The Best Films of 2012, Part II

Here we are again! Oscar 2013 is right around the corner, which means it’s time for me to release my predictions. I generally do a fairly good job (but of course, the award shows are generally fairly easy to predict), but this year, there are some categories that are definitely up in the air. If you missed my first post, detailing what I consider to be the best films of the year, check it out here. As always, any film marked in red is one I did not see, so take that into consideration. Away we go!

Best Original Screenplay

Amour (Michael Haneke)
Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino)
Flight (John Gatins)
Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola)
Zero Dark Thirty (Mark Boal)
Moonrise Kingdom and ZDT have a decent chance at this category, but I think Django takes it. The academy recognizes that Tarantino is a better writer than he is a director (though he’s not a bad director by any means!), Best Screenplay is often the consolation category for films that are too out-there to win Best Picture or Best Director.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Argo (Chris Terrio)
Beasts of the Southern Wild (Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin)
Life of Pi (David Magee)
Lincoln (Tony Kushner)
Silver Linings Playbook (David o. Russell)
Here’s where I discuss the dark horse of the night: Silver Linings Playbook. It has a real shot to win not only this category, but many of the categories it’s nominated for, including Best Picture. To be clear, I didn’t like the film. I thought it was sappy, patronizing schlock that was saved from pure awful only through the talents of Jennifer Lawrence. Russell admitted he created the film to show his mentally ill son that mentally ill people can live normal lives. A commendable sentiment, but not one I’m sure is well served by the implication that a mentally ill man can generally shirk or ignore his treatment, be sort of a dick to everyone, be overly obsessed with a woman or life he can never have and still expect that a beautiful woman (Lawrence) will walk up, fall head-over-heels in love with you for no discernible reason and refuse to be put off by your behavior.
All right, I’m done. Sorry about that. Anyway, I think Argo is the favorite here. It was a solid script that turned into a fantastic movie. Life of Pi has a chance, maybe, and Lincoln is a longshot. But in my opinion, it’s between Argo and (ugh) Silver Linings.

Best Visual Effects

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Life of Pi
Marvel’s The Avengers
Prometheus 
Snow White and the Huntsman
The yearly “genre movie consolation prize.” The Hobbit is the pretty clear favorite here, in my opinion, simply because the Academy will likely want to recognize that, yes, another Middle Earth movie came out this year, and we didn’t forget about it. The Avengers has a shot, and Life of Pi definitely has a shot (beautiful movie), but I think Hobbit takes it in the end.

Best Sound Mixing

Argo
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Skyfall
They sometimes give this to the action movie (action movie consolation prize!), but I think the musical holds more sway. Give it to Les Mis.

Best Sound Editing

Argo
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Skyfall
Zero Dark Thirty
I don’t know man. I don’t think Skyfall will win, but other than that, the rest of the movies have an equal chance. I say Life of Pi, because Academy members will probably want to give that movie something.

Best Live-Action Short Film

Asad 
Buzkashi Boys
Curfew
Death of a Shadow
Henry
Curfew was my favorite of this list. It revolved around a suicidal former junkie meeting his niece and watching her for an afternoon, and while the subject matter has been done before, Fatima Ptacek does a fantastic job. Death of a Shadow is likely the favorite — it’s a creative, original, and visually arresting film about a man tasked with capturing deaths throughout history with his camera. Buzkashi Boys is also a contender, if only because it’s current — it was filmed in Afghanistan, with Afghani cast and crew in cooperation with an American team. It’s not the best short film, but its subject matter will likely propel it. Asad is a cute story made with Somali refugees, and while it’s clearly not the best acted film in history, it’s still enjoyable. Henry was emotionally manipulative and predictable, even if the acting was good.
Where was I? Oh, right. I’m going to pick Death of a Shadow, but Buzkashi Boys is a close second.

