Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It definitely will be good to be 'The King'

Here's a bit of heresy from a film critic: I've never cared much about the Academy Awards. Over the span of a 30-year career writing about movies, I've rattled on about Oscar, but seldom with a major rooting interest.

Why is that, you ask?

Glad you brought it up. The Academy Awards basically are a way for Hollywood to assure the public that it's doing exceptional work. To which I (and you) should say, "We'll be the judges of that."

Besides, we've already had a slew of critics' association awards, the Golden Globes and the various guild awards (directors, writers, cinematographers, etc.). By the time Oscar rolls around, it can feel as if we're walking through an orchard where all the apples have been picked.

OK, so the biggest apples still hang from the tree, but you know what I'm saying: Amid so much TV coverage, journalism and end-of-the-year hype, Oscar can feel almost anti-climactic.

Nonetheless, critics face an annual ritual in which they dutifully predict the winners in major categories, so I'll oblige by following suit, mostly as a way of reminding you that the Oscar ceremonies are coming up this Sunday. And let me add one note about predictions: I sincerely hope I'm wrong in several categories; I'd rather be surprised than right as Hollywood plods through what sometimes feels like an interminable orgy of self-congratulation.


Will win: The King's Speech

Should win: The Social Network

The King's Speech tells the story of how George VI overcame his stutter to give a speech that rallied a nation on the eve of World War II. Although Social Network started as the frontrunner and walked away with top honors from most critics' associations, it seems to have faded in favor of a more traditional choice.

The travails of a monarch and the man who helped him overcome his speech impediment probably will triumph over the entrepreneurial exploits of Mark Zuckerberg, one of the inventors of Facebook.

And why not? Shouldn't a story that amounts to little more than a footnote in history trump a picture about a phenomenon that has altered human behavior and may have provided a platform for upsetting power balances in North Africa and the Middle East?

I'm sure you can tell how I feel about it, but instead of a vote, my only recourse is facetiousness and a bit of sarcasm. I enjoyed The King's Speech. But best picture? Not in my world.


Will win: Colin Firth, The King's Speech

Should win: Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network

The other nominees in this category -- Javier Bardem , Biutiful; Jeff Bridges, True Grit; and James Franco, 127 Hours - don't really stand a chance. Firth, nominated previously for his work in A Single Man, seems to have been leading this race from the outset, and won't likely relinquish the No. 1 spot.

There's no denying the power of Firth's achievement as the stammering King George. But consider what Eisenberg accomplished: He made an unlikeable character into someone we couldn't take our eyes off. In playing Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, Eisenberg created an indelible portrait of what happens when a nerd (and maybe the smartest guy in the room) winds up making billions.

And don't overlook Franco, either. He gave what amounted to a solo performance as Aron Ralston, a young man who amputated his own arm in order to survive entrapment in a Utah canyon.


Will win: Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Should win: Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Portman will beat her competitors: Annette Bening , The Kids Are All Right; Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole; Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone; and Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine.

Portman gave everything she had to play a disturbed ballerina in Darren Aronofsky's mesmerizing Black Swan. If Portman loses, it probably will be to Bening, who has plenty of old-pro cred. Bening played one half of a lesbian couple in The Kids Are All Right, a movie that - at least in my view - has been vastly overrated, but voters may be included to reward her for an impressive career.


Will win: Christian Bale, The Town

Should win: Jeremy Renner, The Town

I like all the nominees in this category, but Bale's performance as a meth-addicted former boxer from Lowell, Mass., will carry the day. It's the showiest performance in a strong field that includes: John Hawkes, Winter's Bone; Renner, The Town, Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right and Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech.

John Hawkes (Winter's Bone) played a meth-dealing Ozark man who could be both scary and sympathetic. Many jaws will drop if Hawkes were to win, but I'm thinking that voters will consider his dark-horse nomination sufficient reward.

And, yes, Rush remains a distinct possibility, particular if The King's Speech has coattails.

Why do I cast my vote for Renner? The guy scared the daylights out of me as an unrepentant thug in The Town.


Will win: Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

Should win: Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Young actresses sometimes beat vets in this category. A Steinfeld victory supposedly became more likely when voters expressed displeasure over the fact that Melissa Leo of The Fighter reportedly campaigned for votes. Moreover, some observers think that Amy Adams and Leo, both nominated for the same movie, will split the voters.

Other nominees:; Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech and Weaver, Animal Kingdom.

I'd vote for Weaver who played the mother of a Melbourne crime family in Animal Kingdom. She gave a memorable performance, embodying equal amounts of motherly love and evil.


Will win: Tom Hooper, The King's Speech

Should win: David Fincher, The Social Network

Hooper won the Director's Guild of America's top award, which almost always goes to the same director who winds up winning the Oscar. Hooper's competition: Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan; Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, True Grit; and David O. Russell, The Fighter.

I don't know how the tide turned on The Social Network, but if Fincher loses, he'll have been robbed. He made what could have been a dry story fascinating, and his task was much more difficult than Hooper's; Hooper directed what sometimes feels like a play on film.


Will win: Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network

Should win: Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network

Sorkin did a masterful job with a literate and entertaining script. He'll beat, Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, 127 Hours; Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich, Toy Story 3; Joel & Ethan Coen, True Grit; and Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini, Winter's Bone.

But a word must be said about 127 Hours. Boyle and Beaufoy made something riveting out of a story about a guy stuck in a hole in the ground in the middle of nowhere. Quite an achievement.


Will win: David Seidler, The King's Speech

Should win: Mike Leigh, Another Year

Inception was nominated for best picture, and lots of folks thought its director - Christopher Nolan - should have found his way onto the best-director's list. The Academy could use this category to make up for a snub, a possibility that became more likely after The Writers Guild of America gave Nolan its top honor. Still, it's even more likely that Seidler will be swept to victory as part of the rising King's Speech tide. Other nominees: Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, The Fighter; Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg, The Kids Are All Right.

Another Year is the most adult movie in the bunch, but I don't think Leigh has much of a chance.


Will win: Inside Job

Should win: Restrepo

The other nominees are Exit Through the Gift Shop; Gasland; and Waste Land.

I can't get past the fact that directors Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger risked life and limb to make Restrepo, a deeply moving and sometimes frightening look at soldiers fighting in Afghanistan; I'm thinking (maybe "hoping" is a better word) that the Academy will recognize the power and importance of their achievement, even though most prognosticators seem to favor Inside Job, a terrific look at the recent financial meltdown.

Odds and ends. Toy Story 3 will win best-animated feature. Incendies (from Canada) seems the best bet in the foreign-language film category.

Best song? Do you care? I can't say that I do. So I'm going to stop right here and invite you to make your own picks. But I need to amend something I said earlier: I do have a rooting interest. I root for Oscar to be over so we can get back to going to the movies instead of wondering who's going to bore us with an interminable list of people who must be thanked.

Put another way: I love watching movies. Award shows? Not so much.

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