The glitziest, sparkliest, razzle-dazziest, and longest night in the film calendar returns on Sunday February 27th to crown the best films and performances of the year. Or so they would have you believe. Oscar has, undeniably, had some major cock-ups when it has come to dishing out its gongs in the past. The academy believed Kevin Costner to be a superior director for Dances With Wolves than Martin Scorsese for Goodfellas. Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan to Best Picture. And then there was Titanic.
Still, they have been improving in recent years. The academy used to possess a particular set of traits. Their members suffered from short term memory, so that almost nothing before the October to February window had a look in come nominations. They used to lack a sense of humour, comedy being looked down upon in favour of more sophisticated ‘dramatic’ pictures. Animated features fared worse, presumably through the assumption that they were for kids. And blockbusters were a no-no.
On the surface at least, this year’s ‘noms’ appear marginally more thought through. This after Kathryn Bigelow became the first female recipient of a Best Director Oscar last year – it took long enough. So, what’s likely to be clinching the gongs at this year’s ceremony and what films and performances have been gravely overlooked completely?
This year Toy Story 3 follows its animated predecessors Beauty and the Beast, WALL-E and Up, to be nominated for Best Film, Inception proves a blockbuster with smarts can get shortlisted, and The Kids are All Right (although balancing serious themes of same sex parents and sperm donors) shows that comedy can receive recognition. But if past years are anything to go by, a Best Film nomination may be the best these do on the night.
Other outside bets include 127 Hours, True Grit (directors Danny Boyle and the Coen Brothers won recently with Slumdog Millionaire and No Country for Old Men, which might prevent them from winning again this year), The Fighter (a fine, if unmemorable boxing film), Winter’s Bone (the token ‘indie’ nod) and Black Swan, whose mix of trashy melodrama, psychological horror, and body horror a la Cronenberg may be a tad too weird to triumph.
The more likely candidates to win on the night are The Social Network and The King’s Speech. The former, directed by David Fincher and with a dazzling screenplay by West Wing scribe, Aaron Sorkin, is the telling of the birth of Facebook. It won Best Film at the Golden Globes and has the advantage of being ‘relevant’. Meanwhile, The King’s Speech swept the boards at the BAFTAs and now has momentum going into this weekend. Oh, and the academy love a British costume drama.
What’s missing?: Oscar’s dubious ruling that foreign language films must dwell in another category persists, which means that stellar films like Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Dogtooth are all shunned from the limelight.
The biggest shock on the night will be if Colin Firth (or ‘King Colin’ as he has been re-christened by many) doesn’t walk away with Best Actor for his performance as stuttering George VI in The King’s Speech. His competition, doomed to adopt their “I’m really pleased for you, Colin” loser’s faces when the result is announced, are Jesse Eisenberg as egomaniac and socially inept Facebook co-founder, Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, Javier Bardem for his role in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Biutiful, Jeff Bridges, looking to do the double after winning last year for his performance as a washed-up, drunkard country singer in Crazy Heart, this year playing a washed-up, drunkard wild west marshal in True Grit – well, it worked once. Finally there’s James Franco, nominated for 127 Hours, who is also hosting which could make for a wonderfully awkward exchange where he presents the award to himself.
Who’s missing?: Nicolas Cage’s gloriously crazed performance in Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant is at least worth a nomination.
Could this be the year where an actress playing an aspiring ballet dancer who, pressured by her over-bearing mother, systematically turns into a swan, win the award for Best actress? It’s been a long time coming but Natalie Portman looks set to do just that for her breathtaking transformation in Black Swan. Her nearest competition comes from Annette Bening for The Kids Are All Right and Jennifer Lawrence for her breakthrough performance in Winter’s Bone.
Who’s missing?: Noomi Rapace’s stoic performance in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was assured and often mesmeric. It was good enough for BAFTA, but not, it seems, for the Academy.
Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale and Geoffrey Rush lead the way in this category for their roles as a crack-addicted former boxer (in The Fighter) and vocal coach for the King of England (in The King’s Speech) respectively. Elsewhere, Mark Ruffalo impresses as a lothario organic farmer in The Kids Are All Right, playing the sperm donor who is contacted out of the blue by his son and daughter. John Hawkes receives recognition for his role as Jennifer Lawrence’s unstable Uncle helping her unravel the mysteries surrounding her father’s disappearance in Winter’s Bone. And Jeremy Renner’s second Oscar nom in as many years is for playing Ben Affleck’s brother in The Town.
Who’s missing?: Kavyan Novak (best known to Phone/Facejacker fans) is great as a wannabe terrorist in Chris Morris’ darkly comic satire, Four Lions. And Andrew Garfield shone in The Social Network.
Best Supporting Actress
The Fighter is strongly represented in this category with nods to Amy Adams and Melissa Leo for their assured performances. Adams is a far cry from Disney Princess as boxer Mark Wahlberg’s potty-mouthed girlfriend who has her own fair share of fisticuffs with Leo playing Wahlberg’s mother. Also nominated is Helena Bonham Carter who clinched the BAFTA for her role as stiff-upper-lipped Queen Mum in The King’s Speech.
But why is Hailee Steinfeld nominated here for True Grit? Correct me if I’m wrong, but there aren’t any other actresses in the entire film so how come she isn’t recognised as the ‘Leading Actress’? Oh Oscar, will you never learn.
Who’s missing?: Barbara Hershey’s maniacal and unsettling turn as Natalie Portman’s molly-coddling mum in Black Swan is standout, as is Lesley Manville in Mike Leigh’s ensemble dramedy, Another Year.
Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), Joel and Ethan Coen (True Grit), David Fincher (The Social Network), Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) and David O’Russell (The Fighter) are the five directors shortlisted. Fincher is probably the safest bet after missing out, thankfully, a couple of years ago for helming annoyingly self-important, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Who’s missing?: Christopher Nolan misses out again, this year for Inception.