Best Animated Short Film

Adam and Dog
Fresh Guacamole
Head Over Heels
Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”
Paperman
The Simpsons short was cute, but it was just a reinterpretation of the “Ayn Rand School for Tots” bit from an old episode, and that episode did it better. Paperman got a lot of shares around the old Facebook, but I thought it was a shallow story (guy wants to meet pretty girl, then does!), and I thought the animation was trying too hard to look hand-drawn, which it ultimately failed at. Head Over Heels was an intriguing idea and a nice execution (elderly man and woman have opposite gravity pulls — man lives on ceiling, woman on floor), but ultimately I didn’t think it went far enough thematically.
Fresh Guacamole was my favorite of the bunch. It was a 2-minute long claymation (or maybe faux-claymation) movie about someone making guacamole out of some unconventional ingredients. Nothing flashy, but in two minutes it managed to be funny, charming and incredibly attractive. I loved it.
Adam and Dog is probably the movie that will win. It plops down a lovable dog into the story of Adam and Eve, it’s pretty and it tugs at the heartstrings. It’s my pick for this category.

Production Design

Anna Karenina
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
I think The Hobbit takes it here, too. There were definitely some issues with the film, but let it never be said that Peter Jackson can’t put together a fabulous production team. Oh, and the less said about Anna Karenina, the better. Ugh.

Best Original Song

Before My Time (Chasing Ice)
Everybody Needs a Best Friend (Ted)
Pi’s Lullaby (Life of Pi)
Skyfall (Skyfall)
Suddenly (Les Miserables)
The general trend is to give this category to the ‘invented song’ for the musical, to recognize the vocal talent on the rest of the soundtrack, which is not eligible for nomination since it is not ‘original.’ There’s a strong possibility of that happening here, but I’m going to go with Skyfall, simply because Adele is Adele, and Suddenly was not a great song, even as ‘invented for the Oscars’ songs go.

Best Original Score

Anna Karenina
Argo
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Skyfall
None of these scores really stood out in my mind. But Lincoln has John Williams, and John Williams is to Oscars what Adele is to Grammies. 

Best Makeup

Hitchcock
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Miserables
Les Mis was nominated mostly for Anne Hathaway here, I’m pretty sure. And it was good. But I think the dwarves and goblins of The Hobbit get the gold here.

Best Foreign Language Film

Amour
Kon-Tiki
No
A Royal Affair
War Witch
So, as you can see, I’ve only seen one of these, but I’m still confident in predicting the win for it. If it doesn’t win, there’s not a lot of sense in the category. If, say, Kon-Tiki won Best Foreign Language Film, shouldn’t it have been nominated for Best (Overall) Film instead of Amour? Also, Amour is very well made. Slow-paced and personal, yes, but well made.

Best Film Editing

Argo
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
I was originally thinking I’d pick Argo here, for reasons you’ll see when we get to Best Picture. But I actually think it’s going to go to Zero Dark Thirty. ZDT had some great editing, especially in the raid scene, and giving it Best Editing means that it gets some recognition, even if it got snubbed for director.

(Note: I saw none of the documentaries this year, so I have no opinion on them)

Best Director

Amour (Michael Haneke)
Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin)
Life of Pi (Ang Lee)
Lincoln (Steven Spielberg)
Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell)
Weird fuckin’ category. The fact that Russell edged out both Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow is pretty much a travesty. With what’s left, Steven Spielberg is obviously the pick. That might have been obvious even with Affleck in there, but it’s definitely true now.

Best Costume Design

Anna Karenina
Les Misérables
Lincoln
Mirror Mirror
Snow White and the Huntsman
Let’s go ahead and throw Mirror Mirror and Snow White out of consideration. I trust no one will object. Anna Karenina was a meh movie, but it has the ‘period piece’ thing going for it, so it’s at least in contention. I’m going to go ahead and give this to Les Mis, though, because I loved the Thenardiers’ outfits.

