E: Here it is again, that time of year. It’s the culmination of a year’s worth of film (much of which, depending on where you live, probably still hasn’t come to a theater near you). It’s the culmination of a year’s worth of guesses, of anticipation, of pedigreed films which fell flat at the box office or with the critics, with festival darlings who may or may not make the grade, with movies flying under the general radar, but worth the search. Ready for a month of marathon movie watching? Ready to make those final guesses? Ready to get up early tomorrow and hear the news?
The nominations always bring greater surprises than the actual awards; that makes nomination day my favorite of the awards season. Let’s start with one of the worst categories – but I’m going to leave the very most important and very worst of all, Best Picture with its uncertain number of honorees, for last. And as always, I will be hoping to be wrong.
Best Supporting Actor
They’ve Appeared Everywhere:
Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
They’ve Appeared Some Places:
Jim Broadbent, The Iron Lady
Albert Brooks, Drive
Armie Hammer, J. Edgar
Phillip Seymour Hoffman, The Ides of March
Viggo Mortensen, A Dangerous Method
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Patton Oswalt, Young Adult
Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Still Hanging on to Some Buzz:
George Clooney, The Ides of March
Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
I suspect you see why this category is posing a problem for me. There’s just no consensus. And honestly, I think it’s possible that the Academy could choke on Jonah Hill as they did with Mila Kunis last year. Not that comedians can’t get Oscar nominations; they’re just not usually young, hip comedians. And if that turns out to be the case, we would only have two clear choices.
But let’s not go there. This category’s confusing enough without second guessing the lead contenders. Let’s assume that my incredulity is unwarranted, and that Jonah Hill does get in, as most people assume. And we can bet on Kenneth Branagh, as British icon and his precursor as that country’s favorite film interpreter of Shakespeare, Lawrence Olivier. Also assured of a nomination for playing against expectation, manly Christopher Plummer plays an elderly man who, upon the death of his wife, decides to no longer be gay only in theory. Based on a true story (its director/writer’s own, in fact), Beginners is destined to win Plummer a nomination and most likely a win. Who does that leave us? Every major precursor awards different guys for the remaining slots.
This category is rife for surprises (and none would be more shocking than Broadcast critics nominee Andy Serkis for his motion capture work). Broadbent shines playing the supportive husband of The Iron Lady’s prime minister. Oswalt captured hearts as the former high school loser who bonds with Young Adult’s fading prom queen. Viggo Mortensen is Freud; enough said. Hoffman rather surprised with a BAFTA nomination, for his role as a campaign operative. Nolte’s shown up on several shortlists as the father of two fighters in the (somewhat surprisingly well reviewed) mixed martial arts drama Warrior. Albert Brooks played against type as a villain in Drive; Armie Hammer (last seen playing both Winkelvi from The Social Network) plays J. Edgar Hoover’s best friend and probable lover in the gloomy biopic.
Especially this year, everybody loves George Clooney. But will he really sneak in here, when he didn’t at the celebrity-lovin’ Golden Globes? Is Von Sydow a good choice because the Academy favors age? I can’t see it being enough. The movie, let’s face it, has been a bust. With a director like Steven Daldry (who was nominated for each of his first three movies) and megastars like Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks, it seemed bound for great things. But alas, pedigree is no prediction of success at the box office or with the Academy. Honestly, I’m only including him on the list because Dave Karger – prediction guru extraordinaire – is absolutely convinced Von Sydow’s the guy. Maybe I’ll be eating crow over this, and since Karger knows actual Oscar voters, I guess I can’t just laugh him off. I’m going to be quite annoyed – and grudgingly impressed – if he turns out to be right.
So honestly, I think it’s a crap shoot. It genuinely could be any of these guys (or heck, someone else we haven’t even thought of, like 2011 nominee John Hawkes for Martha Marcy May Marlene). But because they’ve gotten the most other nominations, I’m going to close my eyes and point my finger at Albert Brooks and Nick Nolte. And it’s genuinely not because I’m sold on them; I just think they’re the safest bets in a race that’s not all that safe.
