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The 84th Annual Academy Awards 2012

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by Matt Elliot Taylor (subscribe)
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon
The Academy Awards is the most celebrated event on Hollywood's calendar. It gets everyone talking about what films are good and what films are great. Below is my own run-down of a few of the main categories and my predictions and choices for each.

Best Actress In A Supporting Role
Half a century ago, it seemed completely foreign to even consider that an African-American actress be considered as "Academy material". That mould was cracked a few times, starting with Hattie McDaniel being the very first African-American actress to not only be nominated but win this award for Gone With The Wind [1939], and also when Halle Berry won Best Actress for Monster's Ball [2001]. This year, not only is Octavia Spencer nominated, but it's for a strong performance in a film that deals with the subject matter in question, The Help. Also nominated for her painstakingly heart-warming turn in The Help is Jessica Chastain, a viable candidate. While it seems purely complimentary to grant nominations to Janet McTeer for Albert Nobbs and Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids, let's not forget that Academy voters will have to look over the stunning presence of Berence Bejo in The Artist before giving them a second glance.

My Prediction: Octavia Spencer for The Help
My Choice: Jessica Chastain for The Help

Best Actor In A Supporting Role
Upon inspection of the list of nominees in this category, when considering who each of these characters are, it looks like a line-up for a whacky sitcom about the world's most random group of flatmates. This cast would include a famous thespian actor, a timid analyst, a hard-nosed alcoholic ex-boxer, an elderly widower-turned-homosexual and a mute. A sordid cast of players it looks like, but the only performance space they will (and should) ever share is that of the stage at the ceremony next week. My Week With Marilyn opened this week and Kenneth Branagh has been receiving much praise for portrayal of Sir Laurence Olivier, as has Jonah Hill in what is certainly a breath of fresh air as far as his career is concerned. He holds his own excellently playing against Brad Pitt in the baseball drama Moneyball and is quite deserving of the award based purely on the fact that he's so far away from his comfort zone of characters that would probably watch porn instead of the Oscars on Monday night. Nick Nolte in Warrior, Christopher Plummer in Beginners and Max Von Sydow in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close just seem to be a sort of sympathy vote for aged actors of Hollywood who are well-respected enough that they should be used to fill out the list.

My Prediction: Kenneth Branagh for My Week With Marilyn
My Choice: Jonah Hill for Moneyball

Best Actor In A Leading Role
Some powerhouse performance and career boosters occupy the list of nominees for Best Actor this year, with George Clooney being the political favourite for his role in The Descendants. George has been after this Oscar for years to fill out his shelf, but will it be his this year? He has stiff competition – very stiff competition indeed. He's up against friend and colleague Brad Pitt, who plays a similar sub-textual tense character in Moneyball, an always sensational Gary Oldman in what he described as "the role of a lifetime" in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the very expressionistic Jean Dujardin in The Artist and finally Demian Bichir for A Better Life, the obvious underdog.

My Prediction: George Clooney for The Descendants
My Choice: Gary Oldman for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Best Actress In A Leading Role
Okay let's get it out of the way – Meryl Streep is nominated again, for a record 17th time. She has won twice before (Sophie's Choice [1983] and Kramer Vs. Kramer [1979] which was a supporting role), so he is no stranger to the podium. But just when we thought she couldn't possibly outdo her earlier work, she finds a trump card in the form of the extraordinary Margaret Thatcher, whose portrayal by Streep is nothing short of extraordinary in itself in The Iron Lady. It would seem like a whitewash to most, with her competition involving Michelle Williams for My Week With Marilyn, Glenn Close for Albert Nobbs and Rooney Mara for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. While some will argue that these are justifiable choices, a subtle and humble standout is Viola Davis for The Help, who is head-to-head with Streep for this one. But is that really what the Academy is interested in? Or will they be more comfortable palming it off to Streep and saying it was "a shoe-in from the start"?

My Prediction: Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady
My Choice: Viola Davis for The Help

Best Writing, Original Screenplay
While many people were somewhat shocked (both in a good and bad way) that Bridesmaids made the list, creating a debut nomination for Saturday Night Live comedian Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, it not only has the likes of truly original approaches such as Asghar Farhadi for A Separation and J.C. Chandor for Margin Call to stand up against, but the extremely warm and whimsical exercises in nostalgia from Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist and veteran Oscar-wunderkind Woody Allen for Midnight In Paris.

