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The Year of Speeches, Reaches, and Men of True Grit: Oscar Predictions 2011

I know a place. I’ll take you there.

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Actor

Javier Bardem, “Biutiful”
Jeff Bridges, “True Grit”
Jesse Eisenberg, “The Social Network”
Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech” — should win, will win
James Franco, “127 Hours”

Last year I snuck a plug for Firth as a should win for “A Single Man” over Bridges’s fully worthy and gratifying victory for “Crazy Heart.” Now Firth gets his. A no-brainer for one of the great actors of the current generation. Bravo.

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Actor in a Supporting Role

Christian Bale, “The Fighter” — should win, will win
John Hawkes, “Winter’s Bone”
Jeremy Renner, “The Town”
Mark Ruffalo, “The Kids Are Alright”
Geoffrey Rush, “The King’s Speech”

Did you see the clip of Dicky Eklund in “The Fighter”s credit sequence? Director Russell must have slipped it in to prove just how spot on Bale was in portraying the hard-luck, hard-living boxer with a long-expired dream, replete with other compound adjectives. Among some of the stiffest competition in this year’s Oscar categories, Bale is a thin shave ahead.

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Actress

Annette Bening, “The Kids Are Alright” — should win
Nicole Kidman, “Rabbit Hole”
Jennifer Lawrence, “Winter’s Bone”
Natalie Portman, “Black Swan” — will win
Michelle Williams, “Blue Valentine”

Don’t get me wrong: “Black Swan” was a beautiful, haunting, inventive and mostly well-crafted film with some terrific acting on Portman’s part. But I, for one, am not so awed by the reportedly difficult and tireless training she went through to make her performance believable that I can look past the other actresses represented. I seem to be in the minority.

For starters, it’s a year in which Christian Bale is likely to win an Oscar, and no one’s saying he’ll win because he lost weight (if that’s true, what was “The Machinist” all about?). And then there is the 95% percent of the movie-going public that is not going to know the difference between Portman’s pliés and Nijinsky’s. The other 5%–the choreographers, dancers, artistes and former practitioners–are going to pooh-pooh her skills even if she was a prima ballerina.

As Olivier once said in legend to an addled Dustin Hoffman, who had supposedly stayed up all night before shooting a scene from “Marathon Man” in which his character had stayed up all night, “Why don’t you just try acting?”

No, give me Bening, as much for portraying the pure honestly, sincerity, and love that you can find in a same-sex relationship as for her scene-stealing charisma in the role. The Oscars are all about politics, after all.

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Actress in a Supporting Role

Amy Adams, “The Fighter”
Helena Bonham Carter, “The King’s Speech”
Melissa Leo, “The Fighter” — will win
Hailee Steinfeld, “True Grit” — should win
Jacki Weaver, “Animal Kingdom”

I’m throwing a nod of deep, heartfelt admiration Haliee Steinfeld’s way, and if she (read: her agent) has any sense, she would go hard and fast after the role of Katniss Everdeen in the sure-to-be-upcoming “Hunger Games” movies right now.

Nevertheless, Melissa Leo’s overbearing Lowell, Mass., mother/manager in “The Fighter” offered a master class on acting the show parent from everyone’s nightmares without making the performance a caricature. It also keeps, along with Firth, an Academy streak alive: honoring an actor for playing a real historical figure. Sean Penn, Marion Cotillard, Forest Whitaker, Helen Mirren, Jaime Foxx, Reese Witherspoon, Charlize Theron, Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock and Mo’Nique, make room next to the minibar.

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Animated Feature

“How to Train Your Dragon”
“The Illusionist”
“Toy Story 3” — should win, will win

Though I was not and am not as wild a fan of “Toy Story 3” as most, let’s not go nuts here. Pixar for another year.

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Art Direction

“Alice in Wonderland”
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”
“Inception” — should win
“The King’s Speech” — will win
“True Grit”

The tie goes to the Best Picture favorite in a fascinating year for Art Direction. No film here is undeserving–though perhaps “Harry Potter” was just working off earlier models–and, with its distinctive blend of classic fashions, regional settings, and unlikely architectures, “Inception” could easily spoil the party. But “The King’s Speech” ultimately takes it, early in the night, to set up a big run come the “big” awards.

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Cinematography

Danny Cohen, “The King’s Speech”
Jeff Cronenweth, “The Social Network”
Roger Deakins, “True Grit” — should win, will win
Matthew Libatique, “Black Swan”
Wally Pfister, “Inception”

How do you pick? “The King’s Speech” had several fascinating, downright brilliant shot selections to reduce George VI’s stature within the humbling, stark, and quietly beautiful confines of Lionel Logue’s office. “The Social Network” was undeniably well-constructed, and “Black Swan” had more than the usual share of a fascinating visual sweeps.

