Filling Out an Oscar Pool: My Thoughts on the 2011 Academy Awards

Just thought I would check in real quick before the big (albeit overindulgent and garrulous) ceremony on the 27th to do a rudimentary survey of good old Oscar’s nominations for the best of 2010. Yes, we here at MovieFanFare do a yearly Oscar office pool, and I’ve never won, so I’m hoping for a miracle this year. Most of the time when this little contest rolls around, I have not yet seen most of the nominees due to studios holding their big guns for release late in the year to be at the forefront of voters’ minds come awards time.Now, with the “illustrious” Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences venturing to bestow ten films a year with Best Picture nominations, the challenge to see everything is even greater.

However, having said that, I’m proud to state that I’ve been able to catch most of the honored nominees this year, at least in the major categories, and have even seen nine of the ten Best Picture hopefuls. Toy Story 3 is the only one I missed out on, and that one doesn’t even really count: 1. because I really don’t do the animated-family thing, and 2. it has absolutely zero shot at winning because it will already take the trophy for Best Animated Feature. Anyway, I can honestly say that this year’s crop is much more impressive than last year’s, overall. I still to this day haven’t forced myself to sit through Precious: Based On The Novel “Push” By Sapphire (just taking the time to type that out made me angry) and The Blind Side. So, here are my thoughts on our office pool and how the always infuriating Oscars will go down:

OK, so our pool demands that we pick a winner in every category, with the main categories, Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor and Actress, Director, and Adapted and Original screenplays being weighted (a whole extra point) to try to keep the winner from being a lucky guesser. However, it IS the minor categories that still wind up making or breaking a pool. Regardless, I’ll solely concentrate on the major categories for this piece or we’d be here all day. Besides, they’re the only ones most people really care about, anyway.

So, I’m not going to keep everyone in suspense or save the best for last. Therefore, let’s get right to Best Picture… The nominees are (gasp, deep breath): Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The King’s Speech, 127 Hours, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit and Winter’s Bone. Personally, I truly feel that Christopher Nolan’s Inception was the best film of the year. If it was up to me, Nolan would already have Oscars for Memento, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Sadly, the fact that he didn’t even receive a nod in the director category combined with the dreams-within-dreams-within-dreams concept of the film truly befuddling many folks out there means that Inception has no shot at winning. It’s a pity. For the record, while the movie was certainly complex, I felt it to be perfectly organized and capable of being followed (despite my father’s objections) and I LOVED the ending, as opposed to some. Additionally, it’s one of the most creative films I’ve seen in a long time. Oh well, winning a pool isn’t about picking one’s favorites, necessarily.

Moving on, any film buff who hasn’t been living under a rock knows that Best Picture is a two-horse race between The King’s Speech and The Social Network, with the latter taking home the Golden Globe and The King’s Speech gaining momentum with some more recent awards. As my colleague Gary Cahall interestingly pointed out in his article, the Academy loves awarding films with a decidedly English setting, meaning that TKS should earn the statue. It’s certainly a worthy film and one I liked more than I thought I would. Voters seem to love films that deal with real people, and the story of the United Kingdom’s King George VI overcoming an incredible stammer in his speech to eventually become the voice of the resistance in the days before and during WWII is a compelling one. However, The Social Network I believe is still the odds-on favorite, and the Academy also loves films that deal with timely matters, as evidenced by last year’s win for The Hurt Locker over the far superior (in my honest opinion) Avatar (I took a real beating on that one in last year’s pool). Let’s face it, whether anyone is a Facebook member or not, no one can get away from it. The social networking site has changed communication and the world forever, and besides, the film, focusing on Facebook founder and creator Mark Zuckerberg’s personal and business dealings, is great. So, that’s probably going to be my pick.

Moving on to Best Actor… Remember, for the most part I have to play the odds, and Colin Firth is a slam dunk for The King’s Speech. Anyone who has seen the film knows it’s easily the most challenging performance of the five. Playing someone with a speech impediment convincingly can’t be easy. Plus, he lost last year for his performance in A Single man. It’s kind of a shame because James Franco is fantastic as Aron Ralston in 127 Hours, the true-life tale of the adventurer who went rock-climbing in the desolate mountains of Utah and got trapped literally between a rock and a hard place and had to make the ultimate sacrifice to survive. It also could not have been easy for Franco to play the role largely by himself without any co-stars to play off of, and I can honestly see an “honorary” Oscar (which the Academy loves to bestow) in his future. Also, everyone seems to be automatically dismissing Javier Bardem for his foreign-language performance, and while I have yet to see Biutiful, such a role is certainly not exempt from an Oscar. In fact, it has even happened very recently with Penelope Cruz winning for Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Marion Cotillard taking home the prize for La Vie En Rose, so I really don’t get the logic there. Maybe it has more to do with the fact that Bardem won recently for No Country For Old Men. That’s a little more understandable. Jeff Bridges is very solid in the Coen Brothers’ remake of True Grit as Rooster Cogburn, but he has no shot, especially with already winning last year for Crazy Heart, and Jesse Eisenberg (or the other Michael Cera, as everyone likes to call him, though Jesse is actually the better actor) is probably a distant fifth for The Social Network. It’s OK, I think TSN is going to have plenty of opportunities to take home trophies.

