Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Movie Review: Rampart

Rampart *** ½
Directed by: Oren Moverman.
Written by: James Ellroy and Oren Moverman.
Starring: Woody Harrelson (Dave Brown), Steve Buscemi (Bill Blago), Robin Wright (Linda Fentress), Sigourney Weaver (Joan Confrey), Ben Foster (General Terry), Anne Heche (Catherine), Ice Cube (Kyle Timkins), Brie Larson (Helen), Ned Beatty (Hartshorn), Cynthia Nixon (Barbara), Jon Foster(Michael Whittaker), Robert Wisdom (Captain), Stella Schnabel (Jane).

The Rampart scandal that rocks the LAPD in the late 1990s is too big for any one movie to handle. In all, 70 officers were implicated in crimes such as murder, assault, sexual assault, theft, drug dealing, and planting evidence, framing suspects, perjury and obstruction of justice. When the scandal came to light, it resulted in hundreds of over turned convictions. The full extent of the scandal will never be known, but it certainly was one of the widest reaching examples of police corruption in American history. Officers involved have even been linked to the shooting rapper Notorious B.I.G.

So, faced with such a huge, daunting scandal co-writer/director Oren Moverman (alongside writer James Ellroy, who has made a career out of LA set noirs) does a smart thing – and focuses on one man. This is Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson), based in the Rampart division of the LAPD in 1999, and how through his own actions, he starts to slowly hang himself. From the first scene in the movie – where Brown goes on a rant about what being a LAPD officer really means and pretty much forcing a female rookie to coke down French fries she doesn’t want, it’s clear that Brown is at the very least a mean, cruel asshole. When he follows that up by brutally beating a man he gets into a car accident with, it’s clear he’s even worse than that. Of course, some enterprising citizen has a camera, and records Brown beating the suspect, which makes thing worse for the LAPD. The Rampart scandal is just starting to come out, and now, the LAPD has to deal with a rogue cop beating people in broad day light. But that is just the tip of the iceberg to Brown. He has been given the nickname “Date Rape” Dave because in 1987, he killed a man he says was a repeat date rapist, and the shooting has always been clouded by suspicion – that at the very least, Brown over reacted, and at most, it was nothing more but cold blooded murder.

Brown is not really liked by anyone. At work, he is now pretty much persona non grata – the chief (Steve Buscemi) wants him gone, but Brown says if they fire him, he won’t go quietly and they can’t afford another scandal. Internal Affairs (led by Sigourney Weaver) wants to get something on him, but he’s playing coy. The DA’s office is even keener to catch him, and doesn’t much care about how it looks, but so far Kyle Timkins (Ice Cube) can’t find anything on him. He is helped from on high by Hartshorn (Ned Beatty) a former cop, and a friend of Brown’s dead father, who has enough connections to pull some strings to save him. Even at home, Brown is not well liked. He first married one sister (Cynthia Nixon) then the other (Anne Heche) and fathered the daughters of both. Strangely, they all live in the same house and Brown will go to whatever woman will have him that day – although increasingly, neither wants him. He goes to the bar often, and picks up women who will have him (including Robin Wright), but she doesn’t much like him either. His oldest daughter Helen (Brie Larson) despises him, and it seems to be more than just regular teen angst. His younger daughter still loves him, but even he knows that probably won’t last. He knows he can only avoid being arrested or thrown off the force – either option about as appealing to him – for so long.

The main reason to see the movie is for Woody Harrelson’s brilliant performance as Brown. He doesn’t try to soften his edges at all, but he does make Brown into a three dimensional person, not just a monster, as he easily could have become. He is a man slowly drowning, who knows it, but cannot stop it. Sure, he puts on a brave face in public, but behind that false bravado is a man at the end of his rope, just looking for a way out. Harrelson commands the screen every second he’s on it – which is pretty much the entire movie. Harrelson makes the most of this juicy role.

 The writing is fine as well, and is perfectly suited for novelist James Ellroy, whose books usually document some sort of police corruption in LA (his most famous, and best novel, is LA Confidential). His style is spare, violent and cynical – and that describes the movie as well. Oren Moverman, who wrote and directed the wonderful The Messenger a few years back (for which Harrelson received a richly deserved Oscar nomination), has made another fine film.

Rampart suffers a little bit because none of the other characters as well written as Harrelson’s is. They remain firmly in the background, and for the most part, are cookie cutter roles. But Harrelson makes up for that. It is a brilliant performance – in a wonderful film.

Movie Review: Perfect Sense

Perfect Sense ** ½
Directed by: David Mackenzie.
Written by: Kim Fupz Aakeson.
Starring: Eva Green (Susan), Ewan McGregor (Michael), Ewen Bremner (James), Connie Nielsen (Jenny), Stephen Dillane (Samuel).

What would happen to the world if everyone starts to lose their senses, one at a time? That’s the premise of Perfect Sense, an interesting, but not completely satisfying movie starring Ewan McGregor as a chef and Eva Green as an “epidemiologist” who meet cute over a cigarette (how old fashioned is that?) They meet, they fall into bed together, and think that’s going to be all there is to their relationship. But as the world falls deeper into chaos, they find themselves drawn together again and again – and these two people who have essentially kept to themselves for their whole lives, finally open up and have a real relationship. I just didn’t quite buy it – the relationship felt overly forced and sentimental, and goes against what we learn about the characters throughout, and the epidemic is just too ridiculous to be believed.

In Perfect Sense, everyone in the world loses their senses one at a time. The first to go is smell and the just before the world loses their sense of smell, they go through an overwhelming sense of grief and loss – smell is linked strongly to memory and the world mourns the loss of those memories. Then taste goes, and right before it does, the world becomes ravenous, eating anything and everything they can get their hands on at that moment. Over the course of the movie, people will lose the ability to hear, and finally the ability to see. The movie doesn’t go all out and have everyone lose their sense of touch – because that would plunge the movie into a despair that would work against in inherent sentimentality.

