Who Shouldn’t Win Gold

I work at a movie theater.  Not just a movie theater, an art house cinema.  I can recall just about every film to hit Boston screens in 2010, and I’ve seen many of them.  That puts me a cut above the rest of Emerson intelligentsia. I’m also sometimes a snob.

While the overrated drivel such as The King’s Speech and Blue Valentine is causing me physical anguish at this point, I must concede that the film industry in 2010 ended on a high note.  The Academy proved that they could nominate quality films both large scale and small, in its second year with 10 Best Picture nominees.  The Stuttering Monarch aside, the field is fantastic.

Savor it while it lasts: Boxofficemojo.com reports that 2011 has a record-breaking 27 sequels slated.  Despite the influx of 3D and the overabundance of vampiric romantic dramas, I still firmly believe these are great times for cinema.  Here are my predictions (and preferences) for Oscar gold.  Dust off your tuxedo, put your feet up, and enjoy the show.

Best Picture

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Who will win:

The King’s Speech

Who should win:

Anything else

In a year where the Academy actually went out on a limb and nominated some gutsy fare from both the Hollywood system and the art house scene, the consensus seems to be that the conservative, comfortable, and consistently boring The King’s Speech will be the victor.  Like Driving Miss Daisy (which beat Do the Right Thing) and Rocky (over Taxi Driver) before it, The King’s Speech serves as inspirational fluff for American audiences to help them separate from the great political and social upheaval of the times.

The superior films produced this year, like Winter’s Bone and The Social Network, instead reflected these challenging days.  Self-destructive families, old money versus new money, the deconstruction of the mind to the point of insanity, coming to terms with aging and death, and the exploration of the American lower class are some of the themes explored in the rest of the nominees; an entitled man using every resource in the world to overcome a stutter is the heart of The King’s Speech.

Best Director

Who will win:

David Fincher, The Social Network.

Who should win:

David Fincher, The Social Network

Oh, David, you had me at the opening credits of 1995’s Seven.  Standing head and shoulders above the rest of his generation of commercial-turned-feature directors, Fincher has finally received the pile of accolades that aligns with his talents and contributions to Hollywood over the last 20 years.  Remember when The Social Network was derisively referred to as The Facebook Movie? Fincher elevated the hokey-on-paper material into a 21st century opera, chronicling the battle between old money and new at breakneck speed and surprising depth.  The digital cinematography, choice of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to be brought on for scoring duties, and the casting from top to bottom were all inspired choices.

Best Actor

Who will win:

Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

Who should win:

Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network

Firth is a fine actor who perhaps should have taken home last year’s prize for A Single Man, but for the life of me I can’t understand the hype for his supposed “show-stopping” rendition as King George VI.  On the other hand,  27-year-old Eisenberg is a revelation as the introverted Zuckerberg, spitting his lines so quickly you quickly believe he actually does think on a different wavelength from us non-geniuses.  Like the Grinch, his heart is three sizes too small; one of the great beauties of the performance is that Eisenberg reminds the viewer that despite the duplicity apparent on the Big Z’s surface, he is just a man struggling to find his place.

Best actress

Who will win:

Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right

Who should win:

Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone

Every Oscar race needs an upset, and I predict this is the category best set up for one.  Although Bening was nominated for the wrong film (her work in the less-seen Mother and Child is even tougher to swallow), she now has four nods under her belt.  She has been an industry veteran for 25 years and demands a great deal of respect by her fellow thesps.

Despite being the favorite in 1999 for American Beauty and 2004 for Being Julia, underdog Hilary Swank beat her out in the 11th hour both times.  Look for the roles to be reversed this year with frontrunner Portman being told by the Academy, “You can’t follow up your best work with No Strings Attached and expect us not to notice.”  No actor carries their film as Lawrence does in Bone, the indy darling of the year.  Only 18 when it filmed, she conveys more with her silent intuitive gaze than her experienced competition can with the best of scripts.

Best Supporting Actor

Who will win:

Christian Bale, The Fighter

Who should win:

John Hawkes, Winter’s Bone

Might as well hand Bale the trophy at this point.  Aside from Firth’s, this is the most bally-hooed performance of the year.  And while the weight loss and hair thinning is impressive on paper, the notorious method man leaves nothing beneath the surface.  He clearly spent a lot of time getting to know and reviewing footage of Dicky Ecklund.

Meanwhile, in the year’s most frighteningly understated performance, Hawkes keeps everything internalized and offers no hints as to what his character Teardrop will do next.  On a side note, Rush’s thin characterization of speech therapist and BFF-to-the-throne Lionel Logue perhaps merits accolades for Most Supporting Character, not Best Supporting Actor.

Best Supporting actress

Who will win:

Melissa Leo, The Fighter

Who should win:

Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

Melissa Leo and Amy Adams, both nominees in this category, are women who musn’t be messed with and who are forced to co-exist in Russell’s film of clashing cultural values in Lowell, Mass. With her over-bleached hair and tendency for verbal beatings, Leo draws all eyes and has garnered the most attention leading up to the big night.  Steinfeld, in one of the most flagrant cases of category fraud in memory, was the headliner of the Coen’s Western opus.  She infused each scene with unique line readings and a sense of earnestness rarely seen by more experienced and jaded performers.  If she wins, 14-year-old Steinfeld will be the third youngest actor in history to own gold.

Best Adapted

Screenplay

Who will win:

Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network

Who should win:

Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network

Despite the prize-worthy work by Fincher and Eisenberg (hell, throw Timberlake into the bag), the real star of The Social Network is the man who brought the story to life.  It’s the sign of a good script when a director, especially one as notoriously particular as Fincher, doesn’t cut the script down.  At all.  Sorkin’s penchants for rapid-fire dialogue and fully realized characterizations of people in power have never been more carefully honed.  Every awards group and critics circle has taken notice; expect Oscar to do likewise.  Kudos to the Academy for finding a common theme in the rest of their nominees — staring down death and not blinking.

Best Original

Screenplay

Who will win:

David Seidler, The King’s Speech

Who should win:

Mike Leigh, Another Year

With the inclusion of Another Year this category should be treated as nothing more than a joke.  Don’t get me wrong, Leigh’s film is one of the true greats of the year.  Like his other work, however, the final product didn’t stem from a screenplay.  He workshopped with his cast and organically developed situations, characterizations, and exchanges of dialogue that were only put in scripted form once filming began.

If the Academy wants to classify this is as screenwriting, as they did with Borat four years ago, so be it.  I hope the voters call them out on this phenomenon if only for the controversy that could arise from it.  Maybe after that, Oscar will get back to nominating actual screenplays.

ABC will televise the 83rd Academy Awards on Feb. 27, 2011 at 8 p.m.