Feb 25, 2011

Oscar Picks 2011!

by Joe Mulder

I'm not going to lie to you, folks: I don't feel particularly good about my Oscar picks this year. First of all, I've seen a good portion of the movies, and that never helps. Your own preferences only get in your head and mess everything up.   Plus, I was pretty much right on with my picks in 2010, even winning our friends and family Oscar pool for the first time in a while. Do I trust myself to be that on point again this year? I do not.

Still, read on if you want the picks for this Sunday's Oscars; the years have proven that my guesses are about as good as anyone's.

As I (pretty much) wrote for the first time in 2005:  

Please note: these are my [PoopReading.com] predictions, not to be confused with my all-important picks in [PoopReading.com co-contributor] Jameson Simmons' Onebee.com Oscar pool, aka "The Only Reason At All I Still Pay Any Attention to the Oscars"). I reserve the right to refine my choices for Jameson's until late Sunday afternoon.

And keep in mind: I'm telling you who will win, not necessarily who should win. There aren't any Oscar pools that reward you for accurately picking the most deserving winners instead of the real ones (and if there are such Oscar pools they're run by people I definitely don't want to hang out with).



The King's Speech

Other nominees:

127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

Unlike recent years I actually have seen all of the "top tier" contenders in this category (save for The Fighter, which I've heard was excellent but which couldn't have looked like more of an Oscar-bait homework movie to me), and luckily for my Oscar pool chances I didn't have quite as passionate a reaction to The Social Network as some people did. Many seem to regard it as some sort of generation-defining masterwork and cannot countenance the notion that it will lose Best Picture to anything, let alone something as stuffy and Britishy and Oscary as The King's Speech.

The Social Network gained early momentum via a nearly unprecedented sweep of the critics' awards, but critics and industry professionals simply aren't the same people. That's why The King's Speech will win, and fans of The Social Network will decry the Academy as a stodgy, out-of-touch institution whose slavish adherence to staid, mainstream fare has made their awards culturally irrelevant.

Those same Social Network fans likely won't go on to point out that the three previous Best Picture winners were The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire and No Country For Old Men.

The King's Speech, to be sure, wasn't any more relevant in 2010 than it would have been in 2003 or 1995 or 1972, but it's a beautiful story, wonderfully told and gloriously acted. I have no issue with its upcoming inclusion on the Best Picture winners list.

(Still, we all know that the real best movie of 2010 was Toy Story 3)



Tom Hooper, The King's Speech

Other nominees:

Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
David O. Russell, The Fighter
David Fincher, The Social Network
Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit

Make no mistake, my friends: this is an upset pick. Though there is no clear consensus on the Oscar-predicting landscape this year in regards to Best Director, more people are predicting David Fincher than Tom Hooper. Generally my No. 1 rule for Oscar picking – "Don't Be a Hero" – would lead me to go along with the crowd and pick Fincher as well, but a careful reading of the tea leaves suggests otherwise.

Follow my logic, if you please: The Social Network at one point seemed like an overwhelming favorite to win Best Picture, to the point that it seemed by New Year's like Oscar season might not even be any fun at all; Best Picture for The Social Network was a done deal. A little less than two months later, though, most are predicting The King's Speech. So, given that The Social Network had so much going for it at one point, imagine how much momentum The King's Speech must have picked up in the last few weeks in order to overtake it (call it a backlash, call it a desire to manufacture a Best Picture race where once there was none, call it what you will). I like that surge in momentum to carry over into the Best Director category.

But who's to say, really? One of the best predictive indicators gives us little help this year: the Directors Guild of America award, which Hooper recently won, matches up with the Best Director Oscar 90% of the time… but it's been almost ten years since they didn't match, so the law of averages says we're due. And in a year in which a slim majority are actually predicting such an unlikely split?

Who knows. I'm sticking with Tom Hooper, though. It's strictly a King's Speech momentum pick.



Colin Firth, The King's Speech

Other nominees:

Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
James Franco, 127 Hours

I have nothing to add here, since Colin Firth will win this Oscar and if he doesn't it won't matter because everybody else in your Oscar pool will have picked him anyway.

