279 Cents: The Studio 279 Oscar Predictions, Predilections and Any Objections (Part I)

279 Cents is where we share our thoughts, views and reviews about this and that, and give you the good public our 279 Cents worth about it (currently worth about £1.72 at the current exchange rate if that helps)

Awards season draws to a close, the filmic white smoke is about to go up the Oscar chimney and we are to be told who indeed is the Best of the cinematic year. Although our view on the matter is well documented, let us for now enter the spirit of the thing. Many prognosticators will tell you who shall reign supreme, many fashion commentators can pow-wow about the frocks and suits and many will pull their hair out and rend their garments that Martin Lawrence’s heart breaking multifaceted performance in the Oscar bait Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son was overlooked in favour of non-fatsuited non-stereotypical non-claptrap turns.

But we shall do things a little differently. We will give you the likely winner (although at this stage most categories are so nailed on a dart throwing chimp could just as easily pick out the double tops of the bunch) and who should have won, or, in some cases, been nominated. That sounds very mean-spirited, you might think. Yes it does, doesn’t it? So as well as our verdict we shall add an extra round: do we have any objection to this person/film/script winning? After all, while you may have preferred another film to walk away with a particular prize, some films are hard to hate on, and with this year’s nominees being in the main excellent and uncontroversial we may as well give them some love in that kind. Point of order: some categories, most notably the Foreign Language, Documentary and Short Film categories are overlooked, for the simple reason I haven’t seen any of them. So, without further ado, The Studio 279 Oscar Predictions, Predilections and Any Objections!

Best Actor

Javier Bardem (Biutiful), Jeff Bridges (True Grit), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), James Franco (127 Hours)

Predictions: Nothing in life is certain but death and taxes, as the saying goes. Add Colin Firth to win for The King’s Speech to that list, as if he doesn’t win you might want to start wearing gravity boots, as the world will be upside down and you’ll need them to walk on the ceiling. Pretty much everybody loves The Firth, be it as both Mr Darcys (the Jane Austen wet t-shirt contest version and the Helen Fielding wet blanket version) and he’s won every award going. If you are watching the Awards on Sunday and the King isn’t giving a speech, do not be troubled. For you are Danny Dyer, you have won, and you are sound asleep.

Predilections: In actual fact the Best Actor category this year is pretty much spot on. There are no egregious snubs or shocking omissions. All the performances are worthy, with the exception of Javier Bardem’s, which only isn’t because Biutiful has yet to pass over my retinas. It might have been nice to have Leonardo DiCaprio nominated for Inception to recognise his two fine performances this year, in both Chris Nolan’s behemoth and Martin Scorsese’s thriller, but the field is not poorer for his not being in it. Russell Crowe might want to fire his agent though. All those accents in Robin Hood and not one award nod? Johnny Depp also wants to fire his agent, but that’s more to do with general quality control.

Any Objections: None, your honour. Firth’s is by far and away the best performance. Vulnerable, prickly, charming, uncertain, funny, and more besides, he has it in the bag. While some may bemoan the part and the film it carries as a shameless Oscar grab (“so he’s a Royal with a physical disability he overcomes through a friendship with a commoner…no Oscar for you!”) that is patently not true. Firth’s Bertie is brilliantly drawn, multidimensional and impossible not to empathise with. Even if old Col’s turn was a stinker, which it isn’t, there are no convincing cases to be made for others to beat him to the (ha ha!) crown. James Franco’s effective one man show in 127 Hours is testament to what a fine actor he is, and a damn fine performance it is. All the same, it doesn’t quite cut the mustard this time out, but he should be back again. Probably presenting it, making an art project out of it, or God knows what else, but he’ll be there.

Jesse Eisenberg is a star on the rise, great in Adventureland and even better here, having to endure the slings and arrows of Aaron Sorkin’s machine gun dialogue, David Fincher’s famous multiple takes and a character who is, to be polite, a tit. His Mark Zuckerberg remains understandable even when doing some outrageous things, and that’s quite a skill, but like Franco, too early for him. Jeff Bridges? Ah Jeff Bridges! The Dude! Duder! El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing! A living legend, and an absolute hoot as the mumbling, soused, roll-up smoking US Marshall Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn, a role previously assayed by John Wayne but here given the full Bridges treatment. Had Bridges not won last year for Crazy Heart, he probably would be a shoe in here. But he did win for Crazy Heart, and beat that nice Mr Firth in the process, so it seems unlikely history will repeat itself two years running. And, while some may whisper that Firthy should have won last year for A Single Man over Crazy Heart (yet to catch up with both, so no comment), there is no doubt that his thesping as George VI trumps the sozzled Western lawman. A deserved winner, good luck to you sir!

