Cinema Chatter – Guesswork

Part of what enamors me about the whole concept of Oscar prognostication is the mystery of it all. It’s trying to separate between your own taste and those of a larger voting body. It’s attempting to understand the perspective of studios in terms of pushing one actor over another. There’s nothing artistic about the process; if anything, it strips the artistry of filmmaking to a science. The science can become repetitive and mind-numbing; at my recent prescreening of Young Adult, director Jason Reitman expressed fatigue when dealing with the press and pundits. After the disappointing performance of Up in the Air following a long festival campaign to push the film, it’s no wonder he has opted to pursue smaller individual venues to get the word out. It works for me; Young Adult is one of the year’s best films, and the whole experience of having him, writer Diablo Cody, and actor Patton Oswalt to do Q&A was terrific.

Just a year after Reitman’s Up in the Air fiasco, director David Fincher went all out on a press campaign for The Social Network. The film was critically lauded and looked to have had its Best Picture and Best Director wins sealed; that is until the Producers Guild of America awarded The King’s Speech instead. Things went south fast for The Social Network, so it’s no wonder Fincher has opted against any sort of awards campaign on his part for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

But as you can see on the updated sidebar, I’m thinking the film is going to play big. Like the Coens’ True Grit, I’m getting a sense that it’ll be the sort of late player that doesn’t have a wider buzz circulating around it until after its release. And perhaps this is a bold statement, but I’m thinking the film will be a larger commercial player than any of Spielberg’s films in the December timeframe.

Part of what makes this whole prognosticating thing a snap is that I’m working with historical data. When you have someone like Meryl Streep, who’s been nominated 16 times since 1979, it’s going to be likely that she’ll be nominated again given the weight of her role in The Iron Lady. Sight unseen, you’re taking a logical bet. Similarly, Steven Spielberg’s one-two punch with War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin lead me to believe that he’ll secure a nomination (for the former, though it’s not out of the question for the latter) for either Best Picture and/or Best Director. Numbers are on your side.

There are plenty of curveballs to throw you off though; there are typically one or two first-time nominees who enter the field. From there, you’re basing your information on others expectations, adding up praise and subtracting dismissals. One can attempt to create a formula to the whole affair, but then, there are those odd-ball nominations that simply come out of nowhere and can’t be justified (Tommy Lee Jones for In The Valley of Elah for one).

But as we wait for the upcoming New York Film Critics Circle to outline what will certainly alleviate confusion as to who are “contenders” (which will be followed by the National Board of Review’s top films), it’s all guesswork. And well, it’s the best time for this sort of thing; it’s probably the closest any Oscar pundit gets to actually implementing their own cinematic taste into the proceedings.

So for now, here’s my first stab at predicting the 2012 Academy Awards. It’ll be lots of fun to see how off I am come February 26.

Best Picture: The Artist

Best Director: Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life

Best Actor: George Clooney, The Descendants

Best Actress: Viola Davis, The Help

Best Supporting Actor: Brad Pitt, The Tree of Life

Best Supporting Actress: Vanessa Redgrave, Coriolanus

Best Writing (Adapted): The Descendants (Nat Faxon, Alexander Payne, Jim Rash)

Best Writing (Original): The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)

Best Art Direction: Hugo

Best Cinematography: The Tree of Life

Best Costume Design: The Artist

Best Film Editing: The Artist

Best Makeup: The Iron Lady

Best Music (Original Score): War Horse

Best Music (Original Song): The Muppets 

Best Sound Editing: War Horse

Best Sound Mixing: The Adventures of Tintin

Best Visual Effects: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Best Animated Feature: The Adventures of Tintin

Best Documentary Feature: Tabloid

Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation 

 

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt, 2011)

For a summertime diversion, Rise of the Planet of the Apes fits the bill. It’s swift and calculated. It has its action and blends it with a philosophy. It takes its time to develop a central relationship, interjecting simian-on-human violence every now and then to keep things moving. So in a word, it’s effective. But efficiency and reserved expectations (not every summer blockbuster can be a good as Super 8) can only take you so far. And I try not to grade on a seasonal sliding scale.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes falters in its lack of character development. Human characters are essentially blank slates that are defined based on their title or condition. James Franco is a scientist. Freida Pinto is Franco’s veterinarian girlfriend. John Lithgow is Franco’s afflicted father. They rarely extend beyond these labels, and as such, the whole picture comes across as rather forgettable if it weren’t for our simian stars.

Critics have lauded Andy Serkis’ work as the lead primate, Caesar. And it’s fairly effective, though I’d be lying if I were to tell you I knew where the line was drawn between visual effect and his performance. I’m hard-pressed to believe that so much of Serkis’ reactionary facial shots were not enhanced in some way, but maybe he’s just that good. It’s amusing that the critical response to Serkis’ performance draws upon how he outshined his human co-stars though - it’s a task not all too difficult in itself.

What I found outright impressive with the film was its sense of visual acuity. Wyatt frames a lot of his more climatic scenes impressively, particularly as he embarks on actions scenes. The apes escaping from their prison left me with a rich visual impression. In fact, most of the silent correspondence between apes during their imprisonment was some of the more compelling portions of the film – rich in visual design and emotional gravitas.

Perhaps my write-up comes across as somewhat contrarian, but I did find the picture enjoyable. If anything, the film proves to be an interesting risk, in so much that it deviates from the series’ original conceit. But (yes, I’m disagreeing with my own point) I think the problem that I have with it, and a problem that I have with a lot of contemporary science fiction films (Source Code, The Adjustment Bureau, Inception, etc.), is that these films attempt to rationalize the science of their events to a point that it strips away the humanity from the whole picture. There’s this collective notion to explain and outline the details of the science, rather than just presenting the world as is and developing our characters from there.

Rating: 6/10