As promised at the end of the "Oscars 2011: Spotlight on…” series, I am back now that the nominees for the 94th Academy Awards have been announced to take a look at the state of the race before the winners will be made known this Sunday, February 26th.
At this point all major guilds in the industry have handed out their prizes making the race look much clearer than before. In my previous articles series on the Oscars my main reference points have been awards given out by critics’ association and as we know, they are not part of the Academy’s of Motion Pictures and Arts voting body. Last Academy Awards race has shown it best when The Social Network emerged as a clear frontrunner after sweeping all the critics awards, only t be clearly pushed in the background when the guilds showered The King’s Speech with their awards leading to an inevitable Best Picture win.
This three-part articles series will focus on all categories and shortly discuss the state of the race for each and every category except for the shorts. This second part of the series will take a closer look at the screenwriting and the acting categories.
Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
The screenplay categories are quite remarkable this year. Despite having nine Best Picture nominees and ten slots for a screenplay nod at the Oscars only five of the Bets Picture nominees ended up being nominated for their writing as well. War Horse, The Tree of Life, The Help and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close all missed out on a writing nomination. In the Best Adapted Screenplay category only three of the five nominees are also Best Picture nominees – Hugo, The Descendants and Moneyball. Winning a screenplay Oscar without the movie itself being nominated is not unheard of (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Talk to Her pulled it off), but it is still extremely unusual. It doesn’t appear like either The Ides of March or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy have what they need to pull it off. That leaves us with the other three films. Now John Logan has scored his third Oscar nomination for Hugo and unlike the screenwriters for the remaining two Best Picture nominees he has never won before. However, Hugo’s strength does not lie in its screenplay. This is a race between Aarokn Sorkin/Steve Zaillian for Moneyball and Alexander Payne for The Descendants. Both screenplays have been lauded numerous times leading up to the Oscars. However, Sorkin just won last year for The Social Network, whereas Payne’s last win goes back seven years to Sideways. That, and the fact that The Descendants is an overall stronger contender, might just give The Descendants the edge.
Predicted winner: The Descendants
Potential spoiler: Moneyball
Best Writing, Original Screenplay
Even less Best Picture nominees are present in this category. It’s Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist that have been nominated in the Best Original Screenplay category. It seems that it is all down to these two films. The Artist just recently won the BAFTA award for the Best Original Screenplay, showing some strength there. However, Hazanavicius is more likely to take home the Oscar for Best Directing. Being a silent movie severely hurts The Artist’s chances at a Best Original Screenplay win, though the overall monumentum of the film could still make this possible. Now for Allen this is the 15th nomination as a screenwriter. However, he has still won only twice with his last win being for Hannah and Her Sisters 25 years ago. He’s now reaching the levels of Meryl Streep of being overdue for yet another Oscar and Midnight in Paris is his best shot in over a decade. Allen has also won the 4th Writers Guild of America award of his career for this film. On the other hand, The Artist wasn’t even eligible for that award making comparisons here futile.
Either way, the movie I would keep an eye on is A Separation. It wouldn’t be the first time that a foreign-language film without a Best Picture nod won a screenwriting Oscar (Almodóvar’s Talk to Her being one example). A Separation ended up as one of last year’s most praised films and a Screenplay Oscar would definitely be a way to honor it.
Predicted winner: Midnight in Paris
Potential spoiler: A Separation
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Ever since the beginning of the awards season Octavia Spencer has emerged as a clear frontrunner for this award. The Help was a very beloved movie and the Academy will definitely reward it somehow. Even though it failed to score a Directing, a Screenwriting or an Editing nod, it was nominated three times for its acting, two of those nominations being in this very category. Jessica Chastain, the other nominee, would be just as much a deserving winner, especially considering how tremendous she has been last year. The Academy might of course decide to reward her for that, but with Spencer’s Golden Globe, BAFTA and Screen Actors Guild wins under her belt, Chastain is being overshadowed all the way this far. The only thing that might prevent Spencer (and Chastain) from winning is the mere fact that both are nominated and might split votes for the film. A very prominent example of that was when Almost Famous lost the Best Supporting Actor Oscar (Frances McDormand and Kate Hudson were both nominated for it) to Pollock’s Marcia Gay Harden in what can be considered one of the biggest Oscars surprises of the past 15 years. However, as last year’s win by Melissa Leo against Amy Adams in The Fighter shows, one movie having two nominees in the same category doesn’t necessarily rule out that one will win. If Spencer somehow does end up losing, though (which is extremely unlikely at this point), the award will go to The Artist’s Bérénice Bejo. Janet McTeer and Melissa McCarthy are both in the lucky-to-be-nominated group, but if The Artist goes really big with the Academy it could score a win here too.
