Projection: Oscar – Surprisingly Unsurprised


We are in the sixth month of the beast known as “Oscar season,” having followed the movement from the opening salvo of the fall festival season and tracking every last…minute, barely discernible…movement in the longest, most predictable chase in recent Oscar history. The only element that has made the season occasionally surprising, as it turns out, is just how unsurprising it has been. With about 10 days to go until the ceremony, we race towards the finish line with our mock ballots in hand, having already marked the eventual winners and wondering, “can it really be this easy?”

With about 10 days to go until the ceremony, we race towards the finish line with our mock ballots in hand, having already marked the eventual winners and wondering, “can it really be this easy?”

After most of the precursors displayed a shocking lack of parity, awarding The Artist and its director, Michel Hazanavicius, time and again…and again…there was one last breath of potentially fresh air in the lead-up to last weekend’s BAFTAs. Generally, in addition to putting on one of the season’s most entertaining shows, the British Academy sometimes reflects some last-minute shuffling in certain categories. It is the last major precursor to hand out awards for multiple categories (the rest of the below-the-line guilds are important, but don’t give us any idea about how the Best Supporting Actor race will shake out). Of course, my use of the phrase “last-minute shuffling” is quite relative in this context, since The Artist was the presumed Best Picture winner from the jump. But there was potential for a major Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy contingent, or at least a Gary Oldman win for Best Actor that might’ve preserved some semblance of uncertainty in that race.

No such luck. The Artist did win Best Picture. Hazanavicius won Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. The film also took home awards for Costume Design, Cinematography, and Music. And nevermind that notion of the British contingent awarding Gary Oldman that Best Actor win – Jean Dujardin won another one, in a furious lead-up to the Oscars that leaves him the prohibitive favorite. Surprises? The biggest surprise of this season is just how unsurprising it has been for six stagnant months.

The lack of surprises is probably surprising some of the major players of the season, and they are doing what they can to set themselves up for a surprise win. Meryl Streep, who has been content to act as Oscar Bridesmaid for the better part of the last three decades, is making the rounds in a campaign that isn’t necessarily “desperate,” since Meryl is always the epitome of class, but it is quite energetic in the face of inevitability. She did win Best Actress at the BAFTAs, but then again, winning that award was probably part of the terms laid out when she signed on to play Margaret Thatcher.

Similarly, George Clooney is hanging in there in the wake of Hurricane Jean. One mild “surprise” of the season is how The Artist’s Dujardin has very quietly – no pun intended – usurped Clooney’s season-long status as Best Actor frontrunner. One thing that I’ve learned this season is that we can’t call anything a surprise until we hear from SAG, and having that group pick Dujardin perhaps indicates the only thing we should’ve been surprised about is expecting Clooney to win all along. And then there’s Brad Pitt, who has been more forthright than usual with the press in his quest to split the two top titans and slip in for the win. Perhaps it’s just my wishful thinking, that yearning for Oscar surprises, that leads to my suspicion that the Best Actor race is one of only a few races still up for grabs. But it may well be decided. After all, Clooney and Pitt can do as many charming interviews as they want, but nothing will hold a candle to Dujardin’s weekend double-dip on Funny or Die and Saturday Night Live. Both appearances were genius, the kind of stuff Oscar wins are made of.

One mild “surprise” of the season is how The Artist’s Dujardin has very quietly – no pun intended – usurped Clooney’s season-long status as Best Actor frontrunner.

As we approach the finish line, there is nothing much left to do than look at our ballots and think about what our final predictions will be. I will keep my nose to the grindstone, tracking any small movement in this last week-and-half. I will try to offer a few new sets of predictions before my final picks, which should arrive the Friday or Saturday before the Oscars.

In the meantime, catch up with the movies. AMC Theaters is doing its “watch all the Best Picture nominees for one price” deal, and it will be fun and educational to watch them…even if none of them would make my personal top nine (and very few even made my top 20). If you’re lucky enough to be in one of the major markets, you might even run across the theatrical run of all the short film nominees, which is likely the most interesting and educational experience you will have this or any other Oscar season. Doc Feature frontrunner Paradise Lost 3 is now on HBO, Pina is making its way into wide release, and let’s be honest: any of the Oscar nominated films will be of more intrinsic interest than any of 2012’s barrage of winter nonsense. I mean, come on…The Vow???

Predictions forthcoming…watch out for the…uh…surpris…no, inevitability. Watch out for the inevitability.

Jason McKiernan

Awards Pundit & Senior Film Critic. I married into the cult of cinema at a very young age - I wasn't of legal marriage age, but I didn't care. It has taken advantage of me and abused me many times. Yet I stay in this marriage because I'm obsessed and consumed. Don't try to save me -- I'm too far gone.
  • Christopher Misch

    I’m early hoping for a surprise. I’m still pulling for Pitt.

  • Robyn Cristopher

    I’m team Oldman. :) (Although I won’t cry if Dujardin wins).

  • Christopher Misch

    I’m Team Shannon…..oh wait….. *cries*

  • Laura Grande

    Since there’s no Fassbender or Shannon, I’ll be rooting for Dujardin or Pitt (although I think the latter is highly unlikely). I think there could potentially be a big surprise in the Best Director race. It still feels open to me, despite Scorsese and Hazanavicius collecting so many awards.

  • Anonymous

    Tell you what, I believe the two best male lead performances of 2011 were cruelly unmentioned in this category. Shannon is one…Woody Harrelson in Rampart is the other. Criminal….

  • Anonymous

    He would have to slip in by splitting the difference between Dujardin and Clooney. I just don’t see it happening. Clooney has been the powerhouse all season, and now Dujardin is giving him a run for his money. Two towering giants in one category make it hard.

  • Anonymous

    Well, at least you won’t cry, then…

  • Anonymous

    I have always thought Scorsese was a major upset contender. If ever there was a year for a weird upset, this is the year. Everything has been so level, so unsurprising. So for months I have been tossing out the notion of a Scorsese upset. It’s not likely, but it could happen.

    Another off thought popped into my head just the other day…what if Terrence Malick came out of nowhere to win? They love The Tree of Life because of the extraordinary virtuosity of Malick’s direction. I honestly think he is in the running.