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Daniel’s Final Predictions

I have just reminded myself of the British Academy Film Award winners and, if you exclude the foreign, documentary and short categories, then the smart money might be one a virtually perfect match with the Academy. The only BAFTA winner that jars is ‘In Bruges’ which has scant chance of collecting the Oscar for best original screenplay on Sunday night. Otherwise everything looks on the money including the technical categories. Surely, something’s got to give right?

Attention has turned, in the closing days, to just how many Oscars ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ will win. Barring an unforeseen tie in the original song category the movie is eligible for nine wins, can it sweep all 9? It’s certainly possible but I remain sceptical. I doubt any sane prognosticator would take issue with me saying the movie is an incredibly safe bet in the following categories: Picture, director, adapted screenplay, film editing and original score. I will refrain from wasting any further space commenting of these categories because I feel they are genuinely settled.

As for the other four categories in which the film is short-listed it ranges from a probable winner (cinematography, original song) to an improbable and indeed atypical one (sound editing). The movie has unquestionably become the sensation of the season and, unlike ‘No Country for Old Men’, it has genuine passion behind it. People simply love this movie. For some that seems to be enough to make them pencil it in for 9 Oscars. Nathanial Rogers, over at The Film Experience is predicting the complete sweep for the film. Both he and Guy Lodge (writing for In Contention) correctly identify the key bellwether categories as sound editing and sound mixing. These are not categories where you would expect a film like ‘Slumdog’ to prevail. Those pointing to its victory at the Cinema Audio Society awards recently would do well, however, to recall that ‘No Country for Old Men’ won the same award a year ago and promptly lost both sound Oscars to the more typical ‘Bourne Ultimatum’. My feeling is that this year will be similar and that ‘Slumdog’ – despite is fervent support – will fail to win either sound category. I would add two caveats however. First, ‘Slumdog’ has more momentum (a non-scientific assertion but, I think, a fair one) than ‘No Country for Old Men’ ever did. Actually, make that more passionate support. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the sound in ‘Slumdog’ is actually very ‘present’ by which I mean noticeable. The music punctuates this film along with the editing and I vividly remember sitting in the theatre thinking how impressive the sound mixing was.

As for original song the argument contra ‘Slumdog’ seems to be its potential to split its own support. But I don’t buy this because the song ‘Jaiho’ is, in my opinion, infinitely more memorable and catchy. In recent years the original song category has shifted to the firm left of field and I imagine the streak will continue this year.

Best sound editing and best sound mixing
These two categories are ‘head-scratchers’ for the reasons alluded to above. An interesting bit of trivia discovered by Guy Lodge tells us the following, and I quote him from In Contention:

In the 27 years that Best Sound Editing has been a competitive category (they previously had an on-off Sound Effects award), they have never split the two awards between two films nominated in both races — which is the case for all three films [meaning ‘Wall-E’, ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘Slumdog’]. I’m fairly sure that whichever film wins one is also taking the other home.

