Oscar 2011: Who Will Win?

E: This is the power of the Academy Awards.  Every person who is nominated tonight will have this thing written in their obituary: Oscar Nominee,  ____, died today.  Their lives – wrongly or not – will be distilled into this one achievement, this shorthand for excellence.  If Hailee Steinfeld lives to be one hundred, if she lives to see the next century, if she never acts in another movie, as long as there are obituaries, hers will tell of the events of this Oscar night.  There may not even be newspapers to run the obituaries, but as long as we don’t slide into some sort of apocalyptic distopia, those will be the words they use.  Long after anyone cares whether Anne Hathaway and James Franco are entertaining (and that they’re going to care about for a long time – ask David Letterman) people will know what this means.

And yeah, okay, that’s a little more pretentious than my usual blatherings about the glitz and the glamor of the speeches.  But occasionally, it’s worth remembering.  This is fun, sure, but it’s also a pretty big deal.

Let’s get right to it, then, shall we?  Here’s my take on who’s going to win the most important categories and why:

Best Actor:

Your Winner:

Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

How Sure Am I?


If Not Him, Then Who?

Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network

At Least You Got the Hosting Gig:

James Franco, 127 Hours

There For the Party:

Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Jeff Bridges, True Grit

If I Had a Vote:
Colin Firth  (with James Franco a really close second)

You can count out recent winners Bridges and Bardem, just for that reason. It takes a force of nature like Tom Hanks to repeat two years in row, and last year’s winner Jeff Bridges – excellent though he was as drunken one eyed marshall Rooster Cogburn – doesn’t have the overwhelming buzz.  Besides, True Grit really belongs to Hailee Steinfeld.  Javier Bardem has passionate partisans (like one Julia Roberts, whose patronage and campaigning has scored him his third nomination) but the role of Uxbal, the dying psychic and hustler, will have at least an equal share of detractors.  It’s stuck in too difficult a movie.

In his turn as hiker Aron Ralston, James Franco made the sort of career break through all working actors must be hoping for.  Oscar doesn’t like young guys and that’s a strike against Franco.  Hosting the Oscars must be a distraction as well.  What I think is this; this is the first great step for James, and it’s going to help him on the road to an Oscar in the future.

And then there’s 25 year old Jesse Eisenberg playing 19 year old Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.  Eisenberg is the hipster choice, and a longtime critics favorite for his roles in indie fare like The Squid and the Whale and Adventureland.    Like Franco, Eisenberg has earned his first nomination.  Eisenberg is even younger than the youngest winner so far (Adrian Brody, who was then 28) and that doesn’t help.  The actor is famously hard on himself, and won’t watch any of his own work; his Zuckerberg is waspish and difficult, but hopefully something he can learn to be proud of.  And hey, maybe by the time he’s gotten over than qualm, he’ll be old enough for the Academy to let him win something.

But the awards season has really been about Colin Firth, a nominee for his gorgeous work last year in Tom Ford’s A Single Man, and now the heavy favorite for his work as Prince Albert (soon to become King George) of England.  Oscar loves a disability, and Prince Bertie’s is a doozy; he stutters, and he’s got a job that requires he use words to inspire.  The physical dimension of his work knocks you over.   He’s adorable, and it’s lovely to see him get such meaty roles; his acceptance speeches so far have been uniformly self-deprecating and adorable as well. We’ve seen him win the Golden Globe, the BAFTA, and the SAG awards.  It won’t come as a surprise, but I’m going to enjoy Mr. Darcy’s win thoroughly.

Best Actress:

Your Winner:

Natalie Portman, Black Swan

How Sure Am I?


The Bridesmaid, Again:

Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right

It’s An Honor Just to Be Nominated:

Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

If I Had A Vote:

Jennifer Lawrence

Poor Annette Bening.  What does she have to do?  Three times before she’s been nominated.  Twice she was the early favorite, only to have her award snatched away by Hilary Swank.  This year, as a doctor facing the possible breakdown of her family in The Kids Are All Right,  she broke early (and did win the Golden Globe for comedy) but has faltered again.  She and husband Warren Beatty have been waging a quiet but potent campaign, and she’s not without hope.  I’ll be very, very intrigued to see if she can pull it off.  But it’s tough road.

Former winner Nicole Kidman scored her 3rd Oscar nomination for her work as a mother grieving the loss of a child; her character, Becca, is unique and difficult, and well worthy of award notice.  She doesn’t have the buzz to earn another win.  Michelle Williams scored her second nomination, and first in the lead category, for her work as as yet another long suffering wife.  Her film, Blue Valentine, has it’s detractors, but her work is too searing too ignore.    She might have had a better shot in another year, but her competitors produced higher profile work in higher profile films.

