Tail on Donkey: 2012 Oscar Predictions

I’m going to contradict myself a lot in this piece. The Oscars won’t broadcast for another week, so you’ve got plenty of time to get over it.

Oh, and the only thing I’ll say about the hosts: Billy Crystal is nice, but they really should have sprung the cash to get Kermit the Frog.

When I survey the universe of movies, I find that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, with their annual Oscar awards, represents the braying ass of cinema. Forever kicking up a bunch of dust and making unintelligible noises, I think my comparison is apt. The organization is little but an ancient cloister of nepotism and poor taste, packaged once a year for us in the most mind-numbingly tedious awards show known to mankind. HE-HAW!

If my opinion of the Oscars seems despairingly low, please remember that the AMPAS pays virtually no attention to world cinema, bases all of its awards on Hollywood insider politics, and its voters aren’t even required to have seen all the movies nominated for Best Picture. In short, when we consider how much attention and respect filmgoers give to the Oscars, they are a shockingly shortsighted and stupid awards ceremony.

Oh, sure, every once in a while they pull out some magical feat of accuracy that betrays their history (Annie Hall over Star Wars; How Green Was My Valley over Citizen Kane), but the majority of their track record is an abomination to cinephilia everywhere. There’s no way in hell that Dances With Wolves (an albatross designed to assuage white guilt) was better than Goodfellas. And also remember that this organization thought so little of Singin’ in the Rain that they didn’t even bother to nominate it for their coveted Best Picture award. Come to think of it, they gave the best picture award to Around the World in 80 Days in the same year that The Searchers unleashed upon mankind. History and film criticism rarely vindicate the little gold man. It is a transitory award, a sign of the times.

On top of all that inaccuracy, we should observe that the arts ought never be a competition. How does one determine that Meryl Streep’s impression of Margaret Thatcher is actually better than Michelle Williams’ impression of Marilyn Monroe? Or how should we begin to compare one of those two impersonations with Rooney Mara’s take as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? It’s sort of like trying to compare Magic Johnson with Wayne Gretzky. Two athletes at the peak of their profession? Yes. But we all know that Magic would fall flat on his face if he tried to go up against Grant Fuhr and Gretzky would land on his padded butt if he tried to dunk around Bill Lambeer.

I made the above comparison mainly as an excuse to put up this picture.

Why then should we even bother with the Oscars? Because, despite all their serious shortcomings, the Oscars represent the ultimate unserious movie-lover’s parlor game. A sports fan can cry about a referee’s blown call or a coach’s decision to bench a star player at a pivotal point in a game, but a movie fan doesn’t have so many opportunities to whine. Awards shows like the Oscars (or the even lamer Grammys) are the only places in the arts where there’s a definitive winner and loser. Judgments are pronounced, snubs are made, surprises are had, and the immediacy of an award announcement gives us a real-life shock that few movies ever realize. (Well, unless the winner has been a sho0-in for the past three months). Plus there’s the fashion!

Without much further adieu, I will pin the tail on this Oscar donkey. But before I do, I have a couple things to mention.

1. In most years I’ve already seen the majority of the Oscar nominees through my regular film viewing. 2011, however, saw me going to the movies a lot less than I did in the past. And even if I’d wanted to catch up on those movies that were just released this past month or two, I’ve been way too busy to bother. (Please see my absolute lack of FR productivity as evidence of this). This piece, then, is woefully uninformed.

The fashion show would be better if Bjork were invited every year.

2. In a sports prediction I would have something like player matchups or history to base my guess on. Not so with the Oscars. The only way to (in)effectively predict the Academy’s judgments is through a combination of Hollywood political analysis, whim, and blind chance. I won a membership to the Asheville Film Society last year through this combination, so I see no reason to use any other method. I’ll utilize Hollywood politics where I can, but most of this really does boil down to whim and blind chance.

