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Justice League

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After the mixed responses to Man of Steel, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman demonstrated that given the right level of care and attention, DC could deliver an effective superhero film both for audiences and critics. Justice League sheds the ponderousness of BVS: DOJ and avoids the jumbled storytelling of Suicide Squad, borrows plot elements from both The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, and presents a colourful array of characters. The new arrivals – Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller), Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher) – receive short shrift in the rush to squeeze everything into two hours, and would have benefitted from earlier standalone films to give them and their respective worlds more detail. The lack of balance between characters is mirrored by the imbalance between the wit of Joss Whedon and Chris Terrio’s script and the portentousness of Zack Snyder’s direction, a problem that also affected BVS: DOJ. Despite this, Justice League still manages to deliver on the promise of multiple super-powered individuals, with a sometimes dazzling display of spectacular abilities, all of which are neatly tied to character development. From Bruce Wayne’s Batman’s (Ben Affleck) array of wonderful toys (composer Danny Elfman also references his own score from 1989’s Batman) to Diana Prince/Wonder Woman’s (Gal Gadot) reluctance to lead, Cyborg’s fear over the loss of his humanity to Aquaman’s cynicism and the Flash’s youthful exuberance, powers work as part of identity, and the appropriate use of this power is a recurring conceit of the film. Some of these potential heroes have to mature into their powers, others need to be reminded of its responsible use or restraint. Against all this, poorly-rendered (in both written and visual terms) villain Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) is rather underpowered despite his goal of planetary conquest, and the film’s chief pleasure is watching the members of the League bounce off each other verbally and physically. Several spectacular set pieces – one with a semi-assembled League and another with them complete – deliver smackdowns of varied spectacle and visual impact, while a neat strand of humour (largely coming from Flash) adds further pep to the concoction. Justice League falls someway short of the standard set by Wonder Woman, but it is far from kryptonite for the DCEU.

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The Accountant

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The Accountant is an unbalanced sheet. Gavin O’Connor’s film boasts strong performances, an interesting portrayal of disability and some tough action sequences. It also has no central focus, irritating contrivances and storylines that do not add up. Bill Dubuque’s script is part action-conspiracy thriller, part detective story and part mental health drama. These strands are clumsily interwoven and there are several contrivances that not only stretch credibility but add little to the drama. The detective narrative featuring US Treasury agents Raymond King (J K Simmons) and Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) would have made a strong narrative in its own right, but as it stands sticks out like undeclared earnings. Various characters have unnecessary personal motivations much as in Jason Bourne, suggesting a lack of investment in the drama of people caught up in events beyond their control. This drama is especially relevant in the contemporary era of global interconnection, information and finance, a topic that features in a number of recent films such as The Big Short and The Infiltrator. To underfund such a theme in a film with this subject matter is disappointing.

The Accountant

On the plus side, The Accountant does channel its funds into effective design and atmosphere. DOP Seamus McGarvey gives the film an often bleak appearance, while production designer Keith P. Cunningham creates environments of sleek functionality. As the eponymous book keeper with shady connections, Ben Affleck blends roles of his friend Matt Damon, as Christian Wolff has mental health issues and deadly skills like Jason Bourne and mathematical genius like Will Hunting. Affleck’s hunched physical performance, muted tones and expressions express someone cut off from much of the world. Flashbacks explain his character and family history, while his relationship with Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), the naive young accountant who stumbles into his world, is charming and effective. The film’s portrayal of Asperger’s Syndrome sometimes falls into the trap of presenting an unusual mental state as a superpower, rather than a distinctive perspective. This perspective leads to the film’s most arresting moment, as Wolff peruses decades’ worth of accounting records before explaining his findings to Cummings with an animation not seen elsewhere. O’Connor creates a palatable sense of excitement and energy in Wolff’s forensic accounting, which is odd when other sequences feature blistering action. This suggests a more satisfying film might have been a true economic thriller. As it is, the film returns only partially on its investment, leaving the viewer wanting a greater return.

