Wednesday, February 27, 2013

TV Classics: Bunheads - "There's Nothing Worse Than A Pantsuit"

I've used the name TV Classics to revisit some of my favorite episodes of television on this blog. These are not necessarily the greatest television episodes of all time, these may not even be considered classic episodes (or series) by many fans or historians. These are episodes of television that spoke to me in a very particular and powerful way. We've been raised to think of television as the "dumb box", the entertainment we can easily digest while we're relaxing. I know this because I remember being a child and clearly thinking all adults around me seemed to have a certain disdain for television. They looked down to it. And in a rather ironic way that's what made me connect to television. There's always been great work being done on television, and so, when I found a show that made me feel something special or that spoke to me in an earnest way no human being ever interacted with me. That was quite something. 

A couple of weeks ago, while watching the episode of Bunheads titled "There's Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit", I felt it. The same feeling I had when as a kid I watched Doug Funnie get a haircut or Kevin Arnold visit his father at work. There was something there that spoke right at me. I decided to start this entry by explaining what the header TV Classics meant because my reaction to this episode of television was so visceral and immediate that I am not quite sure it could have worked for anyone else in the exact same way. I felt like this episode of tv was made for me.

But let's get into the episode itself. "There's Nothing Worse Than a Pantsuit"'s main plots are dancer turned ballet teacher Michelle having to put on the titular pantsuit in order to convince the town preservation society to let her built an amphitheater and sarcastic teenager Sasha going public about her relationship with eyeliner-wearing Roman. Still, anyone who has seen the episode will probably already know that all of the thoughts and feelings I'm writing about come mainly from one single scene among this hour of television.

The scene is wonderful on its own, but wouldn't have as much resonance as it does if there wasn't some kind of build-up to it. Ginny, one of the bunhead students, plans on auditioning for the high school musical. When she announces this to her friends, they don't takeit seriously because she says the same thing every year but never has the nerve to actually go in and audition. This time though, she is determined and asks Michelle to help her practice. Meanwhile Michelle nervously manages to convince the board that she should build the amphitheater (actually, it's Milly, the main investor of the project that does the convincing). After a small pantsuit-wearing personal victory, Michelle gets a bit of news from her friend Talia. An old guy Talia once slept with calls and offers her a role on a touring production of Rock of Ages. The next morning, after a night of heavy drinking celebrating with Talia, this is what happens when Michelle goes to help Ginny. 

And that's it. That's the scene. And if there's anything in Bunheads that could be called genius is that one scene. Look how much this scene tells about the show, its theme and its main character without ever feeling on-the-nose while doing this. Then consider how Mad Men, arguably the best show on television tends to have a hard time not having its characters express the theme of any given episode out loud. Consider how brilliantly the choice of Bells Are Ringin's "It's a Perfect Relationship" reflects what is going on inside Michelle's mind without, again, being too obvious about it. Not to mention the amazing perfromances by Sutton Foster and Bailey Buntain, who has been recently and rightfully praised by's Willa Paskin in this article.

On a more personal note, the scene worked on me from both Michelle and Ginny's side. We've all been in Ginny's situation, pondering taking chance or trying out for something we're not quite sure we're going to be successful at. Michelle is quite merciless in her help, and the moment she interrupts Ginny gave a very uncomfortable feeling the first time I watched it. Michelle has a whole other thing going on in her head. She has been in Ginny's situation, she has worked hard to succeed and in many ways she feels like she has failed. Then some random guy calls and delivers success on a platter to her best friend. I'd be lying if I said weird plays of destiny haven't messed up with my head in the way this particular announcement messed with Michelle's. However it's precisely Michelle's passive-aggressiveness that helps Ginny the most. And not only that, but it's also helping Ginny that helps Michelle the most.

It's important to know that the rehearsal doesn't end when the scene ends. Ginny is initially upstaged by Michelle, but she eventually arrives to a point in which her teacher must have accepted her performance as decent enough. Michelle's approval, as slight as it might have been, must have been a huge confidence boost to Ginny. Similarly, Ginny's appreciation of Michelle's performance did the same trick for her. What's been so effective about Bunheads as a whole for me is its approach to Michelle's situation. She is a person with big dreams who hasn't achieved them and maybe never will. There's many movies and shows about people realizing their biggest dreams that are meant to work as inspirational stories, but I haven't found something as inspirational and motivating as this particular scene and Bunheads' main theme as a series. Ginny's reaction to Michelle's performance makes her gain as much confidence in herself as her approval makes Ginny gain confidence in herself. In this way, both realize life's not necessarily about succeeding in the way that it's expected of you, but that it is truly about the journey. They realize they have talent and that they are worth it. They regain their life instinct and will live to see another day. They won't stop and that's the important part.

Bunheads has just finished airing its first season and there is no word on whether there will be a second (although people are mostly hopeful about a renewal). It is a fantastic show and you owe it to yourself to watch it.   

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Disney Canon: The Jungle Book

And so, in our exploration of the Disney canon, we have reached the end of the period known as the Silver Age of Disney Animation. The Golden Age was, of course, that five-film period between Snow White and Bambi, after which Disney's cinematic ambitious were stopped by financial disappointments and World War II. The War made way for the low-budget "package film" period, which ended in 1950 when peace time let Disney get ambitious once again. The huge success of Cinderella ushered the silver age, which gave us a lot beloved classics that by and large aren't as well regarded as the Golden Age films, but are considered classics non the least.

The last of these classics was The Jungle Book. It was adapted from the Rudyard Kipling novels, something that in this case basically means Disney payed for the copyright. If you thought Disney wasn't faithful enough to the original stories of Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan, then you won't be pleased with what he did with The Jungle Book. Legend has it that Disney approached the men in charge of the story with Kipling's book and told them: "The first I want you to do is not to read it". The Sword in the Stone had a very lukewarm response and there was talk about the "lower quality" of Disney's new xerox inking technique, which he started using in One Hundred and One Dalmatians. This time, Disney wanted to make a winner no matter what and it seems like the best way to achieve this was to take Kipling's colorful characters and make a fun, exciting movie. The dark and dangerous qualities of Kipling's text would be avoided if needed.

That's precisely what we got in The Jungle Book. The basics of Kipling's story are intact, in that we open the movie with panther Bagheera finding a baby human Mowgli and bringing him to the wolf pack until he is old enough that the wolf council decides he should be taken to the human village, even if he doesn't want to leave the jungle, to avoid him being digested by human-hating tiger Shere-Khan. From there, the movie becomes a kind of episodic "road movie" and, presumably, just what Disney wanted. Bagheera and Mowgli are off to take him to his new home and on the way run into a series of misadventures. They run into an elephant battalion, a hypnotizing python and Baloo the bear, who befriends Mowgli and doesn't want him to go away into his human life.

