Andy Bockelman: Oscar breakdown 2011
February 24, 2011
Oscar time is upon us again, and as the red carpet is unfurled in Hollywood for the 83rd Academy Awards, those of us in the real world prepare for office betting pools and other friendly wagers regarding the outcome. While you're waiting for the biggest night in cinema, take a moment to ponder whether the most hyped and popular movies and performances of the last year are most deserving of taking home the famed little gold man.
Rarely does the Academy nominate those who are completely undeserving of the honors, but it's still a matter of interpretation as to which candidates are really the top of the crop.
Best Animated Feature
What Will Win — "Toy Story 3"
Having conquered the category five of the seven occasions its cartoons have been nominated, Pixar's victory is all but a certainty for their latest animated masterwork. The adventures of playthings Woody and Buzz Lightyear and friends first captivated audiences and brought out the kid in all of us before the Best Animated Feature award was in existence, so it only makes sense that the continuation of the story would receive its due, especially since the look and feel of the vibrant, fully fleshed-out design has truly gone to infinity and beyond since 1995.
Even more fitting is that the third in the series is the best yet from Pixar, but more on that later.
What Should Win — "The Illusionist"
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Sometimes being the biggest isn't necessarily the best thing, exemplified by the French feature "The Illusionist" — "L'Illusionniste" — beating out contenders like "Despicable Me" and "Tangled" for the third slot in the category alongside "Toy Story 3" and DreamWorks' "How to Train Your Dragon."
Though it remains a dark horse competing against two such enormously successful and universally beloved movies, this simple character study of an aging magician whose career has practically disappeared demonstrates some of the best, yet most underused, qualities of classic animation. With minimal dialogue, colorful personalities and a bittersweet tone throughout, the beautifully drab landscape of its 1950s Scotland setting comes to life with the austere, old world appearance that is a rarity today. Director Sylvain Chomet, whose "The Triplets of Belleville" lost the award to "Finding Nemo," takes the road less traveled in crafting a cartoon that's more oriented to adult sensibilities, but it works just as well.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Who Will Win — Aaron Sorkin for "The Social Network"
"The Social Network" swept the nation as quickly as the Web site that inspired it, and at the center of the movie about the founding of Facebook is a script that takes another look at real events. In adapting Ben Mezrich's non-fiction book "The Accidental Billionaires," Sorkin electrifies incidents that would otherwise be downright boring, injecting razor-sharp wit and quirkiness into Mark Zuckerberg's computer programming sessions and his ensuing legal proceedings over who has the rights to the hottest thing to hit the Internet.
The details may be up for debate, but Sorkin nonetheless succeeds in showing us the ugly side of fame and fortune in the digital age.
Who Should Win — Debra Granik and Anne Rossellini for "Winter's Bone"
It's one thing to construct a story based on reality that seems to far-fetched to believe, but it's just as noteworthy to create a fictitious work that is entirely plausible. Granik and Rossellini take the pages of Daniel Woodrell's novel and turn it into a watershed film about the female experience within the social strata of the backwoods of the Ozarks.
The tale of a teenage girl doing everything she can to prevent her family from going under is chilling in its realism and unbeatable in the quiet forcefulness of its depiction of poverty in rustic surroundings. The sheer despair that thrusts the story forward puts it ahead of other worthy challengers like "127 Hours," "Toy Story 3" and "True Grit."
Best Original Screenplay
Who Will Win — David Seidler for "The King's Speech"
Authenticity is key in any period film, and the superior art and costume designs for "The King's Speech" are more than matched by the well-researched quality of Seidler's screenplay chronicling the struggle of Prince Albert with his crippling stammer in the years before his ascension to the throne as King George VI. The details of the monarch's early life almost mirror that of Seidler, a professed stutterer in his youth, who has also claims that during the course of his research that a member of his own family was taught by Bertie's friend and speech therapist Lionel Logue.
While controversy has arisen because of the film's lack of commentary about Bertie's older brother and brief predecessor Edward VIII as a Nazi sympathizer, Seidler plays it right by focusing on one king at a time.
Who Should Win — Christopher Nolan for "Inception"
Though he was snubbed for Best Director in making the movie that caused audiences to rethink the way they think, Nolan needs recognition for his prowess as a storyteller. With nary a nomination for his work on the "Batman" films, a Best Screenplay win is already a long time coming, but his inventive handling of the complex, labyrinthine nature of the central narrative in sci-fi thriller "Inception" makes for one of the most compulsory acknowledgements of this year's awards, as well as the film's inevitable victory for Best Visual Effects.
