Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Handicapping The Oscars

Always a fun office pool exercise. Here is what I have seen so far, of the nominated films:

Blood Diamond
The Pursuit of Happyness
The Departed
The Queen
The Devil Wears Prada
The Good Shepherd
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Children of Men
Marie Antoinette
An Inconvenient Truth
Flags of Our Fathers


Pan's Labyrinth
The Last King of Scotland - Forest is awesome. He'll win best actor. Adjust accordingly.

I’ll probably go to the theatre today to see Babel, I also want to see Volver and Pan’s Labyrinth, and a few of the other ones nominated. The key to good handicapping is remembering what the academy is. It is an invitation only club type membership. From my understanding, they are people who work in the film or have influence in the film industry. They aren’t academics (though some may be) and they aren’t studio executives (though some may be). Since the membership list is private, it is more likely that people will vote with their feel good side of their brain rather then their analytical side of their brain. This has an affect on certain nominations who otherwise wouldn’t have won (Judi Dench, for example). This year we have Peter O’Toole and Martin Scorsese, both have never won, both are extremely good at what they do. Both have been nominated many times and have lost out (Scorsese lost to Costner, for God’s sake).

Another thing to keep in mind is the “token” aspect of the awards as well as "splitting". We’ve seen this before in 1998 when Shakespeare in Love won the award. In that year The Thin Red Line, Saving Private Brian, and Elizabeth were all nominated (also Life is Beautiful). I personally think The Thin Red Line split with Saving. If the academy used a different voting mechanism, we would have to think about this differently, of course, but I believe they use “first past the post” type voting. Keep this in mind every time you see Blood Diamond and the Last King of Scotland up against each other (I would also have said To Catch a fire, however, it wasn’t nominated for anything, I don’t believe).

By token, I mean sometimes the awards like to make a token award. In a year that sees a lot of films from one background or genre this becomes important, in this case one becomes a token for the rest of them.

Another thing to keep in mind is the ongoing politics of the world. The academy likes to send a message, but it doesn’t want to send an overt message. Many important films have lost out due to this, in my opinion. They usually reserve this for the nominations and not the actual award, however. The Killing fields (lost to Amadeus) , for example, did not win, neither did All the President’s Men (lost to Rocky, was also up against Taxi driver in that year).

The Academy tends not to like violence, especially blood violence. The made-for-tee-vee type violence that Lukas and Spielberg do is OK. The type of violence that Scorsese does, generally is not. This isn’t always true, however. For example, Braveheart won and is both violent and bloody. Keep in mind, there is a difference between someone getting shot and dieing with no blood and seeing someone getting shot, dieing, and watching their blood pulse out as they watch themselves slowly bleed to death. Films like Blood Diamond and The Departed, which show people getting shot and maimed, both extremely violent movies, are competing against The Queen and Little Miss Sunshine. However, this is a violent year for movies. Babel, as I understand, is also violent, as well as “Letters”.

The “only one musical every twenty years” rule. Well, I made that up, but it’s the truth. The Academy is not Broadway. To the academy, Broadway is for those NYU type actors who majored in dance to “find their craft”, until they move away from soho to California. The Academy can only stomach a musical every twenty years. We’ve had two recently, Moulin Rouge and Chicago (and Chicago won). The last big Oscar musical before that was “All that Jazz”, a Fosse film. There were a few in the early 60’s as well (West Side Story won).

Another way movies can split is if there are two “NYU type” art films done in the same and both were nominated. The NYU types have a loyalty to their film makers (Scorsese, De Niro, and Lee {both Spike and Ang are of NYU fame and made movies together} for example). Where someone went to school is less important then the “school of thought” they belong to. Someone may have graduated from UCLA and be seen as part of the NYU school (De Caprio, for example, is certainly moving in this direction). This probably the least important of the criteria.

