2011 Oscar Predictions

This year’s Oscars promise to be duller and whiter than ever. But I still like predicting elections, and making lists, and I guess I like movies too. So let’s talk Oscars!

I really mean it about the “whiter” bit. Not only is the ceremony to be hosted by beloved caucasian icons Anne Hathaway and James Franco, but from what I can see there is a virtual zero percent chance that we see any nonwhite actors or directors nominated (possibly screenwriters too, but I’m not as sure because I don’t know what any of them look like and don’t really care to [and anyway Aaron Sorkin is probably white enough to cancel out anyone who isn't]). The only black actor with even the remotest of chances at a nomination is Halle Berry, who scored a (typically meaningless) Golden Globe nod for a movie called Frankie and Alice that currently has a 20% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. If her name does somehow show up on Oscar nomination day, you can be assured this was done strictly to mitigate this whitepocalypse of a ceremony.

And it really is a shame, too. There are going to be some excellent films nominated this year, but I’m just not seeing a way around the lack of diversity storyline that’s bound to dominate in the press. The Academy Awards ceremony is of course not exactly known for being the most diverse event in the world, but in recent years they’d actually been doing OK — Precious had a great showing a year ago, with numerous nominations and wins for Supporting Actress and Adapted Screenplay. Taraji P. Henson and Viola Davis represented in 2009, Forest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson both won major awards in 2007, and at the Chris Rock-hosted 2005 ceremony I am fairly sure Jamie Foxx won every single statue and flew away in a helicopter, cackling diabolically while Counting Crows were in mid-performance.

But here in 2011, this is just how it is. Surely there will be plenty of debate over why this is the whitest Oscars in recent memory. Are there quality ethnic films and performances being willfully ignored? If there aren’t, well, why aren’t there? Is the consensus opinion over what makes a “good” movie too biased toward whatever white audiences relate to? I don’t know. I’m just saying, be ready to hear a whole lot more about this.

Anyway, the nominees. For Best Picture, we’re looking at 10, just like last year. There are really only 11 candidates with a good shot at these 10 slots: the 10 already selected by the Producers Guild (usually the most accurate precursor for Best Picture), plus critical favorite and dark horse indie Winter’s Bone. There are another few longshots: Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, Mike Leigh’s Another Year, the oddly controversial Blue Valentine. But I don’t think any of those has much momentum at this stage.

Basically you’ve got five sure things: Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The King’s Speech, and The Social Network (which will win). Each of these has consistently shown up in just about every major precursor. Taking up the remaining slots will be five of the following six: The Kids Are All Right, 127 Hours, The Town, Toy Story 3, True Grit, and Winter’s Bone. Any one of these could find itself left out on nomination day, but my money’s on Winter’s Bone — it didn’t get that all-important PGA nod, and it may simply be too small a film to overcome that. If it does get in, I’d guess the loser would be either 127 Hours (brilliant, but nearly unwatchably so) or The Town (also great, but mostly squeaking by so far thanks to heavy marketing).

Did I mention The Social Network is going to win? You already knew that, right?

On to Best Director. Back when there would be only five Best Picture nominees, they would often be reflected in the Academy’s choices for Best Director. There may be twice as many films nominated per year now, but as I noted before there are really five sure things in 2011. It just so happens that the Directors Guild has already nominated the men who helmed those five sure things for their own awards. You see where I’m going with this?

If any major Oscar category is a done deal, this is it. You’ve got Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), Christopher Nolan (Inception), and David O. Russell (The Fighter), all of whom will have the privilege of losing to David Fincher (The Social Network). Notably, out of this bunch only Fincher has been nominated before (well, Nolan got a screenplay nod for Memento, but that’s screenwriting and doesn’t matter). Are there any potential spoilers? The Academy does love the brothers Coen, and Danny Boyle, and Mike Leigh, and maybe that Clint Eastwood guy a little bit. But no.

And now, acting! We’ll do the ladies first. I’m actually really intrigued to see who gets nominated for Best Actress, because you have four no doubters and one huge wild card slot. For months now the race has looked like it’s down to the oft-snubbed veteran (Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right) vs. the starlet in her prime (Natalie Portman, Black Swan). And while this is probably true, knowing the Academy I have to believe Bening has the edge. In any event, the two of them are in, as are Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) and Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole).

So here’s where it gets interesting. The Screen Actors Guild usually has the most sway in this stuff, but they’ve given their fifth spot to Hilary Swank in Conviction. Nobody really loved Conviction, and I don’t even think anyone liked Swank in it. People do, however, like giving Hilary Swank awards, and in fact she has won the Best Actress Oscar twice — defeating Annette Bening both times. So it may be tempting to put both in the race for a third time, when Bening may finally get her win.

