It’s been a pretty dull and inconsequential awards season this year. Once again Oscar seems headed toward the nice but resolutely middle of the road and ultimately forgettable. I’m not really complaining. The fact that The Tree of Life (my personal pick for the best film of the year) even got a nomination feels like some kind of victory. Add to that the fact my other two favorites, Pina and A Separation, received nominations in the documentary and foreign language film categories respectively and I really ought to be pretty pleased. Let’s see if taking a real crack at predicting the winners will make the whole thing a little more exciting than it will otherwise be once the winners are announced. First up are the categories most like to inspire bathroom or refrigerator runs: Makeup, Costume Design, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing.


  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
  • Albert Nobbs
  • The Iron Lady

In general, Oscar seems to favor the showier entries – aging effects and monster makeup make popular choices – with popularity/respectability acting as a kind of tie breaker. None of last year’s nominees, Wolfman, Barney’s Version and The Way Back, received any other nominations nor were any of them very well regarded. Wolfman‘s showily impressive practical monster makeup trumped the more subtle aging effects of the other two films. 2010 saw Star Trek, a popular and mostly respected sci-fi pic with plenty of flashy makeup plus nominations in 3 other categories easily beating the nearly unseen Il Divo and Young Victoria. 2009’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button not only had showy aging makeup, but it was also widely liked with 13 nominations including best picture. The Dark Knight had 8 nominations that year (but not best picture) while it’s probably safe to say that most Academy members never even watched the third nominee, Hellboy. Not too surprisingly, Benjamin Button was the winner. In 2008 La vie en rose, Norbit and Pirates of the Caribbean went head to head. La vie en rose had aging effects, respectability and visibility with a couple of other higher profile nominations including best actress. All of that translated into a win even if the work in the other films was more elaborate. In 2007, Pan’s Labyrinth matched up with Apocalypto and Click. With the combination of amazing monster makeup and nominations in several other higher profile categories, it would’ve been a surprise if Pan’s Labyrinth did not win. It did.

This year, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is probably the showiest and the most critically well regarded, but Oscar has never felt the need to award Potter before. Mustering only three nominations overall for the final film in the franchise, it’s hard to imagine the Academy changing course this year either. That leaves Nobbs and Iron Lady which both benefit from showy lead actress nominated performances, though neither film is very well regarded. Between the two, I think the prosthetics that made Meryl Streep look more like Margaret Thatcher were more obviously impressive than Glenn Close’s transformation into a woman pretending to be a man by taking all her makeup off and I think Oscar will agree. Makeup Prediction: The Iron Lady

Costume Design

  • Anonymous
  • The Artist
  • Hugo
  • Jane Eyre
  • W.E.

The more a film deviates from “normal/modern” costumes, the more awardsy it seems to be – even to the point of trumping more widely liked and nominated films. Last year for example, Alice in Wonderland beat The King’s Speech and True Grit despite the period trappings of the latter two and their armload of other nominations (12 and 10 respectively). Enough people saw and liked Alice even if it wasn’t best picture quality and it had the most stylized costumes. In 2010, none of the popular best picture nominees got a costume nomination. Nine was the most nominated of the costume design nominees overall, but it probably wasn’t stylized enough. Few people bothered to see The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (which otherwise could’ve had a shot) or Coco Before Chanel which left Bright Star and Young Victoria. Both were period, but the royal costumes of Young Victoria were probably the deciding factor in it winning. 2009 was similar to 2011 with two widely nominated best picture candidates, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Milk, losing to the much showier The Duchess. In 2008, the royal finery of Elizabeth: The Golden Age beat the grungier Sweeney Todd. In 2007, Marie Antoinette with its parade of period hats and shoes beat the only other period film, Curse of the Golden Flower, by virtue probably of it having been seen by more people.

I have a feeling this year is going to play out like 2011 and 2009 when more popular period films lost out to more flamboyant if less popular contenders. Both The Artist and Hugo are up for a ton of awards and are tempting period picks, but they’re up against the flashier and fancier Anonymous which is set in Elizabethan England. Neither Jane Eyre or W.E. seem quite exotic enough to overcome the fact they were not widely seen or appreciated. Anonymous could well be sunk by the fact not many people saw it and those who did mostly disliked it, but all you really need to see are some stills for the case to be made. In fact, Anonymous might be better off if people didn’t see it. Though The Artist is by far the most beloved film of the year, I’m not sure its tuxedos and ’20s dresses are enough to put it over on Hugo‘s turn of the century Paris and I don’t think Hugo‘s period charms are going to be enough to put it over on Anonymous. Despite it being seen by few and loved by even fewer, that’s my prediction. Costume Design Prediction: Anonymous

Art Direction

  • The Artist
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
  • Hugo
  • Midnight in Paris
  • War Horse

Unlike costumes, the Oscar for art direction has occasionally gone to the more popular nominee in the last six years even when the less popular nominee won for costume design. Avatar beat costume design winner Young Victoria in 2010, for example, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button beat costume design winner The Duchess in 2009. On the other hand, Alice in Wonderland beat The King’s Speech and True Grit last year just like it did in costume design, while Sweeney Todd beat best picture nominees Atonement and There Will Be Blood in 2008 even though those two were also period films.

