Picking Winners at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards

Spree contributing writer William Altreuter, graphic designer Jared Mobarak, and I are going to share our thoughts on this week’s Oscar nominations. Let’s kick things off with a category whose victor—Colin “Mr. Darcy” Firth—seems to have already been agreed upon. — Christopher Schobert

Best Actor:
Javier Bardem: Biutiful
Jeff Bridges: True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg: The Social Network
Colin Firth: The King’s Speech
James Franco: 127 Hours

William Altreuter:

If the Academy had wanted to make a statement Jim Carrey‘s amazing turn in I Love You Phillip Morris would have found its way onto this list. Wouldn’t that be an interesting world to live in? As it is we have this group, probably the easiest one to handicap this year.

Javier Bardem in Biutiful: This movie is so far off my radar that I hadn’t even heard of it before it was nominated. Bardem won in 2008 for No Country For Old Men so it’s not like he’s overdue.

Jeff Bridges in True Grit: Bridges has also had his turn. As much as I liked what he did here—and as much as I now realize that I like any sort of iteration of True Grit—novel, John Wayne movie or Coen Brothers—I don’t think it is happening for Bridges this year. Cowboy roles win a lot, but they aren’t necessarily trumps.

Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network: Too convincing as a sociopath to win, I think. The Social Network, which I liked a lot, may be the victim of its own hype. Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg was a terrifically nuanced character, ironically anti-social and ultimately sympathetic. On the merits there is a good case here, but I don’t think it’ll happen. The competition is strong, and although this is a movie that “gets” the internet in a way that few others I’ve seen do, I don’t think Hollywood wants to reward a movie for understanding a competing medium.

James Franco in 127 Hours: It’s mpressive whenever one guy carries the whole thing, but the Academy gave that award to Tom Hanks in Cast Away [ed. note, he lost that one]. Sorry Mr. Franco, we think you’re great, but you’re no Tom Hanks.

Colin Firth in The King’s Speech: English trumps everything except playing a character who overcomes a handicap. An Englishman who overcomes a handicap? Golden. Also golden? Firth had a good case last year, so now he’s owed one. That’s a parlay that should be impossible to beat.

What do you think Chris?

Christopher Schobert:

I think if Colin Firth loses, then all bets are off. While he is wonderful in King’s, I think we’re looking at a case of Jeremy Irons Syndrome. When Irons won for a note-perfect performance as Claus Von Bulow in 1990’s Reversal of Fortune, it was as much an acknowledgment of his chilling dual role in David Cronenberg‘s Dead Ringers—not nominated—as it was an award for Fortune.

There was a two-year gap there—Ringers was released in 1988—but Firth’s is even more obvious, since he deserved to win for last year’s A Single Man. Were it not for the near-universal feeling of “Jeff Bridges is great!”-ishness, I have no doubt he would have won. (Ironically, Bridges’s win for Crazy Heart was, like Al Pacino with Scent of a Woman, a case of making up for years of shoulda-wons.)

Firth is so darn likable that I don’t begrudge a King’s win at all. But to me, James Franco in 127 Hours was far and away the finest male performance of the year. Not only is it a one-man show, but it’s a one-man show that is wholly dependent on whether or not this actor can bring it emotionally, physically, and with good humor. And he does. I really wish that 127 wasn’t known mainly as the “guy cuts off his arm movie.” It remains, for me, the most genuinely moving film experience of the year, and that’s primarily due to Franco.

As for Eisenberg, I’m sure the feeling is that his chance will come. And I agree, although he might be the most memorable character of 2010. He truly dominates every scene. (By the way Bill, as we’ll discuss when we get to Best Picture, I sense the tide turning away from The Social Network a bit. Despite winning almost every major critical award, I think The Fighter, and even more, The King’s Speech, could take Best Pic due to a high level of crowd-pleasing.)

As for Javier, it pained Spree colleague Jared Mobarak and I to miss Biutiful at the Toronto Film Fest; for months, there has been talk that this is an incredible performance, and Julia Roberts‘ championing of it seems to have worked. It’s opening here in the next few weeks, I believe.

