2011 Oscars Preview

FILMINK gudies you through the only categories of the Academy Awards that anyone really cares about...

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It\'s been a long year in cinema, and it\'s finally time to see who is bequeathed the title of \"Academy Award-winner.\" This, folks, is what cinema is all about - winning awards. We shall watch and wait this Monday with baited breath, to see which folks and which films will enter the hallowed halls of those anointed \"the best\" by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The Best Film will stand alongside such enduring cinematic triumphs as Cavalcade, Around the World in 80 Days, and Crash. The Best Director will be able to stand proudly next to such hallowed auteurs as Norman Taurog, John G. Avildsen, and Ron Howard. The actors who are bequeathed their trophies will hopefully enjoy post-Oscar careers just as fruitful as those of F. Murray Abraham, Helen Hunt, Halle Berry, and Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Yes indeed, to win an Oscar is very much a blessing, and a sure indicator of what film is truly the best in a given year. If you want proof, you need only go back to 1959, when Best Original Screenplay nominees such as The 400 Blows, North by Northwest, and Wild Strawberries were beaten by the mammoth accomplishment of... Pillow Talk. With that in mind, let us guide you through the only categories of the 83rd Academy Awards that anyone supposedly gives a damn about...

 

Best Picture

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

This is the second incarnation of the Academy\'s newly revitalised 10-slot Best Picture category, since it was (re)introduced last year. This is a much stronger slate overall than last year\'s, although it is perhaps less adventurous.

To start off with, when predicting what will win Best Picture, you can immediately eliminate anything that does not have a corresponding nomination in the Best Director category. Back in the days of 5 nominees, there would usually be one or two films that didn\'t line-up, but with 10 nominees, there\'s obviously going to be at least 5 films that aren\'t going to get a look in.

Why is this? Well, over the course of the previous 82 Oscar ceremonies, only thrice has a film won Best Picture without having been nominated for Best Director: Wings (1928), Grand Hotel (1932), and Driving Miss Daisy (1989). It\'s not impossible, true, but the safe bets are the films represented in the Best Director category.

In this case, that eliminates 127 Hours, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, Toy Story 3, and Winter\'s Bone. Right off the bat, you could tell that Inception was never going to win, even if it was nominated for Best Director (as it should have been) - it\'s a Sci-Fi action thriller, a type of film not usually in the Academy\'s wheelhouse. It\'s also ambitious, which is something that Oscar has rarely been interested in. 127 Hours is Danny Boyle\'s follow-up to Oscar juggernaut Slumdog Millionaire, so its could be riding on the coattails of that earlier film - it\'s a superb piece of work, but gruesome one-man shows like this aren\'t usually Academy fare either.

The Kids Are All Right and Winter\'s Bone are the indie representatives in the line-up, but they would have had to catch fire with the public to be serious contenders - and they didn\'t. One day, we will probably see an animated film win Best Picture, but it\'ll probably be when we see the first Best Director nomination for an animated feature. Toy Story 3 ain\'t it. Fun fact, though: it\'s the first sequel to have been nominated without the original film to have been nominated.

That leaves us with the real contenders. Black Swan is too gruesome, too crazy to be our Best Picture, and the lack of a screenplay nomination cripples it. True Grit has got 10 nominations, but there are only about 3 or so Westerns that have won Best Picture in the past. Furthermore, the Coens only won about 3 years back or so, and the Academy are usually reluctant to reward people, especially filmmakers, so frequently. The Fighter is apparently quite popular, has a strong showing in other categories and could be a potential spoiler, but the real fight is between The Social Network and The King\'s Speech.

Who to pick out of these two films is the big conundrum, and this is why this Oscar race is potentially more exciting than many of the recent ceremonies - the front runner has another film nipping constantly at its heels. For the longest time, it looked as though The Social Network was unstoppable, with an unprecedented blitzkrieg through the critics awards, and a surprise win at the Golden Globes. Then The King\'s Speech won most of the guild awards - significant, since the guild awards, like the Oscars, are voted on by people in the industry. At this stage the smart money is on the crowd-pleasing King\'s Speech, which will be a somewhat regressive and disappointing choice for the Academy. Hope against all hopes that The Social Network can pull off an upset, but if you\'re putting money down, stick with what\'s safe. It\'s what AMPAS is probably going to do, anyway.

