Oscars 2022: The Envelope, Please

Do they still use envelopes? You really can’t call those $200-apiece cardboard craft projects envelopes.

The 94th annual Academy Awards are upon us. My penultimate round of picks, made under duress:

Music (Original Song)

Can’t go wrong with Queen Beyoncé. “King Richard” was the only sports movie ever that made me cry.

Prediction: “Be Alive”

Still, the artistry of Billie Eilish can’t be denied. This music video captures more emotion than the movie did — in fact, the Bond clips kinda ruin the video. Anyway, it won’t win, but I sure like the poetic convergence of “Be Alive” and “No Time to Die” in this category. Keeping the movies alive that keep us alive!

Pick: “No Time to Die”

[Update post-Oscars: “No Time to Die” was the winner!]

Feeling obligated to share the also-rans, just in case you missed them. You can play them while you “read” (scroll). And de verdad, “Dos Oruguitas” shouldn’t win — not only because no one can remember how to spell it, but because even Disney is voting against it by promoting “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” instead; see quibble at the end of the post.

Visual Effects

For the first time ever, I enjoyed seeing all the action movies tied to this category.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings” broadened me culturally. So much humor and I didn’t fall asleep during the battle scenes as I typically do. The story was weak, though. Super far-fetched. (As if the rest aren’t?) One point against it: The VFX team used the exact same “ring of fire” portal effect for the characters to step through to other dimensions as was used in “Spider-Man.” Is there a setting on the MacBook for “ring of fire portal”?

“Dune” — Just wasn’t feeling the sandworms. Sleep-inducing. Like a lullaby. Check back when we get to Part Two. [UPDATE: While watching the run-up interviews on March 27, all the VFX artists were explaining their techniques, and I might have made the wrong call here. “Dune” probably has the artistic edge. If only the movie hadn’t felt so dull.]

“No Time to Die” — Big surprise! The hero dies! (You knew that, right?)

Prediction: Spider-Man: No Way Home

Can’t bet against the most popular movie of the year. I honestly felt queasy as he swung around, so I guess those were some rad visual effects. Enjoyed the star power and the multiverse science stuff, too. But because of the ordinary “ring of fire” effect, it loses points and can’t be my pick.

Pick: Free Guy

“Free Guy” is the only movie in this category I’d be inclined to rewatch. It’s “Groundhog Day” meets “The Truman Show.” Chris, if you’re reading this, you MUST check out this flick. Augmented reality is part of my daily life, so it stimulated my imagination — and not just in scenarios featuring Ryan Reynolds, but, yeah, that, too. Now I gotta cue up “Deadpool”! (Yes, I’m the only one in the universe who hasn’t seen it.)

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

Costume Design

“Cruella” was smashing, but its extreme fashions catered to mostly one person. “Cyrano” was credible, but nothing too special — and seeing Peter Dinklage’s wardrobe only made me feel worse for the protagonist of the live-action short “The Dress,” about a woman with dwarfism who struggled to find any nice clothes to fit her. Throughout “Dune,” I felt the urge the do laundry. Nothing against the stylistic “Nightmare Alley”

Prediction & Pick: West Side Story

… but nothing can compare to “West Side Story,” whose wardrobists had to outfit an entire mob. While the costume design was enmeshed in its production design — could the dance at the gym have been better coordinated? — every garment in every frame simply sizzles and energizes. They paid homage to the original while freshening and upping their game. The costumes contribute more to the characters than any other nominee.

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

Cinematography

This is the one category in which I will yield to the front-runner — although I am still secretly (or not so secretly) rooting for “West Side Story.” I think the power of “The Power of the Dog” is all in its cinematography, so throwing it a bone here.

Prediction & Pick: The Power of the Dog

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

International Feature Film

Flabbergasted that the critics gave a 100% score to Bhutan’s “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom,” about a reluctant teacher in the most remote classroom on Earth. That and Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino’s near-pornographic, self-indulgent, autobiographical “Hand of God” are the only two I can safely eliminate. (Sure, now you’re all gonna race to stream that one.) Denmark’s “Flee” and Japan’s “Drive My Car” were brilliant — but “Flee” has other chances to win in the animated feature and documentary feature categories. Norway’s “The Worst Person in the World” was probably the most relatable and engaging entrant for me — I also had the chance to see it in the theater, so maybe that gave it an advantage. (I featured it in an earlier post.) But it has a chance to win in the original screenplay category, whereas I doubt “Drive My Car” will snag best picture or adapted screenplay. So making the most charitable pick here.