3. For each prediction I will list all the nominees. I will put a * by any that I’ve actually seen. This will be your indicator of how thoroughly unqualified I am to write this piece. My pick will then be listed in bold.

4. If the award announcement is not worthy of being televised for a national audience on Sunday, February 26th, then it’s not worthy of being predicted by me. If you don’t care, I don’t care. My apologies to all the hard working behind-the-scenes people out in dreamland. You will go unheralded.

Let’s get this Oscar party started!

Writing (Original Screenplay)

Can you see how originality is valued? The Academy announces this award first!

  • The Artist – Michiel Hazanavisious [sic]
  • Bridesmaids – Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig *
  • Margin Call – J.C. Chandor
  • Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen *
  • A Separation – Asghar Farhadi

I get the sense that the Academy wants to honor Woody Allen again. I’m not as wild about Midnight in Paris as others are, but I think it would be awesome if Allen did win, didn’t show up, and sent Soon-Yi Previn to accept the award in his place. Please let this happen!

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

If originality is undervalued in Hollywood, then the act of literary transposition is even more disrespected by the general public. Because, you know, the screenwriter didn’t actually come up with this story on their own, then how hard could it be?

  • The Descendants – Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash *
  • Hugo – John Logan *
  • The Ides of March – George Clooney and Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon *
  • Moneyball – Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin. Story by Stan Cherwin *
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – Bridget O’Connor & Steve Straughan

If the Academy doesn’t like what Zaillian and Sorkin did with Moneyball, then they are out of their minds. How anyone got that book up on to a movie screen while managing to make it one of the most entertaining movies of the year is beyond me. Also, if Clooney, Heslov, and Willimon win for The Ides of March, I might have to barf in a paper bag.

And the award for Best Key Grip goes to...

Visual Effects

I’m not going to tediously list the names of all the people responsible for visual effects, because I really have no idea who they are. And if I have no idea, then I’m going to assume that you have no idea either. If you do know who these people are, then God bless you.

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
  • Hugo *
  • Real Steel
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Shooting in the pitch black darkness here. While I recognize that some people really love special effects driven movies, I have no use for them. As you can see, I’m familiar with only Hugo. My rationale for this choice is that I’m assuming the Academy will want to throw a bone to the highly successful, longer-running-than-it-ever-needed-to-be Harry Potter franchise. I lost track of that series back around 2005. Were the 3D effects any good?

Sound Mixing

Sound mixing is a fine category, but I’m afraid that the Academy too often nominates movies with an overabundance of sound in them. Their idea seems to be that if you have to mix more of it, then you must be mixing better. I’ve never mixed a second of sound in my life, so I’m talking straight out of my butthole here. Also, Moneyball was not a concert of cacophony. Please don’t mind me.

Again, I’m not going to make the effort to list these people. Look them up on your own time.

  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Hugo *
  • Moneyball *
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon
  • War Horse

In the dark again here. My guess: voters feel that Hugo and Moneyball have been given enough attention through their other nominations. The academy feels that someone out there (besides the droves of thoughtless average filmgoers) needs to love on Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

Sound Editing

I know that sound editing is different from sound mixing, but still feel the Academy could roll mixing and editing into one category: sound design. I’m sure there are union rules that would prohibit this logical idea.

  • Drive *
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Hugo *
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon
  • War Horse

I think Drive is awesome, so I think it would be really cool if it won even this no account award. It won’t, though.

Pentecost, the Movie.

Short Film (Live Action)

I mean no disrespect to the talented individuals who make these films, but in an awards show that typically runs three and a half to four hours, maybe we should shuffle this category over to the other Oscars ceremony that doesn’t get televised. Few people have even heard of these movies and even fewer care.

  • Pentecost
  • Raju
  • The Shore
  • Time Freak
  • Tuba Atlantic

I am a Christian. Pentecost is a significant calendar date for Christians. It might be neat to see a movie called “Pentecost” win something. That’s all I got. Take my logic or leave it.