So I'll just relate to you that when I found out earlier this year that Jesse Eisenberg was the brother of Hallie Eisenberg, that little girl from those Pepsi commercials ten years ago, I was incredibly shocked despite the fact that they have the same last name and look almost exactly alike. It was the same way I felt after I found out that Zach and Amanda Peterson were siblings (they went to my high school; you don't know them).

"Wait… those two are brother and sister?"

"Wait… why haven't I been assuming that all along?"

Anyway. Moving on.



Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Other Nominees:

Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

Poor Annette Bening, turning in yet another Oscar-worthy performance but destined to lose once again to a cute little twentysomething (yes, yes; Hilary Swank was 30 when she beat Bening and won that Million Dollar Baby Oscar, but she was in her 20s when the movie was made so I'm counting it). You'd almost feel sorry for her if she wasn't a rich, gracefully aging movie star married to one of the most handsome and famous men in the world.

But Annette Bening will probably fall juuuust short of Oscar gold once again, because Natalie Portman wasn't just good in Black Swan, she was transformative. For somebody as sophisticated as Portman to portray a character as slow-witted and fragile as Nina Sayers was an achievement in itself, never mind the fact that Portman essentially made herself into a real ballerina for the role (much like Mickey Rourke essentially morphed into a professional wrestler for Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky's previous film).

I have nothing against Annette Bening and I didn't see her in The Kids Are All Right, but I can't imagine that "finding Julianne Moore sexy" is quite as big an acting challenge as "becoming a schizophrenic 90 pound ballet dancer." * Natalie Portman's particular brand of genius notwithstanding, hers is the kind of role that the Academy tends to notice.

*No offense intended to anyone, but it should probably be noted that the "finding Mila Kunis sexy" portion of Portman's role was undoubtedly even easier than the "finding Julianne Moore sexy" part of Bening's.



Christian Bale, The Fighter

Other Nominees:

John Hawkes, Winter's Bone
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech

Will The King's Speech momentum sweep all the way into the Best Supporting Actor category? I'm betting it stops just short, and that Christian Bale takes home the Oscar he was always going to win sooner or later. It's difficult for me to imagine anybody, in any movie, delivering a supporting performance as good as Geoffrey Rush's in The King's Speech, but those who have seen The Fighter assure me that Christian Bale was in that class. And since Geoffrey Rush already has an Oscar, everybody's happy (except, perhaps, for John Hawkes, Jeremy Renner and Mark Ruffalo).



Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit 

Other Nominees:

Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Why am I going out on so many limbs this year? What's up with that? Melissa Leo is still the odds-on favorite according to the punditry but a not-tiny minority of Oscar watchers, including Roger Ebert (of the Chicago Sun-Times), Sasha Stone (of AwardsDaily.com), Dave Karger (of Entertainment Weekly) and me (of this) are sensing some love for Steinfeld and for True Grit overall. It's incredibly easy to imagine a reality, in an alternate universe very much like our own, in which True Grit was the movie that overtook The Social Network as the Oscar favorite; that didn't quite happen here on our plane of existence, but True Grit's ten nominations show that the Academy definitely appreciated the Coen brothers' work.

Add in the fact that Steinfeld's character was heroic and likable, add in the recent history suggesting that Supporting Actress is the most upset-prone of all the acting categories, multiply that by how much fun it would be to see a kid win an Oscar (would have been nice if it had been Chloe Grace Moretz as Hit Girl in Kick-Ass, but you can't have everything), and it all equals a rare flyer taken by this Oscar predictor.


The King's Speech, David Seidler

Other nominees:

Another Year, Mike Leigh
The Fighter, Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson; Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson
Inception, Christopher Nolan
The Kids Are All Right, Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg

Everybody seems to agree on the screenplay awards this year, which might not mean much. Everybody agreed that Up In the Air would win Adapted Screenplay last year, and when Precious won instead everybody was wrong.

But if it's The King's Speech's year, as it looks like it's shaping up to be, conventional wisdom should prove correct and former stutterer David Seidler should take home an Oscar for his passion project.



