Oh, the Oscars anticipation!
Will Colin Firth finally get the recognition he deserves? Will ceremony hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway burn Ricky Gervais in effigy? Will I once again correctly guess only 60 percent of the winners? We’ll all find out on Sunday, Feb. 27, at 8 p.m. on ABC. Until then — and based on weeks of “researching” by listening to the echo chamber of other predictions — here are my predictions for how the night will go.
• Best Film
Nominees: 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.
Who will win: The King’s Speech. All of a sudden, this decent-but-not-earth-shattering old-school Oscar bait has become the movie to beat, overtaking the early momentum for The Social Network, which won at the Golden Globes. The King’s Speech legitimately has a solid central performance from Colin Firth and then has a bunch of qualities (biopic, period piece, the Golden Hour of Great Britain) that could appeal to traditional Academy voters.
Who should win: True Grit. Actually, I picked Toy Story 3 as my number-one movie of 2010 and Winter’s Bone and The Kids Are All Right as my tie for number two. But True Grit improved with a second viewing and is a near-perfect film-going experience that is both a great big-screen Golden Age of Hollywood-style movie and a solidly crafted modern film.
Dark horse: The Social Network. It’s worth noting that when I first started considering this year’s nominees, my choices for “will win” and “dark horse” were reversed. The Social Network is a very solid making-of-the-band story about how something started scrappy and small and became a cultural behemoth. What it isn’t is a Movie For Our Age, which was how it was being sold early in the awards race and perhaps why it has now slipped to number-two status.
Shoulda been a contender: Easy A. I know, never going to happen, but recognition for more movies like this is my personal wish.
• Best Director
Nominees: Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan, David O. Russell for The Fighter, Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech, David Fincher for The Social Network, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen for True Grit.
Who will win: David Fincher. This almost never happens — the Best Director almost always wins for the Best Movie, but this would be a way for voters to split the difference between The King’s Speech and The Social Network. And, it would be an honest choice. Not that The King’s Speech was just poured out of a can, but more decisions were made in how The Social Network was put together.
Who should win: Joel and Ethan Coen. As directors of the movie that I believe should win, I think they deserve a lot of the credit for making this solid, likable film.
Dark horse: Darren Aronofsky. OK, I don’t know if Aronofsky is actually a dark horse in any serious, he’s-on-Fincher’s-shadow way but he would be the most surprising choice for whom one could make a legitimate argument, which is: Black Swan, while not a perfect movie, is fascinating and has a consistent and compelling weirdness and dark humor. More than any one performance or any particular feature of the story, it’s how everything came together that elevates the movie.
Shoulda been a contender: Christopher Nolan for Inception. Part of the way you know the nomination of Inception for best movie isn’t terribly serious is that Nolan isn’t nominated here. But I’d argue it was his work — pulling together the story, actors and special effects to create a smart action movie — that made Inception Oscar-worthy.
• Best Actor
Nominees: Javier Bardem in Biutiful, Jeff Bridges in True Grit, Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network, Colin Firth in The King’s Speech and James Franco in 127 Hours.
Who will win: Colin Firth. It’s an old Oscar tradition — you give a guy an award nominally for a good performance this year but actually for a great performance in a previous year. Firth was excellent in last year’s A Single Man and this year’s performance was good enough to win him recognition for both.
Who should win: Colin Firth. Because even if you wiped away all previous Firth work, his role in The King’s Speech is still a strong performance. It’s better than Eisenberg’s and better than Franco’s and at least as good as Bridges’, which can come off as a bit showier. (Disclaimer: I haven’t seen Biutiful; my apologies to the potentially Firth-besting performance of Javier Bardem.)
Dark horse: Jeff Bridges. It’s unlikely that he would be awarded for a role this year so similar to a role he won an Oscar for last year, but his Rooster Cogburn is a lot of fun.
Shoulda been a contender: Tom Hanks for Toy Story 3 and Jim Carrey for I Love You Phillip Morris — two excellent performances that mixed comedy and genuine emotion.