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Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

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There is a widely held misconception that BVS: DOJ is about an epic physical showdown. It isn’t. What the title refers to, and what the film portrays over its sometimes ponderous running time, is an ideological debate between saviour and vigilante. Perhaps surprisingly for a filmmaker best known for bombastic action set pieces, Zack Snyder grapples valiantly with this political debate, resulting in a film where the most interesting sequences are those that feature actual debates. A brooding, melancholic and traumatised Batman/Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) debates with reluctant but loyal Alfred (Jeremy Irons); an idealistic yet doubtful Superman/Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) debates with Lois Lane (Amy Adams), Martha Kent (Diane Lane) and Perry White (Laurence Fishburne); senator Finch (Holly Hunter) debates with fellow politicians as well as twitchy billionaire Alexander Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). Meanwhile, the mysterious Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) seems to have more answers than everyone else, yet raises questions herself. In-between the debates are immense set pieces, many shot in Snyder’s trademark slo-mo that recalls 300 and Sucker Punch (other references to Snyder’s back catalogue also appear). DOP Larry Fong lenses the film in gloomy shades, especially the ruin of Wayne Manor and the urban wastelands in which our ‘heroes’ battle. At times, the grand portentousness does overwhelm the drama, the wit of Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s script hamstrung by Snyder’s lumpen pacing. Yet while the film lacks the lean muscularity of Christopher Nolan‘s Dark Knight trilogy or even the more focused bombast of Man of Steel, it does make a strong contribution to the fundamental questions of superhero cinema – what does it mean to be a hero and what does it mean to be super? Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice may not be the zippiest superhero film, but it is one of the more thoughtful.

Black Mass

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Boston has a funny effect on makers of crime films. Whether it be Clint Eastwood with Mystic River, Ben Affleck with Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Antoine Fuqua with The Equaliser or Martin Scorsese with The Departed, Boston demands sociological depth as part of its crime milieu. The same is true of Scott Cooper’s Black Mass, a detailed examination of notorious gangster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger’s (Johnny Depp) relationships with the FBI and a sizeable chunk of South Boston’s criminal and political community. This sociological aspect contextualises the film’s action, as Bulger’s criminal exploits impact upon his FBI handler John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), his politician brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch) and various others. Crime is not separate from society here but deeply imbricated within it, as are the personal connections and loyalties between childhood friends. At times the emphases on trust and ‘who ya know’ becomes a little repetitive, but this is a minor detraction in what is otherwise an solidly absorbing and effective crime drama.

Gone Girl

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David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel features many of the director’s trademark features. Like his previous films, the predominant colour scheme is brown, as director of photography Jeff Cronenweth brings a dark beauty to the digital visuals (although there were points when things could have been a little brighter). Much like Panic Room and Zodiac, it is detailed to a forensic degree, which is appropriate for a film which centres around a mysterious disappearance and is concerned with artifice and construction. Like The Social Network and The Game, it features unsympathetic characters that are nonetheless compelling. And like Se7en and Fight Club, it features some unexpected twists that may leave the viewer flabbergasted. The first act consists of a deepening mystery, while the second takes an alternative route that fleshes out the events of the first. Plot developments in the third act twist into jaw-dropping moments of audacity, but to Fincher and Flynn’s credit, the film never wavers in its commitment to the narrative events, so if the viewer sees fit to ask “Really?”, Gone Girl replies, “Yes, really!”

