Outguess Ethan 2013

We’re less than two weeks out from the Oscars, and with just about all the major precursors out of the way now (only the Writers Guild left to go, and given their annual host of non-qualifying titles, they’re not that reliable anyway), it’s officially time to roll the dice. As I’ve been saying throughout the season, this year will be exceedingly hard to predict – a large slate of beloved, relevant films has resulted in unusual snubs and mixed signals from the guilds. Many of the major categories – Director, Actress, Supporting Actor, both Screenplay categories – seem totally up for grabs. For once, being able to read the season’s trends aren’t going to help much; it really is guesswork this year.

Which is probably great news for all of you, because once again I’m opening up the Outguess Ethan contest to my loyal readers. If you want to win a free DVD, all you have to do is FILL OUT THIS FORM. If, come Feb. 24, one of you can outscore me on this ballot (using my custom point system), I will buy that lucky winner a DVD of their choice ($20 or under). The person with the highest score wins in the event of multiple entries beating mine.

And, in the name of transparency, here are my own predictions. Think you can do better?

Best Picture: Argo

After Ben Affleck failed to get a Director nod, the entire narrative of the season suddenly switched to “whoops, let’s fix this.” With the entire trio of major guild awards (SAG, DGA, PGA) in its pocket, “Argo” is set to make history no matter what – either the first film since “Driving Miss Daisy” to win Best Picture without a corresponding director nomination, or the first film since “Apollo 13” to LOSE after winning all those precursors. I’m going for the former; it just feels like that kind of year, and “Argo” is clearly loved by broad swath of the industry, which, as we’ve seen the last few years with “The Artist” and “The King’s Speech,” is the crucial element. Plus, seriously, Hollywood loves a movie about themselves; do we need to talk about “The Artist” again?

Best Director: Ang Lee, “Life of Pi”

The absence of Ben Affleck, who has scooped up the Critics Choice, Golden Globe, DGA and BAFTA for this category, leaves us with almost a total vacuum here. Since their films had the most total nominations, Lee and Steven Spielberg make the most sense. “Lincoln” wasn’t as flashy on the directorial end as Spielberg’s films normally are, but the Academy could decide to reward him for that very reason, for trying out something a little different. But I think Lee’s more obvious vision will play better here for groups like the actors and writers, who might think the credit for “Lincoln” should go to their own peers.

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”

Done deal. Day-Lewis will join the very selective list of three-time Oscar-winning actors, joining Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, Ingrid Bergman, Katherine Hepburn and Walter Brennan; and, near as I can figure, only the second after Hepburn where all of those wins came for leading roles.

Best Actress: Emmanuelle Riva, “Amour”

Even detractors of “Zero Dark Thirty” have praised Chastain’s performance; but one gets the feeling that the general turmoil around the film has dragged her campaign down. That, to me, leaves Riva and Jennifer Lawrence. The Academy clearly loved “Silver Linings Playbook” (see: somewhat unexpected Director, Supporting Actress and Film Editing nods), so Lawrence is still absolutely a possibility. But “Amour” clearly has a passionate fan base as well, and I think they won’t be able to resist the feel-good story of this beloved foreign actress becoming the oldest lead Actress winner ever (she won at the BAFTAs, a great sign that people have seen the film, which was her main roadblock). Lawrence is young and they’ll clearly have more opportunities to reward her. For Riva, this is it. Don’t underestimate that thinking.

Best Supporting Actor: Robert De Niro, “Silver Linings Playbook”

If they go for Riva in Actress, voters will almost certainly be looking to reward David O. Russell’s film elsewhere. And while De Niro hasn’t won much in the way of precursors, word is he’s been working the circuit like crazy the past few weeks, going to endless interviews and parties, making sure to hit every red carpet. His main competitors, Christoph Waltz and Tommy Lee Jones, can’t say the same. Waltz hasn’t lost any award he was nominated for yet, but it just feels like too soon after his previous win for “Inglourious Basterds,” and for too similar a role. Meanwhile Jones picked up the SAG, but he was a no-show and didn’t get the chance to wow with a speech.

Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, “Les Miserables”

Another one of our locks. None of the other nominees have traction.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio, “Argo”

This category is a clusterfuck of quality work, but without the opportunity to reward “Argo” in the Director category, it seems logical that voters will go for it here instead. Tony Kushner’s work on “Lincoln” was the best screenplay that Spielberg’s had in ages, though, and I wouldn’t totally count out David O. Russell and “Silver Linings Playbook.” This one will be down to the wire.

Best Original Screenplay: Michael Haneke, “Amour”

Mark Boal’s unfairly embattled work has made “Zero Dark Thirty” a non-viable candidate here. Tarantino is a strong possibility (he picked up the Golden Globe and the BAFTA), but again I’m thinking I should roll with the unexpected love in the nomination stage for “Amour.” Screenplay is one of the few categories where Oscar voters have been known to reach for foreign films (see: Pedro Almodovar’s win for “Talk to Her”), and the generally divided state of affairs works to Haneke’s advantage.

Best Original Score: Mychael Danna, “Life of Pi”

First-time nominees do remarkably well in this category, and while I haven’t seen the film, Danna’s work certainly had the most room to shine in his film. Unless they unexpectedly decide to reward the long-frustrated Thomas Newman, I think Danna’s the most sensible option.

Best Animated Feature: Wreck-It Ralph

The Academy will probably want to reward a strong “comeback” year of sorts for the House of Mouse. “Frankenweenie” and “Brave,” the studio’s other offerings, are both strong possibilities as well, though.

Best Foreign Language Film: Amour

As clear as things ever get in this category.

Best Documentary Feature: Searching for Sugar Man

This category generally either goes with crowd-pleasing, entertaining options or hard-hitting “issue” films; that would make it either “Sugar Man” or “The Invisible War,” but given the South African film’s success on the critical and awards circuit so far, I don’t think Academy voters will be able to resist bringing Rodriguez to the stage for yet another chapter in his incredible life story.

Best Original Song: “Skyfall,” from “Skyfall”

Adele was suitably adorable at the Golden Globes, and let’s be real, the song itself just blows all other contenders out of the water. If “Suddenly” were more memorable it might have a shot, but the older”Les Mis” tracks clearly dwarfed it within the film. Can you believe that, even with classics like “Live and Let Die” and “Nobody Does It Better” under its belt, this is the first time the Bond series wins this category? Given that the show will also feature a 50th anniversary tribute to 007 on film, this is just too good a moment to pass up.

Best Cinematography: Life of Pi

Ugh. This pains me. A victory for Claudio Miranda (deserved though it may be) will mean Roger Deakins, the greatest living cinematographer, will fall short for the 10th time. But as gorgeous as Deakins’ work on “Skyfall” was, Academy voters have recently fallen head over heels for painterly, effects-driven camerawork (“Avatar,” “Hugo”). The cinematographer’s guild went for “Skyfall,” but I think the majority of Oscar members will go for the more obvious spectacle film. Sigh.

Best Production Design: Anna Karenina

It will be a travesty if they pick anything else. Whatever its narrative flaws, Joe Wright’s film was a design marvel, and voters will notice that.

Best Costume Design: Anna Karenina

Likewise. A small possibility that they recognize the late Eiko Ishioka’s final, bonkers work on “Mirror Mirror,” but I think the nomination was the reward there.

Best Film Editing: Argo

William Goldenberg had a spectacular year, getting totally deserved nominations for both “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” The streamlined, energetic pacing is a big part of what makes “Argo” tick, and the voters are going to want to check the film off in a couple places besides Best Picture.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Les Miserables

But really, I have no clue here. Any of the three nominees seem possible. “Hitchcock” did the beloved trick of turning a well-known actor into another well-known public figure, but it didn’t do the aging effect that voters are also fond of. “Les Mis” did, along with some nifty work during Fantine’s rapid decline and the bloody student revolution sequence. I’ll go with that, although the time-consuming task of creating thirteen separate dwarves could take it by sheer quantity.

Best Visual Effects: Life of Pi

Again, it’s a prestigious, effects-driven film, and its craft elements were clearly admired.

