Imagine my surprise to find so many of my favorite movies of 2011 up for major Academy Awards this year. Are my tastes becoming more mainstream, or is the Academy getting a clue? But whichever, some surprises in the pre-Oscar awards season and the usual free-for-all resulting from nine Best Picture nominations, ought to make for a lively Oscar show. Time to dust off the ol' crystal ball and make a few fearless predictions.
To my shock and awe, four of my favorite movies, Midnight In Paris, The Artist, Hugo, and The Descendants are all nominated in this category. All four have also scored nominations for their directors, along with (surprise!) Terence Malick for The Tree Of Life. Rounding it out are four also-ran films whose directors weren't nominated: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Help, Moneyball, and War Horse. Last month, the Golden Globes set this up as a photo finish between The Descendants and The Artist (each won a Best Picture Globe in its respective category, Drama and Comedy/Musical), but since then, The Artist has pretty much devoured everything in its path. As much as Hollywood adores George Clooney, the audacious homage of The Artist to Golden Age Hollywood itself may prove irresistible.
And the winner is: The Artist. My favorite: Midnight In Paris.
Martin Scorsese picked up a Globe in this category for Hugo, another loving homage to the early days of moviemaking, but he hasn't repeated the feat at any of the other pre-Oscar award events. Michel Hazanavicius is the front-runner for The Artist, having steamrolled the competition everywhere from the British BAFTA awards to the Hollywood Director's Guild—whose members also vote in the Oscar race. Terence Malick, for the occasionally brilliant but woefully uneven The Tree Of Life, and Alexander Payne, for The Descendants, will just miss the mark. Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris is still my favorite film of the year, but even I would vote for Hazanavicius here, for his sheer chutzpah in getting a black-and-white silent film made at all.
And the winner (and my favorite) is: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist.
Gary Oldman's nomination for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a surprise; his performance is so muted, he practically blends into the wallpaper. He's good, but actors usually have to do something more showy—play an alcoholic, pass as a member of the opposite sex—to get noticed. Another interesting nomination is Demian Bichir, as a Mexican immigrant trying to keep his son out of gang life in the barely-seen A Better Life. Only Brad Pitt in Moneyball is nominated this year for playing an actual historical person (Oakland A's manager Billy Beane). But it looks to be a two-man race between George Clooney (The Descendants) and Jean Dujardin's starmaking turn in The Artist. Both were absolutely terrific; they also split Golden Globe acting prizes for Drama and Comedy/Musical (although Dujardin has won every contest since). It won't break my heart if Clooney wins, but...
The winner (and my favorite) is: Jean Dujardin, The Artist.
Golden Globe co-winners Meryl Streep and the wonderful Michelle Williams were poised to go mano-a-mano for playing Margaret Thatcher (The Iron Lady) and Marilyn Monroe (My Week With Marilyn), respectively. Then Viola Davis won the Screen Actors Guild award as the stoic maid who dares to tell her story in The Help. SAG members also vote for the Oscars, so now all bets are off. (I still think Streep has the momentum here, but don't be surprised if there's an upset.) I thought Glenn Close would be in the running too, for her role in Albert Nobbs, but the film is getting a cooler reception than expected. It's interesting to see Rooney Mara nominated for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but it seems like hindsight after the Academy overlooked the sensational Noomi Rapace in the same role last year in the original Swedish trilogy.
And the winner is: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady. My favorite: Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn.
Christopher Plummer has won every single pre-Oscar prize there is in this category as a 75-year-old widower who comes out as a gay man to his bewildered but loyal son in Beginners. I loved him in this role and I'll be cheering when he takes home the gold. Sorry, Jonah Hill (Moneyball), Kenneth Branagh (My Week With Marilyn), Armie Hammer (J. Edgar), and Nick Nolte (Warrior). And the winner (and my favorite) is: Christopher Plummer, Beginners.
Like Plummer, there has been an absolute consensus throughout the awards season for Octavia Spencer's sassy maid in The Help, and there's no reason to suppose the Academy will choose otherwise. For me, Janet McTeer gave the year's gutsiest performance in Albert Nobbs, outdistancing fellow nominees Berenice Bejo (The Artist), Jessica Chastain (The Help), and Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids). But how could the Academy overlook Shailene Woodley as George Clooney's teenage daughter in The Descendants? She was phenomenal in the role—poised, edgy, and as subtly nuanced as Clooney himself. And, what, no Judi Dench for her gracious Dame Sybil Thorndike in My Week With Marilyn? And the winner is: Octavia Spencer, The Help. My favorite: Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Here's where I think Midnight In Paris may have the edge; not only does the Academy love Woody, but The Artist wasn't nominated in this category by the Writer's Guild—suggesting it might be perceived not so much as an achievement scriptwise as in overall style and panache. Bridesmaids, Margin Call, and the excellent Iranian film, A Separation, round out the category. And the winner (and my favorite) is: Woody Allen, Midnight In Paris.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
And here's where I think The Descendants will pick up its big award of the night, over Hugo (again, not exactly a writer's movie), Clooney's own, The Ides of March, and stiff competition from Moneyball and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
And the winner (and my favorite) is: Alexander Payne, et al, The Descendants.
Look for A Separation to win the Foreign Language award, the artful 3D Hugo to win for Visual Effects, and The Artist to take home the prize for Original Musical Score. I'd go out on a limb and predict The Artist to sweep all the "gorgeous" categories—Cinematography, Art Direction, and Costumes—but I have a hunch Hugo will take at least one of them. (Probably Art Direction.)
The Academy Awards will be broadcast at 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 26, on ABC. Let the games begin!
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