The Athletic Reporter
September 12, 2005 Sports News the Way You Want It. Completely Made Up. Issue 127
 
The Average Mulder
by Joe Mulder
Oscar Picks

Please note: these are my Average Mulder Oscar predictions, not to be confused with my all-important picks in Athletic Reporter co-creator and Photoshop guru Jameson Simmons' Onebee.com Oscar pool (aka "The Only Reason At All I Still Pay Any Attention to the Oscars"). I reserve the right to refine my choices for Jameson's until late Sunday afternoon.

This is who will win, not who I want to win. I don't want any movies except Sideways and The Incredibles to win anything.

For the major categories, I'll give you my analysis; for the others, I'll just tell you who Entertainment Weekly says is going to win (that's what everybody does anyway. Like you've got any clue about Best Documentary Short).

Winners listed first, others in alphabetical order:

BEST PICTURE

Winner:
Million Dollar Baby

Other Nominees:
The Aviator
Finding Neverland
Ray
Sideways

Apparently, the buzz is going Million Dollar Baby's way. I'm sure a slight backlash against the conservative groups that are griping about the movie's ending (which I'll be nice and not give away) won't hurt in pushing it over the edge; most Oscar voters bleed Blue State blue, and I'm not saying that being able to stick it to the Jesuslanders will necessarily be the reason they vote for Baby, but it won't hurt.

This incidentally would be a good time (as would any time, if I may say so) to implement my Five Year rule; I've always figured you'd get a much, much more accurate idea which movies actually deserved their awards if you voted on a certain year's movies five years after they had been released. It's not practical, of course, because the Oscars are little more than a ridiculous (though fabulous) exercise in mutual self-glorification, and the kind of people who actually care deeply about the Oscars probably couldn't be bothered to summon an interest in anything that happened five months ago, let alone five years ago (which they proved this year by pretty much ignoring any movies that were released more than -- hey, look at that -- five months ago).

But it would be nice, wouldn't it? For instance, this year, instead of voting on 2004's crop of films, we'd be voting on 1999's. But that's a bad example, because the right movie won, so let's use 1998. Would anyone with any sort of perspective even dream of awarding Best Picture to Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan? Does anyone other than tubby housewives who resent their husbands for impregnating them and thus keeping them from getting that graduate degree in English Literature actually still really like Shakespeare in Love? There was probably a window of about a week and a half during which the buzz for Shakespeare in Love eclipsed the buzz for Saving Private Ryan, a week and a half window during which Shakespeare in Love had any chance whatsoever to win, but because the Oscar voting fell during that window, we've got to see Shakespeare in Love on that Best Picture winners list forever. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves. As a species, I mean.

(and, I don't even really like Saving Private Ryan as much as most people, but, it's endured. I can't deny that. Even if it wasn't my favorite World War II movie of 1998. And even if it wasn't my favorite World War II movie of 1998 that took place in Europe. It was my favorite English-language World War II movie of 1998 that took place in Europe, though, so that's something. And, like I said, whatever I thought of it -- and I liked it a lot, just not as much as most people -- it's endured)

Anyway, I have a feeling that people won't care all that much about Million Dollar Baby in five years, but I know that at least I will have very fond feelings for Sideways long after that. I don't love that many movies, but, I loved Sideways. In fact, last week I was looking for a movie to see (I didn't end up seeing one after all, but that's beside the point), and I realized that of all the movies currently out in theaters, the one I most wanted to see was Sideways, again.

But Sideways was fun, and, as the Oscars will tell us (irrespective of Shakespeare in Love; forget for the moment that I ever brought that one up), movies aren't about having fun. They're about being solemn and serious. Finding Neverland and Ray were no doubt solemn and serious (I didn't see either, mainly because they looked like they'd be so damned solemn and serious), but no one seems to think that they have any chance at all.

