It’s that time of year again: the Oscars. As big of a film guy as I am, even I couldn’t see every single film or performance nominated for the Academy Award from 2011 (seven out of nine for best picture isn’t too shabby, is it?). In the least, from the films I have seen, I can provide a highlight of a notable film or person that was nominated this year for the Oscar and who/what I think will ultimately claim an Academy Award on Sunday, February 26.
Notable nominee: The Artist
Directed by Michel Hazanavicius, the black-and-white, virtually silent film The Artist deservedly earned a spot from the Academy as one of the best films of the year. It is the best film of the year. Taking place in the late 1920s, Jean Dujardin portrays a silent film superstar who finds himself struggling to stay relevant when the emergence of “the talkie” hits Hollywood—and along with it, a beautiful young starlet named Peppy Miller (played by the lovely Bérénice Bejo). The Artist pays homage to the magic of the movies (coincidentally enough, so does fellow nominee Hugo) and Dujardin does it all here—comedy, drama and a bit of dancing too. Don’t let it being black and white and nearly silent scare you—I couldn’t have enjoyed this cinematic gem more.
Will Win Best Picture: The Artist all the way.
Notable nominee: Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
The Academy recognized Allen’s directing for his summer sleeper hit Midnight in Paris—a thoroughly enjoyable comedy about a struggling writer (played winningly by Owen Wilson) who finds inspiration by very literally journeying to the past. Assuming what in years’ past would have been a lead role Allen would have played himself, Wilson is great here, as is a wonderful supporting cast consisting of Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody and Carey Stoll (memorably playing the great Ernest Hemingway). Midnight became a word-of-mouth hit and gradually became Allen’s highest-grossing film ever. A true delight to watch from beginning to end—Allen still has it indeed.
Will Win Best Director: Unless the Academy feels like splitting the honor by giving The Artist best picture and having Martin Scorsese take home best director for Hugo—which pays just as much tribute to cinema as The Artist—then Michel Hazanavicius will be given the Oscar for directing.
Notable nominee: Demian Bichir, A Better Life
Bichir’s surprise inclusion in the list of nominees for best actor went to show that sometimes the Academy can get it right and in fact nominate performances that were the best of the year—no matter how small the film, and no matter how unknown the actor. As Carlos, an undocumented Mexican immigrant struggling to care for his teenage son and lead him on the right path through life, Bichir delivers one of the most genuine performances of the year. His portrayal comes across so real, which makes the film all the more heartbreaking. Released with little fanfare in the summer, it was refreshing to see the Academy recognize Bichir’s performance here and I hope the nomination leads him to more roles. If A Better Life is any indicator, he’s an actor to watch out for.
Will Win Best Actor: It’s a tight race, to say the least, between Jean Dujardin for The Artist and the heavily campaigning George Clooney for The Descendants. I’m giving the edge to Dujardin. But if the Academy were to really make things interesting, they’ll honor Gary Oldman, who at long last earned an Oscar nomination this year, for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Notable nominee: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
At this point, the award should probably just be called “the Meryl” since she now leads all actors in history as the most Oscar-nominated, with a whopping 17 nods. As commanding British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Streep does an uncanny job becoming Thatcher—you don’t see Streep at all, and it’s not just the makeup or her manner of speech “sounding” like Thatcher. Watching this film makes you admire Streep’s dedication to her craft and she does what she does best here—she shows other actors how it’s really done. The Iron Lady draws your interest in Thatcher’s history and legacy because of Streep’s powerful performance. Her nomination was a given because she’s the Meryl Streep, but it was a well-deserved nod at that by one of the best actors out there.
Will Win Best Actress: Again, it’ll be a close one between Streep and The Help’s Viola Davis. Many want to see Streep finally have her third Oscar, but others want to award the very well respected Davis. The edge goes to Davis for the win.
Best Supporting Actor:
Notable nominee: Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Admittedly, I hadn’t heard a thing about Beginners until I saw it was out on DVD and I started hearing the buzz about Christopher Plummer’s supporting performance as star Ewan McGregor’s gay father. Here, Plummer takes on a role unlike others he’s done before and he does so with a lot of dignity and grace as a man nearing the end of his lifetime but still enjoying what’s left of it as a recently “outed” gay man. Plummer has virtually swept every possible honor during awards season for his performance here, and deservedly at that. Having not yet won an Oscar, the veteran should handily collect it for his work here.
Will Win Best Supporting Actor: Unless having fellow Oscar-less veteran Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) in the mix somehow splits the vote and a surprise victor emerges from the other three nominees, this is Plummer’s Oscar to lose.
Best Supporting Actress:
Notable nominee: Jessica Chastain, The Help
Jessica Chastain had quite the debut year. Along with The Help, she had roles in The Debt, Take Shelter and The Tree of Life, among others. The Academy recognized her for her performance in The Help as Celia Foote, a seemingly “dumb blonde-ish” Civil Rights-era social outlast who secretly hires on an outspoken maid named Minny Jackson (played by fellow nominee Octavia Spencer). The Help has quite a cast of great female actors and Chastain is among them—delivering a sympathetic performance here in a rather smaller role compared to her co-stars. But when she’s on the screen, she’s something to behold. She has a great career ahead of her and the nomination is a nice “welcome to Hollywood” vote of confidence for her from the Academy.
Will Win Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, like Plummer, has nearly swept many pre-Oscar awards. Unless they pull a Marisa Tomei and the Oscar goes to a real “out there” comedic role (Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids), Spencer will win it for her fiery performance in The Help (not to mention that unforgettable pie her character made in the film).