279 Cents: The Studio 279 Oscar Predictions, Predilections and Any Objections (Part III)

279 Cents is where we share our thoughts, views and reviews about this and that, and give you the good public our 279 Cents worth about it (currently worth about £1.72 at the current exchange rate if that helps)

The 83rd Academy Awards ceremony is tonight. Frocks bought, speeches written, reprisals threatened. And with it comes the moving conclusion to The Studio 279 Oscar Predictions, Predilections and Any Objections! With only a few categories remaining to cast our beady eyes over, remember that will are picking the likely winner, who we think should win and if we any object to this person/film winning. To catch up on our previous pronouncements, head here for Part I and here for the inevitably disappointing and overblown sequel. Note: for levity reasons some of the more technical categories are being overlooked by us, e.g. makeup, costume and so on. Terrible I know, all people who deserve equal merit, but we waffle on too much as it is. And now, to the main event…

Best CinematographyMatthew Libatique (Black Swan), Wally Pfister (Inception), Danny Cohen (The King’s Speech), Jeff Cronenweth (The Social Network), Roger Deakins (True Grit)

Predictions: This is one category where my soothsaying powers fail. I have absolutely no idea who will win. If the Guild awards are any indication, then Wally Pfister’s Inception lensing will be the toast of the town: he won the American Society of Cinematographers prize and if a repeat at the Oscars is on the cards Christopher Nolan’s regular collaborator (he has shot every film of his except for his debut Following) then Pfister will have won at the fourth time of asking. What better way to reward the otherwise certain to be empty-handed picture than with a gong for its visuals, truly stunning and capable of making city scapes, to icy mountain ranges and a spinning top turning on a coffee table look equally epic. However, the competition is pretty fierce. Black Swan derives a large amount of its success from Matthew Libatique’s gorgeously shot ballet sequences with their sinuous camera movements and strong colour, so he could take it if the Academy feel some love for the Swan. If they want to be completists then perhaps either of the night’s top two films may be victorious: Jeff Cronenweth’s great use of digital camera technology on The Social Network or Danny Cohen’s beautifully framed The King’s Speech. Cronenweth’s dark and claustrophobic Social Network is as effective as Trent Reznor’s score in communicating the recesses of Zuckerberg et al’s souls, and it is certainly a handsome piece. But with some Oscar voters pooh-poohing the advances in digital shooting, maybe Cohen’s transformation of what could easily be Sunday television fare to a genuine piece of cinema will scoop the plaudits. Or perhaps the cinematographic legend that is Roger Deakins will receive a long overdue Oscar for his vistas, woods and snowy opening shots of True Grit. Shockingly having never won despite a whopping nine nominations, it is not a question of if, but when Deakins will win, having shot The Shawshank Redemption, every Coen film since Barton Fink (excluding Burn After Reading when he shot Revolutionary Road for Sam Mendes) and A Beautiful Mind to name but a few. Maybe this is the time for him to finally get up on that podium. Smoke em if you’ve got em, gentlemen: I have no idea!

Predilections This is a category where I’d be pretty ecstatic if any of the nominees won. Libatique has not only photographed a ravishing film in Black Swan but also one of the most visually daring film of the past few years for my money in Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain. A Science Fiction film that is distinctive in a crowded genre is rare, and one as painterly as that which sticks firmly in my cranium would mean I’d dance a merry jig if it were him. Cohen and Cronenweth would perhaps be my least favourite victors here. Both did great work and would more than deserve an award. It is more love for fellow nominees than anything they have done wrong. Wally Pfister is one of the great cinematographers working today, and a big factor in why Nolan is so beloved by so many. People can gripe about confusing stories (balderdash!) or cold approach to characters (nonsense!) but one thing old Chrissy never has is ugly films, and Wally deserves Oscar very much indeed. But it would be lovely for Roger Deakins to get his just desserts for a film that only the churlish could say he shouldn’t win for. Like Scorsese with The Departed, it may not quite be his best work, but when his best work has been passed over who will begrudge him getting what he surely must have? Unless there is an upset and as a write in pick the eye gougingly horrid Alice in Wonderland wins, I should be happy no matter what.

Any objections: Prosecution rests.