The two characters the movie centers on are Michael (Ewan McGregor), a self centered chef, and Susan (Eva Green), an icy cold epidemiologist. They meet cute, fall into bed together quickly, and then Michael throws her out after they’re done – saying he cannot sleep with someone else in bed with him. She’s furious with him – at first – but the two come together again and again during the course of the movie – gradually falling in love. These two self-involved assholes let their guard down as they lose their senses, and gradually learn to connect to each other – right up until the end of the movie, when they really do feel something towards each other.

The movie brings to mind other recent epidemic movies. Steven Soderbergh's Contagion went ultra-realistic with the premise, and delivered one of his best movies. Perfect Sense has more in common with Children of Men, in which humanity becomes infertile, and Blindness, where the world loses their sense of sight, and falls into a dehumanizing mob where might makes right. Like those two movies, there is no attempt to explain why the epidemic spreads or how – even though one of the characters is an epidemiologist, she is apparently not a very good one. But Perfect Sense is much more hopeful than either of those films. In Blindness, the world loses just one of its senses, and it takes almost no time for them to become primal animals. Perfect Sense is about humanities adaptability – how eventually, humans find a way to return to normal. I didn’t really buy that premise – especially when the symptoms continue to mount. The movie also pulls its punches a little, eliminating the sense that we could do without, and then ending the movie when the essential senses start to go.

There are some nice touches throughout the movie however. Director David Mackenzie, who previously made the vastly superior Young Adam with McGregor, has a nice visual style for the movie, but never crosses the line and goes overboard with it. The scene with the world eating everything in sight is a particular triumph. And while I never really bought them as a couple, McGregor and to a lesser extent Green, are effective playing self-involved assholes. The movie held my interest throughout – it’s just that I was expecting more from the film, that it was building towards something bigger, and the movie never got there.

Monday, February 27, 2012

My Thoughts on the Oscars

First things first, I only 15 out of 21 predicted categories right this year – not my best – missing Actress, Editing, Documentary, Visual Effects, Makeup and Cinematography. I must say however, I was not shocked by any of the winners – I probably should have seen Streep coming, as well as Undefeated for documentary. The biggest surprise was probably editing, going with the same team who won for The Social Network last year, winning for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

The winners last night did not fill me with a lot of excitement. The big winner, of course, was The Artist winning Best Picture, Director, Actor, Costume Design and Score. In terms of the big three – Picture, Director and Actor – I think the truth of the matter is that they rank somewhere in the middle of all the winners over the years – not one of the best winners, but certainly not one of the worst either. I know The Artist took a lot of shots over the course of the season, with many thinking it was a fairly thin movie, which I cannot really argue with, but at the same time, I cannot imagine anyone who loves movies not at least enjoying The Artist. It fits perfectly in with most Best Picture winners – high class, yet middle brow entertainment. Nothing too challenging, but highly enjoyable.

The other acting winners, I must say, disappointed me. Don’t get me wrong, I think Meryl Streep is one of the best actresses in cinema history, and I have no problem with her joining the likes of Katherine Hepburn, Walter Brennan and Jack Nicholson as the only actors to ever win three acting Oscars (Hepburn has won four). But The Iron Lady was an absolute mess of a movie, and while Streep is good in the movie, I don’t like the fact that her third win came for one of the weakest movies of her career. Christopher Plummer has been a great character actor for years, and out of the nominees, his performance was the best, but the truth of the matter is that this was more a lifetime achievement award than anything else. And on that level, I certainly think two other nominees – Nick Nolte and especially Max von Sydow – have had better film careers, and one non-nominee, Albert Brooks, was clearly the best, and deserves a lifetime achievement award as well. I have to admit that I did enjoy Octavia Spencer winning, even though I do not like The Help at all. Yet, you cannot deny that Spencer has paid her dues over the years, working in bit parts in movies and TV for years and years now, and just kept plugging along. I do wish that it was a better movie though.

I did like that the technical aspects of Hugo got recognized – Cinematography, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects and especially Art Direction. Yes, I would have loved to see The Tree of Life win cinematography, clearly the best work this category has seen in years, but I cannot complain about Hugo winning any of these awards, and was glad to not see a The Artist sweep.

I liked the fact that Woody Allen and Alexander Payne picked up writing awards. Loved that for once, they didn’t screw up the Foreign category, and gave it to A Separation, clearly one of the best foreign films in the past few years. I guess I need to see Undefeated, the only documentary nominee I have not seen, which of course means it won. And I did love that Rango, the best animated film of the year, got what it deserved. Oh, and I love the fact that the lesser known half of the brilliant Flight of the Concords, picked up a deserved Best Song Oscar.

Getting to the show itself, I enjoyed it, but didn’t love it. Billy Crystal set the standard years ago for the modern day Oscar host – and since I grew up watching him seemingly every year – he will always have a special place for me. And he did precisely what you expect him to do. He was funny and likable, did his schtick inserting himself into some of the nominated film, and singing his song, and kept the show moving along. Yes, I would like to see the Oscar get a little more daring in its choice of Oscar host, but daring gets us more James Franco and Anne Hathaway, than I’ll take safe every time.

Honestly, it is a relief for me that this season is over. I just didn’t feel the passion for the any of the winners this season – usually even though I don’t agree with many choices, there is usually one or two major winners I am very happy for. This year, not so much. Oscar night is the official end of the 2011 movie year, and I’m looking forward to talking about an entirely different group of films in 2012.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Oscar Odds

The Oscars are this Sunday, and while I cannot really create much passion this year - I know none of my favorites will win - I am still looking forward to the show.  Billy Crystal is the safest choice you could possibly make, yet he is funny as Oscar host. It cannot possibly be worse than James Franco and Anne Hathaway were last year. The Oscars need to stop trying to appeal to a younger demographic and just be what they are.

