If anything, 2011 was a year marked by nostalgia. Martin Scorsese’s 3D family film Hugo explored the birth of film as an imaginative medium, while its rival The Artist functioned as a love letter to the long-gone silent film genre. Gil Pender, the protagonist of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, contemplated whether nostalgia for a past decade should dominate one’s opinion of the present. The Muppets reminded us of the ragtag band of puppets we’d left behind with the birth of CGI. Of the Best Picture nominees, only one (The Descendants) didn’t take place in the past.
That being said, it’s appropriate that we take another look into the past, to celebrate the films of 2011 that awed and inspired (and sometimes underwhelmed) us.
Should Win/Will Win: The Artist might just be the most lovable movie of the year. Its stylistic homage to classic Hollywood and the icons left behind by the birth of the talkie is nothing short of charming. Handled differently, this black-and-white mostly silent film might have been deemed too pretentious or experimental, widely inaccessible art house fare. It’s to the credit of director Michel Hazanavicius that The Artist could speak so universally (as the original silent films did) to its audience.
Biggest Snub: Lots to mention here, notably 50/50, Drive and Warrior, three fantastic films that had the misfortune of a September release date, a bet for early hype that backfired. The Iranian drama (and future Best Foreign Language Film winner) A Separation garnered a staggering 99% rating from RottenTomatoes — that’s 107 fresh reviews, 1 rotten. Last but not least, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part II was the high-profile fan favorite of the year, a deeply satisfying end to the eight-film series.
Best Actor: Demian Bichir (A Better Life), George Clooney (The Descendants), Jean Dujardin (The Artist), Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Brad Pitt (Moneyball)
Should Win/Will Win: Clooney was the initial frontrunner, perceived as a lock for the win after being recognized by the Golden Globes, National Board of Review and Broadcast Film Critics Association. However, as hype for The Artist continues to build as we approach Oscar night (much as it did for The King’s Speech last year), the award now looks to be Jean Dujardin’s to lose. He bested Clooney for the Screen Actor’s Guild honors, and they’ve been a 100% accurate indicator for the Best Actor Oscar since 2004. After his win, Hollywood newcomer Dujardin can look forward to a career of playing nothing but over-the-top European villains.
Biggest Snub: The little-seen, well-reviewed Take Shelter (featured at the Avon this past fall) flaunted an electrifying performance by character actor Michael Shannon. As Curtis LaForche, a man who pumps his life savings into building a fallout shelter after a series of apocalyptic nightmares, Shannon (a “Boardwalk Empire” regular) strokes a masterful balance between well-meaning husband and paranoiac madman, solidifying himself as the Christopher Walken of our generation.
Best Actress: Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Viola Davis (The Help), Rooney Mara (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn)
Should Win/Will Win: Toughest call of the big categories. Streep has amassed a record 17 nominations in her career, and a third win for her take on Margaret Thatcher may be in the stars. However, The Iron Lady itself received weak reviews, and Viola Davis’ soulful performance in The Help has been garnering a lot of attention since the film’s unexpected box office success this summer. The two actresses are currently neck-and-neck, Davis taking home SAG, NBR and BFCA awards and Streep eking out a win at the Golden Globes. Davis looks to be the surer bet, if only because her movie was better.
Biggest Snub: Oscar winner Tilda Swinton (2007’s Michael Clayton) harrowingly embodied the role of a mother with a demonic son in We Need to Talk About Kevin. On the surface, Swinton’s Eva is helpless to her son’s increasingly violent whims, but the actress allows us to simultaneously call into question Eva’s innocence in the events that transpire. Swinton has always chosen the right roles, but this may just be her best work.
Best Supporting Actor: Kenneth Branagh (My Week With Marilyn), Jonah Hill (Moneyball), Nick Nolte (Warrior), Christopher Plummer (Beginners), Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)
Should Win/Will Win: My dad thought Christopher Plummer (or, as he knew him, Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music — my dad loves that shit) was dead. The 82 year-old Plummer still acted through the 2000s, albeit quietly, accepting cameo roles in some good movies (A Beautiful Mind, Inside Man) and the obligatory wise-dying-father part in some not-so-good romcoms (The Lake House, Must Love Dogs). And indeed, he does play a wise, dying father in Beginners — but he’s gotten damned good at it. The role of Hal, an elderly man who comes out to his son shortly before his death, is the best of Plummer’s illustrious career, and it will finally garner him his Oscar. As an added bonus, he’ll be the oldest actor to ever win.