Numerous specifics about the meetings with these different characters and their roles in the story differ substantially from Kipling's original. The characters of Kaa the python, for example, is turned into a villain by Disney, and Baloo adopts a much more comedic and friendly personality than the one he has in the book. Standing by his purpose, Disney modified whatever he saw necessary, and I wouldn't argue he was wrong, since he turned Baloo into the film's most beloved character. 

He took a similar approach to the music of the film. The original song composer for the film was Terry Gilkynson, who wrote several songs that were heavily inspired by the book. Alas, Disney found them to be too dark and ordered the Sherman Brothers to write the remaining songs for the movie (One Gilkynson song remained in the movie, the Oscar-nominated "The Bear Necessities" which is linked in the video above). The scoring for the songs, which was influenced by indian music in Gilkynson's songs, turned towards a jazzy but friendly style. Not too jazzy, remember we're talking about Walt Disney here, but with enough flavor as to impress the audience. Take for instance the following number, sung by Louie Prima. 

All the episodes Bagheera and Mowgli get into work well to make one very amusing and entertaining film that, somewhat sadly, ends up feeling very episodic and lacking in momentum. One of the basic problems for that is the delayed introduction of the villainous Shere-Khan. Sure, we hear a little about him at the beginning of the movie, but he is used more as a plot device to set Mowgli and Bagheera on their journey than anything else. Not that we didn't know from the minute he is mentioned that he would face off Mowgli, but there is no build up towards the moment he finally shows up and the ensuing final confrontation.

This ends up being just a minor flaw, however, since the movie does move along and proves itself to be a very good time for those watching it. Audiences back in 1967 agreed and made The Jungle Book the most successful movie of that year. From that point on, it was regarded as Disney's final success. Disney passed away months before the premiere, so maybe there was a lot of sentimentality surrounding The Jungle Book's release. In any case, the test of time seems to stand by the public's reaction, as the film is still regarded as one of Disney's classics. I guess old Walt knew what it took for one of his film's to be successful. The ambitions he had in The Jungle Book are far more modest and practical than the artistic goals he set himself with Snow White, Pinocchio or Fantasia, but he did achieve what he set out to do with The Jungle Book; a movie made to entertain that keeps on entertaining.

Next Time: Well, it's time for the Disney Canon to go on another hiatus. Wait for the "Disney Shorts" post to know exactly when it will be back.         

Friday, February 22, 2013

2012 Oscar Winner Predictions

There seems to be little suspense surrounding the question of who will win the Oscar for Best Picture. Ben Affleck's Argo has been a steamroller collecting awards everywhere it's been. If it wins, it will be the first movie since Driving Miss Daisy to win the Oscar without a Best Director nomination. If it loses, then it will be the first movie to do so after winning so many freaking awards. It's won even more "key" awards than Brokeback Mountain did before it shamefully lost to Crash back in '06. So either way, it will make history.
It could also make history beyond the stat books. Ever since the Academy expanded the Best Picture category to 10 nominees (and later to an non-definitive crazy number), I've been waiting to see if ever a film without a Best Director nomination would win. If Argo pulls this off, then it will affect the way studios look at their Oscar chances. Suddenly, not getting a Director nod won't be an impediment for studio campaigning for the prize. Maybe this way the conversation during these months won't be limited to just a couple films. Or maybe the Academy will go back to having only five nominees next year. 

Anyway, here's the complete list of what I'm predicting to win at this year's Academy Awards. Am I being too generous towards Life of Pi? Not giving enough love to Lincoln? Underestimating Silver Linings Playbook and overestimating Django? It's only two days until we find out!

Best Picture: Argo
Director: Ang Lee - Life of Pi
Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino - Django Unchained
Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio - Argo 

Lead Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis - Lincoln
Lead Actress: Emmanuelle Riva - Amour
Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz - Django Unchained
Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway - Les Misérables

Animated FilmWreck-It-Ralph
Foreign FilmAmour
DocumentarySearching for Sugar Man

Cinematography: Claudio Miranda - Life of Pi
Production Design: Sarah Greenwood - Anna Karenina
Costume Design: Jacqueline Durran - Anna Karenina
Film Editing: William Goldenberg - Argo

Original Score: Mychael Danna - Life of Pi
Original Song: Adele - Skyfall
Sound Mixing: Les Misérables
Sound Editing: Life of Pi 

Makeup and Hair: Les Misérables
Visual Effects: Life of Pi

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Oscar Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay

Is it me or is there huge enthusiasm around Django Unchained? I thought the movie was ok, not Tarantino's best, but a pretty good time. But from what I understand (or the internet has led me to believe) I am by far on the minority here. People really love the movie. I first thought this was a case of the internet generally loving Tarantino, but then award shows started showing their love too. Tatantino already won screenplay awards from the Golden Globes and the BAFTA and I think he's on his way to win his second Oscar.
Is there any other film that could beat Quentin on Sunday? Sadly, my favorite movie of the year, Moonrise Kingdom, doesn't seem to have a prayer of chance, this being its one and only nomination. The torture controversy and then the Kathryn Bigelow snub have really hurt Zero Dark Thirty. And the less is said about the terrible screenplay for Flight the better. 
That leaves only one possible spoiler, and a pretty good one, Michael Haneke's Amour. Now, the movie does have support across the board, being nominated for Director and, most importantly, Best Picture. But I also have to remember this is not only the writers branch voting for the winner, it's also sound mixers, editors and publicists. Amour could win, and I would love if it did, but I wouldn't bet the house on it.   
I really like Tarantino, but man do I wish he had won his second Oscar for either Inglourious Basterds or Jackie Brown instead of Django. 

