Oscars 2022: Picks and Predictions From Someone Who’s Seen It All

“‘The time has come,’ the walrus said.” I tend to be an indecisive person, but no more so than come awards season. Still, I soldier on. Because I take pains to see every film nominated in every category on the Oscars ballot, friends rely on me to make the picking part easier.

Let’s start with those sad eight categories that have been eliminated from the live telecast this year. It’s shameful that the biggest draw and suspense of the Oscars awards is being denied. We all know the big races are fixed, and the biggest names are rarely the biggest dreamers. It’s a thrill to see those lesser-known artists get their 15 seconds in the spotlight.

My jam has always been the shorts. Pardon if I write long.

Short Film (Live Action)

Such a strong crop this year.

The longest one runs 40 minutes and shouldn’t even qualify as a short: “Ala Kachuu – Take and Run” (Switzerland), or The Runaway Bride of Kyrgyzstan, focuses on the plight of the thousand or so women kidnapped into marital slavery each year. Though shedding light on an important topic, it’s straight-shot story-telling, with some blatant symbolism, and so my least favorite.

“The Dress” (Poland) is a daring but disturbing tale of a hotel maid with dwarfism who pines for love — or, at least, its rite of passage. She arranges a special date with an itinerant trucker but must scrounge for something special to wear (“the dress”). Even as this piece spotlights cruel injustices faced by differently abled people, it left me wondering whether it was also exploitative.

“On My Mind” (Denmark) — a powerful treatise of love and loss — is the only one that brought me to tears. I have already written about in a previous post because it spins on karaoke. While each of these is deserving, none is likely to win.

Prediction: The Long Goodbye (United Kingdom)

This nightmarish episode in what we think is a civilized country boasts the star power of Riz Ahmed, a British rapper and actor who was nominated for his explosive leading performance in 2020’s “Sound of Metal.” It was released as a companion piece to his concept album “The Long Goodbye,” and imagines the brutal possibilities of ethnic persecution/cleansing in a post-Brexit U.K. Though only 11 minutes long, nearly a third of it is consumed by Ahmed’s performance art — which is breathtaking. The theme is tolerance, live and let live, but the fusion of art forms and the improvised screenplay make it stand out.

Pick: Please Hold (USA)

This satirical look at our broken justice system amid the punishing, un-navigable maze of digital-assistant “customer service” is both hilarious and horrifying. It’s a heavy sentence on actor Erick Lopez’s shoulders, but he pulls it off. Kudos to writer-director KD Dávila. I’m voting here for all the misjudged people of color and all the unjustly incarcerated people. And anyone who has ever raged against the A.I. machine.

[Update post-Oscars: “The Long Goodbye” was the winner!]

Documentary (Short Subject)

This is traditionally my favorite category, and this year’s entrants don’t disappoint.

“The Queen of Basketball” is simple and charming — a one-person interview with the most adorable super-athlete ever to break barriers interspersed with archival clips, with the power of The New York Times behind it. Upping its game is the pity factor: Its subject died in January, wouldn’t live to see the Oscars. Kinda OK if it doesn’t win. It’s well edited and structured, but the filmmaking, like sports, seems a combo of skill and luck.

Another sporty title, “Audible,” about a winning season for the Maryland School of the Deaf’s football team, felt too staged and filled with cheap shots (“let’s go to the cemetery and take close-ups of everyone missing their friend who took his life”). Tragic, gripping in its silent-movie mood — the sound is terrific, like something out of “2001: A Space Odyssey” — but the camera was too intrusive, the subjects too aware of the filmmakers, and each scene overly directed to qualify in my documentary book.

“Three Songs for Benazir” required three viewings — I fell asleep the first time via Netflix because I’d been watching too many movies. I watched it again for good measure. Then had to go to the cinema to catch the shorts that weren’t available for streaming and was forced to watch it once more. Turns out the third time’s the charm because it finally dawned on me how brilliant it was. Shot over the course of four years, it’s the tale of an Afghan refugee, Shaista, whose future (and day-to-day) looks bleak. With a wife, a son, and another on the way, he sees joining the army as his only option, but his father and village oppose it, fearing the Taliban’s recourse and insisting the opium trade holds the answer. There are great bird shots throughout, whether caged, being forced to fight in a ring, or flying free. One fantastic vignette shows Shaista protesting his case through the rebar on his adobe-hut window, trapped. Eventually, he sticks with the opium harvest … and (SPOILER ALERT!) ends up in rehab. What’s great is that the filmmakers were his neighbors, so all the action is searingly nosy and honest. Oh, and the “songs”? He has a habit of spontaneously singing to his wife, Benazir — such winsome interludes.

