Sunday, February 26, 2012

The 2011 Oscars: Weren't the 1920s Awesome?

We know, we know — you're only just getting around to finishing last year's The Only Oscar Preview Longer Than the Oscars™, but sorry — time's up. It's time for this year's The Only Oscar Preview Longer Than the Oscars™. Spoiler alert: "The King's Speech" won last year. Yeah, we don't remember that movie, either. If we did, we certainly wouldn't remember any swear words being in it!

Anyway, without further ado, welcome to the 84th Annual Academy Awards, and let's give a warm round of applause to the men who made this magic happen tonight…Eddie Murphy and Brett Ratner!

Eddie Murphy: Nah, fuck this. Ya'll didn't even give me an Oscar for "Dreamgirls."

Brett Ratner: Yeah, award shows are totally for fags. Come on, Eddie, let's go hang out together 'cause we're best buds! So long, Oscars!

Well, it seems we have a crisis on our hands, having been left host-less and douchebag-less. And a crisis calls for bold, brave decision-making. So let's give it up for…Billy Crystal!

Billy Crystal: I'm baaaaaa-aaaaaack! Hahahahahaha. [Audience laughter.] A little "Poltergeist" humor, for the kids.

But hey, speaking of scary, how about those big shiny robots in that new "Transformers" movie, eh? And what's with those names? Optimus? What, is that a Transformer, or an inscription on the back of this 5-dollar bill? Amirite, amirite? Don't worry, folks, the kids'll get it.

[Michael Fassbender jumps on stage.]

Michael Fassbender [giggling]: Hey, hey you guys - know what my Latin name would be?

Go on, guess.

OK, I'll tell you. Biggus Dickus. [cackles]

Go see "Shame," you'll understand.

Billy Crystal: Hey, speaking of shame, isn't it embarrassing that six of the Best Picture nominees were based on books, but none of them was based on a "Twilight" book? Amirite, kids? Amirite, ladies? Team Edward!!

Ya see? The kids, they love me.

See, check this out: What time is "The Tree of Life" playing tonight? Give up? NAP TIME, that's when! Amirite, kids? Boring! No vampires, no robots, no fun! Grown-ups suck! See? The kids are loving this!

I tried to see "The Artist," I really did, but you know what? I went to the movie theater, and the sound wasn't working. I couldn't hear the characters talking! Amirite, kids? AMIRITE?!???!??? KIDS?

Let's get on with the show!

Best Supporting Actor

Kenneth Branagh, "My Week with Marilyn"
Jonah Hill, "Moneyball"
Nick Nolte, "Warrior"
Christopher Plummer, "Beginners"
Max von Sydow, "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"

Ladies and gentlemen, introducing a category in which he is nominated for playing a mute, Max von Sydow!

Max von Sydow: [silent]

Billy Crystal: Hey, Max, are you excited to be here?

Max von Sydow: [*holds up hand that reads: "Yes"]

Billy Crystal: That's great, just great. Have you ever won an Oscar before?

Max von Sydow: [*holds up hand that reads: "No"]

Billy Crystal: Aw, that's too bad. Now let me get this straight - in real life, you can talk, but in this movie you play a guy who doesn't talk?

Max von Sydow: [*holds up hand that reads: "Yes"]

Billy Crystal: Hey wow, great acting!

[Kevin Smith comes rushing onto the stage.]

Kevin Smith: OK, hold on a second. Michael Parks wasn't nominated for best supporting actor for "Red State"? And neither was John Goodman? And neither was Michael Angarano? And neither was Kyle Gallner? And neither was Stephen Root? What the fuck kind of category is this when all of the actors in my movie that no one saw don't get nominated? You guys are just out to get me! This is no fair? NO FAIR!!!! All the nominees are stupid poopfaces!

Jeremy says: I am a known lover of Kenneth Branagh (meaning I love his work — any bedroom activity between us remains under wraps), but can we admit that this wasn't his year? On the bright side, he didn't direct the year's worst superhero movie, but "Thor" was a series of missed opportunities, punctuated by a big, stupid robot fight that would have been old hat in the 1950s. And while he does look a little like Lawrence Olivier, he doesn't have much to do in "My Week With Marilyn." And what he does do isn't done all that well. In fairness, the film is a collection of disparate elements that never jive, for which the direction and screenplay share blame. But that's no excuse for the Academy members, who have ignored far better Branagh performances, to highlight this one.

When the nominations were announced, the big shocker was the exclusion of Albert Brooks, whose performance in "Drive" was considered among the two top contenders. And it's hard to justify his exclusion to make way for Branagh or Max von Sydow in "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Easy to Mock With Gag Titles." I suppose "The Artist" has just given everyone silent fever, and von Sydow plays a mute. Plus, the man played chess with death in '57, and no one wants to fuck with that. But here's a thought: Why not nominate John Goodman if we want to include some silent acting, eh? In fact, Academy, why not nominate John Goodman for FUCKING ANYTHING, ever? Walter Sobchak, anyone?

Kevin Smith says: Hey, you know what John Goodman was in? "Red State!" Why can't this joke of an awards preview mention "Red State" whenever it's applicable? WAAAAAAAAAAH! I WANT MY MOMMY!!! WHY WAS THE "CLERKS" TV SERIES CANCELLED?!?!??!???!?!?!?!??!?!?!??

Jeremy says: Um, moving on…

Did everyone miss how good Michael Sheen is in "Midnight in Paris?" It's been in theaters for something like seven years, go watch it again. As that pedantic fellow, he hits the perfect blend of insufferable pomposity under a jovial surface. (There are some other great supporting roles in "Midnight," but I have a feeling Chris is going to mention at least one of them.)

Shit, this article is already running long and it's just the first category. With his main rival out, Plummer should have this one locked up. His only obstacle would be if "Moneyball" love has spread more than people realized. "Beginners" hasn't had much good will beyond Plummer's fine work, despite its heavy dose of pathos, which you'd think the Academy would dig.

And of course, Nick Nolte's performance is awesome, and he should win out of the nominees, but nobody cares because he's Nick Nolte. He's like John Goodman except every 10 years or so he gets a nomination. (But he didn't get one for "Clean." Yes, I'm still bitter.)

Prediction: Christopher Plummer
Preference: Nick Nolte

Chris says: Hey guys, did you know Laurence Olivier was secretly a German defector hiding in Europe under the assumed identity of a world-renowned movie star? Well, according to Kenneth Branagh's performance in "My Week with Marilyn," that's exactly what he was. This shows just how good an actor Branagh is, really, as he offered up an entire backstory — full of intrigue, violence and deception! — that was nowhere to be found in the screenplay. A disgraced Nazi on the run from covert Allied forces doing mop-up duty in the aftermath of World War II? A disgraced Nazi finding redemption on stage and screen? That's a hell of a lot more interesting than a movie about a sycophantic little shit who has a wittle-bitty crush on Marilyn Monroe. Who wants to see that?

Anyway, this is the only explanation I can come up with for the bizarre, hybrid British guy/Evil Scientist accent Branagh was going for. The screenplay didn't do him any favors, either -- Laurence is exasperated at Marilyn's tardiness; act exasperated, Kenneth! -- but the Oscar nomination is a clear case of the industry rewarding a star for portraying another star. That, and an actor riding a co-star's coattails, in this case Branagh taking advantage of the glow that's been surrounding Michelle Williams. In other words, Branagh totally photobombed Michelle Williams.

In even more other words, maybe Brooks could have gotten an Oscar nomination if he played a famous person and piggybacked someone else's hype-wave in a mediocre movie. That would have been the smart play. Instead, he played brilliantly against-type as a brutal gangster in "Drive," in a performance that I (and everyone else) assumed would make him one of the co-frontrunners to win Best Supporting Actor, until the nominations came and he wasn't even included.

Which leaves Christopher Plummer as the sole frontrunner -- and he'll be a deserving winner indeed. His portrayal of a gay man who comes out of the closet in his mid-70s and cheerfully comes to grips with his mortality is the most endearing and most honest of the nominees. The Oscar will be a nice career capper for Plummer, who was overlooked by the Academy for 50-odd years before finally breaking through with a nomination in 2009.

Similarly, von Sydow only has only two Oscar nominations to his credit, despite decades of great work. Without Plummer in this category, von Sydow may have been the sentimental favorite, the only drawback being that "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" is an absurdly plotted, cloying piece of shit.

Speaking of sentimental favorites, my sentimenal favorite is Nick Nolte. A couple of years ago, I jokingly lamented that all of the actors who for years I'd bitched about being overlooked were, incidentally, starting to finally win Oscars. First it was Philip Seymour Hoffman, then Jeff Bridges. Just about the only one left, I said, was Nolte. So it would be an amusing anecdote, for me, if he were to pull the upset. And indeed he's excellent as always in "Warrior," though I would have preferred to see him win for something like "Clean," "Affliction," "North Dallas Forty," "Northfork" or "The Thin Red Line."

Of course, if I had my druthers, I'd have nominated an unrecognizable Bruce Greenwood for his stunning work as the terrifyingly stoic, certifiably insane pseudo-villain in Kelly Reichardt's "Meek's Cutoff," and Brad Pitt for his best performance of the year, playing against type as a stern, idealistic father in "The Tree of Life." And as Jeremy suggested, I have to mention Corey Stoll for his pitch-perfect Ernest Hemingway in "Midnight in Paris."

Prediction: Christopher Plummer
Preference: Nick Nolte

Best Supporting Actress

Berenice Bejo, "The Artist"
Jessica Chastain, "The Help"
Melissa McCarthy, "Bridesmaids"
Janet McTeer, "Albert Nobbs"
Octavia Spencer, "The Help"

Ladies, and gentlemen, introducing the best supporting actress category, it's the noted auteur of "The Help," Mr. Tate Taylor!

Tate Taylor: Thank you, thank you. Please, hold your applause. I'm honored to be here, and I know you're honored to have me as well. I'd like to direct you (get it? Because I'm totally a director!) to a scene in the movie in which Minnie, played by Octavia Spencer, gets hysterical and terrified when Jessica Chastain's white land-owning husband comes home — because she actually thinks he's going to violently attack her? Hahahahaha…I'm laughing just thinking about it! You know why that's funny? Because this lady has been beaten by her husband for years and years, black people are getting killed and abused all over the country, Medgar Evers has just been assassinated…and uh…this black woman hilariously thinks…er, a white man is going to cause her bodily harm…hold on, I know there's a joke in there somewhere. There has to be some reason why I thought that was supposed to be funny when I was making this movie…surely I didn't completely lack any fucking perspective whatsoever.