As for misses, I haven’t seen Philip Morris yet, but have heard great things about Carrey’s acting. The obvious misses seem to be Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine; Leonardo DiCaprio in either Inception or Shutter Island; and Robert Duvall in Get Low.

But I think the most egregious miss is Aaron Eckhart in Rabbit Hole. It’s the anchor of the film—less showy than Nicole Kidman, and more fully rounded.

And of course, what about Dieter Laser in Human Centipede?

Jared Mobarak:

If Julia Roberts said Hollywood was broken if Bardem didn’t get a nom, I’ll relent and say he deserves it without having seen the film. Iñárritu is a director who has gotten brilliant performances from his actors, but being a foreign language film is a handicap as seen by his loss in 2001 with Before Night Falls.

Eisenberg—is it wrong I find the performance over-rated? He plays it like it should be played; he plays it like he plays all his roles. An intelligent Michael Cera. The nuance here vaults him from one-note, but I don’t think he’s there yet for victory.

While Franco may not be Hanks (I forget, is that good or bad?) 127 Hours is definitely not Cast Away—it’s fantastic. Most definitely deserving of the win, I’d enjoy it just to see the Oscars’ host move from microphone to award circle.

As for Bridges? He won last year … and he’s no Tom Hanks either (back-to-back wins for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump). The Dude earned the award, but, much like I thought Penn stealing Rourke‘s award in 2009 was okay, he too adequately stole his from Colin Firth. Firth’s King George VI is a difficult role with the stammer, the politics, and the class status void between he and his teacher. It’s worthy, and I’ll be rooting for him.

Glaring omissions:
Ryan Gosling – Blue Valentine: he’s overshadowed by Michelle Williams in the film, but excellent in his own right as the more blatantly emotive of the pair.
Édgar RamírezCarlos: yes, it’s technically a cable miniseries, but a feature length version was cut, so it could have counted. Powerful stuff.
Joaquin PhoenixI’m Still Here: out of the box I know. I hated the film for it’s blatant reuse of everything I had seen already, following his spiral from the beginning. However, knowing it was an act, you cannot deny the dedication and absolute believability.
Others: Aaron Eckhart – Rabbit Hole; Casey AffleckThe Killer Inside Me; and, yes, brother Ben Affleck for The Town.

And Chris: Dieter Laser – Inspired Choice!!

Christopher Schobert:

Jared, I forgot about Édgar Ramírez. Too bad he wasn’t eligible, because he deserved a spot in the top five.

Continuing our Oscar breakdown, we turn to one of the more unpredictable categories: Best Actress. — CS

Best Actress:
Annette Benning: The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman: Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence: Winter’s Bone
Natalie Portman: Black Swan
Michelle Williams: Blue Valentine

William Altreuter:

In contrast to the Best Actor award, this looks like one of the toughest categories to handicap, but unless Meryl Streep is in the field it always is, don’t you think? All five of the nominated actresses this year gave outstanding performances in movies that, for the most part, were depressing and bleak.

I liked Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone best, but politics plays too great a role in this category for me to believe that a newcomer like Lawrence has a shot. Natalie Portman in Black Swan is a contender. I finally caught up with her early role in Beautiful Girls, which she made when she was thirteen and suddenly understood what people have been waiting for from her; playing a ballet dancer who cracks up may be the best shot she’ll ever have at this prize. (She didn’t help her case by making No Strings Attached with Ashton Kutcher right after this, and I doubt there will be a golden statuette waiting for her turn in Thor next year.)

It would be a mistake to underestimate Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole. Kidman is a real-deal movie star, and the part lets her do things that impressed me—I don’t think I’d have guessed that she could be that good.

I thought Michelle Williams overwhelmed Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine, and I was particularly impressed with the way she inhabited the same character at two different ages, not all that far apart in years. The movie is such a downer that I’m afraid not many people will have seen it—it’s on the list of Worst Date Movies Ever, I’d say, and that will probably be enough to sink Williams’ shot.

Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right is going to walk away with this one for three reasons. Her performance is good enough to win on the merits. Hollywood likes to make statements at Oscar time, and The Kids Are All Right makes a statement.

Finally, Bening is a real movie star and Hollywood royalty—the kind of person the Academy is comfortable giving prizes to. She caught a break when Julianne Moore wasn’t nominated here for the same movie—that would have split the vote, and I don’t think it was an accident that it didn’t happen.

Christopher Schobert:

Bill, you’re so right—this is likely the toughest category to call. It’s basically a two-woman race—Portman vs. Bening—and there seems to be a real ebb-and-flow in buzz.

Kidman is strong in Rabbit Hole, yet her character’s inherent un-likability is a problem. I’m not sure Kidman herself is all that well-liked these days, which is too bad. It’s a great film, and in another year, she might be the one to beat.

Jennifer Lawrence’s victory is the nomination, and the knowledge that she’s now a certified rising star. She deserves that acclaim—she’s simply wonderful in Winter’s Bone.

Is it possible that voters might recall that in the past several years, Michelle Williams has shined in Wendy and Lucy and Shutter Island, and probably deserved the Oscar for Brokeback Mountain? Probably not. Williams, like Jesse Eisenberg, will likely be a victim of the “your-time-will-come” sentiment.

Bening is in an odd position. She has now been nominated and lost for The GriftersThe American President, and Being Julia, and, no offense to Oda Mae Brown, but she deserved it for The Grifters, at the very least. In Kids, she is as charming, and moving, as she’s ever been. But is it showy enough to actually win? Interestingly, I think she gave just as strong a performance in the little-seen but solid Mother and Child earlier in 2010. But I’ve often wondered if her high-profile marriage and seeming reluctance to force herself into the public eye like some actresses of her ilk has cost her past wins, and might again.

I think the Oscar falls to Natalie Portman, for a few reasons. She’s adorable. She pulls off paranoid-nutso-mania and ballet dancing. She’s preggers. She’s worked with everyone from George Lucas to Mike Nichols to Milos Forman and has pretty much grown up onscreen. And out of all five nominees, hers is the role that controls the film, from beginning to end. Bening is perfect and Lawrence is stunning, but, like Franco in 127 Hours, there is no Black Swan without Natalie Portman. Loved it, like I did, or loathe it, there’s no denying her acting.

Misses? I enjoyed Julianne Moore in Kids, but felt she was overshadowed in a big way by Bening, so no shock there, and I’ve yet to see Another Year, whose Lesley Manville is said to be astounding. (Many believe it was a colossal mistake to put her in the Best Actress and not Supporting Actress derby.)

A biggie, for me, is Tilda Swinton in the disturbingly-ignored-by-the-Academy I Am Love. It garnered only a Costume Design nod, and it deserved it. But what about the soaring score? The visually sumptuous direction? And Swinton’s fine performance? She’s a recent winner. And she’s weird. But still.

And I suppose its mixed response killed its Oscar hopes, but Never Let Me Go’s Carey Mulligan certainly should have been in the mix. That film remains, to me, one of the year’s unheralded greats.

And unlikely as it would have been, Noomi Rapace was the best thing about this year’s three Stieg Larrson adaptations; her Lisbeth Salander was a force of nature. Wouldn’t it have been fun to see a Rapace nom?

Jared Mobarak:

Natalie Portman: who the Academy will pick, who I’d pick from the Academy’s nominees, and who I think is the best whether nominated or not. I think it isn’t even a question and if Bening somehow wins, it’ll be a career Oscar.

That’s not to deny Bening’s performance. At first seeming like Eisenberg as an overrated portrayal, after seeing Mother and Child I changed my mind. Her—as Jimmy Smits‘ character calls her—’weirdo’ who evolves on so many levels made me realize how nuanced her role in Kids was. It’s less flashy than Moore’s for obvious Ruffalo-induced reasons, but strong nonetheless.