Prediction: Lead Me Home 

I think the Academy voters will be persuaded by this slick, in-your-face short about homelessness, using every time-lapse and drone trick at moviemakers’ disposal. Still, the individual stories are powerful, woven into a gut-wrenching, heavy-hitting plea for solutions. It juxtaposes upscale apartment dwellers freighted with kitchen islands and treadmills beside tent dwellers, car sleepers, and the most beautiful panhandling dancer on Earth, Ronnie “Futuristic Astaire” Willis. I would invite him to move in.

Pick: When We Were Bullies 

Betting I’m the only one to pick Jay Rosenblatt’s walk down memory lane to try to make reparations for participating in an act of bullying while in the fifth grade 50 years ago, at PS 194 in Brooklyn. Perhaps more memoirs than documentary, its premise and coincidences are mind-blowing, spine-chilling, and it made me chortle and choke up. The creativity astounds — sprinkled with animation — the story-telling is sharp, and his hypotheses about why kids bully touched a nerve, as I had a similar experience in fifth grade. This short was even more guilt-inducing than the homeless one. A full link on YouTube has since been removed by Rosenblatt for copyright infringement. Hmmm. Maybe he is just promoting himself? Regardless, it moved me the most, in the moment. (Sorry, Barbara of Winchester!) And the schoolyard scenes remind me of the “West Side Story” rumbles, and I can’t get enough WSS this year.

[Update post-Oscars: “The Queen of Basketball” was the winner.]

Short Film (Animated)

Already posted about the animated shorts, here. But will reiterate my votes:

Prediction: Robin Robin (United Kingdom)

Pick: The Windshield Wiper (Spain)

[Update post-Oscars: “The Windshield Wiper” was the winner!]

P.S.: For the best wrap-up I’ve seen on all 15 shorts, check out a fellow marathoner’s “A Busy Film Fan’s Guide to the 2022 Oscar Shorts.” Turns out I agree with him on many points, and he provides nice clips/footage.

Film Editing

Another favorite category is film editing because I do a little on the side and it’s what I secretly wanted to be when I grew up. (Instead, I’m a regular journalist-type editor, though you’d hardly know it reading my slap-dash blog posts.)

The critics’ choice here is “The Power of the Dog.” The fans’ choice is “King Richard.” I can definitely see that because sports movies present their challenges, and the tennis action took some deft splicing. The girls cast as Venus and Serena Williams weren’t tennis players to start, so a combination of visual effects and body doubles were used to create realistic tennis sequences. We’ll skip “Dune” and “Don’t Look Up.” I mean, I didn’t skip them — I saw them all. But “Dune” needed editing (not enough action or sandworms) and unless you count Meryl Streep’s nude scene, the editing hardly stood out in “Don’t Look Up.” Yeah, yeah, it’s not supposed to stand out, but you get my drift. “Don’t Look Up” had that frenetic ADHD quality of today’s screen-addicted youths. Part of me is rooting for it, though, as it depicted my alma mater (though that wasn’t truly the East Lansing campus).

Prediction: The Power of the Dog

Pick: tick…tick…Boom!

C’mon! Weaving in all those Broadway stars who aren’t used to double and triple takes? Syncing all that couch-jumping, keys-pounding action? Let’s hear it for my boy, Lin-Manuel!!

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

Makeup and Hairstyling

Two words. Jared Leto. I didn’t know he was in the movie — even after I watched it — so “House of Gucci” must win. No point even listing the also-rans.

Prediction and Pick: House of Gucci

[Update post-Oscars: “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” was the winner.]

Music (Original Score)

Prediction: Encanto

Pick: Anything but Parallel Mothers

Seriously. That soundtrack was like a porn movie score, not that I know anything about porn movies, or scoring.

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

Production Design

Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth in a scene from “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” Credit: Courtesy of Apple TV+ and A24

Prediction: The Tragedy of Macbeth

It needs a win. This might be its only shot. Far more artful than the projected winner (“The Power of the Dog” — again?!?)

Pick: West Side Story

A true production, amiright?

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

Sound

Belfast. Interestingly, I watched this once without the sound on, just to breathe in its exquisiteness. Despite a killer soundtrack by Van Morrison — made doubly musical by those bewitching brogues — I don’t think such points count for sound design, though.

Dune. Lots of wind-blowing is all I recall.

No Time to Die. The sound crew was no doubt the MacGyvers of sound design but, again, I forgot to pay attention, because I watched it in a hotel.

The Power of the Dog. I liked the piano-practicing scene. And the sound of exasperation. (Really? 12 nominations?!)

West Side Story. CRANK IT UP.

Prediction: This one’s tough. So I’ll go with pack-leader The Power of the Dog.

