With the Academy Awards only a few short days away (watch them this Sunday on ABC), here we are with a detailed breakdown of the major categories. Looking back, it was a pretty interesting year for film. Blockbusters like Toy Story 3 and Inception respected the intelligence of their audiences and garnered astounding critical acclaim. One of the most significant cultural institutions of our time was lampooned when The Social Network profiled Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Also, Little Fockers came out. Yes indeed, 2010 was a year for the books…
Best Picture: Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The King’s Speech, 127 Hours, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter’s Bone
Should Win/Will Win: From a narrative standpoint, The Social Network functions as the technological age’s Citizen Kane — Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg embraces fame and greed and sacrifices his soul along the way. It’s a perfect combination of talent, from Aaron Sorkin’s snappy dialogue to Trent Reznor’s score. And audiences loved it. The film’s only major competition will be The King’s Speech, which has taken recent precursors (SAG, BAFTAs) by storm using an aggressive marketing campaign from producer Harvey Weinstein.
Biggest Snub: Some might argue that Ben Affleck’s The Town was robbed, but this year’s Top Ten is decidedly fair. The dark and under-appreciated Winter’s Bone secured the tenth spot over the acclaimed crime drama. The Town is a great film, to be sure, but it is fairly straightforward and wrought with a number of familiar tropes that may have hindered a nomination.
Best Actor: Javier Bardem (Biutiful), Jeff Bridges (True Grit), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), Colin Firth (The King’s Speech), James Franco (127 Hours)
Should Win/Will Win: Colin Firth. It’s a delightful role in a film tailor-made to garner Oscar attention. Last year he turned in a career-defining performance as George Falconer in A Single Man, ultimately losing out to Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart. This year, both actors are nominated again, but now it’s Firth’s turn to take home the gold.
Biggest Snub: As far as they go, this is a pretty fair category — each of these performances were worthy of recognition. If anything, drop Jeff Bridges (who won for playing a very similar hulking drunk in Crazy Heart last year) and fill the spot with Blue Valentine‘s Ryan Gosling.
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)
Should Win/Will Win: Natalie Portman’s performance is harrowing and demonstrated range no one knew she had. Also, she learned ballet. Her only real competition is Annette Bening, who was the definition of subtle heartbreak in The Kids Are All Right. This is Bening’s fourth nomination and she has never won. The possibility exists that Oscar will grant her a career award (even if her 2010 performance was her career best).
Biggest Snub: Julianne Moore in The Kids Are All Right. As Jules, Annette Bening’s other half, Moore played the free-spirited, bohemian screw-up to perfection. Her actions drive the film’s major tensions and, while her role isn’t nearly as juicy as Bening’s, she deserves recognition. In addition, some would argue that Mattie Ross, Hailee Steinfeld’s young protagonist in True Grit (nominated in Supporting), was a lead role.
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)
Should Win/Will Win: In The Fighter, Christian Bale chewed scenery as Dicky Eklund, the troubled has-been brother of Mark Wahlberg’s boxer protagonist. He makes the film; he absolutely embodies this role. On a side note, though, it’s nice that the Academy recognized character actor John Hawkes, who was terrifying as Teardrop in Winter’s Bone. This guy has been around for years, with recurring roles on Eastbound & Down, Deadwood and LOST. The film was so little-seen that he couldn’t have been expecting a nomination.
Biggest Snub: Andrew Garfield in The Social Network. Eduardo Saverin provided the heart to a film otherwise populated with morally reprehensible characters. Garfield was also great in Never Let Me Go (which premiered earlier in the year to little attention) and he’ll become a household name by the time his Amazing Spider-Man hits theaters in 2012.
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)
Should Win/Will Win: Melissa Leo turned in a wonderful over-the-top performance as tough-as-nails matriarch Alice Ward. Flanked constantly by her entourage of hostile Irish daughters, Leo induces the role with an odd sense of comic realism.
Biggest Snub: Barbara Hershey as Nina’s possessive mother in Black Swan. Erica Sayers is overbearing and her scenes are some of the most tense in the film (recall nail-clipping, door-slamming). Many critics felt Mila Kunis was robbed of a nomination, but her performance was more based on sex appeal than anything else. Hershey’s relationship with her daughter is far more haunting.
Best Director: Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), Joel & Ethan Coen (True Grit), David Fincher (The Social Network), Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), David O. Russell (The Fighter)
Should Win: This is Aronofsky’s first directing nom, which is shocking considering the quality of previous efforts (Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler). He’s a true auteur with a distinct, twisted style all his own — and that blend of psychology and visual spectacle really puts Black Swan over the top.
Will Win: David Fincher. No one’s arguing that The Social Network isn’t a great film. However, the film’s wit and tone can arguably be attributed more to Aaron Sorkin’s writing than Fincher’s direction. That being said, Fincher is a fantastic director who should have won this years ago for Fight Club.
Biggest Snub: Christopher Nolan, Inception. If you’ve seen the film, this one needs no explanation. Nolan was equally snubbed for The Dark Knight two years ago. Also, Edgar Wright infused Scott Pilgrim vs. The World with an unprecedented quirkiness that might have been recognized in a year with fewer directorial feats.
Best Original Screenplay: Mike Leigh (Another Year); Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy & Eric Johnson (The Fighter); Christopher Nolan (Inception); Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg (The Kids Are All Right); David Seidler (The King’s Speech)
Should Win: It’s really a toss-up, as all these nominees are great. In particular, The Fighter managed to make an inspirational boxing story unpredictable, and The Kids Are All Right was the smartest romantic comedy in recent memory. However, Chris Nolan’s dedication to weaving a complex yet engaging narrative in Inception should be awarded in this category (especially after the Best Director snub).
Will Win: The Academy will forego creativity on this one and cede the award to the most conservative nominee, The King’s Speech. Not that it doesn’t deserve it.
Biggest Snub: Definitely a fair category. Although David Michod’s Animal Kingdom would have been equally worthy of a nom. The intense Australian crime drama received limited release in the States but was still noticed for Jacki Weaver’s supporting performance. Black Swan, which was shut out of the writing categories, is better recognized for Aronofsky’s visuals.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy (127 Hours); Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network); Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton & Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3); Joel & Ethan Coen (True Grit); Debra Granik & Anne Rosellini (Winter’s Bone)
Should Win/Will Win: This isn’t even a competition. Aaron Sorkin, creator of “The West Wing,” will win his first Oscar for the biting dialogue and perceptive storytelling devices employed in The Social Network. If it was any other year, Michael Arndt (the brilliant Little Miss Sunshine scribe) would take this award home for Toy Story 3, one of the brightest animated features of all time.
Biggest Snub: Edgar Wright & Michael Bacall for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Despite being a box office disappointment, this film was beloved by both fanboys and critics for its energetic tone and stylized ensemble of characters.
Best Animated Feature: How To Train Your Dragon, The Illusionist, Toy Story 3
Should Win/Will Win: Toy Story 3, hands down. An incredible contemplation on the loss of childhood innocence, and also a pretty damn fun escape thriller. This movie is undeniably the tearjerker of the year.
Biggest Snub: Tangled was actually surprisingly good — not quite at the level of ’90s Disney animated film, but close. Pixar still has a monopoly over this category, with Dreamworks Animation (How To Train Your Dragon) trailing close behind.
Enjoy the Oscars!