This year four films are represented in both sound categories. Each category thus has an odd one out: ‘Iron Man’ for sound editing and ‘Benjamin Button’ for sound mixing. Neither are contenders. The remaining four films are ‘Wanted’, ‘The Dark Knight’, ‘Wall-E’ and ‘Slumdog’. I am going to go against the trend of history and predict, for the first time, that the sound awards will be split between two movies that are nominated in both categories. ‘The Dark Knight’’s explosions, car chases, aerial rescue sequences and so forth seem a likely bet for sound mixing and could well end up winning both categories. But I think that ‘Wall-E’’s sound editing was so noticeable, this was an incredibly aural movie, will carry it to victory. That is, of course, unless ‘Slumdog’ does a clean sweep.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button?
Despite the seemingly slight support for ‘Benjamin Button’ I sincerely doubt it will go home empty handed. Thirteen nominations is an impressive tally and as I stated in my previous article sumptuous epics that miss out to smaller movies with heart can often become default winners in the tech categories. So how many will it take? My guess is four. First, makeup seems a slam-dunk to me. I appreciate that The Joker is an iconic character and that a significant part of the iconography is the makeup, especially the scars. But the makeup was almost a character in ‘Benjamin Button’; it permeated the fabric of the movie and the legendary Greg Cannom remains my prediction. I also expect a victory for the movie in the art direction category where its set-piece constructions – the old folks home, the empty hotel – should wow the voters. Of its rivals ‘The Duchess’ and ‘Changeling’ seem the most likely challengers. The former might get more attention for its costumes however and the latter’s chicken ranch might not be quite enough to challenge Donald Graham Burt’s designs that span several eras. ‘Revolutionary Road’ is beautiful in its own right but less obvious/more subtle and ‘The Dark Knight’ will probably suffer from feeling too contemporary and dark (which is a shame). Finally, I look to ‘Benjamin Button’ to win visual effects although I think ‘Iron Man’ is a stronger contender here than some people anticipate. ‘Button’’s visuals were stunning and took my breath away but ‘Iron Man’ is more bombastic, fun and ultimately less subtle. It’s a tight race and ‘The Dark Knight’ cannot be discounted either.

‘Slumdog’’s win at the American Society of Cinematographer’s was telling but the fact does remain that it jars with the traditional winners in a category where what you photograph counts almost as much as how you photograph it. ‘Slumdog’ was visually arresting and Anthony Dod Mantle captured the Mumbai slums with brilliant colours and compositions; but consider recent winners in this category – ‘There Will Be Blood, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, ‘The Aviator’, ‘Master and Commander’, ‘Road to Perdition’, ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’. All have photographed beautiful sets or costumes. Most have been period or fantasy films. Of the other nominees this year ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ seems the closest fit with its sumptuous production and costume designs and its digital photography. Of the other nominees it is probably safe (though perhaps unfortunate) to say that Tom Stern has his reward in the nomination afforded him for ‘Changeling’. I feel that Wally Pfister’s work on ‘The Dark Knight’ was outstanding but the abundance of night-time and interior based work might scupper his prospects here. Finally, despite their status as legends I doubt the ability of Chris Menges and Roger Deakins to win this prize for ‘The Reader’. The photography is very artistic and beautifully composed and lit but ultimately may feel both a little small and a little detached. That leaves Claudio Miranda as the only genuine challenger to ‘Slumdog’ in my humble opinion. And I’m predicting it to win because I simply refuse to believe that the guilds and BAFTA will line-up with AMPAS so perfectly.

Costume design
With ‘Slumdog’ predicted for cinematography, editing, score and song; ‘The Dark Knight’ for sound editing and sound mixing; and ‘Benjamin Button’ for art direction, makeup and visual effects that leaves costume design in the air.

‘The Duchess’ has collected the guild award and the BAFTA and the costumes are sumptuous and incredibly intricate. It’s the favourite in my opinion. ‘Milk’’s costumes did tremendously well to break the 1970s taboo but a win is out of the question. Similarly, and despite his legendary status, Albert Wolsky’s work on ‘Revolutionary Road’ is perfect but perhaps too subtle for a category that likes costumes to almost be a character. ‘Australia’ and ‘Benjamin Button’ are definite contenders. Catherine Martin’s designs are brilliantly evocative of the 1930s and she has to do rugged exterior costumes and classy evening wear. Meanwhile Jacqueline West designs costumes spanning multiple decades in a visually stunning film. That being said O’Connor’s work has the wow factor and I think the costumes are simply too noticeable to lose.

The acting categories
Actress in a leading role is being labelled as a heavyweight showdown between Meryl Streep and Kate Winslet. As much as I’d love to believe that I am sceptical and have held firmly to my belief that Mrs Winslet will win this Oscar. The evidence seems almost overwhelming: she does an accent; she ages; she plays an incredibly unsympathetic character and yet makes you sympathise; she is considered due; she leads a Best Picture nominee that defied expectations on nomination morning; she has Harvey Weinstein behind her; she gets naked. It’s all there! Not to mention that each time her name has appeared on a major industry awards ballot this season for this performance, she has won.

