Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My 2011 Academy Award Predictions - Part III

We are less than a week away from Hollywood's annual celebration of the year in films. And I am now on the third and final part of my predictions for the top awards at the ceremony. The past two posts were devoted to the acting awards and I still stand by my predictions (if not too firmly on some of them) that Colin Firth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo will be making their way to the Oscar podium in their respective categories. Now, it is time to talk about the top 2 prizes that everyone REALLY cares about: Best Director and Best Picture.

And the Nominees Are:
Darren Arronofsky, Black Swan
Joel & Ethan Coen, True Grit
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
David O. Russell, The Fighter

Who Will Win?:
Though he did not win the Director's Guild Award (more on that in a bit), David Fincher is still the favorite to take the Best Director prize on Sunday. His masterful eye was put to excellent use in the flow of The Social Network. He used a lot of the same tricks he used in some of his more avant garde films like Se7en, Fight Club and Panic Room. He also does have a previous Oscar pedigree. Though he was never nominated for any of the aforementioned films (a crime by many film-goers standards), he WAS nominated in 2009 for the emotionally stirring (yet critically rejected) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. To many, Fincher is due for Academy recognition.

Would Not Be Surprised If...:
With all that being said about David Fincher, his main competition is the man who beat him to the Director's Guild top prize: Tom Hooper, the British director of The King's Speech. It is widely looked at (by most critics that is) that Hooper's DGA win was an anomaly and just the Hollywood community voicing their love for The King's Speech. But, if the Academy feels that the emotionally powerful period piece should win several of its 12 nominations (in addition to Best Actor, which it deservedly is destined to win), Hooper (like Supporting nominees Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham-Carter) could get caught up in the sweep leaving Fincher and his Social Network team in the dust.

What About the Other Nominees?:
All five (technically six) of these nominees (at one point or another in their respective careers) were considered Hollywood outsiders. Fincher did not get Academy love until Benjamin Button. And Hooper worked for BBC films and primarily directed TV films (like the award-winning HBO films Elizabeth I starring Helen Mirren and John Adams starring Paul Giamatti). As for the others: Darren Arronofsky, like Fincher, has had acclaimed films that have not been recognized by larger award bodies (The Fountainhead, The Wrestler). David O. Russell has often been accused of being temperamental and such a perfectionist that he has clashed with cast members of his previous films (like George Clooney on Three Kings and Lily Tomlin on I Heart Huckabees). And the Coen Brothers seem to have invented (and sometimes perfected) that of the Hollywood outsider, especially with their early films like Blood Simple and Miller's Crossing. All that being said, Arronofsky and Russell are currently too far outside Hollywood's "In Crowd" and the Coens recently triumphed at the Oscars for what many say was their greatest film (in 2008 with No Country For Old Men). This race is between David Fincher and Tom Hooper. Much like their films are vying for Best Picture (but we'll get to that in a bit!).

And WHERE is Christopher Nolan?:
When the nominations were announced on January 25, there was a cry on the blogosphere heard pretty much around the world: Where is Christopher Nolan's Best Director nomination for Inception? To many (and I am certainly included), the summer blockbuster was one of the most inventive, daring and mind-blowingly provocative films of the year and director-writer Christopher Nolan was largely responsible for its artistry. Unfortunately, his name was NOT amongst the nominees for Best Director. Conspiracy theories filled the blogosphere saying that the Academy does not like genre films, especially genre films that make a lot of money, like Inception. And while that may be true, I would like to give voice to a theory I heard from very few critics but I believe is the real reason behind the snub. While Inception was an artistic wonder from left to right (even in its stellar cast!), compared to the five films that DID get Director nods, Inception is more visually driven than it is character driven (something which all five films nominated are). I realize I may be upsetting several of my fellow fans of the film by saying this, but I would remind them that I believe Inception was one of the best films of the year and no matter how you look at it: Christopher Nolan was snubbed!