Anyway, below are my Oscar Odds (presented for your amusement only) which will tell you what I think will be win, what should win, and what the least of the nominees are. Then we can leave this, long, mostly boring Oscar season behind. Enjoy the show!

Best Picture
The Artist Odds: 2:1
For it: Perhaps has the widest base of support of any of the films, as everyone at least seems to like it, even if they don’t love it – and many really love. This is a year when the Academy seems to want to feel good about itself, and The Artist leaves audience members feeling really, really good. It’s also a salute to the Hollywood of yesteryear, which the Academy won’t mind.
Against It: There seems to be a growing number of people who feel the film is over rated and shallow. Hollywood tends to like to reward itself, and it is a French film. It is also mainly a silent one, which will turn some off. The box office hasn’t exactly set any records so far, and the Academy loves a hit.

The Descendants Odds: 5-1
For it: For those looking for a more traditional, uplifting film, this comedy-drama about a father dealing with the impending death of his wife, and finally bonding with his daughters, offers just that. The way the movie handles it tone is masterful, and they obviously love Payne, as this is his second film in a row nominated for Best Picture. While the Box Office hasn’t been enormous, it’s more than respectable.
Against It: It may not have the sense of importance that Oscar likes to have in its Best Picture winners. The weak showing in the Tech categories, as well as the fact that only Clooney was nominated from the cast, may mean that love of the film may not be as great as people think.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Odds: 25-1
For it: It got nominated despite weak reviews and buzz that said the film was DOA as an Oscar contender – so obviously the people who voted for the film love it beyond all reason.
Against It: Surprise nominees never actually win – especially surprise nominees that only manage one other nomination. The nomination itself was a minor miracle – a winner would be a HUGE one.

The Help Odds: 7-1
For it: The one bona fide box office hit nominated this year – the film is obviously well loved by its supporter, who have not abandoned it despite it coming out in the summer and many harsh things being said about it. Those who love it seem to think its saying something important about race relations – and Oscar loves to seem important. It’s also a genuine, feel good movie. With more acting nominees than any other Best Picture contender, it has the love of the Academy’s biggest branch.
Against It: No director nominated, no screenplay nominated and no love from the below the line tech categories probably means the love of the film isn’t overly broad. You need numerous other wins to really pull off a Best Picture win, and I don’t think The Help has them.

Hugo Odds: 4-1
For it: A technical marvel, directed by one of the most beloved and legendary of all current filmmakers, the film is also a look back at cinema history, like The Artist, but has the advantage of being a Hollywood film and not in black and white. Another genuine feel good story.
Against It: It’s American, but doesn’t look back at American cinema history, as much as French. It’s also in 3-D, and many really dislike the technology and don’t take it seriously. Has solid, but certainly not fantastic box office considering its budget. Not having an acting nominee hurts.

Midnight in Paris Odds: 8-1
For it: A beloved icon returns to form, making his best film in years – and his first Best Picture nomination since the 1980s. Woody has his fans, and this film is just pure bliss – instantly likable and memorable.
Against It: No acting nominations, and only one tech nod, probably means the support isn’t quite broad enough here. Allen has only broken through once before in the Best Picture category for the win – and typically, the don’t like light comedies for the win.

Moneyball Odds: 10-1
For it: An immensely entertaining, completely different spin on the baseball movie – since very little baseball is actually shown. It also has a giant movie star sized performance in its central role, and turned a book about stats into one of the most entertaining films of the year. The actors liked it enough to overlook far better performances than Jonah Hill’s in the Supporting Actor category.
Against It: Again, it doesn’t really have that sense of importance or size that the Academy typically looks for. No director nomination pretty much dooms it chances.

The Tree of Life Odds: 20-1
For it: Those who love it, really, really love it, so they will probably put it at number 1 on their ballots. A complex, completely different kind of film than the Academy usually nominates, giving it the win would send a message.
Against It: The Academy doesn’t send messages like that. No acting nominations, no screenplay nomination and only one tech nod, doesn’t bode too well for its chances of actually pulling off a victory. Those who hate, really, really hate it.

War Horse Odds: 15-1
For it: It’s Spielberg, doing a war movie and making you cry at the same time. It certainly has the size and historical sweep that they usually look for when choosing a winner.
Against It: Spileberg himself didn’t get nominated – neither did any of his actors nor the screenplay. Not having any of those three pretty much doom it to also ran status.

Who Will Win: The Artist. Unless Hugo or The Descendants can stage a late game comeback, and capitalize on the backlash against The Artist and its weak box office, than the film that has been the frontrunner since at least December will come out on top.
Who Should Win: The Tree of Life. It was the best film of the year, and would be the most daring choice the Academy ever made.
Least of the Nominees: The Help. I know a lot of people would say Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the weakest – simply because it wasn’t a great film, and no one expected it to be nominated. But just because everyone knew The Help would be nominated, doesn’t make it any better. It’s a movie about a group of downtrodden black maids who empower a rich, white girl to write a bestselling book, and where the biggest racist in the 1960s South is a silly housewife. It’s as much fantasy as Harry Potter.

Best Director
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris - Odds: 10-1
For Him: A true legend, who hasn’t won an Oscar in long time now, Allen also crafted one of the most instantly likable and beloved films of the year – and had a legitimate box office hit in the process.
Against Him: He has won more than one Oscar – and he’ll most likely get another one this year – in the screenplay category.

Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist - Odds: 3-1
For Him: The only fresh faced newcomer in the bunch, but yet crafted a loving homage to the Hollywood of old. It is quite a technical achievement and is uplifting to boot – a dangerous combination.
Against Him: They went with a newcomer last year, so maybe they want someone more established this time around. The backlash could well get bigger – I consider this a little less likely than a Best Picture win for the film.

Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life - Odds: 15-1
For Him: A legend, and one that has never won an Oscar to boot. He crafted the most complex, ambitious film of the year.
Against Him: He won’t show up to receive the award even if were going to win. No one really knows him as a person, and he won’t campaign. And there are people who genuinely hate the movie. If he can’t win for something more conventional like The Thin Red Line, he has no shot at winning for this.