Best Sound Mixing: Les Miserables

Musicals often do well in this category (“Dreamgirls,” “Ray,” “Chicago”) and whatever you may think of the film overall, mixing the actor’s live singing with a pre-recorded soundtrack is a considerable technical achievement.

Best Sound Editing: Skyfall

This is one category where it’s OK to vote for your favorite action blockbuster, and that was clearly the critically acclaimed Bond adventure this year.

Best Live Action Short: Curfew

Best Documentary Short: Inocente

Best Animated Short: Paperman

….why not?

Again, the contest form is HERE. You can only submit it once, so choose carefully! Good luck!

By the Way, the Globes Happened

It’s obviously a little late, but I figured posting the Globes winners would give me a chance for a last bit of awards analysis before the Oscar nominations finally drop on Tuesday morning. Yes, all the predictions and buzz are about to come to fruition. I have to say the season has felt a bit shorter this year – I guess last year we arrived at the “Social Network” vs. “King’s Speech” narrative so early on, the consecutive announcements reinforcing that just got tiresome. This year has been far more tumultuous; even if a Best Picture win for “The Artist” seems the most likely option, there’s still a ton of variables. How many Best Pic nominees will there be? What will they be? Will “Bridesmaids” surprise? How about “Drive?” “Tree of Life?” Will the actors line up with SAG, or are there surprises in store (or maybe it would actually be a surprise if they DID line up)?

The Golden Globe winners themselves are not really good indicators of how the Academy will go. As evidenced by their general star-whoring and pandering, these are not industry insiders. But the Globes are still important to watch, not so much for who wins, but how the room reacts to the people who win. The Hollywood Foreign Press may not be Oscar voters, but they make darn sure that their ceremony is well attended by people who are. So while “The Descendants” took home the Best Picture – Drama prize, and was therefore automatically anointed by the media as the official opposition for “The Artist,” I’d still say that “Hugo” is the better option for the upset at the Oscars, given the standing ovation for Martin Scorsese’s Best Director win.

Similarly, while Meryl Streep racked up yet another Golden Globe victory for her performance in “The Iron Lady,” her speech couldn’t hold a candle to Viola Davis’ touching, heartfelt acceptance at the Critics’ Choice Awards a few days earlier. It may seem silly, but Oscar voters do pay attention to things like that. No matter how many times people point out that Streep has “only” actually won 2 Oscars out of her gazillion nominations, Oscar voters won’t feel particularly good about themselves for checking her name off on their ballot. They WILL feel all warm and fuzzy inside while voting for Davis. Ditto Davis’ fellow “The Help” cast-mate Octavia Spencer. I think that tandem is all but assured come Feb. 26. Also looking good are Christopher Plummer and George Clooney, who have been as charming, gracious and debonair on stage this season as one would expect.

As for the Globes ceremony itself, I thought it was pretty good one. Ricky Gervais was certainly much tamer than advertised – most of his barbed jokes were aimed at the HFPA themselves (a welcome target, in my opinion). Other than a few cracks about Jodie Foster’s “Beaver,” Colin Firth’s hidden racism and some woefully outdated Madonna insults (and all of those celebs are extremely good sports, it should be noted; no Bruce Willises in that bunch), Ricky acted pretty much like any other host, albeit still a much funnier one than, say, that duo at the Critics’ Choice Awards who were trying waaaaaay too hard. And as always there was clearly booze aplenty, as Streep, Steven Spielberg (accepting the Best Animated Feature award for “The Adventures of Tintin”) and several others were pretty notably soused during their speeches. That always makes for some fun TV.

So I’ll go ahead and post the full slate of (film) winners here, before some final commentary to go along with my last Oscar prediction update.

HFPA Golden Globe winners

Best Picture – Drama: “The Descendants”

Best Picture – Comedy/Musical: “The Artist”

Best Director: Martin Scorsese, “Hugo”

Best Actor – Drama: George Clooney, “The Descendants”

Best Actor – Comedy/Musical: Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”

Best Actress – Drama: Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”

Best Actress – Comedy/Musical: Michelle Williams, “My Week with Marilyn”

Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”

Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, “The Help”

Best Screenplay: Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”

Best Original Score: Ludovic Bource, “The Artist”

Best Original Song: “Masterpiece,” from “W.E.”

