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Home » Culture and Criticism

Oscars 2011 Death Race: Picks/Postmortem

Submitted by on February 27, 2011 – 10:59 AM13 Comments

I didn’t do so well on these last year, which I think is because of the Death Race, not in spite of it — but perhaps I can improve my percentages in ’11. From a grading standpoint, I outright failed last year with a 58%. (And got the exact same lousy score this year.)

(My percentages from the ODR itself: 96% of nominated movies seen, 92% of categories completed. So I pulled my grades from Bs up to an A and an A-minus.)

I’ll update with a final percentage after the Oscars themselves, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear your predictions in the comments section — and don’t forget that you can find me, Alli, and Joe R live-blogging the whole shebang at NPR’s Monkey See tonight.

…Shall we?

Best Picture: The King’s Speech / correct
Should win: Winter’s Bone. What do we mean when we say “best,” in this context? The most fully realized world; the most consistent tone and pacing; the most evocative cinematography and performances; the most thoughtful and thought-provoking. Firing on all possible cylinders, right? Conversely, you could say it’s the film with the fewest “but”s. Either way, for my money, it’s Winter’s Bone. It’s not a perfect film, but it meets the most criteria.

Will win: Black Swan has a shot, but I also think that King’s Speech, recent backlash notwithstanding, is the least divisive. Could a handful of films split and hand it to True Grit? Sure, but I doubt it.

Best Actor: Colin Firth / correct
Should win: Javier Bardem. Discussing the Best Actor performances recently, I found myself thinking about the conversations baseball fans have about the MVP. Do you vote for the most valuable player, period, in the league — the guy with the best stats? Or do you vote for the player who was the most valuable to his team, who was the most crucial part of the success of the club? The debate comes up every year; we had it again last year, Pujols vs. Votto. It’s relevant here because Firth is fantastic in King’s Speech, does wonderful work, has done wonderful work before, is owed from last year, blah blah blah — but he is not nearly as critical to the success or failure of the movie as a whole as Bardem is to Biutiful. Not to diminish Iñárritu’s role; he’s made huge strides, and it’s a gorgeous work. But without Bardem, it’s not possible.

Will win: Firth, and I’m fine with it.

Best Actress: Natalie Portman / correct
Should win: It comes down to how hard is the role versus how hard did it look, and the more I’ve had time to sit with the performances here, the more I think that Michelle Williams did the best combined job of making a fairly unsympathetic and depressing shitshow look easy.

Will win: Natalie Portman, and I’m fine with this as well.

Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale / correct
Should win: Christian Bale. I understand the backlash against the showiness/ack-tore-liness of the performance, but…whatev. He’s playing a crackhead, after all.

Will win: Christian Bale.

Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo / correct
Should win: Jacki Weaver. The other performances strike me as more script- and styling-dependent than Weaver’s; this isn’t a knock on them, it’s just that Weaver gives you something extra. It’s also something creepy and awful, but what can you do. Heh.

Will win: Did Melissa Leo give it away by taking out that god-awful ad? Do voters take that kind of thing into account? I wouldn’t, but then, I didn’t think nearly as much of this performance as some. An upset by Steinfeld wouldn’t shock me, but I still think it’s Leo.

Best Director: Tom Hooper / wrong
Should win: Christopher Nolan. Heh. Okay, seriously: what do voters reward here — courage, or craftsmanship? If it’s the former, it’s Darren Aronofsky; if it’s the latter, it’s David Fincher — or, because Social Network isn’t typical Fincher, Hooper. I’d vote for Darren Aronofsky myself.

Will win: Darren Aronofsky.

Original Screenplay: The King’s Speech / wrong
Should win: From a structural standpoint, The King’s Speech is the best built script.

Will win: This is where the Academy chooses to reward The Kids Are All Right.

Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network / wrong
Should win: Another one where I wonder about the bases for the award — which is more important, the relative success of the adaptation or the end-result screenplay itself? If it’s a combination, step aside, live-action peeps: Toy Story 3 should win.

Will win: Social Network really went off the boil in the last month, and this is a category the Coens always seem to win in lieu of “real” recognition. I’m going with True Grit.

Animated Feature: Toy Story 3 / correct
Should win: I loved all three! Can’t everybody win? No? Fine: How To Train Your Dragon.

Will win: Tough call. We can eliminate The Illusionist, but between the other two…I don’t know. Toy Story 3.

Foreign Film: In A Better World / wrong
Should win: Biutiful.

Will win: Biutiful.

Cinematography: Inception / correct
Should win: Black Swan. I mean, really it’s the art direction that I think is responsible for that claustrophobic, anxious onscreen presentation, but it’s not nominated there.

Will win: Inception.

Editing: The Social Network / wrong
Should win: Black Swan.

Will win: 127 Hours may score its only win of the night here (although in my opinion the editing neglected to hack that indulgent ending down to size).

Art Direction: Alice In Wonderland / wrong
Should win: Well, Black Swan, but failing that, King’s Speech. I kept looking at the décor.