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As the central couple Nick and Amy Dunne, Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are believable and engaging. Like previous Fincher protagonists, they are unconventional, described by lawyer Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) as “the most fucked up people I’ve ever met”. But while it would be easy to judge Nick or Amy as “good” or “bad”, what is most striking about them and the film itself is the construction of identity. Amy has a public identity of “Amazing Amy”, a fictionalised version of her life in children’s books created by her parents. During the search for Amy, Nick adopts a public persona that other characters say is false, and certainly contrasts with the side of him seen by his sister Margo (Carrie Coon). Amy displays several different personae over the course of the film, and identities are created by the media as well. TV journalist Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle) lambasts Nick without evidence for purely sensationalist reasons; Tanner helps Nick create an alternative identity when police suspicion falls on him. As the film progresses, further identities are created for public consumption, often in stark contrast to people’s private feelings. But, the film asks, are any of these identities more real than another? Nick naïvely talks about the importance of “truth”, but Gone Girl repeatedly questions the validity of truth by highlighting multiple narratives and the identities created for these narratives. It is a cliché to say that people have public and private faces, but Gone Girl takes the disturbing step of presenting all these faces as equally constructed and therefore equally valid or indeed invalid. If the public face is no less true than the private one, why not live the public face? Is our identity the one we project or the one projected onto us? Gone Girl offers no answers to these questions, but offers a compelling and thought-provoking meditation upon them.

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2013 Omissions Part One – To The Wonder of Piney Places

2013 is almost over and, like so many a critic (which is, of course, everyone), I’m compiling my top films of the year. In the process, I realised that I neglected to post on some of the films that impressed me the most, so I’m rectifying that omission now.

Two arthouse offerings that I saw early in the year made my long list for films of 2013. The Place Beyond the Pines featured in my top five of 0.5 halfway through the year, and its remarkable power has not diminished since. Derek Cianfrance’s tale of fathers, lovers, sons and sins balanced the epic and the intimate in a touching yet mournful way, and performed a quite remarkable narrative feat. At 2 hours 15 minutes long, and starring Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, along with Eva Mendes and Ray Liotta, I expected intertwining stories of criminals, cops and the people around them, perhaps a blue collar version of Heat. What I got instead was a trilogy of equal length, largely self-contained stories that are only loosely connected to each other. The first 45 minutes focus on Luke Glanton (Gosling), a stunt motorcyclist who moonlights as an armed robber. The next 45 minutes were concerned with Avery Cross (Cooper), a cop who crosses paths with Luke once, and then continues his story, encountering police corruption en route to fulfilling his political ambitions. The final 45 minutes are concerned with the sons of these two men, Jason (Dane DeHaan) and AJ (Emory Cohen), who, by a coincidence that only happens in the movies, find each other and create a whole new drama.

The Place Beyond the Pines

Based on its synopsis, The Place Beyond the Pines should not work. Three distinct stories that could easily stand by themselves? Three loosely connected stories placed in sequential order so that we effectively abandon the earlier protagonists? An epic saga of intergenerational sin shot with the claustrophobic intimacy of Cianfrance’s debut, Blue Valentine? How can this work? Commitment is the answer, as Cianfrance never wavers in his piercing glare into the hearts of his characters and, more broadly, the community in which they live. While the sequential stories are different from Michael Mann’s multi-stranded narrative, The Place Beyond the Pinesdoes feel like a blue collar Heat, replacing the freeways and concrete canyons of Los Angeles with small town upstate New York. The interconnections between the different characters are both familial and sociological, such as Luke’s criminal association with Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), who utters the film’s best line: ‘If you ride like lightning, you’re gonna crash like thunder’, as well as Romina (Mendes), the mother of his child, who lives with her current boyfriend Kofi (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali). Romina and her family later encounter Avery and corrupt officers led by Peter Deluca (Liotta), prompting Avery to seek advice from his father Al (Harris Yulin) and forge an alliance with District Attorney Bill Killcullen (Bruce Greenwood). Fifteen years later, the connections between these characters continue to haunt Avery as well as his son AJ.

The epic scope of the film echoes classic crime dramas like Heat, Goodfellas, Once Upon A Time in America and, yes, even The Godfather, but unlike those films, Cianfrance and his cinematographer Sean Bobbit present something much more down to earth, largely eschewing long shots of grand vistas in favour of extreme close-ups that bring the viewer uncomfortably close to the characters. There are stylistic flourishes as well, especially the opening long take that lasts several minutes as Luke walks towards the cage where he performs his stunts, but the seemingly perpetual handheld footage gives an amateurish slant to the visuals, rather than the slick, polished look of Mann or Scorsese. This is not a criticism, however, as Cianfrance’s style suits his characters and even his genre. Down to earth, gritty and unsteady cinematography blends superbly with the different social levels explored in the film, while the scope of the narrative demonstrates that, with the right treatment, everyone’s story is epic.