Best Actress

Annette Bening (The Kids are All Right), Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone), Natalie Portman (Black Swan), Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)

Predictions: Slightly trickier to call this one. To some, the favourite is Natalie Portman for her role as psychologically troubled (or is she…?) ballet dancer Nina in Black Swan. To others, Annette Bening will get the nod for her performance as lesbian matriarch Nic in The Kids are All Right. Portman’s part is seen by many as revelatory, proving that she truly is a great actress in a way she has yet to display before. Bening is seen as being a strong performer in a strongly acted film, and in recognition of her career they will plump for her, and her movie, over Aronofsky’s younger star. Different strokes for different folks. Who will win? Heart says one, head maybe slightly different…

Predilections: It has to be Portman. While Bening has the dubious Javier Bardem honour of being in the film what I haven’t seen (alongside Williams and Kidman), one would like to think it is the individual performance matters on this one. Old Nat pulls out all the stops, with a delicate and fragile turn that is as subtle as the film is bombastic. Like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler Darren Aronofsky has allowed her to show a side of herself audiences either forgot or didn’t know were there. She convinces as the White and the Black Swan, and the film is expertly anchored around her centre. Hollywood isn’t above giving out career recognition awards out of sentimentality, for instance, Paul Newman beating Bob Hoskins to Best Actor in 1986 when Bob had won every previous bauble available, but it would seem unfair to do so here. Firstly because Portman deserves the award for this role, but also because career recognition? Annette Bening is 52; she’s not dead! She isn’t going anywhere and there’s nothing to stop her being nominated and winning for another part. If her role in Kids deserves the Oscar than fair enough, but to give it to her almost out of pity would do her a disservice. They could always have given it to her last time rather than give Hilary Swank a second. HilSwank is good, but two Oscars?

Any objections: None here either. From the two movies I’ve seen in this field, a more than deserving bunch. Great to see Jennifer Lawrence nominated for her tough as boots turn in Winter’s Bone. Her debut starring role and her playing of it richly warranted a nomination. The only possible harrumph at this category is Hailee Steinfeld being kicked into the Best Supporting Actress field, when she is obviously the lead in True Grit, being the first person you see and it being narrated by her character. Even with the stupid studio politics, judging her more likely to win in that category than this, she should have been sat alongside fellow lead actress debutant Lawrence at the awards, rather than at another table entirely.

Best Supporting Actor

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)

Predictions: Bet the farm on Bale. Winner of most critics awards bodies, and, crucially, the Screen Actors Guild award, there seems to be little to stop Bale’s Dickie Eklund picking up the Supporting Actor gong. Despite this being his first Academy Award nomination, Bale’s track record, with intense and committed performances in American Psycho, The Machinist, The Prestige et al, shows he’s no slouch and more than a worthy winner of the Golden Baldie. There’s an outside chance Oscar folk will have a surge of votes for Rush as Lionel Logue, Royal Speech Therapist at Law, but the already got one rule should apply and see Bale become the first actor to win an Oscar whilst also being Batman (and no, for many, many reasons, George Clooney does not count).

Predilections: Simply, Bale can have it. He’s a consistently brilliant actor, previously underrated if his nomination tally is counted. A precocious start in Empire of the Sun eventually saw him retreat from acting, only to return as the talent we know and love. For my money he (and everyone else associated with it, pretty much) should have seen a glint of gold for The Prestige, where his Alfred Borden keeps you guessing whether he is the hero, villain, victim or perpetrator of the piece. He plays Batman/Bruce Wayne with a gravitas that evades many in what could be some bloke jumping around in his pyjamas or a foil for colourful kooks (and yes, for many, many reasons, here George Clooney does count). And, most importantly, his Dickie is a deserved winner. Playing the emaciated crack addict with the tics and wide-eyed energy associated with such a character, he invests Eklund with heart and humour, so while you’re wondering why the hell Mark Wahlberg’s Mickey Ward puts up with his deadbeat half-brother or why the whole town fawns on him, you’re provided with the twinkly eyed answer. A future acting great, a current acting giant, he needs to clear some space on his mantelpiece.

