Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Separation and 2011 Oscar-Nominated Live-Action Short Films

         Some Final Pre-Ceremony 2012 Oscar Ruminations
              Reviews by Ken Burke             A Separation
            Toward the beginning of the classic French drama from 1939, Jean Renoir’s La Régle du jeu (The Rules of the Game), an important character, Octave (played by Renoir), explains in one scene to another major player that in the contemporary world everyone lies (including “the cinema”) yet in another early scene he offers the counter observation that it’s essentially impossible to make value judgments on the actions and ideals of others because “The awful thing about life is this: Everyone has their reasons.”  This seemingly simple explanation implies one of the most critical life lessons ever to be learned because it reminds us that no matter how difficult it may be to witness what is done by others, even when it’s done to us, the others likely had a compelling argument in their own minds as to why their decisions had to be carried out.  We may not be able to forgive what we experience from anyone else—or even from ourselves at times when all we can offer for reasons are rationalizations that wilt under intense scrutiny—but we must admit that we all approach life as a challenge that requires decisions, even when those decisions lead us into increasingly complex situations where the initial rationale gets less and less defendable and the likely outcome may bring more grief than was ever imagined when the stakes were lower and the choices seemed clearer ... although choices are likely never as clear as they may seem.
            In Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation we experience along with a family in contemporary Iran the difficulties that ensue when certain parts of an equation are purposely left out or concealed, as emotional combatants attempt to gain the upper hand in two strained marriages, pulling others into their whirlpool of despair and increasing the intensity of the confrontations as each complication adds more weight to the problems that were already bad enough even before we join these couples in mid-crisis as the film begins.  Simin (Leila Hatami) wants to take her daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), away from Iran to raise her in a more stable environment.  This is a difficult enough request for her to justify to the authorities—a judge in an Iranian court in this case—but it’s immediately more complicated because her husband, Nader (Peyman Moaadi), refuses to leave as he needs to stay to take care of his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father (Ali-Asghar Shaahbazi).  We understand immediately that these people are trapped by circumstances that they can’t control, just as they are depicted in tight, confining spaces such as the courtroom (more what we’d call an office) and the various living quarters of the main characters.  But their troubled situations have just begun as events related to the daughter and the grandfather continue to spiral out of control.
       I hate to clutter up a review with a lot of recounted plot detail, especially because I'm not trying to fill up assigned space with run-on narrative events as dictated by an editor with preset, specified layout blocks on a page, but, given that this film is not in wide distribution yet and may not even be available in certain areas at all until it’s out on DVD (although the whole thing can be found at but with no subtitles, so if you don’t speak Farsi you’ll at least need to know what’s happening in it, as can be learned from, I’m going to reveal certain critical plot points because you really need to know what’s occurring with the intricacies of this film to appreciate any discussion of it.  Basically, Simin decides that she wants time away from Nader so she moves in with her mother for two weeks.  Therefore, a woman, Razieh (Sareh Bayat)—who has her own very young daughter in tow at all times—must be hired as a caretaker for the grandfather but she doesn’t realize his mental confusion and lack of bodily control, so he’s much more of a task than she was prepared to manage (when he soils himself she even has to call the religious “police” to explain the circumstances and get permission to change him, given the restrictions of what she can see and know about him) so she tries to quit but relents because she needs the money.  On another day she leaves the old man alone for awhile (more on that later), so when Nader and Termeh come home they find the grandfather on the floor by his bed, thinking he’s dead.  He’s not, but Nader is furious and dismisses Razieh, further claiming that she stole some money in the apartment; she denies the theft, then refuses to leave until paid for her work so he angrily pushes her out the door, resulting in a bad tumble down the stairs, leading to the miscarriage of her baby.  This brings all of the adults except Granddad back to court where Nader is accused of knowingly abusing a pregnant woman; he denies that he heard any discussion of such, although his daughter is sure that he did (and he eventually admits it).  Razieh’s husband, Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini), is so infuriated that he insults the judge and is jailed; Simin is so appalled by the whole situation that she’s willing to essentially pay off Razieh and Hodjat to get rid of the mess but Nader resists.  He finally comes around but has since learned that Razieh was injured by a car the first day she was watching his father because Granddad slipped out of the apartment to buy a newspaper so when she found him she was bumped hard enough that the baby might have died before the fall down the stairs (that’s why she left Granddad alone later, so that she could be checked by a doctor). 

