Oscar Moment: December 17, 2010 Awards Round-Up / New Predictions

17 12 2010

Well, folks, if you had any doubt that Oscar season was here before this week, you can’t now.  Nearly every critics group chimed in with their best of the year, and we got two massively important nominations lists from the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild.  The puzzle is really starting to come together, and since there was so much going on, the format of the last two weeks just didn’t really work.

In place of the usual “here’s the group, here’s what they selected” rambling, I decided to issue a new set of predictions based on what we saw over the past week.

A few notes before I begin: there’s no poll this week, and I’m debating whether or not to include one at all from here on out because there has been so little participation.  Also, please click the links! I spend a lot of time linking the titles of movies to other posts I’ve written that might be of interest.  The first time I mention a movie, it links to the trailer on YouTube.  The second mention goes to my Oscar Moment on the movie.  The third mention goes to my review, if applicable.

Past predictions: Early December 2010November 2010September 2010.

Best Picture:

  1. The Social Network
  2. The King’s Speech
  3. The Fighter (7)
  4. Inception
  5. Black Swan (3)
  6. Toy Story 3 (5)
  7. The Kids Are All Right (10)
  8. Winter’s Bone
  9. True Grit
  10. 127 Hours (6)

No change in my top 10, but some big trends have emerged.  It’s clear that “The Social Network” is the critics’ group darling of 2010.  Do you want me to name all the cities and organizations who named it their Best Picture?  I’m proud to say my own city of Houston named it theirs (updated on Saturday).  Ok, here’s the list:

  • African-American Film Critics
  • Boston Society of Film Critics
  • Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association
  • Detroit Film Critics Society
  • Houston Film Critics Society
  • Indiana Film Journalists Association
  • Las Vegas Film Critics Society
  • Los Angeles Film Critics Association
  • New York Film Critics Circle
  • New York Film Critics Online
  • San Francisco Film Critics Circle
  • Southeastern Film Critics Association
  • Toronto Film Critics Association
  • Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Association

In addition, it picked up nominations from nods from critics in Chicago, St. Louis, and Phoenix who have yet to announce their winners.  On top of the previous win from the National Board of Review, “The Social Network” clearly has a ton of heat heading into the home stretch.  It received 6 Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture (Drama), 9 Critics Choice Award (BFCA) nominations including Best Picture, and 2 Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award nominations including Best Ensemble, their version of Best Picture.  Critics make a difference, but they don’t decide Best Picture.  It helps, though, that it won top prize from the incredibly influential film centers of New York and Los Angeles.

However, “The King’s Speech” set itself up for a second-stage surge by scoring more nominations than “The Social Network” at all three of the major groups that announced this week.  It received 7 Golden Globe nominations, the most of any movie in 2010, including Best Picture.  It received 11 BFCA nominations including Best Picture.  It received 4 SAG Award nominations, tied for the most of any movie in 2010, including Best Ensemble.

These voters are not necessarily like critics in their taste, and it would only take a win of one of these big awards to hoist Tom Hooper’s film to the top spot. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it win the Globe for Best Picture simply because they almost always choose the most nominated movie.  Then again, that strategy didn’t work out in 2008 when “Slumdog Millionaire” with 4 nominations triumphed over the pack leader “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” with 5 nominations.  “Slumdog” swept the critics awards that year, so there could be an interesting parallel forming.

But for me, one of the big stories of the week was the emergence of “The Fighter” as a serious contender.  We had heard good things, but most called it somewhat predictable and formulaic.  No one was jumping up and down with joy, yet we saw an unprecedented outpouring of support this week.  It received 6 BFCA nominations including Best Picture, 4 SAG Award nominations, tied for the most of 2010, including Best Ensemble, and 6 Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture.  I got a chance to catch the movie this week, and it’s feel-good surface could make it a dark horse to watch out for in the race.

Then again, so could “Inception,” which picked up 4 Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture, something Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” couldn’t do back in 2008.  It has also been a staple on the critics circuit, although taking second fiddle to “The Social Network” of course.  The summer blockbuster has been a part of every top 5 or 10, practically the only certainty outside of a movie not involving Facebook. With 10 BFCA nominations as well, it could make a play for Best Picture as well.  It could easily wind up the most nominated film of 2010 at the Oscars given its impressive technical aspects.

“Black Swan” is also making strides in the race, scoring a record 12 nominations from the BFCA, 4 nominations from the Golden Globes including Best Picture, and 3 SAG Award nominations including Best Ensemble.  The box office has helped too, and as it expands into more theaters, expect it to be the audience favorite art-house movie.  I think it’s got to be a shoo-in for a nomination now, although the win will be tricky given the subject matter.

“The Kids Are All Right” goes up thanks to its great showing with the New York Film Critics Circle, winning more categories than “The Social Network,” and receiving 4 Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture (Musical/Comedy) as well as 3 SAG Award nominations including Best Ensemble.  It had a big miss with the BFCA, though, failing to score a Best Picture nomination.  It should easily win the Globe for Best Picture, and the prospects are looking much better than they did last week.  But I’m still not entirely certain that it’s going to get an Oscar nomination…

“Winter’s Bone” continues to stride nicely towards a Best Picture nomination, notable for being the only movie to win a Best Picture prize from a critics group other than “The Social Network” (kudos to San Diego for the originality).  It missed with the Golden Globes, but they rarely delve THAT indie.

Slipping this week are “True Grit” and “127 Hours,” neither of which found much love from the Golden Globes.  The former was completely shut out while the latter received three nominations but not for Best Picture or Director.  The one-man show was unlikely to score a SAG nomination apart from Franco, but “True Grit” missed big by not receiving a Best Ensemble nomination given its star-studded cast.  They did manage to score with the BFCA, both receiving a nomination for Best Picture.  “True Grit” received 11 total nominations from the group while “127 Hours” scored an impressive 8.  Neither look very strong at this stage, and if there are going to be any surprises on nomination morning, it could come at the expense of these two movies.

