Oscars 2022: Standing on Ceremony at the Finish Line

One challenge for Oscar marathoners: We can waste no time in starting to screen the best-pic noms and other “top” categories straight out of the gate once nominations are announced. One never knows if life will allow one to complete the mission. This year, contenders were announced on Feb. 8, leaving 6.5 weeks to cram in all 53 movies, at a rate of about eight titles a week.

(Sounds worse than it was, as I’m including the 15 shorts in that overall count — although some of this year’s batch proved epically long, such as the half-hour “Robin Robin” in the animation category and the 40-minute “Ala Kachuu – Take and Run” from Switzerland in the live-action category.)

That hierarchical hitch means one must save the less interesting categories to view at the end. So these “lesser” features are the freshest in our minds come D-(decision)day. In my case, the dregs tend to be the visual effects and animation feature groups — never been a huge fan of blockbuster action flicks, and since my kids are all in their 30s and older by now, I don’t have much use for formulaic cartoons, either. Or so I thought: Man, this year, I found all the animated features quite relevant and riveting, especially the revolutionary “Flee,” nominated in three categories (also international feature film and documentary feature), and — surprise, surprise — “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” which I have neglected to mention much.

(What about us?!)

Another hitch in our git-along: Many of the “top award” entrants get hyped throughout the year and chances are high a marathoner might have already seen them back when they were released, putting even more distance between the viewing and the Oscar race “reveal.”

I’ve been marathoning for 11 years now, and I typically have seen only two of the best-pic noms by the starting gun. This year, though, I had a leg up, having previously seen four of the 10 best-pic noms (“Don’t Look Up,” “Dune,” “The Power of the Dog” and “West Side Story”) plus “tick…tick…Boom!” (nominated for best actor and film editing). All those titles made deep impressions, but with so much time having passed, and so many other celluloid clips crowding my brain, my recall skills are now potentially unreliable, for comparison’s sake.

Still, my husband says I must complete my tour of movie duty and make predictions on these top categories — even though everything’s been written about them and you all have your own views and I wouldn’t be able to influence anyone at this point, with the telecast set to begin mere hours from now.

Check that: According to awards columnist Pete Hammond of the Deadline website, the deadline for Oscar voting is 7 p.m. ET today. Whoa. Still time to sway anyone on the fence. Hammond also notes: “The overall current total of Academy members is 10,487, but 914 of them are emeritus status and don’t vote, likewise for 86 active Associate members.” This year, voters began with a denominator of 276 eligible movies and had not quite five days to whittle those down into the critical categories. I’ll betchu not all 9,487 voters watched all 276 contenders — and I’m pretty sure a smaller share took the time (as I did) to screen even the 53 top nominees. Mainly because it took A LOT of time.

There is definitely something wrong with this system. Shortcuts are no doubt employed. These folks could be voting by feel, pulling filaments of hype from the air, or choosing based on trailers alone (which made, for instance, the international feature “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom” look much better than it was because of expert trailer-editing skills).

(Note: I’m not saying the movie was bad — it just wasn’t as good as the trailer portends.)

One mustn’t discount, then, the influence of any small-time blogger upon any big-deal Oscar voter.

So, if anyone is listening, I shall do the dirty work and make your selections for you in what many consider to be the top eight categories.

First, perhaps the most difficult: the writing categories. Eeek. Apologies in advance for my hurried, hack writing.

Original Screenplay

Belfast. Kenneth Branagh’s memoirs as a boy living through “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland proved a gorgeous, intimate portrait of the Irish soul. Part of me thought: Wow, we’re all a little bit Irish, so is it now time to celebrate them (us) as an oppressed people? Viewing the violent conflict through the eyes of a love-smitten Protestant boy — especially when the object of his affection happened to be Catholic, and about a foot taller (another nod to “Romeo & Juliet” or even “West Side Story”) — was an ingenious narrative device. But because the story was largely a diary, point deduction.

Don’t Look Up. Adam McKay’s cleverly veiled clarion call about climate change is truly a statement of our times. It broke Netflix streaming records and obviously seals the popular vote. Biting satire and worthy of the honor, no matter what the snooty elitists say.

King Richard. Loved, loved, loved this movie, but the screenplay wasn’t necessarily the element that stood out, as it was based largely on real events and documented interviews.

Licorice Pizza. Saw this on a late-show date with my husband and — unsure he noticed, but I am confessing now — I dozed off. It’s certainly not one I can go back now to review, as it’s not being streamed. I loved the dialogue that I caught, and it had a lovely improvisational feel. But the story structure seemed jumbled and overwrought, especially after I woke up. Sorry, my bad, but an Oscar winner, even a good bedtime story (in this case, a waterbed) should never induce sleep.

