MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Oscars Versus Spirits: My Likely Winners

Published under Oscar Outsider.

For the past several years, I’ve enlisted my children’s help when it came time to make a guess as to who would win what Oscars, on the theory that a pack of children playing a random game with the names of nominees worked in would result in predictions more-or-less as accurate as those made by my colleagues who made their guesses using actual thought, reasoning and Oscar history as their guides. And for the most part, the kids have done a pretty good job of guessing Oscar winners by playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey,Candyland, Ball Darts and various other fun family games.

This year I decided to find a way to work Guitar Hero World Tour into my Oscar predictions, thereby justifying the amount of work time I spend honing my “Crazy Train” skills as “work research.” For each category, I randomly ordered the nominees and assigned a percentage range to each, and the Guitar Hero player whose turn it was performed their song to determine the winner.

In the interest of professionalism, I also made a prediction based on some highly scientific mix of research, Oscar history, logic and my own feelings about each film to make a guess as to how the Academy might vote. For good measure, I’m also taking a look at the nominees for Film Independent’s Spirit Awards in the overlapping categories, although the Spirits did not get a Guitar Hero vote, as my Guitar Hero repertoire is somewhat limited.

Best Picture

Best Picture (Oscar) Nominees: Slumdog Millionaire, Milk, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, The Reader

Best Feature (Spirits) Nominees: Ballast, Frozen River, Rachel Getting Married, Wendy and Lucy, The Wrestler

In the Best Picture Oscar race, a win by any film other than anticipated victor Slumdog Millionaire would be a major upset. Interestingly, Slumdog wasn’t nominated for any Spirit awards — a significant departure from the previous two years, when Fox Searchlight Oscar entrants Juno and Little Miss Sunshine earned multiple Spirit noms and swept many categories.* Is Fox Searchlight no longer perceived as “independent” enough for the Spirits? Or did they genuinely feel the Little Movie that Could just wasn’t as good as the films that were nominated? Look for Darren Aronofsky‘s The Wrestler, ignored by Oscar except for a couple of acting noms, to do well at the Spirits to make up for Oscar’s snub.

*(Or 2005, when Sideways swept the Spirits and also took home an Oscar for Adapted Screenplay.)

Guitar Hero Song: No Sleep ’til Brooklyn
Guitar Hero Player: Luka, Age 5 (vocals)
Guitar Hero Chooses: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Director

Best Director Oscar Nominees: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire; Gus Van Sant, Milk; David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon; Stephen Daldry, The Reader

Best Director Spirit Nominees: Ramin Bahrani, Chop Shop; Jonathan Demme, Rachel Getting Married; Lance Hammer, Ballast; Courtney Hunt, Frozen River; Tom McCarthy, The Visitor

On the Oscar side of things, Danny Boyle is looking to be a solid lock for this category; it’s very unlikely any of the other nominees will sneak in to beat him for the trophy. The Spirit side is a little tougher to nail down, but I’m predicting they’ll give it to Demme, who was largely shut out of Oscar consideration for one of his best films in years.

Guitar Hero Song: Beat It
Guitar Hero Player: Veda, age 7 (vocals)
Guitar Hero Chooses: Stephen Daldry

Best Actress

Best Actress (Oscar) Nominees: Kate Winslet, The Reader; Meryl Streep, Doubt; Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married; Angelina Jolie, Changeling; Melissa Leo, Frozen River.

Best Female Lead (Spirits) Nominees: Summer Bishil, Towelhead; Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married; Melissa Leo, Frozen River; Tarra Riggs, Ballast; Michelle Williams, Wendy and Lucy

It’s looking very likely that the Academy will finally reward Winslet for her many Oscar-worthy performances with a golden statue on Sunday. If anyone’s going to throw a wrench in Winslet’s path, it could be Academy favorite Streep, who’s had a slew of nominations, but hasn’t won the prize since 1983 for Sophie’s Choice. At the Spirit Awards, look for Melissa Leo to get the acting trophy that Oscar is likely to deny her.

