Who'll win -- and who should win -- at tonight's Oscars
'The Social Network" seemed to be racking up the most "friends" and "likes" when the awards season began late last year. But a funny thing happened on the way to its Oscar coronation.
Slowly, whether as a backlash to Facebook (or technology in general) or its founder Mark Zuckerberg, the more subtle and mature "King's Speech" gained steam, taking home dozens of awards in recent weeks. Some might credit the shift in front-runner status to Harvey Weinstein, the executive behind "The King's Speech," who just so happened to help another British-themed movie, "Shakespeare in Love," to a surprise victory in 1999 over the critically acclaimed "Saving Private Ryan." But such are the ways of Hollywood. Entering tonight's ceremony, the two films are neck-and-neck in one of the tightest races ever.
"The King's Speech" leads all nominees with 12. The Coen brothers' take on the Clinton Portis novel "True Grit" follows with 10, though it seems unlikely the Central Texas-filmed Western will ride off with any awards outside of art direction or costume design. "The Social Network" and Christopher Nolan's mind-bending thriller "Inception" earned eight nominations. Pixar's "Toy Story 3," the highest-grossing film of 2010 with more than $1 billion worldwide, received four nominations. And although its chances to take home best picture are slim, its win in the animated category appears as certain as someone mixing politics into his acceptance speech.
Below we look at the six biggest categories and tell you who we think will win, as well as who should win. Let the debates begin.
"Black Swan," "The Fighter," "Inception," "The Kids Are All Right," "The King's Speech," "127 Hours," "The Social Network," "Toy Story 3," "True Grit," "Winter's Bone"
One features a bunch of brilliant and arrogant young people fighting over intellectual property and untold millions of dollars. The other is a personal period piece about a man coming to grips with his fears and his father issues in World War II-era England. "The Social Network" and "The King's Speech" could not be more different, although they both center on power and psychological motivations. The Academy loves classic dramas, but voters also want to seem relevant and hip. It will be interesting to see whether the Academy splits down generational lines with the two frontrunners. Director Danny Boyle's breathtaking "127 Hours" was the most enjoyable time I had at the movies in 2010 (despite the horrific sounds of bone snapping), but it would be hard to see the Oscar going to a film that mostly takes place in a crevasse. "Inception" might have been too difficult for some voters to follow, and "Black Swan," despite its originality, boldness and great performances, might have pirouetted too far into surrealism.
Will win: "The King's Speech"
Should win: "127 Hours"
Javier Bardem, "Biutiful"
Jeff Bridges, "True Grit"
Jesse Eisenberg, "The Social Network"
Colin Firth, "The King's Speech"
James Franco, "127 Hours"
If you had to bet the kids' college fund on one race, this would be it. The debonair Colin Firth lost to a deserving Jeff Bridges last year in this category, but the 50-year-old Firth should have an easy time taking home the Oscar this time around — although Bridges was inarguably the best part of "True Grit." Firth's heartfelt performance as the stuttering prince who would be king blended humility, fear, warmth and a touch of anger that showed Firth is one of our best actors. Oscar host James Franco, with the help of the brilliant Danny Boyle, carried every second of "127 Hours." If he weren't so good-looking, young and somewhat overexposed, he would have a better chance, but I believe he will undoubtedly be making return trips. Jesse Eisenberg's clipped, one-note portrayal of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg might or might not have been close to the truth; either way, it was obnoxious and distracting. Though he gives a masterful performance in the underseen "Biutiful," Javier Bardem has little shot of pulling a Roberto Benigni (that is, winning for a performance in a foreign-language film or climbing over auditorium chairs to reach the stage.)
Will win: Colin Firth
Should win: Colin Firth
Annette Bening, "The Kids Are All Right"
Nicole Kidman, "Rabbit Hole"
Jennifer Lawrence, "Winter's Bone"
Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"
Michelle Williams, "Blue Valentine"
She delivered the breakthrough performance of the year in "Winter's Bone," but young Jennifer Lawrence must be a little intimidated going into tonight's ceremonies. Every other actress has been nominated for at least one Oscar. Annette Bening leads the list with three previous nominations (and no wins). The Academy favorite gives a performance that is at once steely and tender as a mother who watches her family slowly slip through her fingers. Both Michelle Williams and Nicole Kidman give gut-wrenching performances as women whose personal lives are upended, and Kidman already has one Oscar, for her role in 2002's "The Hours." Williams embodies the emotional and psychic pain of love lost. But the statuette probably will go to 29-year-old Natalie Portman, who plays a deeply troubled and manic ballerina tortured by her neuroses and her extremely creepy stage mother (Barbara Hershey's lack of a nomination for supporting actress is a travesty). It's hard to believe Portman's great work in "Beautiful Girls" was 15 years ago.