A very different film style, like none other, is found in another arthouse offer from 2013: Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder. I’ve been a huge fan of Malick since his metaphysical war film The Thin Red Line (1998), and found The New World (2006) and The Tree of Life (2011) to be entrancing developments of his poetic filmmaking. To The Wonder continues this conceit, as its simple story of characters musing over their relationships and lives is beautiful and beguiling, but never straightforward. Neil (Ben Affleck) is almost silent apart from his voiceover, an environmental inspector who is almost literally of the earth, trying to choose between the free-spirited Marina (Olga Kurylenko) and the more practical Jane (Rachel McAdams). Meanwhile, Father Quintana (Javier Bardem) also muses on the weights of his mind, wrestling with the difficulties of counselling others while struggling with his own faith.

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Malick’s free association approach to editing largely excludes continuous narrative, as cuts are often motivated by a word or a look from a character, the film then presenting another image with a purely conceptual link. Cuts are also motivated by purely visual matches between skylines and landscapes, or indeed contrasts between the rolling fields of Oklahoma and the dramatic coastline of Normandy. People stand both in isolation and unity within these landscapes, their lives uncertain in the film’s beguiling yet beautiful ambiguity.

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Like The Place Beyond The Pines, To The Wonder brings the viewer close to the action, but is more concerned with philosophical than sociological connections. What binds people together? What are our connections to the land, the sea, the sky? Malick’s film, like all his work, is a visual monument to the wonder of creation, most explicitly in The Tree of Life, but found here as well. To The Wonder does a fine job of placing Malick’s philosophical filmmaking in the contemporary context, as Badlands, The Thin Red Line and The New World are all historical, while The Tree of Life encompasses the timespan of the Earth (as you do). While To The Wonder is not the easiest film to engage with and is likely to frustrate some sensibilities, for me it was a beautiful and provocative piece of work. Furthermore, it was different, distinctive and, frankly, unique amongst the films I saw this year.

Awards Predictions Part Five: And the Oscars Will Go To…

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I always get annoyed at this time of year, as everyone, their cat and the cat’s veterinarian insists that they know better than the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  The Academy consists of filmmakers, writers, producers, directors, actors, cinematographers, editors, make-up artists, production designers, sound engineers, visual effects artists and so on, yet any random blogger or Facebook poster somehow knows better than they do.  The Academy members have opinions like the rest of us, and are possibly better informed about what counts as “good” cinematography, editing or sound mixing than lay people.  But if they do not, I hardly think my opinion or that of any one else is superior to that of AMPAS.  The awards presented are based on the opinions of the voters, so they are only opinions like any other.  You may disagree, which is fine, but that doesn’t make your opinion better.  I am not so arrogant, so I offer no position on who should win, but on who I believe will win, and why.  On a similar note, here is an example of how an actual Academy member has voted.

Right, rant over.  The critics awards, the Golden Globes, the PGA, the DGA, the BAFTAs and the WGA have come and gone.  On 24th February the 85th Annual Academy Awards take place, so it’s time to get predictions in.  The votes have all been cast so the decisions are made, and results kept under security comparable to that of nuclear missile launch codes.  The presentation of other awards can indicate the way the Oscars will go, so here are my predictions for the 85th Annual Academy Awards.

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Amour: Margaret Ménégoz, Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, Michael Katz

Argo: Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck, George Clooney

Beasts of the Southern Wild: Dan Janvey, Josh Penn, Michael Gottwald

Django Unchained: Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin, Pilar Savone

Les Misérables: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Cameron Mackintosh

Life of Pi: Gil Netter, Ang Lee, David Womark

Lincoln: Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy

Silver Linings Playbook: Donna Gigliotti, Bruce Cohen, Jonathan Gordon

Zero Dark Thirty: Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow, Megan Ellison

Prediction – Argo

A month ago I would not have believed it, but if the Oscars follow the other awards, as they usually do, Argo will be the first film to win Best Picture that is not nominated for Achievement in Directing since Driving Miss Daisy in 1989.  Based on its track record, I predict Ben Affleck, George Clooney and Grant Heslov will add to their collection this Sunday.

Of the nine nominees, I have seen seven, and they are all strong films.  Les Misérables is a fine musical, but its strengths seem to mostly derive from the music, its cinematic elements working less effectively.  Django Unchained is a strong story, firmly directed, that takes an interesting approach to screen violence, but is overlong and indulgent.  Silver Linings Playbook and Life of Pi are the lighter films though both deal with serious material.  Silver Linings Playbook presents people with mental illness in a way that is neither indulgent nor patronising, not asking for our sympathy yet generating it anyway, which is impressive.  Life of Pi is a meta-fictional bonanza with extraordinary technical accomplishments, but perhaps a little whimsical for the Academy members’ taste.  Lincoln is an impressive “important” film, that presents its worth themes as a cracking political drama.  Argo is a great comedy thriller, balancing many disparate elements and promoting international co-operation, and it’s based on a true story, which the Academy love.  Zero Dark Thirty is a fantastic thriller that had me clenched in my seat as the events unfolded, which is impressive as the end result was of course known.  Like Argo, ZDT is based on a true story, but a much darker one and the controversy around the film has likely hurt its chances.  It’s a shame that arguments other than cinematic quality influence Academy voters, but on the other hand it demonstrates social awareness, which not a bad thing.

In several ways, Argo fits the bill for a Best Picture winner – positive true story; America gets to be a hero without doing anything nasty; it’s politically correct as the film does not present the Iranian revolution nor Iranians in a negative light; and it pokes fun at Hollywood itself.  A win for Argo will prove that Hollywood does have a sense of humour about itself!

 

Achievement in Directing

Michael Haneke for Amour

Ang Lee for Life of Pi

David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook

Steven Spielberg for Lincoln

Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild

Prediction – Ang Lee

This is the hardest category to predict, because the obvious contender isn’t nominated.  Ben Affleck has won the Golden Globe, the DGA and the BAFTA, and all well deserved.  Unlike his previous directional efforts, Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Affleck did not write Argo and it is not about his hometown, so Argo proves that he can handle different material and, with such a range of tones and concerns in Argo, the film is a triumph of direction.  But AMPAS have not nominated him, which means the field is fairly open.  Not completely, however.  Michael Haneke is a long shot, especially as Amour is very likely to win Foreign Language Picture.  First time nominees do occasionally win, so Benh Zeitlin has a chance, but a very small one considering the weight of the other nominees.  David O’Russell has a slightly better chance, since Silver Linings Playbook is a very honoured film, the first film since Reds in 1981 to be nominated for Best Picture, Directing, Screenplay and in all four acting categories.  Furthermore, SLP has superb direction, generating pathos and bathos with excellent balance, judgement and pace.  A win for O’Russell would be well deserved.

However, I think this category comes down to the two previous winners.  Steven Spielberg won Achievement in Directing in 1993 for Schindler’s List and again in 1998 for Saving Private Ryan.  Interestingly, Saving Private Ryan, unlike Schindler’s List, did not win Best Picture.  Similarly, Lincoln is unlikely to win Best Picture, so it could be a repeat performance of 1998.  That said, Spielberg might pull an upset and pick up both a third Directing Oscar, and a Best Picture win as well.  If I had a vote, it would go to Spielberg.

However, I think it more likely that Ang Lee will win a second Oscar.  He previously won in 2005 for Brokeback Mountain, which missed out on Best Picture.  The reason I think he is likely to win over Spielberg is simply that Life of Pi is a more directed film than Lincoln.  Spielberg himself has said that he took a backseat and let his camera record the actors’ performances of Tony Kushner’s script, rather than employ the range of directorial tricks he has developed over an illustrious career.  Life of Pi, however, is a very mobile film, directed to within an inch of its life.  It uses 3D in a remarkable way, creating depth of field and utilising different planes within the frame, and this was clear to me even though I saw it in 2D.  A great assembly of visual effects, both seascape and character, combined with a meta-fictional story about storytelling, which can appeal to all ages, adds up to a film that is a remarkable achievement in directing.  Therefore, I predict that Ang Lee will pick up his second Oscar.

 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Bradley Cooper for Silver Linings Playbook

Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln

Hugh Jackman for Les Misérables

Joaquin Phoenix for The Master

Denzel Washington for Flight

Prediction – Daniel Day-Lewis

No contest really.  If Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t win this after his success at the Golden Globes, the SAG and the BAFTAs, the sound of jaws hitting the floor will drown out the applause for the surprise winner.  If there were a runner-up prize, I’d predict Hugh Jackman.  But let’s be honest, Day-Lewis has this in the bag.

 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty

Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook

Emmanuelle Riva for Amour

Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild

Naomi Watts for The Impossible

Prediction – Emmanuelle Riva

This is another tough one, as the results have been varied.  Both Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain picked up Golden Globes, but the BAFTA went to Emmanuelle Riva.  Chastain also picked up the SAG, which might give her a slight edge as most of the acting members of the Academy are also guild members.  Of the two I’ve seen, I would pick Chastain because of the steady change her character goes through over the course of Zero Dark Thirty, from brittle to steely to drained.  But age could be a factor here.  Riva is the oldest Best Actress nominee in the history of the Academy, and at the age of 85 is unlikely to be nominated again.  And it was only a few years ago that Marion Cotillard won Best Actress for Ma Vie en Rose, so being in a foreign film is no embargo either.  Furthermore, Riva is playing a character suffering from a disability, which the Academy loves (see previous winners Cotillard, Jamie Foxx, Daniel Day-Lewis, Kathy Bates, Anthony Hopkins).  I have not seen Amour, but based on age and type of performance, I predict that Riva will be the recipient of Best Actress this year.  And I certainly hope she does, as February 24th will be her 86th birthday, and there could be no greater gift than that.

 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Alan Arkin for Argo

Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook

Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master

Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln

Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained

Prediction – Christoph Waltz

A two-horse race, but a very fine set of performances from some very fine actors.  Everyone here has at least one award (and De Niro has two), so who is going to add to their collection?  Based on awards already given, Tommy Lee Jones received the SAG award, while the Golden Globe and the BAFTA went to Christoph Waltz.  I predict the Academy will follow suit, and Waltz will be thanking Quentin Tarantino again come Oscar night.

 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams for The Master

Sally Field for Lincoln

Anne Hathaway for Les Misérables

Helen Hunt for The Sessions

Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook

Prediction – Anne Hathaway

Anne Hathaway has won every award available for her stunning performance in Les Misérables, and there is no reason to suspect that will change at the Oscars.  Hopefully her laryngitis will have cleared up by the time she has to make her speech.

 

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Amour, Michael Haneke

Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino

Flight, John Gatins

Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola

Zero Dark Thirty, Mark Boal

Prediction – Quentin Tarantino

A fistful of impressive screenwriters, and the only non-contender is John Gatins.  Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola have an outside chance, as do Mark Boal and Michael Haneke.  It’d be interesting for Amour to pull off some upsets, but I predict this will go to Tarantino.  Three years ago, Tarantino and Boal competed for this award, and Boal was victorious for The Hurt Locker.  This time, I think QT will get his second award, eighteen years after winning for Pulp Fiction.

 

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

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

Prediction – David O’Russell

Benh Zeitlin is doing well, having this nomination as well as various others (shared, obviously).  That said, I think he’ll have to make do with the nomination, as there are some very strong contenders in this category.  Much of Argo’s power comes from its screenplay, which details the complex events without getting bogged down in detail.  Life of Pi was touted as unfilmable, so to have made a screenplay out of it is a feat in itself.  Lincoln has attracted a lot of admiration, but of all the awards Silver Linings Playbook is up for, this is its best chance to win.  David O’Russell has already won the BAFTA, although the WGA went to Chris Terrio.  SLP has many great features, but its screenplay may be its best element, delicate yet harsh, warm and witty but filled with pain and suffering.  It seems unlikely that a film nominated in all the major categories will leave with nothing, so I predict Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published, will got to David O’Russell for Silver Linings Playbook.