Best Director

Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), Ethan Coen, Joel Coen (True Grit), David Fincher (The Social Network), Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), David O. Russell (The Fighter)

Predictions: David Fincher. While a certain film about a certain monarch with a certain problem has upset the apple cart of a certain film about a certain socially maladjusted computer whizz’s certain legal troubles, it seems that the director of The Social Network will get recognition that is for many overdue. Spectacular films such as Se7en and Fight Club have put him permanently on the film map, and his distinctive and uncompromising style have won him many fans the world over. His early works no doubt too much for the rather conservative (or stuffed shirt, whichever you prefer) peeps in the Academy, lately with more sentimental Benjamin Button and this Aaron Sorkin penned effort he has been welcomed into the fold. There is little argument that Fincher is a director who should have the words “Oscar winning” in front of his name, although there is a possibility it may again not be his night. The Academy seldom split the vote between film and director (although it happens; Ang Lee for Brokeback, Crash for Best Film) and they may want to vote for the winning film and let in Tom Hooper. This is what happened in 2004 when all the world expected Martin Scorsese to be given a pity award for The Aviator and Million Dollar Baby to scoop best pic, only to see Clint Eastwood ride in and stash the thing in his saddlebag. The film world and the internet would probably never forgive the Academy for rewarding Hooper over Fincher, so let’s hope for the sake of peace they go with the guy Brad Pitt likes best.

predilections: What begins in Christopher and ends in Nolan? As we tire of saying, El Nolanrino is the best director of the year and deserves not just one nomination, but several, and even the odd win thank you very much. The fact he has been shunted out the top five, suggesting not only is he not one of the year’s big cheeses but that his film should sit by Ronald McDonald at the “well done you for trying” table is frankly obscene. In the list of five, two names stick out as those who could have made way for Nolan. Tom Hooper: can anyone honestly say that fellow Brit has as much of his fingerprints on his film as Nolan does on his? No, but having said that Hooper is a great director of actors. Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter are all talented in their own right, but to dismiss the man calling the shots would be unfair as he knows how to get the best of a great bunch, and also avoids many of the traps that can occur in a film like The King’s Speech. Despite the Regal presence it isn’t a film about the monarchy in the same way The Social Network is not about Facebook: it’s about a bloke, and he is actually more than goof value for a bow tie to look nice on the night. The other target is a bit softer. The Fighter is a very good movie, extremely entertaining and no doubt that is in part to David O Russell. But come on! To paraphrase those other nominees the Coen Brothers’ script to Barton Fink, “Boxing picture! What do you need, a roadmap?” While not to underplay his achievements, the film is a relatively by the numbers affair, and it does what it does very well, with an unobtrusive directorial style. But compared to Nolan it is hard to contend Russell is justified in pulling up a chair. If Nolan had to be ignored in favour of another Best Picture presence, Debra Granik would at least have been a noble choice. Like Russell’s the direction is unfussy and almost invisible, but low key though her film is, it feels much more a product of the director in its case than The Fighter does. Granik has created a tense atmosphere, and, as has been observed, found an almost mythic dimension in the story. But be that is it may, we will have to be content grumbling about how the best of the year wasn’t really on the dance card.

Any objections: Fincher is a deserving recipient, and though this is not Se7en or Fight Club, nor was The Departed Goodfellas or Raging Bull. And like Scorsese who just missed out with a slight change of pace in The Aviator only to win on home turf with the Boston set crime pic, it would be fitting for the Finch to come home to roost with a tale about darkness and avarice e.t.c. that is nearer to the one where Brad Pitt must stop a seven sins motivated serial killer than the one where he aged backwards. Hopefully his example, shut out for years but eventually embraced, will be true of filmmakers like Nolan, who seemingly can’t catch a break with the Academy grand poobahs.

Best Picture

127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The King’s Speech, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter’s Bone

Prediction: Duh, where have you been? At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, The King’s Speech clearly has this one sewn up. With the early running being done by The Social Network with a slew of critics bodies awarding David Fincher’s film top honours, the tide soon turned towards the Tom Hooper directed Speech, in a manner not dissimilar to the swing from early favourite Up In The Air to eventual victor The Hurt Locker at last year’s Academy Awards. Whilst some may think Fincher can pull a Cnut and turn back that raging torrent, simply, he can’t.

