Sunday, February 18, 2007

Oscar Time!!! My Academy Award Picks & Predictions

79th Academy Awards: Sunday 25 February 2007; ABC 8:00ET/5:00PT

For some weird reason--and for the first time ever--I've been obsessed with seeing Oscar-nominated movies this year. Maybe it's because more of the Oscar-nom'd movies were a little more mainstream this year. Maybe it's because, for once, I wanted to watch the Oscars and have a better idea what the big deal was about some of the films. Or, maybe because so many Oscar movies weren't in wide release until January and February, it gave me something to do during the two most boring months of the year.

In any event, the Oscars are now only a week away, and other than the possiblity that I might go see Blood Diamond this week (which I doubt would affect my picks for Best Lead Actor & Best Supporting Actor anyway), I think I'm ready to make my picks & predictions.

Best Picture

  • Babel
  • The Departed
  • Letters From Iwo Jima
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • The Queen

My Pick: The Queen
My 2nd Place Pick: Letters From Iwo Jima
My Prediction: Honestly, it's too close to call.
Who Got Snubbed: Dreamgirls, Children of Men
Further Comment: I really don't think Babel or Little Miss Sunshine should have been nominated. Babel was not that loved by viewers or even some critics. It's international scope helped it win the Golden Globe Award, and I've seen some people predict that it might win the Oscar because, despite any questionable quality or likability, it's the one that "best fits the Oscar mold." As far as Little Miss Sunshine, I just didn't like that movie, and I still can't understand how it got a nomination over the much better-made and more universally likable Dreamgirls.

Best Director

  • Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel)
  • Martin Scorsese (The Departed)
  • Clint Eastwood (Letters from Iwo Jima)
  • Stephen Frears (The Queen)
  • Paul Greengrass (United 93)

My Pick: Paul Greengrass
My Prediction: Martin Scorsese
Who Got Snubbed: Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men), Bill Condon (Dreamgirls)
Further Comment: Someone may have to explain to me what the big deal is about Martin Scorsese. I checked IMDb, and The Departed is the first Scorsese film I've ever seen. I've never been interested or motivated in seeing any of his others. I thought The Departed was pretty good, but I didn't think it was *that* good. I know I'm probably in the minority with my Paul Greengrass pick, but I just think the style and tone that he chose for United 93 was the most fitting and was very well done. Clint Eastwood and Stephen Frears were also excellent with Letters and Queen, respectively, so I'm really okay with any of these guys except Inarritu for Babel.

Best Lead Actress

  • Penelope Cruz (Volver)
  • Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal)
  • Helen Mirren (The Queen)
  • Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada)
  • Kate Winslet (Little Children)

My Pick: Helen Mirren
My Prediction: Helen Mirren
Who Got Snubbed: No one I can think of; with Mirren in the race, it doesn't matter anyway.
Further Comment: The hype surrounding Helen Mirren for The Queen is accurate & deserved. I'm almost tempted to see the movie again. I also liked Judi Dench in Notes on a Scandal. In a normal year, she'd probably deserve to win, but even Dench is overshadowed by Mirren. Penelope Cruz was excellent in Volver, but that was also a more down-to-earth role in a fluffier movie, compared to the others. She deserves the nomination but not the win. I didn't see Little Children or Devil Wears Prada.
[EDIT: Late Saturday Night 24 Feb 2007] I saw Little Children earlier today, thanks to it *finally* coming out in wide release in my area yesterday (a whole *two* screen times at *one* theater in Greensboro). I can see how Kate Winslet's performance is noteworthy, but it does not affect my first preference of Mirren and second preference of Dench. For me Winslet ties with Cruz.

Best Lead Actor

  • Leonardo DiCaprio (Blood Diamond)
  • Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson)
  • Peter O'Toole (Venus)
  • Will Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness)
  • Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland)

My Pick: Forest Whitaker
My Prediction: Forest Whitaker
Who Got Snubbed: Matt Damon (The Departed)
Further Comment: Forest Whitaker pretty much has this locked as well and for good reason. Will Smith was good, but not *that* good. Ryan Gosling's performance was the only really good thing about Half Nelson. Might still see Blood Diamond later, but after The Departed, I'm convinced DiCaprio is a good actor. I just doubt anyone has out-acted Whitaker this time around.
[EDIT: Late Saturday Night 24 Feb 2007] I almost forgot, but I think Ken Watanabe (Letters From Iwo Jima) was also snubbed.

