If you haven’t read Part 1 or Part 2 of my Oscar predictions, you might want to check them out first. But now it’s time for the big, high-profile awards, the ones people think about when they say “so-and-so is an Oscar winner!” Ready? Then let’s go!
Best Original Screenplay
Nominees: Mike Leigh (Another Year), Silver/Tamasy/Johnson/Dorrington (The Fighter), Christopher Nolan (Inception), Lisa Cholodenko/Stuart Blumberg (The Kids Are All Right), David Seidler (The King’s Speech)
Rule of thumb: Well, it’s complicated …
Basically there are three types of films that win the Original Screenplay Oscar:
- The Best Picture winner (or perhaps runner-up). Example: Mark Boal winning last year for The Hurt Locker.
- What I call the “shadow Best Picture” — the most challenging film of the year, or the critical favorite, or the one that pushed the envelope the farthest. Pulp Fiction, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Juno … you get the idea.
- A “labor of love” film, often autobiographical, usually from a major player in the industry. Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe’s fictionalization of his time as a teenage reporter for Rolling Stone, is a good representative. (This one is rarer than the other two.)
The King’s Speech is one of the two contenders for Best Picture (the other, The Social Network, isn’t nominated in this category — more on that in a mo’), so it qualifies under category 1. The “shadow Best Picture” (category 2) for 2010 would probably be Inception. And The Kids Are All Right definitely fits the description of category 3, as it’s based on Lisa Cholodenko’s own longtime lesbian relationship. But The Kids Are All Right hasn’t gotten much momentum up in the last few weeks, and while Inception won the Writers Guild award, it may have done so because The King’s Speech wasn’t eligible (due to some odd guild rules). Add in that the King’s Speech writer is 73 and this is his first nom, and I think for the second straight year,we’ll have a winner from category 1. The Oscar goes to: David Seidler. (Possible upset: Christopher Nolan, especially if enough voters felt he got jobbed by not being nominated for Best Director.)
Best Adapted Screenplay
Nominees: Danny Boyle/Simon Beaufoy (127 Hours), Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), Arndt/Lasseter/Stanton/Unkrich (Toy Story 3), Joel & Ethan Coen (True Grit), Debra Granik/Anne Rosselini (Winter’s Bone)
Rule of thumb: Pretty much the same as Original Screenplay.
And in this case, none of it matters, because the consensus is already established. During this awards season, I was able to track 23 significant awards that were given for a screenplay adapted from another medium. All 23 went to the same person. This is as slam-dunk as slam dunk gets. The Oscar goes to: Aaron Sorkin.
Best Supporting Actor
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).
Rule of thumb: How much you carried the film, how far you had to stretch yourself to do it, and how many friends you’ve made over the years.
The acting categories are where the politics of winning an Oscar are most nakedly revealed. If your peers don’t like you, your chances are zero. (Exhibit A: Jim Carrey.) If you gained/lost weight, wore ugly makeup, or got your crazy on to perform the role, it improves your chances. And (in the supporting categories) if you got enough screen time to qualify as a lead role, that counts. Your previous track record factors in, and if it looks like it’ll be your last nomination due to age or other factors, that certainly doesn’t hurt. All those have an effect on the pre-Oscar awards (the various film critics’ trophies, the Screen Actors Guild’s awards and the BAFTAs given by the British film industry), but at Academy Award time it shows up in starker relief.
So looking over the nominees … this is Hawkes’ first nod, and he’s a relative unknown in a tiny independent picture. Renner got his second straight nomination (he was up last year for The Hurt Locker), but he’s still new to Hollywood (even though he just turned 40) and will probably get other chances. Ruffalo is well-liked but played a scruffy but endearing slacker … which is what he usually plays. Rush is a highly respected actor who definitely helped carry his film, but his was a more nuanced role. And besides, he already has an Oscar, for Shine.
Which leaves the hyper-intense “actor’s actor” who’s never won before and lost a ton of weight to play an unstable heroin addict and current/former/current manager for his boxer brother. Showpieces like this win guys like that trophies. It’s already won him a slew of critics’ awards and the SAG. The Oscar goes to: Christian Bale.
Best Supporting Actress
Nominees: Amy Adams (The Fighter), Helena Bonham Carter (The King’s Speech), Melissa Leo (The Fighter), Hailee Stanfield (True Grit), Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom).
Rule of thumb: Same as Supporting Actor, but more random.
Over the years, few categories have been harder to predict than this one. (If I were smarter, I might not try.) Nonetheless, let’s go through the nominees. Weaver was an early favorite, but her film never got much play in the U.S., so she’s behind the 8-ball. Adams has been nominated twice before, but she’s only 36 (and could pass for 26) and tends to get upstaged by other actresses, which is pretty much what happens in The Fighter. Steinfeld was really the lead in True Grit, but she’s 14 and this is her first movie role of any substance, so some voters will want her to pay her dues before they give her a trophy.