But I bring the Cinematography race down to two old hands. Wally Pfister, the great collaborator, has three prior nominations, all for Nolan-led movies, and as “Avatar” proved last year, the Academy will not shy away from computer-driven special effects movies when considering a cinematographer’s worth. Roger Deakins, just the great, the best cinematographer working, has nine past nominations going back to 1994’s “The Shawshank Redemption” but no wins. Considering that four of those nominations came from Coen Brothers movies, he’s no slouch on the collaboration front either.

“True Grit” is a truly spectacular film that deserves higher praise than it is likely to get. Call it cynical, but the Academy gives some of the technical awards away to films that don’t go on to win the night’s highest-profile accolades. If it weren’t for Aaron Sorkin, “True Grit” would be a lock for screenplay, in just that scenario. Because of Aaron Sorkin, Deakins wins a fully deserving Oscar here, though with a certain wink at his longstanding and incomparable career behind the lens.

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Costume Design

Colleen Atwood, “Alice in Wonderland” — will win
Jenny Beavan, “The King’s Speech”
Antonella Cannarozzi, “I Am Love”
Sandy Powell, “The Tempest”
Mary Zophres, “True Grit” — should win

For a category perhaps notable for what’s not included–no “Inception” nor “Black Swan”–my great good friends at Slant Magazine would have you complete this current streak of Costume winners: “Marie Antoinette,” “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” “The Duchess,” “Young Victoria,” __________. Seems (ahem) tailor-made for “The King’s Speech,” yes?

I am willing to take a bit of a flyer, however, and give the nod to Colleen Atwood’s masterful work in “Alice in Wonderland.” First, the very story-based versatility of the costuming in “Alice” is deserving of credit, the way the growing and shrinking title character made up her clothing through the various undergarments that came with her. Also a masterstroke: that the tools of the Hatter’s trade came along in his wardrobe.

Sure, “The King’s Speech” follows the monarchical line this category has taken in recent years, and its period suits and military uniforms were dashing. But is it period enough? The other continuous thread in the list above is that they feature huge dresses, wigs, a regal code largely out-of-fashion in the time of George VI. Surely that is enough to breakup Costume’s penchant for the historical with a little whimsy.

All that said, don’t be surprised if darkhorse “I Am Love” or “True Grit” pick up awards for their respective Oscar rookies. Farthest out seems to be “The Tempest,” in a category built for Julie Taymor’s style, but apparently not for the tastes of her supporters; her films have been nominated for Costume four times, with no trophies.

Oh, and why “True Grit” as a should win? The bear costume.

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Directing

Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan”
David O. Russell, “The Fighter”
Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech” — should win
David Fincher, “The Social Network” — will win
Joel and Ethan Coen, “True Grit”

A tough one to call in a category with five strong performers. Gut reaction: cut it down to the two favorites for Best Picture. In that case, I lean Fincher’s way here, in part because he has been close before, more because of the timeliness of his film’s subject matter. Choosing your project is certainly a large part of directing, and while no one can fault Hooper for making something–by “something,” see my choice for Best Picture–out of seemingly very little, Fincher’s 21st century parable is the stuff of zeitgeist, of remembrance.

That, plus, y’know, you can cast Colin Firth and let him roll. Andrew Garfield: now there was an inspired decision.

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Documentary Feature

“Exit Through the Gift Shop”
“Gasland”
“Inside Job”
“Restrepo” — should win, will win
“Waste Land”

A great year for documentary leads to some very strong candidates for the award. While I would like to imagine “Exit Through the Gift Shop”s fast and loose experiment with authorship is enough to overcome the high and powerful themes of the other four nominees, it’s a longshot. “Waste Land” is also deserving of a shout out, as well as some shameless self-promotion. But, when you’re in doubt in documentary, go with the war film.

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Documentary Short

“Killing in the Name” — should win, will win
“Poster Girl”
“Strangers No More”
“Sun Come Up”
“The Warriors of Qiugang”

Governmental regulation in China, conflict in Israel and Jordan, global warming in New Guinea, and the treatment of army vets in the U.S. Documentary Short is often an impossible category to call, and perhaps that precept is even more true this year. The usual guideline–current events–is thrown out as all five nominees tackle politically charged topics with a fervor that is on the nose for such volatile times. More general common logic will tell you to go with the American story, “Poster Girl,” about a veteran once celebrated for her proficiency and conduct who has since suffered from PTSD and disillusionment. These are America’s awards, don’t you know? A strong nod could also go to the most committed short in the bunch, the three-years-in-the-making “Warriors,” about a village’s David and Goliath battle with China’s bureaucracy over a pesticide plant harming their local ecosystem.

