The King Stays In the Picture

film_kingsspeechFew ‘Speech’ impediments in store at this year’s Oscar

My personal taste in movies is so far off in the outer limits of mainstream Hollywood culture, I never expect the movies I like best to even be in the running for Academy Awards, let alone win gold. Imagine my shock in 2009 when my second-favorite film of the previous year, Slumdog Millionaire, actually won the Oscar for Best Picture. I figured either the Academy was getting smarter or I was getting more lenient in my dotage. Or Door Number Three: the Academy had been taken over by aliens, still the most logical  explanation.
So I have to say that this year’s Oscar nominations are at least (and at best) par for the course. This year’s safe entry, The King’s Speech, cleans up in nominations—as well it might, excellent as it is in every department. Despite losing some early heats to upstart rivals, not to mention afilm_127 slate of 10 potentially vote-splitting Best Picture nominees, the thoroughbred King seems poised to dominate this year’s race. But Oscar always has a few surprises up his gilded sleeve, and it’s the job of us fearless prognosticators to try to figure out what they’re going to be. Let’s take a look …

BEST PICTURE The King’s Speech Remember back in the olden days (OK, last month) when The Social Network had all the buzz? It scored a Golden Globe, along with its director, David Fincher, and a People’s Choice Award. What people? Who knows? But the only people who matter to Oscar are the folks in the Hollywood craft guilds, and the Producers, Directors, and Screen Actors Guilds have already honored King’s Speech. (Only the Writers Guild wentfilm_blackswan rogue, citing both Inception (original script) and Network (adapted), both of which are also up for Best Picture.) Speech is one of my favorites in this group, along with that nerve-rattling indie sleeper, Winter’s Bone. And there’s much to like in The Kids Are All Right, The Fighter, and 127 Hours. (Topping off the nominees are True Grit, and the florid, one-note Black Swan). But if I had a vote in this contest, I’d cast it for Toy Story 3, for a delicate tightrope dance between the whimsical, hilarious, and poignant that most live-action films can only dream of.

BEST DIRECTOR Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech. This isn’tfilm_kidsareallright going to be one of those years where the Academy splits the Best Picture from its creator. But I do find it interesting that after Kathryn Bigelow finally shattered the gilt ceiling last year and became the first Oscar-winning female director (for The Hurt Locker), two of this year’s 10 Best Picture nominees were directed by women. Significantly, neither Lisa Choldenko (The Kids Are All Right) nor Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone) were nominated in this category. Neither was the always woefully under-nominated Christopher Nolan for the audacious Inception, much less Lee Unkrich for Toy Story 3. With my favorites out of the running, you bet I’ll be cheering on Hooper over David Aronofsky (Black Swan), David O. Russell (The Fighter), Joel and Ethan Coen (True Grit), and Fincher.
BEST ACTOR Colin Firth, The King’s Speech. Oscar accolades are often cumulative, honoring a body of work (think of Paul Newman in The Color of Money, or Martin Scorsese for, erm, The Departed?). Or at least retroactive. Heath Ledger deserved every inch of Oscar gold he won for his breathtaking Joker in The Dark Knight, but you just know the Academy was suffering a collective case of (posthumous) bestowers’ remorse over not having awarded him the Best Actor Oscar he deserved for Brokeback Mountain a couple of years earlier. The retroactive factor is why we can expect to see Firth claim the gold this year, not only for this excellent performance, but his fine performance last year in A Single Man, which lost out to Jeff Bridges—who was winning his well-deserved cumulative award for Crazy Heart. Hollywood doesn’t have to award Bridges two consecutive Oscars to show him the love (he’s nominated again for True Grit), James Franco (127 Hours) will have recognition enough as co-host of this year’s ceremony, and while Jesse Eisenberg was good in Social Network, he’s a bit out of his depth in this group. But if it was up to me, I’d vote for the magnificent Javier Bardem in Biutiful.