That leaves Melissa Leo as the brash, obnoxious, pathologically loyal mother looming over the boxer and his addict brother, versus Helena Bonham Carter as the firm, aristocratic and quietly supportive wife of the stuttering monarch. Both have been nominated before (Leo for Frozen River, Carter for The Wings of the Dove), but as I said yesterday, brassy tends to win out over subtle in these situations. Leo took the SAG award, and while Carter got the BAFTA, Leo wasn’t nominated because (I think) her film wasn’t released in the U.K. in time. Unless voters get caught up in the idea of a King’s Speech sweep … The Oscar goes to: Melissa Leo. (Possible upset: Helena Bonham Carter.)
Nominees: Javier Bardem (Biutiful), Jeff Bridges (True Grit), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), James Franco (127 Hours).
Rule of thumb: Same as above, but previous work plays a bigger role.
I could go through all the explanations like I did above, but everyone is pretty much conceding this race to one man — who’s 50, a previous nominee, won the SAG, BAFTA and Golden Globe, and played a tough-to-pull-off character that everyone was rooting for. So I’ll save you some time and tell you The Oscar goes to: Colin Firth. (And it ain’t gon’ be close.)
Nominees: Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone), Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)
Rule of thumb: Similar to the other acting categories, only young and gorgeous carries more weight here.
Since December, this race has largely been Bening v. Portman, so let’s focus on them. Bening is 52 and a four-time nominee (she’s due; it might be her last shot), is married to Warren Beatty (H’wood royalty) and is on the Academy’s Board of Governors (very popular). She’s the sentimental choice. But Portman had the tougher and showier role as the sheltered ballerina coming slowly unhinged, and has been dominating the awards this year. And there’s the whole young-and-cute thing. (You don’t have to like that it’s a factor, but to many Oscar voters, it’s a factor.)
But it comes down to this: before this year, 16 actors or actresses have swept the Golden Globe, Critics Choice, SAG and BAFTA awards in a given year. 15 of the 16 went on to win the Oscar; the only exception (Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind) had won an Oscar the previous year for Gladiator. (That, and at the BAFTA ceremony he went all Russell Crowe and attacked one of the show’s producers. That didn’t help.) This year, both Portman and Colin Firth pulled off the above quartet. I’d love to see Bening win, but the momentum is all on the other side right now. The Oscar goes to: Natalie Portman. (Possible but VERY unlikely upset: Annette Bening.)
Nominees: Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), Joel & Ethan Coen (True Grit), David Fincher (The Social Network), Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), David O. Russell (The Fighter).
Rule of thumb: 90% of the time, it’s the Directors Guild winner; the other 10%, there’s a good reason.
David Fincher was the big winner through most of the award season. And then the DGA honor went to Tom Hooper, and … well, see above. But the awards have still been coming Fincher’s way (he won the BAFTA on the English Hooper’s home turf), and he’s a Hollywood veteran (this is Hooper’s first major feature). Besides, the 90% figure used to be 95%, but the two awards have been differing more in recent years. I think the early favorite is still the favorite. The Oscar goes to: David Fincher. (Possible upset: Tom Hooper.)
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.
Rule of thumb: The other awards will tell you the contenders; your heart will tell you the winner.
For the first half of the award season, from the beginning of December through mid-January, almost all the awards are given by film critics, and this year they were being given to The Social Network in a landslide. But a funny thing happened beginning in late January when the guilds — the people who actually make movies — started giving their plaudits: most of them were going to The King’s Speech. And when the Academy’s nominations came out, The King’s Speech had 12, most of any film (a VERY strong indicator of Best Picture chances) while The Social Network had eight. The race flipped over in the space of a few weeks. What happened?
Well, I think it was that the critics were basing their decisions mostly on artistic merit — what film was more challenging, broke more conventions, that sort of thing. But if you’re not a critic, if you’re someone who just likes movies, you look at those movies differently. Watching The Social Network, who do you root for — the jerk who started Facebook, the jerk who helped him and then got frozen out, or the jerks who opposed the first jerk? Whereas the three main characters, and most of the lesser ones, in The King’s Speech are basically likable. You can’t really cheer for Mark Zuckerberg (at least not as portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg — he’s exactly the a-hole his ex-girlfriend says he is at the start of the film), but you naturally cheer for King George VI to make that speech to the British people. Movie people, people who know filmmaking from the inside, want to be positive about their craft, and want to honor a positive film. And really, I can’t knock them for that.
And that’s why I think the Oscar goes to: The King’s Speech.
Well, that’s all for my Academy Awards prognostications. Tune in tomorrow night to see how it goes in real life, and I’ll be back with a review on Monday or Tuesday. Good night — and go enjoy a flick sometime!