Friday, February 24, 2012

Here Comes Billy: A Hello, Mr. Anderson Academy Awards Preview

2011 was a big year for Hello, Mr. Anderson. For starters, it was the year I changed the site's moniker and design from the outdated style of former comic book review site The Latest Issue to its currently awesome settings. The site hosted many beginnings, including its first Academy Award Preview, its first Academy Awards Recap, and its first Summer Movie Preview. I live-Tweeted the Academy Awards. And I spent an unparalleled amount of time in the theaters, to the tune of at least 100 films seen and reviewed last year. Most of them were even worth the time and effort.

It's a shame that the movie industry as a whole didn't enjoy as much growth as did this site. An attempt to make the Academy Awards "young and hip" by hiring young co-hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco was a disaster, both creatively and in the show's ratings, which continue to nosedive as the potential young audiences failed to show up for the festivities. It was so bad that after supposed 2012 Oscar director Brett Ratner and host Eddie Murphy resigned following Ratner's public utterance of a gay slur, the producers responded by going to a tried a true formula, replacing Murphy with eight-time former host Billy Crystal. Just for the record, Crystal hasn't headlined a major film release since 2002. So from "young and hip", The Academy Awards decided to "break a hip" instead. With Hollywood mainly focusing on sequels and 3D technology in their marketing efforts, theater attendance sagged in 2011, with ticket sales at their lowest level since 1995. Poorly developed 3D movies drove many people away from the theaters with poor experiences and inflated prices, and the effects from that might be felt harshly in the near future.

And when you get right down to the nominees for this year's Academy Awards, there just isn't a lot to love. Much like the current Republican Presidential Primary race, there just isn't one nominee that the audiences can universally rally around. The Artist should have been that film, but weak box office grosses indicate that the French silent film is much like Mitt Romney: too outside the box and not enough people are ready to admit that it's the best choice, despite the mediocrity of the opposition. Still, I thought 2011 was a great time to be a fan of the cinema, and I'm seriously looking forward to seeing who takes home those golden men this Sunday. So without further ado, I present you my picks for the major categories in the 84'th Academy Awards.

Best Original Screenplay nominee: Bridesmaids
Best Writing (Original Screenplay): The Artist - Michael Hazanavicius; Bridesmaids - Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig; Margin Call- J.C. Chandor; Midnight in Paris - Woody Allen; A Separation - Asghar Farhadi

Who will win: Woody Allen pretty much has this in the bag, having already won comparable awards from the Golden Globes, Critics' Choice Awards, the Writers Guild of America, and even the Alliance of Women Film Journalists for his work on Midnight in Paris. It's not only Allen's most popular film in years, it's also a wonderful, smart story that holds Allen's amazing screenplay as the foundation for greatness.

Who SHOULD win: But in the end, Midnight in Paris is a light, fun film that doesn't tackle any major issues, like the one presented in Iran's Foreign Language nominee A Separation. Okay, I admit I'm saying this sight unseen, but it's the best-reviewed film of 2011, and takes on an idea that many AMERICAN filmmakers are hesitant to approach, let alone those in the Middle East. It's one of the 2011 films I missed out on, though I'll be doing my best to rectify that situation soon.

Who was snubbed: 50/50's clever, funny and emotionally-heartbreaking story of fighting cancer was one of 2011's unsung gems, thanks to a less-than-spectacular theatrical run. Based on the real-life struggle of screenwriter Will Reiser to overcome that disease, this should have been one of the movies we were talking about nonstop last year, and it certainly should have received a nomination here.

Best Adapted Screenplay nominee: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay): The Descendants - Alexander Payne & Nat Faxon & Jim Rash; Hugo - John Logan; The Ides of March - George Clooney & Grant Heslov & Beau Willimon; Moneyball - Steven Zaillian & Aaron Sorkin; Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Bridget O'Connor & Peter Straughan

Who will win: There's a real mix of talent represented in this category, but like Midnight in Paris, Moneyball has won all the major screenplay awards, and touting Sorkin's easily recognizable name is a sure sign that this excellent baseball film will at least walk away with one award.

Who SHOULD win: There was no matching Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy's blend of exciting drama, excellent pacing and three-dimensional character development that had you constantly guessing as to what comes next. There might be no more deserving nominee this year.

Who was snubbed: This WILL be a trend tonight, I assure you. Hossein Amini's screenplay for Drive was just as well-paced as Tinker, but failed to crack the top 5. Unlike most of the snubs I'm going to award Ryan Gosling's crime drama this day, this might be the most benign, as I really had no problem with any of those that made the cut. On a side note, what the heck happened to The Help? When you're based on one of the best selling novels of the past decade, you expect more platitudes tossed your way, such as an Adapted Screenplay nomination.

Best Foreign Language Film nominee: A Separation
Best Foreign Language Film: Bullhead - Belgium; Monsieur Lazhar - Canada; A Separation - Iran; Footnote - Israel; In Darkness - Poland

I'm not even going to play games with this one; if A Separation fails to walk away with this Oscar, it will be nothing short of a monumental upset. Every single one of these films has been highly praised, and each seems to be deserving of their nomination (again, I have sadly seen none of them). However, only the Iranian film has received such amazing attention and a following that rivals any known Foreign Film nomination, past or present. This is about as sure a thing as it gets.