Alexander Payne, The Descendants - Odd: 6-1
For Him: This is his second nomination in as many films, and his reputation of being a great director in the Billy Wilder vein grows with each and every film.
Against Him: He has an Oscar at home (for writing, but still) and could very easily win another this year (for writing – again). I could see The Descendants pulling off a Best Picture upset even without Payne getting this one.
Martin Scorsese, Hugo - Odds: 4-1
For Him: A true legend, and he constructed a visual masterwork AND stretched himself by tackling on a completely different kind of film for himself. If they want to award a homegrown talent, it will probably be Marty.
Against Him: He did just win 5 years ago for The Departed – so the whole Scorsese needs an Oscar thing isn’t there anymore and his film probably won’t upset for Best Picture. How many people win for a family movie?
Who Will Win: Michel Hazanvicius, The Artist. Unless Marty can pull off an upset – not entirely out of the question – I think they’ll go with the newcomer this time around.
Who Should Win: Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life. This truly was the best, and most ambitious film of the year, and the fact that he pulled it off should win him this award.
Least of the Nominees: Michel Hazanvicius, The Artist. I actually liked all five nominees work, but I think The Artist is the weakest of the five films nominated, so Hazanvicius gets my vote here.

Best Actor
Demián Bichir, A Better Life - Odds: 25-1
For Him: They obviously really liked this performance, because other than a SAG nom, there was no real precursor support for him, the film barely made a blip at the box office when it was released in the early summer and no one knew who he was before this role.
Against Him: Surprise nominees, as a general rule, don’t win. People still don’t know who he is. The nomination will help his career tremendously, and is award enough in itself.

George Clooney, The Descendants - Odds: 4-1
For Him: He delivered a career best performance, effortlessly blending comedy and drama together in this wonderful film – that the Academy is going to want to give a major award to. He’s also a big movie star, who gives good speeches, and the Academy likes that.
Against Him: It was only 6 years ago where he won his first acting Oscar, and even though it was a supporting win, some will still feel it’s too soon to give him a second one. There is some very tough competition out there.

Jean Dujardin, The Artist - Odds: 3-1
For Him: A wonderful, comedic performance that requires a completely different kind of acting that almost any other role in this day of age does. He looks and moves just like a silent film star. If the film becomes an Oscar juggernaut, it may carry him with it.
Against Him: In many awards groups where the film has done quite well, Dujardin doesn’t actually come away the winner. The last time the Oscars gave the Best Actor prize to a largely unknown foreign actor, it was Roberto Benigni, and I think many are embarrassed about that now. There is some very tough competition.

Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Odds: 10-1
For Him: He has been one of the best actors in the world for three decades now, and he finally got his first Oscar nomination. Some will feel an actual win is long overdue for him. It is also a brilliant, quiet, subtle performance.
Against Him: Quiet and subtle doesn’t describe all that many Best Actor winning performances. He is going up against three people who have films in the Best Picture race, and his isn’t. They may well give him an Oscar at some point, but I don’t think it will be this year.

Brad Pitt, Moneyball - Odds: 5-1
For Him: He is a huge movie star, with his third nomination, and I think the Academy really wants to give him a win. His biggest competition has an Oscar at home already. Many really do love this film, and will want to give it a big award. And it would also be a way to reward his brilliant, but un-nominated in The Tree of Life.
Against Him: He may not hit enough emotional notes for some, and Clooney and The Descendants have found more precursor love that Pitt has so far.

Who Will Win: Jean Dujardin, The Artist. Had Clooney not already won an acting Oscar, he would likely be a shoo-in. But Dujardin has staged a late game push here, and The Artist seems unstoppable, so he probably wins this one as well.
Who Should Win: Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. He has been doing great work for 30 years now and finally got his first Oscar nomination. His work in Tinker is the quietest of the nominees, but also perhaps his finest performance to date.
Least of the Nominees: Demian Bichir, A Better Life. It’s a fine performance, in a fine little film, but I don’t think it comes close to the other nominees – or even non-nominees like Fassbender, Shannon, Gosling, Fiennes, DiCaprio, etc.

Best Actress
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs - Odds: 10-1
For Her: She was nominated five times in the 1980s, and they always seemed to think they’d give it to her next time – and never did. Now she’s back with her first nomination in more than 20 years, and there will be some who think she’s way overdue.
Against Her: Does anyone actually love the movie? Yes, she’s better than the movie itself, but it’s a very quiet, very subtle performance.

Viola Davis, The Help - Odds: 3-1
For Her: Often times, the Academy makes you wait until at least your second nomination – and this is Davis’ second in not a very long period of time. The film is beloved by many, and even those who don’t like the movie (like myself), admit that she is excellent in it.
Against Her: One of her co-stars may well win the Supporting Actress Oscar, and two acting wins for a film doesn’t happen all that often. She faces some tough competition for actresses who are also due a win.

Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Odds: 15-1
For Her: She had a real breakthrough when David Fincher gave her one of the most beloved roles in current literature with Lisbeth Salander. Despite having big shoes to fill – not only because of the book, but because of the previous cinematic incarnation, she received great reviews.
Against Her: The only newcomer among the nominees, she simply isn’t due for a win this year.

Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady - Odds: 4-1
For Her: The most nominated actress (or actor) in history, has now gone 29 years without an acting win – and there are many who feel that despite the fact that she two Oscars at home, she deserves a third one. The Academy loves a good impression, and Streep certainly delivers that.
Against Her: But does anyone actually like the movie itself, which is an absolute mess? Won’t they want to give her a third Oscar for a truly great performance/movie?

Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn - Odds: 6-1
For Her: Her third nomination in 6 years, and second in as many years, Michelle Williams has quickly become one of the best actresses of her career, and some will feel her time has come. Her performance as Marilyn Monroe is brilliant impersonation, but also more than that, showing many different sides of the icon.
Against Her: Again, I don’t think many actually love the film itself, which is light and forgettable other than her work in it. As great as she is in the film, it isn’t even her best work in the last two years.