Will win: No idea. Let’s say Inception.

Costume Design: Alice in Wonderland / wrong
Should win: Strange mix of nominees here. In terms of looking authentic and catching my attention without showing off, King’s Speech.

Will win: Hell if I know. I can’t even explain what I Am Love is doing in this category when Swinton didn’t get any love, and I didn’t see The Tempest, but that probably wins, which is fine.

Makeup: The Wolfman / correct, ARGH
Should win: The Way Back.

Will win: It pains me, but…The Wolfman.

Original Score: The Social Network / wrong
Should win: The Illusionist, actually, but I liked Social Network‘s plaintive score as well. Anything but Inception, please.

Will win: King’s Speech.

Original Song: Toy Story 3 / wrong, on all counts
Should win: e) none of the above. The one from 127 Hours didn’t suck as utterly as the others, but why isn’t the bar-scene song from Tangled nominated instead? That one ruled!

Will win: Celine Dion has one of these, which shows what I know. Let’s go with Tangled just for funsies.

Sound Mixing: Inception / correct
Should win: No idea how this differs from Sound Editing. Salt‘s seemed pretty challenging, though.

Will win: Inception.

Sound Editing: Inception / correct
Should win: See above; Salt.

Will win: Inception.

Visual Effects: Inception / correct
Should win: Inception, but hat tip to the three-brothers sequence in Harry Potter.

Will win: Inception.

Documentary Feature: Inside Job / correct
Should win: Exit Through The Gift Shop is maybe the most unalloyed fun I had at the movies last year. It’s funny, it’s fast, and it toys with the idea of documentary objectivity itself (among other things). And Banksy is hilarious.

Will win: …Not that. It really depends on which newsily important topic voters decide is more worthwhile. Inside Job is the favorite, and I think it wins.

Documentary Short: Strangers No More / correct, mirabile dictu
Should win: Like I said, I didn’t fall in love with any of these. Poster Girl is more flawed than some, but also the most compelling.

Will win: What better way to make it up to Oprah for dissing Waiting for Superman than to crown Strangers No More?

Animated Short: The Lost Thing / wrong, which is awesome
Should win: Oh, Lost Thing. I love you.

Will win: The Gruffalo.

Live-Action Short: God of Love / correct, yay!
Should win: God of Love.

Will win: It’s tempting to pick Na Wewe, but the Oscar went to a reasonably funny short last year, so I will cross my fingers and predict God of Love.




  • Hirayuki says:

    My mom and I attended the second week of AMC’s Best Picture Showcase yesterday and saw Winter’s Bone, Black Swan, Inception, The Social Network, and The King’s Speech. (Nowhere near as grueling as the ODR, I know, but it was a lot to digest one after the other like that.)

    Here’s our take: We adored Black Swan, more than any film in recent memory. The last movie to evoke that kind of reaction was Slumdog Millionaire, and I think Black Swan might be better in some ways. I loved the use of mirrors (even when they had nothing to do with the action) and shadows.
    Winter’s Bone was stunningly realistic and impeccably executed, but it might be too art-house to take the top prize.
    The King’s Speech could have been a BBC or PBS special and done just fine; it seemed a pretty thin cup of soup. Colin Firth was great, but why is Helena Bonham Carter up?
    The Social Network struck us as little more than a bunch of people saying (admittedly well-written) words on camera, often at high speed. There wasn’t much there there.
    Inception was less artfully made than Black Swan, probably because it could/did rely on CG for so much, but it wasn’t nearly as confusing as it had been made out to be, and was a thoroughly enjoyable experience all around. It’s got a tough race against Black Swan on the cinematography front.

    I feel at least a little more informed about and invested in this year’s race, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all plays out tonight.

  • Monty says:

    I’ve decided that The Tempest won’t win, because I don’t think the MPAA members were able to see it either. There certainly weren’t any DVD screeners, and I don’t think there were showings in LA or New York, either. And that’s a shame, because I generally like Sandy Powell’s costumes.

  • Erin W says:

    I made the exact same “Who should win Best Director? Christopher Nolan!” joke on my own Oscar predictions. Boy, did that man get screwed.

    This seems like a good place to give huge thanks to Sarah for seeing all these movies and writing all these reviews for us playing at home. For real, Sars, you are one of the few movie reviewers whose views I actually consider and respect. Thanks for Death Racing! Catch you tonight at the live blog.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    You’re welcome! Thanks for reading, as always.

  • […] If you’d like some actual analysis of this category: Low Res, A.V. Club on whether Portman can act, and Tomato Nation. […]

  • Merideth says:


    I admire your fortitude, I saw 1 Oscar nominee this year (the Kings Speech).

    Did you know Shaun Tan, who made The Lost Thing writes and illustrates graphic novels? The Arrival is the best known, and Tales from Outer Suburbia is more recent. I’m not sure if any of his other stuff has been published in the US.

