Film Feature: Predictions For the 84th Annual Academy Award Nominations

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CHICAGO – Another year, another Oscar season. Blah. As much as I love the Oscars, there’s something about this one that feels just a little different — a little more jaded, a little more apathetic, a little nonplussed. I think it has to do with two major factors:

Factor #1: Most of us predicted, at this point in the game a year ago, that “The Social Network” would win the Best Director and Best Picture Oscars and not only thought at this point that it WOULD happen, but that it SHOULD happen as well. And, when “The King’s Speech” undeservedly swept the Oscars in its place, it was like a balloon popping. It was the end of a fantastic streak where the opinions of pundits, critics, and the Academy alike all ended the year in relatively the same place – a synchronicity that was proven when the Academy awarded their top trophy to films like “The Hurt Locker,” “No Country For Old Men,” and “The Departed”. But “The King’s Speech”? Really? It was “Crash” beating “Brokeback Mountain” all over again and it’s a wound that’s still fresh for many.

Factor #2: Many of the 2011 films that have fervent, vocal fan bases are still big question marks for the Academy. We all KNOW that “The Artist,” “The Descendants,” “The Help,” and “Midnight in Paris” are getting Best Picture nominations, but those four films almost universally provoke a “Sure, OK. Fine. Whatever” response (however incorrect that may be in some voter’s minds). People LIKE these movies, but no one gets EXCITED about them like they did about Kathryn Bigelow’s “Locker” or Tarantino and his “Basterds” or even “Inception.” And the films that people do seem to be passionate about — “Melancholia,” “Drive,” “The Tree of Life,” “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” and “Moneyball” — could be on the outside looking in on Oscar nomination morning. I think the apathy comes from realizing that those beloved films could be “Hoopered.” (Yes, I’m trying to turn that into a verb after the pain I felt when Tom Hooper beat David Fincher - or any of the other three nominees for that matter - almost a year ago.)

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We’re talking about winners when we don’t even know who’s nominated. Come back tomorrow morning for the list of nominees bright and early and return in the afternoon for a list of the biggest snubs of this Oscar season. Until then, take this well-researched stab at what might happen tomorrow morning with some details on the big categories and then just predictions for the rest.

Alexander Payne
Alexander Payne
Photo credit: Fox Searchlight

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

As is often the case, a number of the big contenders for Best Picture are likely to show up here as well, and there’s a wealth of heavy hitters in the game this year. Could Aaron Sorkin actually make it two wins in row for his highly-acclaimed work on “Moneyball” (with Steven Zaillian)? Or will Alexander Payne take home another Oscar for his script for “The Descendants” (with Jim Rash and Nat Faxon)? Those two seem like locks. And, when a film adaptation of an absolutely beloved book like “The Help” not only makes a fortune but seems likely to net a few Oscars, the script is hard to ignore. It will place here. Zaillian has a good shot at a two-fer in 2011, given the stellar work he did streamlining “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” That leaves one spot for either “Hugo,” “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” “Drive,” “The Ides of March,” or “War Horse.” That’s a tough call. I’m going with the film that I expect will have the most overall support on Oscar morning and tie for the most nominations, pushing it in here over the competition on a wave of overall support.

“The Descendants” by Nat Faxon, Alexander Payne, & Jim Rash
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” by Steven Zaillian
“The Help” by Tate Taylor
“Hugo” by John Logan
“Moneyball” by Aaron Sorkin & Steven Zaillian

Alternate: “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”

Woody Allen
Woody Allen
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Classics

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

This category drives me crazy. They’ve nominated Woody Allen so many times that there’s no way they’re not going to take the chance to cite the most financially successful film of his career. That’s a lock. Much like “Hugo” above, CFCA Award winner “The Artist” rides its continuing wave of support and gets in here for sheer originality. That leaves three spots open and six movies with, what I consider, an honest shot — “50/50,” “Beginners,” “Bridesmaids,” “A Separation,” “The Tree of Life,” and “Win Win.” I think “Life” will be seen as a directorial accomplishment instead of a screenwriting one. Scratch that one. They didn’t invite Thomas McCarthy to the ball for his scripts for “The Station Agent” or “The Visitor” (which is CRAZY), so they clearly hold something against him — “Win Win” misses out. Something tells me that the widely-adored “A Separation” could pull a not-uncommon foreign screenplay nod (“Talk to Her” won and “City of God” was nominated here). Slot that in. “50/50” is my personal pick for the Best Original Screenplay of the year and I can’t be that crazy. Pencil it in, perhaps emotionally. So, “Bridesmaids” or “Beginners”? Considering I think the former could actually squeak into Best Picture, it has to get the deserved edge. But I wouldn’t be surprised if THREE of these are wrong and this is the only category for which I feel that way. I feel confident that I’ll, at most, only miss one, maybe two, in the other major categories. This could be three.

