Brendan Shick | Freelance Film, Broadcast, & Digital Media

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Academy Awards: How to Fill Out Your Ballot

Feb 23 2012 by Brendan Shick Add Your Thoughts

Entering a contest to guess the most Academy Awards winners this year? I’m entering at least one. Here are my picks for the most likely winners.

Best Picture

Poster for The Artist (2011)Likely Winner: Thomas Langmann, The Artist

Other Nominees: The Tree of Life, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, War Horse

Comments: A classic throwback to the Hollywood(land)’s golden age, The Artist carries a strong nostalgia factor that should help it dominate in most of the categories where it is nominated. Most analysts are projecting it to be the clear-cut winner here.

Interestingly enough, Google has predicted a possible upset by (for many, the 9th ranked) Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close here. This seems somewhat unlikely considering The Artist has the second most nominations of any film this year and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close only has two; however, Google search trend data from past years seems to partly support upsets like this.

Best Director

Poster for The Artist (2011)Likely Winner: Michel HazanaviciusThe Artist

Other Nominees: Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen | The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick | The Descendants, Alexander Payne | Hugo, Martin Scorsese

Comments: These first two categories are always the easiest to pick. The Artist won the top prizes from both the Producers Guild and Directors Guild of America. In keeping with tradition, this is a pretty sure sign it will take home the top two Academy Awards as well.

Historically, the Academy gives Best Director and Best Picture to the same film 9 out of every 10 years – one of the stronger and safer trends to follow when filling out your ballot. This trend was threatened last year when David Fincher cleaned up with The Social Network at the DGA awards, but The King’s Speech won big with the Producer’s Guild. The former was considered the favorite for Best Director at the Oscar’s, while the latter was considered the favorite for Best Picture. Despite predictions, Tom Hooper had an upset win, taking home the award for The King’s Speech in both categories.

Best Actor

Poster for The Artist (2011)Likely Winner: Jean DujardinThe Artist

Other Nominees: A Better Life, Demián Bichir | The Descendants, George Clooney | Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Gary Oldman | Moneyball, Brad Pitt

Comments: Since the pool of Academy voters are largely made up of actors, they tend to largely favor actors’ directors. Therefore, a film taking home a statue for Best Director usually grabs another for one or two of its acting performances as well. Jean Dujardin is the most popular choice here, having already won the respective award from the Screen Actors Guild.

Best Actress

Poster for The Help (2011)Likely Winner: Viola DavisThe Help

Other Nominees: The Iron Lady, Meryl Streep | Albert Nobbs, Glenn Close | The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Rooney Mara | My Week with Marilyn, Michelle Williams

Comments: Since The Help has already cleaned up big at the Screen Actors Guild Awards (Best Cast, Female Actor in a Leading Role, Female Actor in a Supporting Role) expect two of it’s three nominees to take home a statue from the Academy as well.

Viola Davis is expected to win Best Actress again here, just like at the SAG awards.

Best Supporting Actor

Poster for Beginners (2011)Likely Winner: Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Other Nominees: My Week with Marilyn, Kenneth Branagh | Moneyball, Jonah Hill | Warrior, Nick Nolte | Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Max von Sydow

Comments: Again looking to the SAG award winners as the best indicator, expect Christopher Plummer to win on the supporting side for his role in Beginners, despite the fact that this is the film’s sole nomination and is up against several other films with many more nominations. The analysts are basically unanimous on this one.

Best Supporting Actress

Poster for The Help (2011)Likely Winner: Octavia Spencer, The Help

Other Nominees: The Artist, Bérénice Bejo | The Help, Jessica Chastain | Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy | Albert Nobbs, Janet McTeer

Comments: Since The Help has already cleaned up big at the Screen Actors Guild Awards (Best Cast, Female Actor in a Leading Role, Female Actor in a Supporting Role) expect two of it’s three nominees to take home a statue from the Academy as well.

Ocatavia Spencer is expected to win Best Actress again here, just like at the SAG awards.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Poster for The Descendants (2011)Likely Winner: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash; The Descendants

Other Nominees: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan | The Ides of March; George Clooney, Grant Heslov & Beau Willimon | Hugo, John Logan | Moneyball; Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin & Stan Chervin

Comments: It’s always helpful for your Oscar ballot when the two most critically acclaimed films each land in a separate writing category. That way, the two big winners land in opposite categories and you don’t have to choose between them.

Not the case this year. Surprisingly, most, if not all, of the critically acclaimed pictures with multiple nominations this year fall in the adaptive screenplay category. Thus, there’s a bit of a bottleneck here. The Descendants has already won the major adaptive writing awards (WGA), but it was also up against different competition as co-nominees.

Best Original Screenplay

Poster for Midnight in Paris (2011)Likely Winner: Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

Other Nominees: A Separation, Asghar Farhadi | Bridesmaids, Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo | The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius | Margin Call, J.C. Chandor

Comments: Woody Allen has already taken home the WGA’s Original Screenplay Award and is the narrow favorite at the Oscar’s as well.

