24 February 2011

My Picks for the 83rd Academy Awards

It’s Oscar Time this Sunday, and I’ll be performing a first for my blog: a real-time commentary post. Just hit refresh to see more annoying observations.

But before that: Predictions! Part I! (Go here for Part II)

For the first time in a few years, I have seen most of the films nominated in the major categories before the actual ceremony. Usually, I catch up with a few of the stragglers as they come out on video in the two months afterwards. This year, the only Best Picture nominee out of the ten that I haven’t seen is 127 Hours. With this good stock of actual visual and aural evidence stored in my brain, I feel a bit more confident in providing you my view of who I think will achieved Statueness this Sunday, and who would achieve it in the “Ryan-verse.”

Keep in mind, I have no attachment to getting any of these right. I won’t win an award or an office pool for the most correct guesses, and have no intention of swaggering over wins. If I’m wrong, I’ll admit it and analyze why the results were different. (And if they were different in favor of Ryanverse, yes, I’ll swagger a bit.)

Also, as much as I would love to go over every category, for the sake of brevity I will stay with the Big Eight. (The snubbing of the score to TRON: Legacy has soured me on a category I would normally visit.)

Best Picture
  • 127 Hours
  • Black Swan
  • The Fighter
  • Inception
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • The King’s Speech
  • The Social Network
  • Toy Story 3
  • True Grit
  • Winter’s Bone
Real World Statueness: The King’s Speech
Ryanverse: Black Swan

The Ten Nominees experiment, which the Academy originally planned as a three-year test, is working so well that it appears it will be permanent. This year shows why. It allows two extremes to get into a show where they might otherwise get stopped at the door: the massive genre blockbuster, and the teeny indie film. Winter’s Bone is the lucky little fellow who got in, and great for it. Not my favorite of the ten, but it’s an excellent picture. Inception is the big bruiser who also got in, and it is almost my personal pick to win.

But it is a tough call all around. This is a powerhouse nominee set. Of the nine I’ve seen, the only one on this list I don’t think belongs is The Kids Are All Right, a comedy-drama with some nice performances, but I can’t place it against the others here for entertainment value.

Despite the strength of the Big Ten, The King’s Speech is almost a given to win. It has immense love and the various guild awards to prove it, and no serious backlash (although one will come when it wins). English period dramas tend to perform strong at awards time, but in this case we have a genuinely great one. I won’t feel “robbed” when The King’s Speech is announced at the end of the evening: I enjoyed watching it in theaters, it tells a wonderful story with the right balance of sentiment and humor, and all the performers in it are superb. So here is your statue, George VI, and jolly good show.

But Black Swan hit me the hardest of these nominated films, so I can’t deny it in my universe. It is a near-thing with Inception. However, Inception is “The Movie of the Year.” A decade in the future, this will be the film everyone is still talking about, selling out revival screenings, with multiple special edition Blu-rays and whatever format follows Blu-ray; in a decade, The King’s Speech will have mostly vanished, sharing the fate of Shakespeare in Love, remembered only as a headshaker. At least The King’s Speech is a better film than Shakespeare in Love, but it is not a perennial. Inception may be my favorite film of 2010, and most certainly will be in about five years. But for right now, I want to see the emotional and visceral torment of Black Swan win. It is Darren Aronofksy’s greatest achievement, and a reminder of the Grand Old Roman Polanski and David Cronenberg days.

Finally, a nod to True Grit. Before the awards season started, this was most pundits’ favorite to take Best Picture. I am uncertain what went against it; perhaps because Jeff Bridges already has an Oscar, as do the Coen Brothers. But the film is a massive financial success, so although I would normally root for a Western to win, I think the Western genre has succeeded well enough with this critical and box-office double-barrel blast. The award would be for Hollywood to give us more Westerns. Do, it Hollywood!

Best Director
  • Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan
  • Ethan Coen and Joel Coen for True Grit
  • David Fincher for The Social Network
  • Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech
  • David O. Russell for The Fighter
Real World Statueness: David Fincher
Ryanverse: Darren Aronofsky

I like the Best Picture winner and Best Director winner to synch up, although the Academy often doesn’t see it that way. Therefore, my pick of Aronofsky in my universe. If The King’s Speech sweeps, it will win here as well. But there is usually a bit of a surprise lurking around in the Big Eight awards, “The Marisa Tomei Factor,” and my guess is that Fincher, an astonishing director long overdue for recognition, gets to snub King George in this category. (Fincher has said he doesn’t care about winning—that may count against him.) However, this is a fifty-fifty shot. Most industry pundits say Tom Hooper. I say it’s upset time.

Oh, a message to the Academy: Stop ignoring Christopher Nolan. David O. Russell should have been ousted from this category and Nolan substituted. Do you really think The Fighter was better put together than Inception?

Best Actor
  • Javier Bardem as Uxbal in Biutiful
  • Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit
  • Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network
  • Colin Firth as George VI in The King’s Speech
  • James Franco as Aron Ralston in 127 Hours
Real World Statueness: Colin Firth
Ryanverse: Jesse Eisenberg

Colin Firth sweeps in along with The King’s Speech. He did an excellent job. I love Bridges in True Grit, but I edge toward Eisenberg’s insane “His Girl Friday with Asperberger’s Syndrome” approach; it was like looking through a window into an individual who would deny me such a window with his every utterance. That’s impressive. But still, good job Colin Firth, here’s the statue. Be careful with your “p”s in your acceptance speech. (It won’t happen, but wouldn’t it be a gutsy move if Firth picked up the Award in stuttering character?)