“50/50” by Will Reiser
“The Artist” by Michel Hazanavicius
“Bridesmaids” by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
“Midnight in Paris” by Woody Allen
“A Separation” by Asghar Farhadi

Alternate: “Beginners”

Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer
Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer
Photo credit: Disney

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

There’s not exactly a wealth of stellar choices here (and several of the critical favorites like CFCA winner Jessica Chastain for “The Tree of Life” and my pick, Vanessa Redgrave in “Coriolanus,” have no chance at all). Octavia Spencer has been racking up the most precursor support, so she’s in, and she’ll face some stiff competition from the ubiquitous Chastain, who may not get nominated for “Tree” but will for “The Help.” Berenice Bejo rides that tsunami of support for “The Artist,” even if she technically is a co-lead in the film (something that didn’t hurt past winners in this category like Jennifer Connelly). Two spots left. Four people to choose from — Shailene Woodley, Melissa McCarthy, Janet McTeer, and Carey Mulligan. I don’t think “Shame” has nearly enough support and so we can (sadly) scratch Mulligan. Now is the time when people have to go out on a limb. Find the snubs. I think people consider George Clooney and Alexander Payne to be the stars of “The Descendants” (heck, there are even people who consider the great Judy Greer more deserving of a nod than Woodley), which means Shailene could be the most-buzzed snub on Oscar nomination morning. She’s my pick for the Andrew Garfield of 2011 (a presumed nominee for “Social Network” that missed out).

Berenice Bejo, “The Artist”
Jessica Chastain, “The Help”
Melissa McCarthy, “Bridesmaids”
Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”
Octavia Spencer, “The Help”

Alternate: Shailene Woodley, “The Descendants”

Christopher Plummer
Christopher Plummer
Photo credit: Sony

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

How fraking awesome is it that this race is clearly down to two legends like Albert Brooks and Christopher Plummer? I think it’s pretty much in the bag for Plummer, who has never won, believe it or not, but Brooks is the only thing resembling any competition for him. They’re both nominated for sure. Three spots left and I only see three possible candidates — Kenneth Branagh, Jonah Hill, and Nick Nolte. Who could possibly upset? Patton Oswalt for “Young Adult” had some critical support early on but all support for that film has faded. People spoke of Max Von Sydow for “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” after early screenings, but that movie has crashed and burned like it deserved to. Brad Pitt for “The Tree of Life”? I’d love it but it won’t happen. The only POSSIBLE upset I could see is a wave of support that brings in Ben Kingsley for “Hugo,” but he’s been too absent from the precursor awards to make that a viable prediction. Lock these in. Maybe more than any other category.

Kenneth Branagh, “My Week With Marilyn”
Albert Brooks, “Drive”
Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”
Nick Nolte, “Warrior”
Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”

Alternate: Ben Kingsley, “Hugo”

Michelle Williams
Michelle Williams
Photo credit: The Weinstein Company

BEST ACTRESS

Oh, how this category drives me crazy — SO many of the people that I’d like to see nominated here don’t seem to have a real chance. Kirsten Dunst for “Melancholia”? It would take an Oscar Day miracle. Elizabeth Olsen for “Martha Marcy May Marlene”? In most less-crowded years, she’d be a lock. Charlize Theron in “Young Adult” and Rooney Mara in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” both delivered more daring work than either of the Golden Globe winners — Michelle Williams and Meryl Streep, both locks here. Which is sad. The great Viola Davis, someone who I still think has a very good chance to win this, is also a lock for a nod. That leaves two spots open. One goes to Glenn Close for her passion project. One final spot for Tilda Swinton or Rooney Mara. As much as I love Swinton’s work, I kind of secretly hope for Mara’s name (and secretly hoped for Swinton’s for “Julia” and “I Am Love”… ironic). But I’m not predicting it.