Because really, my perspective was the one the film really needed. I'm basically an honorary black person now because I made "The Help." I think it's pretty clear that, as the kind of white man who back in the '60s posed a clear and present danger to all those poor colored folks, mine was the voice the film really needed. In fact, from now on I'd like you to refer to me as an African-American. As we progress further into the 21st Century, my fellow African-American George Lucas and I are poised to redefine and revitalize black cinema forever. Because just like those poor characters in my movie "The Help," black people in America need us white folks to tell all their stories for them. And we will, dammit. We will.

You're welcome.

Chris says: Goddamn you, Octavia Spencer. This was Jessica Chastain's year. IS her year. And you had to come along and steal her Oscar away. Now, don't get me wrong, you were very good in "The Help." No one's knocking you. But did you fucking see what Chastain did this year? Even if I'm being generous and I say that her performance in "Take Shelter" was lead rather than supporting, that still leaves "The Tree of Life" — in which she did more with the subtleties in her eyes and brow than most actors can express with their entire bodies — and "The Debt" as films that Chastain deserved a nomination for more than you deserved yours for "The Help." Sorry, that's just the way it is.

But let's split the difference. Let's just give Chastain a nomination for "The Tree of Life." That means you're out, Melissa McCarthy. Sorry, but you're a novelty act. We get it — you burped, farted, and took a shit in the sink. (And Octavia here one-upped you on that last one.) We all know that if Seth Rogen gave that exact same performance, the Academy would be snubbing its nose at him. This is nothing against you, Melissa — you were good in "Bridesmaids." But that was still, like, the third- or fourth-best performance in the movie.

But back to you, Octavia — if things go the way we all know they will and you win this thing, you'll be branded an Oscar thief. Forever. You'll get The Same Dame Stamp of Oscar Thievery (TM), currently exemplified by Angelina Jolie — who not only stole Samantha Morton's Oscar in 1999, but stole Sally Hawkins' nomination in 2008. (Bitch.) But you're joining that club, Octavia. And no pies made out of shit are going to save you this time.

Speaking of snubs, it was a bit unfortunate to see Janet McTeer nominated for "Albert's Knob" instead of Carey Mulligan in the similarly themed "Michael Fassbender's Penis." Mulligan once again proves she can kill you with her eyes — just look at the pain on her face in that "New York, New York" scene. Good God.

The odd decision to push Berenice Bejo in the supporting category for what was an obvious lead role likely doomed Shailene Woodley for her turn in "The Descendants." And while she's a nice candidate, a couple better and more daring choices would have been Melanie Laurent in "Beginners" (after being totally overlooked for "Inglourious Basterds," will anyone ever realize how fucking good this woman is?), Elena Anaya in "The Skin I Live In" (a pipe dream, I know) or, yeah I'll say it, Elle Fanning in "Super 8," otherwise known as "The Movie in Which Everyone in America Realized I Can Kick the Shit Out of My Sister at Acting."

Prediction: Octavia Spencer
Preference: Jessica Chastain

Tate Taylor: You go, girl!

Jeremy says: So here's the thing about "Albert Nobbs" (And shouldn't your gag title be "Albert's Lack of a Knobb, Chris?): The best performance in that movie actually came from Mia Wasikowska. But since she didn't dress up as a dude, no Oscar nomination. Sorry Mia, but this isn't 'Nam, there are rules. It doesn't matter that you had to portray a playful, liberated personality on the surface while communicating genuine confusion and fragility underneath. What we really want to see underneath is the lack of a penis that your character claims exists. On a side note: Wouldn't it have been great if, every 10 minutes in "Albert Nobbs," a character just ripped off his or her clothes to reveal he or she was really she or he? Wasikowska would have totally been nominated if it turned out she had a cock. Unless it was a Fassbender-size cock. That would have made the Academy voters very uncomfortable.

But yes, this was indeed Jessica Chastain's year, and she should probably have had at least half the nominations in this category, 80 percent if you count "Take Shelter" as a supporting role. But Octavia Spencer is totally winning this thing, so there's not much point in saying anything else.

Prediction: Octavia Spencer
Preference: Jessica Chastain

[Kevin Smith storms back on stage.]

Kevin Smith: HEY! How come Melissa Leo wasn't nominated for my movie? No fair!! This awards show is STUPID. Poop.

Best Art Direction

"The Artist" -- Laurence Bennett, Robert Gould
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" -- Stuart Craig, Stephenie McMillan
"Hugo" -- Dante Ferretti, Francesca Lo Schiavo
"Midnight in Paris" -- Anne Seibel, Helene Dubreuil
"War Horse" -- Rick Carter, Lee Sandales

[Michael Fassbender walks on stage, naked.]

Michael Fassbender: Hey, everyone, check it out — it's my penis. Look, it's just flopping around, all long and majestic. [cackles]

I'm one of those guys who goes around saying "Suck it!" whenever something embarrassing happens to someone, and then I just kinda wink at them knowingly, 'cause I know they totally want to.

Suck it, that is. My penis.

Dude, you should see what happens when you suck on it — all this gooey stuff comes out at the end. [cackles] It's awesome and hilarious, just like me.

Jeremy says: Moving on…Obviously Maria Djurkovic's work in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" stands out for its…wait, what? Not nominated? Seriously? OK, sure. It's not like it added a distinct feel that was instrumental to the film or anything. Right then…

To avoid further surprises, I went ahead and read the list of nominees, and three of them are quite strong.

The "Harry Potter" crew did fine work throughout the series, always rising to the task of creating new, wondrous settings that fit within an existing universe. This award is, of course, only for the second half of the last installment of the series, with its white train station and under-siege Hogwarts, but one could make a strong argument for a series-achievement award. But it ain't going to happen.

Of the 1920s-based nominees, "Midnight in Paris" has the least chance of winning but features the most lived-in, authentic environments. Bouncing from a variety of bars, houses, apartments, party locales and of course time periods, Anne Seibel and Helene Dubreuil capture the full feel of a majestic city. But their reward is their nomination.

Equally deserving is the likely winner, "Hugo," which approaches the same city and time period with a distinctly different style, creating a fantastical version of the Montparnasse train station and the innards of its clock.

The Academy's enthusiasm toward "The Artist" could push it to victory here, but the film's production design isn't particularly eye-catching or true to the style it's emulating. "War Horse's" production design is consummately professional, but has a bit too much sheen. I mean, it's nice for everything to look pretty, but there is, you know, a war on. (There's also a horse!)

So there shouldn't be much surprise when this one goes to "Hugo."

Prediction: "Hugo"
Preference: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2"

Chris says: I'd like for "Midnight in Paris" to win this one if only for the fact that people constantly (and inexplicably) overlook the great visual qualities in Woody Allen's work. However, "Hugo" will be a deserving winner. You see, Jeremy? This is shaping up just like I predicted - "Hugo" is gonna fucking own the technical categories.

I know you all are going to start sensing a theme emerging, but I'm going to do a bit of complaining that "The Tree of Life" was overlooked in this category - not to mention, as Jeremy pointed, the bold and stunning production design of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." Fine, Academy. By all means throw a token nomination to "War Horse" just because it's an Important Heroic War Movie. I'm sure the art direction was very nice; I don't remember, because I was too distracted by how absolutely meaningless the entire story was.

Prediction: "Hugo"
Preference: "Tinker Tail---," er, uh, "Midnight in Paris"

Best Costume Design

"Anonymous" -- Lisy Christl
"The Artist" -- Mark Bridges
"Hugo" -- Sandy Powell
"Jane Eyre" -- Michael O'Connor
"W.E." -- Arianne Phillips

Chris says: Huh? Period pieces in the costume design category? I didn't know they were even eligible.

Anyway, I know I'm about to stir up a shitstorm, but....

*lowers voice to a mere whisper*

*looks around suspiciously*

*beckons for all readers to lean in a little closer*

…OK. I know the official record says "Lisy Christl" is the designer of the costumes in "Anonymous," but I have it on good authority that, in fact, Lisy Christl never designed them at all! It's all a hoax! The real designer was none other than the Earl of Windsorwallingtonberkshireford! Are you shocked? I bet you're shocked. The only reason the Earl of Windsorwallingtonberkshireford was denied credit for his creations is because of an incest scandal, but believe me, "Lisy Christl" — if that is indeed her real name — is just a front. A patsy!

Jeremy says: Also, there's no way the uneducated Christl could have designed all her clothes in iambic pentameter!

Chris says: On another note, I haven't seen "Anonymous" or "W.E.," mostly because the phrases "Shakespeare by Roland Emmerich" and "Directed by Madonna" seem like some elaborate Chelsea Handler prank or something, and I was just NOT in the mood. Anyway, looking at the nominees without context, it would seem "Jane Eyre" would be the frontrunner for this category, what with Oscar's costume design love affair with movies about the English countryside and prim ladies in dresses and all that. But in this case, I'm leaning toward picking "Hugo" - it's a very well-liked movie that nonetheless likely won't win the big award of the night, nor a writing award, nor an acting award. So I think it's going to make a dent in the technical categories, starting with this one. And why not? Sandy Powell's work here is tremendous - it's not the accuracy of the period or any of that shit, it's the uniqueness and beauty of the designs themselves. The faded reds and bright blues that permeate the film's entire color scheme — from the costumes to the sets — is a great visual homage to early two-strip Technicolor, similar to Powell's work on "The Aviator" but with an entirely new style.

Given the period-ish tendencies of this category, I was surprised to see "Midnight in Paris" overlooked here. But perhaps it would have been even nicer to see a (fully) contemporary title or two considered - something along the lines of "Drive" (for the scorpion jacket alone, which will be remembered long after any single article of clothing in any of the nominated films), "Beginners," "The Descendants" or "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."

Prediction: "Hugo"
Preference: "Hugo"

Jeremy says: First off, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" totally got Michael Fassbender's shaft here, just as it did in art direction. Did anyone pay attention while watching the movie? They apparently saw Gary Oldman. Its attention to detail is kind of stunning.

