With all the pomp and circumstance on display, it might be easy to confuse Sunday’s Oscar telecast with a coronation. The only question is, who will the sovereign be?
With all the pomp and circumstance on display, it might be easy to confuse Sunday’s Oscar telecast with a coronation. The only question is, who will the sovereign be? Will it be the 20th-century monarch with a hitch in his voice, or will it be the 21st-century sire of a kingdom called Facebook? The two couldn’t be more different. One is distinctively British, the other unmistakably American. One is opulent and classy, the other is gritty and thought-provoking. But it’s what “The King’s Speech” and “The Social Network” share that’s led them to the cusp of immortality, and that something is excellence.
I love both movies deeply, but I love “The Social Network” a smidgen more. But when the average age of the cast is somewhere south of 30, movies seldom stand a chance of winning the big prize. Just ask the producers of “American Graffiti” and “Brokeback Mountain,” both of which deserved to win in their particular years, but lost to “The Sting” and “Crash,” respectively.
Now, I’m not saying those two films were bad; they just weren’t the cultural touchstones that “American Graffiti” and “Brokeback Mountain” proved to be. I fear a similar fate awaits “The Social Network,” a film I guarantee will be remembered 10, 20, 30, maybe 40 years from now, long after “The King’s Speech” is reduced to an answer to a trivia question.
Yes, I expect to be disappointed when the best picture Oscar is passed out (likely after midnight) Sunday, but I’ll still be glued to the tube. This is the Oscars, damn it, and where else are you gonna hear so much jewelry rattling and so many egotistical people blathering? I swear some actors give their best performances when they step to the podium and pretend to be humble. It’s great stuff. What’s not so great is the ridiculous decision to have James Franco and Anne Hathaway host the event. Both can be funny, but neither is a comedian. And neither will have the courage to do what Ricky Gervais did at the Golden Globes by hilariously putting pompous prigs in their places.
No, I fear a snooze fest. But, again, I wouldn’t miss it for the world. No way am I passing up watching a very preggers Natalie Portman waddling up to collect her best actress award. And I certainly don’t want to miss Lowell’s own Dicky Eklund likely joining Christian Bale on stage when he accepts the best supporting actor award. Perhaps Dicky will also accompany Melissa Leo when she’s handed her best supporting actress Oscar. After all, she played Dicky’s mother in “The Fighter.”
What I’m not looking forward to is Colin Firth accepting his best actor award. Nice guy, but he’s stiffer than the ruler he played, King George VI. The only surprise that could possibly spice it up is if Queen Elizabeth herself joins Firth on stage in support of the actor who played her dad. And like Dicky, she liked how Hollywood portrayed her family, reportedly telling the London rags that she was “very moved” by the movie and Firth’s performance.
Of course, Her Ladyship didn’t show up a few years ago when Helen Mirren won an Oscar for playing her, so why show up now? Still, I’ll bet she’ll stay up late watching the telly Sunday to witness a new king take the crown. It would only be fitting.
And, by chance, Her Majesty is in the Oscar pool at Buckingham Palace, her, and you, should take heed of my picks in the major categories. But first let me remind you that gambling is illegal and my picks are often as reliable as Bernie Madoff. That said, here we go:
Best supporting actress
The nominees: Amy Adams, “The Fighter”; Helena Bonham Carter, “The King’s Speech”; Melissa Leo, “The Fighter”; Hailee Steinfeld, “True Grit”; Jacki Weaver, “Animal Kingdom.”
Who should win: Leo was great as the pugilistic matriarch from hell in “The Fighter,” but Adams was even more spectacular as the curvy and vociferous thorn in the ol’ gal’s side.
Who will win: Leo has won every award in sight (Golden Globe, Critic’s Choice and Screen Actor’s Guild) for her electrifying work as the tough, hard-drinking mother bear in “The Fighter,” and I don’t see any indication that her domination won’t continue.
Best supporting actor
The nominees: Christian Bale, “The Fighter”; John Hawkes, “Winter’s Bone”; Jeremy Renner, “The Town”; Mark Ruffalo, “The Kids Are All Right”; Geoffrey Rush, “The King’s Speech.”
