85th-oscars-logo 22 Feb

The least interesting Super Bowl in modern history is over, and our next socially acceptable avenue towards alcoholic excess looks to be almost a month away. Enter the Academy Awards, the tepidly watched excuse for rigged office polls and a Joan Rivers after-show screeching. Despite the sagging and decrepit nature of the 85-year old ceremony itself; the masochistic, reptilian layer of our collective pop culture brain remains transfixed on the pageantry of it all (Yahoo News looked into the back story of the Oscar envelopes, for Eisenstein’s sake!) .

And this year, Seth McFarlane embodies the latest attempt to reengage crucial age groups, while the show itself undergoes its most categorical tweaks that no one (besides me and the rest of the friends you haven’t talked to since Film 112C: “Weimar Cinema”)  is going to pay attention to or care. Breasts are being vacuum-sealed into Armanis and Versaces, and pre-paid buzz machines enter the last leg of their Sisyphean attempts to fill E! time.

To those forced into viewing this year’s spectacle, just play my version of the Oscar drinking game. Raise your booze receptacle to your lips, imbibe, and repeat until you see Jack Nicholson’s face in every cut away to the crowd. For those that have even the slightest interest in the goings on, or the reasons why you or any other consumer’s opinion will never matter in these things, I present to you my Guide to the 85th Annual Academy Awards!

Oh, and the planned on-stage reunion of the six James Bonds? Not going to happen. Sorry you got your hopes up.

Seth McFarlane, the Oscar host who screams "Please like us, 18-34 demographic! He made 'Family Man', that show's still hip, right?"

Seth McFarlane, the Oscar host who screams “Please like us, 18-34 demographic! He made ‘Family Man’, that show’s still hip, right?”

As it has been with the past three years, the movies most likely to win will be presented in bold, with those that should win but won’t (if they are any) italicized. For each category, the linked film clips have been selected for their expression of each field/award in question. That is, when I could find them publicly available. I’m not risking the lawyers from this crowd with anything from screener copies, that’s how they force you to star opposite Cheech Marin as an lip-synched Chihuahua.

And the Nominees Are…

Short Subject Documentary

Most voters consider themselves merciful if they merely watch all the films in the category, so despite it’s relatively low stakes in terms of the careers of those involved, these smaller categories can easily become the evening’s crap shoots. Nevertheless, buzz points to “Inocente” making enough of an impression to get Academy members to actually pay attention after they’ve had the rest of the films on in the background as they prep their taxes. “Mondays at Racine” has enough of the flavor of a local news human interest fluff piece to endear sufficient votes to be a dark horse, but the rest of the shorts will remain background noise when it comes to the ultimate ballot marking.

Animated Short Feature

Instinct here is to go with any short produced by a bigger name or attached to a bigger franchise, but with “Wreck-It Ralph” already a sure bet in the Animated category, “Paperman” won’t get the usual coat-tail bump. “Longest Daycare” could profit from the Simpson brand, but more likely will be weighed down by its popularity. Remember, this is the race where being popular is often a handicap, as the perceived “need” for an award is just as – if not more – considered by voters. But it’s not the entire pseudo-scientific process, otherwise “Fresh Guacamole” would be an underdog success story come this Sunday. The best bet here is “Adam and Dog”, not just for being a warm palette with a story attached, but being made by an ex-Disney employee bracing against the oh-so-cruel winds of independent production.

Live Action Short Feature

If the documentary shorts are what voters put on as white noise to get them over with, and animated shorts are what they reward themselves with after long screenings, live action shorts are the Oscars’ absentee ballots. Put off to the side to be viewed in some ethereal later time, only to be hurried through in a solid chunk in the waning hours before the vote submission deadline. “Buzkashi Boys” will stand out in these circumstances, and pretty much any other, but “Curfew” and “Asad” could manage to slip in a possible victory if each film is given more time to gestate in voter minds.

Sound Mixing

“Les Miserables” will become the first film to win this category through transitive advertising. The biggest focal point in pre-release interviews for Hooper’s musical adaptation was the fact that actors sang their routines live on set, as opposed to lip synching to pre-recorded tracks. And while the gamble didn’t quite pay off (the wretched mangling of “One Day More” can attest to that), it will be that fact sticking in Academy minds as they fumble through this section of the ballot. After all, the biggest branches of this voting block deal with the sound crew for about 15 seconds a day, and have little chance to experience the intricacies of the field first hand to be able to identify the best talent (“Argo”, “Skyfall”).

