Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oscar Predictions 2011 -- Reflections on the Year in Movies

Oscar nominations are kind of like your grandfather's choices in music. Most of the time he plays it safe, sticking to the songs and albums he's most comfortable with -- Sinatra, the Beatles -- but there are some days when you go over and he's bopping his aging head to the beats of Kanye West. He's traditional, but he makes an effort to stay contemporary.

This year, the nominees for Oscar are just like that -- there's an effort to reach out for something new and different, but mostly they stayed within the confines of tradition and expectation.

The biggest example here is Christopher Nolan's Inception. It is nominated for 7 awards, including Best Picture, yet it was snubbed for Best Director and Best Editing. Looking at the number of nominations, I imagine this sounds like sour grapes, but this is typical Oscar. Regardless of your opinion about the film, it's hard to argue that Inception isn't the most visionary film of the year. Nolan's personal stamp is on the film, and his direction and editing make sense of a very complicated screenplay. Instead, Oscar chose to nominate David O. Russell for The Fighter, a mediocre boxing movie with some great performances. Boxing movies are safe, like the Rolling Stones.

Yet, we also saw some indie spirit with the nominations for Winter's Bone, the amazing little film starring Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolley, a 17-year old girl in search of her bail-skipping father. Bone was nominated for 4 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress (Lawrence) and Best Supporting Actor (John Hawkes as Uncle Teardrop). Nominating this rough-around-the-edges indie film about poverty in the Ozarks is like grandpa being caught grooving to the Arcade Fire.

In the end, tradition will rule out, hence the multiple nods for The King's Speech and The Social Network. They have been sweeping awards all winter long, and will continue to do so come Academy Awards night. Grandpa, after all, can only take so much Lil Wayne before he needs his fix of Van Morrison and Bob Dylan.

Here are the nominees with my predictions and thoughts:

Best Picture

127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

My Prediction: The Social Network. Even though The King's Speech leads all films with 12 nominations (the safest film in the bunch, by the way -- thanks, Grandpa), I think The Social Network will win because of its topical subject matter. More people have seen it, and, frankly, it's a better film. I'd love to see Inception, Winter's Bone, or Black Swan take home the award, but they are definitely on the outside looking in here. True Grit has a definite shot, having the Coen Brother's pedigree, and being an amazing film, but it hasn't been making a splash in the end of the year awards.

Best Director

Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
David O. Russell, The Fighter

My Prediction: David Fincher. In keeping with tradition, usually the winner for Best Picture also wins for Best Direction. So, I've got to go with Fincher. Fincher's film is well-staged and gets the most out of situations and conversations most other directors would render boring. While I'm miffed that Nolan was snubbed here, it wouldn't change my prediction in the slightest.

Best Actor

Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours

My Prediction: Colin Firth. Last year, I felt Firth deserved the win over Jeff Bridges for his performance in A Single Man, which was brave, noble, and engaging. This year, the award should go to Eisenberg, for making his anti-social version of Mark Zuckerberg both relatable, yet aloof. Firth's performance is excellent, just as The King's Speech is excellent, but his performance is yet another in a long line of British and disabled characters who are a lock for the prize.

Note: Overlooking Ryan Gosling's heartbreaking performance in Blue Valentine is a crime. His performance blows all these fine actors out of the water. Did the academy just decide to throw Bardem in there to make sure they honored a former winner? Snubbing Gosling is even sadder when you consider his co-star, Michelle Williams, was nominated for her performance as his frustrated wife.

Best Actress

Annette Bening, The Kids Are Alright
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

My Prediction: Natalie Portman. Even though her latest film, No Strings Attached, is a definite bomb, it doesn't seem to be putting any strain on her lock to win this award. As much as I loved Lawrence and Williams, Portman's performance is unlike anything we've seen in movies for many years. It's brave because it's so melodramatic, so physically demanding. It's also consistent, frightening, and beautiful. No other actress this year did better work than Portman.