          Nader wants her to swear on the Quran that he was responsible for the miscarriage before he’ll pay reparations but she can’t do that because it puts her between her religious duty to be honest and her situation with her own extended family that she has not lied to them about the reason for the fetus’ death.  Ultimately, no payment is made and we’re left with Termeh making the decision as to which parent she will live with:  her father, which will force her mother to accept the burden of staying in Iran so as to not abandon the daughter, or her mother, which will shame her father whom she loves dearly (but now is ambivalent toward) and surely lead to departure overseas with her mother.  No one is blameless here (not even Simin who could have potentially prevented all of the ensuring chaos by not moving out of her home or Termeh who is sure that her father is lying but does not challenge him on it out of respect), yet everyone has “their reasons.”

            What none of these characters end up with, though, is resolution, so they all remain separated in a sense by the end of A Separation.  Simin will either leave Iran and live her life with a broken family structure or stay and endure a living situation both public and private that will constantly weigh on her; Nader may lose both wife and child but he has already lost much of their connection to him through his lying and stubborn insistence that he was the only one in the right through all the collisions; Termeh’s decision as to which parent to live with will only cause grief for all of them no matter what she chooses and she already has seen both parents fall short of her ideal perception of them; Razieh must live forever with the shame, at least to herself, of not having been truthful about the full circumstances of her miscarriage and the chaos that caused for her family; Hodjat now is distrustful of his wife’s honesty (to make it worse, she didn’t tell him at first that she was hired for the caretaker position so there is lingering tension about that betrayal also); and even Granddad remains just a burden for his family and the ultimate reason for all of the disruption even though he’s innocent of any intentional turmoil because, as Simin notes early on to Nader, he doesn’t even know who his son is anymore or what’s going on around him as his family continues to disintegrate.
            This is the only one of the 5 nominees for Best Foreign Language Film that I’ve even had the option of seeing so I could be way off-base in both preferring it and predicting its win at the upcoming Oscars ceremony, but I make that decision because of my respect for A Separation and the fact that it was included in several Top 10 lists for 2011 films.  No matter, though, because I have high respect for the nature and the telling of this story and will be even more pleased if one of the other contenders produces an even better result.

          If you want to explore A Separation in more detail here are some suggested links:  (this is the entire film but with no subtitles so if you don’t speak the language you’ll just have to get the visual sense of how it develops) 
 2011 Live-Action Short Films            Tuba Atlantic

            While the program of Oscar-nominated short films in both the animated and live-action categories is available in certain markets these films may be hard to come by so I’m going to be completely revealing in what I note on their plot points as many of you may not have any chance to see them at all unless they find their way to You Tube.  Seemingly that has happened already because if you go there and search for “Oscar Nominated Short Films 2012” you get a site with a link to, but my browsing around at this location turned up nothing about the Oscar-nominated shorts after all (maybe that’s my problem and not the site’s, but anyway no luck and no soup for me).  You can find composite reviews at the following sites if you’re interested, but it’s hit and miss as to how much information you’ll be able to get on individual films:

            So, I’ll just make a few comments about each of the nominated live-action short films, beginning with my preference for the Oscar winner, the wonderfully weird Tuba Atlantic by Hallvar Witzø (Norway; you can get a little about it at
9F5F07B9A; however, this is not a trailer but the production team’s enthusiastic reaction when they learned of their nomination).  In my experience Scandinavians can display wicked senses of humor, although I think first of Finland in that regard rather than Norway.  Still, Tuba Atlantic is as wacky as you could wish for, as Oskar (Edvard Hægstead), an elderly man, is given a six-days-to-live sentence by his doctor, to which he mostly responds with increased fervor for his seeming life-passion: killing as many as possible of the sea gulls that annoy him in his coast-side home.  To give him comfort, which he clearly doesn’t want, a peppy young woman, Inger (Ingrid Viken), comes to cheer him up and gain her desired membership in the Angel of Death subgroup of the Jesus Club.  She does get him to admit that he has one unresolved quest, that of contacting his estranged, long-departed brother, who now may be living in New Jersey, by sending him the sound of a giant homemade tuba across the Atlantic if the wind would ever blow from the west (given that the sound would have to travel to the west from Norway I never quite understood the geography of this film but I doubt that’s supposed to be a major consideration).  The wind finally changes to the needed direction, the tuba’s sound does reach his brother (along with killing a lot of seagulls and blowing out the windows of the hospital near Oskar), Oskar dies, the soundtrack serenades him with a men’s chorus singing “Anchors Aweigh” (in English, for whatever reason), and a seagull poops on Inger, so she takes up Oskar’s heavy artillery and continues his battle with the birds.

          I’d like to think that the Oscar voters would vote for Oskar, but the level of absurdity may be too much for them so maybe they’d be more inclined toward my second choice.

            My next favorite would be the German production set in India, Raju, by Max Zähle and Stefan Gieren of the Hamburg Media School (trailer clip at  This one teaches an unexpected moral lesson that doesn’t come to a resolution the way the others do but its ambiguous ending provides lots of useful post-screening conversation (or post-reading in this case, for those of you who don’t find yourselves with direct access to the film).  The situation is as straightforward as Tuba Atlantic is a constant swerve from expectations.  A German couple, Jan and Sarah Fischer (Wotan Wilke Möhring and Julia Richter), go to India to adopt an orphan, but no sooner do they get him to their hotel than crisis strikes.  The new father takes the very young boy out for a tour of the city, but Raju (Krish Gupta) wanders away, leaving Dad frantic and Mom angry at her husband’s incompetence.  In a way, Jan’s desperate search for his lost child reminds me of the parallel tragic loss in the Italian neorealist classic The Bicycle Thief (Vittorio De Sica, 1948) except now it’s a family member seemingly gone for good in Raju rather than the vital conveyance needed to provide the family’s sustenance in the older feature film.  Raju eventually returns to the hotel on his own, but in the meantime as Jan seeks help through an agency he finds the boy’s photo in a book of missing children, realizing that his son was kidnapped by the orphanage as were many other children in order to get them set up with adoptive parents who will take them away to a better life.  Despite Sarah’s argument that returning Raju to his birth parents will condemn him to a future of miserable poverty Jan makes the decision that he must take the boy back to his real home.  We don’t know for sure what will come of all this as we leave father and son in a taxi heading back to Raju’s original residence and Sarah horrified, only aware after the fact of her husband’s decision.

            This film provides an insightful look at a completely unexpected ethical dilemma and the related questions of what is the greater good in a complex, likely lose-lose situation.  I’m fascinated with the narrative twists in Tuba Atlantic but would have no problem seeing the Oscar go to Raju, a solid choice as well.

            The more I think about it, though, I’m leaning toward a prediction that the Academy voters will prefer The Shore by Terry George and Oolagh George (Northern Ireland; trailer clip at  This is a more traditional story, even in its relatively brief length; features an actor, Ciarán Hinds, who’s recently graced screens in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson) and The Woman in Black (James Watkins); and is co-directed by two-time Oscar nominee Terry George (for Original Screenplay [Hotel Rwanda, also directed by him, 2004], and Adapted Screenplay [In the Name of the Father, Jim Sheridan, 1993]).  Given these industry links and the story’s well-told but sentimental structure of a man, Joe (Hinds), who comes back to his ancestral coastal village, along with his adult daughter (Kerry Condon), after many years to reconcile with Mary (Maggie Cronin), the fiancée that he left behind, and Paddy (Conleth Hill), the close friend/virtual brother who married her but always felt guilt that he’s the one who stole Mary away.  It’s a very simple tale where one misunderstanding leads to a short comic chase through the muddy shoreline but otherwise everyone is earnest and initially hesitant to push through the silence of the lost years, although eventually they all embrace and sing a song together at a beachside dinner (Marty Robbins’ “Devil Woman” in which the singer “told Mary about her, told her of my great sin, but Mary cried and forgave me …” etc.; take a listen if you like to the original at where you get more references to seagulls and shores, an ongoing theme in these short film reviews it seems), with the final realization that Joe promised he’d name his first child after Paddy, which is what happened with daughter Patricia who now goes by Pat. 

