2014 Oscar Predictions

It’s that time of year again. Here’s to hoping for a perfect ballot.

Best Picture: “12 Years a Slave”
Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron, “Gravity”
Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club”
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”
Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”
Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o, “12 Years a Slave”
Best Foreign Language Film: “The Great Beauty”, Italy
Best Adapted Screenplay: “12 Years a Slave”
Best Original Screenplay: “Her”
Best Animated Feature: “Frozen”
Best Production Design: “The Great Gatsby”
Best Cinematography: “Gravity”
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: “Dallas Buyers Club”
Best Sound Mixing: “Gravity”
Best Sound Editing: “Gravity”
Best Original Score: “Gravity”
Best Original Song: “Let it Go” from “Frozen”
Best Costume Design: “American Hustle”
Best Film Editing: “Captain Phillips”
Best Visual Effects: “Gravity”
Best Documentary Feature: “20 Feet from Stardom”
Best Documentary Short Subject: “The Lady in No. 6: Music Saved My Life”
Best Animated Short: “Get a Horse!”
Best Live Action Short Film: “The Voorman Problem”

Biggest winners
“Gravity” – 6 Oscars
“12 Years a Slave” – 3 Oscars
“Dallas Buyers Club” – 3 Oscars
“Frozen” – 2 Oscars

I’ll be tweeting along with the majority of the ceremony tonight at @VC_Reviews if you’d like to follow along. Happy viewing.

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Oscar Talk: Predictions

No fancy introductions here. Let me share my Oscar ballot.

Best Short Film, Live Action

Should win: Henry – Such a moving film and extremely well shot. I will be very upset if it doesn’t win (Although, if it loses to “Death of a Shadow,” I might not be AS upset.)

Will Win: Buzkashi Boys – More of your standard short film that would win this award.

Best Short Film, Animated

Should win: Fresh Guacamole – The animation style is refreshing and, at 90 seconds, the film doesn’t wear out its welcome.

Will win: Paperman – Although it’s a little too warm and fuzzy (read: cheesy), the animation is nice and it’s a fun, little story.

Best Documentary, Short Subject

Should win: Mondays at Racine – Other than “Redemption,” all of these nominees are great. However, “Mondays at Racine” does everything a great documentary should and it is by far my favorite.

Will win: Mondays at Racine

Best Documentary, Feature

Should win: How to Survive a Plague – This is a very interesting look at the gay community’s fight against AIDS from the mid-80’s to the mid-90’s. While there are interviews mixed in, most of the content is real footage from rallies, meetings and television news (which I love). A close 2nd place for me would be “The Invisible War.”

Will win: Searching for Sugar Man – This music documentary has been picking up a lot of steam recently, so I’m putting my money on it.

Best Visual Effects

Should win: Life of Pi – All great nominees, but “Life of Pi” should win in most technical categories where it’s nominated.

Will win: Life of Pi

Best Sound Editing

Should win: Skyfall – Action movies usually do pretty well here. I loved “Skyfall” and I think it needs to win in most, if not all of the categories it’s nominated in.

Will win: Life of Pi – With 11 nominations, it’s hard to believe such a technically well-done film would be overlooked here.

Best Sound Mixing

Should win: Life of Pi – This is as much of a toss-up as Sound Editing, but I feel like “Life of Pi” isn’t going to run away with the show.

Will win: Argo – I think this will be one of those categories where voters just choose a movie with the most momentum, so…

Best Original Song

Should win: Skyfall – It’s Adele. Let’s be real.

Will win: Skyfall

Best Original Score

Should win: Life of Pi

Will win: Life Pi – Mychael Danna’s score won at the Golden Globes and it’s really good, so I’m going with it here.

Best Makeup

Should win: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Will Win: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – With only 3 nominees, the one fantasy movie should be a lock.

Best Costume Design

Should win: Anna Karenina – Great costumes in a very artsy film. Seems appropriate for the win. And if it doesn’t win, that means…

Will win: Snow White and the Hunstman – There’s always one mediocre/bad movie that wins a technical award. On top of that, Colleen Atwood has 10 nominations and 3 wins at the Oscars, so it wouldn’t really be a shock if her film won.

Best Production Design

Should win: Anna Karenina – Again, a very visually pleasing film that most artsy people loved.