Sound Editing

To most people, regardless of Academy status, sound editing means the best sounding gunshots. And while “Argo” has enough of a third act to put up a fight here, “Skyfall” made for the prettiest pew-pews. If the Academy has the rare bout of insight, they would here reward “Django Unchained”, as the beautifully synched brutality of the middle third at Candi’s ranch is something to marvel at (not to mention it’s not often we get to here such perfectly timed whiplashes).

Production Design

What was once the category for Art Direction has been laterally remodeled to include both set and production design. The result to the end viewer is still the same, these are the guys that build the sets, strike the props, and generally ground the film with all the necessary physical realities to make it reasonably believable. “Lincoln” is likely to benefit most from a solid production ground work, but the garish (if poorly shot) sets of “Les Miserables” could put it over the top. “The Hobbit” really should take this one home, however, as Weta’s work was one of the few things not lost in the translation to more kid-friendly source material.

Makeup and Hairstyling

What long-teetering common sense finally tipped over the shelf and concussed the Academy into rational thought I’m unsure, but placing hairstyling (one of the most unappreciated, if oft-discussed groups in the business) in the same category of makeup shows a dangerous amount of logical thinking for such a group of Antediluvians. In any case, this is “Les Miserables” to lose, as it captures the we-made-pretty-people-look-slightly-unattractive trump card. Sorry, chub-suit Anthony Hopkins.

A graphic dressing Oscar in the wardrobes all of past 84 Best Picture Winners. Try and guess all of them! Then try and guess what all the better films that weren't picked for each year!

Oscar dressed in the wardrobes of the past 84 Best Pictures. Try and guess them! Then try and guess all the better films that passed over each year!

Costume Design

“Anna Karenina”. Period piece + foreign country + big-ass frilly dresses = Oscar. Not even Colleen Atwood’s name could combat such Newtonian laws.

Film Editing

“Argo” captured that classic Hollywood style best in the editing bay, and has a narrative built to draw focus to its camera techniques towards the climax. “Zero Dark Thirty” could pull the same trick with its benchmark compound-raid sequence, and honestly would deserve it more if it manages. “Life of Pi” would have stood a better chance if the editing made the film about 30-minutes shorter, and “Lincoln” will be taken care of in the higher, prettier categories.

More Deserving Films in this Category than “Silver Linings Playbook”, Volume 1:  “Haywire”, “The Grey”, “The Avengers”, “Lawless”.


“Skyfall” gets its biggest bone of the night here, not only for the strongest action scenes in a Bond flick in over a decade, but because it’s the only mass-market film of the year to dare multiple full-color washes with its climactic shootout at the Scottish manor (look at how it’s all orange! oooh, now it’s all blue!). “Life of Pi” could have its 3D-heavy set-pieces confused for good camera work, but it’s unlikely.

Visual Effects

How much does the Academy hate Batman? They’ve rewarded Nolan’s work here in the past with at least a nomination, but having the team that tried to make Kristen Stewart into a fantasy-action star preferred to the guys that blew up a football stadium? Guess the Academy must be Marvel-lovers. I come to that conclusion because “The Avengers” has this one in a Hulk-sized bag. “The Hobbit” could still have enough favor from 2003 to make it, but nothing in Jackson’s latest really rivaled that live action two-page spread Whedon pulled off in the battle with the Chitauri.

Original Song

  • Before My Time from “Chasing Ice” Music and Lyric by J. Ralph
  • Everybody Needs A Best Friend from “Ted” Music by Walter Murphy; Lyric by Seth MacFarlane
  • Pi’s Lullaby from “Life of Pi” Music by Mychael Danna; Lyric by Bombay Jayashri
  • Skyfall from “Skyfall” Music and Lyric by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth
  • Suddenly from “Les Misérables” Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg; Lyric by Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil

For the first time in recent memory, a Billboard-recognized single could win an Oscar. And given the success and near universal good will Adele has mustered since her “21” LP made the charts look like 1999 again, it’s all but assured Skyfall walks away with the mantle-filler. Good thing too, because without it, the Academy would instinctively honor Claude-Michel Schonberg’s Broadway legacy, despite “Suddenly” being one of the worst things in the already blemished “Les Mis”.

Seth McFarlane being the host eliminates the possibility of his 100th self-indulgent big band era love letter winning, which leaves the two songs lacking any back-door politics to just perform during the night unrewarded. A shame, considering both are genuinely well put together ditties, with Before My Time especially managing to carry its film credit sequence with aplomb.

Original Score

No idea why “Anna Karenina”‘s here, to be honest. But “Life of Pi” is expected to make the walk to the podium with its eclectic mix of rarely-heard Non-Western genres. Both Williams and Newman put out their best orchestrations in a long while here, but still don’t deviant enough from their trademark sound to make an impression against Danna’s wall of foreign beats.