Yes Meryl is a legend. Yes she won the SAG (but Kate was in the supporting category there). Yes she is on a twelve nomination losing streak. Yes her SAG speech was infectious and adorable. But with ‘Revolutionary Road’ out there in the ether as well this just feels like Kate’s year. And sometimes that’s all it takes.

The real titanic duel is in the actor in a leading role category. Anybody confidently predicting a win for either Sean Penn or Mickey Rourke is out of their minds. They may be proven right but their conviction is misplaced. This could go either way. I have already written extensively on this in a previous article and have come down on the side of Mickey Rourke. It’s just too sensational and heart-warming a moment for the voters to pass up I think.

Pity any actor who is announced as winning best supporting actor in place of Heath Ledger. I think it would make for perhaps the most awkward on-stage moment in Oscar history. I sincerely doubt it will happen. Heath’s performance as The Joker needs no additional praise from me. It was simply breathtaking. An actor of Heath’s stature need not be aggrandized in death beyond that which he was in life and it is in that spirit that he must win this award. Not because of some notion of sentiment but because he managed to tread so carefully with this performance. He is not present for large sections of ‘The Dark Knight’ but his presence hovers over proceedings and his physical presence jolts the movie into another realm each and every time. It would have been easy to fall prey to either blending in with this incredible cast (Freeman, Caine, Oldman, and yes Bale) or chewing the scenery to such an extent as to distract from the story. That Heath was able to tread that narrow path so brilliantly is the reason why he simply must, and will, win this Oscar.

Finally, actress in a supporting role. Penelope Cruz seems to have the inside track here following her success at BAFTA. A plum and fun role in a Woody Allen movie has historically been Oscar gold. But that formula broke down in 1995. What Cruz has going for her, apart from the performance itself, is that she brings some fun to an otherwise very serious list of acting contenders (Penn, Rourke, Winslet, Streep and Ledger). But there are alternatives and I am suspicious that BAFTA can match up for a third consecutive year. Amy Adams is the long-shot and Marisa Tomei, despite baring all and having a typical Oscar role probably is not going to collect a second statuette, even on Mickey’s coat-tails. But Viola Davis or Taraji P. Henson could definitely be called to the podium. Ultimately though I am sticking with Cruz on the assumption that Davis’ role might be a little too small (at 12 minutes) although I know smaller performances have won in the past. Similarly, I assume that ‘Benjamin Button’ does not have the legs to generate a ‘focal win’ a la Tilda Swinton last year. Henson was the heart of ‘Benjamin Button’ but when you’re talking about a film that, in my opinion, lacked heart that’s not the best argument in her favour. Cruz is an international superstar, delivering a fun performance in a critically admired film and I think that’s a great recipe for Oscar.

Those pesky short and documentary categories
The documentary and short film categories are the bane of most Oscar prognosticators lives. Only small sections of the Academy get to vote on them so it’s incredibly difficult to gauge the outcome.

The documentary feature category seems preordained for ‘Man on Wire’, a movie that has been primed for awards seemingly since its release. But a smaller pool of Oscar voters may buck the trend. We should take very seriously two alternatives. First, ‘The Betrayal’ – which tells the story of a Laotian family in the aftermath of U.S. bombings during Vietnam – is an incredibly moving portrait and has established cinematographer Ellen Kuras behind it. She lensed ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ and, as Nathanial Rogers points out, has been working on this project for over twenty years. It marks her directorial debut at the age of 49. Given her years of service to the industry and the number of actors and directors with whom she has worked I imagine her ‘story’ is better known in AMPAS circles than it is across the blog-o-sphere. Her film should be seriously considered. Second is ‘Trouble the Water’, an outstanding documentary focusing on a married couple from the 9th ward that was so battered by Hurricane Katrina. The tag line for the movie – ‘It’s not about a hurricane. It’s about America.’ – captures the essence of the movie and the depth of emotion explored. It was my favourite documentary of the year and it is a serious challenger.