• Best Actress
Nominees: 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.
Who will win: Annette Bening. I think this category will be the surprise of the night. Bening’s work here is a real shining moment of her career. I think Academy voters, who are more conservative than Golden Globe voters, might be inclined to honor her more mature, nuanced performance over Natalie Portman’s crazy, feather-covered one.
Who should win: Jennifer Lawrence. As a teenage girl struggling to keep her family afloat, Lawrence is perfect. She gives us a character who is fully realized.
Dark horse: Natalie Portman. God and everybody has their money on her. I think her performance is entertaining but it isn’t transformative (she doesn’t, a la Sandra Bullock, show us something we’ve never seen in her before) or a jewel in the crown of her work (like Firth or Bening).
Shoulda been a contender: Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit. How, seriously, is a character who is in every scene of a movie and even narrates the damn thing not a “lead actress”?
• Best Supporting Actor
Nominees: 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.
Who will win: Christian Bale. As with Colin Firth’s performance, Bale’s Dicky stands head and shoulders above his competitors in this category. He remakes himself physically for this performance and steals every scene he’s in.
Who should win: Christian Bale. See above.
Dark horse: Geoffrey Rush. If you weren’t going to vote for Christian Bale this would seem to be where the most “other” votes would end up, though personally my Bale-alternative choice would be John Hawkes.
Shoulda been a contender: Aaron Eckhart in Rabbit Hole. He is heartbreaking as a man trying to keep his marriage together while mourning the death of his son. Also on my list would have been Matt Damon in True Grit and from The Social Network Armie Hammer, Andrew Garfield and even Justin Timberlake.
• Best Supporting Actress
Nominees: 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.
Who will win: Hailee Steinfeld. She isn’t just a cute addition to True Grit — Maggie Ross is the heart of the story and Steinfeld delivers a smart and solid performance.
Who should win: Hailee Steinfeld. Though she and Leo are neck and neck, I give the edge to Steinfeld for making her character utterly strange and a piece of the landscape set up by the Coen bothers but also believable as an actual person.
Dark horse: Melissa Leo. In addition to her stand-out performance in The Fighter (for which she won a Golden Globe), Leo was nominated (but didn’t win) for 2008’s Frozen River. She is considered the front runner by some but there has also been some controversy about her campaign for the Oscars (yes, that happens).
Shoulda been a contender: Dianne Wiest for Rabbit Hole. And, because of its structure, all three women — Julianne Moore, Annette Bening and Mia Wasikowska — from The Kids Are All Right would have found a good home here.
• Best Screenplay, original
Nominees: Mike Leigh for Another Year; Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson and Keith Dorrington for The Fighter; Christopher Nolan for Inception; Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg for The Kids Are All Right, and David Seidler for The King’s Speech.
Who will win: David Seidler. Why fight the tide on this one — everybody says The King’s Speech is the screenplay to beat. Ironically for the original screenplay category, the best lines come from actual history.
Who should win: Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg. I find myself not so much swooning with love for the nominees in this category. But I do think the writers of The Kids Are All Right captured their characters and the right nuances — of class, age, location — to make them believable.
Dark horse: Christopher Nolan. Oscar voters can’t give the man the director’s prize and won’t give him best movie so if they’re going to give non-effects-related awards to this movie, this would seem to be the place to do it.
Shoulda been a contender: It’s difficult to know what’s adapted and what’s original, but to cover this and the next categories, I’m going to say I Love You Philip Morris, Despicable Me, Easy A and Rabbit Hole.
• Best Screenplay, adapted
Nominees: Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy for 127 Hours; Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network; Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich for Toy Story 3; Joel Coen & Ethan Coen for True Grit, and Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini for Winter’s Bone.
Who will win: Aaron Sorkin. This seems like the sure bet for The Social Network.
Who should win: Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin has his faults but he is a smart sharp writer who can compose lines (particularly when it comes to put-downs) that are elegant and wicked. Whatever else The Social Network is, it is a brilliantly written movie.
