If a gambling addict had to get their fix by putting the smart money on exactly when and where it'd be most likely to see Jonah Hill and Nick Nolte get into a fistfight, that money would have to go on Sunday, February 26th at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood. That's when Hollywood will have its biggest, glitziest night of the year with the 2012 Academy Awards. Amongst other surprises, Jonah Hill and Nick Nolte will be going head-to-head in the Best Supporting Actor category. What follows is certainly not a definitive prediction of winners -- more of a run-down of where the smart money may ride, should you fancy a flutter...
Nominees: The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse
The first surprise here is that so many films were nominated. Under new rules, the minimum amount is five films and the maximum is ten. Movies are selected if enough members of the Academy vote for them in a ranked order. After last year's bloated ten nominees -- a number dictated by the Academy -- most thought this year, which was regarded as weak anyway, would see fewer -- eight, if The Hollywood Reporter is to be believed. But nine is a surprise, with Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and Tree of Life being curveballs. Tree of Life because it's about as esoteric a film that's ever found its way onto the bill, but it was a critical darling with an esteemed director in Terence Malick. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close has barely been released, is getting buzz as emotional dreck, but has its producer -- awards powerhouse Scott Rudin -- mainly to thank for its inclusion. But the winner is...
The Artist: Silently conducting a sweep of the Globes, the Producers Guild Awards, and other critical organizations, The Artist is essentially a shoo-in at this point, with Hugo having the best chance to topple it, and The Descendants having the best chance as an upset. But with the power of momentum, the Weinsteins, and a high-brow angle (black and white, silent) with a broadly accessible story (jokes and dogs!), look for the The Artist to not go quietly into good night.
Nominees: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist. Alexdander Payne, The Descendants. Martin Scorsese, Hugo. Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris. Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life.
The night's trickiest major category with a couple of stalwarts, two critical favorites, and a complete newcomer. But the winner is...
Martin Scorsese: As said, this is the biggest toss up, with Michel Hazanavicius nipping close behind, but Hugo will be rewarded for its 11 nominations here, and the Academy will give Scorsese a double pat on the back after neglecting him for so many years until The Departed. The same logic would apply to Woody Allen, but he has an almost allergic reaction to the Oscars, having only shown up at the ceremony once, despite setting the record for most nominated writer. He's won thrice before, once for director already. Terence Malick would be the art-house pick but won't have enough traction, not to the mention the man's a recluse himself, and Alexander Payne has the best chance to upset.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
Nominees: Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn. Jonah Hill, Moneyball. Nick Nolte, Warrior. Christopher Plummer, Beginners. Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.
Here's where Jonah Hill and Nick Nolte will engage in fisticuffs. Hearing "Oscar Nominee Jonah Hill" will be funny for the rest of his career, and Hill's work in Moneyball was nice and understated, but Nolte was a powerhouse in the criminally under-seen Warrior. For all their fighting, neither will win, though. That honor goes to...
Christopher Plummer, Beginners: Shortly said, the man is cleaning up out there, thanks to the little-seen indie. And he'll beat out the virtually indiscernible Max Von Sydow, who should have been in The Artist instead, since he plays a mute. Kenneth Branagh will be happy to be there; any year you can direct Thor and get nominated for an Oscar is a good one. The real problem here is the Academy missed a chance to be sexy by nominating Albert Brooks. That may be the first time sexy and Brooks have been lumped together in a sentence, but the point is that Drive was one of the cooler, better liked, and likely long-lasting flicks of the year -- a masterpiece for hipsters -- and Brooks was shockingly capable against type as a cold-blooded gangster. The Oscars may have made a bad move cutting him.
Nominees: Demian Bichir, A Better Life. George Clooney, The Descendants. Jean Dujardin, The Artist. Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Brad Pitt, Moneyball.
Here's where the gossip columnists will have a field day, speculating fall-out between longtime friends Clooney and Pitt; will they continue to share the private jet when the winner is announced as...