Short Film (Animated)

This is a category that actually interests me, mainly because the animated shorts tend to get away from linear narrative. For me, the feature film is already a condensed form of storytelling and the short film form reduces narrative to the crudest levels of structure and thematic exploration. Better to just go abstract.

  • Dimanche/Sunday
  • The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
  • La Luna
  • A Morning Stroll
  • Wild Life

If there were an Oscar for best movie title, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore would win. Since there’s no such award, I’m predicting it to win the Short Film (Animated) category as a way of making up the difference.

Music (Original Song)

There was a time in my life, circa elementary school, when I loved original songs from movies. Now I couldn’t care less.

  • “Man or Muppet” from The Muppets
  • “Real in Rio” from Rio

I’ve never heard either song. Don’t plan to hear them until they play them during the broadcast. People like Muppets.

Music (Original Score)

This could be an interesting category if the Academy wasn’t obsessed with John Williams, who hasn’t written a truly compelling score since his double whammy of Schindler’s List and Jurassic Park. But maybe his scores for War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin are different. I wouldn’t know.

  • The Adventures of Tintin – John Williams
  • The Artist – Ludovic Bource
  • Hugo – Howard Shore *
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – Alberto Iglesias
  • War Horse – John Williams

This is my surprise prediction. I think the Academy will grant this one to a lesser recognized composer. So, if Alberto Iglesias doesn’t get the award, Ludovic Bource will get it for scoring a silent movie, which wouldn’t be completely out of place, but still weird.

Make Up

I only notice make up when it is particularly bad. Since 99% of movies employ at least one competent make up person, I rarely notice it.

  • Albert Nobbs
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
  • The Iron Lady

Based on my calculations, they’ve already given an effects award to Harry Potter. The Academy isn’t so in love with a teen wizard that they are willing to give another award to his movie. The Iron Lady, deservedly or not, is getting enough attention with Meryl Streep’s one millionth nomination, so the Academy will glance over the Margaret Thatcher biopic in this category. That leaves Albert Nobbs, a movie that no one has heard of. Now that we’ve got that exciting category out of the way…

If there were an award for Worst Make Up, it would be given to the people on J. Edgar for their mummification of Armie Hammer.

Foreign Language Film

Here’s where I get to crazy on the Academy for their most asinine submitting and voting structure. Countries around the world can pick one film to represent their homeland. They submit that film to the Academy, who then chooses five movies from the non-English speaking world; not bothering, of course, to actually consider something that might be good but that wasn’t submitted by Nepal. With a nomination process this stupid, you can bet that tons of movies from around the world are being routinely ignored because either their representative country decided that some other movie might have a better chance or because the Academy has the ability to recognize quality like a blind man can recognize a beautiful woman. I’m not against celebrating American cinema (I love American cinema!), but the sleight to the rest of the world is just too much here.

  • Bullhead – Belgium
  • Monsieur Lazhar – Canada
  • A Separation – Iran
  • Footnote – Israel
  • In Darkness – Poland

All my complaining won’t matter, because everyone, even the good people at Entertainment Weekly, are in love with A Separation. The buzz factor on this is too much for the other titles to bear. Then again, the Academy has done some confounding things in this category (The White Ribbion, ahem).

Film Editing

I don’t know what standards they use to judge film editing, because no one (except the editors themselves, the director, and maybe a few executives) know what was left on the cutting room floor. An editor might have to decide from five or six different good takes of an actor (how do we know that the best one was chosen), or they may have to cut entire scenes or portions of scenes to make a movie better. Unless we know the raw materials that an editor is working with, I don’t feel we can judge their work very well. The award should not be given until we’ve seen a Blu-ray supplement that details each and every editing decision. I like editors. I’m including their names, even If you don’t care.