Best Animated Feature Film nominee: Rango
Best Animated Feature Film: A Cat in Paris; Chico & Rita; Kung Fu Panda 2; Puss in Boots; Rango

Who will win: Normally, this award would automatically go to the Pixar film released last year. Unfortunately, that film was Cars 2, so that simple plan went awry. The best of what was nominated, Rango should handily earn the Academy Award for the first film produced by George Lucas's special effects company Industrial Light & Magic.

Who SHOULD win, but wasn't even NOMINATED: Am I the ONLY one who placed Arthur Christmas among last year's best? Aardman might not be the best-known animation company, but it's difficult to imagine how the creators of the Wallace & Gromit franchise could have been ignored so that DreamWorks could get two nominations for mediocre 3D films. Maybe it's being penalized for being a Christmas movie, but I don't care; it was the best.

Who else was snubbed: How does The Adventures of Tintin, a superb animated film and the better of the two 2011 films directed by Steven Spielberg, win the Golden Globe in this category and completely avoid nomination here, while the dreadfully dull War Horse gets nominated for Best Picture? It was nice to see two lesser-known foreign films get nominated, but knocking Tintin and Arthur Christmas out was just plain wrong.

Best Supporting Actress nominee: Octavia Spencer in The Help
Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Berenice Bejo - The Artist; Jessica Chastain - The Help; Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids; Janet McTeer - Albert Nobbs; Octavia Spencer - The Help

Who will win, and SHOULD: Last year the Supporting Actor category was especially crowded, with talented names such as Geoffrey Rush, Jeremy Renner and John Hawkes all good enough to win had they been nominated in any other year. There were even a number of deserving talents crowded out of the picture entirely. But The Fighter's Christian Bale was so far above everybody else that in the end, there was truly no other choice. That's what this category feels like. As excellent as Bejo, McCarthy and the rest are in their respective films, there was simply no matching Octavia Spencer's star-making turn in The Help.

Who was snubbed: Jessica Chastain was undeniably 2011's breakout female actress, but if you're going to nominate her for this category, why for her relatively light-hearted role in The Help and not her silent but forceful performance in Tree of Life? Either way, she should have been passed over for Shailene Woodley, the absolute heart of The Descendants. For as good as The Descendants was to start, Woodley made it a thousand times better with her take-no-prisoners attitude, excellent delivery and emotional depth. Like Chastain, she's one to look out for in the future.

Best Supporting Actor nominee: Nick Nolte in Warrior
Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Kenneth Branagh - My Week with Marilyn; Jonah Hill - Moneyball; Nick Nolte - Warrior; Christopher Plummer - Beginners; Max von Sydow - Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Who will win: I admit with sadness that among the major categories (besides Best Foreign Film), this is the one in which I've actually seen the fewest nominees (with two). It seems like the only ones with a reasonable chance for victory are two men who have never won an Oscar in extensive careers, with Christopher Plummer as a father rebooting his life after coming out of the closet, and Max von Sydow as a mute Dresden survivor who "speaks" with a notepad and "yes" and "no" tattoos on his palms living in post-9/11 NYC. Of those two, Plummer seems most likely to claim the prize.

Who SHOULD win: Well, maybe he shouldn't, but I still feel I have to argue on behalf of Nolte, who is at a distinct disadvantage as Warrior was an abject failure at the box office. Nolte hasn't gotten nearly the credit he deserves for his jaw-dropping portrayal of a recovering alcoholic trying to reconnect with a family that wants little to do with him. Without him, the failure of Warrior would have been a brief distraction. With him, it is a tragic injustice, one that demands reparations from those who willfully ignored its theatrical release.

Who was snubbed: of all the Drive snubs, this was perhaps the most surprising, as an against-type Albert Brooks had received numerous commendations for his seedy, violent mob boss character. The role has completely changed how we look at Brooks as a performer, and it was a shame he got left off of the final list. Another one who could have made it was Young Adult's Patton Oswalt, who essentially fulfilled for that movie what Shailene Woodley did for The Descendants, but with more physical work.

Best Directing nominee: Alexander Payne for The Descendants
Best Directing: Woody Allen - Midnight in Paris; Michael Hazanavicius - The Artist; Terrence Malick - The Tree of Life; Alexander Payne - The Descendants; Martin Scorcese - Hugo

Who will win: Wow, that's a lot of talent. These are five supremely skilled directors, and a couple of them are putting out their best films in years. But the correct answer to this riddle is Martin Scorcese, who managed to make one of the most impressive 3D films of all time, and on his first attempt no less. Not only that, Hugo was an emotional tour-de-force, and Scorcese's involvement was a huge part of the reason behind it becoming one of the year's most awesome titles.