Kidman, Williams, and Lawrence are all deserving for the reasons outlined above. Kidman’s won before, Williams is unfortunately the fifth nominee filling out the category, and Lawrence is too young for Best Actress. Had she somehow been nominated for Supporting, I’d say victory (remember when Portman’s Beautiful Girls costar Timothy Hutton won Best Supporting for a role that was obviously the lead?). If Jenn does win, though, I fear for her future. Halle Berry‘s career went south after taking a superhero role post-win (Catwoman), so being Mystique in X-Men: First Class could have ominous overtones.

Agreement with Chris on both Swinton and Mulligan, two fantastic roles with the former being the kind you’d think the Academy could get behind (despite the foreign language aspect, again). Otherwise I think they picked strong here, only Birgit Minichmayr in the German Everyone Else, perhaps Rebecca Hall in Please Give, and—this is a stretch—maybe even either Charlotte Gainsbourg or Laura Linney for City of Your Final Destination. Although those last two may have ended up being supporting turns.

I will say, kind of glad Hilary Swank didn’t get thrown in for her pedigree alone as Conviction was a by-the-numbers film, her role good, but not anything outstanding.

Christopher Schobert:

Please Give—definitely an underrated and ignored film. And could not agree more on Swank. If anything, Minnie Driver was the more memorable female performance …

We move on to two categories that are often quite interesting: Supporting Actor and Actress. —CS

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

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

William Altreuter:

The tricky thing about Actor/Actress in a Supporting Role is that it is so hard to define what that means. Sometimes it means the best performance by a character actor. Sometimes it means best performance by a name-brand star in a smaller role, or a role that isn’t the lead. Sometimes it is where someone promising gets early recognition, and sometimes its an award for a body of work that is extensive but hard to define. A lot of the time these are the performances that stay with me, so I love this category.

Actor in a Supporting Role:

John Hawkes in Winter’s Bone did what he needed to do, but the part is very nearly a cameo, I think.

Jeremy Renner in The Town: I had problems with this movie, but Renner was excellent—he conveyed the barely controlled, unpredictable violence of his character so convincingly that I found myself tensing up whenever he was on screen. He’s the thing that makes this movie work, to the extent that it does. Because the movie doesn’t quite work and the fine job Renner does here is likely to be overlooked.

Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right: Right, we’re going to give the prize to a guy for a movie about lesbians. A win by Ruffalo, who was great, probably only happens if Kids is running the table. I don’t see that happening, because I don’t think it was the best movie of the year. Although I thought his portrayal was a bit broad the movie wouldn’t have worked the way it does without that, so I think it was a valid choice. I just don’t think it was an Oscar-winning choice.

Geoffrey Rush in The King’s Speech will have the wind at his back, I think. The movie is a serious Best Picture contender, Firth is a lock for Best Actor, the Academy loves English, the Academy loves Royal and there will be other gold statuettes picked up by writers and the like. Rush is great, but both he and his character are Australian, so the English thing won’t help. This is a category for character actors, but it is not just a character actor category, and I think star power will carry the prize.

Christian Bale in The Fighter: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is the only place left in the world that still cares about boxing, and movies about boxing are powerful Oscar bait. Bale seems well liked in the film community, has done good work in the past, and is the glue that holds this movie together. The Fighter seems to be peaking at just the right moment, and that will help, plus Bale actually is English, and the Academy loves that. The only way he loses is if Kids or King run the table, and I don’t see that happening.

Actress in a Supporting Role:

Amy Adams in The Fighter: I hate it when two actors are nominated from the same movie, because it means that they may split the vote. Adams is great in this, and she is building a solid resume. As they say in the fight game though, this is not her night.

