Any moviegoer with a pulse and a computer saw it coming months ago: The major Oscars this year are going to come down to The King's Speech and The Social Network.
And while it's as fashionable to complain about Academy Awards predictability, not everything went according to plan. Take a close look at the Oscar ballot and you'll find some odd nominations buried in there.
Here are five possible winners on Sunday that made us as befuddled as King George VI trying to read Facebook updates aloud:
1. Hereafter for Best Visual Effects.
Clint Eastwood doesn't generally make what we think of as effects-movies, and Hereafter is little different in that regard. The handiwork of an aging director grappling with mortality, it's a meditation on the possibility of an afterlife, from the points of view of a skeptical doctor, a genuine (and reluctant) psychic, and a little boy mourning the death of his twin.
Said afterlife is depicted as a grayish blur. Nothing special, visually. Oh, but there's a digital tsunami at the beginning! We've seen this kind of thing done just as well, on even grander scales, in the movies of Roland Emmerich and others, and can only equate this nomination to goodwill towards everybody's favorite icon Clint. After all, Clash of the Titans and The Last Airbender had better visuals, but were made by filmmakers who aren't exactly popular with Academy votes.
2. The Way Back for Best Makeup.
Here's the kind of movie that you'd think would be an Oscar favorite: a historical epic starring Colin Farrell and Ed Harris, directed by the acclaimed Peter Weir (Witness, The Truman Show), based on an astonishing true story of escape from a Siberian gulag, and filmed against beautiful landscapes.
So the surprise isn't that it got an Oscar nomination, but that its only recognition was for make-up. Yes, the cast look convincingly dehydrated and sunburned, but this is one movie that seems to have been filed in the wrong category.
3. Hailee Steinfeld for Best Supporting Actress, True Grit.
The dictionary defines "protagonist" as "the leading character, hero, or heroine of a drama or other literary work." A person, let's say, who narrates the tale, sets all the events into motion and takes us on the main journey of the film. That would be Mattie Ross in True Grit, and while manly men may forever debate the merits of Jeff Bridges versus John Wayne, most agree that Steinfeld effectively eclipses the memory of Kim Darby.
So why "supporting"?
Does Oscar hate kids, or did Paramount just want to ensure total ownage of this category by pitting Steinfeld against Melissa Leo and Amy Adams rather than Natalie Portman? Either way, Steinfeld's a lead, dammit.
4. Salt for Sound Mixing.
Even by Angelina Jolie action standards (Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, Gone in 60 Seconds), Salt was a stupid, ill-conceived chase film with a calculatedly unsympathetic lead, and should not have been under consideration for any awards, ever. Was the mixing any good? Not enough to make the film palatable.
5. Dogtooth for Best Foreign Language Film.
Last year's Foreign Language winner, The Secret in Their Eyes, was so conventionally commercial that it's already being remade by Hollywood. The pendulum seems to have swung all the way back in the other direction this time, as Dogtooth is the sort of nasty arthouse extreme which appeals to film snobs and nobody else.
An apparent satire in which a Greek couple have kept their teenage children imprisoned at home all their lives, teaching them blatant lies about the meanings of words and life, it features the brutal killing of a cat, and graphic self-dentistry. What it doesn't feature? Explanation, resolution, or Oscar-worthy craft.