In my capacity as a professional film commentator of two decades standing — seriously, I started my job as a film critic in 1991, MAN I AM OLD — it’s time for my annual Oscar predictions. This is the first stab, and then a couple days before the actual ceremony I’ll make any adjustments and corrections I feel like. Got it? Let’s begin.
“The Kids Are All Right ”
“The King’s Speech”
“The Social Network”
“Toy Story 3″
Since the Academy switched over to the “ten nominees” slate, I see the Best Picture slate functioning two ways. The first is a very self-conscious attempt by the Academy to celebrate the diversity of film by suggesting all these films, blockbuster and indie, animated and live action, science fiction and social study, all represent the best film making has to offer. And in that respect, yup, it sure is a nice spread of films. Well done, Academy; we’ll all very impressed out here.
The other way, of course, is as a slate to pick the eventual winner from, and in that respect, as a practical matter, we can throw out any film that didn’t also pick up a Best Director nod, since in the 80-some years of the Oscars, only three films have won Best Picture without their director getting a nomination, and the last time was more than two decades ago. So that’s Inception, The Kids Are All Right, 127 Hours, Toy Story 3 and Winter’s Bone out the window to start.
Of those that remain I think Black Swan and The Fighter are next out the window; their rewards are likely to be in the acting categories. True Grit is next out; a similar Coen brothers film (No Country For Old Men) won Best Picture just a couple of years ago, so I don’t really see the Academy repeating itself so soon.
That leaves The Social Network and The King’s Speech to duke it out. The Social Network is probably the better film from the standpoint of social relevance and simple art, and it’s vacuumed up all sorts of run-up awards, but I think there might be a concern that it’s peaked just a little too soon. The King’s Speech, on the other hand, is very handsome and very well acted and very much in the Academy sweet spot. So it’s really going to come down to whether the Academy wants to pretend it’s hip or admit it wants to be in bed by ten.
What will win: At this point, I’m thinking The King’s Speech is going to pull a Shakespeare in Love on us.
What should win: The Social Network. As much as I dislike Facebook, this film is a set piece for What The World Is Like Now, for better or worse.
Darren Aronofsky for “Black Swan”
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen for “True Grit”
David Fincher for “The Social Network”
Tom Hooper for “The King’s Speech”
David O. Russell for “The Fighter”
Russell out first; he’s happy he has his career back. I think the Coens are next off; it’s not that they don’t deserve the award, but they each have a couple of these on their shelf and, again, True Grit is not too far off from what they’ve been awarded for before. Aronofsky is still too weird; I think one accurate comparison for him perceptually — directing wise, not in his personal inclinations — is Roman Polanski; someone whose talent is undeniable but too aggressively off-center for the middle-of-the-road Academy voter to warm up to. Black Swan is sort of his Rosemary’s Baby, if you get what I mean.
So this leave Tom Hooper and David Fincher, whose films are the ones I expect will go neck and neck for the Best Picture Oscar. Hooper’s major problem, simply put, is: Dude, who is Tom Hooper? Well, he’s done some TV and a couple small British films. He’s kind of like 2011’s version of Hugh Hudson: In the right place at the right time with the right film, but not necessarily with enough recognition to get him over the finish line.
However, David Fincher does have the recognition: He was here before with Benjamin Button, and although his career has been stylized and idiosyncratic — Seven, Fight Club, Zodiac — he’s matured, i.e., hasn’t sunk himself into the black hole of his own stylistic choices. Also, since I think the Academy is likely to play it safe with Best Picture this year, I think giving Fincher the director Oscar will make the voters feel they’ve given his film sufficient recognition. In the Shakespeare in Love scenario, Fincher is Steven Spielberg. And that doesn’t suck.