Guitar Hero Song: The Middle
Guitar Hero Player: Veda, age 7 (vocals)
Guitar Hero Chooses: Melissa Leo

Best Actor

Best Actor (Oscar) Nominees: Sean Penn, Milk; Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler; Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon; Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Richard Jenkins, The Visitor.

Best Male Lead (Spirits) Nominees: Javier Bardem, Vicky Cristina Barcelona; Richard Jenkins, The Visitor; Sean Penn, Milk; Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker; Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

While the Best Actor race has been a close one, with predictions going back and forth between Penn and Rourke all season, I think the Academy will reward Rourke for his solid comeback performance, especially with The Wrestler getting shut out of the directing and best picture categories. On the Spirits side of things, it’s likely Rourke will win as well, though it would be lovely to see Jenkins’ powerful, quiet performance in The Visitor rewarded here, since it’s not at all likely he’ll take the Oscar trophy home.

Guitar Hero Song: Hotel California
Guitar Hero Player: Jaxon, age 9 (guitar)
Guitar Hero Chooses: Sean Penn

Best Supporting Actress

Best Supporting Actress (Oscar) Nominees: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona; Viola Davis, Doubt; Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler; Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Amy Adams, Doubt.

Best Supporting Female (Spirits) Nominees: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona; Rosemarie DeWitt, Rachel Getting Married; Rosie Perez, The Take; Misty Upham, Frozen River; Debra Winger, Rachel Getting Married.

While I’d love to see the Academy reward Tomei’s raw, bold performance in The Wrestler, I think it’s more likely that they’ll give this one to Cruz for her excellent performance as the crazy artist Maria Elena in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, one of Woody Allen‘s best films in years, which has otherwise been ignored for Oscar love. It’s possible Davis could sneak in for the upset for her portrayal in Doubt as the mother of the boy who may or may not have been abused by the priest — the single best scene in the entire film. At the Spirits, I’m looking forMisty Upham‘s performance in Frozen River, which has otherwise been overshadowed by Leo’s strong lead turn, to finally get some recognition.

Guitar Hero Song: About a Girl
Guitar Hero Player: Jaxon, age 9 (guitar)
Guitar Hero Chooses: Penelope Cruz

Best Supporting Actor

Best Supporting Actor (Oscar) Nominees: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight; Robert Downey, Jr., Tropic Thunder; Josh Brolin, Milk; Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road; Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt.

Best Supporting Male (Spirits) Nominees: James Franco, Milk; Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker; Charlie McDermott, Frozen River; JimMyron Ross, Ballast; Haaz Sleiman, The Visitor

A win by anyone other than Ledger in this category would be a major upset at this point. Shannon’s performance as the schizophrenic son in Revolutionary Road, though, was the most memorable thing about a film that otherwise seemed not to impress the Academy; if anyone could upset Ledger’s posthumous victory, it might be him. On the Spirits side of things, look for James Franco to get the win, after being denied a nomination by Oscar.

Guitar Hero Song: Mr. Crowley
Guitar Hero Player: Jay (drums)
Guitar Hero Chooses: Heath Ledger

Screenplay Awards

Best Original Screenplay (Oscar) Nominees: Dustin Lance Black, Milk; Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon, WALL-E; Mike Leigh, Happy-Go-Lucky; Courtney Hunt, Frozen River; Martin McDonagh, In Bruges.

