, it skews the prediction.

First, the Wild Card.  That’s when a performer or director is Due.  The epitome of this kind of winner is Kate Winslet.  She is widely regarded to be among the finest (or, indeed, the finest) actress of her generation, and she’d been nominated quite a number of times before she finally won Best Actress for “The Reader.”  That win was despite her role really being more Supporting than Lead (made even more confusing because she didn’t get nominated for her amazing [if incredibly depressing] lead performance in “Revolutionary Road”).  Didn’t matter.  She was Due, and she won.  (Meryl Streep’s win last year also falls into this category.  Even though she gets nominated every time she sneezes, she hadn’t won since 1983.  She was Due again.)

The Trump is what I call the Incandescent Performance.  That’s when an actor or actress has delivered such a universally acclaimed performance that it’s obvious they’re going to win.  Now, delivering a breathtaking performance isn’t enough.  (I defy you to find a more flawless, award-worthy acting turn than Imelda Staunton’s superlative “Vera Drake.”  She lost.)  No, it has to have gotten sufficient attention in the American press, as well.  The quintessential winner in this category is Hilary Swank for “Boys Don’t Cry.”  Annette Bening was arguably Due for “American Beauty” (which swept all of the other major awards), but Swank’s performance was simply too good for anyone else to win.  (I remember that, after her win was announced, several of the other nominated actresses stood up and shook her hand as she made her way to the stage.  That is respect.)

So, with that out of the way, on to the Awards themselves.

Best Supporting Actress (The Consolation Oscar)  — this is the Oscar actresses get when the Academy wants to honor someone who will never be a big box office draw.  It’s not the Superstar Oscar.  (That would be Best Actress, but we’ll get to that soon.)  They turn in good (or great) performances, but they aren’t marquee names.  Octavia Spencer’s win last year was a perfect example.  (She also stole the movie she was in.)  With that in mind, you can draw a line through both Sally Field and Helen Hunt, who already have Best Actress wins and don’t need this one.  Jacki Weaver is too unknown in the US.  Both Amy Adams and Anne Hathaway fit the bill, but “Les Miz” is a bigger crowd-pleaser than “The Master.”  I think Hathaway is a lock.

Best Supporting Actor (The Career Achievement Award)  — this is for actors who have paid their dues and have long careers of quality work.  Tim Robbins, Alan Arkin, Christopher Plummer, Morgan Freemen, etc.  (Javier Bardem’s win for “No Country for Old Men” counts as an Incandescent Performance, hands down.)  What makes this year’s nominees tricky is that they’re all past winners, so none of them are lacking the Academy’s benison for their body of work.  However, I’m going to go with De Niro.  He’s Due (in a manner similar to Streep, having last won in 1981) and it would be a way of the Academy honoring his lengthy and varied career.

Best Actress (The Gravitas Award)  — this is for stars.  It’s the Academy’s way of adding legitimacy to someone’s fame, of bestowing gravity to go with the star’s light.  The quintessential winner was Julia Roberts, who was Due and won for a particularly good variation of her usual Julia Roberts performance in “Erin Brockovich.”  Reese Witherspoon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Nicole Kidman and Halle Berry are all other examples.  (It also helps to abnegate your glamor.)  This year’s field lacks any established superstars.  Jennifer Lawrence comes closest, but her “Hunger Games” fame accrued more to the role than to her particularly.  While I’m rooting for her (and she’s already been nominated once before), I kinda think the winner will be Jessica Chastain.  She’s not a superstar yet, but I have this suspicion the Academy feels like she should be and wants to make her into one.