Note that The Artist has a rather decent shot as well.

Best Cinematography

Poster for The Tree of Life (2012)Likely Winner: Emmanuel Lubezki, The Tree of Life

Other Nominees: Hugo, Robert Richardson | The Artist, Guillaume Schiffman | The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Jeff Cronenweth | War Horse, Janusz Kaminski

Comment: The highly unique Tree of Life has the experiential cinematography you might expect to see in a Best Cinematography winner. Having already taken home the American Society of Cinematographer’s top award, it sounds like all the recent hype around Emmanuel Lubezki will come to fruition on Oscar night.

However, this category isn’t as clear cut as the others. Some are also vying for Hugo and The Artist in particular. My back-up choice would be The Artist.

Best Film Editing

Poster for The Artist (2011)Likely Winner: Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

Other Nominees: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Angus Wall & Kirk Baxter | Moneyball, Christopher Tellefsen | Hugo, Thelma Schoonmaker | The Descendants, Kevin Tent

Comments: Again, when in doubt, people are going with The Artist. I don’t see why it is as likely to win in this category as the others, but no one seems to have a compelling argument against it, with most analysts on-board with each other here.

Best Art Direction

Poster for Hugo (2011)Likely Winner: Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo, Hugo

Other Nominees: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Stuart Craig & Stephenie McMilla | Midnight in Paris, Anne Seibel & Hélène Dubreui | War Horse, Rick Carter & Lee Sandales | The Artist, Laurence Bennett & Robert Gould

Comments: Despite being the film with the single most nominations this year, this seems to be the only category where people are really giving it a super solid chance. That’s not too surprising, considering as this was the best (and most difficult) aspect of the film.

Best Costume Design

Poster for The Artist (2011)Poster for Hugo (2011)Likely Winner: Sandy Powell, Hugo  or Mark BridgesThe Artist

Other Nominees: Anonymous, Lisy Christl | Jane Eyre, Michael O’Connor | W.E., Arianne Phillips

Comments: The experts can’t seem to agree on this one, but it does seem clear that it will come down to one of the two major competitors: Hugo or The Artist.

Choosing the right one here (and I’ll let you pick) might be a good way to tip your ballot and win top prize.

Best Makeup

Poster for The Iron Lady (2011)Likely Winner: Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland, The Iron Lady

Other Nominees: Albert Nobbs; Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnson & Matthew W. Mungle | Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2; Nick Dudman, Amanda Knight & Lisa Tomblin

Comments: Again, this is a closer one. I’m leaning toward The Iron Lady although several favor Harry Potter 7.2.

Considering as the most spectacular makeup in The Iron Lady was that used to age Meryl Streep about 5 decades over the course of the film, I might be in trouble with this choice. It would be kind of like actually giving Meryl Streep an Oscar…and the Academy wouldn’t want to accidentally do that…would they?

Best Sound Editing

Poster for Hugo (2011)Likely Winner: Philip Stockton and Eugene GeartyHugo

Other Nominees: Drive, Lon Bender & Victor Ray Ennis | The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Ren Klyce | Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Ethan Van der Ryn & Erik Aadahl | War Horse, Richard Hymns & Gary Rydstrom

Comments: Again, this isn’t a clear cut Hugo win, but it does seem to be the favorite. Note that Transformers and War Horse do have the complex sound design that has tended to win this award in the past.

Best Sound Mixing

Poster for Hugo (2011)Likely Winner: Tom Fleischman and John MidgleyHugo

Other Nominees: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Ren Klyce | Moneyball; Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, David Giammarco & Ed Novick | Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Ethan Van der Ryn & Erik Aadahl | War Horse, Richard Hymns & Gary Rydstrom

Comments: Yes, these two categories are technically measuring different things. However, they always seem to both end up going to the same film, regardless of who was nominated in each category.

Some people prefer to split their ballot with the sound category, just so that they don’t end up getting them both wrong. If that’s you, mark this one down for Hugo and change Sound Editing to something else. This year, the experts agree more clearly here than they do there.

Best Original Score

Poster for The Artist (2011)Likely Winner: Ludovic BourceThe Artist

Other Nominees: The Adventures of Tintin, John Williams | Hugo, Howard Shore | Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Alberto Iglesias | War Horse, John Williams

Comments: You’ve probably noticed the trend by now: The people who know what they are talking about are finding it hard to think the Academy will vote against The Artist. In this case, they’re probably right.

Best Original Song

Poster for The Muppets (2011)Likely Winner: Bret McKenzie, “Man or Muppet” from The Muppets

Other Nominee: “Real in Rio” from Rio; Siedah Garrett (lyrics), Carlinhos Brown & Sergio Mendes (music)

Comments: Usually, this category only involves one film that any large number of critics liked and with only two nominees this year, that happens to be the case.