Secondly, well…we've been here before. We've assumed that being a period piece with excellent costume design was enough to carry a film to victory. But When it's come down to it, we end up looking at an Oscar in the hands of "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" or whatever other movie had the most frills. I've been burned here before, so I have to go with "Anonymous" for the win. If anyone can overcome the Elizabethan obstacle, it would be Academy favorite Powell, the deserved winner. But I've seen too many Oscar ceremonies to predict it. "Anonymous" is filled with a slew of eye-catching Elizabethan outfits (moreso than "Jane Eyre") and will steal this one from "Hugo."

Prediction: "Anonymous"
Preference: "Hugo"

Best Makeup

"Albert Nobbs" -- Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnson, Matthew W. Mungle
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" -- Nick Dudman, Amanda Knight, Lisa Tomblin
"The Iron Lady" -- Mark Coulier, J. Roy Helland

Jeremy's Hallucination of Denis Thatcher says: Nineteen down is a bit of a puzzler, dear: "2011 film whose structure seems to exist only so it can win the Best Makeup Oscar." Something H something something R O something something A something Y.

Jeremy says: "The Iron Lady."

Jeremy's Hallucination of Denis Thatcher says: Capitol, dear! I knew you'd get it!

Chris says: What was that, Jeremy?

Jeremy says: Oh nothing, I was just slipping into one of my bouts of dementia while I remember hollow milestones from my life in chronological order. But before I recall when my public indecency charge quashed my run for fifth-grade class president, I must spout a canned speech about the Best Makeup category. Ahem…

Makeup is a great and noble art form, and those who practice it must be self-sufficient and earn their accolades. We cannot hand out awards to "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" on the basis of any films that came before it in a series, nor should we take into account the distinct labor and craftsmanship that went into it. All the makeup in the film was created with black magic, so to give the film an Oscar would be tantamount to rewarding laziness. Also, only in one lousy scene at the end were the characters made to look much older than they actually are.

By contrast, "The Iron Lady" features old Margaret Meryl Streep Thatcher nearly constantly. She's there so much that you keep pondering why. But it ensures that you really take a good look at that makeup, oh yes!

And why should we give a handout to "Albert Nobbs," in which Glenn Close plays a woman pretending to be a man, when all the makeup people did was dress a woman up as a man? That's what was expected. They should have made the characters do the makeup themselves! "The Iron Lady" could not have made its characters do their own makeup. Margaret Thatcher wouldn't even do the dishes in order to get married, so expecting her to do makeup would be utterly silly, especially when she's drifting in and out of dementia. So the Academy must do the right thing and award "The Iron Lady!"

Now Chris, would you be so kind as to say something that will trigger a flashback?

Prediction: "The Iron Lady"
Preference: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2"

Chris says: Why, of course, Jeremy! Happy to oblige! How about....pearl necklace!

Chris' Hallucination of Margaret Thatcher: Ah yes, I remember when Denis gave me that pearl necklace. What a passionate man he was! It was our anniversary----

Chris says: OK! OK, stop right there, I needn't hear any more. I was just referring to that scene where you told your political advisors that you would refuse to get rid of your pearls when running for office. Please don't go any further.

But moving back on-topic: You've gotta hand it to the makers of "The Iron Lady" - the movie was basically just an expensive excuse to win an Oscar in two categories - best actress and best makeup. And they could well end up going 2-of-2. There's something to be said for modest goals. And despite the fact that the flashback structure in "The Iron Lady" is absolutely meaningless and offers no specific insights whatsoever, the makeup is actually impressive - much moreso than the year's other jerkoff decades-spanning biopic, "J. Edgar." I have little positive to say about "The Iron Lady" - basically, my compliments end at, "Well, at least it wasn't as godawful as 'Mamma Mia!'" - but the makeup work was convincing, especially considering how much emotional ground Meryl Streep had to needlessly cover during all the old-lady-with-dementia sequences.

Prediction: "The Iron Lady"
Preference: "The Iron Lady"

Best Original Score

"The Adventures of Tintin" -- John Williams
"The Artist" -- Ludovic Bource
"Hugo" -- Howard Shore
"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" -- Alberto Iglesias
"War Horse" -- John Williams

Michael Fassbender: Hey check it out - it's my penis again!

[Audience groans. Billy Crystal starts escorting Fassbender off stage.]

[The blindfolded kid from "War Horse" storms out onto the stage.]

Blindfolded "War Horse" Kid: Hey, wait! Don't take him away. That's MY horse!

One-Dimensional Military Doctor Caricature: Uh, kid, that's not actually---

Blindfolded "War Horse" Kid: No! I know my horse — I raised him meself! I even taught him how to plow our fields with my evil landlord watching in mockery!

One-Dimensional Military Doctor Caricature: Hmmm, I'm not sure I believe you. You'll have to prove it. Describe this horse's penis for us.

Blindfolded "War Horse" Kid: Fine! It's multi-colored, it's got a big long shaft - practically hits the ground, it does — a couple o' balls, and the whole thing flops around a lot.

One-Dimensional Military Doctor Caricature: Hrmm, I guess we better wash the mud off this thing to check.

[Ten minutes later]

One-Dimensional Military Doctor Caricature: By jove, that's amazing! You just described that penis perfectly! Unfortunately, it doesn't belong to your little horse — that's actually Michael Fassbender's penis you're fondling.

Michael Fassbender: Yeah! Suck it!

Blindfolded "War Horse" Kid: You're no match for my 'orse!

Michael Fassbender: Alright, go get me a fucking ruler, kid. We'll measure 'em. Wait, make that a yardstick. While the Price Waterhouse guys look for a yardstick —wait, make that a 100-foot tape measurer — let's look at the nominees for Best Raping of Kim Novak.

Chris says: Enough with John Williams, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Enough.

We know what emotions we're supposed to feel. We know when we're supposed to cry, we know when we're supposed to gasp, we know. Stop trying to sweep us away with your violins, Johnny! It's just not working on us anymore. But apparently it still works on the Academy, which gave a nomination to "War Horse," which indulges all of Williams' worst tendencies. His much better score — more fun, more free-spirited, less emotionally stilted — was in "The Adventures of Tintin," also a nominee. And even that isn't a deserving choice. If they could have just found some absurd technicality with which to disqualify Williams — maybe 45 career nominations is the limit? — they could have had room for the year's best, most enigmatic and most atmospheric score, David Wingo's for "Take Shelter." And speaking of original score disqualifications, how about Jonny Greenwood (unjustly robbed of a nomination for "There Will Be Blood") for his brilliant concoction of musical styles and themes in "We Need to Talk About Kevin"?

But of the actual nominees, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" is by far the most impressive. Alberto Iglesias's subtly unnerving score sets the mood for the whole film, helping establish its persistent sense of unease and emotional/moral ambiguity. I'd like to see it pull the upset, but this seems like one of many categories that will come down to overall frontrunners — those being "The Artist" and "Hugo." I'm a big fan of Howard Shore's work on "Hugo" — just the way he blends the mystery elements of the score with the more elaborate and fanciful Parisian-style sequences, then shifts into warmer territory to enhance the film's emotional undercurrents (without pandering the way Williams does on "War Horse"). But I'd expect the winner here to be Ludovic Bource for "The Artist" — and while his is a nice score, the film's greater strengths lie elsewhere.

Prediction: "The Artist"
Preference: "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"

Jeremy says: Silent film enables a very special connection between the audience and the music, which essentially serves as an emotional bridge to the story. So Bource has the clear advantage here because when people watch "The Artist," they were more keenly aware of his music and his raping of Kim Novak. But Bource's score, while good, doesn't quite compete with the work of contemporary silent film composers who are ineligible because they're writing for films that came out 80 or 90 years ago. This year, for example, I was blown away by the Matti Bye Ensemble's score for "He Who Gets Slapped" and Stephen Horne's score for "The Nail in the Boot." Silly people. Don't they want an Oscar? Write music for NEW silent films!

Chris is absolutely correct about Alberto Iglesias's score for "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." It's a film that nails its mood completely, both aurally and visually, and the score is a big part of that.

Prediction: "The Artist"
Preference: "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"

Michael Fassbender: Haha, you said "aurally." Suck it!

Best Original Song

"The Muppets" -- Bret McKenzie ("Man or Muppet")
"Rio" -- Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown, Seidah Garrett ("Real in Rio")

Billy Crystal: And now, to perform their Oscar-nominated song, "The Muppets!" Just kidding! You totally fell for that. Nah, we're just gonna have Cirque du Soleil do a bunch of shit with fire that we'll then try to relate back to motion picture arts and sciences somehow. Enjoy!

Jeremy says: The producers of the Academy Awards ceremony are so damn smart. They're all, "Hey, you know how this thing is usually really long and people complain that it's long?"

Michael Fassbender says: I do!

Jeremy says: Ahem, continuing that quote, "Well let's take out the stuff that breaks up the monotony and might, you know, entertain people. No one wants to see the Muppets perform a musical number anyway. Come on!"

GOB Bluth says: COME ON!

Jeremy says: So basically, they're making it slightly shorter but increasing the tedium, even though performing the nominated songs couldn't add that much time because there are only two nominees here.

Surely they could have nominated more songs, right? Sinead O'Connor had a song in "Albert Nobbs," but they were afraid if they nominated her, she'd get on stage and rip up a picture of Harvey Weinstein, the Pope of the Oscars. Wait, they weren't afraid of that because THEY AREN'T HAVING PERFORMANCES OF THE FUCKING NOMINATED SONGS!!!

This one seems like a lock for "Man or Muppet" because (a) it's a fun song, (b) people love The Muppets, (c) there are only two songs, so I got a 50-50 chance that my claim of a lock will prove true and (d) the "Rio" song is kind of generic. In fact, only one (unidentified) song received a high enough rating to be nominated, and the other was thrown a bone so it'd look like a contest. Care to guess which song was which?

As Chris pointed out on our podcast that was never posted and is now obsolete, Jemaine Clement's "Pretty Bird" is much more memorable, with lines such as, "Like an abandoned school, I have no principles." Plus, it would have made for a veritable aerial war of the Conchords, with Clement and bandmate Bret McKenzie going head to head. Of course, Clement would still have ended up a Muppet of a loser, and McKenzie a winner of a man.