Best Animated Feature: “The Adventures of Tintin”

Best Foreign Language Film: “A Separation”

Despite the apparent late fade by “War Horse,” I’m going to stick to my guns and say it still ends up making Best Picture, though it might not land much else besides that. Even Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography, which seemed a slam dunk earlier in the season, might end up missing the cut; his miss with the cinematographer’s guild nominations was NOT a good sign for his chances. However, it did make the cut with the film editor’s guild, so there is clearly still some support for it out there. And I will be seriously stunned if John Williams’ score doesn’t make it in.

And I do think now that “War Horse” and all the other usual names from this season will be joined in the end by “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” which came charging down the home stretch hard with those various guild notices from the producers, directors and cinematographers. That’s the kind of buzz that publicists kill for, and it came right when the Academy was turning in their ballots. Perfect recipe to score a bunch of nominations, which is why I think Rooney Mara will end up just barely squeezing Glenn Close out of Best Actress. There just wasn’t a ton of love for “Albert Nobbs” from anyone but the actors, and even then most of the attention was lavished on Janet McTeer, who apparently gets the far more flamboyant gender-bending role of the film (if there’s any decision in my predictions that I’m iffy about, it’s leaving her out of Best Supporting Actress). The Oscar voters just don’t usually go for the stoic, understated performances, which is why Michael Fassbender in “Shame” and Gary Oldman in “Tinker, Tailor” are also in serious danger.

The Best Actor race is a mess in general, though. The actors love a more visibly laborious role like DiCaprio in “J. Edgar.” They just do. But you can’t forget that SAG nomination for Demian Bichir in “A Better Life.” That was not a small victory. Yet, you also can’t ignore Michael Shannon, who, make no mistake is much beloved in the industry. Remember his surprise Supporting Actor nomination for “Revolutionary Road?” That could very well happen again. In fact, I think it will (and it shouldn’t be that surprising, really, considering the unquestionable quality of the performance).

I don’t know. There are a lot of shaky contenders out there. I pretty much expect to go 3/5 in just about every major category, and totally miss the technical awards (the under-the-line categories look to be stocked with underperforming films like “Jane Eyre,” “My Week with Marilyn,” “Anonymous” and “W.E.”, and damned if I know which ones they’re going to pick where).

My dream picks? A good showing for “Tinker, Tailor,” including Screenplay and Actor nominations. Terrence Malick or Nicolas Winding Refn squeezing into Best Director. “Margin Call” landing an Original Screenplay nod after completely fading from the discussion lately. If any or all of those things happens come Tuesday morning, I’ll be ecstatic. Tune in and see!

LA Critics Stay Classy

With critics’ groups suddenly crawling out of the woodwork to all announce their awards/nominations in the past two days, it’s been a little hard to keep up with the madness. Seriously, between today and yesterday alone, we’ve heard from critics’ circles in Boston, Houston, San Francisco, St. Louis, Detroit, Indiana and San Diego, not to mention the New York Online group and the African American Film Critics Association.

One wonders where the merit is in having everyone announce their superlatives at the same time; if you were part of one of these smaller groups, wouldn’t you rather try to take the spotlight in a slow period in later December or January than just get lost in the shuffle like this? Particularly if your awards are going to end up looking generally like everyone else’s, which has been the case this year: while there have been some nice shout-outs here and there (there was a mention somewhere for Brendan Gleeson in “The Guard,” another for Brit Marling in “Another Earth,” and unexpectedly strong love all around for “Drive”), most of the critics’ lists we’ve seen so far are picking out the same basic group of films over and over. I’m obviously not going to go through all the lists I mentioned above, rather just summarize a few trends: “The Artist” has definitely seized its place as frontrunner, followed close behind by “Hugo,” “Moneyball” should indeed be a very strong contender, and both “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” seem to be having zero effect on the landscape whatsoever. I’m still not actually sure if anyone has seen “Extremely Loud” yet, though; it really is curious for such a major contender to stay so hush-hush for so long.