So it's down to Million Dollar Baby, Sideways and The Aviator. And, even though I try with all my might to divorce my personal opinions from Oscar picking, I just can't imagine anyone, anywhere, ever, voting for The Aviator for Best Picture unless they hadn't actually seen it. It's brutally, horribly, miserably awful. I barely, and I do mean barely, made it through the entire thing, and that's with a ten minute stroll around the lobby about an hour and a half into it just to break up the unending ordeal that was watching the movie. At some point, you just think to yourself, "I'm sitting here watching a guy line his room with jars full of pee. This is what I've chosen to do with my day." Seeing The Aviator on Saturday instead of driving on home because I thought the traffic would be horrible (and it would have been) probably ranks -- if one were to take severity and consequence completely out of the equation -- as one of the worst five decisions I have ever made. So although Entertainment Weekly says it's got a good shot, I'm taking The Aviator out of the running.

That leaves Million Dollar Baby and Sideways and, since Sideways is too fun, and since the lack of a Best Actor nomination for Paul Giamatti leads one to believe that Sideways may not have enough overall support, and since I've had good luck settling tough Oscar pool decisions by predicting whichever outcome would make me less happy, I'll take Million Dollar Baby. Which, incidentally, I quite liked. But it's no Sideways.

BEST DIRECTOR

Winner:
Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby

Other Nominees:
Taylor Hackford, Ray
Mike Leigh, Vera Drake
Alexander Payne, Sideways
Martin Scorsese, The Aviator

I realize I might have to move things along a little, if I hope to finish writing this before the Oscars actually start.

I know someone who knows someone who liked to wrap his couch in cellophane, pour some oil on it and slide around naked, but I don't know anyone who knows anyone who's seen Vera Drake. Okay? So Mike Leigh is out. Also, the guy who liked to do that with his couch? He's got as good a chance to win Best Director this year as Taylor Hackford does.

Alexander Payne will likely get a Best Adapted Screenplay consolation prize, so it's down to Scorsese and Eastwood. And this is where seeing The Aviator might cause me even more pain and heartache than when I was actually watching the movie (if a level of pain and heartache beyond that is even possible), since I probably would have picked Scorsese to win if I hadn't seen just how bad a job he did. Scorsese is a legend (though I've never particularly cared for his stuff; hey, to each his own), I'd have told myself, and they don't want to have him go Best Director Oscar-less for his entire life. They look stupid enough with Hitchcock and Kubrick never having gotten any.

But, after actually seeing what Scorsese (and even more so the writer, but Scorsese too) did with The Aviator, I started convincing myself that hey, he's only 62, and Gangs of New York smelled like a lifetime achievement type thing, but they stiffed him for that, and they could do it again. Hell, if they can give Roman Freaking Polanski an Oscar over Scorsese, they can certainly overlook him in favor of Clint Eastwood. Will reluctance to make Eastwood a two-time best director winner keep him from the award this year? I don't think so; the list of multiple Best Director winners is long and contains people whom most of us no longer remember; Eastwood would be one of the biggest names on it.

I might well have picked Scorsese, counting on the Academy to give him the award for his overall body of work, but after seeing The Aviator, I just can't. I can't bring myself to believe that Scorsese could be rewarded for a performance like that. So, if he actually wins, then having wasted my time seeing the movie will end up screwing me again.

BEST ACTOR

Winner:
Jamie Foxx, Ray

Other Nominees:
Don Cheadle, Hotel Rwanda
Johnny Depp, Finding Neverland
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Aviator
Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby

Well, I didn't see Ray, but, I've yet to see a convincing portrayal of a modern celebrity in a movie, and I'm not sure it can be done. Well, I'm not sure it can be done to my satisfaction, I should say (and, admittedly, who am I?). Oscar voters love it, of course (remember: ridiculous exercise in mutual self-glorification), but it never works for me. Either the actor is doing an imitation, which to me is distinguished from a nightclub act only by the fact that the actor isn't telling off-color jokes in the character's voice; or the actor is making the part his or her own, in which case you're distracted by the fact that they don't look or sound that much like whoever they're trying to play. Unless you can do it as well as Thirteen Days (and I'm not convinced anybody could ever do that again), you just shouldn't do it. Not that Thirteen Days was an incredibly good movie, but, that wasn't because Bruce Greenwood and Stephen Culp didn't look and sound exactly like John and Robert Kennedy.

Anyway, the same people who didn't see fit to nominate Jim Carrey for his imitation of Andy Kaufman seem to think that Jamie Foxx's imitation of Ray Charles is a shoo-in, and, who am I to argue?