Another thing to keep in mind is the hierarchy of the awards. Best Picture, director, Actor, Actress, supporting actor, supporting actress, screenplays, and cinematography is the general hierarchy of awards. This is not my opinion, but rather how important “the industry” thinks each award is. I could be wrong of course.

Last but not least, occasionally, the academy will pick the best film / actor / actress of the year. This may or may not be coincidence. Soderbergh won in 2000 for Traffic. He was also nominated for Erin Brockovich. That was the year of Crouching Tiger, Gladiator and Billy Elliot.

I write the above so people in office pools can make good guesses without having seen every film.

So here are my thoughts. I reserve the right to change these as I catch up on the last of the films.

Edit: interesting, I lost everything past this point. I'll try this again

Best motion picture of the year
“Babel” #2
“The Departed” #3
“Letters from Iwo Jima” #5
“Little Miss Sunshine” #4
“The Queen” #1

All Clint Eastwood stuff goes to the bottom of my handicapping. Why? There is an unofficial cooling off period after winning a bunch of awards. He very recently won for Million Dollar Baby. Both picture and director went to him. It is common for these two awards to be shared.

The Queen is a British production and this goes against it. The Departed is too violent. I would hedge my bets with the guys in the IT department against Babel, personally.

Performance by an actor in a leading role
Leonardo DiCaprio in “Blood Diamond” #2
Ryan Gosling in “Half Nelson” #5
Peter O’Toole in “Venus” #1
Will Smith in “The Pursuit of Happyness” #4
Forest Whitaker in “The Last King of Scotland” #3

Tough year for male leads. Sucks for Will Smith. The legacy award will go to O’Toole. He may deserve it, he may not. It doesn’t matter. The hedge is DiCaprio.

Performance by an actor in a supporting role
Alan Arkin in “Little Miss Sunshine” #4
Jackie Earle Haley in “Little Children” #5
Djimon Hounsou in “Blood Diamond” #1
Eddie Murphy in “Dreamgirls” #2
Mark Wahlberg in “The Departed” #3

When the voters are going down their voting card and they vote for legacy in acting, they are going to vote for Hounsou in Diamond as a conciliation prize. In any other year, I would say he wouldn’t have a prayers chance in hell. The snub factor goes to Eddie Murphy. I liked Wahlberg this year, personally. Your millage may vary. If you feel O’Toole will not get the legacy award and a real award, or if you feel he won’t get an award at all, you should move Hounsou towards the bottom.

Performance by an actress in a leading role
Penélope Cruz in “Volver” #3
Judi Dench in “Notes on a Scandal” #2
Helen Mirren in “The Queen” #1
Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” #5
Kate Winslet in “Little Children” #4

Judi got her prize in 1998, as you will remember. She was also nominated in 2005, however and there could be a residual vote for her. This makes her a good hedge bet for that reason. Cruz is both foreign and a comedy. The Devil Wears Prada is simply not possible. Remember the Academy is a “very serious” organization with “very serious” people. Even if she was good, it doesn’t matter. Mirren was actually good and deserves the award.

Performance by an actress in a supporting role
Adriana Barraza in “Babel” #3
Cate Blanchett in “Notes on a Scandal” #5
Abigail Breslin in “Little Miss Sunshine” #2
Jennifer Hudson in “Dreamgirls” #1
Rinko Kikuchi in “Babel” #4

I haven’t seen any of these. Sorry Cate but it’s too soon. Babel nom’s will split. This leaves smooth sailing for Hudson to win. This could end up being the only major award for, what is possibly, the best movie of the year (and I haven’t seen in yet!).

Achievement in directing
“Babel” - Alejandro González Iñárritu #2
“The Departed” - Martin Scorsese #1
“Letters from Iwo Jima” - Clint Eastwood #4
“The Queen” - Stephen Frears #3
“United 93” - Paul Greengrass #5

Scorsese will get the lifetime achievement award here. If he does, Babel will get best picture. If voters vote for his actual directing, and they should, The Departed may win both. I doubt it though.