Best Supporting Actress
Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Fighting it out for the Last Spots:
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants
Jessica Chastain, Tree of Life
Judi Dench, My Week With Marilyn
Carey Mulligan, Shame/Drive
Vanessa Redgrave, Coriolanus
Now, I gave you the long shots, but chances are exceptionally good that you won’t need them; chances are that the five nominees will come from the list of six above. Octavio Spencer is your frontrunner as sassy and defiant maid Minnie; Frenchwoman Bejo bounds across the screen as the charming and lovable Peppy Miller, unknown turned starlet in The Artist. Minnie’s unlikely boss and eventual friend Celia, played by the year’s most omnipresent ingenue, Jessica Chastain (of, in case you missed any, The Help, The Debt, Tree of Life and Coriolanus). Unless there’s a major surprise and Bejo gets a lead nomination (as she did at BAFTA) those three are pretty settled. It’s what comes after that’s a trick.
Janet McTeer has stunned audiences as a woman passing as a man in Victorian England; her courage and comfort with her choices provide the example that lead Glenn Close longs to follow. Shailene Woodley, a teen who regularly carries an entire television series on her capable shoulders, proves an able partner to George Clooney as his thoughtfully rebellious daughter in The Descendants. And Melissa McCarthy has had quite the break out year with perhaps the most memorable and beloved new character of 2011 – her butch, confident, wise bridesmaid Megan in the smash hit Bridesmaids.
The Academy rarely recognizes comedy quite as broad as what McCarthy does in Bridesmaids; I mean, have you seen that bathroom scene? I can’t think of another instance something anywhere near that broad has been nominated; Robet Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder is probably the closest. But on the other hand, she’s managed to get nominated almost everywhere. Karger notes that while she did miss out on a Golden Globe nomination, it may simply be because of she failed to curry sufficient favor with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. But on the other hand, BAFTA didn’t go go for her either, which means the Globes snub wasn’t an isolated incident. A nomination for Woodley may be a test of how much the Academy loves The Descendants; it’s impossible to see that movie and not be impressed by the depth of what she achieves, by how real her pain and anger and love feel.
Now, sure, there could be a shock like Chastain getting the nod for Tree of Life, BAFTA nominees Dench and Mulligan sneaking in, or the beloved Vanessa Redgrave sneaking in for her role in the Ralph Fiennes’ directed Shakespearean tragedy Coriolanus. But. There’s enough drama here to be getting on with.
If the Academy goes artsy, they’ll go McTeer and Woodley. If they go with movies they’ve seen, it’ll be McCarthy and Woodley. If they go with names they know, it’s McCarthy and McTeer. So in a squeaker, I’m going go with Art and to guess Woodley and McTeer. I am not tremendously confident that this is the right call, but as beloved as McCarthy’s character is, she did still poop in a sink.
George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Brad Pitt, Moneyball
A Risque, but not Terribly Risky, Choice
Michael Fassbender, Shame
Not Fading Fast Enough
Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar
Demian Bichir, A Better Life
Ryan Gosling, Drive
Ryan Gosling, The Ides of March
Gary Oldman, Tinker, Tailor, Solider Spy
Michael Shannon, Take Shelter
Most years, Best Actor boasts the biggest stars from the biggest films. Sure, some of them come from small movies, but there tends to be a lot of wattage in this category. This year, not so very much. This category just doesn’t have the juice. Granted, Hollywood doesn’t build them any bigger than Brad Pitt and George Clooney, but neither star has a showy role, or a particularly huge hit to back them up.
Of course, there are buzzed about guys out there. So when is the Academy going to give up and acknowledge Ryan Gosling’s a consistently terrific actor? Not until he’s about ten years older, apparently. Oh, I know, I know. He’s been nominated for playing Half Nelson‘s addicted teacher, kind of the equivalent of an actress glamming down. But where were his nominations for Lars and the Real Girl, or Blue Valentine? Why doesn’t he have a solid shot for Drive or The Ides of March? Apparently because he’s too young, too popular and too good looking (characteristics rewarded in actress, or by fan groups like the Hollywood Foreign Press, but not the Academy). Maybe when the “hey girl” meme subsides, he’ll better figure into the awards mix.
The other actor who vaulted into prominence and cultural saturation does have a very solid shot at a nomination this year: Michael Fassbender. Despite the somewhat squirm inducing nature of his role as a sex addict (what with the incestuous sexual tension and full frontal nudity thrown in), Fassbender should receive his first nomination tomorrow.