Best Cinematography

Anna Karenina
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Skyfall
As I intimated in the previous post, the fact that The Master wasn’t nominated here was the biggest snub of the night, hands down. Not only should it be nominated, it should win the category. In light of that, I have no idea who the Academy will actually pick. Fuck, I’m surprised Silver Linings Playbook isn’t nominated here as well. I’m going to pick Life of Pi, though, because it was probably the runner-up after The Master.

Best Animated Film

Brave
Frankenweenie
Paranorman
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck-It Ralph has a shot here, but not a big one. You just can’t beat Pixar, and Brave was a lovely film.

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams
Sally Field
Anne Hathaway
Helen Hunt
Jacki Weaver
Yeah, it’s Anne Hathaway. No question here.

Best Supporting Actor

Alan Arkin
Robert De Niro
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Tommy Lee Jones
Christoph Waltz
I don’t think Arkin nor Waltz will win here; their performances were too comedic. Great, but comedic, and the Academy prefers drama. De Niro might well be the favorite here, especially if Silver Linings starts winning things like Best Screenplay, and Tommy Lee Jones is also a possibility, since he was (IMO), the best part of Lincoln (and I normally don’t like him). I think Hoffman is the objective winner, though. He was simply astounding as The Master, and I’ll consider it a pretty big misstep if he doesn’t win.

Best Actress

Jessica Chastain
Jennifer Lawrence
Emmanuelle Riva
Quvenzhané Wallis
Naomi Watts
Wallis did a great job, but they aren’t going to give the award to a kid. Won’t happen. Naomi Watts did fine as well, but she spent most of the movie in a hospital bed groaning and vomiting, so I can’t see that happening either. Amour is too obscure for Riva to win, so it’s really between Chastain and Lawrence, and either woman could easily win. I’m going to pick Chastain simply because I have to pick one, and she has a slightly better chance. But I would not be surprised at all to see Lawrence win, and I would not complain.

Best Actor

Bradley Cooper
Daniel Day-Lewis
Hugh Jackman
Joaquin Phoenix
Denzel Washington
DDL is clearly the favorite here, and it would be a huge surprise if he didn’t get the trophy. Jackman is a dark horse, but I’d say he only has a 10% chance to win, with DDL at 75% and everyone else at 5%. I’m not opposed to this. I thought Daniel Day-Lewis did a competent job. I wasn’t blown away like everyone else was — it’s not the performance of a lifetime. But it was good.

Best Picture

Amour
Argo
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
So let’s talk about what won’t win. Amour is too foreign. Beasts is too experimental. Django is too Tarantino. Life of Pi is too hamfisted with its moral. 
That leaves us with Argo, Les Mis, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook and ZDT. Silver Linings is a possibility here, as I mentioned before — if the Academy starts giving it awards left and right, and De Niro, Lawrence and Cooper (ugh) end up sweeping, it could happen. Sad, but true.
The rest have about equal chances. Les Mis probably the least of them, but it’s an epic musical with inspiring performances, so I wouldn’t count it out. Zero Dark Thirty was sort of damaged by the controversy, so I imagine the Academy, as a fairly left-leaning group of folks, will likely not award it the Big One. Really, it’s between Lincoln and Argo, and if there’s any justice, Argo will win. Lincoln was simply not that great of a movie, for many reasons. It wasn’t really about Lincoln, for one thing, meaning that from the very title the film had trouble managing its tone (it should have been called The 13th Amendment or something). Argo, on the other hand, simply worked from beginning to end. Even though I knew the ending, it was the most tense film I’ve seen all year. Argo should win, if for no other reason than to give Affleck recompense for the Best Director snub.
So there you have it! My predictions for 2013. Let me know what you think in the comments, tweet me @MatthewBorgard, and be sure to check back after the ceremony and let me know how wrong I was.

The Best Films of 2012, Part I

Yay! It’s Oscar season again! AREN’T YOU EXCITED? Well, probably not — most people enjoy lambasting our OBSESSION WITH CELEBRITIES, so honest interest in the Academy Awards is often seen as antediluvian these days. That’s all right. There are certainly more important things, but then, I enjoy celebrating art, and the awards are an opportunity for me (and many others) to see films that we otherwise might not check out … films not about robots or superhumans punching each other.