Will win: Natalie Portman
Should win: Michelle Williams
Darren Aronofsky, "Black Swan"
Joel and Ethan Coen, "True Grit"
David Fincher, "The Social Network"
Tom Hooper, "The King's Speech"
David O. Russell, "The Fighter"
This category will be one of the most wide open. Although it is extremely rare, the winner here might not correspond with the winner for best picture. The Coens could enter an elite group of directors with a second Oscar win in this category, though it seems highly unlikely. David O. Russell's film relied mostly on incredible performances to achieve its effect, and Directors' Guild winner Tom Hooper, while steady and more than competent, in no way dazzled with his direction. It would seem this is a two-man battle between Darren Aronofsky and David Fincher. With "Black Swan," Aronofsky created a world of passion, delusion and mystery that bordered on camp and provided a "Showgirls"-meets-"The Shining" feel. After seeing the movie, it is hard to imagine anyone else making "Black Swan." With "The Social Network," Fincher made a movie about nerds, lawsuits and young people sitting at computers extremely compelling and enveloping. Fincher has been knocking on the door, while Aronofsky is making his first appearance at the dance. That could be a determining factor.
Will win: David Fincher
Should win: Darren Aronofsky
Christian Bale, "The Fighter"
John Hawkes, "Winter's Bone"
Jeremy Renner, "The Town"
Mark Ruffalo, "The Kids Are All Right"
Geoffrey Rush, "The King's Speech"
With apologies to the brilliant Geoffrey Rush, who gives a lovely and sympathetic performance as Lionel Logue in "The King's Speech," the Academy can stop this fight now. Christian Bale transformed himself into former boxer and drug addict Dicky Eklund in "The Fighter." Bale's kinetic and brazen performance steals the movie. In fact, he is so good that it almost becomes distracting. For those who think Bale overacted, they need only to dig into the history of the larger-than-life character he portrayed. Both Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Renner are great and will be back, and it was gratifying that former Austinite John Hawkes was noticed for his knockout performance in "Winter's Bone."
Will win: Christian Bale
Should win: Christian Bale
Amy Adams, "The Fighter"
Helena Bonham Carter, "The King's Speech"
Melissa Leo, "The Fighter"
Hailee Steinfeld, "True Grit"
Jacki Weaver, "Animal Kingdom"
Golden Globe winner Melissa Leo seemed poised to walk away with the prize here, but then she got in her own way. Leo waged her own controversial promotional campaign with advertisements in trade publications. Then she backtracked and said that the studio made her do it. Wherever the truth rests, it left a bad taste in many people's mouths. The whole dustup is a bit hypocritical considering some of the backroom deals that generally go on during awards season, but such is life in Hollywood. There is no doubt that Leo is deserving for her performance in "The Fighter," but it will be interesting to see whether someone can sneak in and snag the belt from her. The best possibility would be Hailee Steinfeld, who impeccably delivered Clinton Portis' classic lines in "True Grit" and arguably should have been nominated as a lead. The acting of Amy Adams gets a little too lost amid Leo and Bale in "The Fighter," while Jacki Weaver will have to settle for the honor of being nominated. And it's always wonderful to see the enigmatic and titillating Helena Bonham Carter (especially as the Queen Mother!), even if the nomination here is for a relatively light load. Maybe voters were just happy to see her playing a more toned-down character.
Will win: Hailee Steinfeld
Should win: Melissa Leo
The 83rd Academy Awards
Sunday, Feburary 27
Red-carpet arrivals, 6 p.m., ABC (earlier red-carpet shows can be seen on various networks such as E!)
Oscar telecast, 7 p.m., ABC
Visit www.austin360.com on Sunday evening to join a live chat during the telecast.