Helena Bonham Carter in The King’s Speech: A wild card. Carter does what she wants, but I don’t get the feeling that either she or her husband, Tim Burton, are all that popular in Hollywood. You could argue that her body of work is such that she is due, but she’s only been nominated once before, and usually “because she’s due” means several more nominations. She’s English of course, and that helps, but she’s not dependably box office, and that hurts. I’d give it to her for her work in the Harry Potter movies, but on the other hand she was also in the awful Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland. Finally, The King’s Speech isn’t really about her character— the relationship between Bertie and Lionel Logue is what we are there to see. I can’t imagine she’ll get worked up about missing the brass ring on this one, and I have to believe she’ll be back.

Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit: It would be a shame to spend this award on an ingénue, even one as deserving as this. There was some debate about whether Ms. Steinfeld should have been nominated in the Best Actress category, since she is in every scene, and I suppose they put her here on the theory that she would have a better chance of winning. Well, it’s an honor just to be nominated.

Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom: Haven’t seen it. Australian, innit? Some years Australia is chic. I’m not aware that it is this year.

Melissa Leo in The Fighter will get to thank the Academy, I think. She’s as good in this as she was in 2009’s Frozen River, and this time she is in a movie that has got people’s attention. Frozen River was undeservedly obscure, I think, perhaps because it was written and directed by women, perhaps because there wasn’t a prominent male lead, so it looked like a chick flick. Leo will get the recognition she deserves this year.

Christopher Schobert:

Not to sound boring, but we’re in complete agreement on these two, Bill. Great minds, etc.

Actor in a Supporting Role:

Bale will win, and to him, I say, “Goooooood for youuuuuuu.” He deserves kudos not just for making me buy that ridiculous Beantown accent after the first five minutes, but also for creating perhaps the most fully-rounded character in movies this year. Dickie is a bundle of contradictions, and believably so. I think he’s the right choice here.

Rush is pretty much always good, but has won before. Like co-star Jennifer Lawrence, Hawkes’s victory is the nomination. Renner is a dark-horse candidate, to be sure, but with a deluge of leading man roles likely coming his way as we speak, he’ll get his chance later.

Ruffalo is intriguing to me here. I found his character occasionally unbelievable, and I also think the film made a mistake in jettisoning him at a key point, but dammit, he’s so likable in the role. Bill, if Kids does make a run, you’re right—he has a chance. Should he win? I don’t think so. But when has that mattered?

Bale is the clear choice, but the question is, what accent will he use for his acceptance speech? And does he even remember his own?

As for misses, Andrew Garfield was strong in The Social Network (and Never Let Me Go), but he’s dominated by Eisenberg, and thus, less memorable. The ever-reliable Jim Broadbent is said to be wonderful in Another Year. Pierce Brosnan would have been a pleasant surprise; I loved his Blair-y ex-PM in The Ghost Writer.

And I have not seen Get Low yet, but I sincerely hope that someday Bill Murray will win the Oscar he deserved for Rushmore (if not Lost in Translation). Not sure if he deserved a nom forLow, but he is Bill Murray.

Actress in a Supporting Role:

As you astutely point out, Bill, the winner will be Melissa Leo for The Fighter, and again, I see her as the proper choice. What a wildly different character and performance than Frozen River, and what a memorable role.

Leo’s runaway status means no dice for Amy Adams, and I’m fine with that. She’s fine in The Fighter, but maybe a tad exaggerated—well, every female character in The Fighter is a tad exaggerated.

It’s a bit surprising that Helena Bonham Carter has never won, when you consider her resume: Howards EndA Room With a View, and especially, the devastating Wings of the Dove. But she won’t take it this time; Firth and Rush simply overshadow her. And Bill, you are so right about Alice. I’m not sure anyone associated with that epic disappointment deserves a shot at an Oscar this year.

I just watched Animal Kingdom, and wow—Jacki Weaver is something. Now I get why there has been sustained Weaver talk since Kingdom’s release. But like Hawkes, Lawrence, et al., the nomination is her prize.