However, there’s another candidate for this fifth spot who many critics would say deserves it no question: Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine. She’s been nominated for an Oscar before as well, losing Supporting Actress to Rachel Weisz in 2006, but Williams is said by some to give a classic performance this time around. It’s also worth noting that, while Swank got that SAG nod, Williams was given the nod instead by the Golden Globes, the Broadcast Film Critics Association, and others. I actually do think Williams will get in here, and not just because I’m not a big Hilary Swank fan. But it will be close, as will the final showdown between Bening and Portman.

I should note there are dark horses: Lesley Manville for Another Year, Tilda Swinton for I Am Love, and I guess Halle Berry for…diversity. I don’t think there’s room for them, but maybe Manville could sneak in there if Williams and Swank bring each other down.

Best Actor is much more boring this time around. Jeff Bridges and Colin Firth are still riding the wave of last year’s awards successes, and they’ll be showing up again for True Grit and The King’s Speech, respectively. The difference this time around is it will be Firth riding into a win. James Franco will also be here, for his impressive work in 127 Hours. Why he’s also hosting the Oscars in a year when he’s bound to be nominated is anyone’s guess. Jesse Eisenberg’s nomination is guaranteed, because it’s The Social Network and so of course it is. And then the final spot will go to Robert Duvall for a movie called Get Low — no one saw it, but he’s 80 and you gotta have your old guy.

There is only one other actor who could get in here, and that would be Ryan Gosling for Blue Valentine. Gosling’s been nominated once before, but Blue Valentine doesn’t have the level of support required to bump him over legends like Duvall and Bridges. I guess Javier Bardem (Biutiful), Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter), and Paul Giamatti (Barney’s Version) have distant shots, but we’re talking really, really distant.

But wait, you say, what about Johnny Depp? He’s been nominated for not one but TWO Golden Globes, for Alice in Wonderland and The Tourist! To which I respond, are you fucking stupid? I mean, really.

Best Supporting Actress might be the most open major category. You have six viable candidates for five slots, but any one of them could be the one who gets left out — with the exception of Melissa Leo (The Fighter). Leo is favored to win, though it’s not guaranteed. The other five are Amy Adams (The Fighter), Helena Bonham Carter (The King’s Speech), Mila Kunis (Black Swan), Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), and Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom). All have weaknesses: Adams has to deal with being in Leo’s shadow. Carter, in her own way, has to deal with being in both Colin Firth’s and Geoffrey Rush’s shadows. Mila Kunis is very good in Black Swan, but she doesn’t have the capital these other actresses have. Hailee Steinfeld is a revelation, but she’s also very young and may have to deal with a perception of category fraud (she’s clearly the lead in True Grit). Jacki Weaver would seem to be the easy cut — Australian movie no one saw, released earlier in 2010, not a big name actress, no SAG nomination. But it’s not really so clear, as Weaver was nominated by the BFCA and the Golden Globes (who omitted Steinfeld entirely), won this category in the National Board of Review awards, and was named Best Supporting Actress on more critics’ end-of-year lists than anyone (save maybe Leo), including the significant Los Angeles Film Critics Association. The SAG snub may still mean Weaver has the worst odds of the group, but I would not be surprised to see Steinfeld or Kunis lose out.

Last and possibly least in the acting categories is Best Supporting Actor. It’s not a thrilling group in my opinion, but once again we have an area where there’s some question around the fifth slot. Christian Bale has completely dominated this category in the precursors, and no one is in a position to stop him from winning for The Fighter. He’s followed by Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech) in distant second place, but he already has his Oscar anyway. Then we have the scene-stealing Jeremy Renner (The Town), and the somehow-never-before-nominated Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right).

For the fifth spot, we have a situation similar to that with Best Actress: John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone) received a surprise nod from the SAG, where Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) had been expected to show up. Like Michelle Williams, Garfield was named by the BFCA and Golden Globes; like Hilary Swank, Hawkes was ignored by those groups. The main difference is, Hawkes’s performance has received raves across the board, and his movie is well-loved. Hawkes was named the top supporting actor by San Francisco’s film critics, while even the critics groups who liked Sam Rockwell (BFCA) and Juliette Lewis (Boston) in Conviction pretty much ignored Swank. Equally important is that Andrew Garfield is no Michelle Williams. Williams has a history of past nominations and critical adoration, and Garfield’s only just starting out. No doubt he’s fantastic in The Social Network, and could ride its coattails to Oscar night. But Hawkes is a respected veteran who’s never gotten his dues at this level, and I expect him to get in. And then lose to Christian Bale.

Now, let’s do the Screenplay awards. Aaron Sorkin wins Adapted. Will anyone else even be nominated? Do you care? Of course not. There’s also a Best Original Screenplay award, believe it or not, which I guess goes to The King’s Speech guy.

That’s all the big stuff. On January 25th we’ll see if I’m right. And if I am, the next big question to answer: why do I have time to put so much thought into this twaddle?

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