Will Win: Django Unchained

Should Win: Moonrise Kingdom

Oscar Winner Predictions: Supporting Actor

The big deal about this category this is year is that all five nominees are previous winners. That makes, as you might imagine, a pretty boring list of nominees when you consider the most interesting roles of the year like Dwight Henry in Beasts of the Southern Wild, Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike and Michael Fassbender in Prometheus were all left out. 
It's very difficult to know who's going to win out of the men who were actually nominated. Tommy Lee Jones, who wins the heart of everyone who watches Lincoln, seemed to be the front-runner. He actually won the SAG award. But he also didn't manage to win either the Golden Globe or the BAFTA, making this a wide open category. 
Some are saying this could go to Robert De Niro, who give his first good performance in ages in Silver Linings Playbook. The fact that he has spent the past two decades phoning it in in such terrible movies as Limitless and Little Fockers could either help or hurt him. People could either be excited he's back or maybe they'll feel as uncomfortable as I would feel if De Niro won a third Oscar after so many lackluster years when it took Meryl Streep decades of great work to get hers. 
Among the other nominees, it would be on account of the love for Argo if Alan Arkin managed a win. And then, you have the Academy's tendency to nominate lead roles in supporting categories. Philip Seymour Hoffman may be really good and have tons of screen time in The Master, but that seems to be a fairly unpopular movie with the Academy... However, there's Christoph Waltz, who is also pretty much the co-lead of Django Unchained and already won the Golden Globe and BAFTA. Waltz's performance is highly derivative of his brilliant work in Inglourious Basterds, I can't hardly see why people are falling head over heels for his performance, but by God are people in love with his Dr. King Schultz.

Will Win: Christoph Waltz

Should Win: Tommy Lee Jones

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Oscar Winner Predictions: Sound Editing

Sound Editing is that category. That one technical category in which I just can't decide what to predict. I could make a case for every single one of the nominees. If they love Argo as much as we think, why wouldn't they vote for it here? If they feel like awarding either Zero Dark Thirty or Django Unchained somewhere, they might as well do it here. Still, I think the showdown for the win will be between Life of Pi and Skyfall. 
Skyfall is the kind of action-packed movie that has wont this award in the past (The Bourne Ultimatum, The Dark Knight). It is by far the most well-loved James Bond movie in the Academy's history and it will at least win one award on sunday (original song for Adele). The love for Skyfall is there and it could show through int his category. But so could the love for Life of Pi, which with 11 nominations, is undoubtedly loved by the Academy. Ever since I first saw Life of Pi, without that much logic put into it besides that it sounded wonderfully, I thought it was going to win this award, and so, despite the rising love for Skyfall and the overall uncertainty of this category, I'll stick to that prediction. 

Will Win: Life of Pi

Should Win: From what I understand of what a sound editor's job is, I would say the best of this list is probably Life of Pi.  

Oscar Winner Predictions: Adapted Screenplay

Again, we all know the front-runner for Best Picture is Argo, and that the Academy likes to give a certain number of awards to their Best Picture winners. If Argo won less than three awards on sunday night, it would be the first movie to do so since... I think since the 1930s. That is, at the end of the day, why I am picking it to win Adapted Screenplay. Not to say that it is an undeserving winner, the script by Chris Terrio is a very well crafted thriller, a true hollywood winner, but there is some tough competition. 
Tony Kushner wrote an incredible screenplay for Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, one that until the sudden tidal wave of Argo love, would have been a shoo-in for the win. Kushner is one of the greatest living writers and that shows in the movie, which despite the fact of being bookended by some pretty disappointing scenes, is perhaps the best written piece of cinema this year. On the other hand we have David O. Russell, whose Silver Linings Playbook seems to be getting lots of love around Hollywood and has the Weinstein awards-machine behind its campaign. A win by any of these two wouldn't surprise me (what would be surprising would be a win by either the beautiful script for Beasts of the Southern Wild or the problematic script for Life of Pi). At the end of the day the classical adventure plotting of Argo and John Goodman and Alan Arkin's quips about hollywood should put it over the edge. 

Will Win: Argo

Should Win: Lincoln 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Vote 'NO'

This is a revised version of a review originally published on this website November 16th 2012.

Pablo Larrain's No is nominated for the Foreign Language Film at this year's Academy Awards, which take place this sunday. The movie just premiered on limited release in the U.S. this friday and it is one hell of a movie. As the third movie in Larran's unofficial trilogy about dictatorship-era Chile, No is set in 1988, the year dictator Augusto Pinochet succumbed to international pressure to legitimize his government and called for a plebiscite in which people voted "yes" or "no" on whether he would remain in power for eight more years. 

The movie focuses on the people behind the "no" campaign, and although it is based on real life events, its protagonist is a fictional young publicist called René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal). Saavedra has just returned to his native Chile after being in exiled in Mexico, he rides a skate board and knows how to sell a product. Each campaign has been allowed 15 minutes of television airtime every night until the election, and while daily airtime on national tv is already a big deal for the opposition, René and the other collaborators can't let the opportunity to defeat Pinochet slide. René approaches the "no" vote as he would any of the products he crafts ads for, something that doesn't sit well with the many politicians associated with the campaign. 

In many ways, this movie reminded me of Ben Affleck's Argo (which is, coincidentally, the front-runner to win the Best Picture Oscar). Both tell a story in which a piece of media is used to achieve an important political goal. Argo, the fake movie, and the commercials designed by René and the other guys at the center of No are both daring ideas that may look stupid on paper, but that somehow worked. The difference is that whereas Affleck's Argo is a terrific hollywood thriller, focusing strongly in the procedural aspects of the mission, Larrain's No shines stronger light on its main character. René is a highly relatable man, he is surrounded by all kinds of opinions about the plebiscite (his boss is part of the "yes" campaign, his ex believes it to be fixed); opinions that affect his personal and professional life. 

The movie seems to be shot with 1988 video cameras, and thus, blends perfectly with the commercials used int he No campaign and news footage of the time. The line between fiction and reality is blurred just like the line between René's life and the campaign. With its style and substance, No is very much about how politics affect our lives. Most movies about this topic show how politics will determine aspects of our life whether we want them to or not. No, however, seems to be interested in telling the opposite story. It tells the tale of what happens when we insert our daily, superfluos, lives into politics and how some of the most maligned lines of work, like advertising and politics, can work together for a greater good. 

No is an optimistic movie that never loses its edge or bite. It is beautifully crafted, wonderfully written, very funny and highly entertaining. It has a lot to say and is great at saying it. It's only February, but I can confidently say No is one of the best movies of 2013. 