Best Actor (The Actual Best Actor Award) — this one is all over the place, and perhaps the hardest to call.  If there is one major award that seems to most consistently go to the genuine “best” performer, it would be this one.  Forest Whitaker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Daniel Day-Lewis (both times), Geoffrey Rush — none are huge stars, all are past winners for truly fantastic performances.  If anything, being a megastar seems to be a liability in this category (NB losses by Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and George Clooney).  I think it will come down to Day-Lewis or Hugh Jackman.  Both star in box office winners (always a plus) and neither have made jackasses of themselves on “Letterman” in service to masturbatory movies about the meaning of fame.  I’m going with Day-Lewis, on the assumption that the Academy want to honor his incredible talent by putting him in the rarefied company of three-time winners.  Not enough people saw “Flight” to confer a third Oscar on Washington (though I imagine he’ll win another one eventually) and Bradley Cooper hasn’t proven his “quality actor” bona fides enough to shake his “People’s Sexiest Man Alive” silliness.

Best Director (The Pantheon Award) — this is to elevate the winner into the hallowed halls of the Artists, the Auteurs, the True Greats.  Usually winners have created a name for themselves and have their own distinctive style, such that their win honors their contribution to cinema as an art form.  (It’s also the award that is almost always linked to the winner of Best Picture.)  This year is kind of a head-scratcher, since a couple of the ones I would have called frontrunners (Tarantino and Affleck) were snubbed for nominations; “Django Unchained” is too bloody and controversial for it to have given Tarantino a win, but I would have given Affleck good chances based on the notion that the Academy wanted to validate his transition from so-so actor to genuinely talented director.  Oh, well.  Of the nominees, it’s between Spielberg and David O. Russell.  I’m betting on the former, for a similar kind of Official Stamp of Greatness as described for Daniel Day-Lewis above.

Best Picture (The Mediocrity Award) — this is the award that makes me yell at the TV most reliably.  (Must… fight… urge… to rant… about “Crash.”)  While there is the occasional win for a truly remarkable film (“American Beauty,” in my opinion, or “The Hurt Locker”), often winners are box office hits that strive for a Certain Quality.  They’re usually good films that aren’t terribly challenging, novel or visionary.  I can almost always think of another nominated film that really should have won but didn’t.  Looking at this year’s list, it actually seems like a very strong group of genuinely high-quality films.  Having seen none of them, I can’t say which I think should win.  (As I’ve said, the one I want to make sure I see soon is “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which seems the one most likely to appeal to my taste.)  My money’s on “Lincoln,” given its pedigree and its critical appeal.

So there are my picks.  I will offer a revised list of guesses after the BPPAs have aired, but just based on my understanding of how the Oscars work after years of slavish devotion, these are my best guesses right now.

Update:  In the comments, Burt reminds me of yet another phenomenon that can skew predictions.  It’s a variation on being Due, and is the Make-Up Oscar.  The ultimate and unmistakeable example is Judi Dench’s win for “Shakespeare in Love,” in which she was very good in what amounted to a glorified cameo.  But she won because the Academy had stupidly given the Oscar she should have won for Best Actress for “Mrs. Brown” to Helen Hunt instead.  (In so doing they robbed poor Lynn Redgrave of the Oscar she deserved for “Gods and Monsters.”)  Another good example is Cate Blanchett’s win for “The Aviator,” when she should have won for “Elizabeth” instead of Gwyneth Paltrow’s least-convincing-gender-bending performance ever in “Shakespeare in Love.”

58 thoughts on “Russell’s blind Oscar picks

  1. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a fascinating film; I definitely recommend it.

    I’m not that interested in the Oscars this year, since they managed to include mostly films I’ve never seen and have little interest seeing, despite the fact that I went to a truly ridiculous number of films this year. I’ll be quietly rooting for Les Miz (and Jackman, and Hathaway), but I probably won’t watch them.

    The big geek movies of the year were unlikely to get nominations (and frankly were, while good, probably not good enough to deserve them), but I was kind of hoping Looper would get some recognition, and have a soft spot for Chronicle despite it coming out so long ago that probably nobody in Hollywood remembers it happened (if they ever noticed in the first place). And Andy Serkis deserves a Best Supporting Actor nod – yes, for a single scene, if it’s as good as that one was.

