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by Peter Knegt
February 6, 2012 12:21 PM
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For Your Consideration: 5 Oscar Races That Are Actually Still Suspenseful

Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in "Moneyball." Sony.

WIth less than three weeks to Oscar night, it looks increasingly certain that this will be one of the most predictable ceremonies in some time. Various theories to the contrary aside, "The Artist" is winning best picture. Christopher Plummer and Octavia Spencer might as well start heading to the podium now, too. And the artistic and technical categories should mostly be a split between "Hugo" and "The Artist," with a song from "The Muppets" thrown in for good measure.

Our full list of predictions is here, and we will continue to update them between now and February 26 (the night it all goes down). But given the circumstances, it would be nice to find some reason to conjur up just a little bit of excitement regarding who wins. And if you look hard enough, there's still a little suspense to be had.

1. Best Actor: A Four-Man Race?
While many are pegging a Viola vs. Meryl showdown in the best actress race, it seems after her SAG win and some very affecting speeches on the precursor circuit, Ms. Davis is looking more and more like an assured a win come Oscar night. Which leaves the only truly nail-biting acting race to the boys.

In the lead actor category, there's been a considerable split among precursors between George Clooney ("The Descendants") and Jean Dujardin ("The Artist"). Both won Golden Globes, while Clooney took a Critics Choice and Dujardin won the SAG. Either one of them could take home the Oscar, or feasibly two other scenarios could go down if they split a large portion of the vote: Brad Pitt's humble charm on the circuit could help him win an Oscar for "Moneyball" (it also helps he's never won, while Clooney has); or Gary Oldman could pull off a massive shocker and win for "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy" despite not even being nominated at almost every precursor award (except the BAFTAs, where he could very well win).

It's truly anyone's (except Demian Bichir's) game, which will make it one of the most exciting envelopes to be opened February 26.

"A Separation" Sony Classics

2. Best Foreign Language Film: Is "A Separation" Really a Lock?
Given its universal acclaim, strong box office, a nomination in the original screenplay category and the fact that it's won pretty much every other foreign-language film award this year, one would assume it's in the bag for Iran's "A Separation." But making any assumption in this category is ill-advised. After all, "The Secret in Their Eyes" beat "A Prophet" in 2010.  "Depatures" beat "The Class" the year before. And back in 2002, "No Man's Land" beat "Ameile," even though it had four nominations in other categories.

That all said, given the political climate in Iran and the effect it's had on filmmakers from that country, sentiment is also on the side of "A Separation." So while betting against it is still not recommended, if there's any category where a favorite could fall, it's this one. Poland's "In Darkness" takes on standard Academy-friendly fare in its Holocaust theme, and would definitely be the one to beat it if anything does (they oddly share a U.S. distributor in Sony Pictures Classics -- as did "The Secret in Their Eyes" and "A Prophet"). We'll see come Oscar night.

3. Best Original Screenplay: Woody vs. "The Artist" (or "Paris" vs. France)
On his 23rd nomination (and 15th in this category -- a record), Woody Allen seems poised to take home his first Oscar since 1986 (for writing "Hannah and Her Sisters"). The Academy is likely to want to reward Mr. Allen one more time, and if there was ever an opportunity, it's now. "Midnight in Paris" is his first best picture nominee since "Hannah," and it's unlikely to win anything else.

Then again, Allen has never seemed interested in the Oscars (he's only attended once, and it was not when he was nominated but instead to pay tribute to New York after the 9/11 attacks) and he's up against a film that could very well sweep the night: "The Artist." The French-directed, U.S. set film is the night's big favorite, which could spell trouble for the American-directed, French-set "Paris." But is best original screenplay really a category for "The Artist" to win in? Michel Hazanavicius's screenplay is nearly dialogue free, which might turn off voters who don't realize it's arguably more difficult to write a screenplay without dialogue. Who knows, there's also the outside chance that a very fun curveball in the name of "Bridesmaids" could upset both of them. There's clearly support in the industry for the film, and after snubbing it for best picture this could be a very nice consolation prize.

"Hell and Back Again."

4. Best Documentary Feature: As Wide Open As They Come
It's hard to find a favorite in a category where none of the initial favorites were even nominated. So in the wake of films like "The Interrupters," "Project Nim," "Senna," "Buck" and "Into The Abyss" all not making the cut, the best documentary feature category is the most wide open of them all (especially since it's so unpredictable to begin with).

