It’s that time of year again — a time for victors to be showered in glory, for losers to be mocked and ostracized, and for creative artists to cheapen their craft by taking part in the ridiculous circus that we call the Academy Awards.
It’s a gas, though, isn’t it?
To aid in the festivities, here’s your comprehensive guide to Oscar night, with predictions and commentary for all major categories. There are few “sure things” this year, and the stiff competition should make for an interesting night. So on with the show!
- “Black Swan”
- “The Fighter”
- “The Kids Are All Right”
- “The King’s Speech”
- “127 Hours”
- “The Social Network”
- “Toy Story 3”
- “True Grit”
- “Winter’ s Bone”
Will win: “The King’s Speech”
Should win: “Inception”
Two months ago, I would have told you that “The Social Network” was the clear favorite to take home the night’s big prize. But for some inexplicable reason, “The King’s Speech” has enjoyed one of the strongest late surges in modern Academy history, and is now poised for an Oscar win to match its first-place showing at the Producers Guild awards. It’s historically based (if woefully inaccurate, according to many experts) and involves a central character overcoming a disability to fight the Nazis. In retrospect, how didn’t I call this sooner?
With “Rabbit Hole” out of the running, my choice for the year’s best picture is “Inception,” writer/director Christopher Nolan’s concept-driven, Mobius-strip heist film set in a world of dreams within dreams. It was the year’s most sophisticated and intellectually stimulating film — and also the most exciting, making it the rare movie that floods your mind with fascinating ideas while at the same time delivering as an old-fashioned adventure picture. (My runner-up choice would be “Toy Story 3,” but that will have to settle for a win in the Best Animated Feature category.)
- Javier Bardem in “Biutiful”
- Jeff Bridges in “True Grit”
- Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network”
- Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech”
- James Franco in “127 Hours”
Will/Should win: Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech”
In all fairness, I should note that the year’s best actor was, in fact, Ryan Gosling, whose blistering work in “Blue Valentine” hypnotized me like nothing else I saw all year. Alas, he is not in contention. That leaves us with Colin Firth, who deserves this award for crafting a nuanced portrayal of his subject — the stutter-afflicted King George VI — without relying on broad, gimmicky theatrics. Watching him, I was reminded of Leonardo DiCaprio’s work in “The Aviator” — both strong films that were elevated to the realm of greatness thanks to stars who steadfastly avoided the temptation to take the easy way out and over-play their roles. Firth will fare better than DiCaprio on Oscar night, though, and if he doesn’t win this award after taking home every other major trophy, it will be seen as the biggest upset in years. So don’t count on it.
- 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”
Will/Should win: Natalie Portman in “Black Swan”
No qualifiers here: As an unstable ballerina on the brink of madness, Portman gave us the year’s most impressive performance — male, female, lead or supporting. The film is eerie and effective where it might otherwise seem silly and overwrought, and as much credit as I’m willing to give director Darren Aronofsky for holding the whole thing together, the fact remains that without a compelling central performance, the film simply wouldn’t have worked. Exhibiting intensity and a quiet vulnerability often in the course of the same shot, Portman brings this tragic character to life as few other actors could. But the question is, can she stave off Annette Bening, who is perceived as being “due” for her work in “The Kids Are All Right”? It’s a reasonably close call, given Hollywood’s propensity for playing catch-up with their awards. But in the end, Portman has the clear edge here.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
- 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”
Will win: Christian Bale in “The Fighter”
Should win: John Hawkes in “Winter’s Bone”
About six months ago, I was speaking to somebody about the likelihood of Bale ever living up to his potential and delivering exactly the kind of fiery, lived-in, award-worthy portrayal we all knew he had in him. I didn’t think it was likely to happen any time soon. Thankfully I was wrong, and “The Fighter,” in which Bale plays the drug-addled trainer and older brother of a down-and-out boxer, has provided the actor with the best notices of his considerable career. Like Firth, Bale took what could have been an overly showy gimmick performance and turned it into a fully formed characterization rich with subtlety. He’s won almost every major award so far, so I doubt there’s any stopping him now.