With that out of the way, let’s start with the rundown of my favorite movies of the year. In no particular order!

1 – Cloud Atlas

All right, so I lied. There’s a partial order, here. Cloud Atlas is my favorite movie of the year, for multiple reasons. It was the most entertaining film. It was the film that most made me think, and it was the film that most made me excited for its home video release. 
Of course, Cloud Atlas was not nominated for Best Film. It was not nominated for much of anything, actually. And I understand why. The meaning and overarching themes of the disparate stories were a bit muddy (I would claim subtle, but others might say muddy, and that’s fair). Some of the actors (coughtomhankscough) hammed-it-up in some of the comedic moments. And that makeup — that godawful makeup that bordered on yellowface, really hampered any hope of garnering multiple Oscar nods.
But Cloud Atlas, for me, was the most affecting movie of the year. It’s given me a lot to think about for my own writing, and my own views on life as well. The book underlines a lot of that (and it’s fantastic — if I don’t get around to a full review, I highly recommend it), but I think the movie does a good enough job of highlighting the themes: oppression, enslavement, and the soul/reincarnation as a metaphor for inspiration. 
I also think some of the actors have been unfairly maligned, as they’re all pretty brilliant in different ways. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry were especially fantastic in the Sloosha’s Crossing (far far future) storyline. They handled the strange pidgin dialect with a natural understanding that could have easily come off as far too silly to take seriously.
I can’t wait to watch this one again, multiple times, devour all the commentary and sausage making. And I can’t say that about all too many films this year.

2 – Les Misérables

Well, I’m lying again. I can certainly say I’ll rewatch Les Miserables. I’m a massive sucker for musicals, which is why I own and enjoy Mamma Mia!, despite it being a pretty objectively poor movie. So I likely would have enjoyed Les Mis even if Tom Hooper hadn’t done such a good job of it. Thankfully, he did!
His best choice, of course, was hiring Anne Hathaway. She got some shit early on about being too young for the role, and when the trailer was released, for being too ‘teary’ while singing (because surely one should be more upbeat and operatic when singing about the complete dissolution of ones life). Well, those early critics should be eating a nice meal of either hat or crow, as Anne Hathaway’s performance was the single-most gut-wrenching, soul-devouring few minutes of cinema this year. She knocked it out of the park, no questions, and that alone would have been enough for an Oscar-worthy film.
The rest of the movie, however, is more than solid. Hugh Jackman was fantastic as Jean Valjean. Tom Hooper’s unconventional shot layout worked to give the movie a sense of uniqueness. And Russell Crowe … well, I need to see it again to decide how I feel about him. I didn’t love him (his singing was far too flat, though I believe that was a conscious choice), but I didn’t hate him either. That aside (and aside from the weak “bonus song” musical films always have to add to get the Original Song nomination), Les Mis was nearly a perfect musical film.

3 – Argo

I called Ben Affleck’s The Town one of my favorite movies of 2010, and got some snide comments because of it. Really? Ben Affleck? REALLY? Well, if his Oscar for screenwriting (yeah, everyone always forgets that, huh?) wasn’t enough, his role in directing and starring in this fantastic (and Golden Globe winning) film should put Gigli out of everyone’s head. 
Historical films always have the thread the needle, balancing veracity with entertainment value. Stick to close to truth, and you end up with a movie with absolutely no tension (Zero Dark Thirty had a little bit of this; the Bin Laden raid scene, while still entertaining, was not all that thrilling, because we knew exactly what was going to happen). Go the other way, and you open yourself up to a lot of criticism. 
Argo solves this problem by focusing on the characters — character emotions and conflict (something I thought ZDT could have used more of). That’s not to say that there’s no dramatization. Argo has been criticized for minimizing the roles of several Commonwealth countries in helping the CIA’s operation. But it gets it right where it counts.
Of course, as great as the tension is (especially in the final scene — WOW!) some of the best parts of the movie are the humorous ones. Alan Arkin surely deserves his Supporting Actor nomination, though it’s sort of surprising that John Goodman didn’t garner one as well.