Best Actress
  • Annette Bening as Nic in The Kids Are All Right
  • Nicole Kidman as Becca Corbett in Rabbit Hole
  • Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone
  • Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers in Black Swan
  • Michelle Williams as Cindy in Blue Valentine
Real World Statueness: Natalie Portman
Ryanverse: Natalie Portman
Marvel Earth-1610: Ultimate Natalie Portman
Star Trek Mirror Universe: Evil Natalie Portman
Bizzaro World: We Love Megan Fox, We Hate Natalie Portman

Nice to see the recognition for Lawrence. However, if you aren’t named “Natalie Portman,” get the hell out of the way. This is the biggest “given” for Sunday. Cthulhu will come back and we will all rave in madness if Portman doesn’t win, for it means we have surrendered to chaos.

The moment I watched Portman in Black Swan, I knew she had the golden statue sewn up tight in her dance shoes bag. It’s a performance that leaves the viewer as exhausted as the ballerina after a dynamite performance. No way, no way, can Portman lose. A great actress has now turned into one of the best actresses of her generation—even with No Strings Attached. And she’s pregnant, and you don’t steal from a pregnant lady.

Best Supporting Actor
  • Christian Bale as Dicky Eklund in The Fighter
  • John Hawkes as Teardrop in Winter’s Bone
  • Jeremy Renner as James “Gem” Coughlin in The Town
  • Mark Ruffalo as Paul in The Kids Are All Right
  • Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue in The King’s Speech
Real World Statueness: Christian Bale
Ryanverse: Christian Bale

Why do I believe that The King’s Speech won’t sweep on Sunday? Christian Bale. I don’t think that Rush, who already has an Oscar, and is also not the most memorable performance in The King’s Speech, can overcome Bale’s crazy and imminently watchable performance as drug-fueled washed-up boxer Dicky Eklund. He’s the core of that movie. Plus, Bale is a big-timer who was due to get an Oscar eventually, so why not now? Oh, and he’s Batman, okay? Give him the statue. No complaints here.

As for the others, I’m surprised that Renner got a nomination. He’s good in The Town, but it’s a very standard character, and it seems more like a nod to The Town, one of better movies of the year, than a nod to Renner. Great to see John Hawkes, the least known of the bunch, recognized for Winter’s Bone. That’s a huge victory on its own and I hope to see much more of him in the future.

Best Supporting Actress
  • Amy Adams as Charlene Fleming in The Fighter
  • Helena Bonham Carter as Queen Elizabeth in The King’s Speech
  • Melissa Leo as Alice Ward in The Fighter
  • Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross in True Grit
  • Jackie Weaver as Janine “Smurf” Cody in Animal Kingdom
Real World Statueness: Melissa Leo
Ryanverse: Hailee Steinfeld
Anyone Who Saw True Grit: Hailee Steinfeld

I hope I’m wrong on this. I want some sort of vote-split between Amy Adams and Melissa Leo to allow young Steinfeld to nab the Oscar for one of the best performances anyone gave in 2010. By all rights, she deserves to be in the Best Actress category, but since she isn’t named “Natalie Portman” she would lose there. Here she has a good chance. But Melissa Leo’s uninteresting white trash mother character has picked up more early awards and seems to be the odds-on favorite. Of all my choices for an actual win, this is the only one that irritates me. Steinfeld deserves it. At least she will have many more years to win.

Best Original Screenplay
  • Another Year by Mike Leigh
  • The Fighter by Scott Silver, Paul Tamsay, and Eric Johnson
  • Inception by Christopher Nolan
  • The Kids Are All Right by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg
  • The King’s Speech by David Seidler
Real World Statueness: David Seidler
Ryanverse: Christopher Nolan
Film Fans: Christopher Nolan

Honestly, how could Inception lose this? It is a brilliant piece of work that manages to meld many old tropes into something that feels fresh and original. The complex weaving of action and tension with wonderful dramatic character arcs felt like a miracle in the middle of a rotten summer. However, well . . . The King’s Speech. It may lose on the Supporting Actor and Actress categories, but if it has all the steam, it will win here as well. But an Inception upset . . . that would be beautiful. Maybe Tom Hardy and Leo DiCaprio have found a way to plant the win into the dreams of the Academy voters.

Best Adapted Screenplay
  • 127 Hours by Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy from Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston
  • The Social Network by Aaron Sorkin from The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich
  • Toy Story 3 by Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich from characters created in Toy Story and Toy Story 2
  • True Grit by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen from the novel by Charles Portis
  • Winter’s Bone by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini from the novel by Daniel Woodrell
Real World Statueness: Aaron Sorkin
Ryanverse: The Coen Brothers
Rest of the World: Shut up, Ryan. You know it’s Aaron Sorkin.

Since The Social Network will lose to The King’s Speech in other categories, Sorkin wins it here. With such a dialogue-intense script, it’s hard not to give it the win. And I almost agree. So why do I choose True Grit? Because it’s a Western, that’s why. I’m just being contrary because it’s my favorite genre.

That wraps it up. Tomorrow I’ll do a follow-up post and talk about the other categories. They do interest me . . . but they don’t interest general readers as much.