With so many critics groups and awards shows doling out the kudos between December and February, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict which film will end up winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
Sure, there have been a few noteworthy surprises in recent years – like in 1999, when Steven Spielberg’s groundbreaking World War II epic “Saving Private Ryan” lost to the clever period romance “Shakespeare in Love,” or in 2006, when the heavy-handed “Crash” pulled a major upset over Ang Lee’s landmark “Brokeback Mountain.”
But when one movie in particular dominates during Awards Season, it makes the prospect of winning the coveted Oscar for Best Picture somewhat anti-climactic – and, dare I say it, even a little boring. And it certainly looked like it was going to be that way this year with “The Social Network,” which, by the middle of January, had already topped the list of every critics group before winning Best Picture at the Critics Choice Movie Awards and the Golden Globes.
Then at the end of the month, with the flick of a proverbial light switch, the tide turned in favor of “The King’s Speech,” which, in very quick succession, won the top prize from the Producers Guild, the Directors Guild and the Screen Actors Guild. The major difference here is that unlike other awards shows, in which the voting members are journalists and critics who merely write about movies, these guilds are comprised of people who actually make them – and most of those guild members are also voting members of the Academy.
It’s not that “The King’s Speech” was an ugly duckling. If anything, it’s a very well-reviewed and commercially successful hit (with $94 million domestically) that always posed the biggest threat to “The Social Network.” And since it’s still in theaters, it will pass “The Social Network’s” $96 million domestic take at the box office.
So, what happened here? Is there a backlash against “The Social Network?” Did it peak too early? Is it too edgy for older members of the Academy, who may not really “get” the whole Internet phenomenon known as Facebook? Is “The King’s Speech” the sort of Oscar bait that appealed to Academy voters all along? Is it possible that another movie can (and should) sneak down the middle to win Best Picture? For predictions on this and other major categories, read on.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
The Nominees: “How to Train Your Dragon,” “The Illusionist,” “Toy Story 3”
The Breakdown: With moving sensibilities that harkened back to classics like “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” and “The Black Stallion,” “How to Train Your Dragon” was a strong family film that took many by surprise when it was released back in March. “The Illusionist” is more for grown-ups, and it’s one of the few hand-drawn animated movies these days, but hardly anyone saw it. Then there’s the mighty computer-animated juggernaut known as “Toy Story 3,” which comes from the mighty computer-animated studio known as Disney/Pixar. No question that it’s a masterpiece that deserves to win Best Animated Feature, but it’s also full of incredible depth that makes it worthy of winning the biggest prize of all. But more on that later.
And the Oscar will go to: “Toy Story 3”
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
The Nominees: “Another Year” (Mike Leigh), “The Fighter” (screenplay by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson; story by Keith Dorrington & Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson), “Inception” (Christopher Nolan), “The Kids Are All Right” (Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg), “The King’s Speech” (David Seidler)
The Breakdown: A tough category to be sure, but the attention seems to be spread between “The Kids Are All Right,” “The King’s Speech” and “Inception.” “Kids” might be too “indie” for the pack, while “The King’s Speech” might be too traditional for its own good. That leaves the more challenging “Inception,” and since many feel that Christopher Nolan was snubbed in the Directing category, the Academy should make up for it with a win here. Not to mention the fact that this is the category for Best Original Screenplay, and screenplays don’t get any more original than “Inception.”
And the Oscar will go to: ”Inception”
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
The Nominees: “127 Hours” (Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy), “The Social Network” (Aaron Sorkin), “Toy Story 3” (screenplay by Michael Arndt, story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich), “True Grit” (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen), “Winter’s Bone” (Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini)
The Breakdown: Another strong category, but where a movie like “127 Hours” was more of a triumph of acting over writing, “The Social Network” is exactly the opposite: Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant screenplay is the star of that movie, and people will be quoting its great dialogue for years to come.
