Sunday 30 January 2011

Notes on the Oscar nominations: part one

No need to shout.

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

At the risk of seeming harsh, seven of these titles are purely decorative - here to reassure studio bosses they've had a better year than that in which their accountants had to dress up flagging ticket sales with the proceeds from the rental of 3D specs at Clash of the Titans matinees. The third horse in this race - Toy Story 3, the generally triumphant conclusion to one of the greatest movie trilogies of all time (and thus deserving of some form of recognition) - is now so far behind the frontrunners as to be worth an outside bet; otherwise, at this late stage in proceedings, it's an either/or decision. The appeal of The King's Speech is that it's a good story, well told - and heaven alone knows audiences and awards committees alike have been starved of those in recent years, which is perhaps why it's received the reception it has. The Social Network is not only all of the above, it quietly speaks to our times - and, most impressively of all, manages to do something bittersweet with modems and our own false intimacies. What worries me about its chances is that, plugged-in and precocious, TSN is very much a young person's picture, and if history shows us anything, it's that the Academy does its level best to keep its collective fingers as far away from its own dull and distant pulses as possible. The momentum at the time of writing is all with The King, and not the young pretender: if The Social Network is - as some have claimed - our generation's Citizen Kane, then The King's Speech has increasingly come to resemble this year's How Green Was My Valley - a perfectly decent selection for voters to have made, just not one anyone's going to get particularly excited about in years to come.

What will [and did] win? The King's Speech
What should win? The Social Network

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

Some very likable choices here - Franco and Bridges, in particular, even if the latter seems to be chewing his own beard through True Grit's more indecipherable stretches. But - damn those Biutiful apologists - Bardem's only here because he makes the Academy's female voters (and - who knows? - quite possibly half the Academy's male voters) foam in their underwear, the big hunky troll; in an ideal world, he'd be replaced by Ryan Gosling, whose far less monotonous work in Blue Valentine once and for all removed that giant millstone marked "The Notebook" from his neck. Still, you can't see even the excellent Eisenberg dethroning Firth at this stage.

Who will [and did] win? Firth
Who should win? Eisenberg

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

Not the strongest of fields? I'm a Portman agnostic at the best of times, so don't expect me to cheer too loudly when she wins - although I'm sure she'll give a thoroughly gracious acceptance speech. Black Swan is mostly done to her - it's like a mild re-run of the endurance tests Lars von Trier traditionally puts his actresses through, however pretty this one may look looking into mirrors. (But that's slavering fanboys for you. And yes, that is the pot and kettle you can hear interacting.) As for the starrier runners-up: though they function in the context, both Kidman and her face are constrained by the numbing material they've taken on, and I do rather feel I've seen Bening doing spiky and passive-aggressive before. Credit Lawrence, then, for at least bringing something new and tough and valuable to this table - and let's, in my fantasy Oscars, give Williams the prize for her subtle and beautiful differentiation between past and present tenses, and never once having to look into a mirror to do so.

Who will [and did] win? Portman
Who should win? Williams

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

All good, no bad. Traditionally, the supporting Oscars are among the first given out on the night - so if Rush triumphs here, and Helena Bonham Carter does likewise in the Supporting Actress category, we'll know that King's Speech sweep is well and truly on. The possibility of a surprise or two remains: Bale beat out Rush and Renner in this category at the Golden Globes.

Who will win? Rush
Who should win? Rush, although I retain soft spots for Hawkes and Ruffalo both
Who did win? Bale, a performance I appear to have underrated

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

I haven't seen Weaver at work as yet, although I'm hearing tremendous things about her - and a certain logic persists that Steinfeld, good (and unexpected) as she is in True Grit, should have been considered that film's lead actress. (Surely Rooster Cogburn is subservient to her by the end, rather than the other way around? The London Film Critics' Circle certainly seems to think so.) Otherwise, an intriguingly level playing field: Helena is appreciably warm, eccentric and loving as the Queen Mum, but seems somehow to have less to do (or struggle against) than either Leo or Adams. And I'm a sucker for a redhead.

Who will win? Bonham Carter
Who should win? My head says Leo, for a lifetime's worth of great supporting performances; my heart, however, says the redheaded ex-highjumper
Who did win? Leo - yay!

