Another year of movies has come and gone. I addressed you glorious readers on the state of the Grammys not too long ago and expressed my general despondence at what their nominations had to offer. Now I am back to discuss the upcoming Academy Awards, an awards ceremony which I have usually held in higher regard than the Grammys for its ability to maintain general relevance. The Oscars, it seems, make a much better attempt at staying in touch with the direction of good cinema these days and do a somewhat commendable job of rewarding said cinema. The Academy, however, is certainly not without its shortcomings. Where the Grammys received my harangues as a result of their being hopelessly out of touch with popular music, I must here mildly chide the Academy for being, on the whole, pretty predictable, almost to the degree that I can (hopefully) predict the winners without even having seen all the movies in contention. In the following article, I’ll dispel my reflections on the Oscars as they stand now, along the way making some predictions of my own for your reading pleasure.
2011 has some very, how shall I say, interesting qualities about it when it comes to movies, specifically those in Oscar contention. First of all, movies in 2011 were going up against some very stiff competition from their predecessors. 2010 was a phenomenal year for cinema, featuring such giants as The King’s Speech, The Social Network, Black Swan, The Fighter, True Grit, 127 Hours, Toy Story 3, and even Inception. So, maybe my expectations were a little high, but all in all, I must say that 2011 was a bit underwhelming as a year of movies. At least this year we get to see Billy Crystal host the Oscars again in all his shining glory instead of having to watch that awkward-a-thon that was Anne Hathaway and James Franco leading the ceremony last year. Underwhelming movies notwithstanding, the Academy still must nominate someone, so we’ll take a look at what they’ve selected, and a little bit at what they haven’t selected, to see if we can figure out just what the Academy is up to.
Best Actor: Why Gary Oldman should win, but probably won’t. So here’s the deal. Gary Oldman has been, and continues to be, one of the most outstanding character actors of our time. I can point to a myriad of roles, from Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy, to the ever-wicked Stansfield in Leon: The Professional, even to Sirius Black in the Harry Potter movies. Yet, despite great acting over a decades-long career, the man has never been nominated for an Oscar. Until now! At long last, the Academy came to their senses and nominated Oldman for his portrayal of John Le Carre’s George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Oldman did an outstanding job playing this subdued, manipulative, anti-spy character and rightly deserves the nomination and, in my opinion, the Oscar itself, if not at the very least for his achievements that have been overlooked for too many years. Yet, I can predict to you faithful readers that he will not win the Oscar. Why not? The answer is simple. His movie, for a reason lost on me, didn’t do as well critically or in the box office as people anticipated. That’s bad news for a Best Actor contender. If we go by last year’s Best Actor win by Colin Firth in The King’s Speech, which also won Best Picture and Best Director, then Oldman is likely to lose out to George Clooney in The Descendants or Jean Dujardin in The Artist. Both of these actors have already grabbed Best Actor Golden Globes for these movies and are in movies that are not only nominees but are frontrunners for the Best Picture category. For Gary’s sake, I’m hoping my prediction is wrong, but just because I have to pick one, I’ll go with Dujardin as the underdog-with-a-heart-of-gold win. Plus, the Oscars like seeing movies about movies. Why else do we think Hugo got the Best Picture nomination? Because of Scorsese? Maybe.
