Academy Awards 2011

The 83rd annual Academy Awards will be broadcast on ABC next Sunday with hosts James Franco and Anne Hathaway. Who are they, you ask? Well, one is a Ph.D. student who was nominated for the best actor playing a mountain biker who cuts off his arm, and the other was the heterosexual in Brokeback Mountain (in just one of her over 20 film roles). Oscar is aiming toward a younger, edgier demographic than last year’s hosts, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin – who, BTW, was terrific.

This annual self-congratulatory gala, loaded with extemporaneous and meandering speeches peppered with names unfamiliar to the hundreds of millions watching around the globe – which thankfully are often cut short with strains of “walk-off music” – is billed as Hollywood’s Biggest Night!

It may be, as most of the nominated stars look their bowtoxed and tanned best (along with those stars eager to plug something). Hollywood royalty assembles with the hope of being recognized by the Academy – albeit slightly different than the one Plato founded in Athens in the 4th Century B.C. (that Academy might have awarded best picture to Avatar instead of The Hurt Locker last year).

It’s all a very incestuous and somewhat silly affair with more formality than you might find in Stockholm for their stuffy awards. America (and the rest of the world) eat it all up with parties and drinking games coordinated with this, the super bowl of the entertainment business. The ultimate parlor game for the event is predicting the winners. So popular is this pastime that it has become a formalized contest for many companies accessible through their corporate internet.

Despite Hollywood having a flat year, 6 of the ten best picture nominees had box office over $100 million – but only two broke the 200 million dollar mark (Toy Story 3 and Inception). $100 million translates to about 15-20 million viewers (before moving to video). So there is a chance viewers may have seen some of the films – not always the case for many nominees. Traditionally the more “big box office” films get nominated, the more tune in for the show. Last year’s show, despite the awards and speeches, was a nicely produced and viewed gala. Avatar had everyone abuzz. Enough about the show; on to the predictions.

Oscar watchers typically break out their predictions into who “should win” and who “will win” – recognizing the fickleness of the Academy. I won’t do that – all my predictions are about who will win. My commentary on who should win is pretty apparent.

Those playing at home and needing a list of nominees can find it here. So here we go…

Best Picture – Social Network – Best picture by a mile. Relevant, engaging, and highly entertaining. I was briskly directed with crackling dialog supported by brilliant performances. The favorite here, The King’s Speech, was cute, but really, essentially a Hallmark TV Special. Social Network producer Scott Rudin (who also produced True Grit) is well-liked in Hollywood, having established himself with a track record of longevity and quality. This category, with ten nominees, is always the hardest to call.

Actor in a Leading Role – C-c-c-Olin Firth for The King’s Speech – Tough competition here, but Jeff Bridges won last year. Despite brilliant performances, Eisenberg and Franco aren’t young enough (see below) to win. Javier Bardem won two years ago for supporting actor. That leaves Firth, a likable “actor’s actor” who can do drama and comedy with aplomb and who, more than anything, effectively conveyed a sense of bewildered royalty in his role. Plus, he has a smashing British accent to give his speech with! Easy win!

Actress in a Leading Role – Natalie Portman for the Black Swan – Hollywood loves people who “pull a Robert DeNiro” and transform themselves for a role. Portman trained as a dancer, lost even more weight (if possible), and was utterly credible as a professional ballerina in this very dark drama. Plus, she’s been acting since she was 13 and her telling of the “secret clubs” at Harvard to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin provided a tent post for his Social Network drama. That’s got to be worth something. Golden Globe winner Annette Bening’s performance was good, but that win was for the comedy or musical category – no such distinction was made with the Oscars. Portman’s performance is just more meaty than everyone else. Easy win.

Actor in a Supporting Role – Christian Bale for The Fighter – Easiest prediction. Batman gives a simply brilliant performance as he makes a white trash crack-addicted-loser into a charming character. Go figure. Best performance by anyone in 2010. This kind of performance makes other actors shake their heads in wonderment and disgust. “Damn!” This Welsh actor tells people how to “pawk the caw” with authority.

Actress in a Supporting Role – Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit – The Academy loves handing out awards to kids any chance. This is the year’s most challenging category, as all these performances were terrific. Melissa Leo and Amy Adams were particularly excellent playing, shall we say, less than glamorous roles in The Fighter. They should split the vote creating a clear path for Hailee to the podium, instantly increasing the enrollment at community theaters nationwide!

Directing – David Fincher for The Social Network – The fact that the absolute best director of the year, Inception’s Christopher Nolan (whose mind-blowing writer/director tour-de-force was also a box office hit – how many of those can you count?) wasn’t nominated, makes this category very tough to call. Let’s hope whoever wins acknowledges Nolan – that would be a real sign of class and respect. While I love David O. Russel and the tone he brings to The Fighter – at times, it’s dramatic and other times hilarious – I think Fincher pulled together something unique telling his story of a landmark phenomenon.

As for the other awards, I predict a win for Toy Story 3, a remarkable film in many ways. This is a unique film – one everyone should see. More than any other film this year (with the exception of Inception), Toy Story 3 was a film with a bit of magic. Remember that? Hard to find in many of these dark dramas Hollywood loves to turn out. Toy Story 3 film sucks you in, takes you to another world, entertains you, and leaves you walking out of the theater with a beautiful feeling. Brilliant on every level. The Toy Story series may be one of the finest ever.

That said, How to Train a Dragon was the best use of 3-D this year and was nearly as excellent – just not quite as much—an all-in-all great year for animation.

The writing category is always very competitive, and this year is no exception. Veteran West Wing creator/writer Sorkin should win for best-adapted screenplay for Social Network – it is his absolute best work to date. I like Nolan for Inception for the original script- this is entirely original. Nothing has been that original since The Matrix – which didn’t even get a writing nomination. The Academy typically prefers to award something more traditional. If that is the case, I like The Fighter as they made the most tired of storylines, the Rocky/boxing story, new and unique.

Finally, it will be fun to see Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor win for the best score for The Social Network.

As for the show, I am sure the hosts will do a great job. The teaser ads have been cute, and the team that produces this show has gotten better and better each year, always keeping things moving. The only real tension will be to see if the best documentary director Bansky shows up – his Exit Through the Gift Shop is brilliant and something to seek out if you haven’t seen it. Bansky is the JD Salinger of the graffiti/public art world, and should he show up; it will be exciting.

So print out your ballots, order a pizza, get your laptop and iPhone, log on to Facebook and start twittering – oh and enjoy the show!


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