Now Jennifer Lawrence skyrocketed on the scene when Winter’s Bone hit Sundance, and justifiably so.  Stalwart Ozark teen Ree Dolly was Lawrence’s breakthough role, and what a breathtaking breakthrough!  The nomination is her reward.  I wish she had a chance to actually win, but I’m looking forward to all the movies I’m going to get to see her in because of this wonderful film.  I strongly recommend her film to anyone who hasn’t yet seen it.  It’s available on dvd;  do yourself a favor and check it out.

And that leaves us with the woman whose performance has overshadowed them all, Natalie Portman.  The role of Nina Sayers is crazy demanding; Portman studied ballet for a year and remade her body for the role.  She dances two different characters, the black and white swans.  Beyond that she’s asked to play a woman losing her grip on reality, a fracturing personality.  Some may find the role too melodramatic; others might be put off by Portman’s pregnancy.  (I’m sure plenty of clothing designers are disappointed the beautiful star will have to find herself a maternity gown.)  But in the end, this second time nominee’s still likely to triumph.  If Lawrence and Bening couldn’t beat her at the Independent Spirit Awards, it doesn’t seem likely hey can beat her here.  (The Independent Spirit award is often a sign someone won’t win the Oscar, actually, but it didn’t stop Bening’s nemesis Hilary Swank, so we’ll see.)  Her speeches during her Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA wins have been cute, a bit giggly, and totally perky.  Her gowns thus far have all been variations on draped bedsheets, sometimes accented with bizarre accessories.  I’ll be curious to see what she wears, and what she does when she (mostly likely) joins the ranks of Oscar winners like Gwyneth Paltrow and Charlize Theron.

Supporting Actor:

Your Winner:

Christian Bale, The Fighter

How Sure Am I?


The Also Ran:

Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech

Been There Last Year, Bought the T-Shirt:

Jeremy Renner, The Town

It’s a Serious Frickin’ Honor to Be Nominated:

John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right

If I Had A Vote:

John Hawkes (just edging out the truly terrific Christian Bale)

John Hawkes took last night’s Independent Spirit Award for his gut punch of a performance as meth making, drug taking, violent and tender and hella mercurial Teardrop in Winter’s Bone.  If you can imagine a psychopathic redneck criminal painted by Renoir, he’s it.  His is the kind of nomination I jump up and down over.  I’m really happy the long time character actor with the sad eyes is finally getting recognition for his work.  That said, he’s super unlikely to get the win.

Also riding a nice career surge is Jeremy Renner, nominated for his work in The Town.  Renner’s good at playing loose cannons (this one is a bank robber).  Respect for his work and commitment to his roles got him here, but this loose cannon is different enough from last year’s to have really gotten him the buzz and momentum necessary for a win.

I feel like I know Mark Ruffalo’s mellow organic restaurateur from The Kids Are All Right; he’s got that laid back California thing down so beautifully I can’t even stand it.  It’s like waiting my cousins on film.  Ruffalo’s name was bandied about for his break through role in You Can Count On Me, but this is his first Oscar nomination.  But the buzz for this award has been running in one direction.

That’s because Christian Bale’s scenery chewing performance as crack addicted boxer Dicky Eklund has sucked all the air out of the room.  Dicky is twitchy, he’s enormously physical – and we know this for sure because true story The Fighter includes video footage of the real man, and the impersonation is uncanny.  There’s controversy about how true to life, how fair a portrayal Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg is, but there’s no such question about Christian’s work.  He’s got it down.   For me it’s the emotional component that gives Hawkes the edge, but Bale is an utterly worthy winner.  He’s taken the Golden Globe and the SAG, with wild eyed rambling speeches and astonishing facial hair.  I’m hoping some stylist can whip him into shape for tonight.

BAFTA winner Geoffrey Rush may be waiting in the wings if he doesn’t.  Australian Rush, who won a lead Oscar for his portrayal of a tortured pianist in Shine,  scooped up his fourth career nomination for his work in The King’s Speech as unconventional speech therapist Lionel Logue.  He’s really wonderful; he’s so wonderful you almost don’t notice how different the character is from anything we’ve seen him play before.  This is a great category, and really all these men (except perhaps Renner) are worthy winners.

Supporting Actress:

Your Winner:

Melissa Leo, The Fighter

How Sure Am I?