          And there was nary a dry eye in the theatre nor an uneaten mussel on the beach as this short film concludes.  It’s almost the most unoriginal of the bunch (see below), but it has sweet sentiments for all involved and because of some of those involved I’m inclined to think that the Academy voters may be moved most of all by this one.

            That leaves Pentecost by Peter McDonald and Eimear O’Kane (Ireland; you can see the trailer clip at and Time Freak by Andrew Bowler and Gigi Causey (USA; its trailer clip can be found at as contenders in this category.  The first is the more interesting one for me (although Time Freak has some great humor but it feels too recycled; more on that in a minute) because it’s based on a clever metaphor and ends with a largely unexpected action.  Pentecost takes us back to 1977 Ireland in a small town where a homeboy-made-good—very good; in fact, he’s risen to the status of archbishop—is coming back to celebrate a mass with the locals.  The problem is that due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control the only altar boy with experience swinging the required incense burner is Damien (Scott Graham) who recently was suspended from his duties—and from being allowed to followed his beloved Liverpool football (soccer) team on the radio as they pursue their first European Cup final—because his last wild swing knocked Father O’Toole (Eamonn Hunt) off the altar.  Damien’s football fever is further stirred by the pumped-up “locker room” pep talk the head priest gives his altar boys “team” before the service, a nice bit of whimsy that seems to be successful in carrying them to victory (a flawless ceremony with the esteemed cleric) until the sports comparisons get the best of Damien at the end and he kicks the burner toward the archbishop as if he were scoring a goal.  It’s cute and mildly crazy but not really the stuff of an Oscar statue (not that I’m willing to bet on many of my predictions given my track record in guessing the unpredictable choices of Academy voters).

            Similarly, Time Freak would seem to have no chance of winning the award because of its obvious parallels with Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993), unless the memories of that Bill Murray classic provide enough good vibes to allow this shorty (literally, the shortest one of the shorts in this category) to snatch a statue while seemingly taking an encore bow for the earlier feature.  In Time Freak, crazed inventor Stillman (Michael Nathanson) shares the earth-shattering discovery of his time machine with roommate Evan (John Conor Brooke), but we learn that instead of using his grand device to explore the wonders of the past—or even the future—Stillman has become fixated on trying to impress local girl Debbie (Emilea Wilson) and make amends with a merchant, so he just keeps going back to the same minor events of one day ago time and again, trying to perfect their outcome or at least erase the guilt about his reactions.  Whereas Murray had no control over his endless repetition of a specific Feb. 2, Stillman has only his own neuroses to blame for never being either satisfied with his reconstructions of the past or his inability to reconstruct effectively, leading to his constant determination to finally get one (or two) minor event(s) right so that he can move on to more useful matters.  Rather than wait for a Murray-like breakthrough after dozens of attempts, Evan finally commandeers the machine and sends them both back to a time when Stillman was choosing an elective college course.  Evan is now able to steer his friend to something more innocuous than quantum physics so that he doesn’t drive them both crazy with his minutia obsessions.  It’s all very cute, but you can’t help but think that you’ve seen it before … and before … and …

            We’ll see soon enough what the Academy voters have to say about A Separation and The Shore (or any of their competition, with my heart behind Tuba Atlantic in the Live-Action shorts), but I’ve learned long ago to never expect anything as a sure thing from this bunch now that Walt Disney is dead (we assume), because in his time he won 26 of these golden statues (more fascinating Oscar trivia awaits you at where you’ll find that even if you have been nominated in 11 categories—as Hugo [Martin Scorsese] is this year—that you might still go home empty-handed, as with The Turning Point [Herbert Ross, 1977] and The Color Purple [Steven Spielberg, 1985] or you might clean up as with Ben-Hur [William Wyler, 1959], Titanic [James Cameron, 1997], and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King [Peter Jackson, 2003], all with 11 wins).