4 – Django Unchained

I love Quentin Tarantino. There, I said it. There’s sort of a nouveaux-hipster mentality among some film fans and critics that Tarantino’s films are overrated, silly, overly violent or just plain bad. I’ve heard it said that he’s been unable to match the brilliance of Pulp Fiction, and is now just sort of flailing around, splattering blood everywhere.

Which is pretty much crap, in my opinion. While I can understand the divisiveness of Kill Bill (I love it, but it’s a very stylized movie created as an ode to a relatively obscure genre), his next film, Inglorious Basterds, is a straightforward tale (other than the alternate history) and has the honor of being one of my favorite movies ever (as well as my favorite Tarantino flick).

While Django didn’t quite knock Basterds out of the top spot, it still blew me away. As I said on Facebook some time ago, the movie automatically gets points for being one of the few movies about slavery that isn’t about either a) the quiet bravery that rests in the soul every black slave, or b) how awesome a certain group of white people were for ending it.

No, Django is about a freed slave’s vengeance, pure and simple. While it’s a bit more personal in scope, the issue of slavery plays a massive role, and any movie that can address old ideas in a new matter is worthwhile. Thankfully, Django is also brilliant. Jaime Foxx reminds us that, yes, he can act pretty damn well, Leonardo DiCaprio plays a wonderfully sadistic villain, and Christoph Waltz is astounding in his role as the somewhat-more-educated Yankee bounty hunter. To be sure, this movie’s views of slavery and race relations are not, shall-we-say, layered. There’s no, “well, slavery was a complex issue, the south wasn’t racist, per se…” Nope. The South’s a pretty ass-backwards place, and Southern slaveowners are straight up pieces of shit. I liked it. Some might not.

Oh, and there’s Kanye on the soundtrack. So there’s that.

5 – Cabin in the Woods

Every year, I like to include a dark horse of sorts. A film that was never expected to get nominated for much of anything, nor was it ever seriously in contention, but one I still think represents a filmmaking or storytelling achievement.

This year, that film is Cabin in the Woods. It’s hard to say too much about it without spoiling it — and if you haven’t seen it, you absolutely should. I promise you it’s not a run-of-the-mill slasher film. At all. In fact, the movie is all about critiquing your run-of-the-mill slasher films. It’s one of the most pointed criticisms of that genre I think I’ve seen, and the film is able to make those judgments while still providing an absurdly entertaining story that takes place, more or less, within the horror genre itself. And even further than simply criticizing the people who make the horror films, it’s criticizing the people who watch the films — which include a fair portion of Cabin’s audience, as well as its filmmakers. Brilliant.

Oh, and there’s REO Speedwagon on the soundtrack. So there’s that.

Honorable Mentions

Brave

Speaking of movies with rarely-addressed issues, we’ve got Brave, a movie whose entire plot revolves around a mother-daughter relationship. In my review of Tangled, I noted how the conflict centered on a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship. The conflict here is similar, but the difference is that Merida and her mother have a significantly more loving relationship, and the conflict is about them figuring that out. 
Brave wasn’t quite as good as Tangled for me (part of that might be that it’s not a musical 😉 but it’s still fantastic. And the animation is gorgeous. Pixar continuously outdoes itself, and continuously outshines everyone else in the industry. Even Wreck-It Ralph, also created by Disney (but not Pixar), comes nowhere close. While Ralph was great, it’s still not quite as mature or emotional as Pixar’s entry this year, and I’m hopeful that Brave will take home the statue for Best Animated Feature, at the very least.

The Master

The artiest film on this list, The Master is not quite what I expected going in. I’d been hoping for a takedown of Scientology and its benefactor, L. Ron Hubbard. I was actually worried when I’d heard they’d changed the title character played by Philip Seymour Hoffman into a pastiche who was only inspired by Hubbard.