Best Supporting Actress

  • Adriana Barraza (Babel)
  • Cate Blanchett (Notes on a Scandal)
  • Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine)
  • Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)
  • Rinko Kikuchi (Babel)

My Pick: Jennifer Hudson or Cate Blanchett (can't make up my mind)
My Prediction: Jennifer Hudson
Who Got Snubbed: Ivana Baquero (Pan's Labyrinth), Keke Palmer (Akeelah and the Bee)
Further Comment: I really liked Cate Blanchett's performance, but she could probably pull off that or better performances in her sleep. Jennifer Hudson's performance was very powerful. Since she's not a professional actress (as far as I know), this role probably took all that she had, and she definitely delivered. Since this may be her only chance, I think she will surely win. I'm okay with Barraza's nomination because she was one of the better things about Babel, but I can't help but suspect that Rinko Kikuchi got nominated because she was "brave" enought to show off her "Kikuchi" on screen, if you know what I mean. My two Who Got Snubbed picks are both child actresses who were technically in lead roles in their movies. But, I list them to make the point that I think they did a better job than Abigail Breslin, who was the little girl in Little Miss Sunshine.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine)
  • Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children)
  • Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond)
  • Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls)
  • Mark Wahlberg (The Departed)

My Pick: Eddie Murphy
My Prediction: Eddie Murphy (unless his new comedy Norbit changed people's minds)
Who Got Snubbed: Micheal Sheen (played Tony Blair in The Queen)
Further Comment: Eddie Murphy was excellent in Dreamgirls. There was only one scene where he acted Eddie Murphyish. I hope that and his negative hype for Norbit don't ruin this for him. Alan Arkin's performance was really good even though I didn't like the material he had to work with. I really don't understand Mark Wahlberg's nomination, but there again, I really hated his character in The Departed too. Might still see Blood Diamond this week. Did not see Little Children, but I've read some good hype about Jackie Earle Haley.
[EDIT: Late Saturday Night 24 Feb 2007] As mentioned above, saw Little Children this afternoon. Jackie Earle Haley did an excellent job playing a distasteful character. My preference is still for Eddie Murphy, and I admit that's partially caused by my dislike of the characters that Arkin, Haley, and Wahlberg play. It's probably harder for me than it should be to separate the likeability of the character from the performance of the actor.

Best Screenplay – Original

  • Babel
  • Letters from Iwo Jima
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • Pan's Labyrinth
  • The Queen

My Pick: The Queen
My Prediction: Babel, maybe Little Miss Sunshine (basically, the two I didn't like as much)
Who Got Snubbed: Akeelah and the Bee (still my #1 favorite movie of 2006)
Further Comment: This is another tough-to-call category. I really like Queen, Letters, and Labyrinth; and the whole rest of the world loved Little Miss Sunshine. Babel, however, is still a movie whose hype and recognition someone's gonna have to explain to me. It was good, but it wasn't *that* good.

Best Screenplay – Adapted

  • Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
  • Children of Men
  • The Departed
  • Little Children
  • Notes on a Scandal

My Pick: (tie) Children of Men / Notes on a Scandal
My Prediction: The Departed
Further Comment: I thought it was directing, rather than the script, that was the strength of Children of Men. But, since it didn't get its directing nomination, that's why I wouldn't mind it winning here. In terms of tension, pace, and rich dialogue, I feel Notes on a Scandal should win. I have mixed feelings about The Departed. Based on plot alone, it would be my #1 pick, but it suffers in my mind from horrendous dialogue. I did not see Borat or Little Children. From what I heard about Borat, did it even have a script? I would have thought it was at least half ad-libbed. Also, did anyone outside of NYC & LA see Little Children? It was never in wide release, and I don't think it's out on video yet.
[EDIT: Late Saturday Night 24 Feb 2007] As mentioned above, saw Little Children this afternoon. It was good, but it's still my bottom pick out of the four movies I saw (didn't see Borat).