Worth noting: all movies predicted (with the exception of “The King’s Speech” because it was ineligible) appeared on the American Film Institute’s Top 10 films of the year.  Ben Affleck’s “The Town” was also included.

Best Director:

  1. David Fincher, “The Social Network” 
  2. Christopher Nolan, “Inception”  (4)
  3. Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan” 
  4. Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech”  (2)
  5. David O. Russell, “The Fighter”  (NR)

Dropping off: Danny Boyle

Barring some massive surge of appreciation for the boldness of Nolan or Aronofsky’s work this year, Fincher has this in the bag simply because he’s the only prior nominee with his eyes on the prize and he deserves it.  (Nolan took home Best Director from the African-American Critics Association and the Indiana Film Journalists Association, and Aronofsky won with San Diego and San Francisco critics.)

Tom Hooper moves down because the actors are the star of the campaign, not him.  Since so few people know of him and his other movies, there’s no rush to recognize him.

Boyle departs the list this week as love for “127 Hours” has grown soft, replaced with reservations by David O. Russell.  Given that he’s not the most popular man in Hollywood, it’s going to be hard for him to score a nomination.  But if the love for “The Fighter” continues, the goodwill could push him into the race.

Best Actor:

  1. Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech” 
  2. Jesse Eisenberg, “The Social Network”  (3)
  3. James Franco, “127 Hours”  (2)
  4. Mark Wahlberg, “The Fighter”  (NR)
  5. Ryan Gosling, “Blue Valentine” 

Dropping off: Robert Duvall

Firth still stands steadfast at the top amidst all.  He has made a decent showing with the critics, winning top marks from Detroit, San Francisco, Washington D.C., the Southeastern critics, and the incredibly important groups in New York and Los Angeles, both of which chose “The Social Network” as their Best Picture.  If all else fails, he should be the one way the Academy knows they can reward “The King’s Speech.”

But the real story of the season so far is massive surge of love for Jesse Eisenberg, whose performance in “The Social Network” could easily have been overlooked due to his age.  That has not been the case so far as Eisenberg has dominated the critics circuit, winning top prizes from Boston, Houston, and Toronto in addition to taking the first prize of the year from the National Board of Review.  If the movie starts dominating everything in its path a la “Slumdog Millionaire,” Eisenberg could surprise and win.

Yet James Franco has won more awards on the critics circuit, taking the prize from Dallas-Fort Worth, Indiana, Las Vegas, and the New York Film Critics Online.  This is the kind of performance that the critics really love, and its adulation from this corner doesn’t necessarily translate to Oscar gold.  Apparently a lot of people simply won’t watch the movie because they are scared (which is a terrible reason), and the overall buzz for the movie has plummeted thanks to that and Fox Searchlight’s clumsy release strategy.

Firth, Eisenberg, and Franco are all locks at this moment, their status solidified by appearing on nearly every Best Actor shortlist including from the BFCA, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards.  After that, there are essentially four actors vying for the final two slots – Jeff Bridges, Robert Duvall, Ryan Gosling, and Mark Wahlberg.  The first two are the conservative picks; the last two are riskier.

Bridges and Duvall both received nominations from the SAG Awards and the BFCA but were overlooked by the Golden Globes.  The SAG is usually a good indicator of the Academy’s ultimate selections, but they are also notorious for getting sentimental for older actors.  Given the tepid support for “True Grit” and the absence of support for “Get Low,” I don’t know if the Academy can justify to itself the inclusion of two prior winners in movies they didn’t really like.

Mark Wahlberg, a prior nominee for 2006’s “The Departed,” only managed to score a nomination from the Golden Gloves and a win from the African-American Film Critics Association, but the surge for “The Fighter” bodes well for his chances despite missing nods from the BFCA and the SAG Awards.  The leading actor usually gets swept along for the ride in scenarios like these, and that feels likely for Wahlberg.  However, since the heart of the film is Christian Bale, not leading man Wahlberg, he could still be overlooked.

And then there’s Ryan Gosling, Best Actor nominee in 2006 for “Half Nelson,” whose raw performance I still keep in my top 5.  There are two interesting trajectories Gosling has taken through awards season: in 2006, he was nominated by the BFCA but snubbed by the Golden Globes and SAG Awards on the way to an Oscar nomination.  In 2007, his work in “Lars and the Real Girl” was recognized by all three organizations yet not nominated by the Academy.  “Blue Valentine” is an entirely different path, as Gosling was nominated by the BFCA and Golden Globes but not by the SAG Awards.  I have faith … for now.

Best Actress:

  1. Natalie Portman, “Black Swan” 
  2. Annette Bening, “The Kids Are All Right” 
  3. Jennifer Lawrence, “Winter’s Bone”  (4)
  4. Michelle Williams, “Blue Valentine”  (5)
  5. Nicole Kidman, “Rabbit Hole”  (3)

No change in my top 5 this week as the same four actresses – Portman, Bening, Lawrence, Kidman – seeming to dominate the circuit collected nominations from the BFCA, the SAG Awards, and the Golden Globes.  Unfortunately, due to the conflicting genre of their movies, we won’t get a Bening/Portman face-off at the latter ceremony.  (And as a note, Kidman is at #5 because I just don’t think she will win.  I see her as the Helen Mirren in “The Last Station” of 2010, a prior winner collecting every nomination but never with a real shot to win.)

I’m still picking Portman as I feel her performance is too good to be denied, and the love for “Black Swan” is high.  She has also established herself as a critical favorite, winning awards from groups in Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Indiana, Las Vegas, the Southeast, and the New York Film Critics Online.  She has appeared on every shortlist for Best Actress, minor as a critics group or major as the BFCA, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards.