The Social Network, Aaron Sorkin

Other nominees:

127 Hours, Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
Toy Story 3, Michael Arndt; John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
True Grit, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Winter's Bone, Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini

Aaron Sorkin will win, and probably should (although I think I'd vote for Toy Story 3 here, too). He has affected an entire generation of writers with his pitch-perfect ear for sharp dialogue and masterful sense of pacing. He was most definitely the ideal man to write the movie about a condescending misanthrope who founded a popular website, both because Sorkin alone could make such a movie exciting and because in Aaron Sorkin's world the condescending misanthrope is always the hero. Because in Aaron Sorkin's world the only proper thing to be is a condescending misanthrope, because after all, if other people wanted to have their feelings taken into consideration then they wouldn't be so goddamn obstinate and dumb all the time, would they? No, they'd come to their senses and agree with Aaron Sorkin – er, I mean, Aaron Sorkin's main character – all the time, about everything.

We get it, Aaron. That random guy at the conference table's lack of intimate knowledge of 18th century Italian literature automatically means he's worthless as a human being. Pointing that out certainly reenforces the righteousness of your main character's ideological stance, I tell you what.   Also, I can't shake the idea that somewhere, in some parts of the world, there are people who don't speak exactly like Aaron Sorkin would speak to the guy who called him a faggot in high school if only Sorkin could travel back in time and confront him in front of the whole class so everybody could see what an insecure asshole the guy really was. There must be people in the world who don't speak like that, right? But none of those people show up in The Social Network.

All that said, when's the last time you ever burned that many calories thinking about one screenwriter? Never, that's when. Aaron Sorkin, that's why you're the best. You wonderful douchebag, you.

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And now we come, as we must, to the pee break categories. But don't head out for a smoke or go and grab a beer just yet, my friends; the pee break categories are often where an Oscar pool is won or lost.

Now, because I don't expect you to believe that I've got any particular insight into, say, the Sound Editing category, I'll cut-and-paste what I wrote in last year's (highly accurate!) Oscar picks column in order to explain how I arrive at the following predictions:

I use two primary sources, Entertainment Weekly and AwardsDaily.com (a website that assembles several predictions into something of a consensus), to determine my picks for these categories. If I make a pick that differs from either or both of these sources, I'll be sure to tell you why.

Off we go:



In a Better World, Denmark

Other nominees:

Biutiful, Mexico
Dogtooth, Greece
Incendies, Canada Outside the Law (Hors-la-loi), Algeria

A good rule of thumb in this category, as well as in Best Documentary Feature, is that if you've heard of a movie it's not going to win (take as evidence recent losses by the likes of Amélie, Downfall and Pan's Labyrinth). So out goes Biutiful; if you're reading this then you at least heard of it when it I listed the Best Actor nominees.

A large minority at AwardsDaily.com pick Incendies, but isn't it almost like cheating to let a Canadian film in there? Come on; three quarters of our movies are shot in Canada.

A slim majority favors In a Better World, so I do too.


The Social Network is the favorite here, which – if I'm wrong about Best Director – leaves us open to the curious possibility that the Academy will recognize The Social Network as the best edited, best written and best directed movie of the year... but not the best movie overall. And as odd as that sounds, I think that might be just about right.


This is about as sure as you can be in a below-the-fold category: True Grit's Roger Deakins has been nominated eight times before, and eight times as come up empty. All the meaty parts of The King's Speech and The Social Network take place indoors, so True Grit is a relatively safe bet.


EW says Alice in Wonderland, but AD.com's roundup of prognosticators narrowly picks The King's Speech. I say stick with The King's Speech in any of these close races; if a period piece is also a Best Picture front runner, why fight it? Just don't be too mad at me if I'm wrong and Alice wins here.


Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame and Atticus Ross set quite the mood for The Social Network, and should really win this one. AD.com has them in a virtual tie with The King's Speech but you've got to go with your gut sometime, don't you? The Social Network it is.