Who Will Win: Viola Davis, The Help. I think this is a legitimate three way race between Davis, Streep and Williams, but Davis will hold off the other two, who may well steal votes from each other.
Who Should Win: Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Based on the performances alone, Mara’s is my favorite (especially since the Academy didn’t nominate my three favorites of the year by Swinton, Olson and Dunst), but just barely over Williams, so I may well be rooting for Michelle come Oscar night.
Least of the Nominees: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady. Streep can do a spot on impression of just about anyone – we’ve seen that time and again in her career – and it’s not her fault that the movie is a snooze. She’s given little to work with and is still damn impressive. But Oscar impressive? Not for me.

Best Supporting Actor
Kenneth Branagh, My Week with Marilyn - Odds: 15-1
For Him: It would be somewhat fitting to give Branagh an Oscar for playing the actor he has modeled his career on. They do love it when actors play famous people – and Branagh does a fine impression of Olivier.
Against Him: But Williams in his own movie shows that a performance of a famous person can go beyond mere impression into something deeper – true Branagh didn’t have a chance to do so, but it makes the performance a little less. It wouldn’t seem right for him to win if Williams didn’t, and two acting wins for this film also wouldn’t seem right.

Jonah Hill, Moneyball - Odds: 20-1
For Him: One of only two nominees from a Best Picture contender, people really do love Hill’s film, and yet it looks like it may go home empty handed that day – so some may vote for him.
Against Him: This is his first nomination, and he is mainly known as a broad comedian, which isn’t good for Oscar. He’ll have to wait for another year to have a real chance to win.

Nick Nolte, Warrior - Odds: 10-1
For Him: A great actor, with his third nomination, he’s also getting old, which means if they don’t give him one now, they may never be able to. The role also hits three Oscar clichés on the head – he’s old, he’s drunk and he has issues with his son.
Against Him: As the film’s only nomination, it’s a little bit tougher to actually pull off a victory for him. He’s going up against two other old timers who have the same merits. He hasn’t really won anything all season – so starting with an Oscar would be a surprise.

Christopher Plummer, Beginners - Odds: 2-1
For Him: A great actor, with his second nomination, he’s also getting old, which means if they don’t give him one now, they may never be able to. The role also hits four Oscar clichés of the head – he’s old, he’s slowly dying, he’s gay and he has issues with his son. Battled Albert Brooks tooth and nail all season for prizes, and with Brooks not nominated, the path is clear for him.
Against Him: As the film’s only nomination, it’s a little bit tougher to actually pull off a victory for him. He’s going up against two other old timers with similar resumes.

Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Odds: 5-1
For Him: A great actor, with his second nomination, he’s also getting old, which means if they don’t give him one now, they may never be able to. The role also hits three Oscar clichés on the head – he’s old, he’s disabled and he has issues with his son. He is also the only contender with a shot at winning in a Best Picture nominee.
Against Him: He’s going up against two other old timers with similar resumes, and he hasn’t really won anything all season, so starting with an Oscar would be a surprise. Some HATE the film.

Who Will Win: Christopher Plummer, Beginners. They should have given him his career capper win in 1999 for The Insider, so I guess they’ll make it up to him now.
Who Should Win: Christopher Plummer, Beginners. I suppose out of these performances, Plummer gave the best one, and he is certainly worthy of a career capping win (although so is Nolte and especially Sydow). But since they overlooked my SIX favorite performances in this category, I’m none too passionate about Plummer winning – especially in a year where he so publicly insulted Terrence Malick, who made the year’s best film.
Least of the Nominees: Nick Nolte, Warrior. I liked Warrior WAY more than I thought I would, and while all three old timers hit many Oscar clichés, I don’t think any quite hits it harder than Nolte. He’s fine in the role, but I was far more impressed by Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton.

Best Supporting Actress
Bérénice Bejo, The Artist - Odds: 7-1
For Her: She is in the Best Picture frontrunner, and if there is an Oscar category where they don’t mind giving the award to pretty, young newcomers, Supporting Actress is it. Those who love The Artist, may just check her name off automatically.
Against Her: She hasn’t actually won many awards for this performance – she runners up, and gets nominated, and then someone else takes it. The same is probably truly here.

Jessica Chastain, The Help - Odds: 5-1
For Her: Few newcomers have as good a year as Chastain has had – she just as easily could have been nominated for The Tree of Life or Take Shelter, and she was very good in Coriolanus and The Debt as well. Giving her an Oscar for The Help would be a way to reward a great year.
Against Her: She faces tough internal competition from the film she is nominated for. Some of the detractors already think the movie is somewhat insulting to African Americans – imagine what they’d say if they gave an Oscar to one of white stars of the movie.

Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids - Odds: 8-1
For Her: She managed to get nominated despite three things working against her – it was an early in the year release, it is a broad comedy and she is ghettoized as a “TV actress”. They obviously really, really liked her performance. She’s probably the only chance they have to reward a well loved film.
Against Her: The broad comedy thing is going to hurt her more in the next round. You really have to look back to 1988 and Kevin Kline to find this type of performance winning. It just doesn’t happen.

Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs - Odds: 15-1
For Her: She has her second nomination, and for many, she is significantly better at playing a woman disguised as a man than her co-star, Glenn Close. It is impressive work.
Against Her: But no one really likes the film all that much do they? Yes, she’s been nominated before, but that was more than a decade ago, and there hasn’t been all that much great work in between – meaning there is no pressing need to reward her.

Octavia Spencer, The Help - Odds: 3-1
For Her: For those who love The Help – Spencer’s performance captures what they love about it – both broad comedy, and heartbreaking drama. She has many of the movies best scenes and lines, and she certainly leaves an impression.
Against Her: She came out of nowhere to deliver this performance, so the Academy won’t feel the need to award her career to date. Yet, the same is true for her competition. She does face another nominee from the same film though, and that could split the vote.

