All-Seeing Awix's Crystal Balls
To be able to earn a living making films strikes me as being such a fantastic lifestyle that any further reward or honour for those so fortunate seems entirely unnecessary. That said, the actual film industry itself obviously demurs, and we live in a world where there are many several different gong shows for them all to go to, displaying their personal grooming, red-carpet deportment, and ability to feign happiness when somebody else nabs the expensive paperweight they themselves were up for.
As I type the Globes and the Baftas have already been doled out, and the big one, the Oscars, lies just around the corner. As attentive masochists and other regular readers may have noticed, it has always been my custom to take a quick look at the Oscar results, but this year I have decided to cast aside the comfortingly obscuring veil of hindsight and put my ignorance on full public display by having a go at predicting the results.
I always treat the Oscars as a sort of glamour-ridden freak show rather than as an event with anything coherent or honest to say about the state of even American cinema (let us not forget that non-English language cinema is largely confined to a single category). As pompous and self-important drivel goes, though, it's great fun, and they even (very occasionally) send the awards in the right direction.
If you really want to win an Oscar, there are several things you should do. One of them is to keep making profitable films of reasonable quality for a good few years and not die, thus rendering you eligible for a 'body of work' Oscar, like the one Ron Howard won for A Beautiful Mind. This is by no means certain, of course, as masters of the craft like Scorsese, Hitchcock, and Kurosawa have never won an Oscar (unless you include the honorary one Lucas and Spielberg swung for their pal).
Anyway, if you can't be bothered to wait there are a number of fast track routes you could follow. A popular one in recent years has been to do a 'revival' film, a glossy and big-budget updating of a genre which has fallen out of favour recently. The Academy loves to wallow in nostalgia for the 'golden age' of Hollywood and anything hearkening back to that is always in with a chance. Thus in recent years films like Dances With Wolves, Unforgiven, Braveheart, Titanic, Gladiator, and Chicago have all done very well, thanks to the voters' residual affection for westerns, historical epics and musicals.
The Academy also loves worthiness and the sense that someone is suffering for their art. Comedies tend not do as well as films about people dying horribly, either in disasters, wars, or of unpleasant terminal illnesses. It has become a bit of an axiom that if you want to get nominated for an acting Oscar, you should get an illness or disability of some kind. Schizophrenia, AIDS, cerebral palsy, Alzheimers, muteness, extreme stupidity and being a psychopathic cannibal have all done the trick on various occasions in the past. Or, if you are a young actress, you can simply play someone ugly and/or fat, which will win you both sympathy and admiration for your braveness.
Also there are a few no-nos you should bear in mind. The Academy does not like being ignored or made fun of. If you do either of these things you may still win but your chances will inevitably suffer. You should also consider that Oscars usually go to dramas, either contemporary or historical. Comedies are rarely rewarded, and science fiction, horror, and fantasy almost never (although The Silence of the Lambs snuck under the wire), no matter what their quality. Oscar perceives these as being frivolous.
These are the rough guidelines informing my predictions, folks, but of course this year there is another factor to consider: the Academy has held back from giving any awards so far to the epically profitable and critically acclaimed Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and everyone assumes they can't surely be so insular as to snub it again?
The Shadow of the Past. The Breaking of the Fellowship. The Scouring of the Shire. The Cutting of all Christopher Lee's scenes. All famous chapters of Tolkien's opus, and it remains to be seen whether Oscar night 2004 will mark another: its' final triumph as a multimedia phenomenon (it also remains to be seen if Christopher Lee will still resign in protest if it doesn't win, given his uncharacteristically public rift with Peter Jackson).
Well, anyway, enough waffle, on with the predictions:
As far as the technical (ie minor) awards go Return of the King will deservedly do quite well, although Master and Commander should pick up a few too. Girl With A Pearl Earring may well be in with a shout for cinematography.
Best Original Screenplay: This has traditionally been a reward for auteurs and newcomers, and bearing this in mind I suspect the Coppola family Oscar collection may be about to swell to the tune of one, for Sofia's script for Lost In Translation.
Best Adapted Screenplay: May well go to Return of the King, but it's a very strong field this year. If the Rings team don't win it, my money is on Brian Helgeland for his Mystic River script.
Best Supporting Actor: Bit of a tough call, this one. Tim Robbins has apparently given a very impressive turn in a well-liked movie, but his lefty politics may go against him. I suspect it may go to Alec Baldwin for The Cooler, as Oscar likes former stars who take on character roles (let's not forget Kim Basinger's win for LA Confidential a few years back).
Best Supporting Actress: Well, the only one of these I've actually seen is Renee Zellweger's performance in Cold Mountain, which I didn't really much care for. However, as it involves her acting against expectations as well as looking common and grubby, she will probably win.
Best Actor: Sorry kiddies, but I can't see Johnny Depp winning it (he gave a more interesting version of the same performance in Once Upon A Time In Mexico anyway). Ditto Sean Penn (lefty and dislikes award ceremonies) and Jude Law (rather young and a bit dull). I haven't seen Ben Kingsley's House of Sand and Fog turn, but even so I suspect this one's going to Bill Murray. And deservedly so, of course. If he does win and his acceptance speech is as much fun as the one from the Baftas we're in for a treat.
Best Actress: Spoilt for choice here. I would love to see Diane Keaton get a gong, cos she's been ace in all sorts of things for three decades now. On the other hand an acceptance speech from a twelve-year-old (or whatever age Keisha Castle-Hughes actually is) would be novel. I suspect Charlize Theron has this one in the bag, though, simply because she's a very attractive woman choosing to play a rather unappealing serial killer.
Best Director: I've never been able to understand why there's a distinction between this and best picture. Never mind. Even if only because he hasn't won for the last two years, this surely has Peter Jackson's name on it. In the very unlikely event that it goes to someone else, it will be one of the veterans: Peter Weir (very much an artist) or Clint Eastwood (very much a storyteller, not to mention an icon). My choice, as opposed to prediction, would probably be Fernando Meireilles and Katia Lund for City of God. Won't happen though.
Best Picture: I am of course very nearly alone in not thinking Return of the King to be the best of the trilogy, but everyone seems to be assuming it's odds-on favourite here - which it is. However, Oscar's been known to buck this sort of assumption just out of spite, especially as this is in many ways not a film strong in the traditional virtues (it's a fantasy, isn't really an actor's movie, etc). If Jacko does win best director they may decide to give the best picture award to someone else. In this eventuality I think Mystic River may stand a good chance. The real question, of course, is why the terrific Cold Mountain wasn't nominated in the first place...
So there you go, my tips for the top. The actual awards are doled out on February the 29th, and I shall be sure to crow about my accuracy/quietly forget the fact I didn't get a single one right after the event. But next week, I thought I'd try something novel and try reviewing a current movie! Until then...