This year, the only nominee for art direction that isn’t also nominated for best picture is Harry Potter so popularity probably isn’t going to be the determining factor. I think we can cross Potter off the list for the same reason we crossed it off for makeup though. The Artist meanwhile is lovely and probably in for a big Oscar night, but I don’t think it’s showy enough. Midnight in Paris is half modern so forget about it. War Horse is period, takes place in two different countries and runs the gamut from idyllic countryside to war-torn hell, but Hugo has some truly spectacular sets, both in the film itself and also in recreating the film within the film. It’s a tough call between War Horse and Hugo, but in the end I think the more fanciful (and widely liked) Hugo will trump the more naturalistic War Horse. Art Direction Prediction: Hugo

Visual Effects

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
  • Hugo
  • Real Steel
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon

In the last 6 years, the more popular visual effects nominee in terms of overall nominations has almost always won. In 2011, Inception (8) trumped Alice in Wonderland (3), Harry Potter (2), Hereafter (1) and Iron Man 2 (1). In 2010, Avatar (10) beat District 9 (4) and Star Trek (4). In 2009, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (13) beat The Dark Knight (8) and Iron Man (2). Of course in both 2010 and 2009, you could argue that the winning films were not only popular, they really did have the most ground breaking special effects.

Right off I think we can forget about Real Steel, Harry Potter and Transformers. They’re neither beloved enough by Oscar nor ground breaking enough in terms of craft. This year, Hugo is the class of the field nomination-wise with 11, but the most ground breaking is Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The question is whether enough people bothered to see Apes since it wasn’t nominated in any other category. My guess is that general popularity, overall critical esteem and the push to try to get Andy Serkis a nomination may give Apes just enough visibility and respectability to overcome Hugo which might not be overtly effects-driven enough. Visual Effects Prediction: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Sound Editing

  • Drive
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Hugo
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon
  • War Horse

Sound Mixing

  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • Hugo
  • Moneyball
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon
  • War Horse

While these are two separate categories with the sound editing generally applying to post-production sound effects and sound sweetening and sound mixing applying to the literal recording of a film’s sound, I’m going to deal with them as one, which is exactly how it’s been awarded for 4 of the last 6 years. Of the two years where there was a split, Dreamgirls took sound mixing in 2007 over sound editing winner Letters From Iwo Jima and Slumdog Millionaire beat sound mixing winner The Dark Knight in 2009. Dreamgirls makes sense because it’s a musical. The win for Slumdog is a little more mysterious since both films went head to head in both categories and I can’t see any obvious reason why Slumdog was favored in the latter category. Of the years when one film took both awards, Inception won in 2011, The Hurt Locker in 2010, The Bourne Ultimatum in 2008 and King Kong in 2006. In general for sound editing, Oscar seems to favor punchy, reasonably well-regarded action pictures and more often than not sound mixing follows suit.

This year, forget about Transformers: Dark of the Moon. It had some great sound work, but how many Oscar voters do you think bothered to see the third entry in a critically-maligned franchise? Forget about Drive too which couldn’t even get Albert Brooks a supporting actor nomination. Finally, forget about Moneyball which was only nominated for sound mixing. That leaves The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo and War Horse. Dragon Tattoo made great use of ambient sound especially, but I think it was too subtle. If voters are really paying attention, it could be the winner, but who are we kidding? Most of them probably don’t even really know for sure what the difference between sound editing and sound mixing is. When I think of Hugo on the other hand, sound just isn’t the first thing that comes to my mind. That leaves War Horse which I believe will be the winner in both categories. Sound Editing Prediction: War Horse, Sound Mixing Prediction: War Horse

One final thought about my predictions so far: If Hugo winds up winning in any or all of the categories where I predict it to be a near miss like costume design, visual effects or the sound categories, it could turn out to be a much longer and sadder night than expected for fans of The Artist. That’s doubly true if Hugo wins in the categories where it goes head to head with The Artist like costume design and art direction. Then again, I think it’s more likely that this will be a split year where Hugo wins a bunch of technical awards and The Artist takes home the big important prizes.

Part 2:  Original Score, Editing, Cinematography, Adapted Screenplay and Original Screenplay

Part 3: Foreign Language Film, Animated Feature, Documentary Feature, Live Action Short, Animated Short and Documentary Short

Part 4: Picture, Director, Actress, Actor, Supporting Actress and Supporting Actor

2 Responses to “Oscar Predictions Part 1: The Bathroom Break Awards”

  1. Just saw Hugo yesterday. Great film, stunning camerawork. I wished Hugo had an acting nomination for Chlöe Moretz, girl was stellar and needs to at have some sort of Emmy/GG/BAFTA/Oscar nomination soon.

  2. Chloe was terrific, though I wish she had more of a part than she did. I thought her character was more interesting than Hugo himself.

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