Prediction: "Man or Muppet"
Preference: "Man or Muppet"

Chris says: Yes. Yes, I did point that out, didn't I? I'm such an observant chap. And a Conchords Battle Royale would surely have been the highlight of the show. Especially if Sacha Baron Cohen's "Dictator" character were somehow involved. But nah…What with the Academy getting rid of the songs and only begrudgingly allowing Cohen on the red carpet, it's proven once again that it hates fun.

You know what should have been nominated? How about "Star-Spangled Man" from "Captain America"? Not only is it featured in the best sequence of the film, but it's a great — dare I say, rip-roaring — little period song that delightfully and hilariously replicates those old U.S.O. tunes that we all grew up with back during the Great War. Remember that, Jeremy? Sure you do.

Really, the only other snubs in this category are more songs from "The Muppets," considering there were several memorable ones. What, Academy, you can nominate three songs from "Enchanted" but only one from "The Muppets"? Racists.

I was surprised to see that "Life's a Happy Song" (arguably the best song in the movie) didn't make the cut; in fact, I would have probably considered it the favorite to win if it had only been nominated. Basically, "Life's a Happy Song" is the Albert Brooks of original songs.

Prediction: "Man or Muppet"
Preference: "Man or Muppet"

Best Sound Mixing

"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" -- David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce, Bo Persson
"Hugo" -- Tom Fleischman, John Midgley
"Moneyball" -- Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, David Giammarco, Ed Novick
"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" -- Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush, Peter J. Devlin
"War Horse" -- Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson, Stuart Wilson

Best Sound Editing

"Drive" -- Lou Bender, Victor Ray Ennis
"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" -- Ren Klyce
"Hugo" -- Philip Stockton, Eugene Gearty
"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" -- Ethan Van der Ryn, Erik Aadahl
"War Horse" -- Richard Hymns, Gary Rydstrom

"CLANKCLANKCLANKBOOMBOOM!" [accompanied by the flapping sound of Michael Bay masturbating furiously]

Chris says: For sound editing, I'm rooting for "Drive," if only because Lou Bender is not only a real human being, but a real hero as well. Also, a real human being. Victor Ray Rennis, you too. You're a real human being, and a real hero, and a real human being.

Did you guys even see "Hugo"? That movie was about an automoton - NOT a human being, and obviously not a hero. How about "War Horse"? Totally not a human being. Hero, maybe, if meaninglessly moving a plot from vignette to vignette is considered heroic. But we can agree it's not a human being. "Transformers"? All those robots? And all those Transformers as well? (HEY-O!) Definitely not human beings or heroes.

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"…well, fine, she's both a human being and a hero. But that movie's already got some other nominations. I want "Drive" to be able to say "Academy Award Winner" in its Blu-ray re-issue.

That being said, "Drive" has no chance. Poor Ryan Gosling. Three movies, all of them overlooked at the Oscars. I mean, "Crazy Stupid Love" didn't even get a nomination for "Laziest Cheap Plot Device That Resolves the Movie and Magically Fixes Everything" — and that seemed like a total lock!

The sound mixing and editing categories usually go to the same film, so that's a somewhat safe bet here. And because I think the Academy is going to shower "Hugo" with technical awards, I'll say it takes both — and deservedly so. But we don't need to get into all the details about the technical proficiency and creativity of a Martin Scorsese film. I'm a bit worried that "War Horse" might steal one of these two, as it doesn't stand much of a chance in most of its other categories. But I just can't bring myself to do it. You can't win any Oscars, "War Horse"! You can't!

It's a shame—

Michael Fassbender: Did someone say 'Shame'?

Chris says: No. No one said that. You're hearing things. Please get that thing out of my face. Anyway, what I said was, it's unfortunate that the Academy overlooks films with the most unique and interesting sound design in favor of the movies that are loud as fuck. Which means "The Tree of Life" and "We Need to Talk About Kevin" (with its strange and fascinating menagerie of sounds, moods and memories) get left out in the cold.

Prediction: "Hugo" for sound mixing and editing
Preference: "Hugo" for sound mixing, "Drive" for sound editing

Jeremy says: Going off what Chris just said about the Academy favoring films that are loud as fuck might help us pick a winner. "Transformers" is of course the loudest as fuck of them all, but they don't want to go that far. "War Horse," however, is way more louder than fuck than "Hugo," which isn't all that loud as fuck at all. So…will this be the category in which "War Horse" gets thrown its bone? I don't know, it seems possible. It also seems possible that "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" could be rewarded for its impressive technical proficiency. The sound design is some of the best stuff in the film. That and the stunning, totally not obvious revelation of who was sending all those pressed flowers! But I'm going to go with "Hugo" now. Maybe I'll change my mind for my Oscar pool ballot.

Prediction: "Hugo" for sound mixing and editing
Preference: "Hugo" for sound mixing and editing

Best Foreign-Language Film

"Bullhead" -- Michael R. Roskam (Belgium)
"Footnote" -- Joseph Cedar (Israel)
"In Darkness" -- Agnieszka Holland (Poland)
"Monsieur Lazhar" -- Philippe Falardeau (Canada)
"A Separation" -- Asghar Farhadi (Iran)

Madonna: Look how fucking cultured I am! I watched Fellini films when I was a kid, so foreign films were never foreign to me! I also went to Chinese restaurants, so Chinese food was never foreign to me!

Jeremy says: So here's the problem with predicting "A Separation" to win: It's a brilliant film. That is generally the kiss of death for a Best Foreign-Language Film contender. OK, OK, on occasion some great films have won the award, but not since "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" in 2000 has a major critical favorite nominated in other categories won. I'd loved to be proved wrong here, but I just fear that "A Separation" requires too much thought and is too intellectual to pick up the little gold naked guy.

As for "Bullhead," well, unless all the Academy members had the same childhood trauma as Chris, giving them a deep emotional connection to the story, it has no chance.

"Monsieur Lazhar" would have been a silly trifle without its excellent ensemble cast (including two amazingly talented kids), but with those performances it takes the category's voters on the kind of straight-up emotional ride that we all know they love.

So based on my knowledge, I've got to say "Monsieur Lazhar."

That said, I haven't seen "In Darkness," which I understand also packs some emotional punch. Chris?

Prediction: "Monsieur Lazhar"
Preference: "A Separation"

Chris says: Actually, I didn't end up making it to that one. From what I can gather, 11 million people die at the end.

Mel Gibson says: *cough*Bullshit!*cough

Chris says: Anyway, Jeremy's cynicism always seems to be correct, so I'm inclined to agree with him. Plus, history is on his side. Of the five nominated countries, only Canada has ever won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Israel is 0-for-10, so that's it for you, "Footnote." (You'll be a mere footnote in history, hahahahaha.) Poland is 0-for-9, so "In Darkness" is out. Belgium is 0-for-5, and that country submitted the wrong fucking movie, offering "Bullhead" instead of the Dardenne Brothers' "The Kid with a Bike." Stupid Belgians. Grow some balls, Belgium.

Iran, meanwhile, is 0-for-2, but Canada — O, Canada — is an impressive 1-for-6. So that's a good omen for "Monsieur Lazhar." Which is bittersweet for Jeremy, as he hates Canadians.

The biggest crime of the final five, though, is the exclusion of what would have been the best film of the bunch, Nuri Bulge Ceylan's "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia," Turkey's official submission. A bristling black comedy of a murder mystery with political and existential overtones, it is a masterpiece of character and tension. As excellent as "A Separation" is, this would have been my pick if it had made the cut. And it would have been a cool historical anecdote as well, as it would have been Turkey's first-ever nomination in the category. The lesson, as always: The Academy hates Turkish people. I've been saying that for years.

The more I think about the category, the more I'm leaning toward going against Jeremy's cynicism and predicting "A Separation" to win. Anyone using this as a guide for their own Oscar selections should take note: I do this frequently, and I'm always on the losing end. I predicted "The White Ribbon" to win, for fuck's sake. As if the Academy would ever give Michael Haneke an Oscar.

But the streak's gotta end sometime, and "A Separation" just seems like too much of a juggernaut.

Prediction: "A Separation"
Preference: "A Separation"

Jeremy says: Although "In Darkness" is about the damn Holocaust. Maybe I should've predicted that.

Best Animated Film

"A Cat in Paris" -- Alain Gagnol, Jean-Loup Felicioli
"Chico & Rita" -- Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal
"Kung Fu Panda 2" -- Jennifer Yuh
"Puss in Boots" -- Chris Miller
"Rango" -- Gore Verbinski

It just goes to show, not even Pixar can make Larry the Cable the star of their film and still get an Oscar nomination. Let that be a lesson to you.

Madonna: "A Cat in Paris" and "Chico & Rita" may be foreign-language films, but they're not foreign to me! Also, I've totally seen bigger penises than Fassbender's. What's the big deal?

Chris says: Come on, do I really have to analyze this category? Is anyone out there really going to try and argue that any of those other four movies is better than "Rango"? Because I'll hear none of it. Yes, "Kung Fu Panda 2" is amusing and fun like the first one was. And yes, "The Adventures of Tintin" got shafted because it's a hell of a lot better than "Puss in Boots," which is terrific for about 15 minutes and then tanks for the rest of the way. And sure, "Chico & Rita" and "A Cat in Paris" offer unique styles of animation that you rarely see at American cinemas. But come on - nothing was beating "Rango," and nothing should beat "Rango."

A deliriously entertaining blend of surrealism, spaghetti Western, neo-noir (i.e. borrowing the plot of "Chinatown"), screwball and existentialism, "Rango" should have been nominated for Best Picture - so Best Animated Film should be a walk in the park. "Rango" exemplifies everything that's great about animated filmmaking - the level of detail in the character design is astonishing, the compositions are immaculate (special thanks go to the film's visual consultant, the great cinematographer Roger Deakins), the voice performances are great, the setpieces are funny, exciting and endlessly inventive, the film has wit and style to spare, and not for one second does it seem like this movie was focus-tested or fashioned to pander to younger audiences. In fact, Jeremy and I were surprised they even got away with making this movie.

Not that it matters, but - aside from "Tintin" - a more deserving nominee than any of this category's four losers would have been "Arthur Christmas," which was one of the pleasant surprises of the year.