George Clooney for The Descendants? Likely to win, despite having won an Oscar before, and in this case, he definitely deserves it. But if the Academy is feeling particularly starry eyed, they'll throw a gold Brad Pitt's way, as the man is about the biggest name out there and has never been recognized for his work...though Troy isn't exactly the type. Jean Dujardin has the best chance at an upset if The Artist really rules the night, and Gary Oldman deserves gold someday, but his character in Tinker was as careful and calculated as the movie itself -- not a very jarring performance. Demian Bichir was fantastic in A Better Life, which packs a too-real punch about immigration and LA struggle. It deserves to be seen, but since it hasn't, he can't win.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
Nominees: Bérénice Bejo, The Artist. Jessica Chastain, The Help. Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids. Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs. Octavia Spencer, The Help.
By far the biggest surprise on the Academy's list is Melissa McCarthy, who will also be the night's biggest crowd favorite. Hardly the norm for what Hollywood looks for in a starlet, and by far against the Academy's usual nominating type, the most unexpected development from McCarthy's nomination is that she actually has a strong chance of winning, considering the field. Because the nomination is so left-field, Jessica Chastain would still be the likely winner, if not for The Help then for her entire, burgeoning body of work this year. However, because she is nominated for The Help, splitting the vote, the winner will be:
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids. Much like it did three years ago, awarding Heath Ledger posthumously for his portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight, the Academy will take advantage of this category to assuage the average moviegoer and answer one of its biggest critiques -- that it doesn't recognize comedy. This would be the most celebrated win of the night -- a chance to buck decades-old trends and a missed opportunity by the Academy if they go with The Artist, again confirming that they're all a bunch of elitist kale-gorging hobnobs -- at least to anyone watching outside of the city of angels.
Nominees: Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs. Viola Davis, The Help. Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady. Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn.
The Help is good but not without controversy, and is likely too nominated in the Actress categories -- all the women playing Ron Paul against one another. Rooney Mara's strong burst onto the scene almost works against her, as the Academy will be comfortable in skipping her now and letting her prove herself in the future in a film that conjures more consensus. Glenn Close has call it a 40% chance here, undergoing a complete transformation and putting on the most costuming and make-up since Cruella DeVille to play a woman who has to dress up as a man for work in Albert Nobbs. That's big-time Oscar bait, and Glenn Close has a long career that's worthy of recognition. Michelle Williams has the formula down too, playing a Hollywood historical figure, but they will both be left waiting, as only two words really matter here:
Meryl Streep. She gets nominated every year, hasn't won in many, and is playing a major historical icon in a biopic. True, The Iron Lady and its depiction of Margaret Thatcher may have not been too well-received in its native land, or barely seen at all in the States, but just knowing Streep is playing her in a movie and that she's nominated for an award in that movie is like knowing any team in Cleveland is about to play any team from anywhere else. You don't have to tune in; you know who's going to win.
BEST ANIMATED FILM:
Nominees: A Cat in Paris, Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli. Chico & Rita, Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal. Kung Fu Panda 2, Jennifer Yuh Nelson. Puss in Boots, Chris Miller. Rango, Gore Verbinski.
Lucky for everyone else that Pixar was more concerned with toys than plot in 2011, and Kung Fu Panda 2 is honestly one of the most delightful movies of the year, nearly impossible not to enjoy. But the Academy is more likely to side with eccentricity over delight, so...
Rango will win. Not that it shouldn't. It was inventive, a bit daring, and original. Just maybe not as good. And if it does win, it has the unique advantage of awarding an established, fashionable, name director, which doesn't happen in animation. That man would be Gore Verbinski, who ironically has put millions into the snubbed Disney's coffers with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. It's strange, then, for the same reason Tintin wasn't nominated with its director, Steven Spielberg in tow. The possible answer? Tintin just wasn't that great ultimately, and Spielberg doesn't need an Oscar for a cartoon when he's got a few already for the likes of Schindler's List or Saving Private Ryan. One of these weird things no one's ever heard of (likely Chico & Rita) has the upset pick.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
Nominees: The Descendants, Screenplay by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash. Hugo, Screenplay by John Logan. The Ides of March, Screenplay by George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon. Moneyball, Screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, Story by Stan Chervin. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Screenplay by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan.