    I’m very surprised that Cloud Atlas didn’t get nominated for Cinematography – whatever else you think of the film, it was visually stunning.

  2. Here are my random thoughts on the Oscars in general, from a largely disinterested outsider…

    1.) Why do we still separate male and female performers?
    2.) Doubling the number of nominees for BP is stupid. Seems solely aimed at allowing more movies to nominate themselves as “BEST PICTURE” with the words “Nominated For” appearing in much smaller print.
    3.) The fact that comedies, horror, and sci-fi are almost entirely ignored for the big awards is a big hit towards whatever credibility they might have.
    4.) “Crash” and everyone who voted for it should be locked in a room together and forced to watch “Freddy Got Fingers” in perpetuity. How ignorant to choose a movie so grossly offensive under the guise that it was somehow uplifting.
    5.) What’s a BAFTA? Batting Average From Twilight and After?
    6.) I’ve seen exactly one BP nominee: Argo. (Have you seen that many football games this year?)
    7.) The designation between “Supporting” and “Lead” seems entirely arbitrary and based on whatever is convenient to the committee.

    That is all.

    Thank you.

    • 2 & 3) The former was intended as a means of alleviating the latter. Some years it’s seemed moderately successful (District 9 would never have gotten a nomination without it), but not this year.

      4) Seconded.

      5) British Academy of Film & Television Arts

      • But was D9 ever a serious contender? If not, it seems silly to nominate it.
        In college football, the Heisman ceremony invites a non-fixed number of candidates, choosing only those deemed highly likely to win. This year, for instance, only 3 nominees were invited; past years, I’ve seen 4 or 5 finalists. I believe the idea is not to get the hopes up of someone unlikely to win and also to maintain a certain prestige among finalists.

        Don’t get me wrong… I loved D9. But there seems to be a very narrow lane for BP winners which leaves some films out in the cold.

    • 1) I would guess that it’s because the kinds of roles that men and women play are hard to compare. This may be an outmoded way of understanding the art of acting, but I think it’s the basis for the differentiation.

      2) I think the reasoning was to open the field to smaller pictures. Insofar as it may have contributed to “The Hurt Locker”‘s win, I think it was a good change.

      3) The lack of “genre” pictures in BP nominations is a long-standing complaint.

      4) I have nothing nice to say about “Crash.” The end.

      5) A BAFTA is the British equivalent of an Oscar/Emmy. (Television programs are also honored in the same ceremony.)

      6) Was the parenthetical question meant to read as snarky? It certainly does so to me. I have seen at least three football games this year. Would you care to clarify what it is meant to prove by my stipulating that?

      7) Fair enough.

      • Re: 6

        Not snarky and my apologies for seeming as such. And it certainly does read as such. I was attempting to poke fun at the different entertainment niches you and I gravitate towards. I am so tone deaf when it comes to pop culture and the performing arts (as evidenced by many off y observations/questions) and I know you’ve expressed a similar lack of understanding of sports fandom. T’is all. But, again, my apologies for a very poor attempt at humor and absolutely no offense intended.

        I didn’t think of #2 in that way. Are the people who pick the nominees a different group than the final award voters? I have to assume so otherwise the same group shouldn’t need an expanded list of nominees to identify the best film. If they are choosing the five best, surely the best-best will be in that (to parallel this to sports, last year Tyson Chandler won Defensive Player of the Year but did not get chosen for the All-NBA Defensive Team, because each hinor was selected by different groups of people).

        Re: 1, that seems to make historical sense, but given the powerhouse roles and performances offerd by women, I wonder if it is indeed outdated. I do believe that even our vocabulary as changed when discussing thesbians… Isn’t actor now seen as applicable to a man or women? Again, I’m in uncharted waters for myself here. I knew a lot of actors but know nothing of the craft, so maybe it is indeed still hard to compare the roles and talents of men and women,

        And, again, my apologies.