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Predictions for the Winners of the Academy Awards for 2011 Films

            On Feb. 19th I’m (Ken Burke) doing a presentation for the Mills College Alumnae Association to discuss predictions for the upcoming 84th Academy Awards, to be presented on Feb. 26 for 2011 films.  In anticipation of the meeting with the Alums I’m going to stick my neck out a few days early and offer my thoughts on the anticipated winners and my personal preferences for 8 major categories of the 24 to be decided.  Before the awards broadcast on Feb. 26th I’ll commit myself on the other categories—some of which will be purely a guess, so I may have no preferences in a couple of areas—because as a non-member of the industry I need a little more time to divine which way the wind is blowing in certain areas, with the understanding that many of the roughly 6,000 voters are actors so who can really predict which way they’ll go for Sound Editing and the like but conversely many other voters are older producers and technicians so they're not easy to predict either; check back later and see how I did (normally I come in about 50-60% right because I over think some of these when I should go for the more obvious options; that’s something I’ve learned about Jeopardy answers a lot of the time as well).  After the awards show is done I’ll update once again with the winners as soon as I get a chance.  Good luck in your office pool and get ready to roll out the red carpet.
            Color coding key: red = prediction, green = my preference of the nominees (plus a few other greenies that are my real preferences but that didn’t make the finals), red + green = prediction and preference, gold + bold at a later date = winner
            I’ll also note in purple the predictions of my so-far silent partner, Pat Craig (we’re sort of like the Lew Wolff and John Fisher of the Oakland A’s relative to public presence—and if you have to ask what that’s all about just consider yourself lucky that you don’t know—but, believe me, I take no pleasure in comparing myself to Lew Wolfe), whose real job has so far precluded other contributions to this blog, but I’m hopeful that will change in coming weeks.
(Feb. 27  I'll update this posting with the names of the winners in each of the categories.  Overall I got 15 of 24 correct, 63%, and Pat and I each got 6 of the 8 main categories that we predicted [not the same predictions but still 6 of 8 for each of us].)


The Artist (The Weinstein Co.) 
Thomas Langmann, Producer     Pat predicts and prefers this one also for its outstanding “movieness.”   WINNER!
The Descendants (Fox Searchlight)
 Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Producers
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Warner Bros.) 
Scott Rudin, Producer
The Help (Touchstone) 
Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, Producers
Hugo (Paramount)
 Graham King and Martin Scorsese, Producers
Midnight in Paris (Sony Pictures Classics) 
Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum, Producers
Moneyball (Sony Pictures) 
Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt, Producers
The Tree of Life (Fox Searchlight) 
Sarah Green, Bill Pohland, Dede Gardner and Grant Hill, Producers
War Horse (Touchstone) 
Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers
I prefer Melancholia here but it’s too far off the beaten path to even have been nominated.  I have no problems with The Artist, though, a marvelous silent black and white challenge to contemporary conventions.  My Top 10 (in order) for the year are Melancholia, The Artist, Shame, Take Shelter, The Tree of Life, A Separation, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Midnight in Paris, and Hugo, so you can see that I’m only in about 50% agreement with the Best Picture nominees anyway.


Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist   WINNER!
Alexander Payne - The Descendants
Martin Scorsese - Hugo
Woody Allen - Midnight in Paris
Terrence Malick - The Tree of Life
I prefer Lars von Trier for Melancholia but would be glad to see another non-American, Hazanavicius, take the Directing prize for his brilliant structuring of The Artist; Pat agrees on this one as well for preference and prediction.


Demián Bichir - A Better Life
George Clooney - The Descendants
Jean Dujardin - The Artist   WINNER!
Gary Oldman - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt - Moneyball
I’d like to have seen nominations for Michael Fassbender in Shame and Michael Shannon in Take Shelter (replacing Bichir and Pitt).  I’d say Clooney should have this one in the bag but Oldman was superb as always.  Pat’s going against the grain on this one and predicting Pitt, along with preferring him.  (This one turned out to the case where we were both wrong, but we both accept that Dujardin was a pleasure to watch.)