Predicted winner: Octavia Spencer (The Help)
Potential spoiler: Bérénice Bejo (The Artist)
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
This is Christopher Plummer’s Oscar to lose. He’s a veteran actor who has never even been nominated up until two years ago. His role in Beginners is a role perfectly suited to win him an Oscar and he has been showered with awards ever since last year’s awards season has started. Similar to Spencer he has won the Screen Actors Guild award, the BAFTA award and the Golden Globe. He’s a highly acclaimed veteran actor who will get his due this year. The only real threat to him is another veteran actor who, in contrast, has barely appeared at all throughout the awards season only to score a surprising Oscar nod along with the movie he starred in – Max von Sydow for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Sure, Nick Nolte and Kenneth Branagh are overdue as well by now, both having been nominated several times and never have won, but von Sydow’s status as a legendary actor who has starred in Ingmar Bergman’s films as well as in The Exorcist and his advanced age (he is turning 83 this year) put him ahead in the race. Nevertheless, Plummer is taking this home. If not for his presence in the category, it’d be von Sydow’s, but Plummer is just as much an old and acclaimed veteran actor and his performance is far more lauded.
Predicted winner: Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
Potential spoiler: Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
This and the Best Actor category will have the closest races of the night as far as major categories are concerned. It is between Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady and Viola Davis in The Help. Glenn Close is well on her way to become a female Peter O’Toole. It is her sixth Oscar nomination, but even though she is insanely overdue by now, the film’s tiny release and its mixed reviews will prevent her from winning. Rooney Mara has delivered a powerful performance in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, gut the young actress has no chance against the several veteran actresses nominated here. As for Michelle Williams, she’s on her way to become another Kate Winslet. With three Oscar nominations under her belt at the age of 31, an eventual win is inevitable. But it won’t be this year for My Week with Marylin. The kings of the Oscars themselves, the Weinsteins, are behind My Week with Marylin and The Iron Lady and they have clearly decided to push Streep more. It’d be the third Oscar win for Streep, but her first since 1982. She has lost her previous 12 nominations, making her seem incredibly overdue even though she has won twice before. Several times over the past few years she actually came close to winning only to be upset by another actress who emerged as another frontrunner shortly before the Oscars. This year she’s playing a role as typical of an Oscar winner as possible – a controversial historical figure with a lot of make up. She has the British branch behind herself too. However, Viola Davis has been gaining a lot of strength as showcased by her SAG win. Sure, Streep has won the Globe and the BAFTA, but the latter was a foregone conclusion due to her playing Thatcher. On top of that, The Iron Lady’s mixed reviews won’t help Streep, whereas The Help is an all-around beloved film. Davis is campaigning really hard for that win too. In the end, though, it can’t be ignored by Streep has delivered yet another impressive performance and that the Academy will sooner or later decide to give her due again. I think that after a close race, it will be this year.
Predicted winner: Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady)
Potential Spoiler: Viola Davis (The Help)
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
This is another close call. For the longest time it seemed like it’d be a race between the two pals George Clooney (The Descendants) and Brad Pitt (Moneyball). Clooney has won before for his supporting turn in Syriana, but everything is building up for him to win a Best Actor award eventually. He’s the born leading man afterall and having been nominated for Michael Clayton and Up in the Air in the past, this nod is his third Best Actor nomination in five years. It’s also a performance unlike all those he has delivered before in his career. Brad Pitt, on the other hand, has never won before and this is his third nomination. However, Jean Dujardin was always lurking there as a dark horse. His nearly wordless performance carries The Artist. Playing in a silent movie is a huge challenge nowadays and he pulls it off well. The film lives thanks to its score and the performances by its two actors. Over the past couple of weeks, after Clooney sweeping through the awards season, Dujardin suddenly emerged as a new frontrunner having won the Screen Actors Guild and the BAFTA awards for Best Actor. I believe he will also go on to win the Oscar as yet another sign of The Artist’s strength.
Predicted winner: Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
Potential spoiler: George Clooney (The Descendants)
Stay tuned for the final part tomorrow when I will take the look at Best Directing and the Feature categories (Animated, Foreign, Documentary and Best Picture).