Predilection:There are no two ways about it. For this writer’s money, the best film of the past twelve months was Inception. Brilliantly written, superbly acting by a well-selected cast, gorgeously shot by Wally Pfister, fantastically scored by Hans Zimmer and marshalled by one of my favourite writer directors in Christopher Nolan, the film should by rights take the top gong. But the Academy doesn’t seem to think so, and once more a Nolan joint remains smoked but uninhaled. The reasons its Picture push never began are manifold, from its Summer berth that pegs it as the blockbuster is clearly is, but even clearer is so much more, to the long time since it opened and forgotten in favour of newer movies, to the never really likely to be nominated in the same way people pegged Star Trek as a possible contender because nothing better had yet come out. In some ways it being nominated at all is some crumb of comfort, as the current (and ludicrous) decision to increase the field to ten nominees stemmed from the snub of The Dark Knight in 2008. It should be the first port of call for any award with the words “Best” and “Picture” in the title, but it isn’t, so we must move on.

Any Objections: No. None at all. While Inception is to me the best of the year (and in some ways, any other) The King’s Speech is itself a wonderful film, and one which, like Nolan’s movie, is operating on levels far above and beyond the call of duty for a film of its type. Whilst all the mind heist pic needed to be was a few explosions and a bit of running around to pass muster as a summer flick, all King’s Speech really needed to be was a quaint Sunday night in opposite Downton Abbey (of course, Downton Abbey is great, but the point remains). And the real achievement with Speech is that for all its apparent box ticking elements (British monarch, overcoming disability, national treasure actor, pretty houses, nice frocks…) it is definitely not an uninspired or uninspiring choice. David Seidler’s script mines emotion without being cloying or sentimental, and focuses on a character whose noble birth does not prevent him from suffering like an ordinary joe. Tom Hooper returns to the excellent form of John Adams rather than the unfortunate mishap that was The Damned United. It is superlatively acted by all concerned (we’ll get there in a moment) and is beautifully shot by Danny Cohen. As we have said the differences between this and some TV Movie of the Week are many, but with the cinematography alone it is clear the film is just that: an honest to goodness film.

What of its significance compared to other films? Frankly, I’m not that bothered. I enjoyed The Social Network immensely. It was a fantastic version of that story, snappily written, smartly directed and faultlessly acted, set to a great score. But was that the Best Picture of the year? No. And while for my money it was a return to form for Fincher (his past two efforts, Zodiac and Benjamin Button, left me varying degrees of cold) it is not the best picture of his career either, so it is hard to get behind it and push. This is made more acute by the breathless “defining a generation” quotes that heralded its arrival, which, honestly, it doesn’t. The Facebook Generation doesn’t exist, and if it did, being as how Sorkin, Fincher et al could have made the same film about the invention of the phone or the television (both devices with dubious claims to ownership) that’s not happening.

What about the others? As a Coen fan with a love of a good old Western, True Grit pushes many buttons as it is a great romp with an elegiac edge, but they’ve had their day in the sun for the time being. 127 Hours is quite an achievement by Danny Boyle and co, and a very strong film, but not up to the very high standards he has set himself with his oeuvre. And like the Coens, the Oscars have been Boyled quite recently. Toy Story 3? Controversial opinion: the weakest of the Toy Storys, and certainly not up to the standard of WALL-E, which, like Nolan’s TDK, necessitated the ten pics in the first place, or Up, last years Pixar representative. Winter’s Bone? Deservedly given a shout out as smaller films need the heat, but such a low-key film nearly gets smothered by too much hype and publicity, and its acting nods will fly the flag well enough. Similarly The Fighter is well enough served in the acting categories, and though extremely entertaining and more than the sum of its parts as a boxing movie, it lacks the certain something to give it the winner’s laurels. The Kids are not All Right for me, but only because I haven’t seen them: the only pic on the list to evade my clutches owing to its repellent trailer. So what’s left? I would love a film as mad and as brilliant as Black Swan to win, with its luscious cinematography, unnerving soundtrack and bravura direction by the great Darren Aronofsky. But it ain’t gonna happen. So back to the Speech. It may not be as good as Inception, or Black Swan, but I cannot say a bad word against it. Hail to the King!

So, that’s your lot. Got an opinion? Sound off in the comments if you do so desire. If not, enjoy the awards and the blissful peace and quiet when the ballyhoo is over. Until next year…

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