In baseball manager Billy Beane, Brad Pitt found a role which allows him to transcend his epic looks and persona. You don’t spend your time thinking that he’s beautiful, or perfect; he’s just a man, a real, regular man. All things considered, it’s an impressive achievement, and will be rewarded. Though unknown in America, Jean Dujardin is a popular comedian in France, and seems poised to pick up an Oscar nomination for his fading silent film star. It’s not unheard of for a foreign performer to snag a lead performing slot, but it’s not common, either, and again, I can’t help thinking it’s a sign of a weak year for the men.
Poor sap Woody Harrelson – who actually read the Golden Globe nominations from which he was excluded – earned rave reviews as a dirty cop in Rampart, but the film has never seemed to gain real traction. Take Shelter is even smaller, and his terrific reviews hasn’t managed to propel previous nominee Shannon into the race for real. Bichir beat Fassbender to a SAG nod, and Oldman nudged DiCaprio out of the BAFTA slate. Fassbender still holds an impressive number of precursor nods, however. And while BAFTA could be indicating a move away from DiCaprio, I’m guessing it’s come too late. Lots of Oscar voters turn in their ballots early, so that might help a well known, well respected guy with a floundering film.
So I say the obvious – Clooney, DiCaprio, Dujardin, Fassbender and Pitt.
Ladies Who are Locks:
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
Might She Be the Tiniest Bit Vulnerable?
Tilda Swinton, We Need To Talk About Kevin
And If She Is:
Rooney Mara, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Charlize Theron, Young Adult
The It Girls:
Kirsten Dunst, Melancholia
Felicity Jones, Like Crazy
Kiera Knightley, A Dangerous Method
Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Best actress is always the most stable field in Oscar; it’s the steady lesbian girlfriend of award categories. The list has been pretty clear since early December; Streep (duh), Davis, Close, Williams and Swinton. Ever since it was announced that Meryl Streep was going to play Margaret Thatcher, Oscar watchers have been anticipating her appearance on this list. Could it be the role which would win her the long anticipated record tying 3rd Oscar? The somewhat controversial best seller The Help provided a great and subtle role for great and subtle previous nominee Viola Davis, and since the movie premiered this summer we’ve all expected her to make the list. Former costars Davis and Streep (both nominated for Doubt) contend for the win. Which means it will probably go to Davis, because you can count on Streep to lose just as surely as you can count on her to be nominated. But. That’s a story for another day. It is not a story for tomorrow morning. Tomorrow morning celebrates both women.
Former Dawson’s Creek star Michelle Williams looks to pick up her second consecutive nomination for best actress (and third overall) for her astounding, Golden Globe winning transformation into American film icon Marilyn Monroe. Less buzzy, but just as showy is the five time nominee Glenn Close for her role as a Victorian woman impersonating a man so she can work as a waiter. Close has recently been tearing up the small screen, but she’s making a glorious return to both the large screen and big time acclaim this year. Finally, we have former winner Tilda Swinton as a mother whose icy chill drives her son to becoming a school shooter. Youch. Now Swinton is probably the iffiest lady in Oscarland; people seem to respect her work here, but they don’t necessarily enjoy it. More than likely, however, she’s still in; she’s on the important shortlists, and it shows that she’s consistently impressed.
But if she isn’t, then who? Golden Globe nominee Rooney Mara, as new pop culture icon Lisbeth Salander, the infamous, titular girl with the dragon tattoo? Or could it be Charlize Theron’s narcissist, blindly pursuing her (married) high school sweetheart as a balm to an ego bruised by failed adulthood? Or Kirsten Dunst’s award winning bride, struggling with depression as the world ends? Elizabeth Olsen’s lost soul joining, and then escaping, a cult? Felicity Jones’ girl enchanted by love and then broken when she can’t sustain it over distance? Keira Knightley’s fierce, intelligent patient grappling with Freud and Jung? If The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo had performed better, Mara could have slammed Swinton to the ground, but now I wouldn’t bet on it. Of the others, I’m most surprised that Dunst and Olsen didn’t get more traction; the press on Olsen has been relentless since Martha Marcy May Marlene hit the festival circuit last year.
But no. Close, Davis, Streep, Swinton, Williams. That’s how it should go.