The Worst Person in the World. No ordinary love story, this Norwegian import was ultimately about finding love for oneself. Creative storytelling, and the stop-action scene in which our protagonist tests another course in life with an alternative lover is one for the books. The worry is I can’t fully appreciate the screenplay because I experienced the dialogue only through subtitles — and Oscar voters may feel the same. A sentimental favorite, but …

Prediction & Pick: Don’t Look Up

[Update post-Oscars: “Belfast” was the winner.]

Adapted Screenplay

I haven’t read/accessed the source material on any of these nominees — oh, no! Is that a chore I must add to my Oscar marathoning rules in order to properly choose in the future? Worse, I haven’t even read about the source material, been too busy watching movies. My stalwart husband, however, has read the “Dune” series and testifies Denis Villeneuve’s vision is finally a great adaptation.

CODA. This singing-signing-themed darling is now neck and neck in the best picture race with the alpha “Dog.” I think its chances are good. But “CODA” is a remake of the French-language film “La Famille Bélierso,” so I am less inclined to choose something for adaptation whose source material is another movie. (Although I’m certainly curious how American Sign Language and French signing compare.)

Drive My Car. Pure genius. Too long.

Dune. Shall I let my husband influence me?

The Lost Daughter. Possibly my favorite screenplay of the movies in the running — only because “Drive My Car” needed editing. Admittedly, though, the morning after I watched “The Lost Daughter,” I couldn’t recall the ending — I had to go back and review the final shot, which is so important in evaluating a screenplay. Coulda been the wine. Still, all that doll stuff was disturbing and unpredictable, which are my criteria for screenwriting: stories that keep me guessing and take twisted turns.

The Power of the Dog. This may be, technically, the best adaptation. And I may be advised to pick it, considering I have virtually snubbed this 12-time-nominated movie thus far. Then again, I’m not trying to get a good score. There is no money on the line. Only my reputation. Already damaged. This endeavor is not at all about being right — only about justice.

Prediction: The Power of the Dog

Pick: The Lost Daughter

[Update post-Oscars: “CODA” was the winner.]

And now, for the remaining, highest-achiever categories, just gonna list ’em. Not gonna sweat my rationale, as I have no reason left.

Actress in a Supporting Role

Prediction & Pick: Ariana DeBose (“West Side Story”)

[Update post-Oscars: Ariana DeBose was the winner!]

Actor in a Supporting Role

Prediction & Pick: Troy Kotsur (“CODA”)

[Update post-Oscars: Troy Kotsur was the winner!]

Actress in a Leading Role

Prediction: Penélope Cruz

Pick: Jessica Chastain

[Update post-Oscars: Jessica Chastain was the winner!]

Actor in a Leading Role

Prediction & Pick: Will Smith

[Update post-Oscars: Will Smith was the winner!]

Directing

Prediction: Jane Campion (“The Power of the Dog”)

Pick: Steven Spielberg (“West Side Story”)

[Update post-Oscars: Jane Campion was the winner.]

Best Picture

Prediction: CODA

Pick: West Side Story

[Update post-Oscars: CODA was the winner!]

Notice the absence of “The Power of the Dog” in that last bit. What can I say? I’ve always rooted for the underdog. Plus, between “The Piano” and “Dog,” can’t help but wonder if Campion has a sadistic streak.

And maybe I’m a little masochistic, but my Oscars 2022 marathon is finally, officially a wrap — although I still plan to watch “Writing With Fire” upon its release tomorrow, just to say I’ve seen 100% of all nominees in the top 23 categories. My viewing score is 98%. My guessing score will be far, far lower because I’m not in it for the win. It’s an honor just to experience all the nominees. And better luck next year.

The whole thing is a crapshoot, and I’m pooped.

See you all virtually tonight. Congratulations to all the artists who make the movies magic. And keep an eye peeled for winners holding their Oscar statuettes upside down to signify their protest of the eight categories cut from the telecast. I’m with them — thumbs down on ABC’s decision.

[Update post-Oscars: 6 of 8 correct. But never saw the Will Smith outburst coming. My overall score, though, is abysmal — the worst ever at 47%. Mostly because I didn’t appreciate “Dune,” and couldn’t trust the popular choice.]

Oscar picks: Supporting Roles

This should be fairly straightforward. Besides my husband thinks I should write shorter posts. How’s this, dear?

Actor in a Supporting Role

It’s a fairly green field.

The nominees

Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips). Too green, and too raw.

Bradley Cooper (American Hustle). He seems to be doing the same drill as in his Oscar-nominated role for 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook.

Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave). Who? Oh him. Steve McQueen’s pet actor. This is the third full-length feature McQueen has directed and Fassbender has starred in all three. Problem is: He’s not Jared Leto.

Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street). I’m rooting for him (this is his second nomination as sidekick). But he’s not Jared Leto enough, either.

Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club). BINGO. Works for me.