The Master is not about Scientology, and while there are criticisms, they aren’t as important to the film as I’d hoped. And yet, the film is still powerful. Like Django, it takes a broad issue and makes it extremely personal. Joaquin Phoenix portrays a broken man whose unidentified illness makes him somewhat immune to Hoffman’s brand of ‘healing,’ but whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, the film leaves as an open question. Amy Adams is similarly fantastic, and were it not for Anne Hathway, I’d say she was the favorite for Best Supporting Actress.

I will also say that the lack of nomination for Best Cinematography is absolutely the biggest snub on this year’s list — especially given the fact that it was beaten by Anna Karenina and Skyfall.

The Sessions

A sweet little film about a disabled man and a sex therapist. There’s not really much more to say about it than that. The films progresses exactly as you’d expect, and other than a wholly unecessary epilogue, there aren’t really any twists and turns.

The film’s success rests squarely on the shoulders of its two lead actors — John Hawkes and Helen Hunt. The fact that Hawkes failed to get a nomination, but Bradley Freaking Cooper in the dreadful Silver Linings Playbook was picked, is the second biggest snub of the night.

And the rest

You’ll notice some pretty big holes here — no Life of Pi, no Lincoln, no Silver Linings Playbook. And that’s intentional. I saw more Oscar nominees this year than any other, and it seems like I enjoyed  I’ll discuss some of those in the second part of this post, but just in general, I’ll say that I thought most of the Oscar nominated films this year were fairly mediocre. There are some years where I like nearly all of the five or ten nominees for Best Picture. This year is not one of them.

What do you think?

Any glaring omissions? Any unbelievable inclusions? Let me know! Post a comment, or hit me up on Twitter @MatthewBorgard. In the second part, I’ll tell you who I think should win, who I think is going to win, and give you some brief thoughts on the nominees that I didn’t address here.

The Best Films of 2011

Yes, I’m woefully late. In fact, if everything goes as plan, this will be posted mere hours before the Academy Awards. Oh well! That just means you won’t have to wait long to see how utterly crap my predictions are. Last year I did this as a two-parter, but since I’m already running late, we’re going to shove it into a single post. First up, the list of my favorite movies of 2011. Following that, my Oscar predictions. Without further ado, and in no particular order….

My Favorites

The Artist – Smart money’s on The Artist to win ALL OF THE THINGS! so let’s go ahead and start there. It’s great. It’s unique — a mostly-silent film about a silent film actor, the effortlessly charming George Valentin, who’s suddenly not as effortless when those new-fangled talkies start making waves in the film industry.

Jean Dujardin, a French actor who I’ve never seen in anything else, is friggin’ fantastic as Valentin. I don’t want to spoil anything for the prediction section … so I won’t. But Dujardin makes the film. The cinematography is similarly excellent — some really beautiful shots. The editing, directing — all top notch.

If I have one qualm, it’s that the story is somewhat simple. Not that there’s anything wrong with a simple story, but the film hints that it could have been somewhat more layered. Near the beginning of the film, Valentin has a dream that’s suddenly audible to us, the audience — and, to his terror, to him as well. I feel like director Michel Hazanavicius missed a chance to carry that metaphor through the rest of the film. But even so, The Artist is thoroughly enjoyable.

Midnight in Paris – I think I liked this movie more than I should — more than nonwriters would. Seeing Ernest Hemingway chatting with Gertrude Stein is almost as fantastically satisfying as seeing Thor smash a Frost Giant in the face with Mjollnir.

On the surface level, there’s not a huge amount of story here. Guy’s writing a book. Gets inspiration by imagining (or perhaps not?) writers of old giving him advice. Guy finishes book and learns a bit about life. But the sheer brilliance Woody Allen employs in the relationships between the various artists, and the intriguing (if not-too-subtle) grass-is-always-greener theme, make this a joy to watch, and Allen’s best film in years.