Glenn Close, “Albert Nobbs”
Viola Davis, “The Help”
Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady
Tilda Swinton, “We Need to Talk About Kevin”
Michelle Williams, “My Week With Marilyn”

Alternate: Rooney Mara, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

Michael Fassbender
Michael Fassbender
Photo credit: Fox Searchlight

BEST ACTOR

The actual award here will either go to George Clooney or Jean Dujardin, so you can lock them in. After that, things get a little hazy. I question whether or not “Moneyball” has enough widespread support for a Best Picture nod, but I think most people agree that it’s Brad Pitt’s best work, so he’s in. That leaves two spots and four actors in a brutally close deathmatch race for them. No one likes “J. Edgar,” but all agree that Leonardo DiCaprio is the best thing about it. Michael Shannon’s work in “Take Shelter” is adored by everyone who sees it, but did enough voters actually SEE it? Can you picture the generally-old members of the Academy getting on the same wavelength as those who think Michael Fassbender’s work in “Shame” is Oscar worthy? And what about Gary Oldman, a living legend who, believe it or not, has never been nominated? Honestly, it could be any two of those four. I’m hoping for Fassbender & Shannon, but I think the pull to finally nominate Oldman will be too hard to ignore (and he’s great and deserving as well). Honestly, there are so many quality candidates that there simply has to be a snub here, and I think it will be one if not both of the Michaels. If I go with my gut and say that Leo misses out but Gary gets in, that leaves space for one Michael — I’m going with the one who has been everywhere this year, but won’t be surprised if it’s the other one.

George Clooney, “The Descendants”
Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”
Michael Fassbender, “Shame”
Gary Oldman, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”
Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”

Alternate: Michael Shannon, “Take Shelter”

Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese
Photo credit: Paramount

BEST DIRECTOR

There are some HEAVY hitters at play here. Living legends like Terrence Malick, Martin Scorsese, and Woody Allen could share space with two of the best directors of our generation — Alexander Payne and David Fincher. And what about Michel Hazanavicius, the newbie who arguably took the biggest chance of them all? Wait. That’s six nominees. Dammit. Who gets snubbed? Payne, Hazanavicius, and Scorsese’s films have the best chance to win Best Picture, so they are locks. That leaves Allen, Malick, and Fincher (with Steven Spielberg and Tate Taylor as long-shot dark horses). I think Allen is more vulnerable than most people think, but I’m more concerned that the surprising wave of support for “Dragon Tattoo” won’t go all the way over the break wall and push Fincher into this very-crowded category. If I’m wrong, Malick probably misses out, but I think the most support for that film will be for Terrence. Considering I think Malick and Fincher deserve their nominations over Allen, I probably lose out either way. Typical.

Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”
Michel Hazanavicus, “The Artist”
Terrence Malick, “The Tree of Life”
Alexander Payne, “The Descendants”
Martin Scorsese, “Hugo”

Alternate: David Fincher, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

The Artist
The Artist
Photo credit: The Weinstein Company

BEST PICTURE

First, how many nominees do you think there will be? In case you didn’t know, there doesn’t have to be ten this year. In order to get in, a film has to be number one on 5% of the ballots. You can’t slide in with a lot of second and third place votes. I think that hurts a film like “Bridesmaids,” which everybody likes, and helps a film like “The Tree of Life,” that a few people love. But, how many get in overall? When they announced the rule changes, they revealed that they gone back and applied this system to 2004 to 2009 and had 5 to 9 nominees each year. In other words, don’t bet on ten. I’m gonna play it safe and go with eight. Without further ado, your Best Picture nominees for 2011 will be…

“The Artist”
“The Descendants”
“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
“The Help”
“Hugo”
“Midnight in Paris”
“Moneyball” (misses out if there’s only 6)
“The Tree of Life” (misses out if there’s only 7)

Alternate (if there’s 9): “Bridesmaids”

Click to the next page for the rest of the nominees.

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