Dark horse: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen. The strange and lyrical language in True Grit is a joy to listen to but isn’t so stilted as to take you out of the story.
• Best Song
Nominees: “Coming Home” from Country Strong, “I See the Light” from Tangled, “If I Rise” from 127 Hours; “We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3.
Who will win: “I See the Light.” Since Tangled did not get a nod in the animated feature category, this is voters’ chance to honor classic Disney animation.
Who should win: “Coming Home” — and not necessarily because I liked this song but because I liked other songs in Country Strong.
Dark horse: “We Belong Together.” Perhaps general love for Toy Story 3 will make the song particularly award-worthy (though, as much as I loved the movie, I can’t for the life of me remember the song).
Shoulda been a contender: Other songs from Country Strong: “Timing is Everything” and “Country Strong.”
• Best Score
Nominees: John Powell for How to Train Your Dragon, Hans Zimmer for Inception, Alexandre Desplat for The King’s Speech, A.R. Rahman for 127 Hours and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for The Social Network.
Who will win: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Because it’s freaking Trent Reznor.
Who should win: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Usually it’s only when a score is particularly, how do you say, Michael Bay-ish (cough, Inception) that you notice it. But the spare, clean score for The Social Network stood out for its precision and the excellent way it helped add texture to the movie.
Dark horse: A.R. Rahman. On my second viewing, I also noticed — and particularly enjoyed — the score of 127 Hours. It has a good energy in the beginning and an appropriately spare quality as the movie begins to narrow to just one man and one cave.
• Best Foreign Language Film
Nominees: Biutiful (Mexico), Dogtooth (Greece), In a Better World (Denmark), Incendies (Canada), Outside the Law (Algeria)
Who will win: In a Better World. Despite being a movie you’ve never head of, In a Better World won a Golden Globe.
Who should win: I have no dog in this fight, having seen none of these movies. (I know, movie critic fail.)
Dark horse: Biutiful. Because it’s the other movie in this category that I’ve heard of.
Shoulda been a contender: While they are not great films, it’s odd that The Girl Who Played with the Dragon’s Nest movies never appeared in this category in the last few years.
• Best Documentary
Nominees: Exit through the Gift Shop, Gasland, Inside Job, Restrepo and Waste Land
Who will win: Inside Job. I say this with only marginal confidence. I tend to think that “the war” (as represented in this category by Restrepo) isn’t the hot-button issue it once was and the other movies don’t have the oomph to overtake this examination of the financial collapse. Having said that, I don’t think Inside Job quite has the oomph it should have. So my vote, if I had one, would go to…
Who should win: Restrepo. I know, I know, you’re not tripping over your shoes to run and see another movie about Afghanistan. But this movie is worth seeking out (it’s now on DVD and iTunes). It perfectly gets at the conditions of modern war-fighting and makes this nearly decade-long conflict seem urgent. And while you’re at it, put Gasland on your list of movies to watch. It is a smart, entertaining and terrifying look at the natural gas industry.
Dark horse: Exit through the Gift Shop. This documentary about street artist Banksy annoyed me to near throwing-something-at-the-TV levels (but I like my TV and it seemed unfair to take this movie out on it) but people, other people, like it, despite its being potentially fictional (and unendurably up its own rear end).
Shoulda been a contender: Waiting for “Superman” and Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. The former was a far better look at pressing issues of the day than Inside Job and the latter was a brilliant, poignant and funny profile of a show biz personality.
• Best Animated Feature
Nominees: Toy Story 3, How to Train Your Dragon, The Illusionist.
Who will win: Toy Story 3. Why not just call it the “Pixar Award for Best Pixar Feature” at this point?
Who should win: Toy Story 3. And not just because it made me cry but also because it was a sweet and charming, fully developed, brilliantly executed movie.
Dark horse: I could say How to Train Your Dragon but seriously, why pretend?
Shoulda been a contender: Despicable Me. This movie had heart and fun and was delightful in a way that How To Train Your Dragon just wasn’t. And, while I may be alone on this, I liked Megamind.