Academy awards: what will win and what should.

25Feb11

I’m done! More than thirty cinema trips later, from Shutter Island way back last March to Inception in the summer and finally The Fighter, I’ve now taken full advantage of my first full year living in a city and have seen for the first time every Best Picture nominee before the winners have even been announced. Hope you’re as thrilled about that one as I am. The point of this post, anyway, is to try and put that vast acquired knowledge to some use in the shape of a handful of Oscar predictions. Inevitably, who and what I think should win tragically fails to align with that I expect will in fact do so. I will thus make clear both the descriptive and prescriptive sides of the coin. I want to start, however, by recapping what I judge to be the best films of the year, rather than limiting myself to later singling out just the one. There have been many must-sees, but I think I can happily narrow my ringing endorsements down to a mere five.

1) The Social Network. A film of its time, indeed, but also a film that I believe will come to define the era. I can’t think of anything I have seen that feels this fresh, clever and wholly revolutionary in a long, long time. Scene after scene plays out like gold dust; line after line rolls off the characters’ tongues like pure dynamite. Incredibly smart humour, ever so serious drama and a healthy dose of reality are all weaved into one film quite magnificently. Undoubtedly Fincher’s magnum opus.

2) Black Swan. Aronofsky’s Shiningesque mind-fuck is similarly cinematic, totally unique in its visual style and almost reaching the Platonic Form of the term ‘thriller.’ The final twenty minutes or so in particular play out as easily the most perfect extended sequence of the year. Similarly and quite stunningly high-impact.

3) Somewhere. A lot quieter, but equally original, Sofia Coppolla’s third effort is devilishly mocking and funny throughout. Tarantino, controversially awarding it the Golden Lion at Venice, insisted the heart grows fonder of it with each repeat viewing, and whilst only managing to see it once so far, I found no reason to doubt that that wouldn’t be true. This was a very intelligent film never failing to respect its audience.

4) Another Year. Also one I only got to see once, but when the DVD comes out on Monday I will be the first to rewatch it immediately. My first, but certainly not last encounter with Mike Leigh, no script, characters nor themes quite had the human-factor like Another Year this year.

5) Blue Valentine. The same could easily be said of this study of marriage-decay, delicately dissecting the sources of love-loss intercrossed with the magic moments that initiated it; a touching and innovative mix of the good and bad times with powerhouse performances.

Best Picture. Onto specific awards, and incase it was somehow unclear above, I would like to make clear now that The Social Network is, without any doubt, the film of the year, if not the decade. I truly believe that if the Academy slips up on this one, instead opting for that oh-so average British period piece, it will be looked back upon with as much laughter as the awarding of Best Picture to Dances With Wolves over GoodFellas. It seems The King’s Speech‘s victory is inevitable, but recent successes for more unconventional but thoroughly deserving films like No Country and The Departed allow me to retain a glimmer of hope that they will somehow see the light. The only other contender should be Black Swan. If it had been made in any other year in recent memory, avoiding The Social Network, I’m sure it would be worthy of winning.

Best Director. So you know the rule: the Director’s Guild Awards preempt the Oscars 90% of the time. I better follow them and expect a Tom Hooper win, then. But again, I remain quietly optimistic that if even the BAFTAs can appreciate David Fincher actually experienced divine inspiration this year, then the Academy can too. Also once again, it must be said that any other year, and Aronofsky would rightly be stepping up onto that stage.

Best Actor. I’m sick and tired of this award being dished out on the basis of grandiose biographical portrayals (Hoffman as Capote, Whitaker as Idi Amin), or mental or physical impairments (Rain Man, Forrest Gump, Scent of a Woman). Colin Firth, whilst putting in a truly great performance, has fortunately hit the jackpot with the double combination of playing both a real historic figure and one with a stammer. His winning of Gold seems inevitable. Again, however, The King’s Speech‘s stampede is uncalled for. Firth’s time should have been last year instead. I have already insisted many times elsewhere that Javier Bardem is the rightful owner of this award for his unbelievable performance in Biutiful. I would also, however, like to demand he kindly shares it with Ryan Gosling, for his inexcusably overlooked role in Blue Valentine. Both deserve victory ahead of Firth.

Best Actress. Much trickier. Many good but not outstanding performances which leaves everyone a little at a loss. Natalie Portman seems to be the safest bet, but with regards to who deserves it, I am tempted to call upon a name the Academy didn’t even nominate: Lesley Manville, for her chillingly fragile portrayal of Mary in Another Year. My heart, however, still lies with Blue Valentine. It’s easy to overlook her role alongside Gosling’s more sophisticated character (though then again even he has been overlooked), but I believe Michelle Williams is similarly essential to making this one special. She won’t win, but I think, all in all, that she probably deserves it.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Now here The King’s Speech is more justified in its praise, for Geoffrey Rush, whilst benefiting from a vibrant character, undoubtedly excels quite remarkably. The same, however, goes for Christian Bale in The Fighter. I cannot call this one, neither normatively nor descriptively. Though Bale seems to have the momentum, and I came out of his performance almost sure he would win, the Oscar could easily go either way, and each, upon reflection, would feel equally justified.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Another weak category on the lady’s side, with the sole exception of Hailee Steinfeld. The Oscar elite will rightly have a new member this time next week: a fourteen year old debutante.

Best Adapted Screenplay. Everything I’ve said about The Social Network and its virtues are built upon this solid, stunning script. Aaron Sorkin should, and, thank God, will in fact win. Probably the safest bet of the night.

Best Original Screenplay. I’ve got to go with Mike Leigh for Another Year, for all the aforementioned reasons. The King’s Speech’s stampede will inevitably continue and spill over to this award too, however.

Best Cinematography. True Grit will win, apparently because the man behind the camera has long deserved recognition. I’m also just about happy to say he should do so. It’s a toss up between True Grit and The Social Network, but I guess the former might be more impressive.

Best Editing. The story of Facebook’s founding, development and concurrent lawsuits is an intricate and complex one, but the various strands of story are laid out perfectly. It’s truly incredible how watchable and rapid The Social Network is. The Academy will surely see the light on this one, too.

Best Original Score. Again, and finally (for my knowledge of sound mixing, make-up and the chaotic Foreign Film categories are poor), my vote would lie with The Social Network, and once again it seems that the Oscars will recognise this one. So many scenes were brought to life by the ultra-hip background sounds. Only the grandiose classical music that Zimmer wrote for Inception has any chance of competing.

In the should-bes, then, I’m going to settle on The Social Network deserving 5 awards and Blue Valentine 2, the rest being scattered amongst many. It’s thus a shame that reality looks a lot different: it seems inevitable that The King’s Speech will somehow sweep the board, probably winning at least 5, including major awards it undoubtedly shouldn’t have the privilege of owning. I hope, but do not believe, that the Academy shares my viewpoint.

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