Any Objections: Plenty, Mi’lud, and they all fall on that one last spot. Rush is a key part of The King’s Speech’s success, and without him the film would be half the fun with half the emotion it has. Any other year he would lay rightful claim to the supporting actor bauble, but sadly it isn’t to be (but he can cuddle his previous one to make up for it). Mark Ruffalo, no idea for Kids, but if its anything like his previous criminally undervalued work he is probably more than justified in renting a new tux. The true surpise, and brilliant it is, is that John Hawkes was recognised for his almost film stealing role as Uncle Teardrop in Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone. He keeps you on the edge of your seat as the drug using, violent and unpredictable brother to Ree’s father, never fully sure what he might do next. In many ways it deserves to win, but as it could easily have been forgotten by the easily distracted Academy members his nomination will have to be comfort enough. All these are well within their rights to book the limo. It is the final spot that bothers me.

Jeremy Renner? For The Town? Are you bloody joking? For those not familiar with my views on Affleck’s opus, it is as follows: s’alright. To elaborate, in the words of The Simpsons’ caricature of George HW Bush “Good, not great.” A decent enough piece of disposable entertainment, it was elevated to ranks of “annoying” by how lauded it was for a return to mature storytelling. What it is really is a derivative heist movie that passes a Saturday afternoon well enough, but never exceeds its limited ambitions. The cast, for instance, is great, but the sum of all fears its parts never add up. With a cast including my favourites Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Titus Welliver, Chris Cooper and the late, lamented Pete Postlethwaite, and yes, Renner, the film should have been a slam dunk, yet was pretty average. So why the crowing about Renner, you say? Well, the part is one of those “ker-azay” parts that are stock for these crime pictures. That wouldn’t be a problem if in it Renner actually was “ker-azay” and not a useless knobhead. He is meant to be intimidating, threatening, and don’t-know-what-he’s-gonna-do-next, but he isn’t, he’s a bit of a wet fish. That’s not Jeremy’s fault: the part isn’t really there. Or it is if you count Oscar ballots. It’s a typical “mad” part that shouldn’t have been rewarded anyway, but that gets even more horrendous when you look at the actors overlooked.

Andrew Garfield, The Social Network: the beating heart of that movie. The only character who escapes with a shred of humanity intact. Garfield is as talented if not possibly more than Network mate Eisenberg, beating Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise and Robert Redford into a cocked hat in the tediously dull when he wasn’t onscreen Lions for Lambs. As Eduardo Saverin he is eminently likeable but with a close-the-bank-account edge. He makes you empathise with his character so Fincher/Sorkin can deliver the sucker punch as to why so many have heard of Zuckerberg, but few of Saverin. In the screen I was in, that moment elicited gasps from many present. Clearly the material does the work, but Garfield’s heavy lifting surely did that, and deserved more. Armie Hammer in the same film, playing twins with such distinctly separate personalities you leave the cinema wanting to know who those two actors are. Much has been made of Fincher’s digital trickery, but he could have just cut from one to the other and the performances would have done the job adequately. Or they could have taken their cues from the Supporting Actress nominations and bestowed the honour on Ben Mendelsohn as Pope in Animal Kingdom. Every bit as chilling and unnerving as Hawkes’ Teardrop, maybe more so, he is one of the keys to that film’s success, but the Oscar dudes weren’t sufficiently impressed. And while we’re on overlooked supporting nods, where the hell is Tom Hardy from Inception? A hilarious, scene/film/summer stealing part given extra fun, vim, vigour, whatever else by the immensely gifted Hardy. With this and Bronson to name but two he’s going places this lad, but they stick with the guy they know. Renner excelled in The Hurt Locker, but is only there now as he has the membership pass to the Oscar Club. If they had to nominate The Town (and they didn’t) give our beloved Don Draper a leg up. Or follow BAFTA’s lead and give Pete Postlethwaite a posthumous nomination for one of his fnal roles to say goodbye to the acting genius. But no, Renner it be. Good job Bale will walk it, otherwise I might have gotten cross.