Glenn Close - Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis - The Help
Rooney Mara - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep - The Iron Lady   WINNER!
Michelle Williams - My Week with Marilyn
I have no complaints with these extraordinary nominees (although Kirsten Dunst was impressive in Melancholia) and I find it terribly hard to choose between Streep and Davis (maybe they could tie like in 1968 with Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter and Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl), but if I have to pick one I think that Streep was outstanding, just like she always is.  Pat agrees with the prediction of Streep but much as he respects her he would prefer Close.


Kenneth Branagh - My Week with Marilyn
Jonah Hill - Moneyball
Nick Nolte - Warrior
Christopher Plummer - Beginners   WINNER!
Max von Sydow - Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
I’m among the many who thought that Albert Brooks possibly belongs in this group (maybe in place of Nolte, but I didn’t see Warrior so that leaves me with a choice between Brooks and Hill; the more I think about Hill in Moneyball the more I have to say he surpassed what I expected, so OK for his nomination), but Plummer well deserves to win (despite my sentimental attachment to von Sydow I just don't see Oscars for silent actors this year).  Presciently, Pat predicts/prefers Plummer (how’s that for alienating alliteration?).


Berenice Bejo - The Artist
Jessica Chastain - The Help
Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer - Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer - The Help   WINNER!
No one was left out that bothers me that much (although Shailene Woodley was terrific in The Descendents) and all of them deserve this level of respect for their roles, but for me it’s all Spencer.  Pat’s going with McCarthy on this one for prediction and preference.


Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash - The Descendants   WINNER!
John Logan - Hugo
George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon - The Ides of March
Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin and Stan Chervin - Moneyball
Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
I’d like to have seen either The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or The Help in this mix rather than Tinker Tailor because I don’t think that any film that’s so hard to follow upon first viewing deserves a script prize or even consideration (obviously there are many who don’t find this script so oblique as I do).  I have a feeling that Academy sentiment may play in favor of Hugo here because despite its many nominations I don’t see too many wins so this may be the place where a little honor is given to Scorsese’s film as a sentimental favorite, but in my opinion anyone who could take the sabermetrics hocus-pocus of the Moneyball book and make it into an understandable, dramatic, entertaining film about my beloved Oakland A’s should be the winner hands down.  In much calmer, clearer fashion Pat predicts and prefers The Descendants (despite his equal A’s fandom) and it wouldn't surprise me a bit if he's right.


Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist
Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig - Bridesmaids
J.C. Chandor - Margin Call
Woody Allen - Midnight in Paris   WINNER!
Asghar Farhadi - A Separation
For this category I’d trade in Margin Call for either Shame or Young Adult, but I really have no serious arguments here.  The more I think about what I experienced with A Separation the more I respect the concept and its intricate, Renoir-like flawed humanism, but as with Hugo I think the Academy is looking for someplace to honor Woody Allen as they often do so this is the most likely category.  Pat’s preference leans towards Bridesmaids but his accepting prediction is for Midnight in Paris (and we could both be wrong if The Artist really picks up steam rather than just taking a couple of the top awards as we’re predicting).

Reader alert! In my attempt to use space most efficiently for the remaining listing of categories I've worked within the limitation of Google Blogspot as best I can (sorry, overlords, but this device has severe formatting restrictions) which require me to construct columns by hand with the space bar.  I finally got it to look decent in Safari but I notice it's messier than usual in the right column for those of you browsing on Firefox or Explorer, although I think you can still make sense of what's listed where.  Sorry for the slop, but what looks fine through one system is a bit out of balance on the others.  OK, now that I've absolved myself to my fellow obsessive-compulsives I encourage you to read on to the non-illustrated contenders.