    They’re both gorgeous books, The Arrival in particular.


  • Todd K says:

    On, those Melissa Leo ads. At least she didn’t go completely Margaret Avery and put alongside the photo a little begging speech in the character’s dialect.

    I retract a prediction I made weeks ago. I thought by this point Bening would have built up more steam on the combined sentiments of “She’s due; she older and may not get another great chance soon; she’s lost to a younger woman twice.” Plus, she’s worked with almost everyone in the room, and she and her husband are well connected socially. (Is she disliked?) But at this point I don’t see anybody derailing Portman, who would be my fourth choice. It’s just the kind of “pretty young woman stretches” turn that the Academy has overwhelmingly favored in this category in recent decades, and of course, preparation is the new performance. “She learned to dance!” “He learned to box!” “She learned to play the violin!” “He lost weight!” “She gained weight!” “He arranged for himself to do six months of hard time in an Eastern European prison so he could study the inmates!” None of those things is great dramatic acting. They may make illusions more convincing, they may or may not be a step on the *path* to great dramatic acting, but they are never the thing itself. (Else, why wouldn’t we just cast a real dancer, boxer, Eastern European thug, et cetera, and save time?) Lesley Manville’s face in the final shot of Another Year — that’s my idea of great dramatic acting. Of the nominees, so is Bening in the dinner scene at Paul’s house, and so is James Franco suggesting a rich inner life while staring at a rock. But still…you see the “how hard s/he worked” reasoning in comments even by movie-industry people. Obviously it is persuasive.

    Predictions, major categories:

    Should: True Grit. Great classical cinema.
    Will: The King’s Speech.

    Should: James Franco.
    Will: Colin Firth.

    Should: Annette Bening. (Good point about Williams, though, SDB.)
    Will: Natalie Portman.

    Supporting Actor:
    Should: Christian Bale. (I’m such a contrarian that I almost said Jeremy Renner, whom no one is picking, and it is a close call.)
    Will: Geoffrey Rush.

    Supporting Actress:
    Should: Hailee Steinfeld, wrong category and all.
    Will: Steinfeld.

    Should: Joel and Ethan Coen.
    Will: David Fincher (I will be fine with it).

    Original Screenplay:
    Should: Another Year.
    Will: The King’s Speech.

    Adapted Screenplay:
    Should: The Social Network (out of an excellent field).
    Will: The Social Network.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Merideth: Thanks for the tip — my birthday’s coming!

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    Todd K., good point. While I don’t doubt losing half your body weight or trying to look like a working ballerina is tough (and I mean really, really hard) it’s not the same thing as building a character. Nothing is, which is why acting is a separate profession from any other.

    During the height of “natural” dramas in Norway and Sweden it became the rage to cast real people in roles as opposed to actors learning to appear as them–real bakers, stevedores, accountants, what have you. One director swam against this tide, and when asked why, he said “when I cast someone with no training to play a baker onstage, I don’t have a good baker, I’ve got a bad actor.”

    Not everyone can create and perform a character, no matter how talented they are in another area.

  • DuchessKitty says:

    My Death Race final tally was 50 out of 56 movies seen/20 out of 24 categories completed. All in all I’m pretty proud of myself.

    Going into the final days of the Race, I started to feel Oscar fatigue and sort of hit a wall. Two of the movies that were left on my list that I planned to see Saturday (Tangled and The Way Back ) which would’ve finished up 2 categories, were abandoned for a silly comedy (Cedar Rapids) instead.
    I found I really needed that comedic palate-cleanser because boy, almost all of this year’s nominated movies were downers.
    I don’t think I’ve ever gotten so teary-eyed in a theater as I have this past month.

    As far as the awards ceremony went, I won my group’s pool, and I definitely think the fact that I had seen most of the films helped. Surprises of the night for me went to all of the “Shorts” winners. I was especially happy to see God of Love win – “I guess I should’ve cut my hair afterall” hee hee

    As I’ve said elsewhere, I don’t know if I’ll participate in the Death Race next year. It was a happy fluke that I happen to see so many of the nominated films at the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival. I doubt I’ll get that lucky this year.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    Awesome job!

    The Death Race is really not easy; I think a lot depends on how many of the nominees you’ve seen as of the day nominations come out. I had to see a feature a day, pretty much, to finish, and at first it’s kind of a fun adventure, but by the last week, you…just kind of hate everything you see. Another Year is probably a lot better than I could give it credit for.

  • Caitlin says:

    Yay, Death Race! I got to 46/56 (a little better than I did last year, but still not quite what I was hoping for), and I agree that it got a little exhausting by the end. The last few movies I saw were kind of a blur.

    Such a fun, nerdy few weeks, though. Thanks for the fun idea, Sarah!

  • PJ says:

    I would just like to say how much I enjoyed Sars and her buddies on Monkey See. It was the only blog I followed all night and the only one that actually helped me keep up with the winners. Plus, hilarious. Kudos.

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