Not many saw Rio, and The Muppets captures the same spirit of nostalgia that is sweeping the Academy via The Artist. Easy points on your ballot.

Best Visual Effects

Poster for Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)Likely Winner: Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White, and Daniel Barrett; Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Other Nominees: Hugo; Robert Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossmann & Alex Henning | Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2; Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler & John Richardson | Real Steel; Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Danny Gordon Taylor & Swen Gillberg | Transformers: Dark of the Moon; Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew E. Butler & John Frazier

Comments: Two more nominees than usual make this category more difficult to guess than it historically is. To make matters worse, several of them are legitimate contenders.

Despite those facts, most experts are surprisingly tending to agree that Rise of the Planet of the Apes has the best shot. Hey, Hollywood is loving mo-cap a little too much these days…

Best Foreign Language Film

Poster for A Separation (2011)Likely Winner: A Separation

Other Nominees: Bullhead | Footnote | In Darkness | Monsieur Lazhar

Comments: I haven’t actually been able to see any of the nominees in this category, but everyone seems to favor A Separation. Considering as it is the only one of the five nominees to garner another nomination (Best Original Screenplay), this seems like a pretty safe bet.

But then again, Javier Bardim’s nomination for the lead role in Biutiful didn’t guarantee it a win for Best Foreign Film last year, even though some predicted it would.

Best Animated Feature

Poster for Rango (2011)Likely Winner: Gore Verbinski, Rango

Other Nominees: A Cat in Paris, Alain Gagnol & Jean-Loup Felicioli | Puss in Boots, Chris Miller | Kung Fu Panda 2, Jennifer Yuh | Chico & Rita, Fernando Trueba & Javier Mariscal

Comments: This has always been the easiest category to guess: just circle the Pixar film and you’ll be right basically everytime. Yet, by some massive mistake (on the part of Pixar, not the Academy), there is no Pixar film on the ballot this year.

Enter Rango. Produced by ILM, of longtime visual effects fame, Rango enters the scene as their first ever animated feature (unless you consider the fact that Pixar is, of course, originally an ILM spin-off company). As ILM has always worked with photorealistic environments for their special effects work, it’s not entirely a surprise that Rango has some of the highest quality computer animation of all time, let alone from this year. Thanks to ILM, this category retains its status as a nearly sure pick this year.

Best Documentary Feature

Poster for Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011)Poster for Undefeated (2011)Likely Winner: Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory or Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin and Rich Middlemas; Undefeated

Other Nominees: Hell and Back Again, Danfung Dennis & Mike Lerner | If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, Marshall Curry & Sam Cullman | Pina, Wim Wenders & Gian-Piero Ringel

Comments: The experts are split here. This could be another toss up to spoil or win your ballot for you.

Personally, I’m going with Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory. It seems to be a slight favorite, perhaps because of the old rule that the Academy always chooses a more politically charged (liberal-leaning) film in the Documentary category.

Best Short, Live Action

Likely Winner: Terry George and Oorlagh George, “The Shore

Other Nominees: “Pentecost”, Peter McDonald | “Raju”, Max Zähle & Stefan Gieren | “Time Freak”; Andrew Bowler & Gigi Causey | “Tuba Atlantic“, Hallvar Witzø

Comments: It’s hard to even find people’s predictions for the shorts categories. It’s always the biggest guessing game on the ballot, so people don’t like to publish their picks. “The Shore” will probably be what’s on my ballot, but others seem to like “Tuba Atlantic” as well.

Best Short, Animated

Likely Winner: Enrico Casarosa, La Luna

Other Nominees: “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore“, William Joyce & Brandon Oldenburg | “Sunday“, Patrick Doyon | “A Morning Stroll”, Grant Orchard & Sue Goffe | “Wild Life”, Amanda Forbis & Wendy Tilby

Comments: Although many are leaning towards The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, I’m going to have to go on a slight descent from the majority here and say La Luna gets this one.

Best Short, Documentary

Likely Winner: Lucy Walker and Kira Carstensen, “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom or Rebecca Cammisa and Julie Anderson,God Is the Bigger Elvis

Other Nominees: “The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement”, Robin Fryday & Gail Dolgin | “Incident in New Baghdad“, James Spione | “Saving Face”, Daniel Junge & Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy

Comments: The experts have given this one a toss up. Beyond that, as is seemingly the case with all the shorts, anyone’s prediction is as good as any other.


Brendan Shick

Brendan Shick is a freelance DP, gaffer, and sports broadcaster serving primarily the Chicago, IL; Pittsburgh, PA; Grand Rapids, MI; and Fort Wayne, IN, regions. You can find out more by following this blog, his recent work on Vimeo, or by connecting with him on Twitter or LinkedIn. Brendan is also an occasional contributor to the Project Updates feed for one of his most recent films, To Turn Back Time.


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