Prediction: "Rango"
Preference: "Rango"

Jeremy says: In defense of the four losers, there is some good stuff there. "Kung Fu Panda 2" features some utterly exquisite lighting that lifts it above your average fun animated film. And "A Cat in Paris" is a bizarre but fun bit of style. But apart from those caveats, yeah, what Chris said.

Prediction: "Rango"
Preference: "Rango"

Best Documentary Feature

"Hell and Back Again" -- Danfung Dennis, Mike Lerner
"If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front" -- Marshall Curry, Sam Cullman
"Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory" -- Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky
"Pina" -- Wim Wenders, Gian-Piero Ringel
"Undefeated" -- Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin, Rich Middlemas

Peter Jackson says: Hey, who's looking forward to "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" and "The Hobbit: A Totally Expected Journey?" I know Orlando Bloom is — he's finally gonna have a career again! For a year.

But if you want to see those hobbitses do their thing, you've got to do me a favor. You've got to go see "West of Memphis," not to be confused with "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory." And you better not give it an Oscar, because then how can "West of Memphis" win an Oscar next year? So yeah, give it to "Pina" or the hobbitses get it!

Jeremy says: This one is a bit of a head-scratcher this year.

Some have picked "Pina" by virtue of it being a remarkable documentary that takes full advantage of the medium of cinema. But, factoring in the Academy voters, I can't see it. Perhaps the voters like modern dance more than I realize — and even if you don't generally like it, it's hard not to be mesmerized by the moves designed by choreographer Pina Bausch — but Wim Wenders's film feels a bit too off-kilter for a Best Documentary Oscar. The second time I watched "Pina," a woman in the row behind me whispered during the Godzilla el train dance, "Is this part supposed to be funny?" That she hadn't detected any playfulness that far into the film worried me greatly. I wonder how many Academy members asked the same question.

Assuming "Pina" is a no-go, we have three important-message films left and one inspirational-story film. "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory" serves as a fitting conclusion to Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's trilogy about the West Memphis Three, and is the frontrunner. Its greatest drawback may be that it repeats a lot of previously existing material, but seeing as the first two films were snubbed, an award here would serve as a tribute to nearly 20 years of documentary dedication.

"If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front" is a well-made if unremarkable look at the motivations, farcical operations and federal prosecution of the eco-terrorist group. But it has no momentum. A more likely upsetter would be "Hell and Back Again," the harrowing story of a man's re-adjustment to normal life after returning from war. The film's biggest drawback may be that it's a bit on the formal side, but if its emotions resonate as well, it could be just what voters need.

I'm tempted to predict the only documentary I haven't seen, "Undefeated." I understand it's a sports story with a lovable hero, but much more importantly it has the Weinstein machine's backing.

Prediction: "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory"
Preference: "Pina"

Chris says: Wow. We've just witnessed history here, folks. Jeremy just discussed the Best Documentary category and not once did he mention how fucking inexplicable the documentary nomination rules and processes are, nor did he bitch about all the movies that didn't even make the cut, not to mention the fucking shortlist. So I'll fill in those gaps.

Jeremy says: Thanks, buddy. It's just gotten so exhausting that it hardly seemed worth it.

Chris says: Let me start by saying this: I think "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory," "Hell and Back Again," "Undefeated," and "If a Tree Falls" are all varying degrees of solid. But that the Academy ignored Errol Morris' "Tabloid," James Marsh's "Project Nim," Asif Kapadia's "Senna" and/or Clio Barnard's "The Arbor" - not to mention Werner Herzog's "Into the Abyss," which earned raves but which I haven't yet seen — is absurd. But, of course, expected. Because the documentary committee — or whoever the fuck handles this category - does this every year. They didn't nominate "Hoop Dreams," for fuck's sake.


Anyway, Jeremy is correct in his assessment of "Pina," which does what great documentaries do — makes you deeply interested in subjects and people that you had little to no interest in previously. It is a spectacular documentary-cum-performance art piece that allows us to experience Bausch's creations in a completely different way than you could in a theatre setting.

But it's just too much for the people who vote for this category. And since the Academy rarely if ever awards the best documentary of any given year, why should 2011 be any different?

"Paradise Lost 3," however, would seem to be in line to take the prize — mostly because the topic itself is something Hollywood has slowly gotten behind. And it's such a timely doc — the West Memphis Three having just been freed from prison a few months ago - that it seems like the perfect storm.

Prediction: "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory"
Preference: "Pina"

Best Visual Effects

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" -- Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler, John Richardson
"Hugo" -- Robert Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman, Alex Henning
"Real Steel" -- Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Danny Gordon Taylor, Swen Gillberg
"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" -- Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White, Daniel Barrett
"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" -- Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew E. Butler, John Frazier

Michael Bay says: OK, fuckers, listen up: This is your last chance to give a Best Visual Effects Oscar to a film directed by the greatest director ever, the offspring of the great John Frankenheimer…ME! I'm moving on to direct gritty movies now, like "Fargo," "Pulp Fiction," "The Third Man," "Citizen Kane," "Chinatown" and my dad's "The Manchurian Candidate." And you know when I make a comparison like that's it's accurate. Remember when I said that "Transformers 2: Whatever the Fuck" would be like a cross between "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Apocalypse Now," and then it came out and EVERYONE who saw it was like, "Holy shit! That movie was just like 'Lawrence of Arabia' meets 'Apocalypse Now!'"

So yeah.

Chris says: Wait, so "The Tree of Life" makes the shortlist for visual effects, but the Academy doesn't have the balls to give it a nomination? What are they, Belgian?

Oh, I know — the Academy voters were probably those same chodes who walked out of the film during the cosmos sequence — which was, you know, only the most spectacular slice of filmmaking in any movie this year. You're telling me the robots in "Real Steel" were more impressive than the fucking Big Bang? Or the fucking dinosaurs?

Anyway, I really had no right to expect a nomination there, but I can bitch about it anyway. It was nice to see a non-summer tentpole like "Hugo" get recognized in this category, and based on my ongoing "'Hugo' is going to dominate the technical categories" strategy, I'm going to go out on a wee bit of a limb and predict a win here. But I admit the award could easily go to "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" (which would be like the Academy's apology for still not knowing what the fuck to do with motion-capture and thus leaving Andy Serkis out in the cold every other year) or "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" as a sort of all-encompassing award for the series. I can't imagine them giving the award to "Transformers 3: Michael Bay's Three-Hour Penis Metaphor," seeing as how the first "Transformers" movie couldn't even beat out the terrible CGI of "The Golden Compass."

Oh, and "Real Steel"? It's just happy to be here. It's like the Demian Bichir of special effects nominees.

Prediction: "Hugo"
f0 Preference: "The Tree of---," er, uh, "Hugo"

Jeremy says: "Hugo" has excellent special effects, yes, and whenever a Best Picture is nominated in this category it wins, yes, but the special effects in "Hugo" don't call much attention to themselves. This isn't a bad thing, mind, it's just that if I'm a shallow Academy member I'm going to think more about those SILENT ape performances as that awesome automaton. So I'm going to have to call this one for "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."

While "The Tree of Life" got totally screwed over, "Hugo," "Harry Potter," "Rise" and even "Real Steel" were all films that really left their visuals out there for the audience to really take in, lingering on shots rather than cutting away from them before we could get a good look.

Prediction: "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"
Preference: "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"

Best Documentary Short

"The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement" -- Robin Fryday, Gail Dolgin
"God is the Better Elvis" -- Rebecca Cammisa, Julie Anderson
"Incident in New Baghdad" -- James Spione
"Saving Face" -- Daniel Junge, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
"The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom" -- Lucy Walker, Kira Cartensen

Best Animated Short

"Dimanche" -- Patrick Doyon
"The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" -- William Joyce, Brandon Oldenburg
"La Luna" -- Enrico Casarosa
"A Morning Stroll" -- Grant Orchard, Sue Goffe
"Wild Life" -- Amanda Forbis, Wendy Tilby

Best Live-Action Short

"Pentecost" -- Peter McDonald
"Raju" -- Max Zahle, Stefan Gierin
"The Shore" -- Terry George, Oorlagh George
"Time Freak" -- Andrew Bowler, Gigi Causey
"Tuba Atlantic" -- Hallvar Witzø, Gudrun Austli

In honor of the shorts, we're going to make this introduction short. No! This lazy joke has nothing to do with how long we'd been writing before we realized we had no intro here.

Jeremy says: OK, folks, it's time for some exciting rule talk! This marks the first year that Academy members can qualify to vote for the live-action and animated shorts by going to a regular theatrical screening of the nominees distributed by Magnolia Pictures. Previously, only those who went to one of the four screenings in New York and Los Angeles were allowed to vote, a rule that still applies to the documentaries because "God is the Bigger Elvis" couldn't be licensed due to Elvis issues.

That means there could be some shifts in voter demographics, meaning…well, it really means nothing, because these shorts are often a complete pisser to predict. Sometimes you can see a clear winner, but that doesn't mean an irredeemable piece of shit like "The New Tenants" won't inexplicably win, or that a smug, vulgar bit of clever animation like "Logorama" won't beat Academy favorite "Wallace and Gromit." But we can still try to predict what'll happen.

The documentary category looks like a race between "Saving Face" and "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom," unless Academy members like films with absolutely no sense of what they're about, in which case the winner could go to "The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement." Wisdom points to "Saving Face," a sickening portrayal of the outbreak of man-against-woman acid attacks in Pakistan. But the extra level of artsiness might prove to make a victor out of "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom."

In a year of silent film nostalgia, it seems unwise to bet against the animated film with the Buster Keaton lookalike, "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore." Of course, animated shorts have long been a bastion for visual storytelling with little to no dialogue, and most of these nominees fit the bill. Pixar has not been the same powerhouse in animated shorts as it has been with animated features, but "La Luna" is charming. The style-shifting "Morning Stroll" could pull a "Logorama" — it's definitely memorable. And the great film with no chance is "Wild Life," a painted Canadian western.

I consider the live-action race one between "Time Freak" and "Tuba Atlantic" (although "The Shore" is widely viewed as the favorite). The slick U.S. comedy about city-dwelling hipsters has won to years in a row, and "Time Freak" could make it three. But seeing as the film doesn't offer much between its setup joke, let's go with the mix of sentimentality and Norwegian humor, "Tuba Atlantic."

