Os­car Pun­ditry & Pre­dic­tions

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - GO MOVIES SEE - By John Bei­fuss

The Os­cars pro­vide a handy check­list of (mostly) qual­ity films for ca­sual movie watch­ers and be­gin­ning buffs, but they cer­tainly don’t rep­re­sent a defini­tive guide to the best in world cinema over the past nine decades.

So why ex­pect the Academy Awards to pro­mote di­ver­sity and re­flect trends in Amer­i­can de­mog­ra­phy when they ar­guably don’t even “im­prove the artis­tic qual­ity of the film medium,” to quote from their found­ing mis­sion state­ment?

Whether you’re a cham­pion of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism or of Al­fred Hitch­cock (who never re­ceived a com­pet­i­tive Os­car), if you’re look­ing for “jus­tice” in the Academy Awards, you’re look­ing in the wrong place. This year’s trend­ing hash­tag was #Os­carssowhite, but a sur­vey of Academy his­tory shows that a more apt des­ig­na­tion may be #Os­carsso­dumb. Af­ter all, this is the or­ga­ni­za­tion that in 1971 nom­i­nated the tabloid “an­cient as­tro­nauts” spec­u­la­tion “Char­i­ots of the Gods” as Best Doc­u­men­tary Fea­ture.

I’m no Os­cars hater. As tax­ing and an­noy­ing as it can be, the Academy Awards cer­e­mony is the only awards show I watch, and I do so vol­un­tar­ily, ev­ery year, from start to fin­ish. It’s a habit I picked up as a young­ster, when many of the Best Pic­ture nom­i­nees — “Mid­night Cow­boy,” “A Clock­work Or­ange” — rep­re­sented an adult, pre­sum­ably so­phis­ti­cated and even naughty world from which I was pro­hib­ited.

I’m also no Os­cars apol­o­gist. This year’s ros­ter of mostly eth­ni­cally ho­mo­ge­neous nom­i­nees was an em­bar­rass­ment, but it also wasn’t a sur­prise, as no black ac­tors or film­mak­ers re­ally had been ex­pected to be nom­i­nated, al­though a few — Idris Elba for “Beasts of All Na­tions,” which re­ceived al­most no the­atri­cal dis­tri­bu­tion; Michael B. Jor­dan for “Creed,” a movie that was over­looked by many of the crit­ics groups whose choices are re­garded as pre­dic­tors of Os­car recog­ni­tion — were touted as un­der­dogs. (This wasn’t the case last year, when lead ac­tor David Oyelowo and di­rec­tor Ava Duver­nay were over­looked for “Selma,” even though the movie earned a Best Pic­ture nom­i­na­tion.)

On the other hard (it’s hard not to equiv­o­cate when the top­ics are as com­pli­cated as race and art), this same Academy is the one that gave Os­cars just two years ago to “12 Years a Slave” and to its black di­rec­tor (Steve Mcqueen) and screen­writer (John Ri­d­ley). So maybe blam­ing the Academy of Mo­tion Pic­ture Arts and Sci­ences for a lack of di­ver­sity in its honorees is like blam­ing the per­son hand­ing out diplo­mas for the lack of di­ver­sity among the grad­u­at­ing stu­dents. Ob­vi­ously, the real prob­lem be­gins dur­ing the ad­mis­sions process.

If the Os­cars are so white, it’s be­cause the stu­dios, pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies, film schools and other agen­cies that nur­ture, en­cour­age and — most im­por­tant — fund tal­ent are in­suf­fi­ciently di­verse them­selves and in­ad­e­quately sup­port­ive of artists who are not white or male. If it’s im­pos­si­ble to say on a case-by-case ba­sis that a cer­tain mi­nor­ity or woman di­rec­tor should have been as­signed to a cer­tain pres­tige (i.e., Os­car bait) pro­ject, it’s also clear that, in the ag­gre­gate, some­thing is amiss.

Even so, the hand­wring­ing from the peanut gallery is rather disin­gen­u­ous, be­cause movie­go­ers also de­serve the blame. Take the ex­am­ple of the fine “Belle,” star­ring Gugu Mbatha-raw, a fact-based 2013 film about a slave’s daugh­ter raised in aris­to­cratic English so­ci­ety. This is the type of so­cially sig­nif­i­cant cos­tume drama that gen­er­ally earns Os­car at­ten­tion, but main­stream au­di­ences — black and white — were in­dif­fer­ent. With its ap­peal lim­ited to the so-called art house, “Belle” earned a to­tal of $16 mil­lion world­wide (about a third of the box-of­fice take of cur­rent cos­tume-drama Best Pic­ture nom­i­nee “The Dan­ish Girl”), and so was eas­ily for­got­ten.