A Cat in Paris                                                    Dimanche/Sunday
Chico & Rita                                                     The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore                                                                         WINNER!
Kung Fu Panda 2                                               La Luna
Puss in Boots                                                    A Morning Stroll
Rango   WINNER!                                             Wild Life
(^  Rango is the only one of the animated features I've even seen so it would have to be my default preference, which is fine because I do like it a lot, but I think its Hollywood self-referentiality [How's that for a film theory term you don't see much in the popular press?] will play well with the Academy voters so I'll take a chance and predict it as well.  I haven't seen these animated shorts so I just took a wild guess to test out my psychic abilities before I waste money at the racetrack again.)
Bullhead (Belgium)                                            The Artist
Footnote (Israel)                                                 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
In Darkness (Poland)                                           Hugo   WINNER!
Monsieur Lazhar (Canada)                                  The Tree of Life
A Separation (Iran)   WINNER!                            War Horse (This is a strong category with a lot of
(^                                                                     assumptions about The Tree of Life, but much of 
 ^                                                                     that footage came from NASA and I think the
 ^                                                                     Academy voters are looking for some category in
 ^                                                                     which to honor Spielberg. I say this is it.)
 ^  Once again I've seen only A Separation and reviewed it on 2/22/12, but if anything better than this excellent study of human nature and interpersonal conflict has been made in one of these other countries I'd love to see it.  For now, political differences with the Iranian government aside [long live the Green Revolution], I'm all for A Separation.)
SOUND MIXING                                                SOUND EDITING
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo                             Drive
Hugo   WINNER!                                                 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Moneyball                                                           Hugo   WINNER!
Transformers: Dark of the Moon                            Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse                                                           War Horse
(Even more so than with Spielberg I think the voters are looking for Scorsese categories to honor, with these two as likely contenders.  If not, then maybe this would be the one area where recognition would be given to David Fincher's adaptation of the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.) 
ORIGINAL SCORE                                          
Ludovic Bource - The Artist   WINNER!
Alberto Iglesias - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Howard Shore – Hugo
John Williams - The Adventures of Tintin
John Williams - War Horse
(Despite the complaints of plagiarism for a portion of the score in The Artist from the Vertigo soundtrack I think voters will recognize the necessity of appropriate music to carry much of the emotion and rhythm for a feature-length silent film and take this one over the others, but once again there's the Hugo factor and the commanding presence of multiple-winner Williams, although he may cancel himself out this time.)
"Man or Muppet" from The Muppets - Bret McKenzie  (Just a guess. Didn't see either one.)          WINNER!
"Real in Rio" from Rio - Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown and Siedah Garrett
COSTUME                                                      DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Anonymous                                                       Hell and Back Again
The Artist   WINNER!                                         If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Hugo                                                                Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Jane Eyre                                                         Pina
W.E.                                                                Undefeated   WINNER!
(^ Toss-up, Hugo may triumph.)                       (^ A pure guess as I've seen none of them yet.)
The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier        
           of the Civil Rights Movement                   The Artist      
God Is the Bigger Elvis                                       Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2                                    
Incident in New Baghdad                                   Hugo   WINNER!           
Saving Face   WINNER!                                     Midnight in Paris
The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom                  War Horse
(^ A pure guess based on other predictions.)      (^ Strong contenders here, Hugo may take it.)                                                                                
FILM EDITING                                                 MAKEUP
The Artist                                                          Albert Nobbs
The Descendants                                              Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo   WINNER!         The Iron Lady   WINNER!
(Successful editing contributed greatly to the flow of Hugo and I think the sheer volume of makeup in Potter overwhelms the focus just on Streep in The Iron Lady.)
LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM                               VISUAL EFFECTS
Pentecost                                                           Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Raju                                                                   Hugo   WINNER!
The Shore   WINNER!                                          Real Steel
Time Freak                                                          Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Tuba Atlantic                                                      Transformers: Dark of the Moon
(See a separate posting on 2/22/12 [Happy Ash Wednesday!] on the short films.  Hugo may shine in visual effects also, but I also pondered if voters will want to give some recognition to the massive worldwide success of the Potter franchise just as they did years ago with loading up awards on the final installment of Lord of the Rings and finally decided to go with the masterful motion capture and computer work in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.)
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