My quick-and-dirty Oscar picks (OK, not that quick)

Been lagging behind other, more qualified Academy Award prognosticators. Wait. Who could be more qualified than someone who has seen 74% of ALL the Oscar-nominated feature and short films (not merely the top prizes, but covering every category including sound mixing and catering)?

Kidding on catering, but one peeve: Why isn’t there an award for Best Casting … or Best Cast? My pick for this year: “Margin Call.” We’re talking Paul Bettany, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore, Simon Baker and the devilishly handsome Zachary Quinto, who wins for Best Eyebrows. Now, that’s a cast-iron hot cast.

 
Enough procrastinating, on to my prognosticating.

BEST PICTURE

Prediction: The Artist
Pick: The Descendants

  • “The Artist” … all I can say is “f*** joie de vivre.”
  • I wanted to love “Loud/Close,” but there wasn’t enough of an emotional payoff – no “wallop,” as my friend and movie partner Ellen put it.
  • “The Help” was manipulative and rewrote history, but I could live with it winning: empowerment is a solid, inspirational theme.
  • “Midnight in Paris” was a great “Cinderella” story and intellectual fun, but seeing Owen Wilson “do” Woody Allen got tedious.
  • “War Horse” was “E.T” with a horse, meets “Saving Private Ryan.
  • “The Tree of Life”? I’d rather watch the Discovery channel.
  • “Hugo” would have to be my second choice – even the dust was 3-D!
  • “Moneyball” was the only movie I saw on the regular cycle, when it came out … it inspired previous blog posts and made me a temporary card-carrying baseball fan, but “The Social Network” may have blown Aaron Sorkin’s wad.
  • My pick, “The Descendants,” is the kind of movie that seeps into your skin, awakes your senses. I saw it weeks ago, and still remember every scene. Who would have thought a land deal and a coma could prove so suspenseful? All I hope for in a film it had: a well-told story, memorable and insightful characters, a non-formulaic and unpredictable plot, amazing performances, and, this is technical: I put a lot of weight on the opening and closing shots/scenes. The wife with the wind in her face, then the father and offspring cocooning to “March of the Penguins” – such spectacular choices. Speaking of which, I love it when movies show other movies within the movie. “Bridesmaids” did this, too, with “Castaways,” when Annie had hit bottom, felt as if she had no friends, just like Tom Hanks’ character befriending sports gear.

BEST ACTOR

Prediction: Jean Dujardin
Pick: Brad Pitt

I want someone (anyone?) to upset Dujardin’s au jus (French gravy) train.

 I’ve gone ’round and ’round on this one. There’s only one actor I can easily eliminate: Gary Oldman, who reminded me of something out of “South Park” with that poker face of his in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” … Tin Man.

And though I love George Clooney — and “love” is too tame a word — I just couldn’t buy the fact his kids didn’t find him equally as charming as I do. He couldn’t turn off the charm, not even with “the run.”
Jean Dujardin is the French George Clooney, and Demian Bichir is the Mexican George Clooney … they can’t all win. Bichir did take a cliché of a script and make me cry. But he’s such a long shot …

I think it’s time for Brad Pitt’s lifetime achievement award. As far as I can tell, I am the only one. He was intense in “The Tree of Life” as a family abuser, and I know he isn’t nominated for that movie, but he HATES baseball, and look how he sold “Moneyball” – his arc as a father, his insecurities … he showed us a different side of Brad Pitt. So I’m pulling for the underdog, in the spirit of the Oakland A’s.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Prediction & Pick: Christopher Plummer

(see previous post, “Bummer for Christopher Plummer?” When I wrote it, I had no clue he was the front-runner.)

BEST ACTRESS

Prediction & Pick: Viola Davis

But I wish there were room for Glenn Close. Maybe in the Best Actor category? heheh.