But always worthy of careful consideration are the Los Angeles Film Critics Assocation’s annual awards. Even more so than their New York counterparts, the LAFCA usually manage to find room for films that have been out of the spotlight. It helps that they list their runners-up, which always gives us an interesting look at what might have happened, were this quirky group even braver (take, for instance, the 1-2 punch of “WALL-E” and “The Dark Knight” in 2008, or last year’s runner-up love for Olivier Assayas’ epic biopic “Carlos”). Anyway, eccentricity was certainly the case in general again this year, although the excitement of some left-field nods in the lower categories was quenched somewhat by the anticlimactic win for “The Descendants” in Best Picture, but at this point anything but a win for “The Artist” is still pretty interesting. Check out the full list of winners here, with some commentary after:

Los Angeles Film Critics Assocation awards:

New Generation Award: the creative team behind “Martha Marcy May Marlene” (Sean Durkin, Antonio Campos, Josh Mond, Elizabeth Olsen)

Best Foreign Language Film: “The City of Life and Death”  (Runner-up: “A Separation”)

Best Animation: “Rango” (Runner-up: “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn”)

Best Documentary: “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” (Runner-up: “The Arbor”)

Best Music/Score: The Chemical Brothers, “Hanna” (Runner-up: Cliff Martinez, “Drive”)

Best Production Design: “Hugo” (Runner-up: “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”)

Best Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, “The Tree of Life” (Runner-up: Cao Yu, “The City of Life and Death”)

Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain, “Coriolanus,” “The Debt,” “The Help,” “Take Shelter,” “The Tree of Life,” “Texas Killing Fields” (Runner-up: Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”)

Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, “Beginners” (Runner-up: Patton Oswalt, “Young Adult”)

Best Screenplay: Asghar Fahadi, “A Separation” (Runner-up: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, “The Descendants”)

Best Actor: Michael Fassbender, “A Dangerous Method,” “Jane Eyre,” “Shame,” “X-Men: First Class” (Runner-up: Michael Shannon, “Take Shelter”)

Best Actress: Yoon Jeong-hee, “Poetry” (Runner-up: Kirsten Dunst, “Melancholia”)

Best Director: Terrence Malick, “The Tree of Life” (Runner-up: Martin Scorsese, “Hugo”)

Best Film: “The Descendants” (Runner-up: “The Tree of Life”)

I honestly would’ve loved to see “The Tree of Life” finally snatch one of these awards, but at least it came close, and the love for Malick and Lubezki is there. For those wondering, “The City of Life and Death” is a Chinese film about the Rape of Nanking from back in 2009 that must’ve not gotten an American release until this year – I’d honestly never heard anything about it before, but I am certainly intrigued now (especially since it will be interesting to compare with Zhang Yimou’s upcoming “The Flowers of War,” starring Christian Bale, covering the same subject).

The LAFCA decided to go with the “let’s just throw all their films in there” option for the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain and Michael Fassbender, which is certainly fine considering the pair’s consistently quality work this work, but these critics could do Chastain more favors for the season on the whole by singling her out for something. I still suspect it’ll end up being for her turn in “The Help,” but “Take Shelter” is lurking (deservedly) as a dark horse contender. Speaking of “Take Shelter,” great to see Michael Shannon finally get his first nod of the season for a tour de force performance. The LAFCA never stoops to blasé Meryl Streep-esque choices when it comes to their acting laurels; indeed, this is the 5th year running that they have gone with an actress from a foreign production for their Best Actress award. They also showed friendliness toward non-American fare in the unexpected (but reportedly very welcome) win for Iranian marriage drama “A Separation” for Best Screenplay. That film is quickly rising up my must-see list, to be sure.

Finally, I still haven’t seen Joe Wright’s genre thriller “Hanna,” but the victory for its throbbing techno score by The Chemical Brothers is also a wonderful outside-the-box choice (ditto, in fact, the runner-up; I’m a great admirer of Martinez’s infectious work on “Drive”).

So while there is a definite top tier of nostalgic work (“The Artist,” “Hugo,” “War Horse”) inhabiting the Oscar race, there is certainly still plenty of wiggle room left in the season. Starting tomorrow, we still have Critics’ Choice nominations, SAG nominations and Golden Globe nominations all to come this week, after which things may start to narrow in a hurry. But for now we can still look at lists like this and dream of what could be.