Who will win: Fincher
Who should win: Fincher
Javier Bardem in “Biutiful”
Jeff Bridges in “True Grit”
Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network”
James Franco in “127 Hours”
Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech”
Academy screener DVDs were sufficient to get Bardem on the ballot; good for him. They’re not going to get him the award. Jesse Eisenberg is just happy to be here. Likewise, I think James Franco is pleased as punch that he’s being taken seriously, although frankly the man’s sudden ascent in the realm of serious acting still has me feeling a little flat-footed. He was so shouty in those Spider-Man films, you know? If Jeff Bridges hadn’t won last year for Crazy Heart, I would say this would be his year, but he did, and it was a career sort of award, and you don’t win two career awards.
That leaves Colin Firth, who was nominated last year, did a fine job this year, and who has the good fortune of being in a film that I suspect will suck in a bunch of awards and therefore would have enough momentum for him to take this even if he wasn’t deserving of it, which he is.
Who will win: Firth
Who should win: Firth
Annette Bening in “The Kids Are All Right”
Nicole Kidman in “Rabbit Hole”
Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter’s Bone”
Natalie Portman in “Black Swan”
Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine”
Jennifer Lawrence off first; a fine performance but she’s young and I don’t think anyone thinks she’s paid her dues yet. Nicole Kidman off next; she’s in this year’s “Meryl Streep” slot, i.e., “Academy members had four nominees, couldn’t think of a fifth and there was the screener DVD right in front of them.” Michelle Williams has come a long way from Dawson’s Creek and has a previous nomination, but I’m not sure Blue Valentine is the film that’s going to take her all the way.
So we’re left with Bening and Portman. I have a soft spot for Bening, who I think should probably have won an Oscar by now, and who may yet if enough voters are in a “career award” sort of mood this year. But on the other hand Portman is The Actress of The Moment, with a hit film, an envious commercial and critical pedigree, is happily engaged and pregnant and, not inconsiderably, represents the Academy’s most rational way to award Black Swan with an Oscar. I’m pretty sure it’s hers.
Who will win: Portman
Who should win: Bening. I think career awards are perfectly fine.
Christian Bale in “The Fighter”
John Hawkes in “Winter’s Bone”
Jeremy Renner in “The Town”
Mark Ruffalo in “The Kids Are All Right”
Geoffrey Rush in “The King’s Speech”
Dear John Hawkes: Enjoy it, dude. You too, Ruffalo. Jeremy Renner: you’re having a heck of a couple of years. Don’t do anything stupid. Geoffrey Rush could take this if the voters are being lazy and just checking off every time The King’s Speech is on the ballot, but I very strongly suspect that Christian Bale’s walking about the door with the Oscar, both for his meth-tastic performance and also because this is how the Academy will choose to say “nice job” to The Fighter.
Who will win: Bale
Who should win: Bale.
Amy Adams in “The Fighter”
Helena Bonham Carter in “The King’s Speech”
Melissa Leo in “The Fighter”
Hailee Steinfeld in “True Grit”
Jacki Weaver in “Animal Kingdom”
This category is always the hardest to handicap (i.e., the one I always screw up) because, honestly, I don’t think even the Academy members know who to choose in this category, in the years where Woody Allen doesn’t make it easy for them. That said, everyone I know says this year is likely to come down to a fight between Melissa Leo and Amy Adams, and I don’t really see any reason to doubt that. If it does come down to the two of them, the coin flip I just did points to Adams.
Who will win: Adams.
Who should win: Steinfeld, with the note that she’s as much a “supporting actress” in True Grit as Jeff Bridges is a supporting actor.
Other categories: I’m having a hard time imagining a world in which Toy Story 3 doesn’t win the Animated Film Oscar. In screenplays, I think Aaron Sorkin is a good bet for Adapted, and I think Inception actually has a chance at Original, by way of consolation for Chris Nolan being stiffed in the director category. I suspect Inception may also sneak off with Cinematography. I would be chuffed if The Social Network won original score, because the idea of Trent Reznor being an Oscar winner fills me with glee. Finally, I and every science fiction geek in the known universe is rooting for “The Lost Thing” in the Animated Short category, because Shaun Tan is one of our own. Go, Shaun! Go!