Best Actress… Well, I actually haven’t been able to catch Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole or Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine, yet. I’m dying to see the latter because it’s right up my alley. I actually went to see the film, about the darker side of a romantic relationship, but the day I went to see it was actually the day my local theater pulled it from their screens. It’s OK, I saw 127 Hours, instead. Anyway, even with my lack of knowledge on the two aforementioned performances, I doubt it will matter. The young Jennifer Lawrence was pretty brilliant in Winter’s Bone, which was another great film, about a girl searching for her father of less than stellar character somewhere in a backwoods town in the Ozarks of Missouri, and no matter what anyone tells me, there’s nothing that can be said to convince me that real things like that DON’T go on in real life up there. Unfortunately, none of this will matter either, because she’s not going to win. That brings me to… Natalie Portman and Black Swan… meh, the film was certainly good, but I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would. However, her portrayal of a ballet dancer losing her mind is effective, and she has become one of America’s sweethearts (hey, why not? I have to admit to a crush on her, as well), much like Sandra Bullock, last year’s winner, so it’s probably going to go to her. Some pundits believe that Annette Bening will be honored for her role in The Kids Are All Right… Actually, the kids aren’t all right… OK, maybe I should take that back. It was a fine film, and I’m really starting to like that Mia Wasikowska and Yaya DaCosta, but the movie was probably my least favorite of all the nominees, and Bening’s role didn’t seem all that challenging to me compared to the others. The real reason folks think she’ll win (which isn’t unthinkable) is that she’s another one who has been nominated multiple times (The Grifters, American Beauty, and Being Julia) and never won. But, Portman also has other factors on her side. In the last year she has gotten engaged and pregnant, so voters will probably want to cap off a “perfect year” for her. She did also supposedly work on becoming an accomplished dancer for about a full year beforehand, so she probably “deserves” it more. It looks like I’m sticking with her.

Best Supporting Actor… This is another one that isn’t close. There’s no way Christian Bale doesn’t win for The Fighter. It’s in the bag, as they say. Taking a step back, I could see him losing some votes to Geoffrey Rush as the speech therapist in The King’s Speech because the role is definitely a charming and likable one. But, Bale won the Golden Globe and he’s been around a while, going all the way back to Steven Spielberg’s Empire Of The Sun. What’s funny about The Fighter is that so many folks out there aren’t aware that it’s based on the true story of junior welterweight boxer “Irish” Micky Ward (played by Mark Wahlberg) and his brother Dicky Eklund (Bale), who was also a professional who will never let anyone forget that he once fought “Sugar” Ray Leonard. The trailer for the film doesn’t even play up this angle, which was a huge mistake as far as I’m concerned. The thing about Bale is that he’s becoming one of those guys, right up there with the likes of Daniel Day Lewis, who’s capable of completely becoming a different person on film. Bale is almost unrecognizable as Eklund, and people can look to his turn in The Machinist for another example. I’m happy for John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone) getting attention, and equally so for Jeremy Renner getting another nod for The Town (his time is probably coming), but this is Bale’s year.

Best Supporting Actress… Ask anyone who regularly bets on sports or horses, and they’ll say that anyone who always picks the favorite will never make much money. Therefore, here’s where I’ll have to start mixing it up a bit. I’m going with the dark horse in this category: Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit. This, for some reason, seems to often be the most unpredictable category, so I have a shot here. Melissa Leo, as Micky Ward’s mother in The Fighter, is probably the favorite. She also won the precursory Golden Globe, but Steinfeld wasn’t nominated alongside her. The young Steinfeld, all of fourteen years old in her first theatrically released feature, completely carries True Grit, participating in almost every scene, as the put upon teen who recruits Rooster Cogburn to exact revenge on the man responsible for her father’s death. She’s fantastic in the film, voters love to give supporting awards to kids (Tatum O’Neal, Anna Paquin…, Jack Palance?), and if Steinfeld doesn’t win, True Grit may get shut out. The Academy loves the Coen Brothers, so I doubt anyone wants that to happen. Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom (haven’t seen it), the solid Helena Bonham Carter for TKS, and the darling Amy Adams (with a great Boston accent in The Fighter) don’t have a snowball’s chance in H-E-double hockey sticks.

I have to hedge my bets and go with David Fincher for Best Director with The Social Network. This award often (not always) goes hand-in-hand with Best Picture, and even if TKS wins over TSN, I think Fincher would still have a chance for this trophy. Again, he would already have at least one if it was up to me (Se7en?, Fight Club?).

I really want to vote for Inception for Best Original Screenplay, but to my dismay, it’s in there with TKS so I don’t think I can do that. I will be very upset if Inception gets shut out, but I think it could get a handful of the technical awards, maybe even cinematography. I’m going to have to pick it for something. TSN will win Best Adapted Screenplay, though, that race could be a little tighter. Maybe 127 Hours or Winter’s Bone gets a consolation prize? Anyway, that’s about it. The only other thing I want to say is that the moment I’m most anticipating is the award for Best Documentary Feature. The only film I’ve seen is the exceptionally entertaining Exit Through The Gift Shop (about “graffiti artists,” and I’ll say no more), and I really hope it wins. I’m dying to see if the mysterious director known as Banksy reveals himself to accept the award (though, I seriously doubt it). If it does win, the “acceptance speech” is sure to be something that totally baffles a lot of people… and that’s a good thing. So, until then, enjoy the show.

Addendum: Well, as everyone can see, I got it completely wrong (for not the first or the last time). My deliberate risk-taking simply didn’t pay off, as there weren’t any surprises. Rolling the dice on Hailee Steinfeld didn’t quite pan out. Furthermore, my refusal to jump on the momentum bandwagon that became a runaway train in the form of The King’s Speech was ultimately my undoing. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. There’s always next year.