  • The Artist – Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanvisius [sic]
  • The Descendants – Kevin Tent *
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
  • Hugo – Thelma Schoonmaker *
  • Moneyball – Christopher Tellefsen *

The first genuine snub that I’m aware of is that Tree of Life editors Hank Corwin, Jay Rabinowitz, Daniel Rezende, Billy Weber, and Mark Yoshikawa are nowhere to be found here. Anyone who can make sense out of the mounds and mounds of footage given to them by Terrence Malick at the end of a shoot ought to at least be nominated for their hard work. The Tree of Life is probably too obtuse to be recognized for its editing, though, so I’ll let it pass. Linear narrative seems better suited to this award. I love the editing in Zodiac and The Social Network, so I’m gonna assume that the editing in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is just as good and deserving of the award. I’m probably wrong. They’ll probably hand it over to Schoonmaker, who is the godess editor of all cinema. More power to her.

Documentary Short

Speaking of editing, can we cut this category out of the main TV broadcast?

  • The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement
  • God is the Bigger Elvis
  • Incident in New Baghdad
  • Saving France
  • The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

I am 100% unfamiliar with these films. By the title, I’m guessing that The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom is about the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. And based on the Academy’s penchant for human interest junk, I think they’ll hand the statue over to that movie as a way of indicating that they are hip to the times. If I were choosing, I think I’d go for God is the Bigger Elvis. The title makes me want to watch it. I probably won’t, though.

Documentary Feature

In my last prediction I may have tipped you off to the fact that I am decidedly disinterested in the documentary form. So, just like in the last category, I haven’t seen any of the nominees for documentary feature and I’m only (barely) familiar with one of the titles.

  • Hell and Back Again
  • If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
  • Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
  • Pina
  • Undefeated

More voters (like me, if I were an AMPAS member) will be familiar with this third documentary installment about the West Memphis Three. Familiarity sometimes breeds contempt. Except when we are being made aware of familiar wrongly imprisoned people. Then it breeds awards.

If I comprised the entirety of the AMPAS, this woman would be winning Best Director.


This category is filled with a lot of familiar names this year. Zzzzzzzzzz. Am I allowed to personally nominate Kelly Reichardt for Meek’s Cutoff?

  • Michel Hazanavicius [sic, I think] – The Artist
  • Alexander Payne – The Descendants *
  • Martin Scorsese – Hugo*
  • Woody Allen – Midnight in Paris *
  • Terrence Malick – The Tree of Life *

Hazanavisius is too new to the game and though people love The Artist, I suspect that they may feel it’s too gimmicky to give him this award. Scorsese has already won it and been nominated enough. Malick’s film will confuse too many people. The Academy might resent Allen’s well-known refusal to show up to the party. That leaves us with Alexander Payne. Though not always Payne’s biggest supporter, I though he handled the material in The Descendants beautifully. I’m cool if he takes this award home.

Costume Design

Period pieces only, enter here. If you dress your people in modern garb, it is clear to us that you have no talent.

  • Anonymous
  • The Artist
  • Hugo *
  • Jane Eyre
  • W.E.

Really, the Academy needs to think outside the box on this award. Here’s where the Academy throws The Artist a bone. Well, they may throw it another bone later, but…

Art Direction

Art direction is one of my favorite aspects of filmmaking. Sometimes, especially while watching at a theatre, I find my eyes roving away from the main action to look at the sets or locations, just to get an idea of what the art director was trying to do. Ever since D.W. Griffith, art direction has been the unheralded lynchpin to keeping the audience in suspension of disbelief. A realistic, or at least cohesive, world can keep the viewer rolling along.

  • The Artist
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
  • Hugo *
  • Midnight in Paris *
  • War Horse

Dante Ferretti and Frencesca Lo Schiavo are the masters of this domain. If they do not win for Hugo, what good will there be left in this horrible world?


The Academy tends to give this award based on prettiness. Great cinematography and beauty are not always synonymous. You’d think that after over 100 years of cinema the people in Hollywood would understand that.