Ever since “Doubt,” I have adored Viola. She was also smashing this year in “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” sharing praise with Sandra Bullock for giving that movie an emotional center. But what a shame for Glenn Close, whose beach scene with Janet McTeer should become as legendary as those from “Chariots of Fire,” “10,” and “From Here to Eternity.” I was transfixed by her performance. After the movie was over, and it truly settled within me, I sat weeping in the theater. But because Close spent 15 years working to bring this movie to the screen, and had already honed the Albert character onstage (and what brilliance in her interpretative manly movements), I’ll say that’s an unfair advantage. As for Mara Rooney, I liked her, but think I liked the actress in the Swedish version more. Meryl Streep, oh, Meryl. You were a better Thatcher than ever Thatcher was, but I think I’ll give it to you for makeup this year. Michelle Williams was a creampuff surprise, rounding out Marilyn with her Norma Jean essence. She wasn’t an impersonator; she was an incubator. Still … it is definitely Viola’s time.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Prediction: Octavia Spencer
Pick: Jessica Chastain (see previous post, “Moonlighting at the Movies”)

ANIMATED FEATURE

Prediction: Rango
Pick: Chico & Rita

Because it was the jazziest animated feature ever.

ART DIRECTION

Prediction: Hugo
Pick: War Horse

Because the horse-getting-stuck-in-the-barbed-wire scene sticks with you.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Prediction & Pick: The Tree of Life

Because it can’t possibly win anything else.

COSTUME DESIGN

Prediction: W.E.

Because Arianne Phillips has Madonna on her side.

Pick: Anonymous

Not THAT Anonymous! Now, that would be an easy costume ...

I also liked “Jane Eyre,” but the best costumes were over in the first 15 minutes, whereas Lisy Christl had to costume entire crowds authentically and also hand-sew all those noodly collars. Plus, Vanessa Redgrave’s gowns were to-die-for. By beheading.

DIRECTING

Prediction & Pick: Michel Hazanavicius

I’ll give him that one, because he WAS the movie. But I would be happy if Alexander Payne or Martin Scorsese managed to win. And I would like to cast anti-votes for both Terrence Malick and Woody Allen. I imagine Woody telling Owen Wilson: “Be more me.” Ugh. He even made him wear his pants like him.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Prediction: Undefeated

But I didn’t get to see it.

Pick: Hell and Back Again

 I saw only this one and “Paradise Lost,” and this one was brilliant — and daring.

FILM EDITING

Prediction: Thelma Schoonmaker for “Hugo”
Pick: Kevin Tent for “The Descendants”

FOREIGN LANGUAGE

Prediction & Pick: A Separation

 If I could select this for Best Picture overall, I would.

MAKEUP

Prediction & Pick: Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland for “The Iron Lady”

MUSIC (Original Score)

Prediction: Ludovic Bource for “The Artist”
Pick: Howard Shore for “Hugo”

MUSIC (Original Song)

Haven’t seen either movie or listened to either song yet. I’ll decide tonight, but I’m leaning toward “Rio.” Coin toss.

SOUND EDITING

Prediction: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Because voters are gonna wanna give it something.

Pick: Drive

Because this was an AWESOME movie. It’s “Taxi Driver” for stunt men.

SOUND MIXING

Prediction & Pick: Hugo

VISUAL EFFECTS

Prediction & Pick: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

WRITING (Adapted Screenplay)

Prediction: The Descendants

And I’d be thrilled for it, but I am faulting it for its narration.

Pick: Moneyball

Because OMIGOD how did they turn THAT dry book into a gripping MOVIE?

WRITING (Original Screenplay)

Prediction: Midnight in Paris
Pick: A Separation

“Margin Call” was quite interesting, but it was written in code. “Bridesmaids” was an unexpected treat, but because it was half-improv, it shouldn’t count. “The Artist” had a meatier plot than I expected, but Michel will get enough overblown credit, and because it’s silent, it’s borderline writing.

Phew. Let the Oscar parties begin!!

Oscar shorts: Like a box of chocolates

What will be missing on Oscar night is suspense. Not like M. Night Shayamalanaboomchuckawam suspense. I mean: The inevitability of a sweep by “The Artist.”

Oh, I liked the movie well enough. But, face it, it’s a) foreign (‘cept John Goodman, yay) and b) gimmicky. It sometimes feels as if Best Picture nominees are chosen based on how well Billy Crystal can spoof them for his opener. Guaranteed there will be B&W, silence, toilet humor, cross-dressing, fitting keys in locks (both “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” and “Hugo”), Hawaiian shirts (both “The Descendants” and “Rango”) and possibly a trained Jack Russell terrier.

And how many more “homages” does the movie industry need?