Prediction & Pick: Drive My Car

[Update post-Oscars: “Drive My Car” was the winner!]

Documentary Feature

Ah, cursed category in which I was unable to screen all five submissions. “Writing With Fire” remains elusive (its public premiere is March 28, the day after the Oscars telecast), so I’m not wholly qualified to judge. It also received 100% positive reviews from the critics, but who knows — many Academy voters may not have gotten through all their screening materials. It certainly doesn’t suffer from a lack of ink, being a journo flick. It may indeed win. But this category is so strong, it’s anybody’s race. I wrote a whole post early on about “Attica,” and “Ascension” simply blew me away — a fly-on-the-wall study of the Chinese work ethic, classism, and that pervasive “Made in China” label. The sex-doll factory alone! “Flee,” again, was mesmerizing. Yet I’m compelled to go with the most entertaining and the best-edited documentary — the solid-gold “Summer of Soul.”

Prediction & Pick: Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

[Update post-Oscars: “Summer of Soul” was the winner!]

Animated Feature

Prediction & Pick: Flee

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

“Encanto” fans will call this pick blasphemy, but I’m making the choice based on art here, not formula. Besides, my favorite song/scene in “Encanto” is “Surface Pressure” — and no one ever talks about that one (instead “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” gets all the attention — it wasn’t even the nominated song, and yet it will be performed during the live telecast, upstaging its own nominee). “Surface Pressure” also contains the only Titanic reference I recall among all 52 Oscar nominees I’ve seen.

And that segues into what I consider the top eight categories — all four acting awards, best picture, best director, and, most important, the two writing awards (original and adapted screenplay). That’s too much pressure for me to process tonight. No doubt you’ve made up your mind already on those and don’t need me to weigh in, anyway. No mistakes, no pressure! tick…tick…BOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

[Update post-Oscars: My score was a dismal 3 of 7 among these.]

Oscars picks from a patron in a leading supporting role

oscarIgnorance can be bliss when it comes to predicting the Oscars. Sadly, I know too much.

Most Academy members don’t have time to see all 38 Oscar-nominated features in every category, so they watch only those that get mailed to them or for which they’ve been wined, dined and re-wined. This year, though, was unique in that most of the nominees in the running for major awards were still in theaters at the time the contenders were announced, giving voters a chance to easily do their homework via legwork.

Me? Last month, I had seen only two films in the running in any category: “Lincoln” (up for Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, Actor in a Supporting Role, Actress in a Supporting Role, Directing, Cinematography … phew! … where was I? Costume Design, Film Editing, Original Score, Production Design, Sound Mixing and Adapted Screenplay) and “Snow White and the Huntsman” (Costume Design, Visual Effects). I know, quite the pair.

With two days to go, my tally is 23 of 38 features and all 15 shorts (I had seen one of the shortest-ever animated shorts beforehand: Fresh Guacamole, likely during pre-roll for Lincoln).

Still haven’t seen The Hobbit, I refuse to see Ted, and I am not fully qualified to vote in six categories because I haven’t viewed each nominee: Animated Feature Film (Frankenweenie will win though), Documentary Feature, Foreign Language Film (Amour has it), Makeup and Hairstyling (dammit, Hobbit), Production Design (Hobbit-snobbit!), Visual Design (hobbled again by The Hobbit). I shall focus on the shorts in a separate post, as if anyone cares. (I do!)

So, let’s get on with it.

BEST PICTURE

My Prediction: “Argo”

The metadata, media, my mom, Google searches and gang-think all point to Argo becoming only the fourth movie in Oscar history to win best picture without its director also being nominated. This was clearly a case of Hollywood feeling sorry for Ben Affleck and rallying. Don’t get me wrong: I liked the movie. I also confess to starting to doze off just a tad (well, it was the late show and the third movie I had seen that day) but I swear I didn’t miss much, because when I came to, there was that woman with the 1970s yearbook haircut and glasses still looking fretful. What was stellar about this movie: the acting by veteran legends John Goodman — who also stole the show in Flight, up for Denzel Washington, er, best actor — Alan Arkin and Ben himself; nail-biting film editing; and the exquisite costume and production design. It was authentic, gritty and gripping, even if it did rewrite history with a Hollywood ending. And amid all the beatings Zero Dark Thirty is taking for its depiction of torture, Argo provides the counterpoint: Torture=bad, Capture by Iranians=torture, therefore Iranians=really bad. I love how the story of a fake movie was a fake movie within a fake movie. Probably because I’m a journalist and take a hard-line on “facts,” as we know them, I still don’t want it or Zero Dark Thirty to win … and I wasn’t a big fan of The Artist winning last year, either, as it was just another Hollywood valentine. You want a Valentine? Go see Amour on Valentine’s Day, alone, as I did.