Biggest Snub: “Have you ever shot a charging lion?” Woody Allen crafted the year’s most quotable character in his depiction of Ernest Hemingway (Midnight in Paris). Hemingway’s portrayer, Corey Stoll, easily stole every scene in which he appeared, with his intrepid, interminable monologues about wartime courage and transcendent sex. Not bad for a relative unknown whose only other notable role was on a failed “Law & Order” spin-off. It’s a crime he wasn’t recognized for his work.
Best Supporting Actress: Berenice Bejo (The Artist), Jessica Chastain (The Help), Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids), Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs), Octavia Spencer (The Help)
Should Win: As the brash, butch and often terrifying Megan in Kristen Wiig’s Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy gave fearless performance that proved to Hollywood that women can be funny in the way men can. An Oscar for sitcom star McCarthy would be the ideal way to acknowledge the comedic achievement that is Bridesmaids.
Will Win: Octavia Spencer is a true success story. She’s been slumming it for years, taking thankless bit parts in films ranging from Big Momma’s House to Spider-Man. With The Help, Spencer was finally able to showcase her acting chops, not to mention her aptitude for pie-making. She’ll be rewarded for both on Sunday.
Biggest Snub: Judy Greer (aka George Bluth’s secretary Kitty on “Arrested Development”) knocked it out of the park with her small role in The Descendants, breaking down during a confrontation with her husband’s comatose lover. Greer has long been typecast as the ditzy best friend in terrible romantic comedies (27 Dresses, The Wedding Planner, etc.), but this year she surprised audiences as a force to be reckoned with. Hopefully this will open the door for more serious roles in the future.
Best Director: Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life), Alexander Payne (The Descendants), Martin Scorsese (Hugo)
Should Win: Terrence Malick’s experimental, Palme d’Or-winning contemplation on life was deeply polarizing. However, even the film’s detractors have to agree that the film has a profoundly original directorial vision. Malick put his all into The Tree of Life.
Will Win: This category usually matches the Best Picture winner, a tradition that hasn’t faltered in seven years. A year ago, The King’s Speech director Tom Hooper rode his film’s coattails to steal a victory from David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky and the Coen Brothers. This year, French director Michel Hazanavicius will see a win for The Artist, although this one’s not undeserved by any means.
Biggest Snub: The Academy got this category right — the nominated directors are all worthy. The one glaring omission is Danish auteur Nicolas Winding Refn, whose Hollywood debut, Drive, was a tour de force in the art of uniquely stylized action. And the retro soundtrack was awesome.
Best Original Screenplay: Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist); Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo (Bridesmaids); J.C. Chandor (Margin Call); Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris); Asghar Farhadi (A Separation)
Should Win/Will Win: Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris was an undeniable crowd-pleaser, a return to form for the writer-director. Smart, funny and touching in all the right places. Also a refreshing creative choice to forego wasting time with a bunch of complicated time-travel rules. With all its mounting hype, a win for The Artist can’t be completely ruled out, but Woody’s already come out on top at both the Golden Globes and the Writer’s Guild.
Biggest Snub: Will Reiser’s 50/50 is an unflinching portrayal of the writer’s own battle with cancer, a calculated, true-to-life blend of drama and comedy. The result is one of the most underrated films of the year.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon & Jim Rash (The Descendants); John Logan (Hugo); George Clooney, Grant Heslov & Beau Willimon (The Ides of March), Steven Zaillian & Aaron Sorkin (Moneyball); Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
Should Win/Will Win: The Descendants, based on a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, received wide acclaim from both critics and filmgoers back in November. Until The Artist came about, it was the frontrunner for Best Picture. Expect the film to be acknowledged here if anywhere. Which means we’ll all get to see Dean Pelton accept an Academy Award.
Biggest Snub: These are the right nominees. If we had to pick a sixth contender, it would be Lynne Ramsay & Rory Stewart Kinnear’s script for We Need to Talk About Kevin, adapted from the novel by Lionel Shriver. The story builds tension in a way that avoids explaining Kevin’s unspeakable crime until the film’s last minutes, while still grappling with the ramifications of the act throughout the duration of the narrative. It’s a storytelling technique that never gets confusing, instead heightening the impact of the final blow. A true feat.
Enjoy the Oscars!