If you’re gonna elect a valentine for Best Picture, go with “Hugo.” It covers even more film history than “The Artist” — from 1902’s “A Trip to the Moon” to today’s cutting-edge 3-D technology. Oops, did I say “elect”?

These studios mount Oscar campaigns to rival politicians’. The Frenchies have been stumping ever since Cannes last May for their trifle of a film. And Oscars night has gotten as anti-climactic as a typical presidential election. Can’t believe I’m pining for a Bush-Gore scenario or this year’s GOP race, with contenders hop-scotching to the finish line.

Gee, I thought when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences expanded the nominee pool from five to 10 (or, in this case, nine*SEE NOTE), it would ensure suspense. Instead, the talk-show-awards-show momentum of “The Artist” and “The Help” sealed their deals. I likely wouldn’t have seen either without a nomination; after all the hoopla, I had to drag myself to both. The Academy’s true motive in adding  nominees wasn’t to recognize more art but to sell more tickets.

*(In case you’re wondering why there are only nine and not 10, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences changed the rule this year, ego: “The pictures receiving the highest number of votes shall become the nominations for final voting for the Best Picture award. There may not be more than 10 nor fewer than five nominations; however, no picture shall be nominated that receives less than 5% of the total votes cast.”)

I like seeing movies without advance team or fanfare, shunning reviews — sometimes even trailers — until after-the-fact. That’s why I recommend “the shorts,” the Buddy Roemers of the year. They revive the ol’ sport of it. Practically no one has seen or lobbied for them; they’re like Forrest Gump’s chocolate sampler, you never know what you’re gonna get. Lest you think they’re not important, I’m sure they count big time in your Oscar pool, they constitute three categories! Plus the brains and talent behind the shorts are the filmmakers of tomorrow — often still in film school.

Assuming you have short attention spans, here’s your cheat sheet:

Documentary shorts

I saw these with my pal Patricia Kime in a theater with a full-service bar. And they didn’t show us “God Is the Bigger Elvis,” although we may have had our own sighting. ‘Nuff said.

It’s pretty intense to see a series of doc shorts, each with its own agenda, and mostly grim tales. But, because the story of James Armstrong was sheerly uplifting and expertly crafted, I’ll go with …

PREDICTION & PICK: “The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement” (hands down)

Speaking of and in election year, if the Barber doesn’t inspire you to vote, vote, vote, early and often, nothing could. Hallelujiah! Also-rans:

    • The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom. This is a close contender, because who isn’t mesmerized by the images of Japan during and after the March 11 quake-tsunami tragedy? Despite the beautiful buffer of endless poetic images of cherry blossoms, it needed editing. Did Terrence Malick direct this? (I mean, there are a LOT of blossom close-ups.)
    • Saving Face. A Pakistani-American plastic surgeon journeys to his homeland to bring women who are victims of acid attacks back to life. Heart-wrenching, but I kinda resent its corny title.
    • Incident in New Baghdad. One-sided, single-sourced, anti-war soliloquy. Doesn’t stand a chance.

Live-action shorts

PREDICTION & PICK: “Time Freak” (hands down)

    • Time Freak. I’ll bet the farm on this 11-minute treasure about a geek who invents a time machine but, rather than travel to ancient Rome, obsesses over ironing out awkward social situations. You know, how you wish you’d thought of that great comeback sooner? It made me LOL.
    • The Shore. Interestingly, several shorts dealt with time and reconciliation. Northern Ireland’s luscious offering was about a man returning to the Emerald Isle with his grown American daughter to make peace with his best friend and jilted lover.
    • Tuba Atlantic. A Norwegian man learns he has only six days to live and wants to communicate with his brother in America, with whom he hasn’t spoken in 30 years. An blonde apprentice “death angel” ushers him through grief’s stages. If there weren’t so many seagull murders, I might regard it higher.
    • Raju. This German film exposed child trafficking in India. A bit heavy-handed, but a lovely portrait of morality.
    • Pentecost. A team of altar boys are “coached” for the Big Mass of the season. Also from Ireland, it deftly mixes sports and religion. Made me think of last year’s “The Confession,” from the U.K. — which remains one of my favorite shorts ever; no religious rant or satire can compare to its heaping guilt serving.

