The countdown has begun. Only four days remain until the 84th Academy Awards. This year’s event will be hosted by Billy Crystal and held at Los Angeles’ Kodak Theatre (where “American Idol” is taped). The event gives Hollywood a chance to roll out the red carpet for the most prestigious awards show of the year.
And what a year it was! For example, a silent, black and white movie may actually take home the Best Picture Oscar. The last time that happened was 1929—some 83 years ago. Let’s take a look at the nominees for 2011 (WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD):
The one true break-out hit of the year is a film of startling originality, which it achieves by reminding us of the original charms of early film. Yes, “The Artist” was shot in black and white and contains no audio dialogue. (The movie was not even produced in widescreen, because early films were all shot in the same 4:3 aspect ratio, the same ratio used by older-model televisions.) And while it’s a great gimmick to use in our post-modern age, the film wouldn’t be nearly so memorable if its core story and presentation weren’t so compelling.
This French romantic comedy is set during the period between 1927 and 1932, when sound films had been introduced and silent films were on their way out, and the story revolves around a “silent” film actor and his relationship with an up-and-coming “talkie” actress that he falls for.
Prediction: Wins for “Best Picture” and possibly a “Best Actor” Oscar for Jean Dujardin.
Brilliant filmmaker Alexander Payne knows how to show the humor in painful situations, and vice versa, as he has done in comedies like “Sideways,” “Election” and “Citizen Ruth.” Here Payne takes a nice-guy lawyer (played with middle-aged gusto and angst by George Clooney) and shakes up his predictable world like a snow globe.
First Clooney’s wife suffers a traumatic accident. Then he learns that she’s critically ill. Then Clooney discovers his wife’s been having an affair. A critical favorite, “The Descendants” topped many “Best of 2011” lists and has already won the Golden Globe for Best Drama. And Clooney, well, he just keeps getting better with every performance.
Prediction: If Dujardin fails to take the “Best Actor” award, then the statue will go home with Clooney. Long-shot-but-don’t-count-him-out-yet: Alexander Payne for “Best Director.”
A young boy loses his father (Tom Hanks) when the Twin Towers fall on 9/11, then discovers a way to keep his memory alive from beyond the grave. “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” is a cinematic love letter to New York City, although many critics complained the film was emotionally manipulative, and blatantly so at that…
The boy’s grandparents are Holocaust survivors, which shows the filmmakers were trying to make an “emotionally significant” movie by covering another tragic event that defies easy summation. Another clue about the film’s award-based motivations: the young boy’s name is “Oskar.” (Hmmm…coincidence?)
Prediction: This one was lucky enough just to get nominated. Don’t push it.
Chronicling how one class of people behaved toward another in the not-too-distant past, “The Help” is set in the racially charged atmosphere of early 1960s Mississippi. Sporting a showcase of impressive performances from its largely female cast, “The Help” seeks to address the grievances experienced by black domestic servants (usually called “the help”) at the hands of their white employers.
Numerous actresses were nominated for their performances, although critics could not reach consensus about whether the film really was helping to promote any meaningful racial healing. (The New York Times, for example, called the movie “a big ole slab of honey-glazed hokum.”)
Prediction: The buzz has surrounded Octavia Spencer, who is likely to win the “Best Supporting Actress,” although there’s a strong chance that Viola Davis will capture the “Best Actress” Oscar.
Martin Scorsese, long considered one of film’s greatest directors, surprised all expectations with “Hugo,” a free-wheeling, family-friendly fantasy set in the 1930s but produced in 3D. Like “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” the main character in “Hugo” is a young boy who is trying to maintain a psychic connection to his dead father.
Like “The Artist,” “Hugo” reflects on the early days of movies and how revolutionary “moving pictures” first seemed to audiences. (One 1897 film showed the arrival of a train at a station. The train rushed toward the camera, prompting panic in the audience members, who scattered when they felt that a real locomotive was suddenly bearing down on them.) Audiences and critics alike were united in their approval of “Hugo,” which proved that a cinematic magician like Scorsese is still willing to learn some dazzling new tricks.
Prediction: Scorsese has already received a Best Director Oscar (for “The Departed”) and his previous films have won the “Best Picture” award. With that in mind, look for “Hugo” to mainly win technical awards for its breathtaking special effects.
Midnight in Paris
In “Midnight in Paris,” now available on iTunes, Owen Wilson falls deeply in love…with a by-gone era and the world’s most romantic city.
Writer/director Woody Allen (who has made an astounding 41 films over the past 46 years—nearly one movie a year, each and every year, for four and a half decades) enjoyed his biggest box office success ever with this genial romp through time. Owen Wilson plays a frustrated writer who discovers a “rabbit hole” that lets him experience the famed romantic Paris of the 1920s, when expatriate American writers like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald haunted its cafes.
Prediction: Although critics and audiences latched onto “Midnight,” its nomination was mainly a gesture of respect toward Woody Allen. (By the way, don’t expect to see the famed director on the famed Red Carpet; Allen didn’t even attend the Oscar ceremonies in 1977, when his masterpiece “Annie Hall” became one of the only comedies to ever win the award for best picture.)
Brad Pitt’s considerable acting chops are rarely saluted, but he provided the living soul of this quirky sports comedy. Playing a struggling baseball manager, he finds a solution to his team’s many problems in computer whiz Jonah Hill’s ability to help him “program” the perfect team. Pitt’s turn as the manager is fun and meaningful, although the real star of “Moneyball” is Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin’s script, which delivers its clever story with the precision and energy of a triple play.
Prediction: Look for “Moneyball” to win a “Best Adapted Screenplay” award for Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin (who won Oscar gold last year for writing “The Social Network.”) This is Jonah Hill’s first nomination for “Best Supporting Actor,” but based on his glowing reviews, it won’t be his last.
Brad Pitt again, in the film that generated the biggest cinematic debate of the year. Terrence Malick’s “everyday” epic, which seeks to frame the life experience through the eyes and lives of average American people, was undeniably ambitious. (Master critic Roger Ebert wrote that the “only other film I’ve seen with this boldness of vision is Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’”) However, opinions were sharply divided over the ultimate worth of the film, with some critics naming “Tree of Life” the best picture of the year. Others just scratched their heads in confusion.
Prediction: Too grand and mysterious to win a “Best Picture” Oscar, “The Tree of Life” could fetch a Best Director Oscar for Terrence Malick, who has produced a respected body of work that includes “Badlands” and “The Thin Red Line.”
Steven Spielberg climbed back in the director’s saddle for this rousing WWI epic that details the true exploits of a plow horse put into military action, and the bond that grows between the horse (named Joey) and its various owners. Unabashedly sentimental, “War Horse” is a film meant to prompt cheers with its audience-friendly message and upbeat ending. Per usual, Spielberg is able to use his directorial prowess to elevate standard film fare and make it into something memorable.
Prediction: The Academy loves films about horses, but this one’s probably a long shot for Best Picture. More likely, expect composer John Williams (who is also beloved by the Academy) to win the Oscar for “Best Original Score.”
Making It In The Movies
Want to go to the Oscars? If you’re interested in getting into the movie business, there’s no time like the present to start. Film camps for kids and teens can be a great way to inspire anyone to enter the world of filmmaking – Digital Media Academy offers over 20 different courses related to filmmaking. Get ready for your close-up!
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