29 February 2004

Oscar picks

We'll know soon. I'm usually wide of the mark, but here are my guesses for who the Academy will pick:

Picture: Mystic River

Well-crafted high drama with beloved actors who all give knockout performances. Clint Eastwood has a couple of Oscars for Unforgiven, the Academy loves him and still owes him a couple.

What about Return of the King? I'm holding out for a special acheivement Oscar for the Lord of the Rings trilogy next year.

Director: Peter Weir, Master and Commander

The safe pick is Clint, but I think the Academy may split the ticket for the benefit of Peter Weir. He's been nominated before but never won, he's getting old, and has a terrific body of work -- it's Weir's turn, I think.

Actor: Sean Penn, Mystic River

This is a heartbreaking one, because Bill Murray gave a spectacular peformance in Lost in Translation and is unlikely to ever see another Oscar nomination -- and finally gets to say ''see, I told you I could be a dramatic actor'' after everybody dissed him for Razor's Edge lo these many years ago. And Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow is one of the most indelible film performances of all time, no less than De Niro's Jake La Motta, Bogart's Rick Blaine, or Brando's Stanley Kowalski.

But Sean Penn is a great actor, in a class with De Niro or Brando, he's never won an Oscar, and Mystic River is his best peformance to date: subtle, unmannered, and compelling. He's walking home with the statue.

Actress: Charlize Theron, Monster

This is the only one I feel rock-solid about. First, it's the kind of stunt the Academy loves: a gorgeous actress doing a purely dramatic turn with her glamour stripped away to the point where she's unrecognizable. Second, Charlize has paid her dues in a lot of turkey roles the industry asked her to do. But most importantly, I've seen the film and it worked: her performance is pitch-perfect in every way -- convincing, hypnotic, and complex -- and is absolutely the centerpiece of the film. Charlize with a bullet.

Supporting Actor: Tim Robbins, Mystic River

This one's a tough call, in part because I haven't seen all of the strong contenders in the category. There's good reason to think that any of the nominees could take this one. But I think that Mystic River might have the magic of momentum to bring this one in for Tim Robbins, who did indeed turn in an impressive peformance.

The rightful holder of that statue is Andy Serkis for peforming Gollum in The Lord of the Rings: he was actually on screen as Smeagol in the flashback sequence in the beginning of Return of the King, so the Academy had the chance to do the right thing and nominate him. But in truth it's like the Oscar Scorscese has never won: he's on a level above even the Oscars, and everyone knows.

Supporting Actress: Holly Hunter, Thirteen

Another tough call, as I haven't seen enough of the films in question. The academy likes Holly Hunter (for good reason) so I'm thinking her odds are good.

Documentary: Fog of War

Errol Morris has been doing terrific -- and entertaining -- documentaries for years, has never seen an Oscar nomination, and absolutely knocked it out of the park with this one. Another easy pick, I think. It's too bad that The Weather Underground was up against this one this year; it might have been a winner in a different year.

Adapted Screenplay: American Splendor

In adapting Harvey Pekar to film there are so many opportunities to screw it up that the success of the film in doing it with wit, style, and reverence for the source material that it's hard to believe that the Academy won't reward this screenplay's panache.

Original Screenplay: In America

A tough one. Dirty Pretty Things is clever, with a corker of an ending. Lost in Translation is a terrific picture which deserves some kind of recognition. But nobody's seen the former, and everyone knows that Sophie's got a long career ahead of her. I'm thinking the Academy will want to do something to bring In America to people's attention.

Editing: Seabiscuit

Horses are cinegenic, but horse races aren't. But you wouldn't know it to see this movie.

Cinematography: Girl with a Pearl Earring

I haven't seen enough of the contenders to really have an informed opinion, but it's hard to imagine anything beating a movie that looks like a Vermeer painting.

Art direction: Master and Commander

Another bit of a heartbreaker. The Two Towers was robbed last year, and if that wasn't gonna do it, there won't be an Oscar for Lord of the Rings this year. Plus, I think that Master and Commander really does deserve it this time: not only is the art direction beautiful and meticulous, it's one of the stars of the movie.

Visual effects: The Return of the King

Any other year, ILM would have a crack at bringing home some gold again (at last!) for the amazing work in Pirates of the Carribean, and maybe I'm wrong -- the underwater scene is both gorgeous and technically impressive.

But it only takes one word to dispell ILM's chances: Oliphant. ''That still only counts as one!'' No contest.

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