 

Best Actor

Javier Bardem - Biutiful, as Uxbal

Jeff Bridges - True Grit, as Rooster Cogburn

Jesse Eisenberg - The Social Network, as Mark Zuckerberg

Colin Firth - The King\'s Speech, as King George VI

James Franco - 127 Hours, as Aron Ralston

Of the five nominees in this category, one is a previous best actor winner, two are previous nominees, and of the two remaining one is hosting the ceremony. To start with the previous winner we have Jeff Bridges who played Rooster Cogburn in True Grit, a role that won John Wayne his first and only Oscar back in 1969. While unlikely, don\'t rule out a two-years in a row win for Bridges as it has happened twice before with Tom Hanks (93-94) and Spencer Tracy (37-38).

The first time nominees are both impressive in the forms of Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) and James Franco (127 Hours) although the fact Franco is presenting the awards will raise eyebrows on the likelihood of his chances. Javier Bardem (Biutiful) gets his second nomination for this category with another foreign language role after his nomination in 2000 for Before Night Falls. He has of course won previously, in the supporting category, for his icy turn as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men.

Excluding the possibility of a surprise win (not out of the question) the outright favourite for the award is Colin Firth for his turn as King George VI in The King\'s Speech, mostly due to the numerous critics and guild awards he has received in the lead up to the Oscars, combined with the fact that he was a nominee last year for his stellar work in A Single Man. Firth is a well-liked actor who has been pulling his weight in the industry for some time, so it\'s only natural that they decide to reward him now.

 

Best Actress

Annette Bening - The Kids Are All Right, as Nic

Nicole Kidman - Rabbit Hole, as Becca

Jennifer Lawrence - Winter\'s Bone, as Ree

Natalie Portman - Black Swan, as Nina Sayers

Michelle Williams - Blue Valentine, as Cindy

An impressive line-up after the lacklustre offerings from last year. Annette Bening has never really been a great actress, often too forced and artificial. It worked to her benefit in Being Julia and is less successful here in The Kids Are All Right, but the consensus is that this three-time Oscar loser is overdue for recognition. Three of the other contenders are Oscar nominees, but only one has actually won: Nicole Kidman, whose mugging and prosthetics wowed the Academy in 2002\'s The Hours. Thing is, in Rabbit Hole she\'s excellent. She doesn\'t have nearly enough momentum to win, especially since she\'s already got her trophy, but this was her best performance in yonks.

The rest of the field skews younger: newcomer Jennifer Lawrence is a mere 20 years old, but her performance in Winter\'s Bone exhibits surprising maturity and nuance. She\'s the requisite fresh face in the category, and these nominees don\'t really win (Hilary Swank\'s first win, for the incendiary Boys Don\'t Cry in \'99, is one of the few notable exceptions). Also representing the indie contingent is Michelle Williams, who is wonderful in the mumblecore-ish Blue Valentine. That film didn\'t strike enough of a cord for Williams to win, but she\'s playing Marilyn Monroe this year, so we\'re sure she\'ll be back for blood next year. Which sounds extreme, we know.

The real frontrunner in this race is Natalie Portman, who has had an uneven career to say the least. To think that the boring geisha from The Phantom Menace would potentially one day win an Oscar is quite something, but then we can cast our minds back to her astonishing debut in Luc Besson\'s Leon: The Professional. Portman has contended for an Oscar before, in the supporting category for Mike Nichols\' Closer, but here she is undeniable. Her work in Black Swan is one of the very best acting turns by anyone anywhere in 2010 - everyone else has been awarding her the top prize, and we can only hope that the Academy follows suit. Unless they really feel sorry for Annette Bening.

 

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale - The Fighter, as Dicky Edlund

John Hawkes - Winter\'s Bone, as Teardrop

Jeremy Renner - The Town, as Jem

Mark Ruffalo - The Kids Are All Right, as Paul

Geoffrey Rush - The King\'s Speech, as Lionel Logue

A very strong field here indeed, so much so that the award could go to any of them and it would feel right. Believe it or not, this is Christian Bale\'s first Oscar nomination - incredible, when you think that he\'s been an active presence in the movies since Spielberg\'s 1987 film, Empire of the Sun (for which he probably deserved his first nomination). His work in The Fighter as crack-addict Dicky Edlund is truly exceptional - heartfelt, comic, and tragic all at the same time, and although it is a flashy turn, he is truly supporting Mark Wahlberg all the way. He\'s the frontrunner for the win, and it\'s a safe enough bet.