As I discussed last week, Portman has the performance but Bening has the respect.  To win, she doesn’t need to be collecting all these awards, although it would help.  She took home a very important Best Actress prize from the New York Film Critics Circle, a very influential group in the race.  Until we see her go up against Portman, I see no reason to say she’s entitled to an Oscar victory for her career.  She will need to win from the BFCA or the SAG Awards to assert her authority.

Jennifer Lawrence has also shown up on nearly every list made by critics, and she’s been winning her fair share of awards too, including from Detroit, San Diego, Toronto, and Washington D.C.  She’s a critical darling in her own right, but I think she’s too young and too fresh a face to win.

There are several actresses vying for that last spot – Hilary Swank for “Conviction” who received a surprise SAG nomination, Halle Berry for “Frankie & Alice” who received a Golden Globe nomination, Julianne Moore for “The Kids Are All Right” who received a Golden Globe nomination, dark horse Swedish actress Noomi Rapace for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” who received a BFCA nomiation, and Lesley Manville for “Another Year” who won the National Board of Review’s prize for Best Actress.

But I still think that last spot will be filled by Michelle Williams for “Blue Valentine” who was recognized by the Golden Globes and the BFCA as one of the best actresses of the year.  She’s been an Oscar nominee before, and I think she has what it takes to sneak in.

Best Supporting Actor:

  1. Christian Bale, “The Fighter” 
  2. Geoffrey Rush, “The King’s Speech” 
  3. Jeremy Renner, “The Town”  (5)
  4. Andrew Garfield, “The Social Network” 
  5. Mark Ruffalo, “The Kids Are All Right”  (NR)

Dropping off: Matt Damon

Christian Bale has become the closest thing to a lock we can get this season, winning nearly everything in sight.  In addition to picking up Best Supporting Actor nominations from the BFCA, Golden Globes, and the SAG Awards, he won the award from Boston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Detroit, Houston, Indiana, Las Vegas, New York Film Critics Online, and Washington D.C.  If nothing else, Oscar socialism could be at work here to give “The Fighter” a trophy.

Geoffrey Rush received the trifecta of nominations this week as well, although his only win on the critics circuit has come from the Southeastern Film Critics Association.  He was the runner-up, though, for the Los Angeles critics, a very influential group.  If Bale’s temper flares up soon, expect Rush to capitalize and take the trophy.

Rising this week is Jeremy Renner, last year’s Best Actor nominee for “The Hurt Locker,” who also received the three crucial nominations that Bale and Rush did.  He’s a quick way to recognize the movie if they don’t want to give it a Best Picture nomination.

Andrew Garfield, while being recognized by the BFCA and Golden Globes, was snubbed by the SAG Awards.  While I think the success of “The Social Network” will keep him afloat, I don’t think his nomination is any certainty.  Worth noting – some much deserved love went the way of Armie Hammer, Garfield’s co-star who breathed life into the Winklevi, from the Toronto Film Critics for Best Supporting Actor.  Two nominees from the same movie hasn’t happened in this category for almost 20 years, but perhaps if “The Social Network” hits big, it could happen.

Mark Ruffalo finally makes it into my shortlist after receiving the Best Supporting Actor prize from the influential New York Film Critics Association as well as nominations from the BFCA and SAG Awards.  It’s still a little strange that he missed out on a Golden Globe nomination (at the inclusion of Michael Douglas in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” no less), but the surge of love for the movie looks to power him into the race over John Hawkes in “Winter’s Bone,” who received a SAG Award nomination in addition to his prizes from San Francisco and San Diego.

Best Supporting Actress:

  1. Melissa Leo, “The Fighter”  (3)
  2. Mila Kunis, “Black Swan”  (NR)
  3. Helena Bonham Carter, “The King’s Speech”  (2)
  4. Amy Adams, “The Fighter” 
  5. Jacki Weaver, “Animal Kingdom”  (NR)

Dropping off: Hailee Steinfeld, Dianne Weist

I still have no idea what to make of this category.  Melissa Leo seems to be an across-the-board favorite, so I’m inclined to favor her.  She received nominations from all three major groups announcing this week and won the award from Dallas-Fort Worth, Washington D.C., the New York Film Critics Online, and most importantly the New York Film Critics Circle.  In a year where there appears to be no clear favorite, she may be the consensus choice that everyone can agree on.

Amy Adams was also on board with Leo for the big three this week, also winning Detroit and Las Vegas’ prize.  She could ultimately be Leo’s foil as vote-splitting becomes an issue.  Of the six movies that received dual Best Supporting Actress nominations over the past decade, only one managed to win (Catherine Zeta-Jones over Queen Latifah in “Chicago”).

Mila Kunis stormed onto the scene this week, capturing nominations from the BFCA, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards.  For a girl who this time last year was best known in cinema for her roles in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Max Payne,” this is a startling turnaround.  The love shows that they love her performance, and I think the Oscars will reciprocate the love in a few weeks.

Helena Bonham Carter continues to ride on the coattails of the success of “The King’s Speech,” also popping up in all three major groups announcing their nominations this week.  I see her much like Taraji P. Henson for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” or Catherine Keener for “Capote” – great actresses turning in fairly good performances in beloved movies.  Fairly good can’t win, but it’s sure going to get nominated.

The campaign for Jacki Weaver worked, so pat yourself on the back, Sony Pictures Classics.  The “Animal Kingdom” actress was cited by the BFCA and Golden Globes as one of the five best supporting performances of the year, and she won the title outright from the  Los Angeles critics, an extremely good sign that she’s headed for a nomination.  The SAG snub hurt, and she still has to deal with lack of notoriety.  But if it’s about the performance, she stands a good chance.