BEST ACTRESS

Winner:
Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby

Other Nominees:
Annette Bening, Being Julia
Catalina Sandino Moreno, Maria Full of Grace
Imelda Staunton, Vera Drake
Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I don't feel good about this one. Not at all. Everyone would go home happy if Annette Bening could get Hilary Swank back for beating her five years ago, but, remember the guy who liked to slide around naked on his oily sofa? Even he doesn't know anybody who knows anybody who saw Being Julia. I would love to pick Annette Bening, but I just can't. And any other year I'd pick Imelda Staunton, because if there's anything that Hollywood liberal Oscar voters love more than British people, it's abortion! But I think the Million Dollar Baby momentum, and the fact that a few voters might actually have seen her performance, could carry Hilary Swank to her second Oscar.

Then, of course, I remember that Jessica Lange won Best Actress in 1994 for a movie called Blue Sky, which I'm pretty sure even Jessica Lange never saw, so, who knows? I'm picking Hilary Swank, but I'm going to go ahead and not feel good about it.

Point of interest: Million Dollar Baby is the only film this year that has a chance to join It Happened One Night, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The Silence of the Lambs as winners of Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and screenplay Oscars. Experts don't like Million Dollar Baby's chances to duplicate the feat, however, mainly because its title isn't quite long enough.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Winner:
Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby

Other Nominees:
Alan Alda, The Aviator
Thomas Haden Church, Sideways
Jamie Foxx, Collateral
Clive Owen, Closer

Million Dollar Baby has all the buzz and Morgan Freeman is a living legend who's never won an Oscar, and that's too bad. It's too bad because no one was enjoying the Thomas Haden Church renaissance more than I was, with the possible exception of Athletic Reporter co-creator and Photoshop guru Jameson Simmons. I was with T.H.C. back in the Ned and Stacey days, and not a month went by (well, I don't want to exaggerate; not a year went by, that I can promise you) that I didn't think, "boy, I wonder why you don't see Thomas Haden Church anymore. It's really a shame, because he was fantastic." Even more so than Sideways for Best Picture, this is the one award all night that I'd most like to see go the way I want.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Winner:
Natalie Portman, Closer

Other Nominees:
Cate Blanchett, The Aviator
Laura Linney, Kinsey
Virginia Madsen, Sideways
Sophie Okonedo, Hotel Rwanda

Ah, how do you like that, huh? Now there's some daring Oscar prediction right there. This is supposed to be a race between Blanchett and Madsen, but I'm picking Natalie Portman for three reasons:

1) Absolutely everybody loves Natalie Portman, to an almost unhealthy degree. And it's not that I don't love her; I do. And if anyone deserves it, she does; it's just that I'm not entirely certain where this intense, universal, slightly baffling adoration of Natalie Portman comes from. She's like the Brett Favre of actresses.

2) Best Supporting Actress is the surprise category. Let's say, although it's not true at all, that for the last ten years I had been not only attempting to predict the winners in every major Oscar category, but also attempting to rank every nominee in terms of likelihood of winning, from most likely (1) to least likely (5). Only twice during that time would any of my 5s have ended up winning, and both would have been in this category (Juliette Binoche for The English Patient and Marcia Gay Harden for Pollock).

3) This is the category of hot young chicks, and Natalie Portman is most definitely a hot young chick. Since 1992, Best Supporting Actress Oscars have been given to Marisa Tomei, Anna Paquin (who's now a hot young chick, so I'm counting her), Mira Sorvino, Angeline Jolie and Jennifer Connelly. Hot young chicks. Keep it in mind.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Winner:
Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Sideways

Other Nominees:
Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, story by Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan, Before Sunset
David Magee, Finding Neverland
Paul Haggis, Million Dollar Baby
Jose Rivera, The Motorcyle Diaries

I like to think of the Best Screenplay awards as the "real" Best Picture... the Academy's way of saying "look, we know you're the best movie, but we have to give Best Picture to whatever mainstream pablum the public saw fit to lap up this year. Here, enjoy this screenplay Oscar."

Recent winners include The Usual Suspects, Sling Blade, Fargo, L.A. Confidential, Good Will Hunting, Almost Famous, Talk To Her, The Pianist and Lost In Translation, all movies that plenty of people would be willing to call better than their year's Best Picture winner.