It is not my opinion, but an objective fact that Andrew Garfield gave the year’s best supporting performance as Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin in “The Social Network.” But, in a reckless and possibly criminal affront to good taste, he was left off the roster. But never fear: We have a serviceable replacement in the form of John Hawkes, an under-rated character actor who is finally getting noticed thanks to his edgy work in the indie drama “Winter’s Bone.” He only has a few scenes in the film, but in the course of his limited screen time he fashions the most layered and charmingly shifty hillbilly you’re ever likely to see. And if that’s not worth an Oscar, then I honestly don’t know what is.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
- 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”
Will/Should win: Hailee Steinfeld in “True Grit”
*Fellow nominee Melissa Leo won this category at the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild awards, but the Oscar-buzz momentum still seems to be with Hailee Steinfeld for her star-making turn as the young heroine at the heart of “True Grit.” By all logic she should be competing in the lead actress race (hell, she has more screen time than co-star Jeff Bridges, who’s vying for a Best Actor award), but the studio thought she’d have a better shot here, and I think they’re right. Besides, there will be an impulse to give 10-time nominee “True Grit” some kind of major award, and this one’s the best bet. And historically speaking, Steinfeld’s status as a young ingenue doesn’t hurt her chances against the much older Leo, as this category tends to reward “the next big thing.”
- “127 Hours” by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy
- “The Social Network” by Aaron Sorkin
- “Toy Story 3” by Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
- “True Grit” by Joel and Ethan Coen
- “Winter’s Bone” by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini
Will/Should win: Aaron Sorkin for “The Social Network”
In what is perhaps the biggest “gimme” award of the evening, Aaron Sorkin will finally win his long-sought-after writing Oscar. And as much as the guy annoys me on a personal level, it’s hard to argue against him here. “The Social Network” dealt with a seemingly dull topic, but Sorkin’s words and the energy contained therein propelled the movie along with the speed and precision of a corporate thriller. With rapidly delivered, rat-a-tat dialogue that might be disorienting if it wasn’t so sharp and precise, the film isn’t really “seen” so much as it is downloaded into your brain. This unusual effect is thanks as much to Sorkin as Fincher, and you can count on both of them taking home trophies for their considerable efforts.
- Darren Aronofsky for “Black Swan”
- Joel 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”
Will/Should win: David Fincher for“The Social Network”
If Tom “Fish-eye Lens” Hooper somehow steals this award away from David Fincher (who cemented his place in the master class about three films ago), those screams of pain and fury you hear echoing through the Valley will be mine. I don’t see it happening, though, despite the late surge for “The King’s Speech.” Fincher has won every relevant award thus far — including the Director’s Guild, whose voting block is identical to that of the Oscars — and even if I preferred “Inception” and maintain that Nolan was robbed of a nomination, not even I will deny that Fincher put on the most technically impressive stylistic display of the year. Armed with a thorough understanding of how form should reflect content, Fincher turned his “Facebook movie” into an oppressive morality tale about social groupings which, in structure, deserves comparison to “Citizen Kane.” It could have been a confused movie of the week, but Fincher turned the story of Mark Zuckerberg into a bona-fide modern classic.
- “Another Year” by Mike Leigh
- “The Fighter” by Eric Johnson, Keith Dorrington, Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy
- “Inception” by Christopher Nolan
- “The Kids Are All Right” by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg
- “The King’s Speech” by David Seidler
Will win: David Seidler for “The King’s Speech”
Should win: Christopher Nolan for “Inception”
Doesn’t make a bit of sense to me, but I would (and have) bet money that the momentum of “The King’s Speech” will be enough to propel it to a win over the vastly superior and more complex screenplay for “Inception.” (Remember last year, when “The Hurt Locker” unjustifiably beat out Quentin Tarantino’s script for “Inglourious Basterds”? Yeah, me too.) Granted, “The King’s Speech” is a very dialogue-driven film, and Seidler clearly has an ear for lines. Still, when you compare it to the twisty, mind-bending thrills to be found in the concept-driven “Inception,” Seidler’s screenplay starts to look relatively bland. So let’s hope enough people are pissed about Nolan’s snub in the directing category to put him over the top in this race.