John Hawkes was a surprise nominee, beating out Andrew Garfield, who was widely expected to be nominated for his turn in The Social Network. Hawkes, along with Lawrence, is what pushes Winter\'s Bone over the top - an intriguing performance of depth and humanity, with an undercurrent of boiling danger. Jeremy Renner plays a similarly dangerous type in The Town, where he\'s Ben Affleck\'s right-hand man. He\'s absolutely the best thing about the film, bringing a James Cagney-esque impudence to the role. He was previously nominated for his astonishing turn in The Hurt Locker last year, and although he won\'t win this year, it\'s reasonable to assume he\'ll become something of a mainstay.

Along with Bale and Hawkes, Mark Ruffalo has finally joined the ranks of Oscar nominees, after a decade of tremendous work in many genres, with many great filmmakers. Just this last year, he was also in Shutter Island, and his work there was just as deserving of recognition as his turn in The Kids Are All Right, where he plays a sperm donor who is reunited with his \"children.\" Rounding out the category is Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush, for his role as King George VI\'s speech therapist. Rush plays the role admirably, and could well upset for the win if The King\'s Speech sweeps through all categories.

 

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams - The Fighter, as Charlene Fleming

Helena Bonham Carter - The King\'s Speech, as Queen Elizabeth

Melissa Leo - The Fighter, as Alice Eklund Ward

Hailee Steinfeld - True Grit, as Mattie Ross

Jacki Weaver ­- Animal Kingdom, as Janine \"Smurf\" Cody

This is one of the harder categories to pick a clear winner, with five stellar performances in the running. Emerging as a favourite (and rightfully so) is Melissa Leo for her fantastic performance as Alice Eklund Ward, overbearing mother to Mark Wahlberg\'s Mickey in The Fighter. Leo has had a strong showing throughout the award season, although a misguided personal ad campaign that she launched recently independent from the studios might have hurt her. Alongside Leo in the running is fellow The Fighter co-star Amy Adams, this being her third nomination in the category after 2005\'s Junebug and 2008\'s Doubt.

A surprise win could come from Helena Bonham Carter, whose portrayal of Queen Elizabeth marvelled the more nostalgic audiences of The King\'s Speech. Bonham Carter bagged the analogous BAFTA just last week, and if a groundswell of support for The King\'s Speech emerges, she might be able to ride the film\'s coat-tails to glory. Like co-star Firth, she\'s been rather a popular personality over the past few years or so, and her star has certainly risen since her first Oscar nomination for 1997\'s The Wings of the Dove.

After a forty odd year career, Jacki Weaver finally gets some well-deserved recognition for her frightening turn as Janine \"Smurf\" Cody in Australian film Animal Kingdom. Although some had predicted it, this is something of a surprise nom, and according to our calculations, only the second time that an Australian has been nominated for a performance in an Australian film. The first being Geoffrey Rush in Shine, and it certainly worked for him. Rounding out the category is newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, star of True Grit. While she may not be a hot contender, we will see plenty more of her in the future.

 

Best Director

Darren Aronofsky - Black Swan

Joel Coen & Ethan Coen - True Grit

David Fincher - The Social Network

Tom Hooper - The King\'s Speech

David O. Russell - The Fighter

A category of heavyweights, to be sure. A line-up that includes:  two previous winners (nominated as a single unit, of course), one previous nominee, three first timers, and a clear absence of one Christopher Nolan, whose snubbing leaves a sense of utter vulgarity on the Academy\'s part. The previous winners are Joel and Ethan Coen (True Grit), who won in 2007 for No Country For Old Men. (Joel was nominated in \'96 for Fargo). The aforementioned reluctance of the Academy to award filmmakers so frequently places the Coens as unlikely winners.