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams (The Fighter), Helena Bonham Carter (The King’s Speech), Melissa Leo (The Fighter), Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom)

Prediction: Like the Best Actress category, this one is a tad difficult to come down on. Conventional wisdom states that Melissa Leo will take to the stage to pick up the statue for Eklund/Ward maternal battle-axe and manager Alice in David O Russell’s The Fighter. She has been nominated before, for the 2009 awards for her role in Frozen River, and has been working consistently in films for many years. She is the kind of actress the Academy like to reward from time to time for getting on with a career in an unfussy fashion. She also plays the kind of redoubtable woman the Oscars like to see. As Alice Ward she takes no prisoners with her no-nonsense brand of affection, devoted to her eldest son Dickie and often blind to how her attempts to help her youngest boy Mickey’s career are more hindrance than help. But then came the self funded campaign ads, with Leo dolled up to the nines reading “Consider”. Rumour has it that this has put off some voters, and they could run to the King’s Speech representative Helena Bonham Carter, herself with a fine body of work behind her, and grant victory to the old Queen Mum over Lowell’s mom in chief.

Predilections: Personally, I would prefer it if Leo did not win. Whether it is because her character in The Fighter is so unlikable, or that it is a typical “no-nonsense women who takes no guff” role the Academy loves (see: Renee Zellweger in Cold Mountain), but it will be something of a disappointment if the statuette is Leo bound. Her performance as Alice is very good, but it seems like a very obvious choice and not one made for the best reasons. In addition, Leo’s outspoken manner, decrying The Fighter while shooting it as a difficult experience, possibly one that was making a bad movie, and other comments relating to how she was outraged to be asked to play the mother of Bale and Wahlberg despite being only 14 and 11 years older than them respectively, leaves a bad taste. Here’s an idea, Mel: if you’re appalled at being asked to play the part, don’t play it! It is horrendous that she should be considered owing to those age gaps, but in the case of Alice Russell has gone on record saying he wanted someone with a certain glamour that the real Ward had. That means either finding a glam sixty odd year old (paging Helen Mirren…) or you cast younger. Plus, it’s a role that you kicked the hell out of and got an Oscar nod for it. Sounds a tad ungrateful, no? In addition her previous nom was for the terminally dull Frozen River, a film so lacking in incident it is living proof of my thesis that a bad indie movie is every bit as dire as a bad blockbuster, if not even more teeth grindingly annoying.

If The Fighter needs rewarding, look no further than Amy Adams. Her turn in the film is for my money much better and more deserving than Leo’s. Charlene is also a tough no-nonsense woman but without all the clichés that entails. She convinces as a working class resident of almost bum-town Lowell without any “Meg Ryan is a helicopter pilot” credibility problems, and is funny to boot. Despite her relatively young age she has already got quite a list of marvellous work behind her, from Catch Me If You Can to Enchanted and Doubt, where she was possibly the strongest link in an adamantium cast. Leo’s gripes may benefit her, but if not, Bonham Carter would be a good alternative. Like her screen husband, who doesn’t like HBC? Apart from being in last year’s execrable Alice in Wonderland, which she was actually one of the best things in, no reason she couldn’t take it. Unless she makes any comments about how terrible it was being asked to play the Queen, because she actually isn’t a queen that is…

Any Objections: None here, aside from the ludicrousness of Steinfeld being judge supporting as we said before. Her screen debut is brilliant, showing more maturity than her then thirteen years to deliver a performance as memorable as any in the past twelve months. As at ease with the comedy and seriousness of the Coen’s Charle Portis adapted script, she will clearly be one to watch. Just a shame she wasn’t pushed for the Actress category she deserves. And all hail Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom. While it isn’t really cricket to consider one solitary performance in this excellent film, Weaver more than amply deserves to be at proceedings on Sunday night. As we said in our review back in November, Weaver fascinates as a seemingly benevolent old dear who is prepared to do terrible things to protect her family. Her warmth and charm with its sinister edge could be a refugee from a particularly dark Australian soap, although one that’s more Anthony and Cleopatra than Home and Away. It would be nice if she would win, but it doesn’t seem too likely. It might have been nice to see Marion Cotillard nominated for Inception, but she has her Edith Piaf to fall back on, so no probs there.

So, what do you think? Disagree with the predictions, scoff at our predilections, or have objections to our objections? Then mouth off in the comments and have your say. Part II coming soon, including the all important writing categories.

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