Grade: A- 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Oscar Winner Predictions: Production Design

Here's another category that underwent a name-change this year. Despite the fact that it awarded a film's production designer and set decorator, up until now this category was called "Best Art Direction". This year, it was given the more appropriate "Best Production Design" title. A production designer is the person in charge of designing the overall look of a film. His or her most common job is to design the sets. The job of the set decorator seems pretty self explanatory. 
This category, like its sister "Costume Design", likes period and fantasy movies above all. That is why such unique work done in contemporary movies like this year's Beasts of the Southern Wild don't manage to get a nomination. Like we're used to, this year we have four period and one fantasy nominee. 
The fantasy nominee is Ang Lee's Life of Pi, whose visually striking look blurs the line between visual effects and more traditional production design. Still, the guys behind the movie shouldn't worry too much about it, the past three winners in this category have all relied heavily on computer-generated sets and backgrounds. Yes, the Academy didn't mind that the artists behind Avatar, Hugo and Alice in Wonderland used their computers to come up with those films' final look. 
This precedent sure puts Pi in a favorable position for the win, but before we call this race it would be wise to take a look at the other nominees. Lincoln may be very truthful in its recreation of the mid 19th century white house, but there doesn't seem to be much going for it with showier nominees in the category. Similarly, I would be shocked if the award went to The Hobbit's rehash of Grant Major's already winning Middle Earth designs. The BAFTA award went to Les Misérables, which does have some wonderful sets. The constrained and highly theatrical production design of its third act was one of the biggest problems I had with the movie, but Oscar voters seem to like it way more than I do.
This category seems like a real head-scratcher, except that if I were a voting member I would have absolutely no doubt about which movie to vote for. Sarah Greenwood's work in Anna Karenina is simply fantastic. It's grand, period, showy, everything Oscar likes in its winners. It is, also, one of the movie's biggest selling points. The most genius aspect regarding the film is director's Joe Wright's decision to set the whole movie in a type of theatre, putting the private lives of the aristocratic protagonists not on a metaphorical, but an actual stage. 
If I were voting, this would be a no-brainer. Alas, I am not a voting member of the Academy. Still, I think Anna Karenina will rightfully win the award, although I wouldn't be surprised if a more popular film like Life of Pi or Les Misérables takes the trophy.

Will Win: Anna Karenina 

Should Win: Anna Karenina

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Disney Canon: The Sword in the Stone

When looking for other opinions of Disney's 1963 film The Sword in the Stone in the internet, the most popular opinion (or the most popular opinion worth writing about) seemed to be that the movie has a big, hot amount of homoerotic undertones and that old magician Merlin and young protagonist Ward are stand-ins for the kind of love that was so popular in the time of the greek philosophers Merlin surely admires.

To suggest that old Walt Disney decided to fill the movie with sexual undertones about a pedophiliac relationship is completely ridiculous (even though there is no better place than the internet to find people talking shit about Walt's supposedly sick and perverted life). To suggest that it was the idea of the men working in the production, maybe story supervisor Bill Peet, and that it slipped Disney's already aged mind is similarly unlikely. There is really no scenario in which these undertones where consciously put in the film. That doesn't mean, however, that these undertones aren't there. So, are they?

The truth is, I don't think so. The story is that of a young boy named Ward, who is thought thanks to a few magic tricks about life and values by old wizard Merlin in order to pull out the aforementioned sword from the aforementioned stone in order to become the legendary King Arthur. Now, the whole old man comes along to teach the young boy about life is the supposedly suspicious part of the plot. And old man? With a magic wand? Alone with a young kid? Taking him on "adventures"? It does lend itself to some candid interpretations, but the movie itself doesn't sport any particular traits or scenes that would support this theory. At least not that I can think of. If Merlin and Ward are lovers, then so are Harry Potter and Dumbledore... wait a minute, they might be on to something here... In all seriousness though, people love nothing more than spreading the word about how Disney's work is not as wholesome and innocent as it appears, and while a lot of it is charged with a lot of psychological darkness, The Sword in the Stone is not about a pedophilia.

This, frankly, kind of bums me out, because the movie isn't all that interesting otherwise. If it were, I wouldn't have spent three paragraphs talking about its hidden sexual agenda. No, The Sword in the Stone is just an ok movie. One that sadly foreshadows the decline of the Disney Animation Studio after Walt's death (which would come three years after the film's release). The animation shows how the xerox technique utilized in One Hundred and One Dalmatians doesn't work as well when you are not looking for a particularly modern look and your protagonists are not white with black spots. The story is episodic and straightforward. The comedy, except for a few jokes about Merlin being able to see the future, is not very sophisticated. And the songs are surprisingly disappointing.

This is not to say that this is a bad movie. It's just disappointingly average. More than any of the films we've looked at so far (except maybe for some of the package films), The Sword in the Stone feels very much like a kid's entertainment without further ambitions. And as a kid's entertainment, I guess it does work fine. I remember watching the film as a kid and enjoying it. I just watched it a couple of days ago and I can tell you I could picture myself watching it with my kids (if and when I have them). It's just that with a catalogue as rich as Disney's, The Sword in the Stone is a particularly unattractive choice. 

But hey, there's still stuff to enjoy here. More specifically, the duel scene, in which Merlin and crazy witch Madame Mim have a magic duel in which they transform themselves in many different animals. It's a playful, entertaining and quite funny scene that remains the most memorable part of the movie. (I couldn't find a video in english).

Solid and sometimes quite funny, The Sword in the Stone is that movie that is content with being good enough to be watched and doesn't aspire for something more. That kind of movie that can be very frustrating when you have a story as rich as the Arthurian Legend. I can only imagine what could have been done with a more epic treatment of the material... 

Next Time: I know the Canon has been incredibly irregular as of late, and I apologize greatly, but I swear I will be back next week with The Jungle Book to finish this "season".  

Oscar Winner Predictions: Direction

Ever since Ben Affleck (and to a lesser extent Kathryn Bigelow) was denied a nomination in the Best Director shortlist, it's been all about crazy theories about who is going to win the Oscar. You see, every major awards body with a "Best Director" category has given it to Affleck, which means it is really anyone's game at the Oscars. Die-hard Affleck supporters (of which there are many) will surely cry as to how this is ridiculous and unfair, but I for one am enjoying at least one category in which we have no idea what is going to happen. Wouldn't it be much more fun if the Oscar race always played out int his way?
As I wrote above, crazy theories about who's going to win abound and while some of them make for truly mind-blowing scenarios (what if first time director Behn Zeitlin does win for Beasts of the Southern Wild?), the majority of the internet is keeping a cool head and saying this is probably Steven Spielberg's to lose. Yes, the Academy does like Steven quite a lot (he's won Best Director twice), but despite the twelve nominations, there doesn't seem to be much enthusiasm for Lincoln. On the other hand, there is nothing but enthusiasm and passionate debate surrounding David O . Russell's Silver Linings Playbook. There are suddenly hundreds of writing about how it is a bad film and you should know that when the internet suddenly turns on a movie, it means it is in the front-running position.
What about a Michael Haneke win? Foreign language films never win in this category, but this is such a crazy year I'm willing to say why not? And in that case, why not Ang Lee? He's the one guy that's been consistently nominated by every awards body (even Spielberg missed out on a BAFTA nomination) and he is (with good reason) a very well regarded director. There is also little question that his Life of Pi is a showcase for his directorial vision. I may not be a fan of the movie, but I am a fan of Ang. He has previously won for the beautiful Brokeback Mountain and I don't see why a second Oscar would be out of the question. 