Granted, the film is unlikely to win Best Picture, though it's inclusion in the lineup is gratifying for those who believe huge, action-oriented summer movies can hold their own against features that don't bring in the big bucks. The blockbuster is also battling in the Original Screenplay category against smaller scale movies like "The Fighter" and "The Kids Are All Right," in addition to British director Mike Leigh's marital drama, "Another Year," the only screenplay nominee not up for Best Picture.
Best Supporting Actress
Who Will Win — Melissa Leo for "The Fighter"
Every single person in "The Fighter" seems capable of throwing a punch at a moment's notice inside or outside the ring but none more so than Leo, who packs a wallop as matriarch and boxing manager Alice Ward. Commanding attention whenever she's onscreen, the actress never ceases to outshine the rest of the cast, embodying the boundless ambition and conniving personality of a woman who sees her children as stepping stones and pulls out the ever-effective weapon of motherly guilt whenever it serves her.
Still, Leo makes her character more than just a one-dimensional antagonist, showing Alice to be a scrapper whose tough outer shell belies someone who genuinely wants the best for her family.
Who Should Win — Melissa Leo
An Oscar shouldn't be handed out as a lifetime achievement award, but sometimes it works out that way, with Leo remaining mostly off the radar during her considerable career until her Best Actress nomination for 2008's "Frozen River." In the same boat is her fellow nominee, Australian theater actress Jacki Weaver, virtually unknown in the United States, who plays a similar role in "Animal Kingdom" as the enabling, subtly ruthless mother of a crime family.
The range of experience is significant here, ranging from 14-year-old "True Grit" heroine Hailee Steinfeld — who joins the elite club of actors nominated for their debut performance — to Helena Bonham Carter as the young Duchess of York in "The King's Speech" to Leo's "Fighter" co-star Amy Adams, who receives her third nomination in six years as boxer Mickey Ward's girlfriend, Charlene.
Best Supporting Actor
Who Will Win — Christian Bale for "The Fighter"
Playing a drug addict often leads to Oscar gold, and Bale's portrayal of punchy ex-pugilist Dicky Eklund ranks among some of the best showings of people who have been KO'd by substance abuse. Bale's jittery, almost comical acting may seem like he has been smoking crack himself, but his hyperactivity is the result of a well-honed analysis and mimicry of the real Eklund's movements.
The actor's first nomination comes after a seemingly endless string of worthwhile roles appearances over the last few years.
Who Should Win — Jeremy Renner for "The Town"
Bale's bit as a shifty local celebrity within the city limits of Philadelphia certainly has its merits, but if you want to talk lowlifes with hometown pride, you need look no further than a few hundred miles north with Renner turning in a perfect performance as unsympathetic, psychotic Boston native Gem Coughlin. Not since Joe Pesci in "GoodFellas" have we seen a career criminal so prone to violence yet bound to his own individual set of values. Renner was equally deserving for his star-making part in last year's "The Hurt Locker," but hopefully Academy voters realize it's never too late to make up for past misdoings.
John Hawkes, better known for his TV work, is also effective in such a position as Teardrop, the tight-lipped uncle of "Winter's Bone," but nice guys are just as prevalent in the Supporting Actor sector, with Mark Ruffalo as the well-meaning would-be dad of "The Kids Are All Right" and Geoffrey Rush as the miracle worker of "The King's Speech."
Who Will Win — Natalie Portman for "Black Swan"
People respond to the difficulty of playing someone overcoming addiction, but even more trying is the approach to playing someone who's mentally unbalanced. Portman's powerhouse performance as a sheltered ballerina pushing herself to the brink of insanity was not one that came together easily, with the actress subjecting herself to the intense preparations of a dance schedule while getting ready for the role. With this, her second Oscar nod, Portman ventures into familiar territory as a young woman slowly coming to terms with the dark side of her psyche, this time in a different direction compared to her Best Supporting Actress-nominated part as a stripper in "Closer."
Who Should Win — Annette Bening for "The Kids Are All Right"
While it's a tough task to play somebody who's losing their mind, it can be equally wearisome to give a convincing, compelling performance as someone who's perfectly ordinary. With three previous nominations, Bening is no stranger to the Academy Awards, though if there were a display of her talents to rival her career high as an unhappy suburban wife in "American Beauty," it would be her low-key, high-impact acting as one half of a lesbian couple who's reluctant to share her children with their biological father, or the rest of the world, for that matter.
Her touching performance is the lone humor-based role in a category heavy on melodrama this year, competing against Nicole Kidman as a mother grieving over the untimely death of her child in "Rabbit Hole," Jennifer Lawrence as the put-upon rural teenager of "Winter's Bone" and Michelle Williams as the emotionally tormented wife of "Blue Valentine."
