2012 Oscar Nominations: Fearless Predictions

Here we go again!

Since beginning my annual guess-fest some fifteen years ago, the internet has absolutely exploded with sites, blogs and columns devoted to the minutiae of predicting Oscar nominations. From how votes are tabulated to the minute-by-minute shifts in momentum, not to mention the numerous guild award nominations and critics associations, Oscar prognostication has practically joined Fantasy Football as a sport that threatens to eclipse the actual game.

But here we are, and tradition is tradition.

In the past, my guesses have nailed 80% to 100% of each category. But every year, that could change, especially with the recent changes in the Best Picture category. Let’s jump in:

Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
David Fincher, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Michel Hanazavicius, The Artist
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo
Tate Taylor, The Help

Allen, Hanazavicius, Payne and Scorsese are a given, but that fifth spot is tricky. Early tracking made Steven Spielberg (War Horse) look like a favorite but his Oscar momentum has all but evaporated. Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive and Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life are strong auteur-driven projects and have their supporters, but may be too niche for the mainstream Academy.

That leaves Tate Taylor (The Help) and David Fincher to fill out that fifth spot. Taylor’s film was the bigger hit but Fincher’s (unnecessary) retelling of Dragon Tattoo was better than it had any right being, largely due to the helmer’s unflinching approach.

And let’s face it, he got burned last year.

Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Shaileen Woodley, The Descendants
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs

A tricky category.

The luminous Bejo could very well find herself competing in the Best Actress category, despite being submitted here. Chastain (also The Debt, The Tree of Life) has had a very strong year, so her inclusion as part of the popular Help ensemble makes sense. All that noise about Bridesmaids being a surprise Oscar contender will manifest here with a nod for McCarthy, the most-acclaimed of the comedy’s many breakout stars. It’s possible McTeer could bump Woodley or sneak in if Bejo moves to Best Actress.

Kenneth Branaugh, My Week with Marilyn
Albert Brooks, Drive
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes

This category is pretty cut and dried, filled with Oscar’s requisite sampling of career-topping performances (Nolte, Plummer), surprising dramatic left-turns (Brooks, Hill) and one respected, yet hammy actor (Branaugh) playing a legendary, yet hammy actor (Lawrence Olivier).

But if there is to be a surprise in this category – and all is right in the universe – Andy Serkis will score a nomination for his incredible character work in Apes. My humble opinion: whether it’s in costume, out of costume (Hello, Michael Fassbender), or underneath digital makeup or physical makeup, acting is acting. And Serkis is one of the best character actors working today. His performance in Apes was a watershed moment in motion capture acting and one of the most stirring of the year.

In comparison, Jonah Hill was good in Moneyball, but only when you compare him to other Jonah Hill “performances.” Come on, Academy. Prove me wrong on this one.

Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk about Kevin
Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn
Charlize Theron, Young Adult
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I’ve correctly predicted all five Best Actress nominees every year for the past decade. Barring any last-minute out-of-the-box thinking, I think I’m pretty good this year too. Close, Davis, Streep and Williams are locks. The Academy loves Swinton, who appears to be representing the “edgy” end of the pool.

I would be happy to see Theron or Mara join the party.

Mara’s bold casting as iconic punk hacker Lisbeth Salander in Dragon Tattoo makes sense for a great many reasons: You’d have to go back to Scarlett O’Hara to find a female role with such built-in anticipation, and she nailed it. Also, Mara had to follow Noomi Rapace’s unbelievably great performance in the original Swedish versions. And she still nailed it.

Again, I’d be happy to be wrong.

Demián Bichir, A Better Life
George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Michael Fassbender, Shame
Brad Pitt, Moneyball
Gary Oldman, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar

I’m going out on a limb here and picking Bichir over Oldman or DiCaprio. Bichir’s role in the little-seen A Better Life has a fervent following and this is the category in which we usually get the most surprises. Remember Javier Bardem’s Spanish-language turn in Biutiful? Don’t be shocked when all the pundits list Bichir as a surprise nomination.

Alas, that leaves Oldman a potential shutout again for his subtle turn as spy George Smiley in Tinker. I think it’s fair to say that “Gary Oldman” and “subtle” aren’t two things you usually hear in the same sentence, but he could sneak in if too many voters are frightened by Michael Fassbender’s penis, er, performance, in Shame.

The Artist
The Descendants
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Help
Midnight in Paris

War Horse

First, there were five nominees, then ten. Now, the number of nominees will depend on how many first-place points each film amasses. The aforementioned Oscar pundits have all settled on seven as the probable magic number of Best Picture nominees, based on – well, who knows?

The likely seven are all obvious choices, but what’s the fun in that? If there were to be ten selections, the list would easily include Bridesmaids, Drive and War Horse. But by tightening the field and eliminating those fun surprise entries, we’re left with the following:

A movie about vintage Hollywood made by a French director (The Artist), a movie about a vintage French filmmaker made by an American director (Hugo), two adaptations of highly-popular novels (Dragon Tattoo, The Help), two solid dramas starring hunky movie stars (The Descendants, Moneyball) and one delightful return to form for a legendary director (Midnight in Paris).

There are dozens of movies that are more groundbreaking – with performances that would rank among the best of any year – if anybody had seen them. And it’s still possible the pundits are wrong and we’ll get ten nominations, or that something truly exciting will crash the party.

But that’s probably not gonna happen.

I’ll be up at 5:38 to hear the nominations and posting reactions soon thereafter. See you there!


Author: Dennis Willis

Dennis Willis is an award-winning producer, TV host, producer, director, editor (he preferred Avid until a torrid affair with Adobe Premiere, and the rest is history), author and film critic (print and radio). Dennis produced and hosted the TV programs Reel Life, FilmTrip, Soundwaves (1983-2008) and produces the annual Soundwaves Xmas program. He is currently the film critic on KGO Radio in San Francisco, and a member of both the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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