Will Win: Ang Lee - Life of Pi

Should Win: Michael Haneke - Amour 

Oscar Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing

The only categories that can be harder to understand and judge at the Oscars than Film Editing, are the Sound categories. Not only does the Academy want actors, makeup artists and studio executives deem which among the five nominees has the best sound work, it also expects them to know what the difference between Sound Mixing and Sound Editing is. If you've ever taken part in an Oscar Pool, then you must have spent a long time discussing what the difference between those two categories is, and even if you do know the difference (I think I do), you probably still have problems deciding what actually makes good sound good. 
Take, for example, Lincoln's nomination for best Sound Mixing. I'm not saying that the work done in Lincoln is bad, but the Academy has overwhelmed this category with action movies and musicals so much in the past that it becomes dubious whether they're nominating the movie because it has great sound or because they like it (the same goes for The King's Speech nomination a couple years back). 
Anyway, what we care about here is what is going to win the Oscar and not necessarily what should, and for that, we need little more than look at some of the previous winners: Chicago, Dreamgirls, Ray. This category has a history of awarding movies that feature a lot of singing and you know there is little movies out there that feature as much singing as Les Misérables. I guess it also helps that the Sound Mixing has kind of become the story about the making of Les Mis, with director Tom Hooper recording the musical numbers live on set. Giving the movies' eight nominations, it seems like the Academy thinks the divisive enterprise was successful. 
Still, there's a couple of movies that could take the award instead of Les Mis. I mean, the Academy surely loves Life of Pi. And Skyfall is the kind of action movie that also tends to win in this category. Actually, one of Skyfall's sound mixers, Greg P. Russell, has been nominated for 16 Oscars and is yet to win. Skyfall may just be the kind of beloved movie that can break the curse for Russell. 

Will Win: Les Misérables (with Skyfall close behind)

Should Win: Again, I don't know much about sound, but Life of Pi sounded wonderful. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Oscar Winner Predictions: Lead Actress

For the most part of this year's Oscar race this category seemed like a battle to the death between rising stars Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence is a very young superstar, headlining the Hunger Games franchise and then starring in indie hit Silver Linings Playbook. Chastain came into the spotlight after she appeared in about 43 movies last year and emerged as a new acting talent, she starred in Broadway's The Heiress and now is nominated for Zero Dark Thirty. 
They both won Golden Globes. Then, the conversation about the torture controversy surrounding Zero Dark Thirty grew louder and louder to the point where a Chastain win seemed less likely every minute (no matter how amazing she is in the film). Lawrence, meanwhile, surely benefited from having Oscar campaigning genius Harvey Weinstein at her side (not to imply that she isn't widely loved by everyone everywhere). She won the SAG award and seemed in the lead.
And then came Emmanuelle Riva. The 85-year-old actress, who in Michael Haneke's Amour, gives one of the year's most harrowing performances as a woman whose health slowly deteriorates when she falls victim of a stroke. Amour surprised with five nominations on Oscar morning, including Best Picture, which was more than anyone expected and a signifier that people are watching the movie. Oscar has a long history of awarding young actresses over more veterans (Marion Cotillard beat Julie Christie, Halle Berry beat Sissy Spacek), but if it's really so, and people are watching Haneke's film, then I can't see them voting for someone other than Riva. She already showed her first sign of strength by winning the BAFTA (british version of the Oscar) this weekend. I think Oscar is next. 

Will Win: Emmanuelle Riva

Should Win: Emmanuelle Riva

Oscar Winner Predictions: Documentary Feature

There's a clear favorite in this category. The world (at least the awards-giving-world) has fallen in love with the story of Rodriguez, a mexican-american singer-songwriter from the early '70s who made two albums that failed terribly in the whole world except for South Africa, where his music became the voice of a revolution. Searching for Sugar Man tells the story of the fans' search to know whatever happened to their mysterious musical idol. The movie is very well done and speaks very strongly to the idea of success, genius and recognition for one's talents. It's a wonderful story that has rightfully captivated most people who've watched the movie and has made Searching for Sugar Man the front-runner to win the Oscar. 
The only thing standing between Sugar Man and the Oscar is the fact that there are other four nominees in the category whose subject matter may seem more "important" and "serious" than that of Rodriguez's story. I've seen two of these other nominees: The Invisible War, which is a harrowing look at the covering of rapes in the U.S. military and How to Survive a Plague, which serves as a document of the early days of HIV activism. The other two nominees; The Gatekeepers and 5 Broken Cameras are about the Israel-Palestinian relationship. As you can see, all very serious themes. 
The bottom line is the following: the Academy may want to go with a very serious subject for this award (they tend to do so), and in that case, I guess the most probable winner would be The Invisible War. But whereas the winner of this category used to be voted by a panel in the past, the voting has been opened to all Academy members this year. And popularity is the strongest thing going in Sugar Man's favor, so expect it to win.

Will Win: Searching for Sugar Man

Should Win: Like I said, I've only seen three of the films. I liked all three a lot. If I had to pick one, I think I'd go with How to Survive a Plague. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Oscar Winner Predictions: Makeup and Hair

Although this category has just renamed itself "makeup and hairstyling", letting behind the simpler "makeup" name, it already awarded hair stylers as well as makeup artists. Actually, we already had a couple of movies whose nomination was largely based on the work done with the hair and wig design. The Young Victoria, for example. Whether we will have a winner that is largely based on this craft, is another question entirely. 
And while there's a lot of wig and hair job done in this year's nominees, it's easy to say that both Hitchcok and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey were not nominated for the hairstyles of their protagonists, but for the prosthetic job utilized to respectively turn Anthony Hopkins into Alfred Hitchcock and various actors into dwarves. Now, if you ask me, the makeup that turns Sir Hopkins into Hitchcock looks incredibly bad and is a huge liability for the movie (not that the movie's script didn't shoot itself in the foot enough times). As for the creatures that populate The Hobbit, I think makeup artists have failed when the audience can't tell the characters apart (again, not that the movie didn't do a terrible job of establishing them as characters with personalities).
Which brings us to the final nominee... Tom Hooper's Les Misérables. And you know what, you can say whatever you want about the failures of Les Mis, I think the makeup work was quite remarkable. Not necessarily for the garish styling of the Thenardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter), but for the willingness of the makers to considerable "ugly-up" their otherwise beautiful stars and then shoot them in close-ups for two and a half hours. The transformation of Hugh Jackman from a handsome into a sad and old is quite impressive without being as obviously artificial as the work of the other two nominees. Anyway, here's hoping the Academy, like me, goes with the obviously superior work of the three. 