Predictions: "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom," "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore," "Tuba Atlantic"
Preferences: "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom," "Wild Life," "Tuba Atlantic"

Chris says: Come on, only a brief mention of the best animated film of the bunch, "Wild Life"? How dare you. Sure, it has no shot - but that doesn't mean we can't marvel at its impressionistic visual style, its surrealist aesthetic and sense of humor, or the off-kilter feeling of sadness that underscores the whole thing. It's easily the most accomplished of the shorts, but doesn't seem like the Academy's cup of tea. Both "La Luna" and "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" are very charming, and you know how much the Academy likes being charmed. And "Morning Stroll" is the shitty one, so it will probably win.

Or maybe I'm just being cynical. Seeing as how Pixar was (rightfully) shut out of the best animated feature race this year (a "Cars 2" nomination would have been a travesty), I'll say the Academy shows them some love anyway by awarding "La Luna."

For the first time ever, the live-action shorts program wasn't a complete disaster. Generally, there are only one or two good ones - but this time around, I didn't hate a single one of them. Imagine that! Then again, I didn't fall in love with any of them, either, but still - this is progress. "Tube Atlantic" is the best of the five - and with the Academy seemingly warming to that type of offbeat Scandinavian humor recently (nominating both this and "Instead of Abracadabra" a few years back), maybe it will break through with a win. "Time Freak" isn't especially well-made or anything, but it's kinda funny in parts. The most frustrating one of the nominees is "Raju," which is very well-made but doesn't have nearly enough time to explore its subject matter with the amount of depth and detail that it requires. The same could be said of "The Shore," to which "Hotel Rwanda" director Terry George brings his patented brand of bland, uninteresting direction. The film is all too quaint, its developments little more than convenient plot set-ups, but it features a strong performance from the great character actor Ciaran Hinds. So it has that going for it.

Oh, and I didn't see the documentary shorts.

Predictions: "La Luna," "The Shore"
Preferences: "Wild Life," "Tuba Atlantic"

Best Cinematography

"The Artist" -- Guillaume Schiffman
"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" -- Jeff Cronenweth
"Hugo" -- Robert Richardson
"The Tree of Life" -- Emmanuel Lubezki
"War Horse" -- Janusz Kamniski

Michael Bay says: Remember the time I said that "Transformers 2: What the Fuck ever the Fuck" would be like a cross between "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Apocalypse Now," and then it came out and EVERYONE who saw it was like, "Holy shit! That movie was just like 'Lawrence of Arabia' meets 'Apocalypse Now!'"

Those films had GREAT cinematography.

Chris says: I said it before, and I'll say it again: If "The Tree of Life" doesn't win best cinematography, there shouldn't even be a fucking category for cinematography. I've rarely seen such breathtaking photography in a film — and not just its intrinsic beauty, but the way it maximizes all the different ways cinema can express itself. It is dreamlike one moment and starkly naturalistic the next; it captures the impossible majesty of the history of the planet with a documentary-like sense of reality; it is equal parts vague and precise, symbolic and literal. Emmanuel Lubezki (who was robbed of this award for "Children of Men" in 2006) displays a level of dexterity that's almost hard to believe. He manages to take everyday images and transform them into something magical and timeless. The film as a whole is a tapestry of senses, impressions and memories, and Lubezki's work gets right at the heart of that — the various techniques he employs always perfectly capturing the meaning of the moment. Here I am talking about the visuals in "The Tree of Life" and I'm coming nowhere near expressing their overall effect — I wish I could just show you all my favorite shots. But that would take way too long. Like Jessica Chastain's angelic mother character floating on air in the front yard, or the glass coffin in the middle of the forest, or the womb of object-memories, or the dinosaur nursing his wound on the shore, or the young boy's face shrouded in a white curtain…I could go on for hours, I really could.

If this turns into one of those categories where the Academy just awards the overall frontrunner, giving Guillaume Schiffman the honor for "The Artist," you and me, Oscar, we're fuckin' done professionally. Nothing against Schiffman — or against the great Robert Richardson, whose work on "Hugo" was brilliant as well — but no one touches Lubezki here. Right now I'm plugging my ears, holding my breath and insisting that the Academy won't fuck this one up.

But contrary to the impression you might have just gotten, I do think there were other great accomplishments in cinematography this year. In fact, the single shot of the year might belong to Adam Stone for a moment at the end of Jeff Nichols' masterful "Take Shelter." I can't really spoil what the shot is, but suffice it to say it's a stunner.

Also worthy of consideration were Darius Khondji for his romantic, golden-hued exploration of Paris — past and present — in "Midnight in Paris," as well as Hoyte Van Hoytema for his moody and intricate work on "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." In fact, were it not for Lubezki, I'd probably be championing hard for Van Hoytema this year. That was among the most visually dinstinctive movies I've seen in quite some time.

Prediction: "The Tree of Life"
Preference: "The Tree of Life"

Jeremy says: Well, I certainly don't want to be Mr. Bummer and suggest that the Academy might over look Emmanuel Lubezki again, but, well, I didn't think they could possibly award anyone but him in 2006 and I turned out to be wrong, so I'm tempted to think that the great Robert Richardson could win this. Mind you, I've got nothing against Richardson, which is why I, like Chris, put "the great" in front of his name.

But Lubezki really deserves that fucking Oscar. Really. And the Academy might screw up once, but they never repeat the same mistake. Oh shit.

Prediction: "The Tree of Life" and not "Hugo"…right?
Preference: "The Tree of Life"

Best Editing

"The Artist" -- Anne-Sophie Bion, Michel Hazanavicius
"The Descendants" -- Kevin Tent
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" -- Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter
"Hugo" -- Thelma Schoonmaker
"Moneyball" -- Christopher Tellefsen

Michael Bay says: Hey, remember the time—

Billy Crystal escorts Michael Bay off stage.

Jeremy says: Part of David Fincher's team of tech-whiz collaborators, Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter won this award last year for "The Social Network," but despite the impeccable timing on display, don't expect to see them on the podium again. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" feels more like window dressing than a real awards contender.

No, this Oscar seems destined to become Thelma Schoonmaker's fourth. And good for her. I mean, if I edited "Raging Bull" and then got to bang Michael Powell for 16 years, I'd pretty much say my life was complete and spend the rest of it at a beachside cinematheque, regaling fellow cinephiles with stories. But she just keeps chugging along. Her work on "Hugo" shows fine-tuned emotional rhythm — she knows when to let the scenes build and when to let the emotions breathe.

Of course, there's a familiar caveat here. If voters love "The Artist" even more than we think — or love "Hugo" less than we think — a lot of these awards could go its way.

Prediction: "Hugo"
Preference: "Hugo"

Chris says: Jeremy, you're out of your element. You really think they're going to award the correct movie in the editing category? You poor naive fool. Have you seen how often Best Editing and Best Picture line up? And you realize "Hugo" isn't winning Best Picture, correct? You're going to have to accept that Schoonmaker - much as she may deserve the award once again — is going to lose out to Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius for "The Artist." It's happening.

In all honesty, the most deserving winner would be the 800-man team of editors that put together "The Tree of Life" — or, probably more accurately, Terrence Malick and his lackeys. More than any other filmmaker, Malick's films are built — even written, one could argue — in the editing room.

But whatever — I never anticipated a nomination for Malick's army of editors, so I can't really get too upset.

Prediction: "The Artist"
Preference: "Hugo"

Best Adapted Screenplay

"The Descendants" -- Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
"Hugo" -- John Logan
"The Ides of March" -- George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon
"Moneyball" -- Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin
"Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" -- Bridget O'Connor, Peter Straughan

Brett Ratner says: Adapted screenplays are totally for fags.

Chris says: Ahem…This one's as much of a lock as any category. Alexander Payne and his two co-writers, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, will win a well-deserved Oscar for their comedic and humanistic approach to a story of personal grief and crisis. I'll talk more about what I liked so much about "The Descendants'" approach to its material in the director and picture sections, but the film is strong across the board.

All of the nominated scripts had their own unique challenges in the adaptation process. "Moneyball" was a piece of non-fiction journalism about statistics — hardly the most cinematic material. "Hugo" was based on a children's book that had few words. "The Ides of March" was based on a play (always a risky proposition if the adapters decide to stay too close to the material). And "Tinker Tailor" is a lengthy novel whose screenplay was reportedly pared down a ton during the film's editing process, during which director Tomas Alfredson decided (correctly) to allow his visual storytelling to do too much of the work, taking the final product from the 3 1/2-hour range to just over two hours.

The more I look at it, the less I can think to complain about in this category. The vast majority of my annual top ten and honorable mention were original screenplays rather than adapted. (There are years when that has been the exact opposite.) So while I don't think "The Ides of March" is the most brilliant script in the world, I can't think of too many that I'd passionately insist deserve a nomination more. I mean, thank God they didn't throw "War Horse" in there. That fucking screenplay was terrible.

Prediction: "The Descendants"
Preference: "The Descendants"

Jeremy says: Well, Chris, I don't know if this is "as much of a lock as any category." (If I were speaking that sentence, I would have said the quote while imitating Chris's stupid, oafish voice.) "Moneyball" has earned its share of accolades and seems a possible upsetter. That said, "The Descendants" deserves to win this and probably will.

Prediction: "The Descendants"
Preference: "The Descendants"

Best Original Screenplay

"The Artist" -- Michel Hazanavicius
"Bridesmaids" -- Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo
"Margin Call" -- J.C. Chandor
"Midnight in Paris" -- Woody Allen
"A Separation" -- Asghar Farhadi

Brett Ratner says: Original screenplays are totally for fags.

Jeremy says: Woody for the win!

It appears that Woody Allen will receive his first Oscar since "Hannah and Her Sisters" for his utterly charming ode to the past and present of a great city. Woody's wit is in top gear here, and audiences loved "Midnight in Paris" so much that in some locales it's still in cinemas nine months after its release. If you didn't have a huge grin on your face the whole time you were watching it, there's something wrong with you.