That leaves the only real challenger: Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit. For me, she was the most memorable character in this wildly enjoyable film, more so than Bridges. She could not play the role better. But I’m often troubled by “kid actors” winning awards like this. (See Anna Paquin in The Piano.) I don’t want to call it luck, or a lack of great acting—she is dynamite in Grit. But I’d hate to see her win this over Leo. That being said, if True Grit continues its surge in momentum, there is a chance …

But you’ve got to stick with Melissa Leo.

Misses: I thought both Mila Kunis and Barbara Hershey were fine in Black Swan, and I’ve been smitten with Mila since Sarah Marshall (and even more so since she ditched Macaulay Culkin). But neither should be in this group.

Speaking of kids, Chloe Moretz was the best thing about the clumsy Kick-Ass, and this, coupled with her lead in Let Me In, could have forced her way into the Steinfeld slot.

There was also talk of Dianne Weist in Rabbit Hole, but a real miss, I think, is Olivia Williams in The Ghost Writer. Like Bale, she pulls off her character’s many contradictions nicely, and as anyone who’s seen the film knows, her role, and performance, is of vital importance.

But I’m saddened that none of Please Give’s females garnered a nod. From Catherine Keener to Lois Smith to even the usually obnoxious Amanda Peet (she’s still obnoxious in this film, but she’s meant to be), it’s a sterling group, and a funny, moving film. Boo.

Jared Mobarak:

Christian Bale and Hailee Steinfeld

Bale will get it for not only the brilliant performance, but also for his body of work. Two birds, as they say. How could the Academy pass that up? And, as far as Hawkes goes, a powerful performance and much more important than a cameo, he’s my second choice.

Steinfeld has a victory in the nomination, no doubt. But, as mentioned above, the trend is too hard to ignore. Again, I go back to Timothy Hutton winning for a role that, much like Hailee, should have been a lead in Ordinary People. There’s Paquin, Tatum O’Neal, and to a lesser point Jennifer Hudson.

Not to belittle Leo, but she deserved a win for Frozen River. This and Adams’ roles are great, but they are too showy and based on real people who give the performance a base—although the Oscars love mimics (see Foxx‘s Ray and Blanchett‘s Hepburn). So, Leo winning wouldn’t surprise.

The fact of the matter is, though, Jacki Weaver earns it. No one can say Leo is a better portrayal of evil mother than she. A lynch-pin to Animal Kingdom, you look into her eyes and see the darkness behind the mask of love. It’s a damn shame she’s the easiest one to overlook because everyone watching will cry foul if she wins, all completely oblivious to one of the year’s best movies.

All the other performers were great, they deserve the nominations, and it’s a very well-picked selection. As far as misses, there are the usual suspects from Oscar talk everywhere with Andrew Garfield and Dianne Wiest. Outside the box picks would be Ed Harris in The Way Back, Naomi Watts in Mother and Child (talk about a character with something an actress can sink her teeth into), Sam Rockwell in Conviction, Greta Gerwig in Greenberg, and Michael Shannon in The Runaways.

We break down Best Picture and Best Director, and Bill finds some interesting quirks in Oscars’ past. —CS

Best Director:
Darren Aronofsky: Black Swan
Ethan Coen & Joel Coen: True Grit
David Fincher: The Social Network
Tom Hooper: The King’s Speech
David O. Russell: The Fighter

Best Picture:
127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The King’s Speech
The Kids Are All Right
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone

William Altreuter:

I’m pretty sure I like the expanded field for Best Picture. When you look over lists of past nominees it is pretty clear that the Academy takes the award seriously—and thinks that this means that the Best Picture should also be serious.

I’m not so sure that’s true. Like the hero of Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels, the Academy undervalues comedy, and that’s not all it doesn’t seem to fully appreciate when it’s time to hand out statuettes: genre films and animated features are also traditionally overlooked.

You have to go back to 2002 to find a comedy winning Best Picture. (Chicago. I guess that’s a comedy, isn’t it?) Shakespeare in Love won in 1998 and Forrest Gump won in 1994. (Is Gump a comedy? Ugh, I don’t want to think about it.)