Who Will Win — Colin Firth for "The King's Speech"
As far as the most admired character types in the Oscar race, it's hard to beat someone who's overcoming adversity on any level, and Firth's personification of the chronically tongue-tied Duke of York works from multiple angles. On the one hand, he's playing someone with a troublesome handicap, quite forcefully to boot, but he also goes deeper, letting us see how a floundering self-image can come out in other ways and dominate one's life.
Additionally, the actor's tendency toward playing men who fight tooth and nail to avoid dropping a cool façade comes through in his favor as the regent who finds the responsibilities of a ruler unexpectedly dropped in his lap.
Who Should Win — Colin Firth
Firth was outclassed in the competition last year for his starring part as a forlorn gay man in the 1960s in the under-hyped "A Single Man," but it seems unlikely that he'll go home empty-handed if there's any justice in the world. The scope of his opposition includes both first-time nominees Jesse Eisenberg as the friend-impaired Internet mogul of "The Social Network" and James Franco — who will co-host the ceremony with Anne Hathaway — as an outdoorsman forced to make some difficult choices in "127 Hours," as well as former winners Javier Bardem and Jeff Bridges, playing a terminally ill man finalizing his affairs in the Foreign Language Film entrant "Biutiful" and the one-eyed, drunken US Marshal of "True Grit," respectively.
Bridges beat out Firth for Best Actor last year for "Crazy Heart," though a back-to-back victory seems virtually unthinkable since he would be winning for the same role for which John Wayne won his only statuette more than 40 years ago.
Who Will Win — David Fincher for "The Social Network"
Fincher may have made his mark in the film world directing dark-toned movies like "Se7en," "Fight Club" and "Zodiac," but his outlook on Mark Zuckerberg's plight seems almost as bleak as any of his earlier work. There may be significantly less bloodshed in this saga of computer geeks who make good, but the commentary it makes about the downside of getting everything you ever wanted is just as thought-provoking.
Fincher's framing of the birth of a new idea and the chaos that surrounds it keeps an even pace all the way from the Harvard campus to the Silicon Valley locale where Facebook made the leap to the big time.
Who Should Win — Tom Hooper for "The King's Speech"
Fincher's Best Director wins at the Golden Globes and the British Academy Film Awards indicate that he has a good likelihood of adding another honor to his mantelpiece, though "The Social Network" isn't indicative of his full potential as a filmmaker. If any of his movies were to bring him the gold, it would have been 2008's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," which got unfortunately flattened by "Slumdog Millionaire."
Hooper, nominated for his second feature, is most deserving of the award this year for his straightforward but riveting biopic, which has the best elements of direction in all respects. His achievement with the HBO miniseries "John Adams" has clearly carried over into the movie theater and only improved his proficiency in creating a spectacular recreation of days of yore. It's a heated race in the Best Director division this year, with Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan," the Coen brothers' "True Grit" and David O. Russell's "The Fighter" close on the heels of the frontrunners.
What Will Win — "The Social Network"
Topicality is often the deciding factor of the Best Picture race and this year, the subject on everybody's minds seems to be the progression of communication within the last decade all wrapped up in a blue and white bow. It's not so much the story of Facebook that's all that amazing but the way in which it's presented as a never-ending hassle for the people who figured into its creation.
Were Zuckerberg's story told in another 10 or 15 years, it might not seem as immediately relevant, as the next generation will probably render the site obsolete.
What Should Win — "Toy Story 3"
It's all well and good to give a film the top prize because of what it has to say about society, but there's no shame in crowning a winner based on the argument that it's just so good. Third time should be the charm here in more ways than one. Besides the final installment in the "Toy Story" trilogy being the best of the bunch, it's also one of three animated movies ever to be nominated for Best Picture. While Pixar's "Up" was nominated for both Best Picture and Best Animated Feature last year, the idea of "Toy Story 3" securing the biggest award of the night would be even more justifiable.
Though quality shouldn't be measured by receipts, the throngs of people who made it the biggest box office earner of 2010 would agree that there's no reason to overlook such a poignant and relatable cartoon as a serious potential winner. And, that's even going against such family-themed stories like "The Fighter," "The Kids Are All Right" and "Winter's Bone"; a mindbender like "Inception"; the better-the-second-time-around remake "True Grit"; and battles of all conceivable kinds in "127 Hours," "Black Swan" and "The King's Speech."
Whatever the results, it'll give us something to talk about for the next 12 months. Here's to the possibility of surprises and the assuredness of hard-earned victories.