The big night is Sunday, and if all goes according to plan I'll be at my friend's home, who has hosted the last twenty Oscar shows (and I've been at them at all). I haven't missed an Oscar telecast since my first one, way back in 1972 (The French Connection won). I continue to get a kick out of the whole thing, while recognizing, even embracing, the notion that these awards are not a reflection of quality, but instead of a snapshot of how a few thousand movie insiders feel at a given time (or how they have been influenced by publicists and marketers).
Over the almost forty years I've had fun with the Oscars there have been great changes, most notably in their coverage, due to the Internet. Everybody and his uncle can post their picks, whether they be predictions or who-should-wins, and everyone can express their outrage in the comments section. I'm somewhat amused by many of them. Over at AwardsDaily there will be a post about something, say the costume nominations, and there will be a torrent of comments, indignantly decrying a nomination or bemoaning someone who isn't nominated. I admire the passion, but it's misdirected. I have never particularly cared who wins Oscars--though I have my favorites--it's the process that intrigues me. As I've mentioned before on this blog, it combines my love of movies with my love of sports. It's just another horse race.
This year's races are mostly settled. Three of the four acting races are mortal locks, and the fourth one is near to one. I think there is genuine suspense in the Best Original Screenplay category between Mark Boal for The Hurt Locker and Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds, and a few of the tech categories could go in a number of different ways, but Best Director seems to be another foregone conclusion. After 82 years, a woman will win.
As there are still very few woman directors working regularly in Hollywood, it shouldn't be a surprise that the winner will be Kathryn Bigelow, who is not a big name in the field. The Hurt Locker is only her ninth film, and she's never directed a huge hit or iconic film--as I look over her filmography I see to my astonishment that I haven't seen any of her films other than The Hurt Locker (I suppose Point Break is the one I should have seen). She's mostly directed genre action films, and the pontification from the blogosphere has been that she's a woman who directs films like a man--a vaguely sexist statement, since how is a woman supposed to direct?
She is also the ex-wife of James Cameron, who will likely be the runner-up in this category, for Avatar, a film of technological advancement but retroactive story-telling. Cameron had all the heat when the film was released, and I'm not quite sure where the tipping point came, but he and the film (more on that below) have sort have become yesterday's news. I don't see this award being given for only half of the moviemaking process-you gotta do both.
As for the rest of the field, there are many who would award to Tarantino, the not-so-enfant terrible of Hollywood. Certainly his direction was dynamic and visually arresting, but since Pulp Fiction Tarantino has played within his own fenced-in yard, seemingly uninterested in expanding his view to beyond those of a dimly-lit grindhouse.
Jason Reitman, who would be the youngest winner ever, looked good in early December, but Up in the Air, for reasons I'm not sure of, has also cooled. He will win for Best Adapted Screenplay. And Lee Daniels, only the second African-American to be nominated in this category, will have to be content with his nod for Precious.
So that leaves Best Picture, and in many ways it's the most exciting race of all. It really won't be settled until the envelope is opened, as a Bigelow win in the directing category, normally a belwether of mammoth size, won't necessarily signal a win for The Hurt Locker. Will there be those who vote for Bigelow, but then vote for another film for Best Picture? Most assuredly yes, but which one? And with the instant run-off system of voting, where films are ranked one through ten, which means a film may win without getting the most first-place votes, well, it's hard to know what will happen.
Also coloring this race is the predictable smear tactics that erupt. It happened with A Beautiful Mind, it happened with Slumdog Millionaire. Accusations are hurled from anonymous sources, lawsuits mysteriously pop up. The Hurt Locker, which was first seen eighteen months ago, has all of a sudden been attacked from all sides--soldiers have gone on record saying it is not authentic in how things happen in Iraq--while another has sued the production, claiming it's his story. Not helping was a producer who sent a mass email asking for a vote, a rules no-no that ended up costing him tickets to the show. Will it cost his movie a win?
I don't think so. These things are tempests in martini glasses, providing copy for the entertainment journalists facing few exciting races. Most of this brouhaha has happened either after or within a few days of the close of voting, so it's unlikely to effect the count too much. I'm predicting A Hurt Locker victory.
But I wouldn't be bowled over if Avatar does win. It did earn over 700 million and changed the face of film technology. But it seems to be polarizing, and not a favorite among actors (it had actors, but they weren't seen on screen as themselves). It didn't win the Producer's Guild, and if the money guys didn't vote it their number one, I don't see the Academy as a whole doing it.
The wild card in this race is Inglourious Basterds, which has the power of Harvey Weinstein behind it. What isn't clear is whether Weinstein's power is nothing more than noise--he's proclaimed Basterds a cinch to win. Ever since Weinstein maneuvered Shakespeare in Love to a surprise win over ten years ago, there are those who think he can make any one of his pictures do the same thing. But of course that's not true--you just need to go back to last year, when he couldn't do it for The Reader. I would be very surprised if this entertaining but ultimately soulless live-action cartoon wins Best Picture.
The remaining seven films have zero chance to win. In descending order of probability, they would be: Up in the Air (at one point the frontrunner), Precious (also had a moment of frontrunner status back in October), Up, An Education, District 9, The Blind Side, and A Serious Man.
My full list of predictions:
Best Picture: The Hurt Locker
Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Best Actor: Jeff Bridges
Best Actress: Sandra Bullock
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz
Best Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique
Best Original Screenplay: Inglourious Basterds
Best Adapted Screenplay: Up in the Air
Best Foreign Language Film: El Secreto de Sus Ojos
Best Animated Film: Up
Best Cinematography: Avatar
Best Editing: The Hurt Locker
Best Art Direction: Avatar
Best Costume Design: The Young Victoria
Best Song: "The Weary Kind"
Best Musical Score: Up
Best Documentary Feature: The Cove
Best Documentary Short Subject: The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant
Best Makeup: Star Trek
Best Animated Short Subject: A Matter of Loaf and Death
Best Live Action Short Subject: The Door
Best Sound Editing: The Hurt Locker
Best Sound Mixing: Avatar
Best Visual Effects: Avatar