Who SHOULD win: I'd be happy if Scorcese or Woody Allen won, but I think special consideration should be given to Alexander Payne for The Descendants. Years ago Payne was overly praised for perfectly fine but overrated films About Schmidt and Sideways. This time around he showed me what others had seen years before, as he created one of the year's absolute best dramas. He won't get the award, but he definitely deserved this nomination.

Who was snubbed: I wasn't enamored with Terrence Malick's Tree of Life, despite his obvious abilities as an artist. If the choice had been mine, I'd have gone with Nicolas Winding Refn, whose crime story Drive was one of the most visually appealing films this year, easily chopping down Malick's Tree. Arguments could also be made for Shame's Steve McQueen, The Help's first timer Tate Taylor, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy's Tomas Alfredson. I'm mostly happy with the nominations, but if any of these had slipped in I would not have been disappointed.

Best Actress nominee: Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Best Actress in a Leading Role: Glenn Close - Albert Nobbs; Viola Davis - The Help; Rooney Mara - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Meryl Streep - Iron Lady; Michelle Williams - My Week with Marilyn

Who will win: Meryl Streep.

Who SHOULD win: Yeah, still Meryl. With her last Academy Award win way back in 1982 for Sophie's Choice, Streep has gone too long without a win in this category, despite being a perennial contender just about every single year. The category showcases a talented batch of actresses and some people believe that Marilyn Monroe is a more worthy role to win the coveted statuette than Margaret Thatcher, but Meryl is just too damned good to let this one go. This is probably her best chance in a decade.

Who was snubbed: Despite not liking Young Adult, Charlize Theron really should have been included in this list of the top female performances in 2011. This was a category that was so crowded it pushed Berenice Bejo into the Supporting Actress lists, but there was still no room for Theron, who did some of the year's best work despite working with a script and story determined to make her look as bad as humanly possible.

Best Actor nominee: George Clooney in The Descendants
Best Actor in a Leading Role: Demian Bichir - A Better Life; George Clooney - The Descendants; Jean Dujardin - The Artist; Gary Oldman - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; Brad Pitt - Moneyball

Who will win: It's probably the most well-rounded performance you're likely to see from this batch, as George Clooney helped make The Descendants into a wonderful film with a surprisingly off-beat performance, dialing back on the charisma to make his suburban husband and father more human and lifelike than than the usual proto-charmers he often plays. After missing his shot with the excellent Up in the Air a few years back, he's poised to take the top prize right now.

Who SHOULD win: While Clooney will be a deserving winner, and it would be nice to see Gary Oldman take home his first-ever Oscar, the man I'm really rooting for this year is The Artist's Jean Dujardin, who told an entire film with the audience privy to only two spoken words of dialogue. Dujardin had to communicate his entire tale in silence, and I dare anyone to successfully argue that his work was anything less than stellar. He won't get the award, but I hope what he showed us here translates into more in the quite near future.

Who was snubbed: There's not a single undeserving actor here, but the lack of certain performers leaves me a very cold inside. Most insulting is the absence of 2011 breakout actor Michael Fassbender, whose sex addict in Shame should have single-handedly WON the damn award with little fuss. Ryan Gosling was once again passed over, though his amazing performances in Drive, The Ides of March and Crazy Stupid Love were still no match for last year's Blue Valentine massacre. Win Win was definitely overlooked this award season, and in that film nobody was more deserving of attention than Paul Giamatti in a role that evocatively tugged at the heartstrings while delivering the feel-good film of the year.

Best Picture: The Artist; The Descendants; Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close; The Help; Hugo; Midnight in Paris; Moneyball; The Tree of Life; War Horse

Who will win: There are no clear favorites here, but barring a major catastrophe, The Artist should walk away with the Best Picture Academy Award. Sure, it's a black and white silent film created by the French, but its dissimilarity from everything else in Hollywood is EXACTLY why it deserves your attention. And when it does get that from you, it will prove to you that it's handily the best film of 2011.

Who SHOULD win: The Artist was definitely the best picture this year, though four other nominated films (The Descendants, The Help, Hugo and Moneyball) were in my Top 10 for 2011, and I wouldn't complain should one of them come out of nowhere to win. I'd even be okay if Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris stole the prize, as there's a reason it was the only film I saw twice in the theater last year. But for me at least, The Artist is still the absolute best.

What was snubbed: For much of 2011, Drive was my #1 film until The Artist bested it. Why isn't it nominated instead of War Horse, which is only in the running because it was directed by Steven Spielberg? The Tree of Life was beautiful to behold but overpowerd by its chaotic style of storytelling. Why that instead of the emotionally strong 50/50? I admit I haven't seen Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, but why was this unevenly-reviewed title picked over Win Win, Shame or even Super 8? I had issues with last year's Best Picture nominations, but at least I had an understanding of why each film was selected. That's certainly not the case now.

Another year, another Academy Awards show previewed! What were some of your favorite films from 2011? Any you think should be seriously considered over what's currently up? Shout it loud here on Hello, Mr. Anderson, and let's get a feeling on what Hollywood missed while feeding their egos this awards season.

Remember, I'll be live-Tweeting the show, so be sure to follow @HelloMrAnderson Sunday night! Hope to see you all there!

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