With little to no real basis for the decision, I instead give it to “Killing in the Name,” a heart-wrenching story that ably captured the brave and daring steps Ashraf Al-Khaled takes to understand and speak out against suicide bombings in the Middle East. What did I say about documentaries and doubt?

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Editing

Tariq Anwar, “The King’s Speech”
Jon Harris, “127 Hours”
Pamela Martin, “The Fighter”
Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter, “The Social Network” — should win, will win
Andrew Weisblum, “Black Swan”

If “The Social Network” had no cuts except for the regatta sequence…well, first, that would be quite a lesson in editorial efficiency. More, it would still be enough for Wall and Baxter to take home editing. One of the great set pieces in recent movie-making.

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Foreign Language

“Biutiful”
“Dogtooth”
“In a Better World”
“Incendies” — should win, will win
“Outside the Law”

Big upsets seem to be Foreign Language’s raison d’etre of late: “The Secret in Their Eyes” over “The White Ribbon,” “Departures” over “Revanche,” “Waltz with Bashir,” and “The Class.” Even with that noted, critical darling “Dogtooth” seems to have a long way to go to take the prize, what with its out-there polemics within a schizophrenic dream state that is strangely claustrophobic. “Biutiful,” with its Iñárritu and Bardem one-two punch, is the obvious front-runner. But let’s bow to the trend and offer up “Incendies” instead, an artful melodrama on a pair of twins returning to Lebanon to better understand the secrets of their mother’s life.

Then again, “White Ribbon” was nothing if not artful…

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Makeup

“Barney’s Vision”
“The Way Back”
“Wolfman” — should win, will win

It’s the straight-up Makeup challenge. Famous people playing ugly vs. monsters. Let’s go with monsters. Sure, last year’s winner, “Star Trek,” had a few. It’s still been awhile.

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Original Score

Alexandre Desplat, “The King’s Speech” — should win, will win
John Powell, “How to Train Your Dragon”
A.R. Rachman, “127 Hours”
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, “The Social Network”
Hans Zimmer, “Inception”

Four out of the past five years for Desplat and this year…he gets it! Off the snide with warm, charming work in a film that follows suit. Note to Hans Zimmer: get out of your director’s way. It’s not about you.

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Original Song

“Coming Home” from “Country Strong”
“I See the Light” from “Tangled” — will win
“If I Rise” from “127 Hours” — should win
“We Belong Together” from “Toy Story 3”

Um, woof. A category almost devoid of the first-rank pop talent that has defined it for most of the past decade has sunk even lower with, well, bad country and Randy Newman/Alan Menkin retreads. The one pop star is Dido, providing lyrics and wispy vocals to “If I Rise.” The song would be strong and sentimental enough to give it a leg up in this competition, if it weren’t for a tonal slowness that makes it recede into the background of any situation; just you watch, Jack will be in the front row nodding off.

Surely “Coming Home” is too trite and insipid for even Oscar voters to honor it. That leaves a pair to bring us back to the days of Disney original song domination. Newman v. Menkin. Go sentimental: “I See the Light.”

Now let’s make like a hockey player and get the puck out of here.

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Picture

“Black Swan”
“The Fighter”
“Inception”
“The Kids Are Alright”
“The King’s Speech” — will win
“127 Hours”
“The Social Network”
“Toy Story 3”
“True Grit” — should win
“Winter’s Bone”

Surprisingly little is left to say about this year’s Best Picture nominees. Several are contenders, and given the wide spread of my predictions for the technical awards, it seems like anyone could win. Admittedly, that suggestion comes in a vacuum, ignoring all the pre-Oscar buzz. Outside the vacuum, some of these films should be more strongly considered, particularly “Inception” and, obviously, “True Grit.”

But the buzz has turned it into a two-horse race between “The Social Network” and “The King’s Speech.” I favor the latter for one reason only: it’s closer to what Oscar voters want. These are conservative times we are living in. Is that the environment in which a story of contemporary, cutthroat business in the digital age will outshine a masterpiece of the miniscule, a work of significant nostalgia for a more genteel age?

