Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: And the Nominees Are—Pretty Predictable

So the Oscar nominations were announced bright and early on Tuesday. Actually, it was probably dark and early in Los Angeles, but since we all know the only real time is Eastern Standard Time (read: New York time), they pretend it’s morning out there. (Similarly, they will pretend it’s a gala evening instead of late afternoon on Feb. 27. It’s a funny old world.) And there was nary a surprise in the lot, which wasn’t much of a surprise in itself. That, of course, doesn’t mean that most of us don’t feel compelled to attempt to dope out the results on at least the major awards.

Let’s take this stuff in the order the Academy typically does. That will make it easier for anyone who wants to blow a raspberry or two at my poor choices on Oscar night.

Best Supporting Actress

Not being an Oscar historian or even one who places much stock in the Oscars (perhaps that’s why there’s a Robert Osborne bobblehead, but not one of me), I’m not swearing this is a constant, but every year I can remember has started off with the Best Supporting Actress award. It’s big enough to be sufficiently interesting that people don’t switch channels to Ice Road Truckers, even though we all know it’s a tease to lull us into sticking around for awards that are mostly important to the nominees and their immediate family and friends. I’m not saying that awards for editing, cinematography, and writing are unimportant, but let’s be honest—the public at large don’t know who these folks are. Movie nerds do, but they’re not the target audience.

This year we have Amy Adams for The Fighter, Helena Bonham Carter for The King’s Speech, Melissa Leo for The Fighter, Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit, and Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom. We can probably discount the Jacki Weaver nomination, since about six people even saw Animal Kingdom. Even allowing for Academy screenings and screeners, the obscurity factor is going to be a factor. As for Hailee Steinfeld, there tends to be a built-in resistance to young performers. (And, honestly, could anything be worse than winning an Oscar at 14? What do you do for an encore?) Amy Adams is excellent in The Fighter, but the role—though out of character for her—isn’t a showy one.

Helena Bonham Carter’s performance in The King’s Speech is brilliant, and she’s who I’d like to see win. It’s a subtle performance—and that will work against her. I don’t see her “acting” in the film. In fact, I don’t see her at all. I see the young version of the Queen Mother. I also suspect that her relationship with Tim Burton and her presence in all of his films since Planet of the Apes is not in her favor.  My guess is that Melissa Leo is going to win for The Fighter. It’s flashy and showy in the extreme, though it takes second place to Christian Bale in terms of tics and mannerisms in the same movie. She acts the role with both fists in a manner that has been much prized by the critical populace.

Best Supporting Actor

Here we find Christian Bale for The Fighter, John Hawkes for Winter’s Bone, Jeremy Renner for The Town, Mark Ruffalo for The Kids Are All Right, and Geoffrey Rush for The King’s Speech. I’m not as up on this one, because I haven’t convinced myself to watch The Town. I’ve seen all the others, though. My take on them is that John Hawkes is the really dark horse here, and is mostly included as a kind of nod to the existence of the really indie indie. I liked Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right, but I don’t see him winning—and I admit that part of my reason for liking him lay in feeling sorry for the character because the screenplay does him wrong. My vote goes to Rush, but I’m betting the Academy votes Bale for a performance that constantly made me think of Billy DeWolfe saying, “Busy, busy, busy!”

Best Actress

This is an interesting list: Annette Bening for The Kids Are Allright, Nicole Kidman for Rabbit Hole, Jennifer Lawrence for Winter’s Bone, Natalie Portman for Black Swan, and Michelle Williams for Blue Valentine. Bening was fine, but she’s been better and I didn’t find her in any way extraordinary. Williams was good in a seriously underwritten role in Blue Valentine. Frankly, I found her more effective in her supporting role in Shutter Island. Jennifer Lawrence was very good in Winter’s Bone, but she’s a newcomer and it’s a small movie—both could work against. For me, it’s a contest between Kidman and Portman, both of whom gave remarkable performances. I’d have a hard time choosing, but I’m betting that the fearlessness of Portman’s performance will carry the day with Oscar voters. Plus—applying Academy-think—Kidman has an Oscar, Portman doesn’t.

Best Actor

This one looks like an easy prediction. Up for it are Javier Bardem in Biutiful, Jeff Bridges in True Grit, Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network, Colin Firth in The King’s Speech, and James Franco in 127 Hours. What that gives us is Bardem as quite the best thing in the relentlessly depressing Biutiful. I don’t see him as likely. Then there’s Bridges, and while I think he’s marvelous in True Grit, he won last year (for an “Oscar Bait” performance) and that pretty much kills his chances. Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network strikes me as simply a case where a limited actor just happens to be right for a specific role.