Best Adapted Screenplay (Oscar) Nominees: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire; David Hare, The Reader; Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Peter Morgan, Frost/Nixon; John Patrick Shanley, Doubt

Best Screenplay (Spirits) Nominees: Woody Allen, Vicky Cristina Barcelona; Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, Sugar; Charlie Kaufman, Synecdoche, NY; Howard A. Rodman, Savage Grace; Christopher Zalla, Sangre De Mi Sangre

Best First Screenplay (Spirits) Nominees: Dustin Lance Black, Milk; Lance Hammer, Ballast; Courtney Hunt, Frozen River; Jonathan Levine, TheWackness; Jenny Lumet, Rachel Getting Married

In our previous Gurus o’ Gold chart, WALL-E looked to be gaining support in the Best Original Screenplay Oscar category, but this week our Gurus have Dustin Lance Black back on top for Milk. Look for Oscar to overlook Leigh, Hunt and McDonagh in this race, with Black the likely winner. In the Adapted Screenplay category, Simon Beaufoy seems to be the shoo-in for his Slumdog script, with none of the competition looking likely to sneak in to usurp his win.

At the Spirits, Kaufman could be rewarded for his labyrinthine script for Synecdoche, NY, though Woody Allen is tough competition with an excellent script for Vicky Cristina Barcelona. In the Best First Screenplay category, look for Hunt to take the prize.

Guitar Hero Song: Eye of the Tiger (Original); Are You Gonna Go My Way (Adapted)
Guitar Hero Player: Luka (Original); Jay (Adapted)
Guitar Hero Chooses: Milk (Original); The Reader (Adapted)

Best Documentary

Best Documentary (Oscar) Nominees: Man on Wire; Trouble the Water; Encounters at the End of the World; The Betrayal (Nerakhoon); The Garden

Best Documentary (Spirits) Nominees: The Betrayal (Nerakhoon); Encounters at the End of the World; Man on Wire; The Order of Myths; Up the Yangtze

Most pundits have Man on Wire picked as the most likely Oscar winner in this category, though I wouldn’t be surprised if Trouble the Water sneaks in for an Oscar upset. In the Spirits race, though, I’m looking for some recognition for Ellen Kuras‘ artistically gorgeous, 23-years-in-the-making The Betrayal to get the award, with The Order of Myths a strong possible upset.

Guitar Hero Song: Spiderwebs
Guitar Hero Player: Neve, age 11-almost-12 (vocals)
Guitar Hero Chooses: Trouble the Water

Best Foreign

Best Foreign Film (Oscar) Nominees: Waltz with Bashir (Israel); The Class (France); The Baader Meinhof Complex (Germany); Departures (Japan); Revanche (Austria)

Best Foreign Film (Spirits) Nominees: The Class; Gomorra; Hunger; Secret of the Grain; Silent Light

Waltz with Bashir still looks to be the likely Oscar winner, with some support for Cannes Golden Palm winner The Class to upset. At the Spirits, look forGomorra, completely shut out of the Oscar race, to get its due, although I’d love to see the award go to Steve McQueen’s excellent Hunger, which lost the Un Certain Regard award at Cannes to Tulpan, though McQueen took home the Golden Camera for his direction.

Guitar Hero Song: Misery Business
Guitar Hero Player: Neve (vocals)
Guitar Hero Chooses: The Baader Meinhof Complex

Best Cinematography

Best Cinematography (Oscar) Nominees: Anthony Dod Mantle, Slumdog Millionaire; Claudio Miranda, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Wally Pfister, The Dark Knight; Chris Menges and Roger Deakins, The Reader; Tom Stern, Changeling

Best Cinematography (Spirits) Nominees:  Maryse Alberti, The Wrestler; Lol Crowley, Ballast; James Laxton, Medicine for Melancholy; Harris Savides, Milk; Michael Simmonds, Chop Shop

Slumdog appears to be the major Oscar frontrunner in this category as well, with Anthony Dod Mantle looking to be the likely winner and no one seeming to be in a position to upset. If I were betting on the Spirits, I’d put my money on Lol Crowley, whose cinematography forBallast was critically lauded, although my personal pick would be Simmonds for Chop Shop.

Guitar Hero Song: Crazy Train
Guitar Hero Player: Kim (vocals)
Guitar Hero Chooses: Wally Pfister, The Dark Knight

– by Kim Voynar

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

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~ David Simon