        • To clarify my “joke”…

          I am an admitted doof when it comes to things like movies and the Oscars. You’ve acknowledged being a bit of a doof when it comes to American professional sports cultures. I was curious if I out-doofed you. And clearly I did, with my terrible delivery.

        • Well, for my own part, sorry if I was overly sensitive. I get a little bit shirty when I perceive someone saying I “should” like sports, which is (after all) the expectation for most guys. But I should have given you the benefit of the doubt, and was probably being touchy. Anyhow, no worries now.

          I do not believe all Academy voters weigh in on the nominees, though I’m embarrassed to admit I’m not sure.

          The SAG Awards don’t call them “actresses.” Their awards are for Best Male and Female Actor. While I certainly see the argument you’re making, and agree with your point, it would make for fewer winners if we did that. And that would be less fun.

          • Again, I know nothing of awards, but doesn’t the Emmys offer awards for comedic acting, dramatic acting, etc? Do you think such an approach to the Oscars would water it down by offering too many awards?

            It appears to me that there is a hierarchy with dramatic acting at the top and comedic acting and other forms coming in below that. Is that an accurate assessment of the perception? If so, is that perception based on the actual difficulty?

            I don’t know if Will Ferrell could pull of Lincoln like DDL did. But could DDL pull off Ron Burgundy?

            Sidenote: Everyone saying that DDL nailed the character of Lincoln… um, how do we know? I’m pretty sure he died like 150 years ago. :-p

          • Both the Emmys and the Golden Globes separate acting awards for comedy and drama, which I think makes a lot of sense. I would support this change at the Oscars.

            I dunno, for some reason I can’t wrap my head around pitting Kate Winslet against Daniel Day-Lewis (to pick two random examples of phenomenal actors). They roles they play are just so very different, it feels difficult to compare. But that’s obviously a pretty weak argument.

          • “Sidenote: Everyone saying that DDL nailed the character of Lincoln… um, how do we know? I’m pretty sure he died like 150 years ago. :-p”

            You know what movie really nailed a historical figure?

            The Passion of the Christ.

    • 3.) To be blunt, the reason there weren’t any nominees is because the films that could’ve been nominated as genre films (The Hobbit, Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus, Cloud Atlas, etc.) were disappointing compared to the hype. If TDKR was as well regarded as TDK, it probably would’ve gotten a nomination.

      7.) The production companies themselves choose who they’re going to nominate for each award, if I remember right. So, basically, they choose what they think they can get away with. Thus, you get things like Pulp Fiction where Samuel L. Jackson had more time on screen than John Travolta, but Travolta was the one pushed for Best Actor.

    • Whether it makes sense conceptually or philosophically or whatever, a major practical reason we might want to continue separating male and female acting awards is that women would almost never win in a combined category. The reality of the way stories are told and parts are written – not to mention the Academy’s heavy preference for biopics, which necessarily privileges male roles – means that men just get the juicier parts.

      This might not be true every single year (I could certainly see Meryl Streep having beaten Jean Dujardin last year, although that’s also because Jean Dujardin should not have won for the horrendously overrated The Artist), but it would be mostly true. Certainly no woman could challenge DDL this year – although, frankly, no man will either.

  3. But Anne Hathaway can be, and is becoming, a box office draw of significant magnitude. I’m much more interested in Les Miz because she is in it. I think she stole the show in Batman 3. I’d wonder if she has enough screen time to merit an award but didnt Dame Judi Drench win for, like, seventy seconds of screen time as Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love?
    • Oh, I wouldn’t argue that Ms. Hathaway (or Ms. Adams, for that matter) doesn’t add a great deal of appeal to a cast. And she certainly helps at the box office, I think. But I don’t think she has the wattage to carry a movie on her own.