Amy Adams, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

There For The Party:

Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

If I Had a Vote:

Hailee Steinfeld

This is a baffling category.  Of course, it’s a always a notoriously baffling Melissa Leo, who recieved her second nomination for her work as boxing manager/mother Alice Ward, has taken the Golden Globe and the SAG for supporting actress, but she wasn’t even nominated for the BAFTA, which shows that she’s not a lock.  She’s still the front runner, but she’s not a steamroller.  Then there was the controversy about some campaign ads she took out for herself, which turned some people off.  Still, a lot of Oscar voters cast their ballots early, and that can only favor Leo.  If I’d have had my way, she’d have a Oscar already for her work in Frozen River:  I wasn’t as much of a fan of her work in The Fighter, but I would certainly be happy if she won.  She’s an amazing talent. Her speeches have been a little more hit or miss; she’s very gaspy and flustered, and tries hard to be funny without consistently succeeding.

Her costar Amy Adams is pretty freaking fantastic, too.  Leo disappears into her roles, but three time Oscar nominee Adams usually carries a spirit of innocence and joy with her.  She scores big points her for playing against type as tough chick bartender Charlene Fleming, and she could benefit if people aren’t sold on Leo and her ads.

Or that honor could go to Entertainment Weekly’s Oscar savant Dave Karger’s candidate, precocious teen Hailee Steinfeld.  It’s not only her first nomination, it’s her first movie.  And let’s been frank; she carried that movie on her little shoulders, and it is a big, heavy movie.  I loved the film and I loved her fiery, righteous brave Mattie Ross so very much.  She hasn’t won any precursors (and has been bounced back and forth between the lead and supporting categories) but it might just be possible; True Grit was a bit hit, and that helps.  She’s its best hope for a win (along with, perhaps, cinematography), which helps, too.

The BAFTA went to Helena Bonham Carter as part of a sweep for The King’s Speech.  (Leo wasn’t even nominated, and Steinfeld was placed in the lead category there, so the only person out of this slate she beat was Adams.)  Bonham Carter is delightful as the Queen Mum before her husband was ever the king; we’ve gotten so used to seeing her play Bellatrix LeStrange and the Red Queen and Mrs. Lovett and their ilk that we’ve forgotten she can do anything else.  She’s resolutely sane here, smart and loving and only a little bit sneery.  I can’t imagine her winning, but stranger things have happened.  (Watch out for her, by the way, if you care about clothes; she’s a fascinating fashion disaster, very Desperately Seeking Susan.)

Finally this leaves veteran Australian character actress Jacki Weaver, who gives a towering performance as a tiny blond bubble of trouble, the matriach of a crime family who puts cheery oven mitts over her iron fists.  She may seem more like your average grandma, but oh, watch out.  I can’t see that she’s got much of a shot, but I find it really fantastic that she’s been invited to join in Oscar madness.  I hope she’s been living it up, and having a really amazing time.

Best Director:

Your Winner:

Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech

How Sure Am I:


If Not Him, Then Who?

David Fincher, The Social Network

Ticking off an Item on Their Resumes:

Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit
David O. Russell, The Fighter

If I Had A Vote:

Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit

You would think that Best Picture and Best Director would automatically match up, but they don’t.  That said, the winner is only going to come from the two movies in real contention for the biggest prize: The Social Network and The King’s Speech.  Most people believe that the twice nominated Fincher’s paid more dues. Most people are predicting a split in which Fincher takes director from Tom Hooper, who is so new, so unknown in American that his resume comes largely from television.  It’s good television (Prime Suspect, Daniel Deronda, John Adams) but it’s still mostly British tv, while Fincher’s been nominated before for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and has made hip, stylish, acclaimed films like Zodiac and the iconic Fight Club.  I would buy that argument, but I was buying it more before Hooper shocked everyone by winning the Director’s Guild Award.  I think all bets are off.  If the Academy really likes The King’s Speech as much as they seem to, I think Hooper can pull it off.  Watch for him to thank his mom, who found the project for him.

I do certainly think Fincher can win, but he’ll have other shots soon with the Millenium series of films.

Previous nominees (and winners for No Country For Old Men) the Coens will have a mellow night, not needing to worry about speeches.  For Russell and Aronofsky, this is just the first step in being recognized for their awesome talent.   Both men have managed to combine box office with critical acclaim here, and are definitely on their way.  I loved The King’s Speech, but True Grit might just edge it out as my favorite among these five.  It’s a tough call, though. 

