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Dreamgirls (#110 of 11)

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions Sound Mixing

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing

This past weekend, Gravity claimed the Live Action Film award for sound mixing from the Cinema Audio Society, one more precursor voting body whose results could prove prescient when it comes to Oscar’s March 2nd endgame. But, really, even if the CAS had tossed a lifesaver to Captain Phillips, or a dollar into the hopelessly lightweight guitar case of Inside Llewyn Davis, it still wouldn’t have changed our opinion that this statuette belongs to Alfonso Cuarón’s minimalist, outer space-set spectacle, which is poised to pick up more technical Oscars than any film since The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King. Had the Coen brothers’ folksy ode to failure had more rafter-shaking pizazz (a la Les Misérables, Dreamgirls, and other musicals served well by this category), and had Captain Phillips had the hyperkinetic technical muscle of Paul Greengrass’s three-time Oscar winner The Bourne Ultimatum, there might be arguments worth having here. But there really seems to be no stopping Gravity’s craft-category onslaught, and its victories in the sound races in particular will prove that, in the cinematic silences of space, everyone can hear you scream, breathe, howl, “detach!” and hurtle toward rebirth.

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions Sound Mixing

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing

It’s at this point we had to ask ourselves, “Is Argo really going to end up a two-Oscar Best Picture winner?” Because while it seems almost certain to buck all sorts of precedent and take Best Picture, which of its six other nominations will be there to back it up? Honestly, the way things have been developing among the guild awards, the only nod that seems entirely out of reach is Alan Arkin’s bid for supporting actor. We’ll cover Best Editing in the next few days, but the movie still seems more of a spoiler than a frontrunner for original score and adapted screenplay*. In theory, that leaves Argo’s two sound bids to prevent the movie from achieving a dubious feat not achieved since Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth. Some of us are going to hedge on our Oscar-pool ballots and give Argo one or both of them, but unless the topsy-turviness of the race infects every category, both it and Lincoln seem to lack the “bigness” this category seems to require.

Oscar Prospects: Les Misérables

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Oscar Prospects: Les Misérables
Oscar Prospects: Les Misérables

With its Oscar clout and inevitable crowd-pleasing matched by widespread critical ire, Les Misérables is easily the year’s most divisive awards contender. The film does have its champions, like the oft-snarky New York Post critic Kyle Smith, who gave it the top spot on his 2012 top 10 list, but by and large, Les Mis has endured ample lashings from reviewers, as diverse as David Edelstein, Richard Corliss, and our own Calum Marsh. The divide between journos and tearful devotees has become one of the season’s buzziest narratives, most recently prompting helmer Tom Hooper to “respond to his critics,” whose qualms, as expected, couldn’t stop the musical from squashing the box-office competition on Christmas Day (the movie raked in $18.2 million, history’s second-largest holiday opening). What does it all mean for the movie’s Oscar fate? To be honest, probably not much. It seems unfathomable that Les Misérables won’t end up on the Best Picture shortlist, an outcome that was in the cards before a frame of footage was seen (or, arguably, before a frame of footage was shot).

The 79th Annual Academy Awards

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The 79th Annual Academy Awards
The 79th Annual Academy Awards

PICTURE
The Departed

DIRECTOR
Martin Scorsese, The Departed

ACTOR
Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

ACTRESS
Helen Mirren, The Queen

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
William Monahan, The Departed

ANIMATED FEATURE
Happy Feet

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Lives of Others

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
An Inconvenient Truth

CINEMATOGRAPHY
Pan’s Labyrinth

FILM EDITING
The Departed

ART DIRECTION
Pan’s Labyrinth

MAKEUP
Pan’s Labyrinth

SOUND EDITING
Letters from Iwo Jima

SOUND MIXING
Dreamgirls

DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
“The Blood of Yingzhou District”

SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)
“The Danish Poet”

SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)
“West Bank Story”

VISUAL EFFECTS
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

COSTUME DESIGN
Marie Antoinette

MUSIC (SONG)
“I Need to Wake Up,” An Inconvenient Truth

MUSIC (SCORE)
Babel

SPECIAL OSCAR FOR CAREER ACHIEVEMENT
Ennio Morricone

JEAN HERSHOLT HUMANITARIAN AWARD
Sherry Lansing

Oscar 2007 Winner Predictions Art Direction

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Oscar 2007 Winner Predictions: Art Direction
Oscar 2007 Winner Predictions: Art Direction