Will Win: Les Misérables

Should Win: Les Misérables 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Oscar Winner Prediction: Costume Design

As you know, with the Academy, usually best = more. This is specially true of the "design" categories. The recently retitled Production Design and Costume Design categories tend to award the movies that present the flashiest sets and costumes. Sometimes, more is best and we get wonderful winners like Marie Antoinette. Sometimes, we get something as horrible as Elizabeth: The Golden Age. 
Before diving into this category, I have to say that this year's set of nominees is a very worthy one. You may say what you want about Snow White and the Huntsman, but Colleen Atwood did some pretty amazing work with the costumes of that movie. Similarly, the period pieces of Lincoln and Les Misérables are very worthy nominees too. The other two nominees, are the ones that can be the only plausible responses to what film has the most costumes. 
The late Eiko Ishioka's work in Mirror Mirror is playful, grand, fanstastic and as cartoony and over-the-top as they get and it's nice to see a talent like hers be recognized with a posthumous nomination for a movie that has not been exactly fondly received by audiences and critics. Actually, the goofy fairy tale adaptation by Tarsem Sighn received such a mixed and unenthusiastic response that it would be a true shocker if it managed to win on Oscar night, no matter how many extravagant costumes it features. 
Which brings us to Anna Karenina, a movie that also didn't get as enthusiastic a response from critics and audiences as I think it deserved. I've said it in the past and I'll say it again, Joe Wright's movie is a masterpiece of design and the costumes are no exception. It just won the BAFTA award for Costume Design a couple of days ago and it seems to be on its way to an Oscar win, which is very well deserved. I will be very happy if the Academy gives the statue to Anna's designer Jacqueline Durran, who has been denied in the past for both her amazing work in Pride and Prejudice and, shockingly, for the famous green dress from Atonement. 

Will Win: Anna Karenina

Should Win: Anna Karenina 

Oscar Winner Prediction: Film Editing

After the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild, the Producers Guild, the Director Guilds and the British Academy awards; there is little to no question that Ben Affleck's Argo is the overwhelming favorite to win Best Picture going into Oscar night despite the fact that the Academy did not nominate Affleck for the Best Director award. 
You may or may not know this, but unless you're from the 1930s, it is very unlikely for a film to only win Best Picture at the Oscars. A lot of the winners sweep the awards winning anywhere from five to eleven statues. Now, given the circumstances of this year, it is also unlikely for Argo to sweep the awards. There really aren't that many categories where it could win, but it will take a statue wherever it can get one. And Film Editing is one of those places. 
Film Editing is such a hard art to judge (good editing isn't supposed to be noticed by the spectator), that most of the time the category skews very hard towards the Best Picture front-runners. This year, for example, all five movies cited are Best Picture nominees (Argo, Lincoln, Life of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty, Silver Linings Playbook). Whether you consider Silver Linings Playbook to be one of the best edited movies of the year is debatable, but the nomination is also proof that having Best Picture momentum will help you score a nod in this category.
I don't know if Academy voters are aware of this, but by awarding Argo, they'll be giving the statue to William Goldenberg, who is nominated twice this year. His other nomination is for his collaboration with Dylan Tichenor in Zero Dark Thirty. And while I think the relation between rhythm and substance makes the work in Zero Dark Thirty superior, there's no denying that Goldenberg cut (or helped cut) two of this year's best films. 

Will Win: Argo

Should Win: Zero Dark Thirty 

Side Effects: Sad Swan Song for Soderbergh

Side Effects is supposed to be Steven Soderbergh's last feature film. The director announced his retirement a couple of years ago and at first it seemed like it may just be that kind of thread that doesn't come true (think how Gran Torino was supposed to be Clint Eastwood's last acting job), but now there's press releases everywhere announcing Side Effects as Soderbergh's final theatrical production. It's sad that such an interesting as Soderbergh has decided to retire, although I doubt he'll stop working (for starters, his next project is an HBO movie about Liberace to be released later this year). What's sadder is that he has decided to exit the movie theaters with a movie as bad as Side Effects. 

The premise of the movie is certainly an intriguing one. Rooney Mara plays Emily Taylor, a severely depressed woman. Her husband, played by Channing Tatum, has just been released after serving time in jail for insider trading. Her old psychiatrist (Catherine Zeta-Jones) couldn't help her with her depression. Now she's seeing Dr. Banks (Jude Law) and relying more heavily than ever on medication. That is until the side effects of one of her pills leads her to commit a terrible crime. Sounds pretty interesting, right? Suddenly there's a crime and someone must be blamed for what happened. But who is to blame in this situation? The patient? The doctor who prescribed the pills? The company that makes them? Someone else? 

There are not only questions of morality, but of obsession and guilt that the movie sets out to explore. Or at least it seemed as if the movie wanted to touch on such complex subjects. For much of the movie we are wondering about what is causing Emily's depression and the morality behind the acts of Dr. Banks. Mara is a movie star on the rise and Law, as he becomes older, is starting to become more interesting an actor as ever (he was recently terrific in Anna Karenina). The two of them are actors at the top of their game and they are directed greatly by Soderbergh, who has more than once proved himself as a great actor's director. 

All of the film's complexities are, however, thrown down the toilet thanks to a stupid twist in the last act that rips everything that came before from any kind of nuance and turns the movie into an incredibly uninteresting caper. Not only that, but it also decides to take a rather misogynistic point of view. Channing Tatum and Rooney Mara's characters both commit crimes in this movie, but whereas Tatum's is treated with overall sympathy, the verdict on Mara's character seems unmeasured and unforgiving. A couple of final shots that try to bring some nuance back to the movie won't do when you've spent the entirety of the third act clearly delineating who is right and who is wrong in this whole mess.