Con­tro­versy or no, the show must go on, and so the 88th an­nual Academy Awards cer­e­mony is set to take place Sun­day at the Count on Ale­jan­dro Gon­za­lez inar­ritu to snag the Best Di­rec­tor award for “the revenant,” Bei­fuss pre­dicts. Dolby Theatre in Hol­ly­wood, with Chris Rock — a for­tu­itous and pre­scient choice, giv­ing the ker­fuf­fle that fol­lowed the nom­i­na­tions — as host. Broad­cast on ABC, the awards show be­gins at 7:30 p.m.

Al­though the news­pa­per is not host­ing a con­test this year, read­ers keep ask­ing me for my pre­dic­tions, so here they are, in 11 Os­car cat­e­gories:

For­eign Lan­guage Film: The Hun­gar­i­an­made Holo­caust drama “Son of Saul” (now at the Malco Ridge­way Cinema Grill) will beat “Em­brace of the Ser­pent,” “Mus­tang,” “Theeb” and “A War” (none of which has screened in Mem­phis).

Doc­u­men­tary Fea­ture: Af­ter giv­ing Os­cars to “Search­ing for Sugar Man” and “20 Feet from Star­dom,” the Academy may be tired of mu­sic films, but I’m bet­ting the very pop­u­lar (and very har­row­ing) Amy Wine­house “biodoc” “Amy” bests “Car­tel Land,” “The Look of Si­lence,” “What Hap­pened, Miss Si­mone?” and “Win­ter on Fire.”

An­i­mated Fea­ture: Pixar’s wrench­ing “In­side Out” will tri­umph over the stop-mo­tion ex­is­ten­tial­ism of “Ano­ma­l­isa,” the car­toon trop­i­calia of Brazil’s “Boy & the World,” the wry slap­stick of “Shaun the Sheep Movie,” and Stu­dio Ghi­bli’s “When Marnie Was There.”

Adapted Screen­play: Not a dud in this bunch, as scripters for “The Big Short,” “Brook­lyn,” “Carol,” “The Mar­tian” and “The Room” were nom­i­nated. The win­ners: Adam Mckay and Charles Ran­dolph for “The Big Short,” from the book by Michael Lewis.

Orig­i­nal Screen­play: Again, no slack­ers. The writ­ers of “Bridge of Spies,” “Ex Machina,” “In­side Out” and “Straight Outta Comp­ton” are com­pet­ing, but the win­ners will be Josh Singer and Tom Mccarthy for “Spot­light.”

Sup­port­ing Ac­tor: For his role in “Creed,” sen­ti­men­tal fa­vorite and gen­uinely won­der­ful Sylvester Stal­lone will K.O. Chris­tian Bale (“The Big Short”), Tom Hardy (“The Revenant”), Mark Ruf­falo (“Spot­light”) and Mark Ry­lance (“Bridge of Spies”).

Sup­port­ing Ac­tress: Also su­perb in “Ex Machina,” Ali­cia Vikan­der will win for “The Dan­ish Girl.” The other nom­i­nees are Jen­nifer Ja­son Leigh (“The Hate­ful Eight”), Rooney Mara (“Carol”), Rachel Mca­dams (“Spot­light”) and Kate Winslet (“Steve Jobs”).

Ac­tor: Five-time brides­maid Leonardo Dicaprio fi­nally will as­cend to the al­tar (or Os­car stage) for his work in “The Revenant.” Also nom­i­nated: Bryan Cranston (“Trumbo”), Matt Da­mon (“The Mar­tian”), Michael Fass­ben­der (“Steve Jobs”), Ed­die Red­mayne (“The Dan­ish Girl”).

Ac­tress: Make “Room” for Brie Lar­son, who will beat Cate Blanchett (“Carol”), Jen­nifer Lawrence (“Joy”), Char­lotte Ram­pling (“45 Years”) and Saoirse Ro­nan (“Brook­lyn”).

Di­rec­tor: Join­ing for­mer back-to-back Os­car-win­ning di­rec­tors John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz, “Bird­man” au­teur Ale­jan­dro G. Iñár­ritu will make it two in a row with “The Revenant.”

Pic­ture: This is a tough cat­e­gory. Most Os­car pun­dits are bet­ting on “The Big Short,” but that movie is so straight­for­ward and uncin­e­matic I’m go­ing to pre­dict an­other backto-back win for an Iñár­ritu film, “The Revenant.” Also nom­i­nated: “The Big Short, “Bridge of Spies,” “Brook­lyn,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Mar­tian” and “Room.”

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