Dark horse Juliette Lewis won Boston’s prize for her work in “Conviction,” but I think it’s too small of a part to get nominated.  Hailee Steinfeld took home top honors from Houston and Indiana for her work in “True Grit” and managed to net nominations rom the BFCA and SAG Awards.  However, category confusion and lack of familiarity could keep her out.  And for some strange reason, Dianne Weist has gone totally unnoticed this season save a meaningless Golden Satellite Award nomination.  Bye, bye…

Best Original Screenplay:

  1. Inception  (3)
  2. The Kids Are All Right 
  3. The King’s Speech  (1)
  4. Black Swan  (5)
  5. Another Year (4)

Another pick that’s pretty far out there, but I’m getting a feeling that “Inception” will win Best Original Screenplay.  The critics are all over its originality, and everyone seems on board the train.  If “The Social Network” takes Best Picture, how else to reward this movie other than a few technical awards?  Best Original Screenplay, of course, as the movie redefined originality and creativity for millions of moviegoers.  The BFCA and Golden Globe nominations don’t hurt either.

Hot on its heels is “The Kids Are All Right,” which was recognized for its screenplay by the same two organizations.  It also won the prize from the New York Film Critics Association (over “The Social Network,” I might add).  There was a two-year comedy streak from 2006-2007, and we just hit a two-year drama streak.  Perhaps it’s time for the pendulum to swing back…

While “The King’s Speech” also received the same two nominations, I just don’t feel like anyone is jumping up and down with love for the script.  It’s an actor’s movie, not a writer’s movie, and the mentions feel more like courtesy than necessity.  However, it did win the prize from the Southeastern critics and San Francisco and was a runner-up for Toronto, and Los Angeles’ prize, so maybe I’m wrong.

“Black Swan” is in because everyone likes the movie, and it got the nod from the BFCA.  “Another Year” stays in because the Academy loves Mike Leigh.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

  1. The Social Network 
  2. Toy Story 3 
  3. 127 Hours  (NR)
  4. Winter’s Bone  (5)
  5. True Grit  (3)

Dropping off: Rabbit Hole

“The Social Network” is still in peak condition, winning nearly every Best Screenplay award there is.  But I hesitate to call it a lock as “Precious” surprised the heavily favored “Up in the Air” last year.  The heart is a factor in this category, and the heart belongs to “Toy Story 3.”

“127 Hours” soars to #3 thanks to its recognition by the BFCA and the Golden Globes in spite of my prior qualms that it wasn’t a movie that succeeded because of its writing.  But if Danny Boyle can’t get a Best Director nomination, it sure looks like he will get one for Best Adapted Screenplay.

“Winter’s Bone” has been collecting plenty of screenplay nominations along the critics circuit, and it seems like a solid choice for a nomination.

“True Grit” slips to #5 and only stays in because the Academy loves the Coen Brothers’ writing.  If “The Town” shows some might, it could easily replace the Western.

So, what do YOU think?  Who do you think is cruising towards an Oscar nomination?





Oscar Moment: Final Preseason Predictions!

1 12 2010

It’s time!  The guessing is about to be over, so I figured I’d take my final stab at Oscar’s picks before the critics groups and guilds exert their influence over the race.

Past predictions: November 2010September 2010.

Best Picture:

  1. The Social Network
  2. The King’s Speech
  3. Black Swan (9)
  4. Inception (6)
  5. Toy Story 3
  6. 127 Hours (3)
  7. The Fighter
  8. Winter’s Bone (NR)
  9. True Grit (4)
  10. The Kids Are All Right (8)

Dropping off: How Do You Know

Little change in the “TSN”/”TKS” dialectic as I still believe their duel will be the story of the season and that David Fincher’s Facebook movie will win out.  Other than that, the job of a prognosticator is to distinguish the dark horses from those just lucky to populate the top 10.

Noticeably different from the lineup a month ago is the position of “Black Swan,” which has received some massive praise in large amounts.  I’m just really feeling the love for this movie right now, and while it may just be a movie for the critics groups, I think the emphasis on its artistic achievement will push it through.

As for other motions on the chart, “Inception” moves up as the DVD release gives it an uptick; how much the movie can run with it, though, is yet to be determined. “127 Hours” moves down because I just don’t feel the passion for it has been able to sustain.

“True Grit” falls as reviews make it out to be great but nothing to stop the presses like ‘The Social Network” did, and since the Coens have already directed a Best Picture winner, the movie stands in a big shadow.  And I’ve never felt secure on “The Kids Are All Right” simply because it just seems too assumed, too “its a well-reviewed social commentary and comedy so it’s in” to be a safe bet.  The public didn’t quite catch on, and its DVD release didn’t revive much passion.

“Winter’s Bone” charts for the first time as it seems to be the “anointed indie” of 2010 after its triumph at the Gotham Awards and it led the pack of Indie Spirit award nominations (more on Friday.)

Best Director:

  1. David Fincher, “The Social Network” 
  2. Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech” 
  3. Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan”  (4)
  4. Christopher Nolan, “Inception”  (3)
  5. Danny Boyle, “127 Hours” 

Not much going on here other than the flop in positions of Aronofsky and Nolan.  For me, this is a stagnant category and not much will change unless the Coen Brothers knock out one of the bottom 3.

Best Actor:

  1. Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”  (2)
  2. James Franco, “127 Hours”  (1)
  3. Jesse Eisenberg, “The Social Network” 
  4. Robert Duvall, “Get Low”  (NR)
  5. Ryan Gosling, “Blue Valentine” 

Dropping off: Mark Wahlberg

Although I don’t agree with the commonly held conception that “The King’s Speech” will be the big winner of 2010’s Oscar race, I do think it will have a nice trophy haul.  The voters like this movie, and they want to give it some reward other than Best Picture.  Thus, Colin Firth, the very likable and talented performer, gets Best Actor as a testament to the film’s power.  I can see it playing out much like 2008 when “Milk” took home Best Actor for Sean Penn and Best Original Screenplay.  James Franco may just be too young to win (and he gets to host the show.)