Best Actress: Why Meryl Streep will (in all likelihood) win. The Academy, for all its claims of progressive thinking and forward seeking, sure likes to turn back the clocks, especially when it comes to historical figures, most notably British ones. Again I cite Colin Firth’s win in The King’s Speech. (Disclaimer: Colin Firth did a fantastic job in that movie and deserved the Oscar. I’m not knocking his win so much as trying to point out the patterns of the Academy). But apart from Firth, we don’t have to look back too far to see the Academy’s anglophilic tendencies. Helen Mirren won Best Actress not too long ago in 2007’s The Queen. So when Meryl Streep, who has already been nominated seventeen times and won twice, steps up to play Margaret Thatcher in this year’s The Iron Lady, is it that ridiculous to think that she’s got a good shot at taking home the trophy? I think not. She did, after all, do an impressive job in that role, though the movie itself was just okay. Streep’s only obstacle may be the same that Gary Oldman faces. That is, her movie isn’t nominated for Best Picture. The only competition I think she’ll have is from Viola Davis, who delivers a stirring performance in the Best Picture-nominated The Help. This should be a good bout. In a side note, does anyone out there think Rooney Mara deserves some love for tackling Lisbeth Salander in Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? I’m still undecided, as compelling a role as it was…
Best Supporting Actors: A category of little (okay, perhaps some) consequence. Maybe it’s just because last year’s Supporting categories were almost more exciting than the Lead categories, but I’m not seeing all that much to care about here. Regarding Best Supporting Actor, I think Jonah Hill would be an interesting nod for Moneyball, and I thought Nick Nolte did very well in the incredibly underappreciated Warrior, but there’s little to excite me in this category. I’ll go out on a shaky limb and predict they give the Oscar to Kenneth Branagh for My Week With Marilyn, primarily just because most everyone knows who Kenneth Branagh is. The Supporting Actress category is a bit more compelling, because it would be interesting to see Melissa McCarthy take home an Oscar for her comedic role in Bridesmaids. There are also two nominees from The Help in this category, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain, who get an added boost from that Best Picture nomination. Based mostly on probability, I predict that one of those two—I’ll guess Spencer, just because—will edge out Berenice Bejo from The Artist for the Oscar, though if the Academy decides to go with Bejo, I don’t think it would be a terrible pick.
Best Animated Film. I’ll make this short. Pixar shot themselves in the foot and decided to make Cars 2 this year instead of looking for an Oscar nomination, so their four-year streak of winning this award is over. Rango should win this category, because Kung Fu Panda 2 was a sequel and Puss In Boots was Puss In Boots. They also won’t give it to A Cat in Paris or Chico & Rita because no one’s heard of those.
Best Director. This category is actually very much up in the air, seeing as all five nominees’ films are nominated for Best Picture as well, which is usually the case. The Academy does like Scorsese a lot, but I don’t think he’ll win for Hugo. Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life was stirring and ambitious, but the movie came out so long ago that few people remember it now. The same is mostly true for Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris. So, again, it comes down to The Descendants versus The Artist, which I think will be the final showdown in Best Picture as well. This one’s a toss-up. Sorry. I can’t decide here.
The always underappreciated Best Screenplay awards: I love the awards for Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay. A good script is what makes a good movie. Now maybe I think that just because I’m a writer, but if you’re looking to spice up your Oscar viewing experience, pay attention to these. This year, Adapted Screenplay is the more exciting category, with heavy hitters like Moneyball, The Descendants, The Ides of March (why did this movie not get nominated for more awards?), and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I think Moneyball may be out because Aaron Sorkin, whom I love and admire as a writer, won this category last year for The Social Network. The Academy only gives back-to-back winners for serious matters (where you at, Pixar?), so I think they’ll pass on Sorkin. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was fantastic as a film, and Le Carre’s tome of a novel must have been incredibly tough to adapt from. So there’s that to consider. I’m going to root for The Ides of March in this one, simply because I think it deserved more nominations. The Original Screenplay category is tougher to decide, though it would be cool to see SNL veteran Kristen Wiig snatch up an Oscar for Bridesmaids. I think Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris is also worth considering, as is Michel Hazanavicius’ screenplay for The Artist, because it’s The Artist.
FINALLY, THE BEST PICTURE PREDICTION. Folks, this one’s tough. There isn’t exactly a clear frontrunner, nor is there really even a group of frontrunners. A lot of critics are pointing to either The Descendants or The Artist to take the prize. After all, both movies took home Best Picture victories at the Golden Globes. But The Help has been gaining a lot of steam, especially after it cleaned house at the Screen Actors’ Guild Awards. I liked Moneyball a lot, but I don’t think it’s quite Best Picture worthy. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close will absolutely not win. It just won’t. This nomination came out of nowhere. Hugo is a contender because, again, it’s Scorsese. The Tree of Life and Midnight In Paris both came out a little too long ago, and I’m not sure either of those were quite fantastic enough to oust the more recently released frontrunners. If I absolutely had to pick one, I think the Academy will go for a somewhat out-of-the-box choice after last year’s relatively predictable outcome and pick the silent film The Artist.