Aaron Sorkin won't get two in a row for Moneyball after his success last year with The Social Network, which was a script so good, it should be taught. John Logan, a solid writer in his own right, won't get rewarded for a movie that's predominately driven by Marty's direction and mis-en-scene for Hugo, who's plot is essentially culled from the notes of a Film 101 class anyway, despite it being touching. The Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy script is smart, dense, but almost to the point of being indigestible. And while it would be interesting for Clooney to win a writer's award, he's got plenty of years to make a movie people like more than The Ides of March, and his night will be Descendants-driven. Speaking of which...
Alexander Payne, Nate Faxon & Jim Rash, The Descendants, will split Oscar in three pieces for what really is a great movie. Best of all? One of those pieces will go to Jim Rash, who plays the feminine, wildly enthusiastic Dean on the criminally under-watched Community on NBC. A win for Jim Rash is a win for comedy, and for the fan boys and girls of the world who may be tuning in. And, in distant cousin sort of way, for a show on the verge of extinction that deserves distinction and something to celebrate.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
Nominees:The Artist, Written by Michel Hazanavicius. Bridesmaids, Written by Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig. Margin Call, Written by J.C. Chandor. Midnight in Paris, Written by Woody Allen. A Separation, Written by Asghar Farhadi.
Margin Call is an interesting inclusion, as it validates an emerging VOD-heavy distribution model in Hollywood. But that's a bit inside baseball. A Separation seems to be the favorite movie of the year amongst critics who get paid to see every movie that comes out in a year, which is why, paired with its out-of-English roots, that it won't win, as there are not many people that get paid to do all that. The real delight here is to see Bridesmaids nominated, and it's a real thrill to have a talent like Kristen Wiig get to sit at one of the fancy tables. Everyone says comedy is the "hardest thing to do," and maybe the Academy is finally starting to admit that. But they'll recognize it by giving the Oscar to...
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris. And they won't really be mistaken. Even though he won't show up, the Academy hasn't recognized Allen in years, and this is his best work in so many (and the most financially successful of his whole career, believe it or not). The movie itself is very much in the tone of the year, through back, nostalgic material that embraces the art of film and storytelling, rather than utilize it to look out at other issues. 2012 is not the year of The Hurt Locker, or of hope and change, for that matter, but of wistful nostalgia of the days of that hope and change, perhaps in hopes to kick-start it once again. Paris is an utterly enjoyable dissertation on these concepts, marking change and a pat on the back to all things story. Even if Bridesmaids has the chance to upset it, at least Paris is still a comedy.
THE REST: Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie, along with The Muppets, will become Oscar winners, thanks to "Man or Muppet" in Best Original Song, though they should have tidied up or been double-nominated for "Life's A Happy Song." Tree of Life has its best chance of the night in Cinematography; Hugo is likely to scurry away with Art Direction, unless the Academy wants to give a nod to Harry Potter. Hugo and Artist will be neck-in-neck for costuming; Moneyball could get its only gold of the night via Editing; Albert Nobbs is likely for Make-Up unless, again, the Academy wants to go to Hogwarts. The Mayans could be proved correct with Transformers getting an Oscar for Sound Mixing or Editing, though Drive -- one of 2011's favorites -- has its only chance at gold for the latter. Rise of the Planet of the Apes will make sure Transformers doesn't have a chance in the Visual Effects category, in an effort by the Academy to recognize and assuage the Andy Serkis motion-capture performance debate. During the shorts and documentaries awards, America will go to the restroom or to the kitchen for assorted dips and salsas.
Also, Billy Crystal will tell jokes and lots of people will get drunk. Maybe even you, if you're a winner.
The 84th Academy Awards will be broadcast on ABC Sunday, February 26, 2012 4:00 p.m. pst/7:00 p.m. est.