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Your Winner:

Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network

How Sure Am I?:

The Four Teams With The Honor of Losing to Aaron Sorkin:

Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, 127 Hours
Michael Arndt, Toy Story 3
Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit
Debra Granik and Anne Rossellini, Winter’s Bone

My Vote Would Go To:

Winter’s Bone

These are some great movies and some great scripts, but let’s not pretend here that anyone but first time nominee Sorkin has a chance.  Being largely from the television won’t hurt him a smidge, though of course Sorkin is very well known in the Hollywood community.  Interesting points to note: Arndt has an Original Screenplay win for Little Miss Sunshine, and was brought in by Pixar to make sure they made the best possible sequel to their flagship franchise.  In case you were as baffled as I was, all sequels are automatically considered adaptations, whether or not they’re based on a book or play, because the characters existed already.  Interesting reasoning, that.  Sorkin has a rep for being smug and self-satisfied; he’s said in interviews that people are usually disappointed that he’s not as clever in conversation as his characters.  He’s certainly articulate, but I suppose his notoriously witty characters are a lot to live up to.  We’ll see if he speaks off the cuff or has something written up. I really hope he puts some effort into it.

Best Original Screenplay:

Your Winner:

David Seidler, The King’s Speech

How Sure Am I?


The Runner Up:

Christopher Nolan, Inception

The Rest of the Pack:

Mike Leigh, Another Year
Scott Silver, Paul Tamassy, Eric Johnson and Keith Dorrington, The Fighter
Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg, The Kids Are All Right

If I Had a Vote:

Christopher Nolan

Seidler’s work is worthy, and I’m on the fence; it’s just hard not to go with Nolan in terms of originality.  Inception was a fresh and totally complicated, fascinating work.  But on the other hand, Seidler’s characters were deeper and richer; if Nolan’s characters had lived up to his high concept, how unbeatable would Inception have been in all categories?  So maybe I don’t vote for Nolan.  I’m not sure.  Not that it matters who I fictionally vote for.  Nolan has a chance, because the ideas are startling, beautiful and original, but Seidler seems to have the momentum.

I really liked (but didn’t love) The Kids Are All Right; that’s not what’s important, though. The small, well written movie finds its big reward in nominations, and I’m really happy to see it so acknowledged.  The Fighter is a similarly well made film, and is also well rewarded.  Writer/director Mike Leigh’s films are largely improvised, so I find his 5 nominations in this category puzzling.  I like many of his films, but I don’t know how to feel about calling them screenplays.  In any case, my qualms are irrelevant.   Most of the major pre-Oscar prizes don’t break down screenplays into original and adapted, so Aaron Sorkin’s been snatching them all up.  It’ll be nice, therefore, to see another writer get a moment of glory and a shot at impressing the audience with a first hand glimpse of their writing skills, or their ability to speech cogently off the cuff.  I seem to recall that Christopher Nolan is quite shy, so a speech from him might be rather mumbly.    Seidler – likely to benefit from what appears to be the Academy love for The King’s Speech – is an unknown quantity, so that’s interesting from a viewer’s perspective.  Show them how it’s done, guys!  No laundry lists.  Academy voters go for issue movies.  So speak to your issues, darn it!

Best Animated Feature:

Your Winner:

Toy Story 3

How Sure Am I?


Nominees From A Brilliant Year:

How To Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist

If I Had A Vote:

How To Train Your Dragon

There’s not much to say here.  Toy Story 3 had the biggest box office of the year, and amazing reviews.  How To Train Your Dragon did shock by winning the Annies (the animation equivalent of the Oscars) but that may even have been due to some weird Hollywood politics. It’s hard to say; I think Dragon is the better film, and the best adventure of the year, but that’s not a majority opinion. The Illusionist, a sad, quirky French film, beat out a raft of wonderful contenders to round out the slate here; it doesn’t have the smallest chance of pulling out an upset.

Best Picture:

Your Winner:

The King’s Speech

How Sure Am I?


Possible Spoiler:

The Social Network

Highly Unlikely, but Perhaps Due to a Quirk in the New Preferential Balloting System:

The Fighter
True Grit

The Best of the Rest:

127 Hours
Black Swan
The Kids Are All Right
Toy Story
Winter’s Bone

If I Had a Vote:

Winter’s Bone

This is a good slate of movies.  To varying degrees, I liked and respected every one.  In terms of Oscar success, there’s a variety.  The quietly clever family dramedy The Kids Are All Right has four nominations (it’s best chance being Annette Bening) but each one is pretty high profile. Good for you, Lisa Cholodenko!  Will you and Annette Bening dress alike again, I wonder?  It’ll be fun to see.  The spare, stunning Winter’s Bone surprised many by picking up four nominations, not simply the expected one for star Jennifer Lawrence.  The story of a teen’s desperate search for her father is both dark and gritty, and also thoroughly entertaining and even inspirational, due to the real heart displayed by the lead character.  The film looks to be completely shut out, but the fact that it was noticed at all is nice.  See it!   Toy Story 3 – box office juggernaut and achingly lovely ode to childhood’s passing – picked up 5 nods, several in technical categories, and ought to win at least one of them.  It’s just a supremely  well made movie, and it’s nice to see that opening Best Picture up to ten slots (a move I’m generally skeptical of) lets some comedies and animated films in to the big show.  The Academy has a bad habit of ignoring those kind of films.