Eisenberg stays at position #3, a safe bet for now but could be dislodged if little support is thrown his way.  Duvall reenters as Bridges/Wahlberg praise has been relatively muted amidst the raves for their movies.  “The Fighter” and “True Grit” will get their chance in the Supporting categories, both with a good shot at the win.  There’s the sentimental Peter O’Toole in “Venus” vote going for him here, although it does hurt that he’s won before.

And I still stick with Gosling simply because I stand to my guns on this movie being rewarded for its raw acting.  But I realize that the Academy could pull a “Revolutionary Road” on us and nominate neither he or Williams because the material is too depressing.

Best Actress:

  1. Natalie Portman, “Black Swan” 
  2. Annette Bening, “The Kids Are All Right” 
  3. Nicole Kidman, “Rabbit Hole” 
  4. Jennifer Lawrence, “Winter’s Bone”  (NR)
  5. Michelle Williams, “Blue Valentine”  (4)

Dropping off: Lesley Manville

Little change here as well.  I stil think this is Portman’s year, and she will run away with it.  Perhaps certain organizations where sentimental votes really count will choose Bening, but I think the Academy knows an incredible, transformative performance when they see one.  To quote my own review of “Black Swan” in a shameless plug, “Portman absolutely disappears into her character.  It’s a shocking and startling transformation due to Portman’s dedication to learning the craft of ballet and her impeccable acting.”

Kidman stays stagnant, and Michelle Williams is forced down a rung by the force of Jennifer Lawrence, an actress whose chances I was very cynical about (as shown by her fall off the chart from September to November).  But now I think I’m sure that she’s the real deal, although if “Winter’s Bone” falters in awards season, I may retract that statement.  I was hesitant to place her in my top 5 because she is so young; if nominated, Lawrence will be the second-youngest nominee ever at 19 years of age.  But she could easily be the Carey Mulligan of 2010, the breakout star no one can deny.  I doubt she could topple Portman or Bening, but I wouldn’t rule her out as the year’s critical darling.

Best Supporting Actor:

  1. Christian Bale, “The Fighter” 
  2. Geoffrey Rush, “The King’s Speech” 
  3. Matt Damon, “True Grit”  (NR)
  4. Andrew Garfield, “The Social Network”  (3)
  5. Jeremy Renner, “The Town”  (NR)

Dropping off: Aaron Eckhart, Sam Rockwell

Since I last updated these predictions, people actually saw “The Fighter” and confirmed my suspicion that Christian Bale would steamroll his way through awards season.  He has the respect to get there (despite his temper), and he is deserving.  Paramount will easily be able to make the case that this is “his time.”  Apologies to Geoffrey Rush, but your time was in 1996 when you won Best Actor.

Matt Damon makes his first appearance on the list as good word gets around about his performance in “True Grit,” replacing Sam Rockwell, who isn’t very good in the fairly pathetic “Conviction.”

My bad for the category fraud – I assumed Aaron Eckhart would be campaigned in Best Supporting Actor after reading a piece by Dave Karger.  But according to the FYC ads, I’m wrong, and he will be rightfully campaigned in the leading category.  With passion for Andrew Garfield’s performance seemingly slipping but nonetheless still present, who should fill that last slot?  I still think the men problem of “The Kids Are All Right” will keep Mark Ruffalo out again (unfortunately).

My pick is Jeremy Renner.  There’s a whole lot of good will for “The Town,” although I still dobut it has enough to crack the Best Picture shortlist.  The good feelings for the movie could translate into a surprise acting nomination, much like Maggie Gyllenhaal found herself in the Best Supporting Actress race without any prior attention when “Crazy Heart” wasn’t nominated for Best Picture.  Jeremy Renner, a nominee for last year’s “The Hurt Locker,” is really emerging as a big star, and what better way to mint him as a mainstream actor than nominate him in consecutive years?  This would prove him to be more than just a one-hit wonder, and it’s one way they could honor “The Town.”

Best Supporting Actress:

  1. Hailee Steinfeld, “True Grit”  (3)
  2. Helena Bonham Carter, “The King’s Speech”  (5)
  3. Melissa Leo, “The Fighter”  (1)
  4. Amy Adams, “The Fighter”  (NR)
  5. Dianne Weist, “Rabbit Hole” (4)

Dropping off: Miranda Richardson

I can’t wait for precursor season to start so we can GET SOME CLARITY ON THIS CATEGORY!  We have been wandering in the wilderness for months upon months now with everyone offering guesses, not predictions.  So my final guess is Hailee Steinfeld, the tenacious youngin of “True Grit.”  If the Academy wants to reward the movie with a trophy, this could be the simplest place to do it.  The socialism of the Oscars isn’t something dependable, but it happens enough to factor in to predictions.

With “The King’s Speech” taken care of in Best Actor, Helena Bonham Carter doesn’t pose much of a threat.  Ditto for Melissa Leo and Amy Adams, who will cede the carrying of the torch for “The Fighter” to Christian Bale.  I doubt Dianne Weist has a legitimate shot at winning since she has taken this category twice.  Can you picture her next to Jack Nicholson as the premier Oscar-winning actors of a generation?  I can’t.

Best Original Screenplay:

  1. The King’s Speech 
  2. The Kids Are All Right
  3. Inception
  4. Another Year
  5. Black Swan

Finally, some commentary on the screenplay race that you’ve been craving since September.  Don’t lie, this is exciting to you.

While “Inception” and “The Kids Are All Right” are undoubtedly the most original of the bunch, this seems to be a category for “The King’s Speech” simply because of the broad acclaim the movie has received.  If the Academy is looking for a place to reward the movie other than Best Picture, this is another easy way they can elevate its statue count above the winner of the Best Documentary Short.  With a good shot at several technicals, “The King’s Speech” could walk away with three trophies while “The Social Network” takes the requisite four (Picture, Director, Screenplay, Editing).