But we have to go all the way back to 1977 and Annie Hall before we see funny winning before that. (‘77 was an odd year: Star WarsThe Goodbye GirlJulia, and The Turning Point were the other nominees. The Goodbye Girl?)

Science fiction and fantasy have started to come into their own over the same period, at least as far as nominations go: Raiders of the Lost Ark in ’81 (lost to Chariots of Fire); E.T. in ’82 (lost to Gandhi, as did MissingTootsie, and The Verdict); The Sixth Sense and The Green Mile in ’99 (lost to American Beauty); the Lord of the Rings trilogy in ’01, ’02, and ’03, when The Return of the King took it; and, I suppose, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in 2008. Last year, in addition to AvatarDistrict 9 was nominated, as was Up, a terrific movie that didn’t deserve to be ghettoized as a cartoon.

Expanding the field should mean that a wider range of movies get considered, but it remains to be seen if Hollywood can overcome its apparent preference for cowboys, boxers, soldiers, and English people in period dress over aliens from space, superheroes, and hobbits.

The other thing that is interesting to consider in the expanded format for Best Picture is the fact that the Best Director category remains limited to five nominations. This year five movies nominated for Best Picture were passed over for Best Director127 HoursWinter’s BoneToy Story 3, Inception, and The Kids Are All Right. The real curiosity on that list is Inception, which is a director’s movie if I ever saw one, although any of the others would certainly have been deserving.

This peculiar two-tier system is hard to parse, and complicates handicapping. Will the Academy split its vote, or will it adhere to a strict auteur theory methodology? In the past there has been only slight correlation between the two awards, and I’m betting that this will be how it shakes out this time.

Best Director:

Black Swan: Darren Aronofsky’s movie seems to me to be more likely to gather awards in the acting categories, and for things like costume design.

The Fighter: David O. Russell is also an actor’s movie.

The Social Network: David Fincher looked like a lock for this in the spring when the movie was released, didn’t he? I loved the way the story was framed, but that means Best Editing, not necessarily Best Director.

True Grit: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen are genre directors, don’t you think? Or maybe genre commentators is a better description of what they do, but therein lies the problem for them: I think Hollywood may be afraid that it’s being made fun of by the Coens. Fargo wasn’t genre commentary, so it won. I don’t think True Grit is genre commentary as such, and it is a cowboy movie. If I were ranking instead of picking I’d say that Black Swan would be my second choice, and True Grit my third, which means that …

The King’s Speech: Tom Hooper, is, my crystal ball tells me, the likely winner. A conservative choice, and not how I’d vote if I had a vote, but I think English people in period dress trump cowboys this time.

Best Picture:

Black Swan (Mike Medavoy, Brian Oliver, and Scott Franklin, producers): I don’t think a version of The Turning Point with crazy is going to win.

The Fighter (David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman, and Mark Wahlberg, producers): Boxers are always an Academy favorite, but does this seem like the best movie of the year? It doesn’t give off that vibe to me, and I really liked it.

Inception (Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan, producers): I liked this, too, but lots of people didn’t. It rewards re-watching, and of the movies nominated not many can make that claim as well. That’s going to be Inception’s award: twenty-five years from now people will still be watching it.

The Kids Are All Right (Gary Gilbert, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, and Celine Rattray, producers): A strong contender, I think mainly on the strength of the strong ensemble. Does that make this the Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner of 2010? Maybe.

127 Hours (Christian Colson, Danny Boyle, and John Smithson, producers): Great stuff, but a stunt. Stunts don’t win the big prize.

The Social Network (Scott Rudin, Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca, and Ceán Chaffin, producers): When neither Justin Timberlake (who was a revelation in this) nor Armie Hammer got Supporting Actor nods I reckoned the Best Picture shot was over. It also seems to me that although The Social Network understood the internet as a media form better than any other movie I’ve ever seen, most of the Academy probably don’t understand it as well, or perhaps even feel threatened by it.

Toy Story 3 (Darla K. Anderson, producer): Cartoons aren’t going to win this prize, even if they should. I hate this movie for being so great at what it does, and I think it had interesting and important things to say. Its reward will be to beat How to Train Your Dragon for Best Animated Feature.