Pick: West Side Story

[Update post-Oscars: “Dune” was the winner. Damn “Dune.” I got only 2 of 8 among these.]

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Quiet on the set! for ‘All Is Lost’

One-man and one-woman shows are at home on Broadway and other stages. They’re easy to produce, if not so easy on the actors wielding those 90-minute monologues. But in the movies? One cast member? That’s crazy minimalist for such a dilatant art form.

I won’t officially review All Is Lost — who can top this New York Times treatment, anyway. What he said.

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Thar she blows, just one lonely credit drifting by …

The J.C. Chandor-directed movie is not quite The Old Man and the Sea nor Life of Pi — it’s Robert Redford in a boat hell-bent on self-destruction, proving that he who ends up with the most toys does not necessarily win. Still, amid the deep thematic undertow of this telescopic tale, I had to laugh at the end when the single cast credit rolled. Not often does one see that.

It got me thinking: What other movies dare deal in lone-wolf casting?

Certainly not 1958’s The Old Man and the Sea, which starred Spencer Tracy, a feisty marlin and about 12 bit players including Ernest Hemingway himself (cameo as a tourist ) and his fourth wife (and widow), Mary. Tracy did get an Oscar nomination for his sea crusade, which is more than I can say for Our Man Redford, at age 77 snubbed even worse than Tom Hanks was this year. How many more commanding roles dooyaspose Redford has left in him? He even has to sit idly by while Leo’s The Great Gatsby gets … oh, never mind. That remake nabbed only two nominations, for costume design and production design (the original won for costume design). So as Gatsby the Great, Leo got snubbed just as badly as Redford 40 years ago.

Old man indeed. Tracy’s Old Man was also nominated for best color cinematography (in those days the Academy once broke it down into color and black-and-white — so sorry, Nebraska). It clinched a lone Oscar for score, because in a movie with few other frills, music helps provide much of the thrills.

I never would have dialed up the fatalist feature All Is Lost On Demand if it weren’t for its solo Oscar nomination, for sound editing. I’m soooo glad I did, though. If you want to truly understand what sound editing is all about, plunge into this film.

all-is-lost-robert-redford

Redford had five able-bodied stuntmen standing in for him, but he proved he’s still a pretty able body at 77.

There’s hardly any dialogue. What Redford elicits with his sage, rugged face is a thrumming inner monologue.The lapping waves against the boat’s hull. His fidgeting with ropes and jibs. The rustling of plastic bags, sloshing of water, flapping of the sails, grunts and sighs, probably all of it overlaid in post-production to mask Chandor’s direction. Save for the opening voice-over narration, Redford’s voice isn’t heard until 20 minutes in — an SOS call. And then not again until 1:10, a one-word line beginning with “F.” It’s a wordless wonder, masterfully mixed.

The soundtrack, though, is nothing to write home about —a morose Jaws-tinged theme. But that mix. As shipshape as Redford.

What an achievement. A movie dare that defies formula. The Academy is just getting it all wrong lately.

I asked my friend and movie animal Jon Briggs, another man of few words (spoken, anyway), what other movies have featured just one cast member. I hesitate to say it — because he faithfully reads my blog (when I nudge him) — but the man is a genius. How it went down:

Me: “Hey, Jon, can you think of any movies with just one cast member in them besides Robert Redford’s All Is Lost?”

Jon: “You gonna credit me again in your blog?”

Me: “Mebbe.”

Jon (looking ceiling-ward to activate data sensors, eyes flashing, 20 seconds later): “I think there’s Secret Honor, with that one guy I always get mixed up with Philip Seymour Hoffman [because he goes by three names, starts with Philip, has a face]. … Yeah, I think it was just the one guy. But I never saw it.”

Who does that? Remembers details of a film they’ve never seen? But he’s right, it was Philip Baker Hall, doing a “fictional meditation” of Richard Nixon in a 1984 Robert Altman film. How’d I miss that!? It did win one award: the FIPRESCI Prize from the Forum of New Cinema. Hey, isn’t the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences supposed to represent the arts? Where’s the art? Where’s the science?

Jon’s answer for everything: “I vote for The Counselor.” Not nominated.

But now, in the midst of my Oscar-nominated marathon, I am sidetracked to see Secret Honor. The whole 90-minute shebang is on Hulu, courtesy of The Criterion Collection (part of Jon’s bucket list, and why he hasn’t gotten to it yet — it’s down in the S’s).

Or, SPOILER ALERT, if you’d rather just watch the final scene:

(For other posts featuring Jon Briggs, see:)

Oscar’s snub of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ resurrected (mommytongue.com)

Moonlighting at the movies (mommytongue.com)

Goodbye, Mr. Chipmunk: Pick the best rodent flick (mommytongue.com)