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo
Solid but not Sold:
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Place Your Bets:
David Fincher, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Terence Malick, Tree of Life
Steven Spielberg, War Horse
Shocking Long Shots:
George Clooney, The Ides of March
Clint Eastwood, J. Edgar
Bennett Miller, Moneyball
Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive
Discount the fact that you’ve never heard of Hazanavicius, and the difficulty of pronouncing his name. You’ll hear them say it on Oscar night for sure. No, I’m not saying he’s a lock to win, though he’s certainly got a great shot at it. But he’s absolutely on the list of nominees for his ballsy tribute to old Hollywood. Ditto for previous nominee Alexander Payne; The Descendants is a beautifully observed film, wry and bittersweet and loving, and he will most justly take his place amongst the nominees. And Martin Scorsese made a classy 3D kids movie; his skill in taking a style and a genre not usually considered awards bait, and then turning the film into a classic, will get him to the party for sure. Plus, how great is the story that he wanted to make a movie that his twelve year old daughter could see? Pretty great, right?
We really have four directors fighting for the last two slots. Woody Allen had the box office hit of his career with the charming fantasy Midnight in Paris; he seems a slightly stronger bet for the fourth slot. But the fifth? We’ve got Terence Malick, with the controversial but also beloved oddity Tree of Life; you can’t rule him out easily, but he’s not an easy sell, either. (Can we just get over the dinosaur thing, please?) Then there’s Steven Spielberg and David Fincher, who both created projects which were the talk of November – until they premiered. Both the war epic and the bloody mystery story – the children’s novel made Broadway smash and the Swedish best seller – were well enough reviewed, certainly, but somehow didn’t capture the public imagination as we thought they would. I can’t even explain how that could happen with Fincher’s movie. Fincher clinched the Director’s Guild nomination, which is a really strong predictor of Oscar. It’s very very tough to bet against Spielberg, but in a squeaker, I’m going to follow the DGA toward Fincher.
Granted, it’s the directors, and they could pick someone totally out of the box like Pedro Almodovar (The Skin I Live In) or Asghar Farhadi (A Separation). Sometimes, they do that. But probably not. Allen, Hazanavicius, Payne, Scorsese and Fincher. Probably Fincher. Unless it’s Spielberg. I guess we’ll see!
Midnight in Paris
Fighting for the Last Slots:
Tree of Life
Less Likely But Not Impossible:
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
And, here’s the question. How do we even predict these nominations when we don’t know how many there will be? Quick review; the Academy instituted a rule change with will allow for anywhere from 5 to 10 nominees, based on the proportion of first placed votes they get on the nomination ballots. So what the heck does that mean? We simply don’t know. No one thinks there will will 10 nominees. Everyone thinks they know who the top five would be (though that’s silly – trust me, the top five was almost never exactly who you thought it would be).
Some things are clear. The Artist, The Descendants, The Help and Hugo should sail through. For me, the real question is how many of the others will make it. The movie everyone assumes would be number five is Midnight in Paris, and while I wouldn’t bet money on it absolutely being in the top five, with these allowances, it feels like a safe bet. But of War Horse, Moneyball and Tree of Life? So, so tough. Now, that would be 8 nominees, and that could totally happen. I can’t help thinking that the number of nominations will fall on the lower end, though; six or seven. And my best guest is the pesky dinosaurs will knock down Malick’s visual poem and leave Moneyball – a movie about baseball salaries and staffing choices which shouldn’t work but does – and the epic War Horse on the dais.
So that’s it. Those are the big guesses! I cannot wait to see how it goes tomorrow morning.
Lesser thoughts on the subject: you can expect cinematography, score and costume nods for The Artist at the very least, in addition to the two acting prizes, picture and director; it’s also quite likely to pick up nods for editing and – don’t snicker – sound. If nothing else, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo should also garner a nod for Trent Reznor’s score. Expect The Adventures of Tintin to be one of the five animated feature nominees, along with Rango and such brilliant fare as Cars 2 and Puss in Boots. Don’t even get me started on how frustrating it that this dull year for animation, there’ll be five nominees and last year, when there were so many brilliant offerings, there were only three. Maddening that the number of nominees is based on the number of films in contention rather than their quality. Kristen Wiig is about to become an Oscar nominee for the original screenplay of Bridesmaids. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 will get a few technical nods, but not nearly what it deserves. The Iron Lady darn well better get a make up nod. The Muppets might end up dominating the Original Song category (here’s to Jason Segal, Oscar nominee!) unless Glenn Close and the Twilight film unite to defeat them. Finally, I’m going to share with you my most common typos of the Oscar season: The Ideas of March and The Irony Lady.
Let me know what you think! And check back in the morning to compare notes.