Who should win: If you stuck around for “The Fighter’s” final credits, you caught a glimpse of the real Dicky Eklund goofing with his half-brother, Micky Ward. And what strikes you about that little clip is how precisely Christian Bale captured both Dicky’s spirit and his amiable personality. As if Bale’s portrayal of the recovering crack addict wasn’t already terrific enough, that cemented it.
Who will win: There’s been a late push behind Geoffrey Rush for his portrayal of the Australian-born therapist who helps give a stuttering monarch his voice in “The King’s Speech.” Last week, he won the British equivalent of the Oscar, the BAFTA, and he also could benefit greatly from what’s shaping up to be a “King’s Speech” love fest this Sunday. But I believe Bale’s momentum is just too strong to stem.
The nominees: Annette Bening, “The Kids Are All Right”; Nicole Kidman, “Rabbit Hole”; Jennifer Lawrence, “Winter’s Bone”; Natalie Portman, “Black Swan”; Michelle Williams, “Blue Valentine.”
Who should win: Up until Thanksgiving, Annette Bening was a lock for her funny, heartbreaking turn as a woman frustrated by her children and her lesbian wife. But then along came Natalie Portman in “Black Swan” to say “tutu bad, Annette, that trophy’s mine.” And how can you argue? It was work far superior to anything she’s done, bringing style, grace and just the right amount of madness to a part that saw no equal in 2010.
Who will win: Just about every awards’ group agrees, and that’s why I think Portman will dance off with the Oscar. But while you’re admiring her bulbous baby bump, remember Bening, who for the third time will finish second to an ingénue in the best actress category. She’s previously lost twice to Hilary Swank. Oh, well, there’s always next year.
The nominees: Javier Bardem, “Biutiful”; Jeff Bridges, “True Grit”; Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”; Jesse Eisenberg, “The Social Network”; James Franco, “127 Hours.”
Who should win: The category should be a slam dunk for Jesse Eisenberg, but for some reason he’s not getting the love he deserves on the awards circuit. And for the life of me, I can’t understand why. The guy was flawless as Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg, capturing every facet of the man from his nerdiness to his brilliance, while also evoking Zuckerberg’s uncanny ability to be both a lost puppy and an arrogant SOB.
Who will win: While Colin Firth dug nowhere near as deep as Eisenberg, the classy Brit will walk off with the award for no other reason than that he’s a classy Brit. He also has age on his side, considering few men younger than 30 have have won the award.
The nominees: Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan”; Joel and Ethan Coen, “True Grit”; David Fincher, “The Social Network”; Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech”; David O. Russell, “The Fighter.”
Who should win: Fincher was quietly making fascinating movies for more than a decade when along came his one-two punch of “Zodiac” and “Benjamin Button” to establish himself as an A-list director. And along with that clout comes high expectations, which he met and far surpassed with “The Social Network.” Not only did he compellingly depict the sordid tale behind the founding of Facebook, but also made it a haunting reflection on us as a gadget-obsessed society.
Who will win: Fincher may have lost to “Speech’s” Tom Hooper at the directors’ guild awards, but I firmly believe things will be different at the Oscars, where the entire electorate (not just directors) will be casting ballots. That includes the members of SAG, the most powerful of the motion picture guilds. And we all know how actors feel about an “actor’s director” like Fincher. I’m telling you, he’s a lock.
The nominees: “Black Swan,” “The Fighter,” “Inception,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “The King’s Speech,” “127 Hours,” “The Social Network,” “Toy Story 3,” “True Grit,” “Winter’s Bone.”
Who should win: “The Social Network” was so far superior in relevance, craftsmanship and daring to its nine competitors that this category shouldn’t even be close. The movie had everything: great writing, superb acting and a story so gripping that you almost forgot to breathe. It was also the most artistic, in that it was clearly the work of an auteur in Fincher.
Who will win: Art, however, is seldom what the Academy is about. It’s always been more about what’s safe, crowning the picture that’s the least controversial and the most easy to like. Movies like “The King’s Speech,” which will have its coronation Sunday night. And with its ascension comes the realization that the Academy will once again reward the wrong film, sadly putting “The Social Network” in the same boat as previous head-slapping snubs like “Inglourious Bastards,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Sideways,” “Brokeback Mountain” and “L.A. Confidential.”
The nominees: “127 Hours,” “The Social Network,” “Toy Story 3,” “True Grit,” “Winter’s Bone.”
Who should win: Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay for “The Social Network” is so far above the other four scripts that this category rates as a “no-brainer.” Combining social commentary and a Shakespearean-like tale of power and greed into the confines of a courtroom drama, Sorkin created the most riveting tale I’ve seen in years.
Who will win: Duh, Aaron Sorkin for “The Social Network.”
The nominees: “Another Year,” “The Fighter,” “Inception,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “The King’s Speech.”
Who should win: It’s perplexing how Christopher Nolan’s script for “Inception” and the hoard of writers behind “The Fighter” got in here, but it’s of little matter because both stand zero chance of winning. The other three, however, are infinitely deserving and it’s a shame two of them must lose. But David Seidler’s meticulous work on “The King’s Speech” is just too hard to pass up. The movie was funny, moving and, yes, fit for a king.
Who will win: The story behind David Seidler’s decades-long determination to get “The King’s Speech” made is just too hard for voters to resist. A former stutterer himself, Seidler grew up in England listening to King George VI on the radio, drawing inspiration and the knowledge that speech impediments can be overcome. He even sought, and won, the Queen Mother’s blessing to pen the screenplay – but not until after her death. Little did he know she would live past age 100. Yet, he persevered, and now comes his much deserved reward.
The nominees: “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” “Gasland,” “Inside Job,” “Restrepo,” “Waste Land.”
What should win: Some strange choices here that come at the expense of much better documentaries like “Marwencol” and “Sweetgrass,” but they did get “Inside Job” right. It was the best documentary I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a lot of them) about the 2008 financial meltdown. Told with clarity that even a 10-year-old could understand, Charles Ferguson broke down the root causes and how our government and its leaders were complicit in creating the disaster.
What will win: “Inside Job” has been as dominant through the awards season as Colin Firth and Natalie Portman, and I see no reason why it would change here. After all, what interests Hollywood more than money?
Best animated feature
The nominees: “How to Train Your Dragon,” “The Illusionist,” “Toy Story 3.”
What should win: It’s a showdown between the old-fashioned pen-and-ink style of “The Illusionist” and the slick, computer-enhanced flair of “Toy Story 3,” but in the end all that matters is how deeply each film affected you. And there’s no arguing both were powerful in their depictions of obsolescence, no matter if you’re a child’s toy or an old magician who’s watched much too much time disappear into emptiness. But “The Illusionist” did it just a little bit better.
What will win: The race could be a lot closer than people think, but in the end, I think the clout of the Pixar name will carry “Toy Story 3” all the way to the Oscar podium.
Reach Al Alexander at email@example.com.Al’s other Oscar picks
Here are Patriot Ledger movie critic Al Alexander’s picks in the other Oscar categories:
Best Short Film (Animated): “Day & Night,” Teddy Newton
Best Short Film (Live Action): “Na Wewe,” Ivan Goldschmidt
Best Documentary Short Subject: “Poster Girl”
Achievement in Art Direction” “Inception”
Achievement in Cinematography: “Black Swan,” Matthew Libatique
Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song): “We Belong Together” from “Toy Story 3,” music and lyrics by Randy Newman
Achievement in Sound Editing: “Inception”
Best Foreign Language Film of the Year: “In a Better World” (Denmark)
Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score): “The King’s Speech,” Alexandre Desplat
Achievement in Makeup: “The Wolfman”
Achievement in Film Editing: “The Social Network,” Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
Achievement in Costume Design: “Alice in Wonderland,” Colleen Atwood
Achievement in Sound: Mixing “Inception”
Achievement in Visual Effects: “Inception”