“Black Swan” glides in on the movie’s success, although I don’t think the screenplay was particularly fantastic.  It could easily be overlooked in favor of another independent selection.  And “Another Year,” which seems to have fallen from grace since its Cannes premiere, hangs on in Best Original Screenplay because Mike Leigh movies always get nominated here.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

  1. The Social Network 
  2. Toy Story 3
  3. True Grit
  4. Rabbit Hole
  5. Winter’s Bone

If “The Social Network” should be eclipsed by “The King’s Speech,” it should still take Best Adapted Screenplay without a hitch.  Aaron Sorkin’s genius script will probably be the movie’s most appealing offering over the season, and this category seems to seal the deal for the Facebook flick to score at least one Oscar.  Then again, we said the same thing about “Up in the Air,” and then “Precious” came out of nowhere to steal.

“Toy Story 3” is probably the movie most likely to take down Sorkin, if that’s even possible.  The minds at Pixar have been ever so close to a Screenplay win for 15 years; it may be too soon to give them Best Picture, but why not Best Adapted Screenplay?  It’s a step in the right direction towards a time when a movie will not be discriminated against and excluded from the Best Picture race just for being animated, foreign, or a documentary.

The Coen Brothers always get nominated for their writing, and they’ve won twice.  So chances that they get in for “True Grit” are very high.  “Rabbit Hole” slides in because the category seems to be trending towards theatrical adaptations.  If “Doubt” can get in for a word-for-word adaptation, David Lindsey-Abaire’s cinematic reimagining shouldn’t have a problem garnering a nomination.

As for the final slot, I choose indie darling “Winter’s Bone” over “127 Hours” simply because it feels more literary.  Danny Boyle’s movie isn’t very scripted; the magic comes from Franco.

What are your thoughts heading into the season?  Am I right on “The Social Network?”  Am I missing something?





Oscar Moment: November Predictions!

1 11 2010

Folks, it’s time for a new set of predictions.  A lot has changed in the last two months since I issued a set of predictions.  Just a month away from the start of the horse race, I thought now would be a good time to step back and reevaluate.

(NOTE: I’m restructuring the change in position system from 2009.  The symbols stay the same, but listed in parentheses to the right is the previous position.)

Best Picture

  1. The Social Network 
  2. The King’s Speech  (NR)
  3. 127 Hours  (10)
  4. True Grit  (NR)
  5. Toy Story 3  (3)
  6. Inception 
  7. The Fighter  (2)
  8. The Kids Are All Right 
  9. Black Swan  (5)
  10. How Do You Know  (NR)

Dropping off: Another Year, Never Let Me Go, Blue Valentine

I‘m still feeling confident forecasting a win for “The Social Network.”  It has audiences and critics behind it; with enough precursor love, it could be an unstoppable force.  “True Grit” and “The Fighter” remain strong possibilities even unseen, although I’m sensing less excitement for the latter.  “Toy Story 3” hasn’t dropped; two contenders have just risen above it.  Given a push, it could still make a run for the money.  And “How Do You Know” is still unseen, but I’m getting good vibes.  Probably stupid to put it on my list instead of “Another Year,” but I’m going gutsy.

Right now, my biggest comment is that the race feels really stagnant.  It’s too early for the race to boil down to “The Social Network” vs. “The King’s Speech.”  The enthusiasm has kind of died for any movie, although that could easily change with this week’s release of “127 Hours.”  It’s just kind of been a dead zone for Best Picture buzz recently … which is a huge bummer.

Best Director

  1. David Fincher, “The Social Network” 
  2. Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech”  (NR)
  3. Christopher Nolan, “Inception”
  4. Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan”  (5)
  5. Danny Boyle, “127 Hours”  (NR)

Dropping off: Mike Leigh, David O. Russell

Same story between “Network” and “Speech” with the two battling out for the top spot.  I’m hesitant to say that two of the past three winners in this category could be nominated again this year, so I’ll pick Danny Boyle seeing as his movie is the safer bet at the moment.

I feel like this category will recognize visionaries this year.  This is only a hunch, of course, but I feel like directors such as Nolan are Aronofsky will get their just reward for creating pieces of art that don’t mold to any sort of convention.  Nolan has first priority of the two seeing as he was snubbed in 2008 and his movie will fare better with the Academy.  “Black Swan” is a risky movie and one that doesn’t align very well with Academy tastes.  An Aronofsky nomination means true progress.

Best Actor

  1. James Franco, “127 Hours”  (3)
  2. Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”  (NR)
  3. Jesse Eisenberg, “The Social Network”  (2)
  4. Mark Wahlberg, “The Fighter”  (1)
  5. Ryan Gosling, “Blue Valentine” 

Dropping off: Robert Duvall

I’m sensing the “127 Hours” reward will come in Best Actor for James Franco.  At 32, he’d be among the youngest winners ever, and his status as an elite dramatic actor would be forever cemented.  I see him as being the critics’ circle darling, putting him in prime position from the beginning of the season.  However, there will be stiff competition from Colin Firth, who has the subjective “deserving” card in his hand after losing last year for his performance in “A Single Man.”

Eisenberg drops a slot because the choice youth performance is going to be from Franco, and Wahlberg plummets thanks to the buzz being squarely in the ring of Bale and Leo, his supporting cast.  Nonetheless, I think the preparation he put into this role will pay off with a nomination.  I think Ryan Gosling will be nominated for “Blue Valentine” over, say Robert Duvall for “Get Low” or Jeff Bridges for “True Grit,” because the NC-17 rated domestic drama may be too intense for Best Picture, but the actors will love it and reward it here.

Best Actress

  1. Natalie Portman, “Black Swan”  (2)
  2. Annette Bening, “The Kids Are All Right”  (1)
  3. Nicole Kidman, “Rabbit Hole”  (NR)
  4. Lesley Manville, “Another Year”  (NR)
  5. Michelle Williams, “Blue Valentine”  (4)

Dropping off: Jennifer Lawrence, Julianne Moore

Focus needs to get their act together and figure out how to campaign Bening and Moore.  Amidst the controversy, I think Portman has emerged all the stronger, and she is now my pick to win in the seemingly two-way battle for supremacy.