The Help – The Help got a lot of criticism for whitewashing (pun-intended) history, and that’s a fair point. But on some level, a good story is more important than getting every detail right. And The Help is a great story.

Yes, we get a little bit too close to “White angel” syndrome here, but I think the key difference between this and, say, The Blind Side, is that Emma Stone’s character in The Help is simply a mouthpiece — she just helps to make these women’s voices heard. And that’s generally the main thing privileged allies for underpriviliged people are expected to do.

The acting is the most important part, here. Viola Davis is fantastic, of course, but Octavia Spencer makes the movie for me. I think I laughed harder at her performance than at most of the comedies this year.

Super 8 – WHAT? Yes, like Tangled last year, Super 8 is my “dark horse.” While the wife wasn’t impressed, I found J.J. Abrams’s love song to Steven Spielberg entertaining as hell (and, ironically, infinitely more entertaining than Spielberg’s own War Horse, but then, what isn’t).

Super 8 has everything you could want — aliens, explosions, adorable children (who can actually act!). It’s E.T. on steroids — in fact, I have a suspicion that Elle Fanning is actually Drew Barrymore’s bastard child.

While Abrams still doesn’t seem to know how to handle giant monsters (Cloverfield wasn’t shown/explained enough, while Super 8’s creature is explained too much), it doesn’t hurt the movie enough for me to dislike it.

I’d like to again mention that War Horse was terrible.

I WISH

Moneyball – Rounding up my favorites is something rare for me — a sports movie. But it’s a sports movie where the sport is somewhat tangential. This isn’t about the kid with a heart of gold fighting adversity, though it is sort of an underdog story. Instead, it’s about statistics, and any story that can entertain while simultaneously showing that, guess what, math is real and has real power — well, that’s a good movie in my book.

Brad Pitt is fantastic as always, imbuing Billy Beane with a subtle humanity that’s interesting, but not overdone. Jonah Hill (excuse me, Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill) is great as the nerdy number cruncher, and I think he’s proved to everyone that he can do more than make dick jokes. Philip Seymour Hoffman did a great job as well, and I’m surprised he didn’t get more attention for this (in fact, he probably deserved the Supporting Actor role over Hill).

Honorable Mentions
The Descendants – Great acting all around — from Clooney, which is expected, but also from American Teenager Shailene Woodley. The fact that Woodley didn’t grab a Supporting Actress nomination is definitely on my snub list this year. That said, I thought the script was weak — the film spent way too much time on the tangential land grant plotline, and the resolution was both predictable and lacking in motivation.
Source Code – While not pure Science Fiction perfection like Moon, Duncan Jones’s followup is seriously underappreciated (I blame wonky marketing). It’s a classic Twilight Zone-esque time-travel story, but with a few interesting philosophical twists that elevate this movie above your normal Hollywood SciFi fodder. It’s not movie of the year, but it’s definitely worth checking out.
Contagion – The flaws with this movie are evident from the trailer: too much narrative distance, too many characters, Jude Law is super annoying. And yet, amidst the problems, Contagion manages to be entertaining, tense and occasionally thought-provoking.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – I’m including this because, in my opinion, it’s superior to the Swedish version in nearly every way. Now, of course, some of that is simply due to a higher budget. But Fincher’s eye and pacing also make it a far more interesting and frightening film.


Predictions
So after some thought, I’m going to switch this up. I’ll highlight what I think the Academy is going to choose — and if I disagree, I’ll note that in the text below. As before, any movie highlighted in red is one I haven’t seen.
Best Original Screenplay
The Artist
Bridesmaids
Margin Call
Midnight in Paris
A Separation

 I think Midnight in Paris clearly takes this, as it should. The writing, especially the dialogue, is exceptional. And while The Artist has several strengths, the screenplay isn’t really one of them, in my opinion.