And the Nominees Are:
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

Intro to Category Breakdown:
Like last year, the Academy has retained the expansion of the category from 5 films to 10. And all 10 of these films were widely acclaimed either by critics or audiences (or both). Unlike last year, where the category's final prize was a wide open race until the final weeks leading up to the ceremony, this year's race has been narrowed down to basically two films contending for the top honor. And either one can take the prize (depending on which pundit you choose to ask!)...

The King's Speech vs. The Social Network
When it comes to this year's Best Picture race, it is contemporary computer geeks versus pre-World War II British royalty. The two films could not be more different, yet they are very similar. Both are films about real life people and both films' "truths" have been called into question by various people. Plus, both films are about men who have difficulty communicating: one through a debilitating stammer and the other through his personality and social demeanor (or lack of one).

When the various critics groups started giving their awards out back in mid-Fall 2010, The Social Network was doing the unthinkable: winning every Best Film prize in sight. Usually the critics are very divided on what is the best film of the year (in 2009, both Up in the Air and eventual Oscar winner The Hurt Locker had the critics groups almost evenly split). But by January 2011, The Social Network seemed unstoppable winning both the Golden Globe and the Critics' Choice Award in the process. And then, overnight almost, the wind changed. The Producer's Guild of America, usually the best barometer to see which film might end up Oscar-bound, chose The King's Speech as the Best Film of the year. Hollywood pundits sat slack-jawed as the British period drama also picked up the Director's Guild award (for Tom Hooper) and the Screen Actor's Guild award for Best Ensemble Cast (that ceremony's top award). As the pundits picked themselves up, the Academy announced their nominations and The King's Speech received the most nods with 12 nominations (same amount of nominations previous Best Picture winners Mrs. Miniver, On the Waterfront, Ben-Hur, My Fair Lady, Dances With Wolves, Schindler's List and The English Patient each received). The Social Network, the clear critical favorite, received only 8 nominations.

With this turn of events in Hollywood, the signs have begun to point towards a possible sweep for the period piece (a genre that was often favored by the Academy in the past, though not in recent years interestingly enough). You see, while critics may carry weight in Hollywood throwing their reviews around as if they were judgments from on high, they alas are not voting members of the Academy (only a few high-profile critics retain that honor). The various Guilds, however, make up for more than 90% of the Academy's voting members. Therefore, the lines have been drawn and it has come down to the inevitable Critics Vs. Hollywood. We've seen this before (in 1995 when Forrest Gump swept Pulp Fiction aside and in 1999 when Shakespeare In Love surprised everyone in defeating Saving Private Ryan). It is the emotionally stirring film that may have struck a chord with the Academy and so, The King's Speech is the strong frontrunner to take the Best Picture prize (though The Social Network could still pull off a win that will both upset and delight many).

The Rest of the Category
With the expansion to 10 films, there are at least 3 films that we can safely say would NEVER have been nominated if the category were its "more traditional" 5 films. Though very acclaimed, 127 Hours, The Kids Are All Right and Winter's Bone fit that bill. Moreover, summer blockbusters like Toy Story 3 and Inception (my personal favorite!) most likely would have had a hard time getting into a smaller category because they are genres that normally have NOT been recognized by Oscar in the past (save for The Lord of the Rings in 2004!). The other three nominees (Black Swan, True Grit and The Fighter) would have had better shots in weaker years. Unfortunately, they are dwarfed by the competition from the two films that have (together) swept all the awards.

What does all this mean? I mean, I could be wrong. Annette Bening and Hailee Steinfeld could find themselves with Oscars on Sunday. The Social Network and The King's Speech could end up cancelling each other out and Inception wins in a sympathy sweep (that would be OK with me!). What it means is that predicting these awards is not an exact science, which I believe is the way many members of the Academy like it. They like keeping their picks secret and they enjoy that shock and awe as the winners are announced on Oscar night. So I, like the rest of you, will watch the ceremony Sunday night and (hopefully) be pleasantly surprised by what the Academy has in store for its worldwide audience.

MY FINAL PREDICTIONS (for the major awards)
Best Picture: The King's Speech
Best Director: David Fincher, The Social Network
Best Actor: Colin Firth, The King's Speech
Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Best Animated Feature Film: Toy Story 3
Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Best Original Screenplay: David Seidler, The King's Speech

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