Pre-Oscar Thoughts and Predictions

February 26, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

When it comes to film critics, I'm probably in the minority when I say that I find the Academy Awards to be a snooze-fest. This year, instead of doing a "live" commentary, I will curl up on my couch with a good book and glance at the TV every time someone wins something. (If I fall asleep, my wife can elbow me when something happens.) Multi-tasking is a good way to handle the Oscars - that way I won't feel that I have let three hours of my life slip away. Maybe Chris Rock will shake things up a little, but I doubt it. The Academy Awards have become so ponderous that they tend to swallow up any spice and leave the end result as bland as ever.

There's little doubt that the importance of the Oscars has diminished with time. Although it's true that TV is awards-crazy, with even the once laughable Golden Globes having achieved a level of legitimacy, nominations and victories don't carry the weight they once did. The only difference between the Oscars and the MTV Movie Awards is that the former has a pedigree, and is stuffy enough to flaunt it. Does anyone actually think that, in the grand scheme of things, the Oscars really mean anything?

Pretentiousness is a flaw, but the real problem is predictability. Surprises are not welcome at the Oscars. Like a wedding, everything must move according to plan. Unlike a wedding, however, this is not a personal event. It's an entertainment show, and it has become boring. Not only is it easy to guess most of the winners (especially the important ones), but even the occasional unexpected victory produces little more than a shrug. Speeches are cookie-cutter thank-yous that typically fall afoul of the two-minute (or however long it is) rule. A good speech - one that is short, pithy, and clearly written - is a rarity. And, for any celebrity who thinks this is an opportunity to declare a political position, get over yourself! No one is watching the Oscars to hear what you think of the war in Iraq. If you're not going to say something intelligent and witty, say, "Thank you, Daddy and Mommy. Thank you, Mr. Director. And thank you, Academy," then get the hell off the stage.

Oscar pools have become almost as common as NCAA Basketball pools. For what it's worth, here are my thoughts. Keep in mind that I'm not in an Oscar pool, so if I'm wrong, I don't lose anything. (Traditionally, I run somewhere around 60-70% correct. In school, that would get me a D. If it was a Presidential approval rating, it would be carte blanche to push whatever agenda I felt like pushing.)

Picture: Common wisdom claims Million Dollar Baby and The Aviator will split the Picture/Director award, but I don't think common wisdom is all that wise. Michael Medved notwithstanding, I think Clint Eastwood's movie will (deservedly) take home the Best Picture statuette. It has all the momentum. I don't even think The Aviator belongs among the nominees, especially when something stirring like Hotel Rwanda was left off. So my official prediction is Million Dollar Baby. Will I express righteous indignation if The Aviator wins? Nah. It will be too late at night.

Director: One could make an argument that Scorsese is more deserving than Eastwood, but the DGA talks, and that means Eastwood will get to give a speech. Please, Clint, don't thank more than five people! It will be a little sad to watch Scorsese with that hang-dog expression, trying to seem happy for Eastwood, but those are the breaks. Martin will eventually get some kind of honorary Oscar to replace the ones he should have won for Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas.

Actor: Jamie Foxx. No question. Hopefully, his acceptance speech will be shorter and more coherent than the one he gave at the Golden Globes. Incidentally, amongst the nominees, Foxx's performance was only the second best. The winner should be Don Cheadle, but we all know that won't happen.

Actress: Hilary Swank, beating Annette Bening for the second time. Swank is riding the Million Dollar Baby momentum wave, and will crush everyone in her path. Some people are predicting Imelda Staunton as a dark horse, but that's about as likely to happen as Michael Moore making a real documentary.

Supporting Actor: Morgan Freeman has never won an Oscar, so this is his year. If there's a dark horse, and I don't think there is one because of Million Dollar Baby's momentum, it would be Clive Owen.

Supporting Actress: Cate playing Kate. Hands down, Blanchett was the best thing about The Aviator. I don't see anyone unseating her, although if there's going to be a surprise, it will probably be in this category.

And the Rest… (As usual, I do not pick the short subjects)

Animated Feature: The Incredibles (second biggest lock, right behind Jamie Foxx)
Art Direction: The Aviator
Cinematography: The Aviator
Costume Design: The Aviator
Documentary: Born into Brothels
Editing: Million Dollar Baby
Foreign Language Film: The Sea Inside
Makeup: The Passion of the Christ
Musical Score: Finding Neverland
Music (Song): "Believe," Polar Express
Sound Editing: The Incredibles
Sound Mixing: Ray
Visual Effects: Spider-Man 2
Writing (Adapted): Million Dollar Baby
Writing (Original): Eternal Sunshine

So that's 21 predictions. This year is tougher than last year, when all a prognosticator had to do was write down The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in every category (except the acting ones), and be guaranteed a great success percentage. In 2004, I scored a whopping 86% (missing only 3). There's no way I'm going to come close to that this year.

I'll be back Monday with a few reactions. But be warned: even if I stay awake for the entire telecast, I probably won't have much to say.