Will win: Life of Pi – I think this is another technical category where “Life of Pi” will sweep up the award.

Best Editing

Should win: Argo – The film’s editing is one of its strong points in the technical area. It certainly felt like a better edited film than the other nominees.

Will win: Argo

Best Cinematography

Should win: Skyfall – One of the biggest crimes of modern cinema is that Roger Deakins has never won an Oscar, despite being nominated 10 times. Also, I happen to think it’s the best of the bunch.

Will win: Lincoln – Probably my second-favorite of the nominees, but I think “Lincoln” will be winning more awards than just Best Actor.

Best Foreign Language Film

Should win: Amour – Given that it was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, I don’t think the other nominees have a chance at all.

Will win: Amour – Like I said…

Best Animated Film

Should win: Wreck-It Ralph – Really good animation with awesome references to the gaming world.

Will win: Wreck-It Ralph – As much as I liked “ParaNorman” and “Brave,” I liked “Wreck-It Ralph” more.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Should win: Argo – My favorite film of the year and it recently won at the Writers Guild awards. Seems like a safe bet to me.

Will win: Argo – Yep.

Best Original Screenplay

Should win: Zero Dark Thirty – Mark Boal won for his last team-up with Kathryn Bigelow, “The Hurt Locker,” and I think his script is a little better here.

Will win: Django Unchained – I think Quentin Tarantino will get a dark horse win here, just like his Golden Globe win.

Best Director

Should win: Ang Lee – “Life of Pi” is the most technically masterful film of the year. Combined with the fact that Ang Lee made a hit out of this film without a marketable star and having to satisfy the book’s many fans, it’s hard to argue for anyone else.

Will win: Steven Spielberg – Probably the 2nd best directing job, but I think Spielberg’s prestige will edge him over Lee’s work.

Best Supporting Actress

Should win: Anne Hathaway – This is one of those times where the early favorite is going to take the top prize.

Will win: Anne Hathaway

Best Supporting Actor

Should win: Christoph Waltz – His character in “Django Unchained” is my favorite from the year. My only concern is that people think his character is too close to the role he won for in 2010.

Will win: Robert De Niro – The Oscars love their icons and De Niro did work wonders in “Silver Linings Playbook.”

Best Actress

Should win: Emmanuelle Riva – Riva’s performance in “Amour” is hauntingly good and underrated by most.

Will win: Jennifer Lawrence – Lawrence has been tearing up the interview circuit and her performance is very good. The politics of the Oscars will place her at the podium.

Best Actor

Should and will win: Daniel Day-Lewis – If anyone else won this, it would be one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history. If it were to happen, Joaquin Phoenix would be the man to do it.

Best Picture

Should win: Argo – This is, in my opinion, the best film of the year.

Will win: Argo – With all of the buzz surrounding this film since Ben Affleck’s snub at Best Director, it would be very surprising if anyone else knocked it out of first place.

Wow, that was exhausting. I’ll be tweeting during the show at @VC_Reviews if you want to follow along. Later this week I’ll review “Snitch.”

Happy viewing.

Oscar Talk: Live Action Shorts

To kick off my coverage of the Oscars, I wanted to talk about my favorite of the shorts categories. These 5 live action films are all great and cover a variety of topics. I hope you get the chance to watch any of them, especially since this is a category overlooked by most audiences.

In order of least favorite to most:

5. Asad

The story of a young Somali boy, “Asad” shows what life is like for many in/from this African nation. Asad, the title character, yearns to go out with the older boys and be a part of their pirate raids. To save him from this dangerous life, an old fisherman tries to teach him how he can take care of his family without picking up a rifle.

Asad

“Asad” is a good coming of age story that tells a story most would never hear about. For me, it never crossed the line to become something more than a nice, little film, though. In a year full of good nominees, that leaves you at the back of the pack.

4. Buzkashi Boys

For those who have seen “Rambo III” (Sorry, I know you were trying to forget), buzkashi is the game similar to polo that Sylvester Stallone plays with the Middle Eastern warriors. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, just know that it’s a game where people ride around on a horse and carry a dead goat as if it were a football.

The film is about two young boys, one a beggar, the other a blacksmith’s son, who dream of becoming professional buzkashi riders. Similar to “Asad,” it is a coming of age story for these two friends who are holding onto their dreams despite the hard life they live in war-torn Afghanistan.

