In 2010, frequently tasteless and irritating filmmakers like Darren Aronofsky and the Coen Brothers delivered fully-achieved entertainments with Black Swan and True Grit. Toy Story 3 was also unexpectedly, extravagantly moving for a ten-years-coming sequel to a mega-franchise. It’s the best of the nominees. Academy attention has been focused, though, on The Social Network and The King’s Speech. The latter teeters on the edge of being perceived as too small and too stagey (despite being an original screenplay!) to take home the ultimate honor–a problem most certainly not addling The Social Network. King’s chances hinge on whether its stirrings about democracy trumping class destiny sufficiently enlarge its canvas. Network is a fast-paced, suffocatingly relevant film primed to alienate older voters. Recent winners, though, have been edgier and hipper, so don’t be surprised by a narrow win for The Social Network. Snubbed: The Ghost Writer, the best film of the year, an angry, caustic cry of exile and political despair–and an absolutely masterful thriller.
Colin Firth’s stammering, staccato performance in The King’s Speech will easily best the deliberately inscrutable efforts of Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network, not least because the British film is about the art of acting and floats the flattering idea that radio (and, by extension, all modern media) can humble kings. An unbeatable tangle of self-congratulation. It’s a shame that Jeff Bridges won last year, because his grizzly, unpretentious performance in True Grit is both better than it should be and better than his competition. Bardem should receive some sort of consolation prize for his Biutiful suffering, though. Snubbed: Stephen Dorff (Somewhere), Jim Carrey (I Love You Phillip Morris)
Once again, Julianne Moore is the most unappreciated actress in Hollywood. Despite her performance being altogether more complex, shaded, and demanding than Annette Benning’s, the less-than-better-half of The Kids Are All Right received Academy plaudits for a mediocre retread of her American Beauty harpy. By contrast, Natalie Portman totally inhabits her Black Swan character in every respect–resolve, vapidity, terror, technical perfection over reckless emotion. I mean the foregoing as a compliment. Plus, the Academy always prefers a pretty young body to a soulful performance. Snubbed: Moore, Elle Fanning (Somewhere)
Best Supporting Actor
Mark Ruffalo’s affable performance in The Kids Are All Right was a dead-on rendition of Southern California aimlessness. It should win, but Ruffalo’s recessive accuracy works against him here. Christian Bale’s embarrassing and hateful showboating in The Fighter is a more Academy-friendly performance but wide support for The King’s Speech will give the win to Geoffrey Rush for his altogether more effortless and enjoyable turn. Snubbed: Andrew Garfield (The Social Network), Justin Timberlake (The Social Network)
Best Supporting Actress
Melissa Leo seemed a sure thing before Hollywood declared her attempt at self promotion in the trades gauche and desperate. That, combined with vote-splitting with The Fighter’s altogether more talented Amy Adams and the fact that her performance is a horrific, one-note white trash caricature, militates against Leo’s chances. For once, the Academy will award the best performance, Hailee Steinfeld, whose turn is transparently central (despite being shunted to the Supporting category) to the power of the genuinely popular True Grit. Snubbed: Rosario Dawson (Unstoppable), Rooney Mara (The Social Network)
Best Foreign Language Film
As usual, only two entries have received theatrical distribution in the US as yet, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that either Biutiful or Dogtooth (which had a one-night run at the Dryden last summer) is favored to win. Unlike all the other categories, voters in this contest must certify that they’ve seen all five nominees at special Academy screenings, which means the winner usually skews closer to the fuzzy taste of retirees than the the broader zeitgeist. Honoring the absurd and beguiling Dogtooth (replete with graphic incest scenes) would be the most radical act in the history of the Academy Awards. Better bet: the Canadian Incendies, which has the backing of juggernaut Sony Pictures Classics and heart-rending themes of transcontinental, panreligious understanding. Snubbed: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Thailand)
If Dogtooth is this year’s most heartening nomination, then the absence of the pro-privatization, anti-union Waiting for “Superman” from the Best Documentary Feature category is the year’s most unexpected and satisfying exclusion. Without “Superman” in the running, Charles Ferguson’s financial implosion éxposé Inside Job emerges as the heavy favorite. It’s timely and tackles a big subject–more than enough when there isn’t a Holocaust docu in competition. Snubbed: Last Train Home (Lixin Fan)
Best Costume Design
The omission of Black Swan in this category on a technicality has been one of the minor scandals of the season. Without the ballerinas in competition, this contest is something of a toss-up. I haven’t seen The Tempest and neither, I’d wager, have most of the Academy membership–a fact that in no way diminishes its chances. Voters tend toward the film that sounds like it has the most elaborate, exotic, and expensive costumes–and in that respect, the latest Taymor project must be a shoo-in.
Kyle Westphal is a recent graduate of The L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY.