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Yes, it’s Oscar Night.

Well, it’s Oscar night this evening. The big question seems to be whether Mel Gibson will make an appearance as a presenter, and if so what he will say and what the reaction will be. (If his aim of releasing The Passion of the Christ was simply to make a lot of money, he has succeeded. The film has grossed $118m in five days and as Gibson put up the entire budget himself, almost all of the profits will go to him). However, as I promised I might when I wrote my overlong overview of what happened in the Holiday and New Year film season a couple of weeks ago, here are my predictions as to who are going to win the Academy Awards this evening. Some people might think that the Oscars are too trivial for a Samizdata post, but if you think this, don’t read. If it is good enough for Mark Steyn, it’s good enough for me. (How do I begin my campaign to be the next Spectator film critic).

I have of course refrained from using the special hotline that we Samizdatistas have direct to the Stonecutter World Council to find out in advance who the winners are, so I am just guessing using my judgement here. I will stick to the major categories, with perhaps occasional thoughts on the other categories.

As well as merely trying to predict the winners, as an added bonus, I give you a star ranking. Four stars means I will eat my metaphorical hat if this is not the winner. Three stars means I will be quite surprised if this is not the winner. Two stars means that I think this will be the winner, but that I think that there are other possibilities that would not be an overwhelming surprise. One star means that the category looks very open and I have no idea, but that I am willing to guess. I will give other people I think who are in with some kind of chance in brackets, and if I list more than one such person I list most likely first. I may or may not follow this up with a sentence or two as to why but I will try to keep it brief. In a couple of instances I will elaborate on my reasoning at more length on the special blog I use for that purpose, and will link to those comments.

Anyway, here goes.
The full nomination list is here. Best Picture: The Return of the King (****).(The Lord of the Rings is a phenomenon. It will be rewarded. This is like rewarding Titanic for pulling off something incredibily difficult and making immense amounts of money. Except that this is a better film than that, although perhaps less in step with Hollywood tradition). (One point against The Return of the King is that NewLine Cinema is not a studio with a history of running Oscar Campaigns and therefore isn’t very good at it. If The Lord of the Rings had been produced by Miramax, the first film of the trilogy would have won all the major Oscars. One would hope that Newline would have improved in three years, but as I just attempted to download a publicity photo to decorate this post, and discovered that the Newline website has so many fancy bells and whistles that I am unable to view pictures of the movie at all, perhaps not).

Best Director Peter Jackson for The Return of the King (***) (Peter Weir for Master and Commander, Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation) (I think that Coppola’s chances are low but non-zero. Her film is widely admired, but the voters can still give her an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay which they almost certainly well. The BAFTA awards went for Weir, interestingly enough, and I would like to see him win because I loved his film and he has now been nominated many times without winning. However, I think Jackson will be awarded personally for the immensity of his achievement. The fact that he once made Heavenly Creatures will count in his favour, too, as it confirms that he is a real film-maker, not just a special effects wizard. Hopefully, though, most of the ageing costume designers who vote for the Oscars have not seen Meet the Feebles).

More elaboration on Best Picture and Best Director, including a discussion of why Peter Jackson could lose because the ending of the film is too long (rather than too short as most Tolkien fans believe) here

Best Actor: Bill Murray for Lost in Translation (**) (Sean Penn for Mystic River. Jonny Depp for Pirates of the Carribean) (Penn was the early favourite, but seems to have been fading. Murray was the other early front runner, and has been strengthening if anything. Depp is the late improving dark horse, having been named Best Actor by the Screen Actors Guild. These three front runners are considered three of the weirdest people in Hollywood, so who knows how this affects voting. And everybody wants to reward Lost in Translation for something, and this is the major category in which it is strongest).

Best Actress: Charlize Theron for Monster (****) (An utter lock. Everyone who has seen it thinks she is amazing, and it will win unless the academy gets really sentimental and gives it to Keisha Castle-Hughes for Whale Rider, who was admittedly also wonderful. Child actors tend not to win in lead roles though).

Best Supporting Actor: Ken Watanabe for The Last Samurai (*) (Alec Baldwin for The Cooler. Tim Robbins for Mystic River). (To tell the truth, I have no idea in this category. Tim Robbins was the favourite for Mystic River, but I don’t think the performance is good enough. Alec Baldwin has been firming in recent weeks for The Cooler, although I haven’t seen it. Any of the five could win. I just have a hunch on Watanabe. Most people would consider that I am picking a big upset here. Perhaps I am grasping because I really do not want a ghastly Hollywood political speech from either Robbins or Alec Baldwin).

Best Supporting Actress: Renee Zellweger for Cold Mountain (***) (Shohreh Aghdashloo for House of Sand and Fog). (This is normally the most unpredictable category, but doesn’t look so bad as supporting actor, this year. This is Renee Zellweger’s third successive nomination (the others being for lead actress), everyone likes her, and she stands out in Cold Mountain. It isn’t a subtle performance though. Aghdashloo’s is a suble performance. Holly Hunter was very good in Thirteen too but that film and performance hasn’t got the needed attention).

Best Original Screenplay Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation.(***) (If it doesn’t win, it could be any of the others, because the quality in this category is superb and all the screenplays are excellent. Curiously, though, this may help Coppola, as she has the only film nominated for Picture and Director that is also nominated here. Voters may want to give her an award for something and votes for the others may be split).

Best Adapted Screenplay Brian Helgeland for Mystic River (*) (The Return of the King, City of God, Master and Commander). (If this goes to The Return of the King this is a good sign that we are getting a landslide to that film. I think a lot of people admired Helgeland’s work for Mystic River. City of God has been seen as hard done by by many people, and here is where it can be rewarded. Master and Commander would be a way to give Peter Weir his much deserved Oscar, but he is principally a director and only an occasional screenwriter.

Best Animated Feature Finding Nemo (****) (Belleville Rendez-Vous (aka The Triplets of Belleville) is also a delightful fim, but this category has existed for three years and it has yet to be awarded to Pixar, who are conceded to be unbelievably good as well as unbelievably financially successful by just about everyone. This looks like an oversight, and it will be awarded to Pixar this year. The Academy did give this award to a film from a non English speaking country last year, but the circumstances were unusual).

(A further discussion of this category incorporating lots of Disney Kremlinology here).

That’s the major categories. Just a few comments on others. I would like to see Denys Arcand’s The Barbarian Invasions win for Best Foreign Language Film, if only because a film in which a wayward capitalist son humiliates his socialist father by paying for better healthcare is something heartily approve of. (And it likely will win. Arcand is a fine film-maker, and has been nominated a number of times before. That said, it’s a tricky category, as voters are required to see every nominated film in a cinema, and the voting body is thus small and consists largely of retired people).

In technical categories the nominations are normally much more “right” than the winners, because the nominees are decided by people in the some “academy branch” (mostly former nominees in the same category) as the award, and these people know what they are talking about. The actual awards are voted on by the whole academy, and actors generally don’t know anything about special effects. So certain categories (visual effects for instance) consistently go to the wrong nominee out of the ignorance of voters. Bear that in mind. (Some academy branches (notably sound) have attempted to address this by nominating very small numbers of films (eg only two) in each category).

I think The Return of the King should win for Best Art Direction, if only for the fabulous creation of the city of Minas Tirith, and I think it probably will.

For Best Cinematography, I would give the award to Master and Commander, if only because the Galapagos Islands look so beautiful in the film. (A rought rule of thumb is that is something natural looks beautiful in the film, it should win for cinematography and if something artificial looks beautiful it should win for art direcction). However, this one will probably go to The Return of the King too.

Best Visual Effects is a category that almost always goes to the wrong nominee. This is because the award gets given to the film with the most conspicuous special effects, not the best. And in fact inconspicuous special effects are much harder to do. Special effects of alien space ships are not hard to do, because these things are not real and it is impossible to get them wrong. Recreating something real is much harder. This is why, for instance, the special effects in Twister are so much better than those in Independence Day, although on that occasion Independence Day actually won. And this is why this year I would give this award to Master and Commander for its recreation of the 19th Century Royal Navy, and not to The Return of the King good as the special effects of that film are. However, the voters will almost certainly give the award to The Return of the King. I have a further comment on this award here.

But I will stop there. I don’t know enough about the sound categories to really comment, and I haven’t seen any of the documentary or short films.

Mark Steyn thinks that the major awards will go to Lost in Translation. I am with The Return of the King. We shall see.

Readers are invited to mock me in the comments later after I (inevitably) am shown to have got many things wrong. Have a good evening everyone.

Update: As it happened, this was the year to not look for subtletly and intrigues, but just go for the most obvious favourites (which I did not do). Andy Duncan is no doubt happy, as The Return of the King won in all eleven categories for which it was nominated. The acting awards went to Tim Robbins, Renee Zelleweger, Sean Penn, and Charlize Theron. (Bill Murray’s non-victory was my major disappointment of the night, as I thought his was the performance of his career, and I did not quite think that of Sean Penn’s). Sofia Coppola picked up the award for Original Screenplay and her great father looked delighted, but she was oddly nonchalent. Master and Commander picked up Cinematography and Sound Editing, but Peter Weir will have to wait for yet another day for an Oscar (he has been nominated six times without winning). Finding Nemo did indeed win for Animated feature, but Pixar’s Boundin’ did not win for animated short. And The Barbarian Invasions did win a victory for private healthcare.

7 comments to Yes, it’s Oscar Night.

  • Sandy P.

    I don’t think Sophia was nonchalant, I don’t think she has a personality.

    Maybe she puts it all into filming. I saw Peter O’Toole once and there was nothing, but he’s a marvelous actor.

    Or her father sucked the life out of her.

  • Scott

    I was surprised that Seabiscuit did not win one gosh-darned thing. I figured it might get Best Adapted Screenplay, but LOTR waltzed off with that one, too. I was also surprised at Best Supporting Actor. I was split between Ken Watanabe and Alec Baldwin. I was also pulling for Bill Murray to win a little gold man but didn’t really expect him to beat Sean Penn, who had been nominated three times previously.

  • John J. Coupal

    Sophia Coppola appears to be scared out of her wits when she is being asked questions, or is the center of attention. She may feel intimidated by her director father.

    However, she is one hell of a director herself to have created “Lost in Translation”.

    It brings to life a believable story with characters you like and want to know. The cinematography is outstanding and the mood of the film can’t be more right.

    We’ll be seeing a lot more of her work. She is one talented lady.

  • You are right. “Nonchalent” was the wrong word. I was simply trying to say that she looked relatively unexcited and her Dad looked extremely excited. And you are right, she does look like she really wants to get away whenever she is the centre of attention. (I need to go back to look at the Godafather 3 and see if she had that little charisma then, too).

    This is kind of odd in a way. Film directors are normally loud control freaks with enormous egos. She doesn’t look like one of those, but she is none the less obviously very good at it. For one thing, she was apparently extraordinarily persistent at pursuing Bill Murray to get him to agree to be in the film. (Actually though, although I loved most aspects of Lost in Translation, the cinematography is the one aspect of the film I had issues with).

    I suspect that Sofia Coppola is one of those people who is shy in public but warm and interesting when you meet her in person. She seems that way when described by people who have met her (to the extent that you can actually tell through the tremendous cloud of the Hollywood publicity machine). To me she looks like a class act.

  • As a Tolkien nut, I was very glad to see ROTK do so well.

  • R C Dean

    (I need to go back to look at the Godafather 3 and see if she had that little charisma then, too).

    Yes, she was charisma-free then, too. Its hard to say, of course, given the other flaws in the movie, but I think she was the biggest deadweight that her father lashed onto that movie. I felt kind of bad for her; glad to see she has found niche.

  • I *have* to get this out somewhere.

    In acting history, there is a long tradition of seeing what you can get away with. If you’re supposed to be a dead body on stage, well, why not smuggle some items one the stage and have a contest to see who can get away with the most softballs/golfballs/rubber chickens without the director noticing?

    Why do I bring this up? Because when the attending cast was getting up on stage, the illustrious Sir Ian McKellan flipped the bird to the camera.

    And we wouldn’t have noticed were it not for the magic of Tivo.

    Please, somebody tell me they can get a screenshot…