See, here's where actually knowing the material gets you into trouble. I can't not pick "I See the Light" from Tangled, both because it happens to be a very lovely song and because it was used during a highly emotional scene that twice left me a blubbering heap of a half-man right there in the movie theater. Tangled was so good, you guys; you don't even know. Plus, the guy who sings it (along with Mandy Moore)? Zachary Levi! "Chuck!" I love "Chuck!"

Well, I really like "Chuck," let's put it that way. I'm not going to pick against singing Chuck.

So be advised: while the AD.com consensus picks "We Belong Together" from Toy Story 3 and EW picks "If I Rise" from 127 Hours, anyone with a soul will vote for "I See the Light" from Tangled.


Everyone picks either The King's Speech and Alice in Wonderland; this category, along with the aforementioned Art Direction, would be so much easier to predict if Alice wasn't around. I said The King's Speech there and I'll say The King's Speech here. Let's keep riding that wave.


Most people say The Wolfman; that's good enough for me.


Inception. They could almost just call this award "Most Tolerable Blockbuster."


Inception. Though don't be utterly shocked if The Social Network slips in and grabs this one. The Hurt Locker won both sound categories last year, but recent trends show that the sound awards are about as likely to split as they are to go to the same movie. I'll still pick Inception for both, though.


Inception. There are only four picks upon which 100% of the Oscar geeks in the AD.com prediction roundup agree: Colin Firth, Aaron Sorkin, Toy Story 3 for Animated Feature, and Inception for Visual Effects. If Inception loses it will be as big a surprise as it is a miscarriage of justice.


As I mentioned before, any documentary of which you've actually heard doesn't stand a chance in this category (March of the Penguins and An Inconvenient Truth being, of course, the exceptions that prove the rule). You're going to have to follow me deep down into the rabbit hole here, but since the "heard of it" rule disqualifies Exit Through the Gift Shop and Inside Job, I'm going with the Afghanistan war movie Restrepo, because why not?

It might be foolish to shy away from picking the front runner (Inside Job), especially in a category that's a bit of a coin flip most years. But I've picked front runners before in this category and been burned. I'll stick with Restrepo.

 Strangers No More. I think you just power on through and go with the consensus on this one. Why get cute? You'll probably still be wrong, but by sticking with AD.com there's an ever-so-slightly greater chance that you won't be.


Ah... just when things were getting tough. Toy Story 3 is a shoo-in.

Now that that's decided, let's talk about How To Train Your Dragon. Did anybody who saw How To Train Your Dragon and also saw Tangled actually prefer How To Train Your Dragon? I mean really? For real?

I think Tangled stands one of the four or five best Disney animated musicals of all time, and was probably my #2 movie of the year (only narrowly edged out by Toy Story 3). By what rationale How To Train Your Dragon could possibly be considered in Tangled's league escapes me completely. And I saw both movies with my four-year-old and she concurs, so it's not just me.

I know the the animated French film The Illusionist was also nominated instead of Tangled, but I missed that one (it's subtitled, and the four-year-old isn't a big reader yet). I'm sure it was plenty artsy and extremely fartsy, but since I didn't see it I can't technically claim that Tangled was clearly a far, far superior movie (even though I'm sure it was).

Long story short: Toy Story 3 wins this one.


The AD.com consensus favors Day & Night, the Pixar short that ran before Toy Story 3. It's been about ten years since one of those Pixar shorts won, though, and I don't think Day & Night is going to be the one to break that streak. Running a not-too-distant second in the predictions is The Gruffalo, which is what I'll take.


No man's land. That's not the name of the film I'm picking to win, that's just what this category is. Na Wewe and Wish 143 seem to be slight favorites, while EW is one of only two sources to pick The Confession, all five nominees are actually represented on AD.com's gigantic master picks chart, which is true of no other category... it's a madhouse, I tells ya.

Let's take Na Wewe and be done with it. It's got some heavy subject matter about the Rwandan genocide; that sounds Oscary.

*    *    *

And on that uplifting note, we'll finally bring this thing to an end. Enjoy the Oscars, and good luck! There's a very real possibility that you're going to need it if you plan on using my picks this year.

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