BEST LEADING ACTOR
And the Nominees are:
Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours
Who Will Win?:
If Colin Firth does NOT win this year, there is a serious miscarriage of justice going on in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (Am I not being clear where my loyalties are this time?). To put it plainly, Firth gives one of the most passionate and empowering performances by a Leading Actor that I have seen in quite a while (and isn't that the whole point of the category?). In his role as the Duke of York, Prince Albert George, who is forced by circumstances to become King George VI, Firth gives the father of England's current monarch a vulnerability needed to portray the man who struggled with a debilitating stammer. Watching his hard work with speech therapist Lionel Logue (Supporting Actor nominee Geoffrey Rush) or being loved by his supportive wife Elizabeth (Supporting Actress nominee Helena Bonham-Carter), is so inspiring and one cannot help but root for the King as he leads his people into World War II. Firth has racked up so many pre-Oscar awards from the Golden Globe to this past weekend's BAFTA (British Academy) that his mantle will seem so empty without the Oscar he is destined to collect come February 27th.
What About the Other Nominees? (There have been upsets before, people!):
Jeff Bridges, who is brilliant as the Coen Brothers' re-imagining of John Wayne's role of Rooster Cogburn, just won this award last year for an equally dynamic (if not better) performance (beating Firth in the process). Even Bridges himself says he plans to just sit back, relax and do the honor of presenting the Best Actress Oscar. James Franco (this year's Oscar co-host), who has won a share of critics' prizes for his role as hiker Aron Ralston in Danny Boyle's powerful yet disturbing 127 Hours, has been really proving himself with real meaty roles like this (Milk, etc.) so it is safe to say he will return to the Oscars someday. Same goes for Jesse Eisenberg, who played Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg with admirable aplomb. Both he and Franco are part of what is now being dubbed "Young Hollywood" and their presence at future awards is inevitable. As for Javier Bardem, his nomination alone for the beloved Spanish-language film was a welcome surprise and he, like Bridges, recently won an Oscar (albeit Supporting) for another chilling performance in a very buzzworthy movie (No Country for Old Men in 2008).
BEST LEADING ACTRESS
And the Nominees are:
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine
Who Will Win?:
Natalie Portman has been raking in almost all of the major pre-Oscar awards and many of the critics have stated that her performance as the tortured ballet dancer in Darren Arronofsky's psychological thriller Black Swan is one of the most emotional and dramatic performances of the year. Even famed critic Roger Ebert said that because she runs a gamut of emotions in the film, Portman gets to "act more" and therefore will be rewarded so. Portman also has the privilege of being young and pretty (something Oscar in this category as really loved in the last decade: Halle Berry, Charlize Theron, Marion Cotillard, etc.). And, on top of that, she is currently pregnant with her first child (yet another thing Oscar loves: a good photo-op!).
Would Not Be Surprised If?:
There is one thing that could trump a good photo-op of a pregnant Portman picking up her Oscar (good alliteration!), and that is the venerable career Oscar. Annette Bening, who won several early critics' prizes for her role as a firm lesbian parent in The Kids Are All Right, is now enjoying her FOURTH Academy Award nomination (her third as Best Actress) and, by several accounts, is due for her moment in the sun as an Oscar winner (especially after losing Best Actress twice to Hilary Swank!). Bening has also been making her rounds on the old standard Oscar campaign trail (Academy lectures, luncheons and, of course, the talk show circuit). Sometimes showing a presence to the Academy is enough to get those votes for marvelous performance.
What About the Other Nominees?:
Nicole Kidman gives what many critics say is a poignant and emotional "comeback" performance and is quite deserving of the nod. Kidman, who won Best Actress in 2003 for her performance in The Hours, suffers from problem that Rabbit Hole is ONLY nominated for Best Actress and it doesn't happen very often for an actress to win this award for the film's ONLY nomination. Michelle Williams, who is beloved by the critics for her performance in Blue Valentine, suffers from the same problem Kidman does (much to the critics' and possibly Ryan Gosling's chagrin). Jennifer Lawrence, like her co-star and Supporting Actor nominee John Hawkes, is just happy to be at the party for her gritty performance in Winter's Bone (a definite critical favorite).
So those are my predictions in the acting categories. Firth and Portman have been collecting every major pre-Oscar award. While it is possible for an upset (more likely in Best Actress), the signs are pointing at the inspiring royal and the damaged dancer to be "crowned" Oscar's best this year. Next week, I will discuss my predictions for the top two prizes at the awards: Best Director and the extremely coveted Best Picture.