Realistically, this looks like a contest between Colin Firth and James Franco. Franco is terrific in 127 Hours. No question, but he’s not as terrific as Firth. And there are other factors to consider. Looked at cynically, Oscar does dearly love a disability and King George VI’s stammer gives Firth the edge there. More, it’s widely perceived—including by me—that Firth was robbed last year for his performance in A Single Man, and Oscar has a long history of “making up” for that next time at bat. Happily, in this case, it not only makes it up to Firth for last year, but it does so for a performance as good as or better than the one in A Single Man.

Best Director

This is always an odd one to me, because—given the nature of film—the idea of Best Director and Best Picture not being the same is hard to fathom. You don’t have to be an auterist to wonder how Christopher Nolan is up for writing and Inception is up for Best Picture, but he’s not up for director. The same could be said about Danny Boyle and 127 Hours. The Academy doesn’t think that way, it seems. So what we have here are Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan, Ethan and Joel Coen for True Grit, David Fincher for The Social Network, Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech, and David O. Russell for The Fighter

I’d be good with wins for Aronofsky, the Coens, or Hooper. I’d also be good with any of their films as Best Picture. While I think Russell did an fantastic job with The Fighter, I think it’s the weakest film he’s ever made—and the one that engaged him the least personally. Plus, I don’t see him as popular with the Academy. He’s too outspoken, too contentious, and too quirky. My first choice would be Hooper, but I think he’s too much a newcomer to get it. The Coens got an Oscar recently. Aronofsky is too personal, strange, and stylized. That leaves Fincher, and my guess is that—in Academy-think—it’s his turn. Personally, Fincher’s work leaves me cold and think The Social Network is the most overrated movie of the year, but I think he’ll win.

The Films

We’re back with a 10 title list again this year—127 Hours, Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The King’s Speech, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, and Winter’s Bone. I’ve seen them all. My initial response is that three of them—The Fighter, The Kids Are All Right, and Toy Story 3—have no business being on the list. They’re all—to varying degrees—good movies, but not a single one of them is great, and not a single one of them has any real shelf life. In 50 years, the only one that’s likely to be remembered and still watched is Toy Story 3, and that’s as part of the series. Winter’s Bone is nearer greatness, but I don’t see it as a film “for the ages,” which presumably is what an Oscar winner should be, even if it often—usually—isn’t.

My position here is interchangeable with my position on directors, except I’d add Inception to the list of Black Swan, The King’s Speech, and True Grit as potential winners that I’d be OK with. My top choice of the nominees remains The King’s Speech, and the most likely contest here would seem to be between it and The Social Network. Both 127 Hours and True Grit are too close to Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and No Country for Old Men  (2007) for their own good. Of the two, however, I think True Grit will last, while I believe 127 Hours will ultimately be viewed as one of Danny Boyle’s lesser works. Black Swan I believe will be around 50 years on, but I also think it’s too odd for Oscar. Inception will still be around, too, but it’s lost its summer momentum—for now.

As noted previously, I think The Social Network is overrated. It’s entertaining and it’s topical, but I just don’t think it goes beyond that. The rush to call it “the Citizen Kane of our time” was clearly made by folks who think the greatness of Kane lies in its portrait of William Randolph Hearst,” rather than in its dynamic filmmaking. However, it may well snag that Oscar. Working against it is the fact that it’s skewed to a younger crowd than the Oscar voting body. That may save the day for The King’s Speech, which trades in timelessness rather than timeliness. Then again, for all I know, there may be a lot of Oscar voters out there who are hooked on playing “Farmville” on Facebook.

Otherwise, the only thing I find notable lies in the choices for Best Foreign Language Film. This is always tricky, because the rules are so weird and confining. Plus, these are movies that often haven’t really been released in the U.S. Still, it looks like they’ve gone out of their way to look for the obscure, The only title I’ve seen is Biutiful, but the idea that it’s better than Mother, Micmacs, or I Am Love is unfathomable to me.

The question, of course, remains: Why do we even care about Oscar? I don’t have a good answer other than habit. I’m interested in individual critic’s lists, but not much interested in the results of critic groups voting—even though I participate in one. The Golden Globes are a joke and notoriously corrupt. The SAG Awards are so crowded with voters with memberships who have rarely even made it inside a studio that they’re hardly worthwhile. Oscar has the problem of retaining voters who haven’t been involved with making movies for 50 years, but they manage to hold on to a certain allure. How? I’m not sure—other than sheer longevity.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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23 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: And the Nominees Are—Pretty Predictable

  1. DrSerizawa

    Of the films on the list I’ve seen Inception, B Swan, TG, TS3 and TKS. Leaving out Shutter Island makes me sad. I’m not a fan of the Oscars because, within reasonable limits, I don’t believe there is any such thing as a “best” movie or “best” actor. The tendency of film people to play to the Academy is detrimental to the process IMO. And until the Academy begins to see the merit of truly superior films like Machete and Black Dynamite they will continue to disappoint. (joke)