Best Foreign Language Film

  • After the Wedding
  • Days of Glory (Indigenes)
  • The Lives of Others
  • Pan's Labyrinth
  • Water

My Pick & Prediction: Pan's Labyrinth
Further Comment: Until this year, I think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was the only foreign-language film I'd ever seen (and I guess I'm the only person who didn't like that movie either). This year, I saw Pan's Labyrinth (100% Spanish), Volver (100% Spanish), Letters From Iwo Jima (95% Japanese, 5% English), and Babel (25% English, 25% Spanish, 25% Japanese, 25% whatever they speak in Morocco). Babel was probably too much of a mix to be eligible, Letters got in the Best Picture category despite the language barrier, and maybe Volver was considered too fluffy. So, Labyrinth get's my pick by default (only one I saw, and it was pretty good). I have heard, on Ebert & Roeper, good things about The Lives of Others, which is in German. After two years of German in high school, maybe I could watch that movie and understand a dozen or so words in it (there again, after a semester of Japanese in college, I still only understood a handfull of words in Letters From Iwo Jima).

Animated Feature

  • Cars
  • Happy Feet
  • Monster House

My Pick & Prediction: Cars
Further Comment: Granted, Cars was the only one of the three I saw, but seriously, how can a Pixar movie lose.

Best Cinematography

  • The Black Dahlia
  • Children of Men
  • The Illusionist
  • Pan's Labyrinth
  • The Prestige

My Enormously Strong Pick & Prediction: Children of Men
Who Got Snubbed: The Lake House (no, seriously, The Lake House; excellent camera angles, interesting views of Chicago architecture, good use of reflections; yes, the movie about Keanu Reeves & Sandra Bullock writing time-traveling love letters to each other through their magical mailbox; stop looking at me like that)
Further Comment: If Children of Men loses Best Cinematography either: (1) There will be forty years of darkness, earthquakes, volcanoes, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria; -OR- (2) I'll yell obscenities at my TV screen for 2 or 3 minutes and spend another 10 to 15 minutes pacing around my house, talking to myself like Rain Man. Definitely, one of those two scenarios will occur if Children of Men loses Best Cinematography. To be fair, though... Pan's Labyrinth and The Presige definitely deserve their nominations. I might rent The Illusionist soon, but I didn't/won't see Black Dahlia (no interest).

Best Film Editing

  • Babel
  • Blood Diamond
  • Children of Men
  • The Departed
  • United 93

My Pick: Children of Men
My 2nd Place Pick: United 93
My Prediction: The Departed or Children of Men
Further Comment: Children of Men and United 93 both required excellent editing to piece together the excellent camera work. Both of those movies utilized long scene takes from one or two cameras. In Children of Men, multiple long takes were pieced together in post-prod. to look like a single super-long take. In the director's commentary on the United 93 DVD, Paul Greengrass said that some of the takes were an hour long, as he preferred to get a more real-time sense of what went on instead of breaking scenes up into pieces. In takes that long, surely there were flub-ups, and I'm guessing it took excellent editing to steer around those. The editing in The Departed was decent but didn't stand out as extraordinary. And, just how did Babel weasel its way into another category?

Best Art Direction

  • Dreamgirls
  • The Good Shepherd
  • Pan's Labyrinth
  • Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest
  • The Prestige

My Pick: Dreamgirls
My Prediction: Pan's Labyrinth
Further Comment: I saw Dreamgirls, Labyrinth, and Prestige. It's practically a toss-up because all three were excellent in very different ways. Didn't see Pirates or Shepherd.

Best Costume Design

  • Curse of the Golden Flower
  • The Devil Wears Prada
  • Dreamgirls
  • Marie Antoinette
  • The Queen

My Pick: Dreamgirls
My Prediction: The Devil Wears Prada
Further Comment: Dreamgirls required a lot of elaborate costumes from the 1960s & 1970s. However, since Devil Wears Prada, which I didn't see, is all about fashion, I'm guessing it went a step further.

Best Makeup

  • Apocalypto
  • Click
  • Pan's Labyrinth

My Pick & Prediction: Pan's Labyrinth
Further Comment: Labyrinth makeup was definitely better and more extensive than Click, and I didn't see Apocalypto.

