Hosted by good old Billy Crystal, the 84th Academy Awards ceremony will take place this Sunday, February 26. Like many movie fans, I like to try and predict who will win, mention in passing who should win and, inevitably, complain about who should have been nominated.
So for this week’s column I’d like to do just that, in 10 selected categories:
Will win: The Artist. Since premiering at Cannes last May and being snapped up by the Weinstein Company, who expressed a desire to take it all the way to the Oscars right away, this love letter to the Hollywood of yesteryear has received countless accolades, including the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy. It’s clearly the frontrunner, which is no small feat considering that it’s: 1) a French production; 2) in black and white; 3) silent. Leave it to awards season wizard Harvey Weinstein, who has already orchestrated the successful Oscar campaigns of four Best Picture winners (The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love, Chicago, The King’s Speech). Will The Artist be his fifth?
Should win: The Tree of Life. Despite some minor flaws, this remains a breathtakingly powerful, impressive and moving work of art.
Should have been nominated: Many lazily dismissed it because it’s a Hollywood remake of a Swedish pulp thriller, but for my money, David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is every bit as masterful as his previous film, The Social Network.
Will win: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist. He already bagged the Directors Guild Award and it seems there’s just no stopping this movie’s sweep.
Should win: Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life. The impressionistic way he uses images to convey profound thoughts and feelings is truly awe-inspiring.
Should have been nominated: Lynne Ramsay, We Need to Talk About Kevin. Whether you like it or not, she directed the hell out of that flick!
Best Writing (Original Screenplay)
Will win: Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris. The legendary New York filmmaker has been nominated no less than 15 times in this category, which has got to be some kind of record, but he’s only won twice, for Annie Hall (1977) and Hannah and Her Sisters (1986). With the critically acclaimed Midnight in Paris being his highest grossing film ever, this may be the year Woody finally wins an Oscar again.
Should win: Asghar Farhadi, A Separation. I’ve rarely seen a film in which the story unfolds in such a natural yet brilliantly constructed way, and where all the characters are so admirably complex and nuanced.
Should have been nominated: Will Reiser, 50/50. A deeply personal screenplay which, instead of indulging in self-pity, manages to make us laugh (almost) as much as it makes us cry.
Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
Will win: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, The Descendants. Though I moderately enjoyed the film, it should be disqualified just for the awfully contrived exposition delivered through thick slabs of voiceover narration during the first act. Show, don’t tell!
Should win: Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It’s quite a feat to have taken that complex, intricate 432-page John le Carré novel and made it flow on screen, without dumbing it down.
Should have been nominated: X-Men: First Class. This kind of movie never gets any respect, but I was wowed by the way Matthew Vaughn and his co-writers juggled decades of comic book continuity and imagined an alternate-history Cuban Missile Crisis in which our favourite mutants were directly involved.
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Will win: Jean Dujardin in The Artist. The industry clearly loves this picture, and a lot of that has to do with Dujardin’s winning tragicomic performance as a washed-out silent film star.
Should win: Demián Bichir, A Better Life. Even though he’s not a charismatic Hollywood star like Clooney or Pitt, a funny and charming performer à la Dujardin or as respected a veteran character actor as Gary Oldman, Bichir, who you may remember as Fidel Castro in Soderbergh’s Che, would be a totally deserving winner. As an illegal immigrant worker who dreams of "a better life" for his teenage son, he conveys overwhelming dignity and humanity, often with little dialogue.
Should have been nominated: Michael Fassbender, Shame. Alternately confident and awkward, suave and repulsive, seemingly addicted to sex yet afraid of intimacy, his character is one of the more fascinating the movies have given us in 2011. How the hell did the Academy pass him over?
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Will win: Viola Davis, The Help. For more than a decade, she has shined in a series of bit parts, and now she’s finally scored a high-profile role in the only bona fide popular hit in the Oscar race this year. Even Meryl Streep agrees that it’s Viola’s year!
Should win: Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. As Lisbeth Salander, the young starlet is endlessly cool, fascinating, badass, moving, unpredictable, funny, disturbing… I really hope Mara will get to play Lisbeth again in the two other parts of the Millennium trilogy.
Should have been nominated: Kirsten Dunst, Melancholia. Say what you will about Lars von Trier and his films, he always gets the best out of his actresses. See also: Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves, Björk in Dancer in the Dark, Nicole Kidman in Dogville, Charlotte Gainsbourg in Antichrist, etc.
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Will win: Christopher Plummer, Beginners. As a 75-year-old gay man who finally comes out of the closet, the former Montrealer is as endearing as it gets. If he wins the Oscar, it would be his first in a career that stretches over more than half a century, unbelievably enough.
Should win: Nick Nolte, Warrior. This surprisingly affecting MMA drama was sadly underseen while it was in theatres. Had it been the hit it deserved to be, Nolte, who’s also still Oscar-less, might have deservedly been awarded for this heartbreaking performance.
Should have been nominated: Albert Brooks, Drive. Throughout his career, Brooks has written, directed and starred in many great comedies. With this villainous role, though, he showed a scary-intense side we’d never really seen before.
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Will win: Octavia Spencer, The Help. While hardly as respected and deserving as Viola Davis, Spencer did contribute to making The Help such a crowd-pleaser.
Should win: Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids. Because she’s hilarious in the flick, sure, but also because she includes a lot of pathos and little grace notes in her performance. In the end, you just want to hug the big silly girl…
Should have been nominated: Ellen Page, Super. The Juno star has made quirkiness into an art form, but here she’s more hilariously goofy and weird than ever.
Best Foreign Language Film
Will win: Monsieur Lazhar (Canada). This may just be wish fulfillment, but I do think that Philippe Falardeau’s wonderful film has a shot.
Should win: A Separation (Iran). Then again, how can you deny the genius of Asghar Farhadi’s film, which already won the Golden Bear, the Golden Globe and many other awards?
Should have been nominated: I didn’t see enough of the eligible films to tell you.
Best Short Film (Animated)
Haven’t seen most of the films in the running, so I have no idea, but I just wanted to congratulate the National Film Board of Canada once again for scoring two nods in this category, for Dimanche (Sunday) by Patrick Doyon and Wild Life by Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby – the NFB’s 71st and 72nd Oscar nominations overall. Not too shabby!