Suddenly I’m feeling sorry for left-out Lincoln. Wasn’t it supposed to sweep up a month ago?

My Pick: This has been the hardest decision of my week. My favorite movie experiences among the nine nominees were, in order but kinda a five-way tie: Silver Linings Playbook, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Amour, Life of Pi and Django Unchained— all because I had zero expectations going in and they each surprised and inspired me to the core. I also loved Lincoln, Les Misérables and Zero Dark Thirty, but I can’t overlook their leaden flaws. I have to base my decision on which movie I would get sucked into and watch again and again on cable forgoing all previous plans, or which I would tell my friends they must see, because that’s what a best picture should do. That movie this year would be … I’ll tell you at the end of this post. Nyah, nyah.

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

My Prediction & Pick: Daniel Day-Lewis

No-brainer. If he wins, he becomes the first actor to win three Oscars for a leading role. We should bow to him or maybe elect him president for real.

I marveled at Day-Lewis’ walk as Lincoln, but also harbor great affection for Joaquin Phoenix’s deflated Popeye stance as a sailor with no compass in the masterful The Master.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

My Prediction: Christoph Waltz

Loved him, but it’s an unlevel playing field because he felt like an actor in a leading role, and I am irked Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t get the best supporting actor nod or that Jamie Foxx didn’t get nominated for best actor.

My Pick: Robert De Niro

I’m tempted to give it to Alan Arkin for his delivery of just one or two lines — polar opposite of Waltz’s saturation performance — but De Niro is due, proving he’s still got it while redeeming himself for all that Focker nonsense.

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

My Prediction & Pick: Jennifer Lawrence

Sorry to be boring. I love Jessica Chastain — she could be the next Meryl Streep — but this was not the role she should have been nominated for. Naomi Watts is Lawrence’s biggest competition, but there was so much about just being dazed, and you can’t discount her boost from hairstyling and makeup design. Emmanuelle Riva, yay, but her co-star, the pigeon … I mean Jean-Louis Trintignant, should have been nominated as well in that case. And I love kids, but Quvenzhané’s acting is a credit to director Benh Zeitlin.

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

My Prediction: Anne Hathaway

My Pick: Helen Hunt

Sorry, Sally Field. I’ll miss your acceptance speech. Really, really, I will. I know you gained weight for to play Lincoln’s “loony” wife and all (and I loved how you didn’t make her too loony because, heck, I could relate), but Helen Hunt got totally naked in an artful way. Yes, she does that little smirk, and it’s a crutch, but you do the open-mouth exasperated thing. And I did love Anne Hathaway to death, but she loses points for all those talk shows. Did I mention I’m anti-marketing?

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

My Prediction: “Frankenweenie”

Still need to see two, but they all pretty much follow the same formula: Misfit kid gets comeuppance by defeating villains/solving puzzle and saving the day!

CINEMATOGRAPHY

My Prediction: “Anna Karenina”

My Pick: “Life of Pi”

Just to vent here. The cameras were well-choreographed in Anna Karenina, every frame composed like a painting, but I felt I was watching a flip-book story board and got a wee bit dizzy. If it hadn’t been for Keira Knightley and Jude Law’s flesh-and-blood performances I would have died of distraction. The actors and set pieces seemed part of the director’s dollhouse. And who does Joe Wright think he is, Fellini? I know Fellini and, Joe, you are no Fellini.

COSTUME DESIGN

My Prediction & Pick: “Mirror Mirror”

I am going out on a limb here, but the duds in Mirror Mirror dazzled without encumbering character. Whimsical, but not victims of whimsy. On the other hand, I could lobby for Lincoln as a sentimental favorite, his non-cliche stovepipe hat and all. Winning this early-in-the-proceedings Oscar could be a sign of a complete sweep at the end.