    Inception was the best Scifi movie/thriller. True Grit was the best western in years. Too bad the ending was so drawn out. TKS was the most easily enjoyable and non-threatening movie with so many stunning performances. Black Swan was IMHO by far the most emotionally powerful movie of the year that I saw. If I had to choose one that I would most hate to have missed it would be Black Swan. I was completely mesmerized by the end and I still can’t get Portman’s Black Swan dance out of my head. So by that criterion I’d say BSwan was my personal favorite. But only by a whisker. The films are just too different to say, “This is the one”.

    However all of them will very probably make their way into my library, except TS3. How the heck did that get nominated? No way is it in league with the others.

    Which will the Academy choose? No clue. But then they chose Titanic as Best Picture didn’t they? On one level I hope Natalie Portman doesn’t win the Oscar even though she deserves it because of the career trajectory “curse”. Just look at what happened to Jennifer Connelly. Be that as it may, I couldn’t choose between the various actors in those movies. They were all wonderful. And I unaccountably continue to be impressed with Mila Kunis. I hope she can throw off the baggage of that dumb TV show.

  2. Ken Hanke

    Leaving out Shutter Island makes me sad.

    I agree, but I fully expected it, didn’t you?

    I’m not a fan of the Oscars because, within reasonable limits, I don’t believe there is any such thing as a “best” movie or “best” actor. The tendency of film people to play to the Academy is detrimental to the process IMO.

    Well, I’m not really going to give you an argument, because what you say is largely true. Problem is they’re here and they show little sign of going away. People like being told that something is the “best.” I’m not sure why. It isn’t entirely un-useful, though, since it does often manage to spotlight items of genuine merit.

    And until the Academy begins to see the merit of truly superior films like Machete and Black Dynamite they will continue to disappoint. (joke)

    Why a joke? I haven’t seen Black Dynamite, but Machete is very adept at doing exactly what it sets out to do, and it is not without a point, no matter how broadly that point is stated. Those films may be extreme examples, but there is an element of types of movies that are invariably shut out — usually as not being “serious” enough.

    However all of them will very probably make their way into my library, except TS3. How the heck did that get nominated? No way is it in league with the others.

    I have no idea how Toy Story 3 ended up on there. It certainly doesn’t belong. And it has nothing to do with it being animated. I had no problem with Up being on there last year. I would have had no problem with Fantastic Mr. Fox. Those were incredibly layered, original works.

    Which will the Academy choose? No clue. But then they chose Titanic as Best Picture didn’t they?

    That’s just one among scads of dubious choices.

    On one level I hope Natalie Portman doesn’t win the Oscar even though she deserves it because of the career trajectory “curse”.

    Well, that “curse” often seems to be the result of bad career choices, so I don’t think it’s really a curse.

    Be that as it may, I couldn’t choose between the various actors in those movies.

    Many voters may feel that way, but just as I am given one first place SEFCA vote, so are they.

  3. Mike

    To me the only real value the Oscars have is as a jumping off point for conversation about film with the casual movie goer. Gives me the opportunity to discuss what’s great about the films that were nominated while allowing me to throw out recommendations for stuff that was overlooked. Doing this without coming across as a pompous ass is a bit tricky, but that process is another topic for another day.

    Re: this year’s Best Picture nominees: It’s not a bad list; none of the top ten are awful and/or Oscar Bait type films and even though only three made my personal top ten (for whatever that’s worth) I didn’t feel like I wasted money watching any of them. If I had to place a bet on the winner my money would probably be on The King’s Speech as it just seems like exactly the kind of thing the Academy loves as the “film of the year”. They wouldn’t be off base either – it’s a pretty good movie, even if it wasn’t my favorite of 2010.

    I’m not a fan of Inception but it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t a very well directed film; Nolan getting snubbed is a bit baffling. Same goes for Boyle, who crafted what was my favorite movie this year. I suppose when you have ten spots for the best movie and only five for director sacrifices have to be made. Hailee Steinfeld getting a Best Supporting nod for what was in my mind a leading performance is a bit odd too. But out of the leading categories these are the only odd bits that really stand out, which is more than I can say of the Academy in the past. Maybe the Academy is finally getting their act together?

  4. Jason

    I was surprised [i]Exit Through The Gift Shop[/i] was nominated for best Documentary.

  5. Hailee Steinfeld getting a Best Supporting nod for what was in my mind a leading performance is a bit odd too.
    This seems to happen quite a bit – usually when films are trying to avoid competing with themselves. For example, Geoffrey Rush should probably have a BEST ACTOR nomination – he’s one of the two leads in THE KING’S SPEECH. However, if he got that nod, he’d be competing with Colin Firth, splitting the vote.