My Prediction: Woody Allen for Midnight In Paris
My Choice: J.C. Chandor for Margin Call

Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
Amongst all the dross that Hollywood comes out with nowadays that usually involves stories or concepts that have been recycled more than a rugby shirt in a six-son family, there are a select few that are truly magical in their evolution to the screen. This is perhaps why this category exists – so that we are reminded that it's not always a waste of time. So meticulous is the handling of John Le Carre's spy novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, that Academy voters will have hard time ignoring it. Plus, with co-writer Bridget O'Connor passing away shortly after completing it, there's the posthumous sympathy win, which is an Academy favourite. That's not to say it's a done deal. There is some great texture and depth in the stories of Hugo, The Descendants and Moneyball, but an interesting addition to this list is The Ides of March, for which Clooney was one of the writers alongside his long-time associate Grant Heslov and newcomer Beau Willimon. While this is a deserving and surprising addition (mainly because the film was largely ignored upon release), there is much doubt it can be labelled "the best" considering the other fine pieces of work that are here.

My Prediction: Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
My Choice: Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Best Cinematography
The Oscar for Best Cinematography is a generational affair in more ways than one this year with Guillaume Schiffman being nominated for his recreation of the 1920's in The Artist which makes it difficult to compare given the very different styles. With frequent David Fincher collaborator Jeff Cronenweth looking for this first win from his second nomination (his first being for The Social Network last year) for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and two-time winners Robert Richardson and Janusz Kaminski (Hugo and War Horse, respectively) providing a very healthy uphill battle, it will certainly be a justifiable choice, whatever the outcome. But we can't forget Emmanual Lubezki for his stunningly beautiful work in The Tree of Life. While the film seriously divided critics and audiences upon release, one thing no-one disagreed on was its exquisite beauty. The Academy voters are definitely aware of this also. Is this the trump card though? Another thing to point out is the truly revolutionary and most creative use of 3D camera technology yet in Hugo. Two years ago, Avatar won the Cinematography Oscar for the same reasons. Now that James Cameron has come out and said Hugo tops his film, then can the Academy say no?

My Prediction: Robert Richardson for Hugo
My Choice: Robert Richardson for Hugo

Best Director
Leading the category for Best Director this year are two Oscar-winning veterans: Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese (this time for Midnight In Paris and Hugo, respectively). As deserving as both these film-makers are for the Best Directing Oscar, it would be nice and fresh to see an underdog or an unfamiliar face up at the podium. Terrence Malick, who in a 40-year career has made only five films, has made a triumphant return with the highly controversial The Tree of Life. But will giving him the Oscar prove too controversial? We all know the Academy hate that word. But there's also Alexander Payne rightly being nominated for The Descendants. Many believed he was snubbed by not winning for his last film Sideways in 2005, so it would be interesting to see the Academy recognise true talent when they see it. Rounding out the list on nominees, completely out of left-field is Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist. In a way, he is the rightful winner of this Oscar purely because he realises the material and handles his vision in such a stark and clear way given the very stand-out subject matter. By definition he is most deserving, but that's not always the case when collating ballots.

My Prediction: Michel Hazanavicius for The Artist
My Choice: Alexander Payne for The Descendants

Best Picture
The last and most important award of the evening. It's easy to become emotional about our decision for this one, because regular (as in non-movie-going) people might not understand the importance of cinematography, screenplay or directing; they just know whether they love the film or not, and that is essentially what the Best Picture Oscar encapsulates. It takes all the major aspects of filmmaking and decides the overall winner in every department of filmmaking. It is for this reason that films like The Artist, Hugo, The Descendants and Moneyball lead the category – because they are just great films in every aspect of what makes a great film. But to provide balance, more neglectful choices are thrown in for good measure in the way of War Horse, Midnight In Paris, The Tree of Life, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and The Help. While they are all strong films and have very strong and special elements, don't expect any of these to take out the night's top honor. It is perhaps no mistake that the two favourites - Hugo and The Artist - both have to do with the origins of cinema, and that will definitely be an underlying theme and deciding factor for Academy voters this year.

My Prediction: Hugo
My Choice: The Artist

Tune in to Channel Nine at 12:30pm this Monday to see the results.
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Why? The movie-goer's event of the year
When: Monday, February 27th, 12:30pm, Channel Nine
Where: Your living room
Cost: Free
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