David O. Russell\'s (The Fighter) volatile nature and anti-social tendencies won\'t help him win any brownie points with the Academy, and as a first time nominee, there won\'t be much expectation for him to take the title. Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), more so than Russell, has built up a fan base over the past few years, with films like Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler earning acclaim all across the board. Except, seemingly, for Aronofsky himself, who has had to wait until now to become a Best Director nominee. His film, however, is far too divisive to score him a win, but we\'re sure he\'ll be back in years to come (probably not for The Wolverine, though.)

As with Russell and Aronofsky, Tom Hooper (The King\'s Speech) is a first time nominee, the difference being that Hooper\'s film is sweeping most major awards this season. These first-time nominees are quite the rookies - this is only Hooper\'s third feature film. The Fighter and Black Swan are Russell\'s and Aronofsky\'s fifth films, respectively.

Interesting to note is that while The King\'s Speech cleaned out the recent BAFTAs, Hooper as Director was the only major category not to win, losing out to the final nominee in this category, David Fincher (The Social Network). Fincher should be a clear favourite for this award, and it has been a long time coming with such a fine resume under his belt. As with the best picture, the main race lies between The King\'s Speech and The Social Network, but one would think that taking history into account, all signs are pointing to a Fincher win. What gets most pundits in a tizzy though, is the fact that Hooper managed to bag the Director\'s Guild of America\'s top prize, which is normally a bellwether for the future Best Director winner at the Oscars.

 

Best Original Screenplay

Another Year - Mike Leigh

The Fighter - Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson (screenplay); Keith Dorrington, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson (story)

Inception - Christopher Nolan

The Kids Are All Right - Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg

The King\'s Speech - David Seidler

First up, the guy who\'s definitely not winning this (but probably should): Mike Leigh. A remarkable filmmaker, Leigh has spent the past 2 decades crafting some of the finest character pieces in cinema. He\'s been nominated for 7 Oscars total, 4 of them for previous nods in this category. Another Year is the only writing nominee that isn\'t a Best Picture nominee as well, so it\'s highly unlikely that this will win. It\'s too good.

The Fighter is a superbly crafted piece of work, and it\'s hard to believe that a disparate team of writers could come up with something so focused. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the astonishing singular achievement of Christopher Nolan\'s Inception, which certainly takes the cake in the \"original\" stakes. A bit too much exposition and confusion might have scared away Academy voters, but as it stands, Nolan might be able to pull off an upset.

It is not so surprising that Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg have picked up nominations for The Kids Are All Right, but it is a touch disappointing, given that the film\'s problems stem directly from the script, specifically from a bit of a third-act collapse that short-changes Mark Ruffalo\'s character. It doesn\'t stand a chance against David Seidler\'s historical work, The King\'s Speech - a witty and charming piece of work that moves with effortless grace. Seidler has to be the frontrunner at this stage, and he is most certainly a big part of the film\'s success. Bet on him for sure.

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

127 Hours - Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy, based on the book Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston

The Social Network - Aaron Sorkin, based on the book The Accidental Billionares by Ben Mezrich

Toy Story 3 - Michael Arndt (screenplay), John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich (story); characters based on Toy Story and Toy Story 2

True Grit - Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, based on the novel True Grit by Charles Portis

Winter\'s Bone - Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini, from the novel Winter\'s Bone by Daniel Woodrell

No film this year has had a script more spoken about than that of The Social Network. A witty and fleet-footed piece of work, Aaron Sorkin\'s screenplay took the industry by storm, and due to this fact, should be considered a clear favourite. The biggest challenge to The Social Network in this category would be Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy\'s impressive and savvy adaptation of Aron Ralston\'s autobiographical tale that resulted in the exemplary 127 Hours.

A surprise yet unlikely win could come in the form of Toy Story 3, with Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich\'s nostalgic and heart-warming script becoming an instant crowd pleaser. Helping the film\'s chances somewhat is that Arndt is a previous winner, for Little Miss Sunshine\'s original screenplay back in \'06. It would be some feat indeed if the film were to win, however: no animated film has ever claimed this, or any other major prize at the Oscars.

Filling out the category is Joel & Ethan Coen\'s adaptation of Charles Portis\' True Grit, and Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini\'s take on Daniel Woodrell\'s Winter\'s Bone. These last two, while fairly capable adaptations, are also fairly conventional to the point where they won\'t stand out next to the like of The Social Network and 127 Hours. Put your money squarely on Sorkin for this one.

 

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