There are two reasons why I rank this ahead of “Asad.” First, the two protagonists work well off of each other, making the film more endearing and letting the characters develop a little more. Second, the cinematography here is beautiful. There are certain shots of the city that really make it come to life. While I liked these films, I feel like there is a big gap in quality that separates them from the next three nominees.

3. Curfew

“Curfew” is the only English-speaking film of the bunch and it has a distinct vibe to it that makes you think of American indie cinema. There are some strong viuals to kick off the story: a bloody hand reaching out of a bathtub to answer a ringing phone.

Curfew

Richie (played by writer/director Shawn Christensen) is contemplating suicide when he gets a call from his sister begging him to watch her daughter. Although the two probably couldn’t get off to a worse start, eventually Richie and his niece work through their differences and their family as a whole experiences healing. In another year, I think this film could win the Oscar, but the fact that it very much looks like a student film makes it less enjoyable than these next two films.

2. Death of a Shadow

This Belgian/French collaboration is by far the most creative of this year’s nominees. The protagonist, Nathan, is a soldier who died in World War 1, but instead of going to heaven or hell, he is imprisoned in a demented art gallery located between this world and the next. His assignment in this gallery is to take photographs of the dead (preferably violent deaths), traveling through time to document their demise.

Death of a Shadow

During his travels, Nathan likes to check in on a woman he fell in love with around the time of his death. As his sentence at the museum comes to a close, he starts to think about how he can bend the rules of life and death to make a relationship with the woman work.

Aside from its originality, “Death of a Shadow” is also incredibly shot and lit. Each scene is like a gothic fairy tale that might be found in one of the Hellboy movies. It’s an unconventional film that is much more daring than the other nominees. If only there wasn’t “Henry”…

1. Henry

Henry

“Henry” is a Canadian film about an elderly concert pianist who finds one day his wife has suddenly disappeared. Although the true nature of the film isn’t exactly the most unpredictable thing I’ve ever seen, knowing what’s going to happen really doesn’t take anything away from the film. The filming techniques employed here make for a fantastic viewing experience. “Death of a Shadow” may have it beat when it comes to set design, but “Henry” dominates every other film in my mind. Raw emotion and great direction make this my film to beat for the Live Action category this Sunday.

Well, that’s it for this category. I’ll try to cover the other shorts categories before the show Sunday (as well as post my ballot). Until then, happy viewing.

Golden Globes: Predicting the Winners and Losers

It’s here! That time of year where cinephiles like myself crawl out of our basements and do our best impression of NFL analysts, predicting the outcome of awards shows as if there were a perfect system of guessing. Without further ado, here are my picks for the film categories of tonight’s award show (You really don’t want my TV picks).

Best Foreign Language Film

While France’s “The Intouchables” was a big hit for emotional audiences, most critics thought it was a little too sappy and the film failed to make a nomination with the Academy. Norway and Denmark have two quality entries with “Kon-Tiki” and “A Royal Affair.” but I think the real battle is between “Rust and Bone” and “Amour.” Seeing how the Globes also gave a nomination to Marion Cotillard, I give “Rust and Bone” the edge.

Winner: “Rust and Bone”

Best Animated Film

“Brave” opened to mostly-good reviews last summer, but it is nowhere near the best film Pixar has developed. I’m surprised “Hotel Transylvania” even made the final list, to be honest. “ParaNorman” was a much better animated film and should have taken its nomination. I think “Wreck-It Ralph” will walk away with the award because it bridged the gap between kids and adults and had some great animation.

Winner: “Wreck-It Ralph”

Best Original Score

This is usually a pretty tough category because a lot of music is tied to how you felt about the film. It is possible for a bad film to have a great score. In the case of “Cloud Atlas,” my vote will attempt to prove that. Great nominees, but the mediocre “Atlas” had some fantastic music.

Winner: “Cloud Atlas”

Best Original Song

In my eyes, there’s really only 3 nominees here. No one’s really seen “Stand Up Guys” and I doubt the Hollywood Foreign Press loved “Act of Valor” all that much. The remaining choices are all great, but I think Adele’s “Skyfall” has the best chance of running off with the award. I would love for The Civil Wars to have a Golden Globe, but it would be too weird for Taylor Swift to also have one.