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Descendants
Hugo

The Ides of March

Moneyball
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Given the buzz, I can’t see the Academy giving this to anything other than The Descendants. I disagree — personally, I thought Moneyball was far stronger.

Best Visual Effects
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
Hugo
Real Steel
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
I’m pretty sure Apes will get it, just to give at least a slight nod to Andy Serkis’s performance (which absolutely deserved a Supporting Actor nomination). Also, Dark of the Moon’s nomination is a travesty. The Transformers movies are a great example of how not to do visual effects. You can get the same performance by shaking a bag of metal and filming it.
Best Sound Mixing

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Hugo
Moneyball
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

There’s not a whole lot to say about this category — The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo made excellent use of audio. And Transformers is a cacophony of pain.
Best Sound Editing

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Hugo
Drive
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

I still find it funny when a movie gets a Sound Mixing nod, but not an Editing nod. Like, was Moneyball’s sound mixing appreciably better than its editing? I guess so. In any case, I’m giving this to Dragon Tattoo as well.
Best Original Song

“Man or Muppet,” from The Muppets

“Real in Rio,” from RIO
Seriously? Two songs? Just cut the fucking category if you’re not even going to try. Obviously The Muppets wins this — I can say that without even seeing RIO, because Bret McKenzie is a god.
Best Original Score

The Adventures of Tintin

The Artist
Hugo
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
War Horse
After all the drama with The Artist’s score, I doubt the Academy will touch that. John Williams is great, but War Horse is terrible, so it’s very possible that Tintin wins the award. But I’m going to guess Hugo, ’cause Howard Shore’s pretty great also.
Best Makeup

Albert Nobbs

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
The Iron Lady

It’s possible they’ll throw a bone to Harry Potter to recognize the series, but I think Albert Nobbs did a better job, and I think it’ll win.

Best Film Editing

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Hugo
Moneyball

The Descendants

The Artist

Another interesting one … both The Artist and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had great editing. But since they didn’t nominated Dragon Tattoo for Best Director (and since editing and directing are very closely connected), I’m going with The Artist.

Best Director

The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)

Hugo (Martin Scorsese)
The Descendants (Alexander Payne)
Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen)
The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)

Best Director goes hand-in-hand with Best Film. Spoiler! I think Hazanavicius deserves the win.
Best Cinematography

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Hugo
The Tree of Life
The Artist
War Horse

Tough choice, man. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had some excellent shots. But in the end, I think The Artist went above and beyond.
Best Animated Film

Rango

Kung Fu Panda 2
A Cat in Paris
Puss in Boots
Chico & Rita

Sad. Kung Fu Panda 2? Really? Seriously, though, Rango was great. It will win.
 
Best Supporting Actress

Berenice Bejo, The Help

Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help

Very competitive category this year. Bejo (who should be nominated in the Best Actress category, honestly), McTeer and Spencer all have very real chances to score here. My heart is with McTeer, as she blew her performance out of the water. But my gut’s going with Octavia Spencer, without whom The Help wouldn’t have been nearly as entertaining.
Best Supporting Actor

Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn

Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
On the flip side, I feel like the Supporting Actor category is not particularly competitive. None of these roles really stood out to me. I think Nolte takes it, though Plummer has a strong chance to win as well.
Best Actress

Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Viola Davis, The Help

Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn
Great performances, all, but Rooney Mara really should win. She was brilliant. I think, though, that they’ll give it to Viola Davis — who is nearly equally as deserving.
Best Actor

Demian Bichir, A Better Life

George Clooney, The Descendants
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Jean Dujardin, The Artist 
Dujardin’s the clear winner. It’s almost unthinkable to me that anyone else could win, as great as the performances were.
Best Picture

The Artist

Hugo
Moneyball
The Descendants
War Horse
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
The Artist takes it, as well it should. Good night, show’s over, tip your waitress. The Help was great, I enjoyed Midnight in Paris, The Descendants, Moneyball, Tree of Life was … interesting, War Horse was terrible (did I mention that?). But in the end, The Artist was something special. It wins the night.