Also with five nominations is the somewhat campy (but beautifully acted) darkly twisted ballerina drama Black Swan about the madness of perfectionism.  This was perhaps a disappointment (most people expected costume and supporting actress nods at least) but there’s the consolation of Natalie Portman’s likely win in the most glamorous of all categories.  With 6 nominations, half sexy and half technical, the incandescent survival story 127 Hours has something to smile about.  Former winner Danny Boyle (director of Slumdog Millionaire) is likely to be all smiles and gratitude for the notice even as his film is shut out.  (That may not be entirely true; it could pick up Best Song out of a open field for “I Rise.”)   The Fighter, the true story of two boxer brothers struggling to get the younger boy the champion that eluded the first, snapped up 7 nominations, and could take both supporting prizes.  Star and producer Mark Wahlburg deserves a lot of credit for getting this local Massachusetts story onto film with such gritty realism.  There was a while when I thought this film could be a contender for the biggest prize; the box office and awards momentum didn’t quite take off like it might have, but still it’s a terrific achievement for all involved, and they ought to enjoy the heck out of tonight.

Tied with 8 nominations are bind-bending dreamscape flick Inception, and biting social commentary disguised as an internet movie, The Social Network. Inception particularly has wracked up a lot of well deserved technical nominations, and certainly ought to win some of those.  The Social Network underperformed a little; it was expected to bring in at least one if not two supporting actor nominations.

The Coen brothers remake of classic, Oscar winning Western True Grit tells the thrilling adventure of a young teen hunting down her father’s killer.  The movie has given the Coens the best box office of their careers, and no wonder.  It’s a terrific and also thoroughly accessible film with great performances and characters, and it’s my second favorite film on this list.

But the big fight comes down to The Social Network, runaway winner of all the critics awards and the Golden Globe, and The King’s Speech, the story of a British monarch struggling to find his voice on the brink of World War 2.  Speech received 12 nominations, and since doing so has swept the guild awards: the Screen Actors Guild, the Producer’s Guild, the Director’s Guild, the BAFTAs.  People who love The Social Network will pitch the battle as old school against new, as inspiration (which they sneer at) against realism and wit.  I don’t know about that myself.  The Social Network has its own issues with sentimentality (the attempt to make Zuckerberg’s ambition all about impressing one fictional girl)  and there’s nothing new or innovative about greed, betrayal or the rage of ambitious, clever outsiders at the complacent elite.  To me, it’s a false dichotomy.  I also don’t have issues with inspiration; I don’t think all movies have to be inspirational (far from it) but I think it’s preposterous to hold it against them when they do.  And in the end, The King’s Speech is a story of a friendship which transcends class, while Network‘s Zuckerberg ends his film with billions of dollars and his nose still pressed against the glass.    I’m sick of this insistence that suffering is more worthy than survival. I liked both movies, but I enjoyed The King’s Speech a great deal more, and I refuse to believe there’s something unworthy about a film being enjoyable.  So if The King’s Speech does, as expected, beat The Social Network, I’m going to be cheering it on.

So there it is!  I’m curious to see who’ll win Foreign Film, and whether Alice In Wonderland takes both production and costume design.  I can’t wait to see Anne Hathaway’s clothes – sure to be stunning – and am more than a little nervous about whether she and James Franco will be funny or flop.  I’m definitely rooting for them, though!  I’m hoping someone makes me cry in their speech.  I’m hoping not to be bored, and I’m hoping to like the winners.  How about you?  You may have noticed that I’ve linked to my reviews of almost all the nominated films, in case there’s anything you’re more curious about.  (I did see Toy Story and Inception last summer, but didn’t write about them at the time.)  I’m super excited about tonight’s show; I’ll see you back here tomorrow, to chatter about how your favorites and mine did!

2 comments on “Oscar 2011: Who Will Win?

  1. Pam says:

    so far you’re kicking butt. I liked that you linked back, very smart!

  2. […] Gee, it’s kind boring being right.  I like it a little better when I get surprised.  BUT.  I liked every single one of the […]

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