Animated shorts

These are way tougher. But I’m gonna guess that Academy voters will be swayed by title alone, as most will not have taken the time to watch them, like a track novice picking a horse. Interesting, all the contenders were virtually “silent.” A big theme this year!

PREDICTION: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

PICK: A Morning Stroll

SHOULD-WOULDA-COULDA: The Australian contender, “Nullabor,” about road rage in the Outback, was a virile buddy flick that didn’t make the cut. Crikey!

  • The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. A strange mix of Hurricane Katrina and The Wizard of Oz. I eventually warmed to it; as a lover of books, who wouldn’t? But it needed editing, so it’s not my favorite. The “Pop, Goes the Weasel” soundtrack was odd. In short, it celebrates literature and learning on the backs of those who came before us. And alerts us that books are on life support. It’s more about people dying than books dying, to beg to differ with other critics. But the flying books are awfully cute.
  • Dimanche/Sunday. Most artistic of the bunch, about life in a small town and a boy’s yearning for adventure. As a birder, I LOVED the three crows. From Canada.
  • La Luna. A working-class tale of who is really behind the moon’s phases. This is Pixar, so I’m handicapping it, although the artist is Italian. This is the best one for kids.
  • Wild Life. Not only did I hate the animation style (broad strokes that had that smeary motion), it was a story-telling jumble, with an incredibly annoying soundtrack, variations of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General” from “The Pirates of Penzance” mixed with the Old West. The Darwin allusions were nice, but its use of birds didn’t earn it enough points to overcome my bitterness. Also Canadian.
  • A Morning Stroll. This must be seen to be believed. It’s the story of a man seeing a chicken walking down a city street, played out over a century. It also traces the history of animation. The Oscars are so about film history this year. If you like zombies, you’ll love this short.

Funny my “shorts” post is my longest on the Oscars.

Bummer for Christopher Plummer?

I won’t hold it against Canadian-wanna-be-British actor Christopher Plummer that when we met on a set in London 34 years ago, he never spoke, only sneered. I’d pissed him off by humming “Something Good.” He famously despises “The Sound of Music.”

But if he doesn’t win an Oscar on Sunday for his charming turn as a geriatric who comes out to his son four years before dying of cancer, it will be my turn to be pissed.

Touring the city as a teen while my sister studied at the Royal College of Music, I had been lingering near Albert Hall, when I spied a glowing house on the edge of Hyde Park. Klieg lights everywhere. I fancied myself a “film student” then, and was drawn like a moth. (Though, technically, moths aren’t drawn, just disoriented, and they don’t make a beeline for anything, but I digress.)

Wearing my London fog reporter’s garb and flashing my instamatic camera, I slipped into the Victorian house along with a cadre of curious tourists and climbed two stories, until a bouncer announced, “Closed set” and started pushing folks away. I managed to peek inside the door at the top of the stairs, and randomly waved to a bearded beefeater bloke in a huddle of grips and carpenters and boldly fibbed, “I’m with him,” so he reeled me in on crooked finger. “No pictures, though,” the bouncer growled.

That’s when I made a sweep of the hazy room — artificial smoke was being pumped in for a dingy lighting effect — and spied Christopher Plummer, in his own little corner, all alone, much smaller than I’d imagined. My inner Julie Andrews did somersaults over to him. I tried making small talk, about the smoke and torturous working conditions, about my love of films and, eeek, did I mention “The Sound of Music”? Possibly. He just eyed me cautiously, down the slope of his nose, when I broke into song, “Perhaps I had a wicked childhood … perhaps I had a miserable youth …” and lost the lyrics. Music, the universal language. He had nowhere to escape to, so I took my cue and sauntered over to my fake friend, Dennis Bovington, with whom I got along famously and who, after the shoot, invited me to share a pint with the union boys and a baby-faced Harrison Ford, who also happened to be working on the movie. Say, what?! And I cared more about Christopher Plummer!?

“Hanover Street,” that was the film, a 1979 World War II bomb. But I was issued a three-day studio pass and given the red-carpet treatment, courtesy of Master Bovington, as well as a visit to Stanley Kubrick’s estate and a tour of “The Shining” set (just the exterior of a fake Overlook Hotel, used in the scenes when Danny is trying to escape out the window and Wendy is working on getting the Snowcat to work), as well as the “Star Wars” graveyard, where I combed through spare C3PO and R2D2 body parts. It was an aspiring-film-student’s dream.