Best Direction
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
Ethan and Joel Coen, True Grit
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
David O. Russell, The Fighter

I liked most of Hooper's choices - more than I did all the hand-held business in his HBO mini-series John Adams, which seemed much more conspicuously "modern" (and inappropriate) - but both he and Aronofsky are liable to charges of showing-off; and unfortunately, it's the kind of showing-off that tends to catch Academy voters' eyes more than the restrained stuff does. (With the exception of the crazy boat race, Fincher is more self-effacing in The Social Network than he was in Zodiac, for which he didn't even get nominated.) The Coens' classicism is clean and appealing, but undermined by their (typically perverse) decision to allow their male characters to mangle their speech - in terms of shaping (yet never entirely throttling the life out of) the material, telling a story, getting the best out of the performers, and, heck, simply providing a stand-up entertainment for a Saturday night, Russell may actually do the best job out of the five.

Who will [and did] win? Hooper, because that's the way it looks to be going
Who should win? Fincher or Russell

Best Original Screenplay
Mike Leigh, Another Year
Scott Silver et al., The Fighter
Christopher Nolan, Inception
Lisa Chodolenko and Stuart Blumberg, The Kids Are All Right
David Seidler, The King's Speech

Our curiosity about Mike Leigh's methods of authoring his films shouldn't blind us to the precision structure of Another Year, or the deep-seated human truths he turns up, which can't, surely, have just been arrived at on the day. His fellow Brit Nolan, meanwhile, has a fascinating idea in Inception, but gets lost inside it, alongside his own characters - and I can't help but think The Kids Are All Right, while funny, generous and wise, really needed to explain how one of the kids got stuck with the name "Laser". (It seemed happy enough to bombard us with Joni Mitchell, for heaven's sake.) Which leaves us with the Silver/Seidler scripts, consummate (if very different) examples of how to tell true stories while retaining some degree of integrity. Again, you wonder if this is one of those awards that'll get caught up in what some are (all right, what I am) already calling The King's Sweep.

Who will [and did] win? Seidler
Who should win? I'd be happy enough with Seidler, but happier still with Leigh

Best Adapted Screenplay
Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy, 127 Hours
Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Arndt/Lasseter/Stanton/Unkrich, Toy Story 3
Ethan and Joel Coen, True Grit
Debra Granik and Anne Rossellini, Winter's Bone

A shoo-in, providing the Academy's Coen-love doesn't kick in.

Who will win? Sorkin
Who should [and did] win? Sorkin

Best Animated Picture
How To Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3

Would it be heresy to say that Toy Story 3 would only come third on my own personal ballot in this category?

What will [and did] win? Toy Story 3, by way of a consolation Oscar
What should win? The Illusionist

Best Foreign Language Film
Civilisation (Denmark)
Dogtooth (Greece)
Incendies (Canada)
Outside the Law (Algeria)

I haven't seen Incendies as yet; Outside the Law is a very solid, occasionally provocative proposition from Days of Glory director Rachid Bouchareb about Algerian resistance fighters. (Nevertheless, it remains the Andy Townsend of Oscar nominees, qualifying through the Academy equivalent of an Irish grandmother: more French than Algerian, as indeed was the official French selection Of Gods and Men.) I didn't like Dogtooth as much as some - hell, I've always been more Scandinavian than Mediterranean in my tastes - but it's certainly a bold choice, bold enough (in the eyes of the Academy's more conservative members) to disqualify it from serious award consideration. Which leaves us with a battle to the death between the Golden Globe-winning Civilisation, from the eminently remake-friendly Susanne Bier (Brothers), and the utterly false and fatuous Biutiful, which benefits from a higher-profile and the presence of Javier Bardem in the main acting categories. Not for the first time in this category, I fear the worst.

What will win? Biutiful
What should win? Dogtooth, for a laugh, or Civilisation, if it's any good
What did win? Civilisation

Tomorrow: select thoughts on the remaining categories.


  1. Dogtooth it's a better film than biutiful and will win.

  2. I make no arguments there - but the Academy's not known for picking the best film in this particular category...