Best Visual Effects

  • Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest
  • Poseidon
  • Superman Returns

My Default Pick & Prediction (only one I saw): Superman Returns

Best Sound Editing

  • Apocalypto
  • Blood Diamond
  • Flags of Our Fathers
  • Letters From Iwo Jima
  • Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest

My Pick & Prediction: Letters From Iwo Jima
Further Comment: The two Clint Eastwood movies are the only ones I saw. Maybe someone with knowledge about cinematic sound can explain the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing and what to listen for when determining good or bad sound quality.

Best Sound Mixing

  • Apocalypto
  • Blood Diamond
  • Dreamgirls
  • Flags of Our Fathers
  • Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest

My Pick & Prediction: Dreamgirls
Further Comment: Flags of Our Fathers required pretty good sound too. I wonder why Letters From Iwo Jima wasn't nominated in addition to or in place of Flags. I've never had any interest in seeing it, but I have an odd suspicion that Pirates: Dead Man's Chest could steal one or both of the sound awards.

Best Original Song

  • I Need to Wake Up (An Inconvenient Truth)
  • Listen (Dreamgirls)
  • Love You I Do (Dreamgirls)
  • Our Town (Cars)
  • Patience (Dreamgirls)

My Pick: Anything from Dreamgirls
My Prediction: Listen
Further Comment: From what I read on the internet, Listen has the best chance of winning. Hudson sings Love You I Do with power. Keith Robinson, Anika Noni Rose, Eddie Murphy, and a backup gospel choir sing Patience with soul & charm. And, Beyonce sings Listen with enormous range. Going off memory and the 30 second samples on iTunes, my original pick was Love You I Do. However, I just bought the whole album on iTunes and listened to all three nominated songs. Now, I can't make up my mind! It's a three-way tie for me! I really like James Taylor and thought he did great on the solemn Our Town, but I can't help but wonder if the Cars soundtrack would have had an easier time in this category with Sheryl Crow's fast & upbeat Real Gone. I'm guessing that this award probably goes to the songwriter rather than the performer, so maybe my reasoning in this category doesn't count anyway.

Best Original Score

  • Babel
  • The Good German
  • Notes on a Scandal
  • Pan's Labyrinth
  • The Queen

My Pick: The Queen
My Prediction: Pan's Labyrinth (wild guess)
Further Comment: There's Babel again!?! Urgh. Didn't pay too much attention to the music in the ones I saw (all but The Good German), so I just picked The Queen by default. Unfortunately, while I really like the movie, the score in Notes on a Scandal did get a little overbearing at times. There were times I wanted the music in Scandal to just stop for a while or at least be more in the background. I also saw that movie in a theater that was abnormally loud, so maybe that was part of the problem.

Best Documentary Feature

  • Deliver Us From Evil
  • An Inconvenient Truth
  • Iraq in Fragments
  • Jesus Camp
  • My Country, My Country

Comment: Saw none of these, so no strong opinion, but from what little I've heard about them, An Inconvenient Truth actually sounds interesting, regardless of the accuracy of its content. I might rent it sometime. Richard Roeper and his guest reviewers on Ebert & Roeper have always had good things to say about Jesus Camp, and I think I noticed it in the video store recently.

Best Short Film - Live Action

  • Binta and the Great Idea
  • One Too Many
  • Helmer & Son
  • The Saviour
  • West Bank Story

Best Short Film - Animated

  • The Danish Poet
  • Lifted
  • The Little Matchgirl
  • Maestro
  • No Time for Nuts

Films with 2 or more Oscar nominations (and my overall grade for it, if I saw it):
8 = Dreamgirls (A- ****)
7 = Babel (C+ ***)
6 = The Queen (A *****)
6 = Pan's Labyrinth (B+ ****)
5 = The Departed (B ***)
5 = Blood Diamond
4 = Letters From Iwo Jima (B+ ****)
4 = Notes on a Scandal (B+ ****)
4 = Little Miss Sunshine (C **)
4 = Pirates..Carribean: Dead Man's Chest
3 = Children of Men (A- ****)
3 = Apocalypto
3 = Little Children
2 = The Prestige (A *****)
2 = United 93 (A- ****)
2 = Cars (A- ****)
2 = Flags of Our Fathers (B ***)
2 = An Inconvenient Truth
2 = The Devil Wears Prada

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