As I do every year when the Academy Award nominations come out, I put on my film critic hat and try to guess which nominees are eventually going to walk away with Oscar gold. This year’s nomination slates are frankly wacky, so I can say without hesitation that I wouldn’t put a huge amount of stock in my guesses at the moment — but that’s fine since I usually do a follow-up right before the award ceremony in which I factor in everything that’s changed in the race. So, having hedged myself sufficiently, here are my guesses, right now.
“The Artist” Thomas Langmann, Producer
“The Descendants” Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Producers
“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” Scott Rudin, Producer
“The Help” Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, Producers
“Hugo” Graham King and Martin Scorsese, Producers
“Midnight in Paris” Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum, Producers
“Moneyball” Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt, Producers
“The Tree of Life” Nominees to be determined
“War Horse” Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers
After two years in which the Best Picture field had ten slots, the Academy instituted a new rule that allows for up to ten nominees, but all nominees must have at least 5% of the nomination vote (or something like that). This year apparently only nine films got more than 5% of the nomination vote. This still allows for a wide range of nominees, and this year’s Best Picture slate is commercially and artistically diverse. But who cares about that? We want to guess who will win.
First step: Toss out every nominee whose director is not nominated this year, since it is very rare for a film to win Best Picture without its director also being nominated (the last time it happened was 1988, with Driving Miss Daisy). So long Extremely Loud, The Help, Moneyball and War Horse.
After that I suspect Midnight in Paris is next off. Usually I’d say it’s because it’s a comedy and comedies don’t win Oscars (the last straight up comedy to win was Allen’s own Annie Hall, 35 years ago), but this year is different on that score. I don’t think it will win because even though this is considered Allen’s best picture since Hannah and Her Sisters, it’s arguable that it is as good as Allen’s films were in his heyday, and anyway, everyone knows he won’t come to the ceremony anyway. Next off from there is The Tree of Life; I think nominating Terrance Malick films is the closest thing the Academy members have to being hipsters, and that’s not enough to take home the statue.
After that things get wonky for me. Hugo has been having a hell of a run, and you can argue that even with awards for The Departed that the Academy still owes Martin Scorsese some Oscars; if Departed caught them up for Raging Bull, Hugo would catch them up for Goodfellas. But at the end of the day this is a family film, and that presents a problem. Not because a family film can’t be brilliant — please, don’t paint me with that brush — but because the last full-on family film to win the Best Picture Oscar (if you don’t count Slumdog Millionaire, and I don’t, because it wasn’t marketed that way) is Oliver! back in 1968. I think the Academy sees family films like it generally sees comedies: nice to nominate occasionally but not something you’d usually let win. The Scorsese name counts for something, but ultimately it’s not going to be enough.
So it comes down to The Artist and The Descendants, and why this is an unusual year: Both of them are comedies, with varying amounts of drama in them, and that’s kind of mindblowing (the Golden Globes put The Descendants in its Drama category, which suggests that those folks were more interested in their awars ratings than anything else). The question is which of these the Academy will choose. On one hand The Descendants has George Clooney at the top of his game, and Alexander Payne has been plugging away for years with films that are best described as “comfortably auteurish,” of which this film may be the very best example. So giving the award to this film would be something of a career award. On the other hand The Artist is genuinely novel (a silent, black and white film in 2011), is not just a stunt, which is something just short of a miracle, has a hell of a lot of momentum coming out of the Golden Globes and — this is not trivial — is distributed by The Weinstein Company, which means that Harvey Weinstein will be doing his thing of corralling Oscar votes. Given that Weinstein managed to jam Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan and The King’s Speech over The Social Network (as just two examples), if one of his films is a contender, you can’t count him out.
If I’m going to pick now, I’d go for The Descendants. But I have no confidence in that pick, and think Harvey Weinstein is perfectly capable of cutting enough balls to push The Artist over the top. Let’s check back just before the awards and see how I feel.
Will Win: The Descendants
Should Win: The Artist
Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”
Alexander Payne, “The Descendants”
Martin Scorsese, “Hugo”
Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”
Terrence Malick, “The Tree of Life”
Allen out first; it’s not his year (and he’s got three Oscars anyway). Malick out next; I see him getting one of those Lifetime Achievement Oscars in the not-too-distant future. Of the three remaining it’s a toss up for me, since I think Scorsese has a tremendous amount of good will in the Academy, Payne is at the top of his form and Hazanavicius pulled off a silent, black and white film in the 21st century. Flipping a three-sided coin, I’m going to give it to Payne since I am nominally guessing The Descendants will win Best Picture, but again: No confidence and watch out for Hazanavicius getting a Weinstein boost.