But back to Plummer. The poor sod has never won an Oscar. Never even nominated for Best Actor. I believe this is only his second Best Supporting Actor nom. And though the stage actor despises fluff and loves playing villains, he was brilliant as an over-the-hill gay man with vistas yet to conquer.

A look at his competition:

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Kenneth Branagh (“My Week With Marilyn”) — Lost in the character of Laurence Olivier, he nonetheless seemed to be wearing some sort of fat suit. Too distracting.
  • Jonah Hill (“Moneyball”) — Loved him, proud of him to cross over from goofy sidekick to geeky sidekick, but he later lost his fat suit. Let’s give this guy some more serious roles. Too soon for his award.
  • Nick Nolte (“Warrior”) — The recovering-alcoholic-deadbeat-father-dismal-has-been role was written for him, and I totally soaked up his relapse scene, but the role fits him like a glove. Too tailored.
  • Max von Sydow (“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”) — His silent performance was waaaaay better than Jean Dujardin’s, and he provided one of the few emotional entry points to this disappointingly clinical film. But, sorry. Too muted.

Neither von Sydow nor Plummer has won an Oscar before. Both are 82. It’s extremely tough and incredibly close, but flipping a coin here: Plummer had lines AND a death scene. The Shakespearean actor must get his due. If not, it would be truly a bummer for Plummer.

Chris, you can thank me later for supporting you in your time of need.

“Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could …
But somewhere in (his) youth and childhood
(He) must have done something good.”

More educated-guessing picks tomorrow.

Life gets in the way of movies

Considering that on Jan. 24, the day the 2012 Oscar nominations were announced, I had seen only two of the 46 nominated movies and 15 shorts, I’m not in bad shape. As of today, I’ve seen 24 of the full-length features and four shorts, with plans by the weekend to reach a total of 31 features and 14 shorts. That’s an average of six movies and three shorts a week. To see them all would take about 125 hours.

I don’t HAVE 125 hours.

You don’t wanna be married to me this time of year unless you’re also a movie junkie. My husband loves movies but refuses to see the “junk” (although “The Tree of Life,” tops on his list, we later trashed; it helps to watch it while trashed, actually).

Colleague Jim Cheng shares my passion — his record is 209 movies during the 1996-97 Oscar season. Of this year’s nominees, his tally is 24 features, 0 shorts. I’d say “I win,” except he saw all of his at the actual theater. He considers my necessary “On Demand” viewing cheating, even if I am equipped at home with a 60-inch screen, which I am.

I try to see them in the theater, but fewer theaters are bringing nominees back in February, probably because they can’t compete with the on-demand services. So demanding. Typically I go it alone, a solo endurance test, but my equally insuppressible friend Ellen Stucker and her teenage son went a few paces with me this month, joining a smattering of buffs pumped with caffeine at early-bird shows. (I work nights. … I do manage to hold down a full-time job even during Oscar season.)

Still, 31 out of 46. It takes commitment. Another friend, who sees a movie religiously almost every Friday night with his spouse, managed to catch only 13 of this year’s nominees. Focus, people!

How many have YOU seen?

(FEATURE FILMS)
  1. The Artist
  2. The Descendants
  3. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
  4. The Help
  5. Hugo
  6. Midnight in Paris
  7. Moneyball
  8. The Tree of Life
  9. War Horse
  10. A Better Life
  11. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  12.  My Week With Marilyn
  13. Warrior
  14. Beginners
  15. Albert Nobbs
  16. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  17. The Iron Lady
  18. Bridesmaids
  19. A Cat in Paris
  20. Chico & Rita
  21. Kung Fu Panda 2
  22. Puss in Boots
  23. Rango
  24. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
  25. Anonymous
  26. Jane Eyre
  27. W.E.
  28. Hell and Back Again
  29. If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
  30. Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
  31. Pina
  32. Undefeated
  33. Bullhead
  34. Footnote
  35. In Darkness
  36. Monsieur Lazhar
  37. A Separation
  38. The Adventures of Tintin
  39. The Muppets
  40. Rio
  41. Drive
  42. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
  43. Real Steel
  44. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  45. The Ides of March
  46. Margin Call

(SHORTS)

  1. The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement
  2. God Is the Bigger Elvis
  3.  Incident in New Baghdad
  4. Saving Face
  5. The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom
  6. Dimanche/Sunday
  7. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
  8. La Luna
  9. A Morning Stroll
  10. Wild Life
  11. Pentecost
  12. Raju
  13. The Shore
  14. Time Freak
  15. Tuba Atlantic
More of my useless, against-the-stream picks tomorrow.