      And yes, Dame Judi won a make-up Oscar for her glorified cameo in “Shakespeare in Love.” That’s another phenomenon that I should add to the OP, which is when the Academy gives an Award to make up for not giving one when it should have. Dame Judi should have won for “Mrs. Brown,” in which she was phenomenal. But no, it went to Helen Hunt for “As Good As It Gets,” in which she wowed the Academy by playing Helen Hunt. This is a variation on the notion of her being Due, but worse because she was robbed.

      • You see this happen in sports, too, the NBA in particular. There was a year or two where Kobe Bryant deserved the MVP and didn’t get it. Then he did win it for a year he was clearly not the MVP.

        Barkley and Malone owe their MVPs to the fact that the voters got tired of giving it to Michael Jordan every year.

        Baseball is particularly subjected to “narrative”, where a player’s “story” often matters as much or more than what he actually did on the field.

        And the NFL only gives it to QBs and sometimes RBs.

        • Barkley and Malone owe their MVPs to the fact that the voters got tired of giving it to Michael Jordan every year.

          Many, many women are the proud owners of shiny little statuettes because Meryl Streep can’t win every year.

          • As someone who is clearly a big fan of film, how does that sit with you?

            I get frustrated as hell when the “wrong” person wins the MVP, especially if it is for stupid reasons. When the “wrong” person wins an Oscar, I tend to think everyone is getting a bit huffy about something silly.

            But I love sports and couldn’t care less about film (beyond a form of entertainment). Do you feel similarly but in the inverse? Or do I just care too much about sports?

          • I love movies, but will admit I am completely baffled by how much people care about sports. Even when I really am unhappy when the “wrong” person or movie wins, it doesn’t make me that upset. (Sorry to keep harping on it, but the worst example was “Crash.” Not only was it clearly not the Best film that year [which would be “Brokeback Mountain”], but it is an objectively bad film. It was easily the worst of the nominated films.) People’s devotion to their sports teams genuinely confounds me.

            I don’t mind that much if the “wrong” winner was still very good. For example, if Helena Bonham Carter had won for “Wings of the Dove,” I would have been totally OK with it, even though I thought Judi Dench should have won. HBC was fantastic, and it would have been a justifiable win. But Helen Hunt? For a totally OK but by no means remarkable performance in a grossly overrated film? That was a steaming pile of fail.

          • I’ll take a stab at it, as I’m among the more prominent Green Bay Packers fans in our online community. Sports team fandom is an affinity tied up with regional identity (as opposed to sports star fandom, which is different since it focuses on an individual rather than an organization). Love of the Green Bay Packers is most intense in Wisconsin, to be sure, but it transcends that. It is a measure of regional affinity and identification of self with that regional affinity. And because Green Bay, uniquely amongst the highly-visible NFL franchises, is in a city of modest size surrounded by semi-rural non-coastal America, it becomes the sort of place people want to identify with. A place where you are friends with your next-door neighbors. Grilling brats out back with your friends. Checking out of work early on a Friday afternoon to get a little fishing in while it’s still light out and the boss knowing exactly what you’re doing and she’s good with that. A simple, wholesome version of America we long to be in, fear is a relic of bygone days, and hope to re-create in our own communities everywhere. Mayberry. Pawnee. Springfield. Even if you’ve never been in Green Bay in your life, that’s what you imagine it to be like and what’s more the truth is not really all that far from your imagination.

            Green Bay has also continuously fielded The Best Damn Quarterback On The PlanetTM for more than twenty years in a row now. Okay, that’s partisan of me. But still, even in off years, it’s been nearly a generation since the guy behind center hasn’t been among the most pivotal players in the whole league. There’s also a rich history of putting the most remarkable players in the game out on the field (e.g., Don Hutson, Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, Reggie White). Green Bay is small-town America writ large and big-time media in, if not your own back yard, one that you wish was yours, with a cast of characters having larger-than-life levels of talent.