Who Will Win: Octavia Spencer, The Help. Unless her co-star Chastain is able to come from behind, or siphon enough votes that Bejo or McCarthy can take the win, I think Spencer wins it.
Who Should Win: Jessica Chastain, The Help. If I’m going purely on the performances nominated, I guess I’d go with Bejo – but I’m not overly passionate about any of these five performances. I am passionate about Chastain’s work in The Tree of Life and Take Shelter however (both should have been nominated over this one), so if Chastain wins, I can pretend she won for one of her better roles.
Least of the Nominees: Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs. I know many think she’s better than co-star Glenn Close – but I’m not one of them, as Close’s role is a subtle heartbreaker, and there isn’t much subtle about McTeer. Yes, it’s a fine performance. No, it should not have got in instead of either 2011 Carey Mulligan performance or Vanessa Redgrave.

Best Original Screenplay
The Artist - Michel Hazanavicius - Odds: 5-1
For Him: It is one of the most loved films of the year, and your probably best picture winner. If the Academy looks to split the Picture/Director Oscars – giving Director to Scorsese for instance – they could still give Hazanvicius an Oscar for writing it.
Against Him: There is a thought among many that screenplays are all about dialogue – and The Artist doesn’t have any. The film is looked upon more as a technical achievement than a writing one. If Hazanvicius is winning this year, it will be for Director.

Bridesmaids - Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo - Odds: 15-1
For Them: A very much loved film, who was able to get in when many crude comedies have fallen short in recent years. She one of the writers is also the star of the movie, it would be a way of giving her an Oscar.
Against Them: But if they really felt the need to give Wiig one, they would have nominated her performance. Broad comedies are lucky to be nominated – they never actually win.

Margin Call -  J.C. Chandor - Odds: 25-1
For Him: The film came out of nowhere this fall, and became a modest, word of mouth indie hit. The film is certainly timely, and has put Chandor on the map.
Against Him: The nomination will help his career a lot, but he has no chance actually winning this award. You need to have at least some other nominations to support it – and Margin Call doesn’t.

Midnight in Paris - Woody Allen - Odds: 3-1
For Him: He is a much loved filmmaker, who made his most loved film is years with Midnight in Paris. It’s one of only two best picture nominees in this category, and the other is a silent film. He isn’t winning for Director, and the film won’t win anything else, so if they’re going to award it, this is the only chance.
Against Him: He has already won three Oscars – and didn’t show up to receive any of them. Some will feel he has already been awarded enough, and that if you want to win an Oscar, you should actually show up to pick it up.

A Separation - Asghar Farhadi - Odds: 10-1
For Him: A foreign language nominee is a difficult thing to pick up in the screenplay categories, but Farhadi managed it. This is a very much loved film, and has some very passionate supporters who will vote for it no matter what. Foreign language winners in this category are not unheard of.
Against Him: But they are rare. Since the film is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, they can feel safe in the knowledge that Farhadi will get an Oscar in that category – and they don’t need to give him two of them in one year.

Who Will Win: Midnight in Paris. Unless The Artist freight train muscles it to a victory, or they really loved A Separation, Woody wins his fourth Oscar.
Who Should Win: Midnight in Paris. It is really is the wittiest, funniest, most well written original screenplay of the year, so Woody deserves a fourth trophy.
Least of the Nominees: Bridesmaids. I like broad, crude comedies as much as the next guy, but sorry, I just don’t think Bridesmaids was quite as uproariously funny as its supporting claim. It’s good, but really, not that good.

Best Adapted Screenplay
The Descendants -  Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash - Odds: 3-1
For Them: Once again, Payne and company effortlessly blended comedy and drama, which is a delicate balancing act, that they pulled off perfectly. The cast is terrific, sure, but it started here.
Against Them: Payne one this award for his last film, Sideways, so perhaps they’ll look elsewhere – especially if Clooney pulls off a Best Actor win.

Hugo - John Logan - Odds: 10-1
For Him: John Logan seemingly writes one epic after another, and although he’s been nominated a few times now, he hasn’t won. Those who want to give Hugo something other than a tech win, may vote for him.
Against Him: The reason Logan never wins is the same reason he won’t this year – as good as his screenplay are, the films themselves are always considered to be directorial triumphs, rather than writing ones.

The Ides of March  - George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon - Odds: 25-1
For Them: They took a stage play, and opened it up a little bit so it isn’t as obviously a photographed play as many are. Clooney and Heslov were nominated before for Good Night and Good Luck, and lost.
Against Them: As the film’s only nomination, it stands little chance of winning such a big prize.

Moneyball -  Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin - Odds: 5-1
For Them: Zallian and Sorkin are two of the most loved writers working today. They took a book mainly about baseball statistics, and made a witty, heartfelt, inspiring sports movie out of it. Even author Michael Lewis was amazed by what they did. This could well be the only chance to give the movie an Oscar.
Against Them: Zallian and Sorkin are so well loved, they already have Oscars at home – Sorkin won just last year for The Social Network. I get the impression that Moneyball is quite as well loved as The Descendants is.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy -  Bridget O'Connor, Peter Straughan - Odds: 15-1
For Them: They took a complex spy thriller masterpiece by John LeCarre, and made it into a terrific movie. The Christmas party flashbacks, not included in the book, was a master stroke.
Against Them: Four of the other contenders come from Best Picture nominees, so it will hard for them to really gain much traction here.

Who Will Win: The Descendants. Once again, they’ll give Payne the “bridesmaid” prize of screenplay, since they aren’t going to give him best director.
Who Should Win: Moneyball. The book to screen translation really was the most complex, and the screenplay itself is masterful.
Least of the Nominees: The Ides of March. I enjoyed The Ides of March as much as anyone else did – I just don’t think it deserved an Oscar nomination.

