The Extremely Artistic and Helpful Tree of the Descendants of Hugo and his Horse

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We come to our final installment of this week’s Oscar coverage. For the past four days, we’ve covered the four acting categories, breaking them down into several parts that cover the likeliest winner, potential spoilers, the most deserving nominee, and worthy contenders that went unmentioned (I’ve also offered my own personal ballot at the end). Today, I do the same for the big category, Best Picture, which proves as predictable––and boring––as the past few years. The last time there was an actual race was in 2006, when three of the five nominees all seemed equally likely to claim the coveted gold. For subsequent years, Oscar pundits have been able to call the winner with relative ease and confidence well in advance of the event. This year proves no different, with “The Artist” steamrolling through the awards season with the same effortlessness that past winners have managed to amount; and while some have tried to add some spice and excitement to this year’s race by claiming that “The Artist” is more vulnerable than it looks, the movie’s fierce campaign by the Weinstein Company and its track record in the precursor prizes point otherwise. But just for the heck of it, let’s break this category down.

And the nominees are:
“The Artist” dir. Michel Hazanavicius
“The Descendants” dir. Alexander Payne
“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” dir. Stephen Daldry
“The Help” dir. Tate Taylor
“Hugo” dir. Martin Scorsese
“Midnight in Paris” dir. Woody Allen
“Moneyball” dir. Bennett Miller
“The Tree of Life” dir. Terrence Malick
“War Horse” dir. Steven Spielberg

Who will win? “The Artist.” The reality is that nothing is stopping this silent gem from winning the top prize. Even if Michel Hazanavicius loses Best Director — which he might — “The Artist” will most certainly win Best Picture this Sunday. It’s won every single precursor, which includes the Critics’ Choice, the Golden Globe (Musical/Comedy), the Producers’ Guild Award, the Directors’ Guild Award, and BAFTA. There’s no clear runner-up posing as a threat; instead, there are the rest of the nominees, all with their ardent followers and fans, pulling some votes from “The Artist,” though none of them with the necessary momentum that a runner-up needs to surmount the frontrunner.

Potential Spoiler: If ANY of the other nominees could beat “The Artist,” it’s Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants.” But Payne’s family drama emerged and peaked too early in the season to sustain the momentum a movie needs to win Best Picture at the Oscars. Still, maybe the backlash for “The Artist” could have reached the critical mass at the last minute. Maybe voters might be fed up with hearing about this little silent film that could. Maybe another movie has more fans and love within the Academy than people think. Maybe, maybe, maybe… This sort of thinking feels repetitive: It’s led nowhere for the past few years. Oscar pundits said the same thing about past Oscar winners that seemed locked for the win, and they all ended up taking the gold despite a backlash declared against them. And even if there is such backlash against “The Artist,” who else has enough devoters to win such a big prize? It’s not like people can vote AGAINST “The Artist” (or any other film for that matter).

Who should win? It really is a miracle that “The Tree of Life” has been given a chance to compete in this race (not that it stands a chance, but still). It’s such an accomplished piece of filmmaking, with a legendary auteur at its helm, that the movie feels destined to become a classic with or without an Oscar. It’s such a provocative and stimulating film that people are bound to ponder, question, debate, discuss, and attempt to analyze it for years to come. Also, not so obviously artistic but no less stirring is Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball,” a film that manages to intelligently blend a rousing sports tale, a dry study of economics, and a taut character study about a specific juncture in a professional’s life into a coherent and gripping movie with sharp direction, great acting, smart writing and powerful editing. Both “The Tree of Life” and “Moneyball” explored new ground and accomplished great feats, and the only thing they have in common is that they house career-best performances from Brad Pitt, Hollywood’s golden boy finally cementing his place among the A-listers. I love both movies and would be thrilled if any of the two won. Moreover, I’m not as big on “The Artist” as most of its fans are, and I don’t think it’s as groundbreaking as “The Tree of Life” or “Moneyball” are; but that doesn’t mean it’s not an imaginative movie with enough charm and wit to capture audiences. I respect the movie more than I love it, and though I won’t be jumping up and down when it wins, I’ll certainly be applauding.

Who got snubbed? 2011 was such a rich year for films that at least one was bound to be dubbed “snubbed” by film buffs. Mike Mills’s quasi-autobiographical “Beginners” is one of 2011’s most treasured gems; it’s so rich in humor and characterization that it brims with specificity and tactfulness. Abbas Kiarostami’s “Certified Copy” was just as original, inventive, and experimental as “The Tree of Life;” it’s surprisingly lived-in and warm for its deep eggheadedness and conceptual premise. For all the adrenaline-punch “Drive” packs on the audience, Nicolas Winding Refn shows astounding control of the camera, crafting a slick bent on 80s pop. David Fincher’s English version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” might not be the director’s best, but it certainly ranks among his top five. Honestly, I’m surprised there wasn’t more discussion and debate surrounding that movie. Earlier in the year, Cary Fukunaga gave us probably the best adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre,” perfectly capturing the book’s austere atmosphere of moral introspection. Also, it was definitely worth the 6-year wait for Kenneth Lonergan’s “Margaret,” which unfortunately suffered from such an odd limited release that its earnest, sympathetic nature never caught on with Oscar voters. Lars von Trier’s take on depression in “Melancholia” proves the Danish director’s best film in years, housing a powerhouse performance from Cannes-winner Kirsten Dunst. Oddly similar, “Bridesmaids” also proves a completely different spin on depression, spinning some of the best jokes from Annie’s self-deprecating rut. Finally, Iran’s “A Separation” proved a much more accomplished marital drama than many American films only aspire to be.

My top ten (In order): Certified Copy, Moneyball, A Separation, The Tree of Life, Beginners, Melancholia, Margaret, Jane Eyre, Drive, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.