Unlike last year’s Academy Awards, which were difficult to predict because of the sheer quantity of good films, performances, screenplays, etc., this year’s Academy Awards are defined by the unique characteristics of a few films. The unrelenting drive and artistry of a select few of these films were exhilarating and nearly unprecedented. From the novelty of the neo-silent film “The Artist,” to the epic, Dante- and Old Testament-inspired “The Tree of Life,” 2012 was rife with impressive and powerful movies.
The difficulty here is that artistry is not normally what the Academy is looking for; last year’s “The King’s Speech” won the Best Picture award over at least five other superior films because of the pathos and feel-good message of the story. Will the Academy break this unfortunate trend, or shrink back to its old ways? Here are my predictions:
Best Actor: George Clooney, “The Descendants”
“The Descendants” was an unusual film all of its own: dark, unrelentingly sad and lacking a very satisfying resolution. It also put George Clooney in a not very Clooney-esque role. Gone was the glamour and suave style of his characters from “Intolerable Cruelty” and “Up In The Air.” However, Clooney once again gave an endearing and believable performance, this time as Matt King, a Hawaii lawyer. Clooney has a long career of great lead performances, and the Academy tends to take actors’ careers into consideration when selecting winners. After a few significant snubs at the Oscars (his loss to Jeff Bridges in 2010 in particular), Clooney is the most likely candidate for the Best Actor award.
Best Actress: Viola Davis, “The Help”
The Academy will always have a moment where it trades art for sentimentality, mastery for pathos. Last year was particularly egregious: Colin Firth winning over Jesse Eisenberg’s quasi-sociopathic portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg is understandable, but “The King’s Speech” winning the Best Picture award was nothing short of heresy. This year, “The Help” is the obvious tearjerker Oscar-bait film.
With this in mind, the admittedly powerful performance of Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark is the most likely (and deserving) part of “The Help” to win over the Academy.
Best Original Screenplay: Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”
Perhaps another pathos-driven pick on the Academy’s part, “Midnight in Paris” was a fun, refreshing and funny outing from Woody Allen, whose recent films have been uneven at best. The novelty of the story, the witty dialogue from great artists like Hemingway and Picasso (not to mention a hilarious monologue by Salvador Dali), and the Academy’s love for old hands like Allen make “Midnight in Paris” a likely pick.
Best Director: Terrence Malick, “The Tree of Life”
The most ambitious, profound movie seen since at least “Apocalypse Now” (and perhaps the most ambitious film of all time), “The Tree of Life” must be given something. It is far too long; it is at times frustrating; it has a strange chronology and very little dialogue. There are no moving speeches and tearjerking moments; there is beauty, profundity and art. These things are not always appreciated by the average viewer, and especially not by the Academy. However, the sheer ambition and technical feat of “The Tree of Life” warrants an award for Terrence Malick.
Best Picture: “The Help”
This is the most likely of all of my picks to be wrong. The only problem is, I have no idea what the winner would be otherwise. “The Help” has plenty going for it: social messages, strong lead performances and old hands like Chris Columbus at work on it. But really I picked “The Help” in the context of the other films. “The Descendants” is far too dark and sad, “The Artist” is too unusual, “Moneyball” deals with too unorthodox a subject, “The Tree of Life” is too long and too strange. The others are most likely simply picks to make fans of the movie feel better (“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” received a rather poor 45 percent on RottenTomatoes.com). In typical Academy fashion, this pick will probably disappoint true film aficionados, but such is the case with many an Oscar-winning film.
Be sure to tune in on Sunday, Feb. 26, for the Academy Awards!