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
A Cat in Paris - Odds: 25-1
Chico & Rita - Odds: 20-1
Kung Fu Panda 2 - Odds: 20-1
Puss in Boots – Odds – 15-1
Rango – Odds – Even

Analysis: The Animation branch made it very clear this year that they will probably never embrace the animation style of Tintin – they also overlooked all three Zemeckis films done in the same style. Instead, the nominated two little seen foreign films, two franchise entries, and one original – guess what will win?
Who Will Win: Rango. No Tintin, means no real competition for Rango. It could have been an interesting race with the Spielberg film in the running, but without it, anything other than Rango would be a major upset.
Who Should Win: Rango. It was my favorite animated film of the year by far, in what was a weak year in general for animation.
Least of the Nominees: A Cat in Paris. I applaude the Academy for thinking outside of the box and going with not one, but two foreign films. But while Chico and Rita is excellent, A Cat in Paris is a thin bore. Tintin should have been here.

Foreign Language Film
Bullhead - Odds: 15-1
Footnote- Odds: 6-1
In Darkness- Odds: 4-1
Monsieur Lazhar - Odds: 5-1
A Separation - Odds: 2-1

Analysis: Iran’s A Separation is far and away the most acclaimed foreign film of the year – not just among the nominees, but from anywhere – and it also got a screenplay nomination, which means there is support for it. But remember, the rules for voting for Foreign Language Film are strange – you have to prove you saw all five films at Academy sanctioned screenings, and request a special ballot. This is how upsets happen. So don’t count out the WWII film In Darkness – they have a history of loving those in this category – or the inspiring teacher drama Monsieur Lazhar from Canada, or even the Israeli film Footnote. I don’t see much chance for Bullhead.
Who Will Win: A Separation. I have to think that the Academy will recognize A Separation here, but you never really know.
Who Should Win: A Separation is a small scale masterwork, and my favorite of the nominees I’ve seen (but since I’ve only seen 2, what the hell do I know?)
Least of the Nominees: Monsieur Lazhar. Again, I’ve only seen two of the nominees, and since this wonderful Canadian film isn’t as good as A Separation, I have to put it here, I guess.

Best Documentary, Features
Hell and Back Again - Odds: 5-1
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front  - Odds: 20-1
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory - Odds: 3-1
Pina - Odds: 5-1
Undefeated - Odds: 10-1

Analysis: Picking a winner here is always tough, because the Academy has its head up its ass when it comes to documentaries so much of the time. Still, I’d say the frontrunner is Paradise Lost 3 – as much for whole series, if not more, than for the film itself. It has got so much publicity, that I think it gets it. Yet, don’t count out this year’s military doc, Hell and Back Again, or the lovliness of the dance doc Pina. Undefeated, the one doc not seen by me, is apparently very inspiring, but probably does not have the “importance” to win. I don’t think If a Tree Falls has any shot.
Who Will Win: Paradise Lost 3. They are the only film here that can legitimately claim that they helped saved someone’s life – one of the most talked about doc series of the last 15 years finally wins.
Who Should Win: Paradise Lost 3. It wasn’t the best doc of the year, or of the series, but out of this selection of films, it is my favorite.
Least of the Nominees: If a Tree Falls. Sorry, although I did find this film interesting, to me it plays like a TV special more than a theatrical documentary – perhaps something you’d see on 48 Hours or 60 Minutes blown up to feature length.

Best Achievement in Cinematography
The Artist - Guillaume Schiffman - Odds: 5-1
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Jeff Cronenweth - Odds: 15-1
Hugo - Robert Richardson - Odds: 4-1
The Tree of Life - Emmanuel Lubezki - Odds: 3-1
War Horse - Janusz Kaminski - Odds: 12-1

Analysis: Probably a real tight three way race here. For The Artist, you do have wonderful work in black and white, which will always get you nominated (but I think the Academy as a whole, who votes in the winning round, isn’t quite as enamored as the cinematographers, who vote in the nominating round). For Hugo, you have large, epic scale work that made good use of 3-D – and as Avatar’s inexplicable win in the category shows, the Academy doesn’t mind a lot of special effects. For The Tree of Life, you have the most acclaimed work of the year, that is masterful on both an epic and intimate scale – but is in a film many aren’t a fan of.
Who Will Win: The Tree of Life. Even those who hate the film – and there are many of them – have to admit the cinematography is mesmerizing and brilliant. Its going to be close, but I think it takes it.
Who Should Win: The Tree of Life. Far and away the best work this category has seen in years.
Least of the Nominees: War Horse. The work is actually very good – but nothing compared to the other nominees.

Best Achievement in Editing
The Artist - Odds: 3-1
The Descendants - Odds: 25-1
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Odds: 8-1
Hugo - Odds: 4-1
Moneyball - Odds: 10-1

Analysis: This could be an early night indicator of a possible upset in the Best Picture category, since this very often matches the Best Picture winner. So, keeping that in mind, if Hugo pulled off a win, it’s probably going to win Picture as well. If The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo pulls off an upset victory – as sometimes, they do go off board with their winners, then all bets are off.
Who Will Win: The Artist. As I said, this usually matches Best Picture – so vote for The Artist.
Who Should Win: Hugo. How the editors overlooked The Tree of Life and Drive is beyond me – so with them not in the running, I’ll say legend Thelma Schoonmaker deserves her fourth Oscar for working on a Scorsese film.
Least of the Nominees: The Descendants. Love the film as much as I do, I just don’t see what was particularly special about the editing that should have gotten it this nomination. It’s fine work, sure, but nothing great.

Best Achievement in Art Direction
The Artist - Odds: 4-1
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 - Odds: 7-1
Hugo - Odds: 3-1
Midnight in Paris - Odds: 10-1
War Horse - Odds: 15-1

Analysis: This really comes down to a competition between Hugo and The Artist – the other three probably don’t stand much of a chance.
Who Will Win: Hugo. I think the epic scale of the work done on Hugo, especially the train station itself, is what puts it over the top.
Who Should Win: Hugo. The train station could well be the most memorable location of the year.
Least of the Nominees: War Horse. Again, it’s fine work, but over The Tree of Life? Come on!

