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Dave’s Oscar Preview – Part Three: Again With the Penguins

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You'd think after March of the Penguins I'd never again be able to work our flightless friends back into the title. But nothing's impossible. Except a win for Poseidon. To wit…

VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
  • Poseidon
  • Superman Returns

Will Win: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Should Win: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

For what it's worth, Pirates pretty much swept the Visual Effects Society awards and is kind of hard to miss what with being the top grosser of the year (and sixth of all time). That the other two are considered (unfairly in one case, very fairly in another) box office disappointments doesn't hurt.

Poseidon has one great sequence and Superman has several, but if you don't want to give it to Pirates for the Kraken or the Flying Dutchman, give it up for Davy Jones.

ANIMATED FEATURE

  • Cars
  • Happy Feet
  • Monster House

Will Win: Cars
Should Win: Happy Feet

It's gonna be a knock-down drag-out between Cars and Happy Feet, but in the end, Cars will out. It's got ten circle awards, including the first animated Golden Globe win ever and a BFCA. Add to that an Annie plus the fact that it's the number two box office grosser for '06 and you've got a sizable contender (which is the odds on favorite at 1/3). Happy Feet is no slouch with seven circle wins and a BAFTA, and it managed to place in the top ten for the year (bringing the total number of animated films in 2006's top ten to three – Ice Age: The Meltdown is the third). In the end, though, I think Pixar's winning streak will continue. The last time they got beat was the first time the award existed, and they lost to Shrek.

I never thought I'd root against Pixar, but Happy Feet is just more original. Cars is a well-crafted, beautiful film that is, in its way, Pixar's most mature film yet, but Happy Feet has all of that and a less predictable arc plus the most inventive use of music since Moulin Rouge. Perhaps I had higher expectations of Cars and lower expectations of Happy Feet, and they're both must-see flicks, but I gotta go with George Miller on this one.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • The Black Dahlia
  • Children of Men
  • The Illusionist
  • Pan's Labyrinth
  • The Prestige

Will Win: Children of Men
Should Win: Children of Men

Seven circle wins (including a BAFTA) and an ASC award should pretty much lock it for Men, but it's neat that there's room in this category for two films about 19th century magicians.

If you haven't seen Children of Men, it might not be readily apparent why it's such a no-brainer for a cinematography statue, but the tracking shots in this film are unbelievable. And there are so many.

FILM EDITING

  • Babel
  • Blood Diamond
  • Children of Men
  • The Departed
  • United 93

Will Win: United 93
Should Win: United 93

More often than not, this award goes to a Best Picture nominee and usually a winner. But in this case, something special happened. Babel and The Departed, the only two films here nominated for Best Picture, tied for an Eddie (the editors guild award). The last time this occurred was 1989, when Mississippi Burning tied with Rain Man. And you know what happened? The Oscar went to Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, even though both Mississippi Burning and Rain Man were up for it. Now it would be silly to presume that the same thing would happen again just because there was a tie, but I'm going to do it anyway. And I'll say it's United 93 because a) it won a BAFTA for Best Editing, and b) I think there'll be some 9/11 sympathy afoot. But mostly a), because if this was all about 9/11 sympathy, United 93 would have gotten a lot more nods.

And maybe some of my own bias is in there, too. Children of Men has outstanding editing (part of the magic of tracking shots is knowing when to cut), but the documentary style of United 93 relies on flawless editing. Hold a shot too long, you'll break the tension. Make your cutting too flashy, we're in MTV-ville.

SCREENPLAY – ADAPTED

  • Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
  • Children of Men
  • The Departed
  • Little Children
  • Notes on a Scandal

Will Win: The Departed
Should Win: Children of Men

All the numbers add up to a win for The Departed. Eight circle awards plus the WGA. Children of Men got the Scripter, plus two circle wins, but that's not enough. Besides, there'll be plenty of Departed love flowing in the room that night.

"Should" is a tricky call. Borat's a fantastic film, but does the screenplay make it so, or outstanding acting and direction? The Departed manages to improve upon a Hong Kong action film, no mean feat. Little Children is a strong screenplay, maybe the strongest in the bunch, and certainly the most literary. And, um, I haven't seen Notes on a Scandal, but Marber's a good writer, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Ultimately, I think Children of Men is the strongest screenplay here, but is it the best adaptation? You'll find plenty of discussion on how far the screenplay strays from the novel, and whether or not that's a good thing (this one has study questions!). In the end, though, I think the category has developed into an (occasionally arbitrary) distinction to reward work that may not have originated in Final Draft, with a comparison to the original material as a secondary concern. (Honestly, how many Academy members do you think read Little Children? Come to think of it, how many do you think actually saw it?) I say this because how do you compare the adaptation of a novel to the adaptation of a character, which is how Borat ends up here? Or maybe this is just a cop-out so I don't have to go back and read Children of Men before I write this.

SCREENPLAY – ORIGINAL

  • Babel
  • Letters From Iwo Jima
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • Pan's Labyrinth
  • The Queen

Will Win: Little Miss Sunshine
Should Win: Letters From Iwo Jima

This is a very tough call. Little Miss Sunshine has six circle wins, including love from the WGA, BAFTA and BFCA. The Queen, on the other hand, has ten circles in its corner, including the Golden Globes. In the end though, the prevailing wind is blowing in the direction of Sunshine, maybe even for Best Picture, a claim which The Queen cannot make. Also, indie darlings usually rule here, and Sunshine's had that cred going back to Sundance.

Letters probably doesn't even belong in this category, at least according to the poster, but given that it's here, it's the best of the bunch, especially (ironically) for adaptation reasons. If this really was culled from actual letters from Iwo Jima, it's a feat of incomparable legerdemain to create from that a coherent (not to mention moving) story with all the themes and whatnot that make for a great screenplay intact. The Queen pulls off a similar stunt, culled as it is from real events, but Letters moved me more.

In our next, and final installment: I reveal that Babel is a lock for Best Picture. Or maybe The Departed. Actually, I can't shake this feeling I've had about Little Miss Sunshine. You know what could win? Casino Royale. Like, as a write-in.

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About David Dylan Thomas