  • The Artist – Guillaume Shiffman
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Jeff Cronenweth
  • Hugo – Robert Richardson *
  • The Tree of Life – Emmanuel Lubezki *
  • War Horse – Janusz Kaminksi

As baffling as Tree of Life may be in other respects, it is postcard pretty. Or maybe the Academy is ready to embrace anachronism and give this award to The Artist simply for being in black & white. But if they do give the cinematography award to The Artist, I suggest they retroactively give the same award to Roger Deakins for his work on The Man Who Wasn’t There in 2001.

Animated Feature Film

Without Pixar in the race, it’s anybody’s guess. Next year, when Brave is nominated for Animated Feature Film, I will predict it to win.

  • A Cat in Paris
  • Chico & Rita
  • Kung Fu Panda 2
  • Puss in Boots
  • Rango *

The word on the street is that Rango is going to win. I predict a Rango victory on this basis, not because I thought Rango was anything special. In fact, it was sorta dumb.

Actress in a Supporting Role

Supporting roles are harder to judge because there’s so little to go on.

  • Berenice Bejo – The Artist
  • Jessica Chastain – The Help
  • Melissa McCarthy – Bridesmaids *
  • Janet McTeer – Albert Noobs
  • Octavia Spencer – The Help

It pleases me to see Melissa McCarthy nominated for a comedic role. Still, I get the sense that the Academy wants to honor the women of The Help. And now I’ve just taken all the suspense out of my prediction for Actress in a leading role.

You nominated me once and didn't give me the award. Say you're sorry and give it to me now, before I croak.

Actor in a Supporting Role

I think these supporting categories are where the Academy tries to honor movies they feel might have been pretty good, but not good enough to appease the buzz mill and the appetite of the casual filmgoer. See nominations for performances in My Week with Marilyn, Warrior, and Beginners.

  • Kenneth Branagh – My Week with Marilyn
  • Jonah Hill – Moneyball *
  • Nick Nolte – Warrior
  • Christopher Plummer – Beginners *
  • Max von Sydow – Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close *

Max von Sydow has been an acting god since The Seventh Seal (a movie I don’t particularly care for), and I think the Academy will find this small way to honor him. Whether or not he deserves the award for this particular performance is irrelevant. That said, I really enjoyed Christopher Plummer in Beginners and thought that Jonah Hill showed a welcome subdued side to his normal comedic shtick in Moneyball.

Come on, guys! You can't resist my smile. And, besides, I look great holding awards, don't I?

Actress in a Leading Role

Here we have the only major category that I am completely unfamiliar with. I could make my bold prediction based on which person I find myself most attracted to. I won’t do that.

  • Glenn Close – Albert Noobs
  • Viola Davis – The Help
  • Rooney Mara – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady
  • Michelle Williams – My Week with Marilyn

Mara is too new and too punk. Williams is doing an impersonation. Streep has already won, everyone knows she’s good, and, like Williams, she’s doing an impersonation. Hardly anyone has heard of Albert Noobs, so that pretty much dooms any chance that Glenn Close might have had. That leaves us with Viola Davis, starring in a very politically correct race drama. Everyone likes Viola Davis and everyone seems to like The Help. There you have it, people.

Actor in a Leading Role

A couple of foreign dudes are facing off against GQ royalty and Gary Oldman. I really like the mix of people here, even if I have virtually no knowledge of their performances.

  • Demian Bichir – A Better Life
  • George Clooney – The Descendants *
  • Jean Dujardin – The Artist
  • Gary Oldman – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
  • Brad Pitt – Moneyball *

I thought Pitt knocked it out of the park (lame pun intended) in his role as Billy Beane. He showed, better than he has in any other role, that he is more than capable of crafting nuanced characters. Not only do I predict his victory, I am rooting for him also.

Best Picture

With nine pictures nominated this year, the field is extremely crowded and incredibly overrun.