Nicole Kidman moves onto the list after her performance in “Rabbit Hole” garnered significant buzz, and Manville as well because I think “Another Year” has to have at least one acting nomination.  And for the exact same reason I predicted Ryan Gosling to get a Best Actor nomination, I predict Michelle Williams to get a Best Actress nomination for “Blue Valentine” to reward the movie’s true grit.  However, the tragic romance could go the way of “Revolutionary Road” and leave the leads out in the cold.

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Christian Bale, “The Fighter” 
  2. Geoffrey Rush, “The King’s Speech”  (NR)
  3. Andrew Garfield, “The Social Network” 
  4. Aaron Eckhart, “Rabbit Hole”  (NR)
  5. Sam Rockwell, “Conviction”  (2)

Dropping off: Vincent Cassel, Mark Ruffalo

Could there be anything more boring than the supporting categories this year?  Yawn.

Sight unseen, I still think Bale is the man to beat in this category.  Got any better suggestions?  Rush has won before, yet he will still prove to be a big threat given he lights the movie on fire.  Garfield is young and unknown, but he is incredible in the role.  He could move up to the top if there turns out to be a tidal wave of support for “The Social Network.”

I get a good feeling about Aaron Eckhart for “Rabbit Hole.”  He’s a great actor, and he works alongside Kidman who is a very good bet for a Best Actress nomination. There’s always that movie with a ton of acting nominations, and I get a feeling it could be “Rabbit Hole.”  As for Sam Rockwell, I still feel a nomination is a good possibility, but a win seems pretty tough with the general lack of enthusiasm for “Conviction.”

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Melissa Leo, “The Fighter”  (2)
  2. Miranda Richardson, “Made in Dagenham”  (NR)
  3. Hailee Steinfeld, “True Grit”  (4)
  4. Dianne Wiest, “Rabbit Hole”  (NR)
  5. Helena Bonham Carter, “The King’s Speech”  (NR)

Dropping off: Keira Knightley, Barbara Hershey, Marion Cotillard

Another win for “The Fighter” sight unseen, this time for 2008 Best Actress nominee Melissa Leo.  You got any better ideas?  This category is still wide open with a month left until the critics’ groups for the field for us, and that’s no fun.

Miranda Richardson’s spunky turn in “Made in Dagenham” seems to be getting a lot of buzz, thus it’s in at this point.  “True Grit” hasn’t been seen, but Hailee Steinfeld sure looks impressive from the trailer, so she’s in.  Dianne Weist got the critics talking about her work in “Rabbit Hole,” and she’s won twice before, so she’s in.  Helena Bonham Carter is in a strong Best Picture contender, so she’s in.  See how flimsy my logic is?  No one has a clue what to expect in this race.

I lied when I said there would be screenplays in this set of predictions.  For the wins, I’d say “The King’s Speech” and “The Social Network” for original and adapted, respectively.

So, how do you feel?  What Oscar nominations do YOU foresee?





REVIEW: The Social Network

9 10 2010

Has Facebook made us more connected to our friends?  Or does hopelessly staring at their pictures, their moments, their lives only increase our feeling of isolation?  Such has been the question for the past five years as the Silicon Valley start-up has all but taken over the world.  We have been forced to ponder how much we want people to know about who we are, using our profile pages as a façade to cover the person hiding deep inside.  We can sculpt social perfection on the site, and perhaps that is why we pour so much time into it.

That’s the story of us in the Facebook age.  However, anyone not willing to closely scrutinize “The Social Network” might have the mistaken notion that the movie is only about the founders of the site.  While Aaron Sorkin’s script concerns itself entirely with the Facebook’s early years, the perspective is not limited merely to those intimately involved in creating the predominant social networking site of our time.

If Sorkin and director David Fincher had been interested in doing that, they would have made a documentary on the birth of Facebook.  Instead, their fictionalized account is meant to challenge our conceptions of communication and friendship in the digital era, as well as the changing nature of innovation.  As the face of human interaction becomes increasingly digital, this commentary will be an important work to consult.  “The Social Network” could very well be the movie that future generations will watch to get an idea of the millenials (or whatever history will call us).  The movie now puts the pressure on us to decide how to interpret its message: do we go polish our Facebook profiles or become disillusioned with the site?

Since creator Mark Zuckerberg refused to participate with the production, Sorkin and Fincher present him as they see him: a visionary with his fair share of vices who winds being torn asunder by two people with different ideas for the future of his creation.  Jesse Eisenberg hardly makes him sympathetic, but the ultimate interpretation of Zuckerberg is left to the viewer.  Is he a hero, a villain, or an antihero?  Whatever mold he fits, it cannot be denied that he is a figure of huge importance to the digital age.  Take his social idiosyncrasies out of the picture, and his journey is not too different than our journey with Facebook.

Read the rest of this entry »





Random Factoid #436

7 10 2010

Hooray for memes!  It’s been a while since I’ve been tagged in one of these … good to be back on the circuit!  Thanks to Sebastian for tagging me.  Here’s the pitch:

The idea is that you list off the first 15 directors that come to your head that have shaped the way you look at movies. You know, the ones that will always stick with you. Don’t take too long to think about it. Just churn em’ out.

Here are my 15:

  • Woody Allen
  • Judd Apatow
  • Darren Aronofsky
  • Alfonso Cuarón
  • Clint Eastwood
  • David Fincher
  • Sam Mendes
  • Fernando Meirelles
  • Christopher Nolan
  • Sean Penn
  • Roman Polanski
  • Jason Reitman
  • Martin Scorsese
  • Steven Spielberg (no, it isn’t cliched)
  • Quentin Tarantino

In case anyone was wondering, I got to about 10 and then had a major pause.