Moonlighting at the movies

Best Actress Academy Award

Best Actress Academy Award (Photo credit: cliff1066™)

My second job each February: cramming on all of the Oscar-nominated movies. And I mean ALL of the nominees, not just the Best Picture category.

Fios On Demand and the Hulus and Netflixes of the world make it easier to be an expert. I have never been as close to a total sweep as I am this second.

But I’m running out of time.

Some flicks shall remain beyond reach. Among the doc shorts, “God Is the Bigger Elvis” is tied up in some copyright loop. Nyah-nyah, I won’t root for it, then. GO, “Barber of Birmingham”!

And now that our girls are grown, I am gleefully skipping all of the animated features. (Unless someone wants to rent me a kid?)

I can’t, and have no desire to, see the third “Transformers” flick, because I don’t have 3-D capabilities at home and it won’t play any other way. A convenient excuse. And “Real Steel“? Please, no. It’s “The Champ” with robots. Let’s just say it won’t — can’t possibly — win.

Cannot find three of the five nominated full-length documentaries, nor four of the five foreign films, although “Bullhead” is coming soon to a theater near me, West End Cinema in D.C. Not soon enough. Pity — shame — I didn’t go out to the arthouse cinema more in 2011. The import I did see, “A Separation,” has to be the most important. It remains my favorite film experience of the year, with “The Descendants” a close second.

Of all the Oscar-touched films I can see … ye gads, I still have eight left, and we are four days (and four nights) away from the Oscar gala.

Still need to squeeze in:

  • Midnight in Paris” — a must, nominated for Best Picture and Original Screenplay;
  • “W.E.” — which was brought back by a very thoughtful and hip theater in Shirlington, nominated for costume design;
  • “Drive,” for sound editing — and my work pal Jon Briggs’ top pick for everything (I believe it’s the only one he saw);
  • Both sets of live-action shorts and animated shorts, playing at the local cinema arthouse. They collectively count as two movies, in my scheme;
  • The final “Harry Potter” installment  — I have missed the last three, but who cares, read all the books;
  • “The Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” I am tempted to skip this one, except I secretly hope it pays homage to the original, which I saw in theaters 44 years ago and whose final twist gave me my first lesson of how movies can power light bulbs in the dark (i.e. spark imaginations).
  • “Margin Call,” which actually looks good. Original screenplay and adapted screenplay have always been among my pet categories.

My picks so far? To be fair, I can review only those categories for which I have seen every nominee. Starting with perhaps the toughest call, and the earliest in the program:

Best Supporting Actress

MY PREDICTION: The smart money is on Octavia Spencer of “The Help.” For me, though, her character Disneyfied the movie. The anachronistic, undignifed prank sank it. Sure, I laughed and cried, but it was pure manipulation. Should we vote for someone simply because her character was written well — with sass and sell, ah, so memorable for American audiences? She did a fine job — all the nominees did. Janet McTeer‘s pathos, Melissa McCarthy’s mirth, B. Bejos’ mime. Yet …

MY PICK: Jessica Chastain. A win for her would still help “The Help,” but she was no caricature, having to invent a woman both comic and complicated. She also deserves the bump for enduring the hack job that was “The Tree of Life.”

Cinematography

MY PREDICTION & PICK: “Hugo” and “War Horse” are probably close contenders but, because they could win in other categories, this Oscar goes to the misunderstood (for good reason) “The Tree of Life.” Mind-blowing cinematography is all this psychotropic tripe has going for it, besides such winning performances as those of Jessica Chastain, Brad Pitt and the kid playing young Jack — oh, and sadistic dinosaurs, exploding frogs and lots and lots of foliage.

To be continued … gotta watch more movies.