This is the kind of year that I really love watching the Oscars. I’ve seen most of the movies up for the big awards so I feel fairly well qualified to judge. There aren’t a lot of clear front-runners or obvious winners. And there aren’t many movies nominated for which I feel that an Oscar win would be an utter travesty (Travesty being, of course, a relative term, used here in “Hollywood pats self on back in wrong way” kind of context, as in “That clichéd-as-hell cinematic dungheap Crash beating the moving and beautiful Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture was an utter travesty”).
So let’s take a looksee:
Best Picture: If I were in charge, I’d give the award to Inception, no questions asked, but I’ll readily admit I’m a easy mark for a number of things that Inception did extraordinarily well, almost as if it were a movie individually tailored to my exact tastes: heist movie + loopy sci-fi, containing one of the best fight scenes ever filmed and an action thriller “storming the impregnable mountain fortress” scene thrown in for good measure? Yes, please. But since Christopher Nolan wasn’t even nominated for directing (speaking of utter travesties), we can safely say Inception is out of the running.
Buzz is that this is pretty much a two-way race between The King’s Speech and The Social Network. First off, I wouldn’t be tremendously surprised here to see the two front-runners split the vote, allowing for a dark horse win for True Grit. I don’t think that’s what will happen, but if it did it won’t surprise me.
I liked The King’s Speech just fine, though I think John Ramos on NPR’s Monkey See blog has nailed what I think was its biggest flaw: it focuses on Colin Firth’s Bertie, though coming at the story from the other angle, focusing on Geoffrey Rush’s Lionel Logue, making The King’s Speech Therapist, would probably result in a more interesting movie.
The Social Network is a fascinating story, well-acted by all involved (the lack of Supporting Actor nominations for both Andrew Garfield and Armie Hammer is another travesty), well-written, directed with style and flair by David Fincher, and of contemporary interest and significance. I think a lot of the critics have gone overboard in their effusive “This is who we are, as a society, now” and “This movie has its finger on the pulse of modern America” praise, but having contemporary relevance is not nothing. So between the two, I’d pick The Social Network. But I don’t think it’s gonna happen.
The Social Network‘s big award wins were mostly from critics’ societies, whereas King’s Speech won both the Producers’ Guild and Directors’ Guild awards, voted on largely by people who are also voting members of the Academy. Add in the fact that the Academy remains full of stodgy old people who have been insulated from the real world for decades at this point, and will vote for what they understand (a story of just how hard it is to be wealthy and privileged with a healthy dose of Royalty Porn thrown in) over what they don’t (all that computer mumbo-jumbo). I think a fairly large portion of the Academy membership are people who, if they have a Facebook page or a Twitter feed, it’s something their secretary’s assistant’s junior intern handles. I’m calling it for the Royalty Porn.
Best Director: As goes Best Picture, so goes Best Director, most of the time. A year without a clear front-runner could easily be a year where you see a split in the two. Fincher’s got more of a track record in Hollywood and is a previous nominee in the category (for The Curious Case of Forrest Gump Benjamin Button), so I think he’s got a good shot at it. And again, Fincher and King’s Speech director Tom Hooper could split the vote, letting a dark horse candidate like The Coen Brothers or Darren Aronofsky sneak in and steal the award (a lá Roman Polanski’s out-of-nowhere win for The Pianist in 2002). But because such splits are generally unpredictable, it would be madness to predict one: I say the award goes to Tom Hooper.
Best Actress: Another two-horse race here, between Annette Bening (for The Kids Are All Right) and Natialie Portman (Black Swan), I’m told. And I’m sorry, but I just don’t think The Kids Are All Right is a Best Picture, and I don’t think Bening’s performance was anything special. I thought Julianne Moore was actually quite a bit better. I never got any sense of nuance from Bening, any depth or concept that the character had an interior life or that the character did anything she did for any reason other than, “it’s in the script.” Not that I think Bening’s a bad actress by any means, I just don’t think she had much to work with. I think there’s a Lesbian Novelty Factor at play here: imagine the couple in the movie is straight, and Bening’s role is played by Alec Baldwin (who is the same age as Bening), in exactly the same way. Would the performance be receiving nearly such acclaim? I don’t know, but I have a hard time thinking so.
Portman, on the other hand, turned in a terrific performance in a physically and emotionally demanding role. Melodrama’s a tricky thing, and whether or not Black Swan was going to work as melodrama or descend into ludicrous camp hinged entirely on the lead performance, and she nailed it. I can’t see the award not going to Portman.
Best Actor: Strong field here. Me, I’d give it to Jesse Eisenberg, who walked a fine line in creating a version of Mark Zuckerberg who is unquestionably an asshole (as Rooney Mara memorably informs him in the movie), but also a compelling and even sympathetic character. Much as with Black Swan, the success or failure of The Social Network in artistic terms was always going to hinge almost entirely on the strength of its lead performance, and Eisenberg knocked it out of the park.
But Colin Firth is the front-runner here, and I think he’ll win it, because his performance was pure Oscar-bait. Academy voters love nothing so much as someone Triumphing Over Adversity, and doubly so here because, as the movie makes clear, there was apparently no way England could possibly have endured World War II if King George VI had not triumphed over his particular adversity. Or something. Firth’s performance was very good, and as some critic out there (I’ve forgotten who) noted, he does an excellent job of creating a realistic speech impediment that isn’t the standard P-p-p-p-p-porky P-p-p-pig Hollywood version of a stutter. He’ll win, and not undeservedly, but I think Eisenberg was better.
Best Supporting Actor: It seems that Christian Bale is the one absolute sure thing win on Sunday, which is fine, as he’s an excellent actor and deserving of the recognition. The Fighter is one of the heavily-nominated movies I haven’t seen though. I think I’m just pretty much done with boxing movies. I love Rocky, I admire Raging Bull, I thought Million Dollar Baby was pretty good, I damn near fell asleep during Cinderella Man…but I just don’t think a new boxing movie has anything to show me that I haven’t already seen a million times. Every creative way of shooting a fight has been done. Every cinematic metaphor that can be wrung out of boxing has been wrung. So The Fighter just slipped right past me. Don’t feel like I missed much.
Best Supporting Actress: There’s heavy buzz for either of the two ladies from The (yawn) Fighter, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams. I’m hoping for that whole vote-splitting concept to come into play here. Leo and Adams take each other out, clearing the way for Hailee Steinfeld to win the prize. She was so, so good in True Grit. Carried the movie and stood out even against fairly showy performances from Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon.
In other categories – I think Inception and Winter’s Bone will walk off with the Screenplay awards, Toy Story 3 had Best Animated Feature locked up on June 18, 2010 (if not before), Social Network will win for Best Score, because how can you resist the idea of “Academy Award winner Trent Reznor,” and even though it’s up against far more imaginative material like Harry Potter and Alice in Wonderland, The King’s Speech will win for Costume Design and Art Direction, because, well, you know, Helena Bonham Carter in hats and pearls.