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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.