In the short documentary category ‘The Conscience of Nhem En’ screams Oscar winner to me. A half hour documentary about a photographer who captured images of the victims of the Khmer Rouge is sure to pull the emotional heartstrings. That being said the other contenders all have a claim to that dealing as they do with Martin Luther King’s assassination, efforts to eradicate Polio and the social ostracism suffered by a young girl with a cleft pallet.

As for the shorts well the animated category features that remarkable and wonderful offering that preceded the screenings of ‘Wall-E’ (at least in the UK). I am talking about Doug Sweetland’s 5 minute short ‘Presto’ about a magician’s assistant (a rabbit) who causes havoc for his master. I fell in love with this short when I saw it and have re-watched it numerous times on DVD. The question is to what extent backlash against Pixar factors in here? If it does, even in a small way, look for an alternative winner because the voting pool for this category will likely be quite small. My hunch (that’s really all it is) is that ‘Lavatory – Lovestory’ and ‘Oktapodi’ will struggle here. The former possesses neither impact nor gloss and the latter is incredibly short even by the standards of this category clocking in at 3 minutes and may stray a little too close to ‘bizarre’. That leaves ‘This Way Up’ and ‘La Maison en Petits Cubes’. The former is a marvellous British offering about two morticians – father and son – who have terrible trouble getting to a burial. The animation is quite original but the movie is a little dark compared to traditional fare. ‘La Maison’ is the longest offering and, unlike the other two ‘contenders’ is a traditional animation (‘Presto’ and ‘This Way Up’ are both CG). The Japanese offering it tells a story about recaptured memories in a nearly submerged house and strikes a nice balance between quirky/original and accessible/loveable. It’s a tough call …

In the live action short category all five offerings will likely have some support. We have a Holocaust movie in the midst – ‘Toyland’ – that tells of a young boy deceived to believe that his Jewish neighbours are going to Toyland. But to predict the movie just because of its subject matter might be a little simplistic. Nathanial Rogers is correct when he says that a Holocaust theme might help you towards a win but it doesn’t guarantee it. I am betting that ‘The Pig’ may be a little controversial and that ‘On the Line’ may be a little raw. My prediction is a small Irish film called ‘New Boy’ about an African boy who has left his homeland struggling in an Irish school.

I think we all known ‘Wall-E’ will collect the animated feature film Oscar but will fellow animation ‘Waltz with Bashir’ be so successful in the foreign language film category? My prediction is, no. I am sticking with ‘The Class’, a movie that I feel is far more traditional, less controversial and perhaps ultimately more inspiring than Ari Folman’s troubling vision.

And what of Milk?
No I don’t think it is going home empty handed. It escapes that fate by virtue of Dustin Lance Black’s screenplay. Those who are predicting ‘Wall-E’ for this award have a case but I suspect ‘Milk’ has quite a following and that screenplay will appeal to the more conservative tastes of the Academy, many of whom might facilely conclude that the long stretches of silence in ‘Wall-E’ mean it has a minimal, or partial screenplay.

So there you have it, my considered and humble predictions for Sunday night. I will round with a summary and my own personal ballot for the season. Happy Oscar night!