Some critics have said this is Soderbergh's version of Hitchcock's Psycho, and while I see the similarities in structure, Side Effects is nowhere near as confident and precise in what it is doing as Hitchcock's beloved classic. Everything about Side Effects is about half measures  it doesn't know what kind of movie it wants to be. It doesn't embrace the bleakness of its central conflict nor the campiness of its later revelations. This movie is closer to those 90s sex thrillers that came out on the heels of Basic Instinct than anything Hitchcock. 

Grade: C-

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Oscar Winner Predictions: Animated Feature

My love for Laika Animation's Paranoman is well documented, so it is with great sorrow that I must face the fact that it will probably won't win the Animated Feature award. I remain hopeful that it could happen and no single win would make me happier on Oscar night, but yes, I know chances are against my ultimate happiness. 
Out of the other nominees, the front-runner seems to be Disney's Wreck-It-Ralph, which is ok by me, since it is my second favorite of the nominees and a very solid, entertaining and touching film. Pixar used to dominate this category, but their Brave was a disappointment to say the least. Ditto Tim Burton's Frankenweenie, which many critics hailed as a good film, but that I found very lacking. There are a lot of laughs in The Pirates! Band of Misfits but it is a slight and not that impressive film (especially when compared to Aardman animation's other work such as Wallace and Gromit). So, yes, it seems like Wreck-It-Ralph is going to end up the winner. And I'm ok with that. 
(And yet I'll keep hoping for a Paranorman upset).

Will Win: Wreck-It-Ralph

Should Win: Paranorman 

Oscar Winner Predictions: Cinematography

The internet seems to be tired of waiting for the great Roger Deakins to win an Oscar. He has been nominated 10 times, for lensing such films as No Country for Old Men, True Grit and The Shawshank Redemption. This year, he's nominated for his work in Skyfall. The beautifully shot sequences in that movie, such as the Shanghai and Macau sections, had a lot of people eager to say this was finally going to be Deakins' year. I personally think the cinematography in Skyfall is a little inconsistent. Sure, some scenes are beautiful, but many others are visually bland. Still, I would celebrate a win for Deakins gladly, since there is no doubt he is one of the best living DPs and is deserving of recognition for his work. 
Which is a long introduction to say that I don't think he'll win. I do think he is a possibility, but looking at the recent winners in this category, Claudio Miranda's lensing of Life of Pi seems like more than an obvious choice for the win. The visuals in the movie are outstanding and you can rest asure that the Academy won't mind that a lot of the movie's look was achieved using computer effects. Life of Pi will probably join Avatar and Hugo in the recent streak of effects-heavy 3D winners in this category. 
If I were an Academy member, though, I wouldn't hesitate before giving my vote to Seamus McGarvey's Anna Karenina. I think it was the great Katey Rich that said the way the camera moves in that movie is unreal. And she is right. 

Will Win: Life of Pi

Should Win: Anna Karenina

Oscar Winner Prediction: Lead Actor

He went public in saying working the red carpet circuit back when he was nominated for Walk the Line was one of the worst experiences of his life, and despite most reporters thinking those comments would cost him in the awards season, Joaquin Phoenix did get nominated for his work in Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master. It's a shame that there couldn't be room for John Hawkes who does a very good job in The Sessions and seems like one of the nicest persons in the face of the earth, but well, this was a race between six men and one wasn't going to make the cut. 
It's gratifying to see Phoenix nominated, since he gives one of the best and most committed performances of the year. It's especially impressive when you compare it to his fellow nominees. He play crazier than Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook, drunker than Denzel Washington in Flight and a much darker search for redemption than Hugh Jackman in Les Misérables. The motto of his performance seems to be "more, more, more", which is usually the kind of thing Academy voters like when looking for their winners and still, he most probably won't win. 
Daniel Day-Lewis will surely win a third Oscar for his performance in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln. And I think he should too. The last time he won an Oscar it was, coincidentally, for There Will Be Blood -a Paul Thomas Anderson movie- in a role as intense and unlikable as Joaquin's. He has recently gained the reputation as the world's greatest living actor with grand performances such as There Will Be Blood or Gangs of New York, so the most pleasant surprise of Spielberg's Lincoln was finding a surprisingly subdued, quiet and realistic Daniel Day-Lewis one that went as far from the iconic grandeur that I was fearing would dominate a biopic of Abraham Lincoln directed by Steven Spielberg. Yes, I think Lincoln is the best work of Day-Lewis's career. 

Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis

Should Win: Daniel Day-Lewis

Friday, February 8, 2013

Oscar Winner Prediction: Original Score

John Williams, probably the most famous living composer, has been nominated for 48 Oscars and has won 5. I haven't done much research in the matter, but I'm pretty certain he's the most nominated person alive. This year he could win a sixth statue for composing the original score of Steven Spielberg's Lincoln. With 12 nominations, it's no question that the movie is beloved by the Academy. In any other year, so much love for a film plus the names of Spielberg, Day-Lewis and Williams should be enough for a win. What makes me pause and think is not so much the quality of the score itself (which isn't too far away from Williams' usual work, but has a nice restrained quality), but the fact that the Golden Globes didn't give this award to Williams. As you may well know, the members of Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which gives out the Globes, love to give awards to the most famous celebrities. In the original score category, the biggest thing resembling a celebrity was Williams, so the fact that they didn't hand him the prize can be telling.
The disappointing fact is that the field of nominees doesn't offer anything really exciting as an alternative to Williams. The two best scores of the year (Beasts of the Southern Wild and The Master) weren't nominated. The most deserving of the nominees, Dario Mariannelli's work in Anna Karenina, will probably have to sit this one out since Mariannelli is a previous winner for Atonement and since Anna Karenina hasn't been very popular. 
I think the fight for the win comes down to Alexandre Desplat, who doesn't by far do his best work in Argo, but has been nominated so many times and is affiliated with such a popular film that he could win and Mychael Danna whose score for Life of Pi just seems to me like the stuff the Academy likes to honor. Weirdly, the piece of music that will probably grant Pi the win is going to be "Pi's Lullaby", which is nominated in the Original Song category. The Academy, however, surely won't mind. 