As much as I love Woody and "Midnight in Paris" — and will enjoy not seeing him when he doesn't accept his award — I have to pick Asghar Farhadi's "A Separation" as the best screenplay here. Granted, both screenplays are great and do completely different things so you can't really compare them, but Farhadi's screenplay is a remarkably sharp character study. It constantly causes you to rethink what you've seen, reevaluate the characters and consider what the proper way to act would be considering their predicament. The film offers no easy answers and no unassailable characters. It is about a bunch of people in a mess.

Prediction: "Midnight in Paris"
Preference: "A Separation"

Chris says: I can't disagree with Jeremy on any of his points. My man is right on point. We all know Woody is going to win, and as a die-hard aficionado, I'll be pleased as punch to see it. Especially the awkward part when they try to explain his absence at the ceremony. And Farhadi's script is just as deserving. I suppose I have to root for Woody here, since I'm a certified fanboy and I'll be wearing my Woody Allen T-shirt to the Oscar party. Sorry, but I don't have an Asghar Farhadi T-shirt yet. Sorry, Asghar.

But once again, the Academy missed the boat on most of its nominees. Seeing as how this category is often the dumping ground for audience and critical favorites that got squeezed out of other major categories, is "Margin Call" really the best they could do for surprise nominee? You couldn't have used this category to honor Jeff Nichols for "Take Shelter"? Or John Michael McDonough for caustic and hilarious "The Guard"? Certainly that's the most quotable script of the year, no?

Or (and I know this is wishful thinking), since they're in Middle Eastern mode with the "A Separation" nomination, how about a nod for Elia Suleiman's brilliant and personal "The Time That Remains"?

Jeremy says: Now that is wishful thinking! Correct thinking, but very wishful.

Chris says: Or if we're thinking more realistically, how did "Beginners" not make the cut? Look, I liked "Bridesmaids" and all, but it's not even in the same league as "Beginners," which matches its charming sense of humor with the genuine human warmth the Academy usually loves. What gives? Or how about making John Logan a double-nominee and give him a nod for "Rango" in addition to the one he got for "Hugo"?

Prediction: "Midnight in Paris"
Preference: "Midnight in Paris" or "A Separation"

Best Actress

Glenn Close, "Albert Nobbs"
Viola Davis, "The Help"
Rooney Mara, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
Meryl Streep, "The Iron Lady"
Michelle Williams, "My Week with Marilyn"

Chris says: God, what a fucking disaster this category is this year. Meryl Streep puts on old-lady makeup to play a famous person and gets an automatic nomination. Michelle Williams imitates a Hollywood icon and gets an automatic nomination. I'm not sure which of those two films — "The Iron Lady" or "My Week with Marilyn," respectively — is a more shallow portrait of its respective subject. But as great as Streep and Williams are, these are not the performances to honor them for. (If you're going to remember one Williams performance this year, it should be "Meek's Cutoff.") Even Glenn Close — oft-nominated, never-victorious — got the nod for a subpar movie playing a character who's more of a silly, naive fool than the tragic victim of era and circumstance the film paints her to be. Close is as good as she can be, I suppose, but neither the role nor the film is deserving of her talents.

Viola Davis is a great actress who has deserved better roles for years. She's excellent as always in "The Help," but the biggest positive to come out of her nomination and very possible Best Actress victory is that she might now get better roles. The movie seems to have elevated her closer to A-list status, so better parts and better movies will hopefully come her way.

The pleasant surprise of the category was Rooney Mara for her piercing take on Lisbeth Salander in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." I may not have been wild about the movie (though it's an improvement over the Swedish version), but she's a clear standout.

But I would have traded most of the nominees to see Jessica Chastain recognized for "Take Shelter" (if, that is, we're considering that a lead performance), Elizabeth Olsen for "Martha Marcy May Marlene," Tilda Swinton for "We Need to Talk About Kevin" or even Juliette Binoche in "Certified Copy," in which she partially saves what is otherwise the year's most overrated film. And if the Academy wanted to be really ballsy, they could have gone for Ji-ah Park in "Breath," Jeong-hie Yun in "Poetry," Saoirse Ronan in "Hanna" or Olivia Colman for "Tyrannosaur." (Oh, and Berenice Bejo was a lead performance, idiots.)

As for who will take the prize, Davis seems to have stolen Meryl Streep's thunder in the lead-up to the Oscars, which is great because I heard through the grapevine that Streep was planning on making her acceptance speech in character as Margaret Thatcher. Yeah, dementia and all. So let's hope we've avoided that fate. In terms of my preference, it would be between Mara (and if the Oscars need an out-of-nowhere surprise, this would be a kinda cool one) and Davis. But I'd be fine if we just all resolved to not give "The Help" any Oscars. I can't shake the feeling that the wrinkly old Academy is going to still lean toward Streep — I mean, this type of performance in this type of movie is what the Academy is all about. They can't resist! OK then — my pick is Meryl Streep.

Tate Taylor says: Aw, helllllll no!

Chris says: Fine, fine. Change my pick to Davis.

Prediction: Viola Davis
Preference: Rooney Mara

Tate Taylor says: You go, girl!

Jeremy says: Can't Albert Nobbs be a naive fool and a tragic victim of era and circumstance? Which is really just my way of saying that Close is my favorite performance out of this lot, none of whom I would have named if left to my own devices. Despite the flaws in the screenplay, Close expertly embodies her strange, awkward character.

I agree with most of the missing actresses Chris mentioned, particularly Olsen, Chastain and Colman, but I really didn't think Binoche was able to add anything to "Certified Copy" due to the insipid dialogue that constantly spewed from her mouth.

Instead of exciting talent, we have a collection of good work, none of which is outstanding. This is a two-horse race unless Close pulls an upset because voters go, "Aw, poor Glenn never won any Oscars, and this was her passion project!" I was leaning toward Streep, but then I remembered that the Screen Actors Guild gave Davis the award. And if a bunch of small-time commercial actors who grew up wanting to be Meryl Streep didn't see fit to award her for "The Iron Lady," then the Academy voters won't either. Maybe?

Prediction: Viola Davis
Preference: Glenn Close

Best Actor

Demian Bichir, "A Better Life"
George Clooney, "The Descendants"
Jean Dujardin, "The Artist"
Gary Oldman, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"
Brad Pitt, "Moneyball"

Jeremy says: There's been some talk of an upset in this category, but I don't see it happening. Jean Dujardin hasn't done anything to deserve a shock loss. He does a great Douglas Fairbanks, and pulls off a silent role in a way few modern actors could. He'll win, and presumably reference a silent actor during the speech. (He's already done Fairbanks and Keaton. Who will be next?)

Demian Bichir kind of cheated to earn his nomination. He surrounded himself with some truly awful costars in "A Better Life," so of course he looked like the best actor ever by comparison. What would Margaret Thatcher think? If she weren't all dementia'd-out, I mean.

While it's cool to pull out some surprise names, it would have been nice if that name had been Michael Shannon, who gave the performance of the year in "Take Shelter," or Owen Wilson, whose comedic charm in "Midnight in Paris" has been criminally ignored.

George Clooney is a staple of Hollywood class — always good, always in good projects — and his understated performance meshed perfectly with Alexander Payne's trademark observational humor and drama in "The Descendants."

Whereas Clooney has become an Oscar mainstay, Brad Pitt has frequently been overlooked for his best work (see "The Tree of Life," this year). "Moneyball" is an ideal role for some Academy love in that it's more straightforward than some of Pitt's more mannered performances, but that doesn't make it any less effective. Pitt comfortably slides into his character and stays completely natural.

But my favorite nominee — though it vacillates a bit between him and Pitt -- is Gary Oldman as the quiet, sly, deliberate George Smiley in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." A dead-on if counter-intuitive portrait of a British spy, Smiley always shows us just enough feelings without giving anything away. His personality and the mood of the film are harmoniously intertwined.

Prediction: Jean Dujardin
Preference Gary Oldman

Chris says: The Best Actor race has been a bit of a rollercoaster this year. For a long time, it seemed like the odds-on favorite (nomination shoo-in, for sure) to win was Leonardo DiCaprio for "J. Edgar," seeing as how he would get to impersonate a famous person in a type of film (biopics) the Academy inexplicably loves beyond all reason, and he would get to wear old-man makeup which people would then argue was proof of DiCaprio's range. Familiar Oscary formula, almost too easy to see coming.

But then people actually saw what a piece of shit "J. Edgar" was — and how strained DiCaprio's performance was, as he struggled to hold up a miserably shallow and uninsightful screenplay — and the race opened up. Then it seemed like it was bound to be George Clooney's year, as he not only gave another great performance in "The Descendants" — his natural dramatic gravitas offset by his uncanny comedic abilities (both his body language and the subtly goofy expressiveness of his face) — but had "The Ides of March" on his plate as well.

However, once the critics' awards started coming out and Brad Pitt started sweeping them, he became the favorite — again, probably in some part due to his appearance in "The Tree of Life" in the same year. And then once the award season was in full gear, Pitt faded a bit, Clooney re-emerged, and then Jean Dujardin stole both of their thunder as "The Artist" began dominating the entire awards circuit. And Dujardin is great, too — as Jeremy said, he pulled off a performance that few other actors could have, going far beyond the mugging you usually see in silent-film homages.

It's cute that the Academy gave Bichir a nomination for that terrible movie he was in, but if they were gonna go for a surprise, why not Michael Shannon? In a role that one could easily push in the wrong direction, Shannon holds so much in, crafting a portrait of confused madness and stout determination as a man plagued by vague apocalyptic nightmares. Oh, and "Take Shelter" is arguably the best movie of the year, too.

Jeremy already mentioned Owen Wilson, who gave us one of the two best Woody Allen proxies ever (joining John Cusack in "Bullets Over Broadway"). But then again, as we've already determined, the Academy hates fun, and comedy. So they couldn't nominate Wilson — who had maybe the moment of the year when he puts Michael Sheen's pedantic fellow in his place and casually walks off-screen — and they surely couldn't nominate Brendan Gleeson for his brilliantly funny portrayal of a charmingly racist Irish cop in "The Guard."

Of the nominees, I've gone back and forth between rooting for Gary Oldman and Clooney. Oldman's nomination is a long time coming — the first of his long career — and it would be great to see him pull the upset. But I'm cheering for Clooney just as much — look, I know he already has an Oscar and all, but that doesn't mean he hasn't earned another one. Plus, he should be rewarded solely on the basis of his film choices. From year to year, he makes the best decisions of anyone on the job. Yeah, I'll go with him — but mostly because Jeremy is rooting for Oldman, and Jeremy is my mortal enemy.

