I‘m always ambivalent about Oscar weekend rolling around. On the one hand, the Oscars are a fundamentally worthless awards body – they’re too timid to recognize truly daring and revolutionary filmmaking, but too populist to properly recognize films that the masses actually enjoy, and so they usually award bland middlebrow entertainment in a compromise that really pleases no one. On the other hand, I crush it in my “friendly” Oscar pool every year – really just demolish it. And, now, dear readers, you can too – here are my 87.3%-guaranteed-to-win-your-Oscar pool winner predictions, along with my thoughts about which nominee deserves to win and which non-nominees should have been on the list. And in case you’re interested in my in-depth thoughts on my favorite films of the year (shameless plug alert), check out my blog, where I’m counting down my favorite films of the year along with Berkeley film scholar Fareed Ben-Youssef.
Best Picture – The King’s Speech, The Social Network, Inception, Black Swan, True Grit, The Fighter, The Kids Are All Right, Toy Story 3, Winter’s Bone, 127 Hours
Will Win: The King’s Speech (75% chance), The Social Network (25% chance)
Before the nominations came out, The Social Network was the clear front-runner based on its victory in the Golden Globes, the National Board of Review, and in dozens of critics’ group awards, which prompted a certain someone to write a whole thing about how perhaps the Oscars were finally changing for the better. Of course, then, The King’s Speech ended up gathering the most nominations of any film, generally a good indicator that it is the odds-on favorite, and it took home awards from groups that compose large segments of the Academy, like the Producer’s, Director’s, and Screen Actors’ Guilds. And so, The King’s Speech is where the smart money is, although there’s still a small chance for a Network upset.
Should Win: As an insightful and brooding character study, a whiplash-paced example of hilarious verbal fireworks, and a timeless meditation on ambition, class, and jealousy, The Social Network is by far the best of this set.
Unfairly snubbed: The most daring and ambitious film of the year was Olivier Assayas’ Carlos, a biography of infamous government-sponsored-terrorist Carlos the Jackal that overflowed with fascinating geopolitical insight and insanely intense action sequences that made its epic six-hour running time feel more like three.
Best Director – David Fincher, The Social Network, Tom Hooper, The King’s Speech, David O. Russell, The Fighter, Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit, Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
Will Win: David Fincher (70%), Tom Hooper (30%)
The King’s Speech may be an audience favorite, but even its defenders would probably admit that its direction is not particularly innovative or ambitious – unlike David Fincher’s masterful weaving together of timeless American themes, future-forward topics, and gorgeous digital cinematography. The only problem is that Fincher is, to put it bluntly, an asshole – he’s the kind of control freak that might demand up to 99 takes of scenes (as he did for the first scene in The Social Network), he has a habit of pissing off studio executives , and he shows up to major awards shows like the Director’s Guild Awards in ripped jeans (he’s on the far right). Will the Academy be able to overlook his general dickishness because of his filmmaking mastery?
Should Win: Fincher, obviously, if only because the odds of his going on a crazy rant during his acceptance speech are fairly high.
Unfairly snubbed: Flawed though it may be, Inception was a tremendous technical achievement that required Christopher Nolan to elegantly orchestrate action sequences occuring across four levels of dreaming space-time. His omission from this category, particularly when dull nominees like Hooper are present, is a travesty.
Best Actor – Colin Firth, The King’s Speech, Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network, James Franco, 127 Hours, Jeff Bridges, True Grit, Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Will Win: Colin Firth (100%)
The Oscars often like to make up for poor past decisions by rewarding actors for work that may not be their best – Jeff Bridges was his usual talented self in last year’s Crazy Heart, but it was still a performance that paled in comparison to, say, the four other past performances he had been awarded for, not to mention countless other snubs. The best performance of last year was likely Colin Firth’s work in A Single Man, and Firth’s sweep of nearly every other laurel in this category means that he will likely be rewarded here despite giving a lesser performance than last year.
Should Win: No actor had to shoulder the burden that weighed on James Franco in 127 Hours – giant rock crushing his arm aside, Franco was on screen for nearly every frame of this film, and he held his own in every moment, whether he was expressing panic and dejection, a fierce determination to survive, or a wacked-out brand of hallucinatory comedy.