My prediction & pick: Jared Leto

Here is a glimpse of Leto as the frontman for the band 30 Seconds to Mars. All of their music videos are produced like mini-movies. He is dreamy and, guess what? Apparently not  transgender.

Actress in a supporting role

Three of the five gals are new to the Oscar pool, while this is Julia Roberts’ fourth nomination (she won once for her leading role in “Erin Brockovich”) and Jennifer Lawrence’s third nod (she also won a leading role Oscar, last year for “Silver Linings Playbook”). I’m canceling both veterans out. It’s a race among newbies.

The nominees

Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine). She is my one curveball. I like her, I really like her …  I kinda like her better than Cate Blanchett, and I might be crazy enough to pick her. Anyone nominated can win, right? (I have to say I didn’t even realize she was British until I saw she narrated the animated short nominee “Room on the Broom.” That makes her doubly good.)

Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle). Love her work and her acceptance speeches, but not this time, chica.

Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave). Smart money is on her, but no betting.

Julia Roberts (August: Osage County). Could happen. But I like living dangerously, at least in one catty category.

June Squibb (Nebraska). Her performance was a bit cultish. And every time I see her I think of Janet Yellen.

Sally-Hawkins

My pick: Sally Hawkins

My prediction: Lupita Nyong’o

Moonlighting at the movies

Best Actress Academy Award

Best Actress Academy Award (Photo credit: cliff1066™)

My second job each February: cramming on all of the Oscar-nominated movies. And I mean ALL of the nominees, not just the Best Picture category.

Fios On Demand and the Hulus and Netflixes of the world make it easier to be an expert. I have never been as close to a total sweep as I am this second.

But I’m running out of time.

Some flicks shall remain beyond reach. Among the doc shorts, “God Is the Bigger Elvis” is tied up in some copyright loop. Nyah-nyah, I won’t root for it, then. GO, “Barber of Birmingham”!

And now that our girls are grown, I am gleefully skipping all of the animated features. (Unless someone wants to rent me a kid?)

I can’t, and have no desire to, see the third “Transformers” flick, because I don’t have 3-D capabilities at home and it won’t play any other way. A convenient excuse. And “Real Steel“? Please, no. It’s “The Champ” with robots. Let’s just say it won’t — can’t possibly — win.

Cannot find three of the five nominated full-length documentaries, nor four of the five foreign films, although “Bullhead” is coming soon to a theater near me, West End Cinema in D.C. Not soon enough. Pity — shame — I didn’t go out to the arthouse cinema more in 2011. The import I did see, “A Separation,” has to be the most important. It remains my favorite film experience of the year, with “The Descendants” a close second.

Of all the Oscar-touched films I can see … ye gads, I still have eight left, and we are four days (and four nights) away from the Oscar gala.

Still need to squeeze in:

  • Midnight in Paris” — a must, nominated for Best Picture and Original Screenplay;
  • “W.E.” — which was brought back by a very thoughtful and hip theater in Shirlington, nominated for costume design;
  • “Drive,” for sound editing — and my work pal Jon Briggs’ top pick for everything (I believe it’s the only one he saw);
  • Both sets of live-action shorts and animated shorts, playing at the local cinema arthouse. They collectively count as two movies, in my scheme;
  • The final “Harry Potter” installment  — I have missed the last three, but who cares, read all the books;
  • “The Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” I am tempted to skip this one, except I secretly hope it pays homage to the original, which I saw in theaters 44 years ago and whose final twist gave me my first lesson of how movies can power light bulbs in the dark (i.e. spark imaginations).
  • “Margin Call,” which actually looks good. Original screenplay and adapted screenplay have always been among my pet categories.

My picks so far? To be fair, I can review only those categories for which I have seen every nominee. Starting with perhaps the toughest call, and the earliest in the program:

Best Supporting Actress

MY PREDICTION: The smart money is on Octavia Spencer of “The Help.” For me, though, her character Disneyfied the movie. The anachronistic, undignifed prank sank it. Sure, I laughed and cried, but it was pure manipulation. Should we vote for someone simply because her character was written well — with sass and sell, ah, so memorable for American audiences? She did a fine job — all the nominees did. Janet McTeer‘s pathos, Melissa McCarthy’s mirth, B. Bejos’ mime. Yet …

MY PICK: Jessica Chastain. A win for her would still help “The Help,” but she was no caricature, having to invent a woman both comic and complicated. She also deserves the bump for enduring the hack job that was “The Tree of Life.”

Cinematography

MY PREDICTION & PICK: “Hugo” and “War Horse” are probably close contenders but, because they could win in other categories, this Oscar goes to the misunderstood (for good reason) “The Tree of Life.” Mind-blowing cinematography is all this psychotropic tripe has going for it, besides such winning performances as those of Jessica Chastain, Brad Pitt and the kid playing young Jack — oh, and sadistic dinosaurs, exploding frogs and lots and lots of foliage.

To be continued … gotta watch more movies.