We’ve noticed a certain trend among “professional” Oscar prognosticators—first and foremost among them Dave Karger—in dealing with the question of Dreamgirls. Is it the over-nominated Oscar behemoth that, according to its snub for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay, no one loves? Or does its absence in the top few categories signal a groundswell of sympathetic support for the poor helpless lil’ would-be frontrunner? You don’t find too many taking the middle ground. It’s basically either a clean sweep of its six categories (or close enough, at any rate), or a near-shutout. Maybe we’re biased, but we’d like to think it’s the latter (though we’re already starting to feel a tad nervous about our prediction of Djimon Hounsou defeating Eddie Murphy). Even if it turns out we badly misjudged the deflated Dreamgirls juggernaut and it does end up cleaning house (as all those second-place percentage spreads would suggest we’re afraid of), we still think Art Direction will be the one most likely to buck the trend. Simply, the movie’s sets look like they were made from construction paper “for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf,” to borrow from Ntozake Shange. At least Pan’s Labyrinth’s paper-mâché falls into place with the protagonist’s fantasy dreamworld. The votes for veracity will fall The Good Shepherd’s way, but recent guild award results suggest this is Pan’s Labyrinth to lose.

Oscar 2007 Winner Predictions Sound Mixing

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Oscar 2007 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing
Oscar 2007 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing

Last year we sided with the musical candidate and crapped out when voters went for the big black ape instead of the man in black. Fool us once, shame on the Oscars; fool us twice, shame on the Oscars. And even though the IMDB is, for whatever reason, declaring Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest this year’s winner ahead of schedule, we’re still going to hedge our bets with the one nominee in this line-up that doesn’t rely on gunfire or sabre-rattling. Just as Diana Ross herself forced Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers to push their signature Chic sound well behind her vocals, it couldn’t have been easy for the audio technicians to crank up Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson, and Jaime Foxx’s voices loud enough to cover the film’s anemic instrumental arrangements. Unless it turns out the IMDB accidentally reported a leak from within the offices of PricewaterhouseCoopers, the most likely alternate winner is probably Flags of Our Fathers, which is not only painfully obvious in its use of muffled audio cues to trigger flashbacks, but also has the benefit of not being up against Letters from Iwo Jima in this category.

Oscar 2007 Winner Predictions Costume Design

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Oscar 2007 Winner Predictions: Costume Design
Oscar 2007 Winner Predictions: Costume Design

The Academy has shown great resistance to awarding costumes without corsets, though Marie Antoinette’s Milena Canonero did previously win for Chariots of Fire (with, apparently, jockstraps standing in for laced bustiers). Still, every now and again a contemporary collection will sneak through and provide the acceptance podium with its flashiest duds of the evening—namely, when Lizzy Gardiner and Tim Chappel managed to upstage even The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’s feather boas and ping-pong balls with Gardiner’s “don’t leave home without it” AmEx gown. Given that the category’s only two legitimate “period piece” candidates—Marie Antoinette and Curse of the Golden Flower—represent either film’s sole nomination, it’s hard not to see this one going the way of either Dreamgirls (for making Jennifer Hudson’s body look appropriately fat in those girl-group paper dresses) or The Devil Wears Prada, a film which wears costume design on its sleeve as much as it wears its designer tag in the movie’s goddamned title. It’s a close call, and there is the possibility some voters may simply assume the cast just grabbed its entire wardrobe from the titular designer’s open warehouse. But when a film pins each character’s shift on their change of clothing, it’s damn near impossible to ignore. Now the trick is to simply figure out whether that last sentence was in reference to The Devil Wears Prada or Marie Antoinette.

Oscar 2007 Winner Predictions Original Song

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Oscar 2007 Winner Predictions: Original Song
Oscar 2007 Winner Predictions: Original Song