Winner: “Skyfall”

Best Screenplay

This is always one of my favorite awards because you often get nominations for films that are otherwise overlooked. Though that isn’t the case this year, there are some great nominees. Quentin Tarantino is usually a safe bet, but I like the momentum that “Silver Linings Playbook” has going into the show. Plus, “Django Unchained” wasn’t one of Tarantino’s stronger scripts. If I’m wrong, it’ll probably be Mark Boal (“Zero Dark Thirty”) standing at the podium.

Winner: “Silver Linings Playbook”

Best Director

I would really be happy for any of these directors to win, especially Ben Affleck (mainly because it would be a funny message to Academy voters). I think the Hollywood Foreign Press is going to stick with a very traditional vote, though, so I expect Steven Spielberg to get the award.

Winner: “Lincoln”

Best Supporting Actress

Though all 5 women (Amy Adams, Sally Field, Anne Hathaway, Nicole Kidman and Helen Hunt) are brimming over with talent, the race is really between Sally Field and Anne Hathaway. Since this is an awards show that has special categories for musicals, I’m going with “Les Miserables” and the “I Dreamed a Dream” singer.

Winner: Anne Hathaway “Les Miserables”

Best Supporting Actor

This is always a hotly contested race and this year isn’t any different. Alan Arkin is probably the weak link here, though I loved him in “Argo.” Aside from Arkin, ANY of these guys are likely to win. If “Django Unchained” didn’t have two nominees here, I would probably go with Christoph Waltz. He and Leonardo DiCaprio will probably split that film’s votes though. Philip Seymour Hoffman seems like the most likely candidate to benefit from this and I think his performance was better than Tommy Lee Jones anyway.

Winner: Philip Seymour Hoffman “The Master”

Best Actress – Musical/Comedy

The Golden Globes has a bad reputation of nominating big-name people just so they’ll show up on the red carpet. I’m hoping this is the only reason why Meryl Streep’s name is on this list. Assuming Streep doesn’t pull a shocker, this award has a 98% chance of ending up in Jennifer Lawrence’s hands.

Winner: Jennifer Lawrence “Silver Linings Playbook”

Best Actor – Musical/Comedy

I have a feeling this award is between Bradley Cooper and Hugh Jackman. The other guys are receiving very little buzz and/or only a few people saw their films. Again, this is an awards show that especially enjoys musicals, so I think Jackman will win for his terrific effort in “Les Miserables.”

Winner: Hugh Jackman “Les Miserables”

Best Actress – Drama

I just saw “The Impossible” on Friday so I’m rooting for Naomi Watts, but I think Jessica Chastain will have her name called, as “Zero Dark Thirty” was better received by critics and is getting more award recognition.

Winner: Jessica Chastain “Zero Dark Thirty”

Best Actor – Drama

While Best Actress is a little weaker than usual this year, Best Actor is a mad dash to the finish. In most other years, I think 3 or 4 of these nominees would steal the award. I think the only person who can upset Daniel Day-Lewis is Joaquin Phoenix, though. Both men deliver amazing performances.

Winner: Daniel Day-Lewis “Lincoln”

Best Picture – Comedy/Musical

It’s either “Les Miserables” or “Silver Linings Playbook.” Simple as that. I’m going to go against my previous advice and say that “Silver Linings Playbook” is able to overcome the Hollywood Foreign Press’ love for musicals.

Winner: “Silver Linings Playbook”

Best Picture – Drama

Arguably the toughest choice in this year’s awards season is naming the best film of the year. I can think of 5 different reasons why the Hollywood Foreign Press would pick any of the 5 different nominees. Faced with this tough decision, I think they’ll make the safest choice and crown “Lincoln” as the best dramatic film.

Winner: “Lincoln”

That’s it for tonight’s awards. Feel free to disagree with my choices or come back after the show and gloat about me being wrong.

Happy viewing.

Review: “Undefeated”

Documentaries can be tricky to make.

Often times, the filmmaker set out to make a statement rather than document what they saw. They want to send a message whether it’s true or a slight fabrication. Also, funding isn’t always the easiest to secure. You have to make something great if you want anyone other than your mom to watch it. Lastly, documentaries can be boring. Not entirely, but after 30 minutes, your brain kinda gets the message and starts to back away.

I’m happy to say that “Undefeated” doesn’t fall into the traps of preachiness or boring its audience to tears (although tears will surely come at some point).