FINCHERFEST: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

30 09 2010

As part of a deal with Paramount and Warner Bros. to make “Zodiac,” David Fincher took on the $150 million production of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”  The result was his first nomination for Best Director and the most Oscar-nominated movie of the decade.

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a masterpiece.

YES, I used the dreaded m-word.  Do I regret it?

Absolutely not.  I stand by assertion 100%, and I will argue my side until you see it.  Fincher’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story is the closet thing I think we will ever get to a 20th century epic.  It’s a sweeping story of love, time, and life, not to mention the single most beautiful movie I have ever seen.  Aside from the typical splendor of a period piece, Fincher’s film has the greatest visual effects I have ever seen.

When I first saw “Benjamin Button,” I was under the impression that the younger (as in newly-born) Benjamins would only be voiced by Brad Pitt, not acted by him.  Yet after doing some research, I found out that aside from the last five minutes of the movie, Benjamin Button’s face was always animated by Pitt.  It’s completely possible to not notice that it actually is him because the effects are so subtly incorporated, and doing such is such an incredible achievement in film history.

I’ll address two common criticisms of the movie, the first being its similarities to “Forrest Gump.”  These concerns might be valid had the two not shared the same writer, Eric Roth.  I see no problem with an author exploring similar issues, especially when he delves deeper into more profound revelations.  “Benjamin Button” gets to the heart of what it means to be alive in the grandest of fashions.

And then there are those who claim that the movie’s 166 minute runtime is absolutely unbearable.  To those poor, impatient souls, I say that our journey is Benjamin’s journey.  We don’t just watch time go by; we feel it with him.  Glancing through an inverted lens gives us a fascinating look at the passage of time and its effect on one man fated – or perhaps doomed – to live it that way.  Just because I say this is a masterpiece doesn’t mean that I think it is perfect.  I don’t think any film can be entirely perfect, but when a movie is truly great, it has many beautiful, fleeting moments of perfection.  Some claim that the movie drags, and I’ll agree that certain scenes could have used a little more time in the editing room.  However, the pacing is not slow.  It is deliberate, and only at this wistful speed can we truly appreciate Benjamin’s world.

Everything about this movie got so much attention, but I’d like to draw attention to one element that got completely and unjustly overlooked: Cate Blanchett’s performance.  She received absolutely no awards or nominations for her performance as Daisy Fuller, Benjamin’s love interest, which is a shame because this is by far her most emotionally compelling and sensitive performance ever.  What I found particularly remarkable about her in “Benjamin Button” was her ability to turn small moments into things that can stick with us.  When I think of her in this movie, I keep coming back to a small scene where Daisy looks plaintively at a young girl with all of her physicality intact and suddenly just finds herself overcome with despair.  It’s as much her story as it is Benjamin’s, and Blanchett wins our hearts just as quickly as Pitt does.

It’s a marvel that Fincher can transition so seamlessly from his violent thrillers and dramas to this romantic vision of the 1900s.  In my mind, it’s his best and most thoughtful work, displaying more of his top-notch precision than ever (albeit in a totally different form).  There are very few movies that have the power to stun us into silence, and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is one of them.  It has the power to make us feel light as a feather and make us fly in a gentle wind, full of emotion and with a new appreciation for life.





FINCHERFEST: Zodiac

29 09 2010

After “Panic Room,” Fincher took a five year break from directing.  He returned to the big screen in 2007 with “Zodiac,” a narrative of the events surrounding the Zodiac Killer who haunted San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s.

There’s no such thing as a simple movie with David Fincher.  On the surface, “Zodiac” looks like a movie about the hunt for a serial killer.  But much like “Seven” is not a movie about a serial killer, neither is “Zodiac.”  It’s a multitude of things, and while it’s not left open for you to interpret like “Fight Club,” you can still make of it what you want.

The movie can really be thought of as two mini-movies (which may brutalize less patient moviegoers since the running time is 157 minutes).  The first half follows the police investigation of the murders of the Zodiac Killer and the games the murderer plays with his victims and the authorities chasing him down.  There’s plenty of cop drama for all of those who faun over movies like “The Town” and “The Departed,” but once the official police inquiry into the events stops, all those drooling will face the harsh reality that “Zodiac” is no longer a police movie.

The second half concerns itself with the peculiar obsession of Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) with tracking down the Zodiac Killer through his own means.  Acting compulsively to catch him, Graysmith consults the two men most knowledgable on the subject, reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey, Jr.) and police investigator Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo).  Armed with their insights, he gets to the bottom of the case – even if we don’t have the satisfaction of certainty, as the case is still unsolved as of today.

But the overarching storyline that ties both of these aspects together is a journalistic view of the events.  Here’s how Fincher saw “Zodiac” as he made it:

“I looked at this as a newspaper movie. My model was ‘All the President’s Men.’ You piece the thing together with a bit of info here, a hunch there, and you make mistakes long the way, and maybe you end up with an supportable conclusion as to the when and where and how. … And maybe, with someone like Zodiac, even he couldn’t provide an answer, I don’t know.”

But it’s also not just about the people intimately involved with the investigation; it’s about how the fear of being killed gripped the San Francisco area.  Fincher himself was among those as a seven-year-old boy scared to go outside.  There are no strange storylines that show directly how the events impact the average San Franciscan, but it’s a very subtle undertone that could fly totally under the radar for those not paying attention.  It took me some reading to discover this angle, and the more I think about it, the more I see it.

As a movie that’s psychologically affecting, I don’t think “Zodiac” is entirely effective.  It’s not like I haven’t been scared by the prospect of a serial murderer in real life; the D.C. sniper took his toll when I was about 10 years old, and that frightened me.  However, Fincher crafts a movie quite different from his others here: a fact-based narrative that relies on true events to provide the terror.  The fact that it manages to sustain interest for two and a half hours is another testament to the director’s incredible versatility.