That is not to say that “The King’s Speech” is bad or undeserving. Since I saw it and enjoyed it, I have simply struggled to believe in the attention it’s getting. It seems too small a drama, too close a focus for such momentous events as it depicts. I, too much an Anglophile to be trusted to make a fair call. Yet, with very long and considered deliberation, I have turned the corner, from Fincher to Hooper, from Facebook to elocution.

Remember, I’ve only gotten one Best Picture right in the past six years…

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Short, Animated

“Day and Night” — will win
“The Gruffalo”
“Let’s Pollute”
“The Lost Thing”
“Madagascar, carnet de voyage”

This year’s Animated Shorts feature plenty of playfulness, but that masks–or perhaps enhances–some genuine and inspired experimentation with the form. Again, the category mostly pits computer animation–“The Gruffalo” and “The Lost Thing”–against computer animation disguised as a flatter, more traditional animated form. Despite strong challenges from the adorable “Gruffalo” and truly artistic and impassioned “Madagascar,” I give Pixar the clean sweep with the wordless and fully charming “Day & Night.”

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Short, Live Action

“The Confession”
“The Crush”
“God of Love”
“Na Wewe” — will win
“Wish 143”

Always a tough category to judge, if only because it is difficult to see these films, the award goes to the gripping “Na Wewe,” set inside a Burundian bus as Rwandan rebels converge to continue the genocide happening over the border. Power and emotion in a very small package.

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Inception

Joseph Gordon Levitt in Christopher Nolan's "Inception."

Sound Editing

“Inception” — should win, will win
“Toy Story 3”
“Tron: Legacy”
“True Grit”
“Unstoppable”

Sound Mixing

“Inception” — should win
“The King’s Speech” — will win
“Salt”
“The Social Network”
“True Grit”

Visual Effects

“Alice in Wonderland”
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”
“Hereafter”
“Inception” — should win, will win
“Iron Man 2”

The action movie categories, and yet no genuine action movie has risen to claim them. No way a movie as bad as “Iron Man 2” wins an Oscar.

“Inception,” still one of my favorite movies of the year, seems like the easy candidate for Visual Effects. No images were more striking and memorable from a big-budget movie this Oscar season than the rising, folding Parisian landscape and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s zero-gravity fight sequence.

That leaves the two sound categories, which don’t necessarily go to the same movie. In fact, they form a pattern.

Last year: “The Hurt Locker” ran the category.
The year before: a split between “The Dark Knight” and “Slumdog Millionaire.”
Before that: all “The Bourne Ultimatum.”
Before that: “Dreamgirls”–really?–and “Letters from Iwo Jima.”
Before that: all “King Kong.”

So this year, it must be a split. “Inception” takes the award for invention, for the sheer cleverness of the soundscapes within its fluctuating time narratives. “The King’s Speech” wins mixing because, well, it’s a movie about delivery.

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Adapted Screenplay

“127 Hours”
“The Social Network” — should win, will win
“Toy Story 3”
“True Grit”
“Winter’s Bone”

Really, we’re going to discuss this? Incisive. Precise. Efficient. Memorable. Moving on…

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Original Screenplay

“Another Year”
“The Fighter”
“Inception” — should win
“The Kids Are Alright”
“The King’s Speech” — will win

“Inception”s inventiveness is surely enough to pick up the recognition it deserves in the realm of special effects, though a little acknowledgment of the base creativity that allowed those captivating visuals to be envisioned would not be out of line.

That said, “The King’s Speech,” who’d a-thunk? It still seems like precious little subject matter for so captivating and, even before the Oscars, acclaimed a film. It all began with some brilliant scene-making on writer David Seidler’s part.

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My Oscar Batting Average since 2004: .714 (120/168)

Past Oscar predictions:
The Year of Bombs, Bridges, and Big Blue Men
The Curious Case of 2009
The Year of Assassinations by Demon Barbers

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The 83nd annual Academy Awards
Sunday, February 27, 2011
8 pm ET
ABC

This entry was published on 24 February 2011 at 6:09 pm. It’s filed under OLD OSCAR PICKS and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

3 thoughts on “The Year of Speeches, Reaches, and Men of True Grit: Oscar Predictions 2011

  1. Aunt Diana on said:

    excellent as always, Art, now I’m up to snuff. Have to agree completely with your comments on The Kings Speech, and that Colin coulda shoulda won before. I’ll be watching!

  2. Pingback: The Year of Eras, ERAs, and the Rest is Silence: Oscar Predictions 2012 « Art On Everything

  3. Pingback: The Year of the CIA and Making Men Free: Oscar Predictions 2013 « Art On Edge

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