Prediction: Jean Dujardin
Preference: George Clooney

Michael Fassbender says: Hey, come on! I showed you my magnificent junk AND depressed the hell out of you and I don't get so much as a mention? Come on!

GOB Bluth says: Come on!

Chris says: Fine, you're right. You were great in "Shame," as you have been in pretty much everything else you've done. But the Academy was going to avoid recognizing the existence of an NC-17 cock-fest at all costs. You know how much those old fogies hate that shit.

Best Director

Woody Allen, "Midnight in Paris"
Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist"
Terrence Malick, "The Tree of Life"
Alexander Payne, "The Descendants"
Martin Scorsese, "Hugo"

Chris says: I rarely get to compliment the Best Director category, but I guess I've gotta give credit where credit is due. These wouldn't necessarily have been my five nominees if it were up to me, but the final five still features four of my favorite directors — Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Terrence Malick and Alexander Payne — as well as the obvious nomination for the Best Picture frontrunner, Michel Hazanavicius, who did do some nice work on "The Artist." The dream sequence in particular. So while I may have rather seen Jeff Nichols honored for "Take Shelter," or Gore Verbinski for his career-best work on "Rango" or Elia Suleiman for "The Time That Remains," I still have to admit that this is a pretty impressive bunch.

Hazanavicius is the odds-on favorite largely due to "The Artist"'s frontrunner status, but the last few months have been a love-fest for Martin Scorsese as well. With "Hugo," Scorsese celebrates the magic and history of filmmaking itself as only he can, with a deeply personal human story and impassioned plea for film preservation. In a year in which films have been celebrating Hollywood's glorious past, there was no more passionate example than "Hugo" — and there's been no better advocate for the power of movies than Marty. This may seem like it's a homer pick since I'm a Marty fanboy, but it's not — because my preference would be for Terrence Malick to take the crown this time. The type of filmmaking on display in "The Tree of Life" reaches an extremely rare level of artistry. Not only that, but it would be nice for his great career to get some Oscar recognition.

Prediction: Martin Scorsese
Preference: Terrence Malick

Jeremy says: Well it's all well and good that the Academy loves Marty, I love him too. And while I think "Hugo" will win many so-called technical awards, I think "The Artist" will take this one. Granted, Harvey has never been as successful in his campaigns for directors as for Best Picture, but "The Artist" does seem to have enough support to win both this year. How picking Schoonmaker to win Best Editing is silly but picking Scorsese here isn't, I don't know. But I supposed I won't harp on it too long in case Chris is right.

I would have liked to see Kelly Reichardt nominated for her brilliant work on "Meek's Cutoff," or Takashi Miike for mounting the the epic battle of "13 Assassins," but seeing as those weren't realistic, I, like Chris, am pretty happy with this slate. I never feel bad about seeing Scorsese win an award, but on this day I'd favor the perfectly executed comedy of Allen or the visionary poetics of Malick.

Prediction: Michel Hazanavicius
Preference: Woody Allen or Terrence Malick

Best Picture

"The Artist"
"The Descendants"
"Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"
"The Help"
"Midnight in Paris"
"The Tree of Life"
"War Horse"

The Kid from "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" says: Before he died, my poppy left me some clues to what movie will win the Best Picture Oscar. I just have to find them by wandering around New York City talking to strangers. It sounds easy enough, but so far I haven't had any luck. Maybe I should look at the back of this piece of paper with a crucial clue to see if there's another crucial clue that's gone unnoticed for ever! Oh look, there is. I'm going to go talk to Jeffrey Wright, then I'll report back on who will win!

Jeremy says: When the Academy made the Dark Knight Rule Change of 2009, which made it so more than five films could receive Best Picture nominations, it was intended to make the awards more accessible by including titles that Joe Idiot had actually seen. Instead, it opened the door for "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Unheard of by the General Population."

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for unheard-of films getting Oscar nominations — if they're actually good. But seeing how no one liked "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," I don't understand how it was nominated over much better films. I mean, no one's heard of "Meek's Cutoff" and it's brilliant, so why not nominate that? Or, if you're going to tell me "13 Assassins" and "The Time That Remains" had no chance either, how about "A Separation" or "Take Shelter" or "Martha Marcy May Marlene" or "Rango" or "Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy?"

Or "Harry Potter" or "Beginners" or "Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol" or "Tabloid" or "We Need to Talk About Kevin" or "Tuesday, After Christmas" or "Drive?" I could go on for days naming better 2011 films than fucking "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," but I digress.

"Midnight in Paris" ought to take home the award for its perfect combination of sharp, witty writing, beautiful visuals and pitch-perfect performances. Anyone can write a love letter to Paris, but Woody Allen lets you fall with the city yourself. But I am not so foolish as to think it will win. If Owen Wilson can't get a Best Actor nomination there's no hope for humanity.

As you may have deduced during the nine months you've spent reading this preview, this is a two-horse race between "Hugo" and "The Artist." Sorry "Tree of Life," you may be the visual stunning, transcendental critical favorite, but nobody cares! In fact, it's almost alarming how few Academy types seem to even want to discuss the merits of Terrence Malick's poetic journey through life, the universe and everything.

As for "The Artist," well, I'm annoyed that it's put me in the position of bad-mouthing a film that, for the most part, I enjoyed watching, because it is simply not up the task of being the best film of the year. Save for the sound design in one sequence, it would have been a notable but unremarkable film if it came out in the year in which it begins, 1927. The film contains some great moments, but also some lazy writing and cheap shortcuts. And its production design and cinematography simply aren't up to the level of the great films of 1927 or 2011.

"Hugo," on the other hand, is a lovely work full of joy and magic. It seems to have quite a bit of good will behind it, but if that good will makes for any surprises, they'll be in the Best Director category. (Although, as you know, I don't expect a surprise in that category either.)

Prediction: "The Artist"
Preference: "Midnight in Paris"

Chris says: First of all, trying to make a direct comparison between "The Artist" and the silent films that came out in 1927 is bullshit, because the movie isn't simply directly mimicking a 1927-era style - and even if it were, the circumstances surrounding it would make it inherently different from anything that came out back then. But most importantly, "The Artist" is not trying to be a movie that could have come out in 1927 — it is largely an homage to that era, yes, but it is fully aware that it is a silent film made in the present day. Its references and influences range throughout film history, and it wears those influences very blatantly on its sleeve. Look, I'm not saying it deserves to win Best Picture, or to be the runaway frontrunner juggernaut that it has become. But a blanket statement condemning its production design and cinematography for not being up to the standards of "the great films of 1927" is, well, lazy writing, and a cheap shortcut to a very simple conclusion — that you aren't in love with "The Artist" as much as the Academy is. 2011 is the valid frame of reference.

Like you, I'm a big fan of "Meek's Cutoff" - though, it must be noted, I'm afraid its photography and set design aren't up to the level of the great films of 1845. I mean, you just can't beat those mid-19th Century movies.

Jeremy says: To be clear, I was pointing out the irony that the Academy is rewarding a film that fondly recalls the great films of 1920s, but isn't up to the quality of the best of those films. Because, you know, the film does tend to get people talking about the 1920s. I'm sure I'm not the first to have brought it up. And my full quote was "the great films of 1927 and 2011. " Furthermore, the filmmakers clearly made an aesthetic decision to emulate the style of 1920s silents, as seen by the film's aspect ratio, black-and-white photography and, of course, lack of synchronized sound. The film very much intends to be a pastiche of silent film, and while it also draws from many other sources, such as the great Hollywood musicals and "Citizen Kane," it presents itself as a silent. It does not shift from that style when it references other films from cinema history. In fact, much of what has been praised about the film has been its nostalgia for the silent era, so it's nonsensical to praise what the film gets right in its aesthetic efforts and ignore where it goes wrong (details that require a separate article). I don't begrudge "The Artist" any of its references to other film eras, but I also don't find all of those references to be made with great artistry. I'm not saying they're incompetent either, just not Oscar-worthy. Obviously the Academy is more enamored with it than I am, just as I am more enamored with "Meek's Cutoff" than they are.

Chris says: But anyway, you make some fine points about both "Midnight in Paris" and "Hugo," both of which appeared on my top 10 this year. You also failed to mention that the Academy could — if it wanted to — make up for not giving "Sideways" Best Picture seven years ago, and honor "The Descendants" with an upset victory. That's not fucking happening, of course, but hey, I'm just spitballin' here.

The best nominated film, obviously, is "The Tree of Life," which is the kind of cinematic accomplishment that only comes around every so often. But I was delightfully shocked to even see it get a nomiination, so I can't bitch about it not having any chance to win.

I will however, pay Michael Fassbender one million dollars to viciously cock-slap anyone who votes for "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" over "The Tree of Life." Mark my fucking words.

As for the rest of the nominees — look, I know "The Help" was a box-office smash and a very well-acted film. But the fact that it falls into the neverending Hollywood trend of framing every story of African-American struggle through pristine, heroic white eyes is very relevant indeed, and completely undermines the entire message of the film. Here is a movie not simply about a black experience, or simply about black women, but specifically about the personal perspective that only these speciic people in this specific situation could express. And somehow the irony of having a write guy write it and direct it while telling the story through a white girl's point of view was completely lost on not only the studio responsible for this thing, but the people who continue to defend the movie as well. But somehow "The Help" got a Best Picture nomination anyway, during a year in which there's hardly any other major black roles in sight.

But I digress.

"War Horse" was similarly undeserving, but not because it was written and directed by a white horse — no, it was directed by Steven Spielberg and written by nobody. No, it was because it was Spielberg doing a parody of a Spielberg movie, offering an insultingly heavy heap of traditional "move me! inspire me!" filmmaking dynamics, but with no meaning or substance with which to support it. It's "Twilight" for horse aficionados.

I know a nomination for something like "Take Shelter" or "Rango" or "The Time That Remains" might be a bit too much to ask, but the least the Academy could do is have some higher standards than a few of the desperate pieces of manipulative claptrap it chose to honor with recognition.

Prediction: "The Artist"
Preference: "The Tree of Life"
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