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale, The Fighter
John Hawkes, Winter's Bone
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are Alright
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech

My Prediction: Christian Bale. As with the Best Actor and Actress categories, this one has been a lock for quite sometime now. Bale is simply mesmerizing as Dickey Eklund, the crack-addicted brother of Micky Ward. This is method acting at its finest, and his performance is uncompromising -- Bale never allows us to feel sorry for Dickey, yet never allows us to hate him either. I'm glad Jeremy Renner got some love in this category for the overlooked The Town, but he's just glad to be here. As is John Hawkes, whose performance as Teardrop in Winter's Bone is stunning. The only real competition Bale has is Rush, who is the best thing about The King's Speech.

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

My Prediction: Hailee Steinfeld. While the other acting categories are locks, this one isn't. It was until Amy Adams was added to the mix, giving Leo competition from her own film. If Adams' presence in this category splits votes, expect to see the young Steinfeld rise, who is really a leading actress forced to take a Supporting Actress nomination because of her age. I also wouldn't rule out Bonham Carter, who's performance is good, but gets extra kudos for being an atypical acting choice for an actress known for taking off-beat roles.

Best Original Screenplay

Another Year
The Fighter
The Kids Are Alright
The King's Speech

My Prediction: The Kids Are Alright.
While I didn't find this film to be as great as so many other critics, it won't be shut out. The screenplay awards are often given as consolation prizes to films the Academy felt bad ignoring in other categories. Hence, Pulp Fiction and Juno's wins in previous years. The Kids Are Alright is a popular choice. As a script, it's solid. The best writing in this category is The King's Speech, which features fine dialogue. Inception is a strong script, but it's writing is secondary to the overwhelming experience of the direction and effects.

Best Adapted Screenplay

127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

My Prediction: The Social Network.
This is an even bigger lock than Best Actress. Aaron Sorkin's highly touted script is a masterpiece of dialogue and structure. The others are excellent scripts, especially Winter's Bone, but The Social Network will be studied in the future at film schools. It will win on the opening scene alone.

Note: how is Toy Story 3 an "adapted" screenplay? I'm assuming it's because they are "adapting" a story based on characters created in the first film of the trilogy. I find this stupid -- it's an original script. Does this mean every sequel is an adaptation? Guess so.

Best Documentary

Exit Through the Gift Shop
Inside Job
Waste Land
My Prediction: Inside Job. While I haven't seen this one, it's about the collaspse of our economy and banking industry. Liberal Hollywood loves documentaries like this one that stick it to conservatives. Personally, I loved Exit Through the Gift Shop, which was an amazing study of point-of-view. It's possible Restrepo, a documentary about a group of soldiers on the front lines in Afghanistan, will win, but Inside Job was the most publicized of this bunch.

Note: why the snub of Waiting for Superman? It was the only documentary released nationwide this year, and received tons of good press. It's director, Davis Guggenheim, previously won for An Inconvenient Truth, and it's about a serious subject -- the decline of education in America. I get why the character study Winnebago Man didn't make the cut -- it's considered too trivial -- but Waiting for Superman seems to be everything Oscar looks for in a documentary. Strange? Then again, this is the same Academy Awards that overlooked the greatest documentary of all-time, Hoop Dreams.

Other Predictions

Editing: The Social Network
Cinematography: True Grit
Art Direction: Inception
Foreign Film: Biutiful
Animated Feature: Toy Story 3
Original Score: The King's Speech
Original Song: "We Belong Together" -- Randy Newman, Toy Story 3
Sound Editing: Inception
Sound Mixing: Inception
Make-up: The Wolfman
Costumes: The King's Speech
Visual Effects: Inception
Animated Short: Day & Night
Live Action Short: The Confession
Documentary Short: Killing in the Name

1 comment:

  1. I'm really hoping Biutiful makes it. Foreign Language Films is my favorite category at the Oscars due to the diversity of submissions, but every year, so many really good films get shortlisted.
    Last year, South Africa's movie White Wedding ought to at least have receive a nomination, but I guess the romantic comedy aspect threw the Academy off. I was actually more interested in how well it dealt with prominent social complexities and issues since the new government took over. It uses the comedy to shine hope on the shifting trends toward modernization, without neglecting the roots of the people portrayed.
    Needless to say, I highly recommend it. It just came out on DVD/VoD a week ago. Go check it out, if you're interested: http://whiteweddingmovie.com/