And the Oscar will go to: “The Social Network”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
The Nominees: Amy Adams (“The Fighter”), Helena Bonham Carter (“The King’s Speech”), Melissa Leo (“The Fighter”), Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit”), Jacki Weaver (“Animal Kingdom”)
The Breakdown: The nomination will have to be the prize for Jacki Weaver, who was terrific as the ruthless mother to a bunch of thugs in “Animal Kingdom.” And while Hailee Steinfeld held her own against the likes of Jeff Bridges in “True Grit,” she’s a newcomer who will (hopefully) have more great performances ahead of her. Amy Adams showed voters a tough-talking side that many never knew she had, but Melissa Leo made her aggressive manager and mother of nine a standout character, and after decades of paying her dues, everyone loves a great comeback story – especially the Academy.
And the Oscar will go to: Melissa Leo (“The Fighter”)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
The Nominees: Christian Bale (“The Fighter”), John Hawkes (“Winter’s Bone”), Jeremy Renner (“The Town”), Mark Ruffalo (“The Kids Are All Right”), Geoffrey Rush (“The King’s Speech”)
The Breakdown: A horse race between Geoffrey Rush and Christian Bale. Rush gave a sensitive performance as the speech therapist to King George VI in “The King’s Speech,” but he already has a Best Actor Oscar for 1996’s “Shine.” Bale has long been regarded as one of the most admired and committed actors of his generation, so the Academy should finally reward that dedication (including his 30-pound weight loss) for his turn as an ex-junkie who redeems himself in “The Fighter.”
And the Oscar will go to: Christian Bale (“The Fighter”)
The Nominees: Annette Bening (“The Kids Are All Right”), Nicole Kidman (“Rabbit Role”), Jennifer Lawrence (“Winter’s Bone”), Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”), Michelle Williams (“Blue Valentine”)
The Breakdown: Regardless of every other spectacular performance in this category – especially Annette Bening – there’s no question that Natalie Portman deserves the statue here. Her turn as a distressed ballerina who loses her sanity is what Oscar-worthy performances are made of, but she also had to train for over a year to play the perfect dancer – and if that didn’t work, the whole movie would have fallen apart.
And the Oscar will go to: Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”)
The Nominees: Javier Bardem (“Biutiful”), Jeff Bridges (“True Grit”), Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network”), Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”), James Franco (“127 Hours”)
The Breakdown: Both frontrunners in this category play real people who triumph over adversity, but their movies couldn’t be any more different. “127 Hours” was practically a one-man show, and James Franco was center stage with a grueling physical and emotional performance. But the movie peaked early, and Franco is now getting more attention for his Oscar co-hosting duties (alongside Anne Hathaway). Colin Firth was nominated just last year for “A Single Man,” and he’s won just about every other award so far this season, so that momentum should continue on the big night.
And the Oscar will go to: Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”)
The Nominees: Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”), David O. Russell (“The Fighter”), Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”), David Fincher (“The Social Network”), Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (“True Grit”)
The Breakdown: The Coen brothers just won Best Director three years ago for “No Country For Old Men,” so it seems unlikely that the Academy will honor them again so soon – especially since others are more deserving. Arty director Darren Aronofsky crossed over to the mainstream with “Black Swan,” which just crossed $100 million domestically. But Natalie Portman is drawing more attention for her intense performance, and a Best Actress win for her will cover the movie. It was a surprise when Tom Hooper took home the top prize from the Directors Guild, but given David Fincher’s painstaking account of the creation of Facebook – not to mention his past work directing ambitious movies like “Seven,” “Fight Club” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” – the Academy will reward him this year for “The Social Network” and for his career.
And the Oscar will go to: David Fincher (“The Social Network”)
The Nominees: “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”
The Breakdown: We now return to that great debate between “The Social Network” and “The King’s Speech.” It actually makes sense why “The King’s Speech” seems poised to win Best Picture: it’s based on a true story, it’s a period picture, the screenplay and performances are superb, and it appeals to the older voters that comprise the Academy. But if the votes are split (which is entirely possible), then a third movie could sneak down the middle for an upset. It could be “Black Swan,” it could be “True Grit,” or it could be “The Fighter.” But the Academy should not rule out “Toy Story 3” just because it’s an animated movie. With a level of poignancy that has brought grown men to tears (myself included), “Toy Story 3” is quite simply the stuff that Best Pictures are made of. Besides, no animated movie in history has ever won the Oscar for Best Picture, so the time has come to break that barrier. (I know, this is the ultimate long-shot to end all long-shots, so I’m not counting on it – but I’m just sayin’.)
And the Oscar will go to: “The King’s Speech”
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