Winter’s Bone (Anne Rosellini and Alix Madigan-Yorkin, producers): Too small a film for this group I’m afraid.

The King’s Speech (Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, and Gareth Unwin, producers): Cowboys or Englishmen?

True Grit (Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen, and Joel Coen, producers): Englishmen or cowboys? I went back thirty-five years to see how often this matchup has occurred, and who has won when it has. It is less common than I would have thought. In 1992, Unforgiven beat both The Crying Game (probably the wrong sort of Englishmen) and Howards End. In 1996, The English Patient beat Fargo. In 2007, No Country For Old Men beat Atonement. That’s not a lot to go on, but I’m giving the edge to the cowboys this time.

Christopher Schobert:

Instead of breaking it down by category—Bill, you did an absolutely fantastic job of that—I’m going to get right to it: David Fincher will win Best Director and The King’s Speech will win Best Picture.

It’s funny how, several weeks ago, the Best Picture race was considered no race at all: The Social Network had it in the bag. What has changed? Three movies that have become more widely seen: The King’s SpeechThe Fighter, and True Grit.

Since then, there have been some “shocking” victories for The King’s Speech, specifically from the Directors Guild of America, for Tom Hooper, and from the Producers Guild. This tells us two things. One, for Speech to lose Best Picture would be unlikely, no matter the Social Network hip factor. Two, Hooper could be seen as the fave for Director.

But I stand by Fincher. We’ve seen a film win Director and lose Picture several times—Soderbergh with Traffic, Spielberg with Saving Private Ryan—and Fincher’s direction is far “showier” than Hooper’s. He’s directed financial and critical successes, he’s seemingly well-liked, and he’s cool. Never underestimate the desire to honor someone cool.

It’s also a way of acknowledging the film without the Mighty Prize; Bill, you are so right — I’m sure many feel extremely threatened by the film, and its success. But either way, they will respect what Fincher pulled off here, and he (and Sorkin) will win.

But The King’s Speech is Oscar in excelcis: stirring, pretty to look at, well acted by a who’s-who of Brit greats, emotional, often funny, and, above all, positive. It might someday be looked at as one of the great Oscar mistakes, but the admittedly very good film is a Harvey Weinstein special that seems unlikely to fall.

Yet I still can’t shake the feeling that either True Grit or The Fighter could pull a shocker, and take it. Like Speech, they are crowd-pleasing to the nth degree. Too bad they don’t have Brit accents.

As for misses, by the way there are several I have mentioned in previous emails that would have made my Oscar cut: Blue ValentineI Am LoveNever Let Me Go, even The Ghost Writer and Shutter Island. But I agree, Bill, not including Nolan as a Best Director nominee is the most confounding, by far.

My hope? At least one OMG-level upset. (Black Swan for pic? Aronofsky for director? Anyone?)  But I’m holding out less hope than Jesse Eisenberg.

Jared Mobarak:

All sound educated guesses—the math works and the Academy probably won’t surprise us. They never do.

I’ll actually combine the two of your hypotheses and say Tom Hooper wins Best Director AND The King’s Speech wins Best Picture. The push has been huge, Hooper has stood up to the Weinsteins and will not let them cut his film to a PG-13, and i think the fact it isn’t as flashy as Fincher means it has the upper hand.

Fincher is my second choice for Director; The Fighter my second choice for Picture. But, again, this is a real nice crop of work and the winners could go in any direction. The sad reality is that my fave in both categories, Black Swan and its Aronofsky don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell.

As for egregious misses—sure, Nolan did a fantastic job on Inception and it is a director’s film, BUT where is the love for Edgar Wright? No matter what you think of Scott Pilgrimlove it or hate it—you can’t deny the craft involved and the outstanding direction from Wright to orchestrate it all. Best Director of the Year goes to this other shafted Brit in my mind, just a shame my mind doesn’t count.

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