Documentary Feature

In most years, this category was a lock for the film that managed to inspire the most Liberal bile. But 2012 gave us a nominee list crowded enough to dilute that effect, with “The Invisible War”, “How to Survive a Plague”, and “5 Broken Cameras” all poking those stockpiles of privileged rage that lead to Oscars, without even minimal effort towards the social change demanded in the victorious features (remember how Michael Moore got rid of all the guns in 1998?). With nearly all films in this category gunning for the reactionary knee-jerks, the sweet, simple “Searching for Sugar Man” should pull a dextrous win.

Foreign Film

We are likely to see a repeat of last year’s “A Separation” victory with “Amour” here, in the fact that nominations in typically American film-only categories (go ‘murika) is practically a guarantee of victory in the Foreign space. It’s also French, and starring the darling of critically-lauded cinema Emmanuelle Riva, whom you’ll barely remember from that one time your high school World History teased the class with a movie day only to show “Hiroshima, Mon Amour”. A shame, considering Rachael Mwanza’s Komona in “War Witch” handles far worse situations than Quvenzhané Wallis’ Hushpuppy, and with devastating intimacy.

Also, “The Raid: Redemption” needed to be here somewhere.

The Oscar nominee luncheon, where the practice gift baskets only offer $1,600 of spa treatments.

The Oscar nominee luncheon, where the practice gift baskets only offer $1,600 in spa treatments.

Animated Feature

Best Animated comes down to a brawl between the recent worst of Pixar and Aardman versus the recent best of Burton and Disney, with the superior film stuck in the middle with little chance of winning. DespiteParaNorman”‘s slim likelihood of victory, it’s a key part of the Academy’s latest “heart in the right place” blunder. Three stop-motion nominees is a wonderful salute to the under-appreciated medium, but it comes at the cost of recognizing animated features that were actually good, despite their totally uber-lame conformist use of CGI. Granted, it means that the cringe-ridden “Hotel Transylvania” is bumped off, but so is “Rise of the Guardians”, a popcorn spectacle with the balls to be entertaining  without Shrek levels of pop culture references.

Nevertheless, the Academy is a few years into the detox program for its Pixar addiction, and Burton’s recent financial success (how dare he!) as a Producer/Director counts out his kinda-sorta-not-really return to form out. And since not enough voters are likely to have actually seen “Pirates!” by the cut off date, chances are mostly in “Wreck-It Ralph”‘s favor. It can take consolation in the fact that was also a damn good movie…just not as good as “ParaNorman”.

Adapted Screenplay

“Lincoln”. The competition just evaporates away when you tally up all the points Kushner has going for him. He redefined a scriptwriter’s success on Broadway with “Angels in America”, and has here adapted an almost equally beloved Presidential biography (a favorite sub-genre of the Pulitzers) into a sentiment filled examination of a tragically perfect National treasure. No contest. The rest of the nominees can just “Argo” fu*k themselves.

More Deserving Films in this Category than “Silver Linings Playbook”, Volume 2:  “Cloud Atlas”, “Hitchcock”, “Killing Them Softly”, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (Seriously? Not even a nod?).

Original Screenplay

It’s here (and not in the Best Actress race, as many have surmised) that the recent controversies surrounding the C.I.A. investigation of “Zero Dark Thirty” are going to haunt the film’s chances. Hollywood’s never been shy about circumventing truth in the name of drama or tension, but political hearings have a special way of eking out the more gun-shy side of the A-List. Which leaves this race in a bit more unpredictable state. The beloved Wes Anderson could pull a Woody Allen and win his movie’s only nomination, “Flight” could be given it’s bone to chew on here to make up for Denzel Washington’s complete lack of chance in the acting race, and the same could happen for “Django” in its more widespread (but still unlikely) nominations elsewhere.

But in the end, the latest signs seem to point in the direction of “Amour”, as it’s where the median 62-year old Academy could reward both its Francophilia – and the rare pleasure of seeing screen time devoted to people older than they are – in one fell swoop.

Actor (In a Supporting Role)

Even in a year like this, 2012’s supporting nominees just seems wasteful. Five previous winners, all white, and all seemingly picked for all the wrong reasons. Waltz got the famous courtesy Tarantino nod instead of public favorite Leonardo DiCaprio (and the even more deserving Samuel L. Jackson), De Niro shares the most unnecessary Weinstein bump of the night with co-star Jackie Weaver, Hoffman must have been voted in just to complete a hat trick for “The Master”, and Arkin’s in because…I don’t know, John Goodman’s still too fat to be on camera with the pretty people?