Arguably, any of the five nominees -- "Hell and Back Again," "If a Tree Falls," "Pina," "Paradise Lost 3" and "Undefeated" -- could win. Though it seems it's more than likely a three-film race between "Pina," "Hell" and "Paradise." "Pina" would give the Academy the opportunity to reward Wim Wenders (nominated once before for directing the "Buena Vista Social Club"), not to mention it's a big hit and has received mass acclaim. But it's much more formally experimental than this category tends to reward, which could help the likes of "Hell and Back Again" (which takes on the post-traumatic stress disorder of a returning soldier from Afghanistan) and "Paradise Lost 3" (the third film in a series chornicling the arrest and imprisonment of the West Memphis 3).

Both timely and acclaimed in their own right, they both stand reasonable chances here. Though none of them -- or "Pina" -- have the backing of Mr. Harvey Weinstein, as does underdog-football-team doc "Undefeated."

5. Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing: If You Care, That Is

Grouped together as they tend to reward the same film (at least over half the time) and because, let's face it, does anyone really care whether these races are suspenseful or not? Either way, they are indeed far from locked up this year, with "War Horse," "Hugo," "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" and "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" all nominated in both categories and all standing reasonable chances at winning ("Drive" and "Moneyball" are the lone other nominees in editing and mixing, respectively). "War Horse" and "Hugo" have the benefit of prestige (3 of the last 5 winners in both categories have been best picture nominees, as both of them are), so perhaps its a two, uh, horse race here. Though "Dragon Tattoo" or "Transformers" could definitely surprise. So if you're into sound, there's a real race for you this year!


  • Salty Bill | February 7, 2012 3:56 PMReply

    One shouldn't make predictions until all the ballots are in, lest it influence those voters who might actually read Indiewire.

  • jason | February 7, 2012 4:04 AMReply

    in darkness is greatest than other.

  • Lezlie | February 6, 2012 3:54 PMReply

    Hello Everyone!

    I don't want to look like a complete moron, but I must ask. I never knew, what is the difference between sound mixing and sound editing? Could someone please explain this to me?


  • Nik Grape | February 6, 2012 5:21 PM

    From wiki:

    "Audio mixing for film and television is a process during the post-production stage of a moving image program by which a multitude of recorded sounds are combined into one or more channels. In the process, the source signals' level, frequency content, dynamics and panoramic position are commonly being manipulated and effects such as reverberation might be added."
    "A sound editor is a creative professional responsible for selecting and assembling sound recordings in preparation for the final sound mixing or mastering of a television program, motion picture, video game, or any production involving recorded or synthetic sound."

  • jill b | February 6, 2012 4:55 PM

    I was wondering the same thing and found this:

    Sound editing is the making of music to compliment the film out of scratch. Mostly sound or music that is used in films are recorded in the studio and are well planned and are not made from the set. In sound editing, one creates music or sounds from nothing at all, making it original and distinct to a particular film. In simplified terms, sound editing means creating. Sound editing used to be called sound effects but the latest name gives it a broader range than just effects.

    On the other hand, sound mixing in simplified terms means mixing of already available sounds into a film. It might sound less stressful however; mixing is still difficult and deserves attention as well. Sound mixing needs to have the perfect element to compliment the scene in a movie, sound mixing should be well prepared in order for it not to overpower the movie. This is how the sounds such as effects, dialogue and music are put together to accentuate a particular scene.

    Difference between Sound Editing and Mixing

    Both sound editing and sound mixing are important in films, both deserve great respect. If one part would be missing, a film will not be as great as it is with both editing and mixing.

    Sound editing means creating sound from nothing while mixing simply means mixing available sounds to highlight or at times balance a particular scene.

    Read more:

  • Nik Grape | February 6, 2012 1:28 PMReply

    Though I agree about all the rest of the categories you mentioned, the first one sounds very enticing due to some good writing skills but it's a bit of a stretch isn't it? First off, there's no way Pitt or Oldman will get this.
    Oldman was nominated more out of respect since none of the other US awards recognized him. He won't have nearly enough support as Dujardin or Clooney at this point. Secondly, Pitt is already going around saying he lost and he's still relatively young. It sucks because he had the best year of his career. It would be a dream come true if Oldman manages to win though, but I seriously doubt it.

    So this is Dujardin vs. Clooney and Dujardin is more locked (with a Globe win AND a SAG win) than Davis which you sort of just scuttle off in the corner when in fact the Best Actress race is more heated with Meryl's chances bigger than Clooney's (her Globe win, how she's due, playing a historical figure etc.). And, naturally, it would be another dream fulfilled if Meryl wins since she's the best and deserves it.

    Other interesting categories are Editing and Cinematpgraphy. Hugo? The Artist? Tree of Life (for cinematography) or a complete snub by one of the more dominating films? It's hard to predict.