 

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

Brave, Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman

Frankenweenie, Tim Burton

ParaNorman, Sam Fell, Chris Butler

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!, Peter Lord

Wreck-It Ralph, Rich Moore

Prediction – Brave

Pixar’s reign over animation looks set to continue, as Brave picked up the Golden Globe and the BAFTA.  I predict it will receive the Oscar as well.

 

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

Amour (Austria)

War Witch (Canada)

No (Chile)

A Royal Affair (Denmark)

Kon-Tiki (Norway)

Prediction – Amour

Anything can happen, but I expect Amour will get some amour from the Academy.

 

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Anna Karenina, Seamus McGarvey

Django Unchained, Robert Richardson

Life of Pi, Claudio Miranda

Lincoln, Janusz Kaminski

Skyfall, Roger Deakins

Prediction – Life of Pi

Roger Deakins is long overdue an Oscar, and with Skyfall he did something remarkable with digital cinematography.  But in this extremely technical category, I predict the Academy voters will reward the latest advance in 3D cinematography, Life of Pi.  3D may not be the next big thing in cinema, but it is a major development in cinematography and, like Avatar and Hugo in previous years, I anticipate this award going to the major 3D movie, Life of Pi.

 

Best Achievement in Editing

Argo, William Goldenberg

Life of Pi, Tim Squyres

Lincoln, Michael Kahn

Silver Linings Playbook, Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers

Zero Dark Thirty, William Goldenberg, Dylan Tichenor

Prediction – Argo

It is a common pattern that the winner of Best Picture also wins Achievement in Editing – note all of these nominees are up for Best Picture as well.  Since Argo is the frontrunner to win Best Picture, I predict it will also win Editing.  Furthermore, much of Argo’s tension and humour is generated by its editing, so it is fitting that it should win this award.

 

Best Achievement in Production Design

Anna Karenina, Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Dan Hennah, Ra Vincent, Simon Bright

Les Misérables, Eve Stewart, Anna Lynch-Robinson

Life of Pi, David Gropman, Anna Pinnock

Lincoln, Rick Carter, Jim Erickson

Prediction – Les Misérables

Tough call, as the production design on all of these is impressive.  Period films often pick up this award, so Lincoln, Les Misérables and Anna Karenina are all possibilities.  It is hard to draw a line between visual effects and production design in Life of Pi, so that is less likely.  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has a good chance, as the design of Middle Earth is breathtakingly realized.  It could go many ways, but I predict Les Misérables.

 

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Anna Karenina, Jacqueline Durran

Les Misérables, Paco Delgado

Lincoln, Joanna Johnston

Mirror Mirror: The Untold Adventures of Snow White, Eiko Ishioka

Snow White and the Huntsman, Colleen Atwood

Prediction – Anna Karenina

Another one that often goes to costume dramas, unsurprisingly.  I predict Anna Karenina.

 

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling

Hitchcock, Howard Berger, Peter Montagna, Martin Samuel

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Peter King, Rick Findlater, Tami Lane

Les Misérables, Lisa Westcott, Julie Dartnell

Prediction – Les Misérables

Les Misérables pulled off the remarkable feat of making the impossibly gorgeous Anne Hathaway look ugly, so I see it attracting an award here as well.


Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

Anna Karenina, Dario Marianelli

Argo, Alexandre Desplat

Life of Pi, Mychael Danna

Lincoln, John Williams

Skyfall, Thomas Newman

Prediction – Skyfall

I so want Skyfall to win awards that I don’t care what they are.  John Williams’ score for Lincoln is masterful, but I barely remember the music of Argo or Life of Pi.  Thomas Newman has already won a BAFTA, and I predict he will win the Oscar as well.


Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

Chasing Ice, J. Ralph (“Before My Time”)

Les Misérables, Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Kretzmer (“Suddenly”)

Life of Pi, Mychael Danna, Bombay Jayshree (“Pi’s Lullaby”)

Skyfall, Adele, Paul Epworth (“Skyfall”)

Ted, Walter Murphy, Seth MacFarlane (“Everybody Needs a Best Friend”)

Prediction – “Skyfall”

And Original Song should be a no-brainer – Skyfall again.

 

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

Argo, John T. Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, José Antonio García

Les Misérables, Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, Simon Hayes

Life of Pi, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill, Drew Kunin

Lincoln, Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, Ron Judkins

Skyfall, Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell, Stuart Wilson

Prediction – Les Misérables

At the Sound Editors Golden Reel Awards, Life of Pi picked up sound editing, music in a feature film and sound editing, dialogue and ADR in a feature film.  Its chances of picking up awards on Oscar night are pretty good.  That said, Les Misérables picked up the BAFTA, and pulls off the impressive feat of balancing live-recorded singing with the other parts of the soundtrack.  Could go either way, but on the night I pick Les Miserables.

 

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

Argo, Erik Aadahl, Ethan Van der Ryn

Django Unchained, Wylie Stateman

Life of Pi, Eugene Gearty, Philip Stockton

Skyfall, Per Hallberg, Karen M. Baker

Zero Dark Thirty, Paul N.J. Ottosson

Prediction – Life of Pi

I pick Life of Pi for this award.

 

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Avengers Assemble, Janek Sirrs, Jeff White, Guy Williams, Daniel Sudick

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, R. Christopher White

Life of Pi, Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik De Boer, Donald Elliott

Prometheus, Richard Stammers, Trevor Wood, Charley Henley, Martin Hill

Snow White and the Huntsman, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, Phil Brennan, Neil Corbould, Michael Dawson

Prediction – Life of Pi

Life of Pi, easily, because it uses its effects in a rich and immersive manner.  Ang Lee’s film has already won other awards for its effects, and I predict it will continue its winning ways.


Best Documentary, Feature

5 Broken Cameras, Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi

The Gatekeepers, Dror Moreh, Philippa Kowarsky, Estelle Fialon

How to Survive a Plague, David France, Howard Gertler

The Invisible War, Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering

Searching for Sugar Man, Malik Bendjelloul, Simon Chinn

Going out on a limb, because it has won some awards already, Searching for Sugar Man.

 

Best Documentary, Short Subject

Inocente, Sean Fine, Andrea Nix

Kings Point, Sari Gilman, Jedd Wider

Mondays at Racine, Cynthia Wade, Robin Honan

Open Heart, Kief Davidson, Cori Shepherd Stern

Redemption Jon Alpert, Matthew O’Neill

No idea.

 

Best Short Film, Animated

Adam and Dog, Minkyu Lee

Fresh Guacamole, PES

Head Over Heels, Timothy Reckart, Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly

Paperman, John Kahrs

The Simpsons: The Longest Daycare, David Silverman

I’d be very pleased if The Simpsons picked up an award, so I’ll speculatively predict that it will.


Best Short Film, Live Action

Asad, Bryan Buckley, Mino Jarjoura

Buzkashi Boys, Sam French, Ariel Nasr

Curfew, Shawn Christensen

Death of a Shadow, Tom Van Avermaet, Ellen De Waele

Henry, Yan England

No idea.

If I’m right, Life of Pi and Les Miserables will be the big winners this year, each potentially winning four awards.  If Ang Lee wins Directing, that will put him in the unenviable position of having won Directing twice, but neither time having his film win Best Picture.  Conceivably, upsets could be pulled and Pi might have a big sweep, collecting Adapted Screenplay and Picture as well, or I might be very wrong and Lincoln sweeps the board, collecting Supporting Actor, Director, Adapted Screenplay and Picture.  I think this unlikely, but then again, this is Hollywood, where, as we all know, nobody knows anything.

Oscars