Best Achievement in Costume Design
Anonymous - Odds: 25-1
The Artist - Odds: 3-1
Hugo - Odds: 4-1
Jane Eyre - Odds: 10-1
W.E. - Odds: 30-1

Analysis: The Academy will sometimes go completely off board, and pick a winner that hasn’t been nominated anywhere else – still, I think it would be pushing your luck to think that Anonymous or W.E. have any shot. Like many categories, it looks to be between Hugo and The Artist.
Who Will Win: The Artist. I could see this going either way between The Artist and Hugo – so when in doubt, pick the probably Best Picture winner.
Who Should Win: Hugo. A lot of work, all of it wonderful, and much more varied than The Artist.
Least of the Nominees: Anonymous. I haven’t seen W.E. – and who knows when or if I ever will – but Anonymous proves more isn’t always better.

Best Achievement in Makeup
Albert Nobbs - Odds: 5-1
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 - Odds: 3-1
The Iron Lady - Odds: 4-1

Who Will Win: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
Who Should Win: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
Least of the Nominees: The Iron Lady

Best Original Score
The Adventures of Tintin - John Williams - Odds: 20-1
The Artist - Ludovic Bource - Odds: 2-1
Hugo - Howard Shore - Odds: 5-1
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy -  Alberto Iglesias - Odds: 15-1
War Horse - John Williams - Odds: 10-1

Analysis: Another year, another two John Williams nominations – what else is new? I don’t think Williams has a hope of winning this year, and as much I like the work, I don’t think Alberto Iglesias’ work on Tinker does either. Howard Shore could pull it off for Hugo. But the truth of the matter is, if Kim Novak hadn’t released that ridiculous statement saying her work had been “raped” because The Artist used part of the Vertigo score (with permission of course), than The Artist would be a lock here – and still probably is.
Who Will Win: The Artist. Unless Kim Novak’s rant hurt this more than I think it did, The Artist is pretty much a lock.
Who Should Win: The Artist. I don’t care that they used Vertigo in a key scene – most of it is Bource’s own work, and it pays brilliant homage to a host of great old movie music. Since they didn’t see fit to nominate Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who are brilliantly pushing the boundaries of music scores, why not go with a old school one?
Least of the Nominees: The Adventures of Tintin. I really do like John Williams – I just don’t think he needs to be nominated FOR EVERY FRICKING SCORE HE COMPOSES. That is all.

Best Original Song
The Muppets - Man or Muppet - Odds: Even
Rio - Real in Rio - Odds: 10-1

Analysis: You can’t help but think that even the music branch is sick of this damn category since they could only come up with two nominees. A horrible nominating process weeds out practically everything.
Who Will Win: The Muppets. Is it even close? No.
Who Should Win: The Muppets. Personally, I preferred Pictures in My Head from this one, but Man or Muppet was fine as well.
Least of the Nominees: Rio. I liked the film, and didn’t even see it all that long ago. Still have no idea what the hell this song is.

Best Sound Mixing
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Odds: 8-1
Hugo - Odds: 3-1
Moneyball - Odds: 15-1
Transformers: Dark of the Moon - Odds: 10-1
War Horse - Odds: 4-1

Analysis: No The Artist (for obvious reason), most likely clears the war for Hugo to take this one, unless they go with War Horse, as they do love LOUD war movies here.
Who Will Win: Hugo. It really is excellent work, and since I think this is your BP runner-up, they’ll throw it a number of tech wins – just like The Aviator.
Who Should Win: Hugo. It is terrific work, and out of the nominees, it is the best (but where was We Need to Talk About Kevin, the most complex sound design of the year).
Least of the Nominees: Transformers: Dark of the Moon. I am really tired of these robots and their noise.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing
Drive - Odds: 20-1
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Odds: 8-1
Hugo - Odds: 3-1
Transformers: Dark of the Moon - Odds: 10-1
War Horse - Odds: 4-1

Analysis: They usually like their sound categories very loud – especially in Sound Editing, which is all about sound effects. Still though, they don’t want to embarrass themselves, so when a film like Hugo – which is both epic and loud, and a Best Picture nominee, it’s a good bet it will win. But be careful – they LOVE war films here, so War Horse could surprise.
Who Will Win: Hugo. The tech categories, if you haven’t pieced it together by now, will probably be split between The Artist and Hugo – no Artist, means Hugo wins this one.
Who Should Win: Drive. If for no other reason than one of the very best films of the year only got one measly nomination, so I’m rooting for it here.
Least of the Nominees: Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Been there, heard that. And just because sound deafens you, it doesn’t mean it’s great.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 - Odds: 4-1
Hugo - Odds: 5-1
Real Steel - Odds: 15-1
Rise of the Planet of the Apes - Odds: 3-1
Transformers: Dark of the Moon - Odds: 15-1

Analysis: This seems to be a tight three way race between Hugo, Harry and the Apes. Hugo because it is a Best Picture nominee, and used 3-D amazingly well, and CGI to create its wonderous world. Harry Potter because it is the last chance to honor a series with consistently great work. And Apes, because of the amazing job on Caesar. Real Steel and Transformers are also rans.
Who Will Win: Rise of the Planet of the Apes. If it can hold off Harry and Hugo, they’ll give it the Oscar for Caesar.
Who Should Win: Hugo. I’ve never thought that most equals best at the Oscars, and Hugo has such wonderful work, it’s hard to criticize it. Apes is a very close second however.
Least of the Nominees: Real Steel. Sorry, I hated Transformers: Dark of the Moon, but I can’t think of much bad to say about its special effects. Not much wrong with Real Steel’s either mind you, just not quite on the same scale.