Will win: Life of Pi (with Argo close behind)

Should Win: Anna Karenina

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Oscar Winner Predictions: Original Song

A year ago it seemed as if it could be the end of the "original song" category. It has been at least a decade since a nominated song has been a popular hit (the last one has to be Eminem's "Lose Yourself", right?). Last year we only got two nominees and one of them was a head-scratching song from Rio. The other, and thankfully the winner, was "Man or Muppet" written by the hilarious Bret McKenzie for The Muppets (one of my favorite movies from last year). But while I was happy to see The Muppets take an Academy Award, the category seemed incredibly out of place. Songs aren't an essential part of moviemaking, so awarding them at the Oscars isn't particularly necessary. Especially if you're going to have two random nominees. 
This year, however, the rules changed and we get not only five full nominees, but also a pretty big hit in Adele's "Skyfall". Adele, in case you don't know, is the british superstar that managed to have a worldwide hit album in an age where having a hit album is virtually impossible. She appeals from hipsters to soccer moms so she surely will appeal to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Also, she is an awards magnet, having swept the Grammys last year and already won a Golden Globe for "Skyfall".
What about the other nominees, you ask? Well, if anything is going to defeat Adele (and it is highly unlikely) it would be "Suddenly", an act written for the movie adaptation of Les Misérables. The most probable outcome, though is that like the original song written for another Best Picture nominee (Chicago) it will lose to the far bigger hit and better song ("Lose Yourself"). 

Will Win: "Skyfall" 

Should Win: "Skyfall", although the category is pretty dull. Where is the lovely "Big Machine" from Safety Not Guaranteed or the soulful "Who Did That To You" from Django Unchained?

Oscar Winner Predictions: Foreign Language Film

Thanks to its five nominations (including Director, Original Screenplay, Lead Actress and Best Picture) and the fact that french melodrama and international box-office hit The Intouchables is not nominated; it's safe to say that there is probably no way Michael Haneke's Amour will lose this award come Oscar night. It's basically a done deal. 
Still, I want to use this space to comment on the other, less talked-about nominees in this category. I've only seen four of the five nominees (the one I'm missing is Canada's War Witch). And I can only recommend three (one of them is, obviously, Amour). The one I wouldn't recommend is Norway's Kon-Tiki, which is a beautifully shot, but also very generic middle-of-the-road movie. Denmark's A Royal Affair, on the other hand, starts out as a pretty straight forward by-the-numbers period piece to later reveal itself as a much more interesting and conversation starting film. The one I want to really shine a light on, however, is Chile's No, directed by Pablo Larraín and starring Gabriel García Bernal. I've actually wrote about the film previously on the blog and since it's going to soon be released in the U.S. I would encourage everyone who has the chance to watch it. It is a thought provoking film while never failing to remain entertaining; one of the best films I saw last year (which wasn't included in my top ten because I decided to only include films released in the US in 2012). 

Will Win: Amour

Should Win: Amour or No

Oscar Winner Predictions: Visual Effects

The thing about visual effects is that the more they are utilized in movies, the less impressive they seem. We have come to a point were our multiplexes are saturated with computer generated imagery, or "CGI". Almost every movie uses computers in one way or another to tweak its visual style. And more often than not, CGI is used gratuitously whenever a script demands for something unrealistic or fantastic to happen on screen. Long gone are the days of miniatures and matte-paintings and the Academy Awards, by refusing to nominate movies that largely used practical effects (Skyfall) or that only used computers as a supporting tool (The Impossible, Looper), reflect a world of CGI dominance. It's actually come to a point where not only things that could be achieved through practical effects are done with computers, but where things that would be better off achieved through practical effects are done with computers. 
Case in point, Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey turned its Orcs, which were effectively scary men in costumes in The Lord of the Rings, into the least-believable computer animated villains since the vampire-zombie hybrids of I Am Legend. Jackson is a man who normally knows how to benefit from using computers, but this time I'm hoping that the fact that we get to see Gollum once again doesn't translate into an Oscar for The Hobbit's effects. 
Yes, the Hobbit is, in my opinion, the least deserving of the nominees. Even if they're movies I don't like, nominees like Prometheus and Snow White and the Huntsman undoubtedly use their visual effects as a tool to make their movies more effective, as they help establish a tone (instead of destroying it, like Jackson's orcs). My love for The Avengers is well established and I guess part of the credit for making The Hulk into the most memorable character of the movie rightfully should go to the movies' visual effects artists. 
However there is little doubt that the ultimate visual effects achievement of the year is Ang Lee's Life of Pi. A movie, again, that I had problems with. But one can't deny the outstanding work that was put into creating the CGI-tiger that goes by the name of Richard Parker. Like I said before, we're at a point where computer generated images don't impress moviegoers, so the fact that Richard Parker is such an impressive creation will surely guarantee the Oscar. 

Will Win: Life of Pi

Should Win: Life of Pi

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Oscar Winner Predictions: Supporting Actress

One of the surest predictions of Oscar Night 2013 is that Anne Hathaway will win the Supporting Actress Oscar for her turn as woman turned prostitue Fantine in Les Misérables. Tom Hooper's adaptation of the hit broadway musical got mixed reviews, but almost every critic was quick to point out Hathaway as the undoubtedly highlight of the film. To me, it's no question that Hathaway is clearly the cast member who made the most out of Hooper's decision to record the actors singing live on set instead of using a pre-recorded track. The intention was clearly to not limit the actor's possibilities for improvisation while filming the scene in order to get the most realistic and effective performance. Some of the film's actors weren't good enough singers to pull this off, but Hathaway is not one of them. She is the best example of why Hooper's method was a good idea: she may not be the best singer or the best actress, but she surely is the perso who has made the most out of mixing both aspects of the musical performance on film.
Not everyone thinks as highly of Hathaway's performance as I do. The internet, which already turned itself on Les Misérables as a whole, has been quick to categorize Hathaway's performance as "oscar bait", which is to say she did it to win an Oscar. This, to me, is irrelevant, since so much about winning an Oscar is about publicity and politics. Ben Affleck, for example, has been parading all around hollywood trying to win himself a statue, and still, the internet doesn't turn on him. Luckily for Ms. Hathaway, the population of the internet and the membership of the academy are far from similar demographics and she should have no problem winning a couple of weeks from now. 
What about the other nominees? Well, I think a third Oscar for Sally Field in Lincoln would be a little too much. Similarly, Helen Hunt (who is very good albeit in a lead performance in The Sessions) already won an Oscar and there doesn't seem to be much enthusiasm to give her a second one. Jacki Weaver from Silver Linings Playbook should be happy to get the (surprising) nomination while Amy Adams, who has already been nominated four times, is quickly becoming this category's eternal bridesmaid. She will probably win sometime, but it's unlikely it will be for her performance in The Master. 

Who Will Win? Anne Hathaway

Who Should Win? Anne Hathaway