While I am still a bit behind in Oscar preparation (only 22% of nominees viewed), I have some thoughts about how this year’s award show is going to go down.
First of all, this year includes a number of great films, but there were also a number of trends that are exemplified through these nominees. This is definitely the year of the strong actress. The Best Actress category contains the proven talent of Glenn Close and Meryl Strep, the young presence of Rooney Mara and the growing popularity for Viola Davis and Michelle Williams. Both Williams and Streep also use their strong acting experience to represent the portrayal of historic women, as Marilyn Monroe and Margaret Thatcher respectively. The Help and Bridesmaids brought together mostly female casts that found a way to merge comedy and drama, charging both films toward the major awards of the evening. Several actors also found themselves and more than one of their films nominated for major awards, including Brad Pitt (Moneyball and The Tree of Life), Viola Davis (The Help and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) and George Clooney (The Descendents and The Ides of March).
Moving beyond the acting, this was actually a weak year for animated features. After the Best Picture category last year contained 10 nominees, the category dropped to 9 with the animated feature missing from the list. Rango served as the only original film from the American offerings, but the category also includes 2 foreign films (Chico & Rita and A Cat in Paris). Otherwise, the options were Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots (which was based off of the Shrek films). The lack of strong originality is not a major problem, but it clearly falls short of the offerings from last year which included winner Toy Story 3 and notable features How to Train Your Dragon and The Illusionist. There is the possibility of some better films in the year ahead (Brave, Pixar’s newest original offering), but 2011 definitely took a step back.
Overall, the year was a good one, and the best films are on display below. Here are my early thoughts on some of the night’s best categories.
Actor in a Leading Role
- Front Runner: George Clooney puts together a strong performance as the father who struggles with balancing the issues of his daughter, his wife’s infidelity and medical condition and the potential sale of his family’s land. Expressing the agony and depression of a man torn apart, he is certainly the strongest of the competitors at the moment.
- Competitor: Jean Dujardin finds a way to bring a silent film to life more than over half of the films of the past year. As the story progresses from comedy to drama to life-changing decisions, he represents every scene with the grace of the original silent era.
- Dark Horse: Gary Oldman has been gaining a little steam as the detective in a war thriller that was ignored during the Golden Globes.
Actor in a Supporting Role
- Front Runner: Christopher Plummer is such a phenomenal actor and has shown quite a variety in films over these later stages of his career. He won the Golden Globe and looks set to win the Oscar.
- Competitor: Max von Sydow may not have been in the silent film but his ability to act without words added to the performance by the young star of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.
- Dark Horse: Jonah Hill’s first nod for a serious performance could land him the award based on his strength, consistency and growth as Peter Brand in Moneyball.
Actress in a Leading Role
- Front Runner: Meryl Streep may have already won a pair and serves as the most nominated actress in Oscar and Golden Globe history, but she has yet another impressive performance in a quite competitive field. This is certainly not a lock but definitely a strong showing.
- Competitor: Michelle Williams brings the character of Marilyn Monroe back to life in a year that has tributes to strong women leading toward academy recognition.
- Dark Horse: Rooney Mara could surprise a couple people, though even her dark horse bid could be challenged by Glenn Close or Viola Davis. Mara’s portrayal of Lisbeth is darker than the original and is one that truly keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Actress in a Supporting Role
- Front Runner: Berenice Bejo is just cute as a button, but she is really amazing as a strong woman in a male dominated 1920s and 30s.
- Competitor: Octavia Spencer was a real treat in The Help and provided a great mix of comedy and emotion in her interactions with the other maids and fellow nominee Jessica Chastain.
- Dark Horse: Jessica Chastain was not even the “lead” supporting character in her film but she did more with the significance with her role than was probably expected.
Animated Feature Film
- Front Runner: Rango is the most original of the American films and is able to taken advantage of its novelty rather than using redone storylines and jokes.
- Competitor & Dark Horse: I honestly do not know. Without having seen the other films, particularly the foreign options, I do not have enough information to make any other prediction.
- Front Runner: Martin Scorsese went for the production of a magical world that transports the viewer into the fantasy of imagination.
- Competitor: Michel Hazanavicius discovered a way to create a film that embraces an old film style and makes it entertaining for a modern world.
- Dark Horse: Terrence Malikck has been getting a bit more attention for his family drama and artistic depiction of the connection between elements of life.
Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
- Front Runner: The Descendants has an engaging storyline and relatable nature that comes out through the combination of the acting and script.
- Competitor: Moneyball has the amazing talent of Aaron Sorkin at the helm with talented writer Steven Zaillian assisting with the clever dialogue.
- Dark Horse: The Ides of March has an experienced team that takes the relevant theme of an election and goes deeper into the challenges of pride and morals.
Writing (Original Screenplay)
- Front Runner: Woody Allen has a knack for creating an interesting genre of films, but Midnight in Paris truly stands above as magical and wildly engaging.
- Competitor: Michel Hazanavicius drew on our classic films and found magic in telling the story of the silent film age.
- Dark Horse: n/a – While I have not seen Margin Call or A Separation, Bridesmaids was a wildly imperfect story with a lot of dead space between brief moments of brilliance.
- Front Runner: The Artist is booming right now and deservingly so. The film is truly an inspiring representation that we can enjoy a film that draws upon a style vastly different from the rest of the field, even though it is an older movie genre.
- Competitor: The Descendants is certainly a strong story and won the Golden Globe but did not match up against The Artist at the time.
- Dark Horse: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close will probably not make a strong enough push but the acting of Thomas Horn (which was not represented in a direct Oscar nod) is more than deserving and drives the success of the film’s story. The reality is that War Horse or The Tree of Life are more likely Dark Horse candidates for their more grandiose presentation of their stories.
I am sure that my opinion will change over the next month on some of these films, but for now, here is where I stand. Now I will be getting my plan together to start working through some of the best of the rest.