Actor in a leading role – Mickey Rourke (‘The Wrestler’).
Actor in a supporting role – Heath Ledger (‘The Dark Knight’).
Actress in a leading role – Kate Winslet (‘The Reader’).
Actress in a supporting role – Penelope Cruz (‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’)
Animated feature film – ‘Wall-E’ (Andrew Stanton).
Art direction – ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ (Donald Graham Burt; Victor J. Zolfo).
Cinematography – ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ (Claudio Miranda).
Costume design – ‘The Duchess’ (Michael O’Connor).
Directing – ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ (Danny Boyle).
Documentary (Feature) – ‘Man on Wire’ (James Marsh; Simon Chinn).
Documentary (Short) – ‘The Conscience of Nhem En’ (Steven Okazaki).
Film editing – ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ (Chris Dickens).
Foreign language film – ‘The Class’ (France) directed by Laurent Chantet.
Makeup – ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ (Greg Cannom).
Music (Score) – ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ (A.R. Rahman).
Music (Song) – ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ (‘Jai Ho’) music by A.R. Rahman; lyric by Gulzar.
Short film (Animated) – ‘This Way Up’ (Alan Smith; Adam Foukes).
Short film (Live action) – ‘New Boy’ (Steph Green; Tamara Anghie).
Sound editing – ‘Wall-E’ (Ben Burtt; Matthew Wood).
Sound mixing – ‘The Dark Knight’ (Lora Hirschberg; Gary Rizzo; Ed Novick).
Visual effects – ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ (Eric Barba; Steve Preeg; Burt Dalton; Craig Barron).
Writing (Adapted screenplay) – ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ (Simon Beaufoy).
Writing (Original screenplay) – ‘Milk’ (Dustin Lance Black).

‘Slumdog Millionaire’ – 6

‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ – 4

‘The Dark Knight’ – 2
‘Wall-E’ – 2

‘The Class’, ‘The Conscience of Nhem En’, ‘The Duchess’, ‘Man on Wire’, ‘Milk’, ‘New Boy’, ‘The Reader’, ‘This Way Up’, ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’, ‘The Wrestler’ – 1

And my personal awards ballot for the season
Picture – ‘Wendy and Lucy’.
Achievement in directing – ‘Paranoid Park’ (Gus Van Sant).
Actor in a leading role – Sean Penn (‘Milk’).
Actor in a supporting role – Heath Ledger (‘The Dark Knight’).
Actress in a leading role – Michelle Williams (‘Wendy and Lucy’).
Actress in a supporting role – Samantha Morton (‘Synecdoche, New York’).
Animated feature – ‘Waltz with Bashir’ (Ari Folman).
Art direction – ‘Synecdoche, New York’ (Mark Friedberg).
British film – ‘In Bruges’.
Cinematography – ‘Flight of the Red Balloon’ (Pin Bing Lee).
Costume design – ‘Australia’ (Catherine Martin).
Documentary feature – ‘Trouble the Water’ (Tia Lessin; Carl Deal).
Documentary short – ‘The Conscience of Nhem En’ (Steven Okazaki).
Film editing – ‘Burn After Reading’ (Roderick Jaynes).
Foreign language film – ‘Waltz with Bashir’ (Ari Folman).
Makeup – ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ (Greg Cannom).
Music (Score) – ‘Wall-E’ (Thomas Newman).
Music (Song) – ‘The Wrestler’ (The Wrestler) by Bruce Springsteen.
Short film (animated) – ‘Presto’ (Doug Sweetland).
Short film (live action) – ‘Love You More’ (Adrian Sturges; Sam Taylor Wood; Patrick Marber).
Sound editing – ‘Wall-E’ (Ben Burtt; Matthew Wood).
Sound mixing – ‘The Dark Knight’ (Lora Hirschberg; Gary Rizzo; Ed Novick).
Visual effects – ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ (Eric Barba; Steve Preeg; Burt Dalton; Craig Barron).
Writing (Adaptation) – ‘Revolutionary Road’ (Justin Haythe).
Writing (Original) – ‘In Bruges’ (Martin McDonaugh).

2 – ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’, ‘The Dark Knight’, ‘In Bruges’, ‘Synecdoche, New York’, ‘Wall-E’, ‘Waltz with Bashir’, ‘Wendy and Lucy’, ‘The Wrestler’.

1 – ‘Australia’, ‘Burn After Reading’, ‘The Conscience of Nhem En’, ‘Flight of the Red Balloon’, ‘Man on Wire’, ‘Milk’, ‘New Boy’, ‘Paranoid Park’, ‘Presto’, ‘Revolutionary Road’.