            Movies, I can see caring intensely about too, because a great work of art is emotionally moving and can transform or at least temporarily elevate one’s very thoughts. I have less ability to understand why I should care about a particular person other than in appreciation for the talent demonstrated in a performance. Since I so rarely see all the Oscar winners, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen all the (major) Oscar nominees, it’s difficult for me to find it in my heart to get a deep emotional investment in the awards shows. But to each their own!

          • Everybody’s got something. Like Russell, sports fanaticism just perplexes me.

            But for some it’s movies, for some it’s sports, for some it’s records; at heart all this “The Team that I feel affinity for, is *clearly* superior to the Team that you feel affinity for” is just tribal stuff (and to pimp MD a bit, this will sort of be the subject of my coming Wed.’s music post) 🙂

          • I think there are some objective differences between sports/sports awards and other forms of entertainment and their awards.

            Sports fandom is, admittedly, a strange beast. JM, I’ve explored that a bit in some of my early sports posts on Mindless Diversions. I could unpack it a bit, but I’d probably spend 10,000 words trying to and then realize I barely scratched the surface and just toss the whole thing.

          • Along with what Burt said, the Packers are the one of two teams owned by their city (the Steelers are the other) [I may not have this exactly right but I doo know that these two teams are unique not just in the NFL but in professional sports.]

            That gives fans all the more “oomph” to root for the home team.

  4. Pingback: Annette Bening | Gossip, News, Biography, Pictures, Filmography: Russell’s blind Oscar picks – The League of Ordinary Gentlemen

  5. The oddest part of the Oscar buzz over Chastain is that you wouldn’t even know a woman is in Zero Dark Thirty based on its mainstream marketing.
    • Disclaimer: I’ve seen not a single movie on any nomination list except for Brave, Prometheus, and the Avengers – and hadn’t heard of most of them either

      Partly because of the marketing campaign for Weekend at Bin Ladin’s I think I’d swap the causal mechanism between Actor and Actress. Cooper has paid his dues, and this would validate a transition to ‘serious’ actor – like Tom Hanks and Robin Williams, for example, did when they won. Chastain is not there yet, and was not (at least from the buzz*) quite transcendent enough.

      I could see the lead actress from Amour** winning, based on a voting split between Chastain and Lawrence for best newcomer, and Watts for being due. And be make up win in general for a predisposition against older actresses. (alternatively, the kid from Beasts***, because it’s been something like 40 years since a kid has won but I find this unlikely)

      * see initital disclaimer

      ** One of the films I had not heard of before looking at the oscar list

      *** at least I’ve heard of this one and seen trailers, but had to look up if Quvenzhané Wallis was the kid or someone else

    • you wouldn’t even know a woman is in Zero Dark Thirty based on its mainstream marketing.

      Huh. Maybe it’s indicative of where I am reading about the film, but I keep seeing that picture of Chastain’s ZDT character that is (to me, anyway) clearly reminiscent of Claire Dane’s “Homeland” character (there’s some speculation that the real-life CIA analyst Chastain plays, may have also served as part-inspiration for Danes’ character; and I just assumed that since “Homeland” has some buzz, that the ZDT people were using that photo to appeal to people like me).

      • Marketing can depend on what channel or film you’re watching. For example, with ZTD, commercials on say, football games probably pushed the “we’re going to kill Bin Laden” portion of the film while a commercial on “The Good Wife” probably pushed Chastain’s character far more.
  6. The ultimate and unmistakeable example is Judi Dench’s win for “Shakespeare in Love,” in which she was very good in what amounted to a glorified cameo.

    Exactly like Rafael Palmeiro getting the Gold Glove at first base, a position he’d played only 28 times that year. In both cases, I blame steroids.

  7. Amy Adams will win Best Supporting (since “The Master” wasn’t nominated for Best Picture and she’s basically loved by all). Jennifer Lawrence will win Best Actress (remember “Winter’s Bone”). I would bet more Scotch on this.

Comments are closed.