film_wintersboneBEST ACTRESS Natalie Portman, Black Swan. It’s not rocket science; Portman has already won every other award going for playing Carrie at the Ballet (OK, without the telekinesis, but you get my drift). I see Portman as one component in the grand design of Darren Aronofsky’s fever dream, so I’m baffled that she’s even here, let alone the favorite in such superlative company as Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine, newcomer Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone, Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole, and, my personal fave, film_truegritAnnette Bening, as the acerbic, achingly real alpha-mom in The Kids Are All Right. But the biggest shock in this category is the absence of Noomi Rapace, the woman who played Lisbeth Salander in all three of the “Millennium Trilogy” movies released this year: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Yes, the films and the performance are in Swedish, but that doesn’t stop the incendiary Rapace from giving the iconic female movie performance film_inceptionof the year. It might be argued that the part itself is so rich, half the actress’ work is done for her, but an actress with one iota less of Rapace’s guts, sass, vulnerability and smoldering righteousness could never have brought it off. Oscar voters, what were you thinking?

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR Christian Bale, The Fighter. Bale always been a character actor at heart, with a taste for the edgy. He’s paid his Hollywood superhero dues as well, film_thesocialnetworkbut he’s savvy enough to know you don’t win Oscars for playing Batman; you win them for playing The Joker. Bale gets his own juicy Joker role in The Fighter, a jittery, crack-addled ex-boxer running on the fumes of a once-promising career (and life), and he makes something pretty amazing out of it. I also loved Geoffrey Rush i n The King’s Speech, and John Hawkes’ menacing turn in Winter’s Bone, but they (along with Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right and Jeremy Renner in The Town) will have to settle for the honor of being nominated.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Melissa Leo, The Fighter. Oscar likes to watch actors acting up a storm, especially in the supporting categories. In this field of two harridan mothers, a gutsy girlfriend, a revenge-minded 14-year-old pioneer girl, and a perfect wife, Leo had a bigger, showier Momster role than Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom (which was not nearly as widely seen). Teenage Hailee Steinfeld was solid in True Grit, but not spectacular. Still, don’t completely count out Amy Adams (also in The Fighter) or Helena Bonham Carter (The King’s Speech). Both have been nominated before (as has Leo), but while Adams’ role is smaller and requires less of a physical transformation than her co-star’s, the only thing standing in Bonham Carter’s path to the gold is that hers was the least showy, most restrained role of the lot. She played it to exquisite perfection, however; she’d get my vote.

Christopher Nolan, Inception. Even if The King’s Speech sweeps all its other categories, my hunch is David Seidler’s adroit and witty script will still lose to Nolan. This will be Nolan’s consolation prize after not snagging a directing nomination for Best Picture contender Inception, one of the year’s most intriguing thrill rides. (Not to mention the criminal negligence of neither Nolan, nor his brilliant Memento getting nominated back in 2002. Impossibly, he lost the screenwriting award that year to the safe bet, Gosford Park.) This is Oscar’s chance to make up for all that—at the expense of excellent scripts for The Kids Are All Right, The Fighter, and one of my favorites, Another Year.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network. I’m still not entirely sure how this pointed view of pop culture history on the founding of Facebook became anointed as the front-runner to beat at the start of the awards season. Maybe Hollywood just wants to feel relevant, but whatever the reason, this is the category where Network still has the best shot at the gold, beating out the scripts for 127 Hours, True Grit, Winter’s Bone, and my favorite, Toy Story 3.

MISCELLANEOUS Expect Toy Story 3 to win (finally!) for Best Animated feature, and Wally Pfister to win the Cinematography award for the incredible dreamscape of Inception. (That Paris origami shot alone is worth the gold.) Inception should also win for Art Direction and Visual Effects, although King’s Speech will probably take the Costume award. (Although it would be fun to see Alice In Wonderland score an upset in any of thesecategories.) And look for the smart, savvy anti-Wall Street Inside Job to take the Documentary prize (unless Hollywood’s bohemian element carries the day for my favorite, Exit Through the Gift Shop).

The Academy Awards air at 5 p.m. Sunday on ABC.

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