(insert rimshot video)

  • The Artist
  • The Descendants *
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close *
  • The Help
  • Hugo *
  • Midnight in Paris *
  • Moneyball *
  • The Tree of Life *
  • War Horse

War Horse stands no chance because it hasn’t gained any critical consensus. Director of high standing + nearly inscrutable movie = The Tree of Life = no Best Picture award. Can anyone with a healthy conscience really vote for Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud, a truly awful sap-fest with the dumbest name this side of To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar? The Help is full of political correctness and other things that poseur liberals really like, but the Academy has already paid their dues by voting for the ladies of The Help in both supporting and leading categories. We’re down to five now, the real five, I think.

People, myself included, like the idea of Woody Allen getting back to making good movies again, but when we really get down to considering it, we all know that Midnight in Paris isn’t Allen firing on all cylinders. And beyond its veil of sabermetrics, Moneyball is still a baseball movie; a very good baseball movie, but a baseball movie regardless.

Now there are three movies left: The Artist, The Descendants, and Hugo. I wouldn’t be very shocked if any one of these three took home the big prize.

I’ve only seen Hugo and I think it’s fantastic. Scorsese has had some Oscar glory with The Departed, so it’s possible that the Academy may look past Hugo for that reason alone. Also, Hugo is a children’s movie and there’s no historical evidence to indicate that the Academy favors the children’s genre for the Best Picture award. On the plus side, Hugo is a massive love letter to film history, which may appeal to those LA voters. Still, I just don’t think it’ll happen.

This leaves me with two movies that I haven’t seen. I can only speculate about their actual quality at this point, but I think both movies might make a strong case for Best Picture.

Two Alexander Payne movies have been nominated for Best Picture before. The Academy seems to like his blend of dramedy. The Hawaiian location combined with George Clooney give the movie a broader appeal than most of the other nominees this year, and that might just be enough for voters to choose The Descendants.

The real weight of hype, buzz, and the Weinstein Machine are behind The Artist. I have a difficult time believing that Academy voters would choose a (near-)silent movie by an out-of-nowhere director, but stranger things have happened. Maybe voters are attracted to the novelty of a black and white movie, silent, but with all the charms of the movies of the early 30s. The Weinsteins have been making it very clear that The Artist was shot ENTIRELY in Los Angeles! I hope that Academy voters wouldn’t be so shallow as to allow this meaningless fact to sway them. But, then again, this is the group of people who actually thought that Titanic was better than L.A. Confidential.

The Artist will win Best Picture at exactly 6:08 AM, Paris time, 2/27/2012.

And now that you’ve read through all that nonsense about nonsense, let me remind you that nothing beats actually watching the movies, thinking about them, and talking about them with others. The Oscars might not mean anything, but aren’t they fun?


3 thoughts on “Tail on Donkey: 2012 Oscar Predictions

  1. The Oscars are terrible, but this year I sort of thought something I really really enjoyed could possibly be honored, especially because it was one of those categories that something cool sometimes gets credit. But no, because Cliff Martinez used some Johnny Jewel tracks which were also awesome, Drive’s score could not be nominated.

    It’s all good, though, because Albert Brooks is gonna win, right?

    Never mind.


  2. I am curious why everybody thinks The Help was so politically correct? It came off as having a pretty racist undercurrent. Although I suppose nothing makes a predominantly white group of liberals like the academy feel as good as appearing not to be racist as publicly as possible. So maybe it cleans up. Personally, as a side note. I hope Plummer wins, gets up there and tells everybody to suck it.

  3. Jerod – Yeah, I think it would be cool to see Plummer win this award. He’s pretty amazing in Beginners, and deserves it.

    One of these days I’ll actually watch The Help and see if I can’t figure out what it’s actually saying about race and what people think it’s saying. It might be a while, though, because nothing about the ads or any discussion of the film has made me interested.

    Travis – Drive is simply too good for the Academy. It should be seen as a badge of honor.

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