The subject of this Oscar-winning documentary is the Manasses high school football team in Memphis, TN. They are severely underfunded, out-manned and disrespected. If this weren’t a documentary, this would be the part where Goldie Hawn or The Rock would enter to turn the team around. Fortunately, the Manasses Tigers are coached by Bill Courtney, a local businessman who volunteers his time to work with the team.

As someone who grew up on the Memphis football scene and played against several of the teams depicted in the film, I can assure you the way that Manasses and West Tennessee football are each depicted in the film is pretty spot on. The film’s honesty, usually voiced through interviews with Coach Courtney, is refreshing and helps the audience get a full grasp on the school’s predicament.

Other than Courtney, the main subjects in this documentary are three players: O.C. Brown, Montrail “Money” Brown and Chavis Daniels.

Each of these guys bring an edge to the film that helps to paint a full picture of the team. O.C. is the kind-hearted big guy who is counting on football to get him to college (because his grades aren’t doing him ANY favors). Money studies hard and does well in school, while Chavis is just being released from prison when the film starts.

As a sports film, every box is checked over the span of 113 minutes. There are season-ending injuries, moments of victory and the despair of loss. What makes this different than, say “Remember the Titans,” is the previously-mentioned honesty that the film is covered in. Whether the team is at practice or in the classroom, the subjects of “Undefeated” have an uncanny ability to gnaw at your inner core.

For those who are worried about watching yet another football movie, the film is about so much more than football. The sport is merely a vehicle for telling the story of these kids who are learning what it means to be a man and to have character.

“Undefeated” is one of the most touching films I have seen in recent memory and I cannot sing its praises highly enough. If you happen to be somewhere that is playing this little film, you would hard-pressed to find a better film offering this time of year.

Grade: A+

If you have any comments, feel free to leave them below. Happy viewing.

The Granddaddy of Them All: My Oscar Picks

The day has finally arrived for a bunch of rich, old, white guys to tell us what movies from the previous year really inspired them.

Despite some obvious errors and omissions over the years, it really is an awards show like no other. (If nothing else, at least it isn’t the MTV Movie Awards where “Twilight” wins every category.)

Some of the movies I’m about to pick certainly weren’t my favorites, but this is the Oscars. For the movies I enjoyed most this year, check out my previous post.

And here are my last picks of the 2011-2012 awards season….

Best Documentary – “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” (Although I wouldn’t mind “Undefeated”)

Best Cinematography – “Tree of Life” (Probably won’t, but totally deserves it. “The Artist” or “Hugo” for the win.)

Best Original Score – “The Artist” (I would have preferred “War Horse.”)

Best Original Song – “The Muppets” (“Rio” didn’t even deserve a nomination IMO)

Best Costume Design – “W.E.” (Ugh. Yes, the Madonna movie. Maybe “The Artist” can swoop in and save the Academy the embarrassment.)

Best Adapted Screenplay – “The Descendants” (Alexander Payne > Aaron Sorkin)

Best Original Screenplay – “Midnight in Paris” (Woody Allen by a mile IMO)

Best Foreign Film – “A Separation” (The Iranian film is the only holdover from Golden Globes, which it won.)

Best Animated Feature FIlm – “Rango” (Pixar needs to step up next time with “Brave.”)

Best Supporting Actress – Octavia Spencer from “The Help” (Melissa McCarthy would be a pleasant surprise though.)

Best Supporting Actor – Christopher Plummer from “Beginners” (Would make Plummer the oldest Oscar winner in history)

Best Actress – Viola Davis from “The Help” (would tie Glenn Close for being one of the unluckiest Oscar nominees in history)

Best Actor – George Clooney from “The Descendants” (But will probably go to Jean Dujardin for being just too darn charming in “The Artist.”)

Best Director – Martin Scorsese for “Hugo” (If the Academy had guts, it would be Terrence Malick for “Tree of Life.” If they are gullible, it will be “The Artist.” I decided to split the difference.)

Best Picture – “The Artist” (If you’re still awake at this point in the show, I commend you for finding the dull, obvious choices enjoyable.)

Well, that does it for my little preview. During the show, follow along on Twitter at @VC_Reviews or follow my friend Ian at @IanMenard. Share any opinions on my choices in the comments below.