Sure, the last time the majority of nominations in this category belonged to a single film, said film actually won. But don’t call this category for Dreamgirls just yet. When, in 1991, Beauty and the Beast’s title song triumphed over “Belle” and “Be Our Guest” (in addition to a forgettable song from Hook and a song everyone wished they could forget from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), it was easy since all three songs covered notably different musical bases, allowing “Beauty And The Beast” to coast to its win on the ballad ticket over the curtain-raising overture of “Belle” and the “do not forget, eh, zees movie…she is eh set in Fruhnce” obviousness of “Be Our Guest.” The three songs from Dreamgirls, however, are almost indistinguishable from each other; it’s appropriate that our graphic above with the songs’ odds makes no attempt to differentiate. You could play them all now and I couldn’t tell you which song goes with which scene, which is unfortunate as they’re all supposed to play extremely different functions within the film. All right, that’s not entirely true: one does sound different from the other two. I’d forgotten that “Love You I Do” is Jennifer Hudson’s bouncy ditty before her fall; I’d falsely remembered it as the song Jaime Foxx snores through in front of the blowup of Beyoncé’s monstrous lips (the title just seemed appropriate for a song that was basically all “Get down on your knees and suck Berry Gordy off, woman!”). “Patience” is supposed to be an anthem on behalf of the collective conscience, like Motown hitching up to the Joan Baez Express (or, at any rate, a pastiche of one of Stevie Wonder’s early-’70s protest songs a la “Look Around” or “Evil”), and “Listen” is supposed to be an isolated ode to self-entitlement as personal fulfillment (Beyoncé is framed against a black background like Diana Ross at the climax of The Wiz). But they sure as hell sound interchangeable to me, and taking Beyoncé’s name off the credits for “Listen” sure knocked the wind out of its sails as the ersatz frontrunner of the trio, unless voters are seriously lazier than we give them credit for. If the award were actually being voted on by songwriters, than Siedah Garrett’s name recognition would almost be enough of a factor to push “Love You I Do” to a win, but most voters are not songwriters and the peppy number probably has as much chance as “That Thing You Do” did (or, rather, didn’t). Count Cars out for stealing Prince’s nomination for Happy Feet, and we’re left with only one nominee with the sort of Grammy-bait crossover appeal that’s proven so powerful in this category lately. If the Dixie Chicks are likely headed to Album of the Year honors tonight, Melissa Etheridge’s An Inconvenient Truth power ballad “It’s Hot Out There For A Pimp” stands a reasonable shot to complete the circle. A win for her is almost like a win for the non-nominated Chicks over in the Documentary Feature category…somehow.

Oscar 2007 Nomination Predictions

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Oscar 2007 Nomination Predictions
Oscar 2007 Nomination Predictions

Oscar trends continue to have shorter and shorter shelf lives as the award season calendar continues to pork up and as brand new guilds and critics’ groups continue to sell their virgin reputations out to further cement Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker’s impression of impenetrability. How else to explain the fact that Best Picture and Best Director have split as often than they’ve matched in the aughts? How else to explain the almost complete demise of period epics and their chokehold on the top award? How else to explain Rex Reed being right that the New York Film Critics Circle awarding United 93 their top prize counts for hi-jack shit when a) no one saw or wanted to see the film, and b) approximately 300 groups in the interim have given public hummers to the likes of Little Miss Sunshine, Little Children, and Little Babel? (On that note, how else to explain the injustice that the younger sister Fanning will have appeared in a Best Picture nominee before poor Dakota?)

We offer our Oscar nod predictions at this late date for two reasons. First, because nearly every last group will have had their say and we got through school by looking over our peer’s shoulders on test day. Second, and more importantly, we’d hate to think that our reiteration of the same old ragged, over-hyped contenders (instead of, you know, Sandra Huller) means we’ve given in to the pressure of Oscar season groupthink. After all, the ballots were due on Jan. 13. The damage—and there will be damage—has already been done.

Afro Fantasia: Bill Condon’s Dreamgirls

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Afro Fantasia: Bill Condon’s <em>Dreamgirls</em>
Afro Fantasia: Bill Condon’s <em>Dreamgirls</em>

Remember that scene in The Blues Brothers where Jake Blues catches the Holy Ghost while watching James Brown lead a leaping, flying congregation of black folks in a gospel blowout?That’s the spirit—the soul—of Dreamgirls, Bill Condon’s film adaptation of the long-running Broadway musical. Writer-director Condon adores the most spectacular, super heroic aspects of what used to be called The Black Experience as surely as Blues Brothers director John Landis loves JB’s permed pompadour. It’s all flying negroes and flying hair.

As embarrassed as some white critics (and one White critic) have been about Dreamgirls’ lumpy mix of flamboyant negritude with bland, cruise ship arrangements of faux Motown pop, black audiences have mostly returned the love. Here, the music’s quality matters less than its thematic resonance; the characters’ thinness and broadness are less important than their vibrancy and familiarity. Dreamgirls is a white moviemaker’s sorta wrongheaded but sincerely besotted Afro fantasia, destined to go in the Ebony subscriber’s collection alongside Carmen Jones, Wattstax, Sparkle, The Color Purple and Coming to America. Love is what keeps this parade float of a movie aloft—until a failure of nerve and insight built into the Broadway original sends it floating far away from emotional reality on the helium of hope.