Will Win: Payne
Should Win: Hazanavicius
Glenn Close, “Albert Nobbs”
Viola Davis, “The Help”
Rooney Mara, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ”
Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”
Michelle Williams, “My Week With Marilyn”
Rooney Mara is having a good year but it’s not going to extend all the way to winning an Oscar, especially with this lineup. After that, who knows? Normally I discount any Streep nomination because she’s seemingly nominated regardless, but this year she’s playing Margaret Thatcher and the extra historical personage tang might mean something (one disadvantage: Streep’s performance is generally seen as the best thing about the film). Michelle Williams is also playing a beloved icon — in this case Marilyn Monroe — but I wonder if she’s stuck doing time in what I used to call the Kate Winslet cage, i.e., everyone assuming she will win an Oscar at some point, but maybe just not yet. Close’s film has been little-seen but this would be a fine time to give her a career award. Any of the three could take it but in the what I think is most likely is that Viola Davis will, not just for her performance in The Help (which is by all indications worthy) but because, like Sandra Bullock’s win for The Blind Side, it will be the recognition that particular Best Picture-nominated film will get for all of its efforts.
Will Win: Davis
Should Win: Davis
Demián Bichir, “A Better Life”
George Clooney, “The Descendants”
Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”
Gary Oldman, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy ”
Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”
Ever heard of Bichir before? Neither have I. His nomination is fantastic, because it means the folks in the actor’s branch really are searching high and low for the best performances, no matter where they are and who performs them. I wish Bichir well and all future success. He has no chance. On the other side of the spectrum, it’s somewhat appalling to consider that this is Oldman’s first Oscar nomination — seriously, Academy voters, what the hell? — and aside from what is by all accounts a rock solid performance in Tinker, I would be inclined to give the man the Oscar as a career award. But this year may not be the year for that. Pitt I think has a good chance simply for being Pitt (i.e., a movie star who also is serious about the acting), but in the end I think it will come down to Clooney and Dujardin. Dujardin has the flashier performance (you try acting without talking for a whole film) but Clooney’s willingness to play a schlub despite looking like, you know, George Clooney, is probably going to count for something. I’m going to call it for Dujardin on the grounds that it’s unpossible that Clooney won’t be back here again (hell, he’s got a screenwriting nomination this year), but I also note that’s probably me projecting.
Will Win: Dujardin
Should Win: Oldman
Bérénice Bejo in “The Artist”
Jessica Chastain in “The Help”
Melissa McCarthy in “Bridesmaids”
Janet McTeer in “Albert Nobbs”
Octavia Spencer in “The Help”
Spencer out first; Nobbs is little seen and the spotlight there, I think, is on Close. Bejo out next, although like Ginger Rogers with Astaire, she’s doing everything Jean Dujardin is doing, backwards and in heels. I think there’s a fine chance that Spencer and Chastain will cancel each other out although of the two I could see Chastain pulling through, in part because of solid performances this year as well in Tree of Life and The Debt. But you know what? I think the Academy is going to want to give it to McCarthy, both for her performance and as recognition for Bridesmaids in general. And I would applaud such an award, personally.
Will Win: McCarthy
Should Win: McCarthy
Kenneth Branagh in “My Week with Marilyn”
Jonah Hill in “Moneyball”
Nick Nolte in “Warrior”
Christopher Plummer in “Beginners”
Max von Sydow in “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”
Wow, I have absolutely no idea about this category at all, except to suggest it’s probably not going to be Jonah Hill. Otherwise it’s Pick Your Favorite Woefully Overlooked Actor day. If we were going purely by most nominations, you’d have to give it to Branagh, since he’s been nominated four times before, twice as many as the next nearest (Nolte, who was nominated twice before). But then Plummer and von Sydow are both pretty damn old, and, sorry, that’s a factor in this category. On the other hand Nolte possibly has the oldest vital organs of any of them. Honestly, who can say. I do know that if Hill does win it, he’s going to get pummeled by senior citizens. I’m going to go with von Sydow for no other reason than that the power of Christ compels me, although personally I have a soft spot for Branagh (who is playing Laurence Olivier here to boot) so he’s probably who I would vote for myself.
Will Win: von Sydow
Should Win: Branagh
Other categories: I have a hunch Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy might get a nod in Adapted Screenplay, while I wouldn’t be surprised the The Artist gets it in Original Screenplay, especially if it’s seen as a compensation Oscar for Michel Hazanavicius. I would likewise not be surprised if The Artist gets cinematography. I’d like to note that Cars 2 isn’t an Animated Feature Film nominee this year, which I think is correct; it’s the worst Pixar film by a considerable margin (which means, mind you, that it’s no worse than the average Dreamworks Animation feature). I’m going to guess Rango gets it this year because I suspect director Gore Verbinski is well-liked.