And speaking of the Best Picture winner, it used to win a screenplay award most of the time, but that's only happened four out of the last nine years. So, since we don't want to give Ethan Hawke an award for writing because then he might put out another book, I'm going with Sideways.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Winner:
Charlie Kaufman, story by Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry and Pierre Bismuth, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Other Nominees:
John Logan, The Aviator
Keir Pearson and Terry George, Hotel Rwanda
Brad Bird, The Incredibles
Mike Leigh, Vera Drake

I'll be rooting for The Incredibles, since the only other movie I saw out of this group was The Aviator, the title of which will henceforth and forever more be used by me in the same sentence as the phrase "on the plus side" whenever I come across a person who has the terrible misfortune of being both blind and deaf.

Charlie Kaufman's been nominated twice before for screenplay Oscars, and some folks seem to think it's his year. He also used to write for Ned and Stacey, which as I mentioned starred Thomas Haden Church. This means absoultely nothing, but is an interesting factoid nonetheless.

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Now, there are two schools of thought (to my mind, at least) dealing with how to choose the winners in the lesser categories (and by "lesser," I don't wish to insult those categories' fine nominees, but "non-marquee categories" would be a little wordy).

1) Pick the movie with the most nominations for everything except the sound categories, where you pick the movie that made the most money

2) Just do what Entertainment Weekly says.

This year I'll be leaning more on number two, because the film with the most nominations is The Aviator, and thinking about that fact would further lead me to think about how the movie with the most nominations usually wins Best Picture, and I'm not quite ready to contemplate a universe in which such a thing is possible. I will say, though, that I have no beef with the cast and crew of The Aviator outside of the director and screenwriter; everyone worked really hard (of course, as E.G. Marshall said in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, so do washing machines). The only other thing I can tell you is to check out the documentary categories; if any of them involves the Holocaust, pick that one.

That said, here's what Entertainment Weekly thinks. If EW mentioned something as a possible spoiler or a second favorite I'll let you know, but my picks (which are really just theirs) will be first. If I decide to deviate from anything they chose, I'll make a note of it.

Best Art Direction: The Aviator (or, if not, A Very Long Engagement)

Best Cinematography: The Aviator (or, if not, House of Flying Daggers)

Best Foreign Language Film: The Sea Inside (or, if not, Les Choristes or Downfall)

note: Downfall, according to EW, deals with Hitler. Consider that my pick.

Best Live Action Short: Everything in This Country Must (or, if not, Little Terrorist or Wasp)

Best Documentary Feature: Born Into Brothels (or, if not, The Story of the Weeping Camel)

note: I heard someone say Born Into Brothels wasn't all that well made (although now I wish I could remember who that was); I'm picking Super Size Me. Follow my lead at your own risk. Also, Twist of Faith is apparently about sexual abuse and priests, which Hollywood liberals can't get enough of. Nothing makes Jesusland look worse!

Best Documentary Short: Autism Is a World (or, if not, Sister Rose's Passion)

note: it's not the Holocaust, but Sister Rose's Passion apparently chronicles a nun's fight against anti-Semitism in the Catholic Church. I'm picking it.

Best Animated Feature: The Incredibles (over That Sequel We Do Not Speak Of)

Best Animated Short: Ryan (or, if not, Gopher Broke or Lorenzo)

Best Score: Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, Finding Neverland

Best Original Song: "Believe" from The Polar Express, music and lyrics by Glen Ballard and Alan Silvestri

Best Costume Design: The Aviator (or, if not, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events)

Best Sound/Sound Editing: The Aviator/Spider-Man 2

note: give me Spider-Man 2 in both categories.

Best Makeup: Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

Best Editing: Million Dollar Baby (or, if not, The Aviator)

note: this category tends to match Best Picture, so consider that. According to EW, "even fans of The Aviator find faults in some of its cutting[.]" Setting aside the staggeringly incomprehensible notion that The Aviator has fans, this category might be an indication of how the entire evening will go. I'm picking Million Dollar Baby here.

Best Visual Effects: Spider-Man 2 (or, if not, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)

And, there you have it. Free Oscar picks, from a guy who, more often than not, wins the pool. Any money you make off of these, I get 25 percent.

Okay, 15.

Enjoy the Oscars.
Joe Mulder
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