Unfairly snubbed: Poor Ben Stiller gave the best performance of his career and no one seemed to care – in Greenberg, Stiller is alternately hilarious and haunting as a post-mental-breakdown man trying to rebuild his life but thwarted by his deeply ingrained (and deeply funny) misanthropy.
Best Actress – Natalie Portman, Black Swan, Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right, Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole, Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine, Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone
Will Win: Natalie Portman (80%), Annette Bening (20%)
Another rule for acting awards is that they tend to be given to the people who acted most, rather than those who acted best, which immediately rules out the mostly subtle (but still great) performances by Kidman, Williams, and Lawrence. Natalie Portman has swept this category in the other shows thanks to her grueling physical transformation for Black Swan, and so she is the favorite here as well, but the question is whether three-time-nominee and three-time loser Annette Bening has finally earned enough goodwill for an upset here.
Should Win: Winter’s Bone is Jennifer Lawrence’s film through and through, and her combination of gritty determination and youthful naivete was the most critical part of that film’s success.
Unfairly snubbed: Hailee Steinfeld was in fact nominated for a Best Supporting Actress this year, but that categorization is absurd – she’s on screen in True Grit far more than the film’s Best Actor nominee Jeff Bridges, and her placement in the other category is a dubious attempt to increase her chances by putting her in a category with weaker competition.
Best Supporting Actor – Christian Bale, The Fighter, Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech, John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone, Mark Ruffalo, The Kids are All Right, Jeremy Renner, The Town
Will Win: Christian Bale (90%), Geoffrey Rush (10%)
One of the few cases where the “most acting” and “best acting” categories align, Christian Bale gives the kind of career best performance as washed-up-boxer-turned-crackhead in The Fighter that even the Oscars at their most ridiculous would have a hard time ignoring. The only chance he could lose is if the academy really loves The King’s Speech and it starts sweeping awards and takes along Geoffrey Rush with it.
Should Win: Bale – the actor finds a tricky line here between downright farce in his crackhead antics and genuine pathos, the kind of tonal mismatch that usually results in disaster but works perfectly here.
Unfairly snubbed: As a disgraced prime minister in Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer, Pierce Brosnan was the embodiment of snooty rich privilege and oily politician scheming – and the thoroughly convincing strength of his sleaze is key for Polanski to pull off some of his plot’s more intriguing twists.
Best Supporting Actress – Melissa Leo, The Fighter, Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech, Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit, Amy Adams, The Fighter, Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom
Will Win: Melissa Leo (80%), Hailee Steinfeld (10%), Helena Bonham Carter (10%)
Despite a thoroughly bizarre controversy involving Ms. Leo’s decision to launch her own fairly hilarious Oscar campaign, her performance as the trashy mother exploiting her son is over-the-top enough to have attracted plenty of attention and won her this award in most other shows. Oscars also love to reward terrible, terrible mothers – witness Mo’Nique’s win last year as the abusive mom from Precious. The only possible complications again involve a sweep for The King’s Speech or the voters realizing that Ms. Steinfeld was on screen at least twice as much in her film than the other nominees were in theirs.
Should Win: Because Jacki Weaver played a terrible mother in a small, under-seen Australian gangster drama instead of a larger production, her chances of winning are essentially nil, but she was enthralling as a greeting-card-perfect-on-the-exterior grandma whose inner darkness would make Lady MacBeth blush.
Unfairly snubbed: In almost no screen time at all, Rooney Mara made an indelible impression that haunted the entire rest of The Social Network and evinced a female dignity that her male peers never matched up to. Indie-film darling Greta Gerwig was also a revelation in Greenberg as a shambling lost soul who starts the fall for the titular psycho.
Best Foreign Film – In a Better World, Incendies, Biutiful, Dogtooth, Outside the Law
Will Win: In a Better World (50%), Incendies (25%), Biutiful (25%)
The Oscar for Foreign Film is the biggest travesty of any of the awards, a category that routinely ignores the best of world cinema in favor of easily digestible, generally banal trash. The reason for this is that all the nominees but one can only be nominated by viewers who have seen all five films – and surveys of attendees at official foreign film screenings show that the only people in Hollywood with that kind of time are elderly Academy members completely out of touch with modern cinematic trends.
To fill out your ballots, here are my “will win” equally-guaranteed predictions on the technical categories. Go forth and slaughter the competition in your casual contests that your friends probably haven’t been thinking about very much!
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