Happy viewing.

 

The 84th Academy Awards Nominations – My Take

Here we are at last. The mother of all award shows released its list of 2011’s best this morning in what many will consider to be the highest honor in film.

So let’s look at some of the major categories and see what were some highlights and other areas where the Academy dropped the ball.

Best Foreign Language Film:

“A Separation” (Iran), “In Darkness” (Poland), “Bullhead” (Belgium), “Footnote” (Israel), “Monsieur Lazhar” (Canada)

There are so many foreign films to look at this year so it isn’t that crazy, but if one were to pay attention to which imports had been nominated at the Golden Globes 9 days ago, they’d notice that only the winner (“A Separation”) from that ballot is seen here.

It is also interesting to note that “A Separation” received a nomination for Best Original Screenplay, which is pretty rare for a foreign film.

Best Original Song:

“Real in Rio” from “Rio,” “Man or Muppet” from “The Muppets”

Most likely due to the Academy’s ever-tightening qualifications for what can be nominated, this year’s category only has two nominees. While fans of Jim Henson’s creations will be happy for its nomination, I hate to see “Rio” of all movies on this list. “Real in Rio” is probably tenth in line in my eyes for deserving songs this year.

Best Original Score:

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

John Williams and Howard Shore are two great composers and Bource won the Golden Globe for Original Score, so their nominations were on lock. However, between Williams second nomination and the appearance of Alberto Iglesias’ work in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (an original score that wasn’t bad, but hasn’t been recognized by other award shows aside from the BAFTA’s), Trent Reznor’s score for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” fell by the wayside.

Best Cinematography:

“War Horse,” “The Tree of Life,” “The Artist,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “Hugo”

This is one of those categories where everything makes sense. “War Horse” won this nomination based on the trailer alone. “The Tree of Life” rests solely on its directing and cinematography and does both very well, so no surprise there. “Hugo,” “The Artist” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” all deserve to be on this list as well.

Best Supporting Actress:

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

While I picked Shailene Woodley (“The Descendants”) to win this category at the Golden Globes, it makes sense that Melissa McCarthy would steal her spot for this show. McCarthy made “Bridesmaids” the movie it was. “The Help” hangs onto its acting trifecta with Spencer and Chastain getting bids here as well as Viola Davis getting a Best Actress nomination.

Best Actress:

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

There were other great performances this year from actresses like Tilda Swinton (“We Need to Talk About Kevin”) and Charlize Theron (“Young Adult”), but honestly, who can you take off of this final ballot? It’s just one of those years where there are more than 5 worthy ladies.

Best Supporting Actor:

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

Jonah Hill. Really? I will never shy away from my dislike for the actor but I’m especially upset that he gets a nomination and Albert Brooks (“Drive”) is left out in the cold. If that switch were made, I’d think this was a fantastic category. Still, between Plummer, Nolte and Branagh, this is a strong ballot.

Best Actor:

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

A lot of people will be upset that Michael Fassbender (“Shame”) didn’t make the cut (and they have a right to be), but the inclusion of Bichir and Oldman amongst this year’s big names is a good thing. “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” really didn’t get enough credit for its fine acting outside of the BAFTA Film Awards and Bichir is this year’s Javier Bardem, pointing audiences toward a smaller film that should be seen.

Best Picture:

“Hugo,” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” “The Descendants,” “The Artist,” “Moneyball,” “War Horse,” “The Tree of Life,” “The Help,” “Midnight in Paris”

Since the Oscars starting nominating more than the usual 5 films for Best Picture, I have been pretty hesitant to like the idea. This year there is a lot of diversity, which is good for the show I guess, but I still feel like a film or two got the shaft. Without exceeding the nomination ceiling of 10, I would’ve liked to have seen “Extremely Loud” taken off the ballot and 2 of 3 films added: “The Ides of March,” “50/50” and/or “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

Looking at this year’s nominees, I am shocked to see that “Hugo” has more nominations than “The Artist” (11 to 10, respectively). Aside from that and the few complaints expressed above, I think the Academy did a rather good job of picking nominees this year. This time next month, however, I may have something new to whine about when the winners are revealed.

Between now and then, visit Velvet Curtain Reviews for my takes on “The Artist,” “War Horse” and other films as well as my picks once we get closer to February 26.

Happy viewing.