Truly, I’d welcome either of the Snow White flicks winning, just please, Oscar gods, don’t give it to Anna Karenina. Those costumes, while fancy-pants, looked as if they’d barely been worn, except maybe once for fittings then the actors were told they couldn’t play in them or get them mussed up.

UPDATE at 5:17 p.m.: Credits just rolled on Mirror Mirror, and I learned it was dedicated to Eiko Ishioka, its own costume designer, who died Jan. 21 —less than two weeks after nominations were announced. This category just got interesting. I have no doubt now she will win posthumously. It’s the kind of story Hollywood eats up. If she doesn’t win, I will eat my stovepipe hat.

DIRECTING

My Prediction: Steven Spielberg for “Lincoln”

Kudos for also directing screenwriter Tony Kushner, no small feat.

My Pick: David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook”

Could be an upset! Would also revel in either Ang Lee or Benh Zeitlin getting a steal.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

My Prediction & Pick: “The Invisible War”

Only one I’ve seen so far, but will have seen four by the time the Red Carpet is unrolled. Still, I can’t imagine any subject being more timely, rally-cry important or outrage-inducing than institutionalized rape in the military.

FILM EDITING

My Prediction: “Argo”

My Pick: “Silver Linings Playbook”

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

My Prediction & Pick: “Amour”

How could it not win if it’s also nominated for Best Picture? “A Separation” (2011) all over again. (That Iranian brilliance was nominated for screenplay and best foreign film, not quite the same deal, but once a foreign film is elevated, it typically prevails.)

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

My Prediction: “Life of Pi”

Hypnotic, but relentless. Still, it’s nice to indulge in something on the total opposite spectrum from John Williams.

My Pick: “Skyfall”

Loved how the new sound melded into the old Bond theme. In general, the music kept my adrenaline going throughout.

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

My Prediction: Skyfall from “Skyfall”

I think Adele’s performance seals it, and the way the song grooved with the titles was old-fashioned solid gold.

My Pick: Suddenly from “Les Miz”

Aside from the heart-stopping opening and Anne Hathaway’s scene, this song was the moment Les Miz earned my unbridled attention and affection. Stage revivalists should take note.

SOUND EDITING

My Prediction: “Skyfall”

The Oscar almost always goes to action-genre movies. My, Skyfall is doing better than I thought it would.

My Pick: “Django Unchained”

The gunfire and squelchy body parts were indeed impressive if over-the-top — expert sound work is what sold it all and made us squeamish. Also loved all the table-settings/dinner sounds. God, I love this movie. It needs some extra recognition. Maybe best picture?

SOUND MIXING

My Prediction & Pick: “Les Misérables”

C’mon, you gotta hand it to ’em, that wasn’t easy!

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

My Prediction: Tony Kushner for “Lincoln”

Well, duh. And I get the feeling he is STILL revising the screenplay.

My Pick: David Magee for “Life of Pi

… or David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook”

I honestly can’t decide. Perhaps I should read both books first. Anyone out there who has who cares to weigh in? “Life of Pi” dealt in the art of storytelling, and Magee proved the consummate artist. And kudos to Russell. I mean — the man was a wizard on “Silver Linings,” it was his baby and, in the grand scheme of things, the perfect contemporary Hollywood creation, a Cinderella story examining “crazy in love” against the madness of modern times.

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

My Prediction: “Zero Dark Thirty”

I think we have to acknowledge the renewed sense of patriotism and pride people felt attending this movie. In terms of writing, yes, it was too long, but I felt it was because the researchers were throwing their sources a bone. Plus, in terms of writing, there was a nice, subtle “twist,” whether fiction or fact, to help explain why Osama bin Laden was shot on sight. Made me feel better about things, anyway.

My Pick: “Moonrise Kingdom”

This quirky, “camp” movie about misfits, puppy love and khaki scouts is a timely salute in a year when the Boy Scouts finally decided to slacken its anti-gay stance and allow local troops to set their own policies on inclusion.

AND NOW, THE ENVELOPE PLEASE … MY PICK FOR BEST PICTURE:

I am kinda embarrassed to say. I guess I simply wasn’t up for a historical treatise or compromised journalism this year. I wanted something more holistic. So I’m leaning, at the moment, to choosing between Life of Pi and Silver Linings Playbook. Or maybe Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Again I’m feeling sorry for Lincoln. Maybe I should see that one again.

I may need one more day to puzzle this out. Let me deal with the shorts first, and I’ll get back to you on that best picture thing.