It’s no surprise then that the biggest buzz and strongest odds favor Tommy Lee Jones. Aside from being the most enjoyable ham in the delicatessen window that was “Lincoln”, Jones ticks enough boxes both within the film (real life now-dead person, fought for the right side of history) and in his career (a now four-time nominee with only one victory…twenty years ago) to walk away statue-ridden here.

Actress (In a Supporting Role)

Anne Hathaway wins. I spent two hours trying to make this blurb into a funny parody of “I Dreamed a Dream”. I failed. Moving on.

Actor (In a Leading Role)

Daniel Day Lewis is going to become the first actor in the Academy’s history to win three Oscars. It is, even considering “The Avengers” in the effects category, the surest bet of the night. Phoenix was decent, but not good enough to pull a “Patton”-size win in spite of previous animosities expressed toward the ceremony, and Cooper is a waste of a nomination slot (Frank Langella acted against freaking Asimo in “Robot and Frank”, and John Hawkes PERMANENTY MESSED UP HIS SPINE FOR “The Sessions”. HIS SPINE!). And whatever nuance and ability showcased by Jackman (a somewhat decent amount) and Washington (a career-defining amount), Day-Lewis’ portrayal of Lincoln is a resurrection of a figure thought lost beyond Presidential portraits and speeches. It’s the rare time when casual film-goers were put on the same level of respect for the craft as its craftsmen, making this the most common(folk) sense-inspired award since Ledger’s posthumous victory.

Actress (In a Leading Role)

And here we come to the darkest possibility of Weinstein’s unfair influence in this ceremony. There is little chance of a “Shakespeare in Love” level upset in the Best Picture category, there have been whispers of Jennifer Lawrence going from dark horse to thoroughbred, mostly due to the CIA controversy surrounding “Zero Dark Thirty”. Lawrence has her career reward in “The Hunger Games”, the Academy doesn’t frequently double dip. Emmanuelle Riva remains the true underdog here due to legacy, but Naomi Watts is likely to survive an actual Tsunami before winning here. And no offense to Quvenzhane Wallis, but young girls win Best Supporting until their ingenue-age.

So while I was seriously burned here last year (Meryl Streep’s least inspired work over Viola Davis? Serves me right for being optimistic.), I shall abandon reason and try again to hope the Academy sees the light. Jessica Chastain channels a Clarice Starling-level intensity as Maya, and that’s not just me reaching for the most recognizable association. The comparison has been batted back and forth enough for everyone to get the hint, here’s hoping they’ve seen reason since last year.


I’ve sent a letter explaining the mistake the Academy made here, but have yet to hear a response. I had no idea someone could so thoroughly misspell B-E-N A-F-F-L-E-C-K before. But assuming the Academy doesn’t like spell check, Spielberg shall see gold again. Unlike “War Horse”, the Spielbergian level of sentimental goo in “Lincoln” works, despite the director himself not being the chief reason for the film’s success. Haneke could manage a victory here if the Academy doesn’t mind going against its general rule of awarding Best Director and Best Picture to the same film.

More Deserving Films in this Category than “Silver Linings Playbook”, Volume 3: “Cabin in the Woods”, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, “Savages”.

Best Picture

Bucking in the face of convention, this year’s batch of Best Picture contenders (kept at just under ten, I assume to just to piss in the wounds of those left out) all stand at least a hell-bound snowball’s chance, save for “Django”. “Zero Dark Thirty” lost its likelihood after Bigelow was ignored for Best Director like misspelled Ben Affleck, not to mention the whole “Did the CIA feed the producers false information about torture effectiveness?” thing. “Life of Pi” will catch some small fish during the ceremony, but the Academy chose the wrong  bloated, pretentious big budget “art-house rumination” about the nature of life and theology, probably because Hugo Weaving was in yellow-face at one point.

Anne Hathaway will carry the biggest award “Les Miserables” will get this Sunday with ease, and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” rare presence in other categories paints a grim picture of its actual possibilities. “Amour” remains one of the darkest horses of the night here, but I don’t think the Academy has recovered enough snob points after giving last year’s Best Picture to “The Artist”. “Argo” has gotten some major buzz following victories at nearly every awards show with a Guild in its name, but all that feels like it’s coming too late to make a dent in early votes. Like the Best Actress race, I stick with my prediction from two months ago, and that means “Lincoln” will take home the big one.

More Deserving Films in this Category than “Silver Linings Playbook”, Final Volume: “The Avengers”, “The Dark Knight Rises”, “Quartet”, “21 Jump Street”, “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”, “Magic Mike”, “Robot and Frank”, “Looper”.

But what do the EGs think? Who will win each category in your minds? What were the year’s big snubs? Comment below, quick, the show is tomorrow!