    Not sure about the reasoning behind Steinfeld’s nomination, but I haven’t seen TRUE GRIT yet.

    This also seems to happen quite a bit in ensemble movies. George Clooney got the BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR nod for his leading performance in SYRIANA – a film with five or six leading performances, it’s just that none of them dominated the running time due to the nature of the film’s construction.

  6. I was surprised Exit Through The Gift Shop was nominated for best Documentary.

    Yes, Banksy’s prank continues to impress! Or is it a prank?

  7. Ken Hanke

    To me the only real value the Oscars have is as a jumping off point for conversation about film with the casual movie goer.

    A reasonable notion. The downside — depending on the degree of casualness — lies in the ones who are convinced that the Best Whatever is etched in stone. Though that’s not actually any worse than the hardcore cineaste (we all know one or two of these) who thinks that a win means it can’t be any good.

  8. Ken Hanke

    I was surprised Exit Through The Gift Shop was nominated for best Documentary.

    Based on quality or the question of whether it really is a documentary?

  9. Ken Hanke

    Not sure about the reasoning behind Steinfeld’s nomination, but I haven’t seen TRUE GRIT yet.

    I think it’s her age more than anything.

  10. Mike

    I was surprised Exit Through The Gift Shop was nominated for best Documentary.

    Love this movie, but I’m not at all convinced it was a real documentary. Maybe they should consider a faux-doc category next year …

    The downside—depending on the degree of casualness—lies in the ones who are convinced that the Best Whatever is etched in stone. Though that’s not actually any worse than the hardcore cineaste (we all know one or two of these) who thinks that a win means it can’t be any good.

    I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anyone who thinks that much of the Oscars. Nearly every film fan I’ve known takes these awards with a grain of salt. Lucky me, I guess. I have known plenty of the of the other sort though.

  11. Ken Hanke

    I have known plenty of the of the other sort though.

    The woods are full of them. The internet is even fuller.

  12. LYT

    “there was nary a surprise in the lot”

    Maybe not in the majors, but I’m HUGELY surprised by the nominees for best makeup:

    BARNEY’S VERSION (Paul Giamatti made to look old)
    THE WAY BACK (People look starved and dehydrated)

    and

    THE WOLFMAN (a wolf-man, when he’s not CGI)

    I get The Wolfman nod. Not sure I understand the other two.

  13. Ken Hanke

    I get The Wolfman nod. Not sure I understand the other two.

    Well, they are makeups, but not fantasticated ones. I’m just relieved that The Social Network didn’t get a Costume Design award for “best hoodies.”

  14. Ken Hanke

    Should we go ahead and pick em?

    Have at it. I was hoping someone would.

  15. Jason

    [b]Based on quality or the question of whether it really is a documentary? [/b]

    Actually I really like the film, but I was surprised because to me it still seems like kind of a put-on.

  16. LYT

    Also, what’s with HEREAFTER for best special effects? I just watched the film and liked it, but I’ve seen tsunamis and out-of-focus ghosts onscreen many times before.

  17. Ken Hanke

    Actually I really like the film, but I was surprised because to me it still seems like kind of a put-on

    Well, it’s never been proved to not be real and no one’s owned up to it as bogus. I’m pretty ambivalent about it, but then I didn’t like it as well as most people. Don’t get me wrong. I thought it was fine, but I wasn’t anywhere near blown away.

  18. Ken Hanke

    Also, what’s with HEREAFTER for best special effects? I just watched the film and liked it, but I’ve seen tsunamis and out-of-focus ghosts onscreen many times before.

    The needed a fifth film maybe? I mean really, I can’t imagine it winning out against the other movies on the list, can you?

  19. I haven’t seen HEREAFTER (and I’m not likely to), but I’m appalled at ALICE IN WONDERLAND’s nomination – the Visual Effects were terrible. It’s like CGI took a 15 year step backwards in quality and effectiveness.

  20. Ken Hanke

    I didn’t mind the effects in it myself, though it is the only Burton picture since Planet of the Apes that I’ve zero desire to see again. The screener sits here unopened.

    Actually, I watched The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus again today. Now, those are effects I can truly appreciate.

  21. it is the only Burton picture since Planet of the Apes that I’ve zero desire to see again.
    I agree. Is it a coincidence that it’s also the least Burtonesque since then?

  22. Ken Hanke

    Is it a coincidence that it’s also the least Burtonesque since then?

    Probably not. I may rethink this at some point, mind you, but I’m not planning on it any time soon because it would require watching it again. While I didn’t by any means dislike it…

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